Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Confirmation or Critique

Not long ago I did a school visit that involved small group sessions with five or six dedicated writing students to field their in-depth questions. It was great, they gave me flowers, