Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review - By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead

By the Time You Read This, I'll Be DeadBy the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book about Daelyn Rice typifies all the victims in the jungle that is the American school. I felt for her, bled for her, and int he end stayed up until well after midnight to finish this book and find out what happens to her as the calendar winds down on the last 23 days of her life. She has failed at suicide numerous times in the past, this time she intends to succeed with the help pf a suicide website. The book takes us through the atrocities (and I don't use that word lightly) committed against her over the years for the sin of being overweight and carrying that invisible "victim" sign that bullies know so well.

I don't choose friends. Which works out great because they don't choose me.

Those are Daelyn's words. She sees no sign that life gets better and hates that the suicide website dictates that she must wait at least 23 days before she can kill herself. In the meantime she's out to sever all connections with the world. But even the act of resurrecting the horrible memories from her past forges bonds with this life. The website forces her to answer questions about herself, her life, and life after she is gone. A geeky neighbor in his own battle for life and the school's new fat-girl victim leave her asking questions of her own.

As the calendar approached her final days I could not put the book down. This is about the bullicide and the victims of bullies. How kids can be driven to believe there is nothing for them except a future of continued torment, why they believe friends and family will be happier once they are gone, and why platitudes do more harm than good. The big problem I had was her near clueless parents. Daelyn can't talk and her food has to be pureed before she can get it down a throat damaged by her last suicide attempt, and she has scars on her wrists from previous tries. Her parents have her own suicide watch and seeing a therapist. Still, they don't seem to have any clue of what her life has really been like. But they are so busy giving her space they never come close to seeing the trauma she dealing with. I can understand her thinking that its her survival that troubles them and once she's dead they will be content.

Needless to say I could not stop reading until that last page.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Not a resolution - a challenge

Last year I did a post on what I called the Weight Gaining Lifestyle that is the life of an author.  I won't tell you how many pounds I've gained since then, but it is A LOT. So I have decided to issue a challenge to myself.  It is NOT a New Year's Resolution, because those things are just doomed to failure. They are made to be broken, hence I ceased making them a few years back. No, this is not a resolution, it's a challenge. I'm going to (gulp) post my weight and my exercise quotient. Since I've already started (remember, its not an N. Y. R.), here are my numbers from last week (OK, I only started Sunday, but Christmas Eve and Christmas were busy).

Anyway my starting stats.
  • Weight - 250 pounds. Please don't all laugh at once.
  • Exercise - an hour on the treadmill (slow speed, but still, it's the thought that counts) another hour on the exercise bike, and fifteen minutes on upper body weights. Then the lovely steam room and sauna. 
  • Oh, and I started out the day by shoveling my driveway, that counts too.
I'll keep these posts going.  And any and all words of encouragement or suggestions are welcome.

May 2011 be my thinner year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Better Than Cable

There is strong language in PULL, it is not rated G or PG. I understand that there are concerns about the use of this book in some classrooms and I was asked for my feedback when I visited a classroom recently.

First, no kid who doesn't use curse words will start because he reads this book. Pull will not send any kid out for his or her first drink or talk them into engaging in sexual activities for the first time. Movies, cable TV and video games, not to mention peers and parental example, are the powers in those areas.

But many kids who suffer from self-esteem issues may find themselves on the pages. Kids who have lost someone they loved may find their pain is not unique and that help exists. Kids and adults suffering from the effects of domestic violence will get a glimpse of what that can lead to and decide to seek help and change their future. And everyone can get a really good story and see how people who appear different are really very much like themselves.

Yes, the protagonist is an angry seventeen-year-old male and his vocabulary reflects that. But as one student told me during a recent school visit, "it wouldn't feel real without that."

I recently spoke with a Middle School Librarian and I was ready to tell her not to put PULL on her shelves for fear of 6th grade readers. She's the one who pushed back. Her argument, "If all we have are books safe for 6th graders, what will the 8th graders read?" If PULL can be a valuable asset to 8th graders, it is even more valuable to high schools.

Booklist called PULL a "Good discussion book," and so it is. The teacher's guide being put together covers items related to a number of curriculum areas. 

My final comment comes from an 8th grade boy in New Jersey, a young man described by his teacher as a reluctant reader. When given a copy of PULL as his reading assignment he actually asked for more time to keep reading. Then, he not only told his teacher the book was "better than cable" he asked for another one like it.  If I were the parent or teacher of a reluctant reader, I would fight form any book that could inspire a kid that much.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Point of View

I have been seeing a lot of chatter on various writing loops lately about Point of View and picking the right one for a scene. Unfortunatly a lot of the chatter involves criticizing contest judges and editors who just don't understand that just because a writer changes POVs inside a chapter or scene it isn't head-hopping because they left blank lines on the page to signal the change.


As a reader, blank lines don't keep me from feeling jerked around when I am taken from one POV to another, not for my benefit, but to make things easy for an author to explain something to me. And all too often it's something I am intelligent enough to have figured out for myself if the author had SHOWN me rather than decided to TELL me.

Editors don't care how many times you change POV, as long as it is for the reader's benefit. Neither do I, whether I am reading a book or judging a contest entry, if the transition is smooth and enhances my reading experience I may not even notice it. If I do notice, it's usually because the change hurt my relationship with the story.

As a reader I get involved with the POV character. I care about him or her and their goal, and the inner and outer conflicts they deal with during the scene. Especially their Inner Conflict. So I want to stay with t hem until the scene ends, I don't want to be yanked away or pulled away or even blank-lined away into another character before that happens.

I know there are techniques like cutting where the reader is deliberatly yanked around to increase the level of suspense.  And I know there are authors like Sherillyn Kenyon who are often sited as examples of why POV changes should be allowed. And the intimacy scenes where moving between the hero and heroine is almost a requirement. But those are special cases. (Yes, I love Sherillyn's work and use her as my own personal text book, analyzing her to figure out how she makes it work when so many other authors, myself included, can't. And I do see her as another of those special cases)

I would like to ask why writers (usually beginning writers) think they need to change POV inside a scene. A scene is a unit of conflict, best told from the POV of the character that has the most emotional conflict and not ending until that character's conflict is resolved (either things are made better or worse - and I admit I like it when they end up worse off than ever) At that point, a switch to anothe POV, often done in the sequel to the scene to set up the next scene, doesn't damage my reading experience.

For this reader, give me one POV until the conflict is the scene comes to a head. Let me stay with the character I care about and I'll finish the book and run out to search for your next one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review - Jazz In Love

Jazz in LoveJazz in Love by Neesha Meminger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this view into a world the same as, yet very different from, the one I grew up in. Jazz's parents launch a Guided Dating Program for her once she is seen hugging an unknown boy. It happens to be her neighbor and friend from childhood, but she fears her parents are so old-word (India) and caste-bound that she can't tell them it was him and meant nothing.

Or did it?

She especially can't tell them about her relationship with Tyler, the new uberhunk in school, who calls her Baby J and leaves her trembling when he smiles. Not even the fear that her parents will send her to live in India can keep her from sneaking out to date him.

Inevitably her lies catch up with her. But not before she reunites her aunt-the victim of an abusive ex-husband-with a lost love on television and gets in major trouble for her effort, gains a boyfriend of the right family and caste that her parents think is perfect, loses him when he comes out as gay (but Indians can't be gay), uncovers Tyler's shameful secrets and discovers that maybe love isn't really what she thinks it is, and that the boy next door might mean more to her than she first realized. If this sounds complicated it is, and the author admirably pulls all the threads together. My one regretis that I wanted to see more of some of the supporting cast, including the aunt and her daughter and Tyler who turns out to be more than just the 2-dimensional player he seems to be in the beginning. No, he's not right for Jazz, but I wish he had done more than just fade away from the pages as the book drew to a close. At least her parents aren't exactly the dragons she paints them and she learns some important lessons about herself, her family and the value of the truth. As for love...she still has plenty of time for that. After she's done that India thing.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

My day in jail

I went to jail last week.

Unlike most people who enter those walls, I arrived as a visitor and had an escort to the multi-purpose room where I was to be a speaker. But I still had to pass through gates past tall fences with rolls of barbed wire at the top, pass through the metal detector, answer questions and leave my personal belongings behind in a locker. There was no way to even imagine I was anywhere but in a secure facility, namely the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) in Joliet, part of the state's department of juvenile justice. The facility houses young males, most between the ages of 15 and 21.

Students shuffled into the room, one cell block at a time in an orderly fashion, required, because their guards kept them single-filed and properly spaced out. I faced a room of disinterested faces, from vacant to scowling, silent young men staring at walls, floor or maybe inner memories. And then I read the first chapter of PULL. No, they didn't suddenly sit up straight and clap, or morph into a typical high school assembly. But they listened. Heads busy contemplating the floor or counting ceiling tiles moved to focus on me as I explained my writing process and told them the story of how I came to write a book about a teenaged male like themselves, for teenaged males like themselves. Once the first question was asked—admittedly by a teacher—many began raising their hands to speak.

I heard the typical questions.

Could I publish one of their stories? No, I had to explain my own relationship with my publisher.

Was PULL a true story? It’s a compilation of real episodes that have happened to many different people. All the things that happen to David did not happen to any one boy I know, but nothing in the book has not happened to someone.

How much does a writer make? I reluctantly admitted that if you count all the hours spent writing, editing and revising, not to mention promoting, it amounts to sub-minimum wage. At least no one laughed when I explained it had all been a labor of love.

Mostly the young men in the audience wanted me to read more. Like children hungry for a little more of a new bedtime story, they listened as I read about the teen bad-boy. I wonder if he became a hero in their eyes after they heard a scene about him and his many girlfriends. They also listened to the scene where the hero fights him to defend one of the girls.

I donated an autographed copy to the school library and the guys were claiming dibs before they were dismissed. The principal and I wanted to get copies for the boys. Unfortunately they can’t have hardcover books in their cells for a variety of security reasons. Since there are no plans for a paperback edition until the far future, I am left with no way to meet the needs of the kinds of young people I wrote this book for.

I don’t regret going to Joliet. I just regret not being able to do more.

Later this week I will visit another school. The kids there may be just as receptive as their counterparts in the IYC. If so, they at least will be free to get copies of the book. But that won’t lessen my regret for what I can't do for the boys in Joliet.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review - Huntress

HuntressHuntress by Malinda Lo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was at the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association)conference in November and was NOT one of the pucky people to obtain a pre-release copy of Huntress there although I heard the author speak and lusted after on. Two weeks later I went to the NCTE (National Cozuncil of Teachers of English) and snarfed up a copy the second I saw it available. I like books that are outside th normal fare. Huntress is not only different from Ash, it is different from any other paranormal or fantasy. It is only loosly a prequel to Ash, they are both set in the same universe where fairies and other creatures co-exist with humans in a not to easy alliance. Several hundred years seperate the two books, and the relationship between the species is different, but you lose nothing by reading them in either order, there is no true connection.

BTW, I enjoyed Huntress even more than Ash. This book took me to a world where the fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of two extraordinary teenaged girls, one in training to be mystic, the second a huntress. Although they had been in school together, neithe had paid much attention to each other until they find themselves on a quest to answer the call of the Fairy Queen and try to overcome the mysterious blight that is devistating the human world. And in the course of this quest, the two girls fall in love.

Theirs is not a world where being a lesbian is considered a fate worse than death or cause for being ostricized. In one scene the king's son who accompanies them on their quest to find the Fairy Queen, asks the huntress if he will need to fight her for the love of the female guard traveling with them. The big issue between the huntress and her family is not that she is a lesbian, but that her father has already set up a politically advantagous marriage for her, just as he did her brother. Her mother explains that politically advantagous marriages involving two women are rare, and she will just have to obey her father. So she jumps at the idea of this quest to keep her away from her father and the unknown future husband he has chosen for her, at least for a time. The mystic has another problem. If she is to fulfill her destiny she desperatly wants she must remain celibate. But she also wants a future with the huntress she now loves. She has a vision of something terrible happening to the Huntress, and, as one member of the party after another dies or is injured she fears she will lose the girl she loves.

This sets up the final conflict between the two. Huntress doesn't have the traditional happily ever after ending, but once the ending arrived I realized it was inevitable. There was nothing else the author could have done and retained the integrity of the world she created. And that is the mark of an excellent storyteller, that she gives the ending a reader can accept as the RIGHT way to end the book.

I truly want to see more of this world and hope there will be more books coming.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

First Sale blog

This weekend I'm guest blogging with Barbara White Daille, about my first sale. Come over and check things out. One lucky commenter will get an autographed copy of PULL!!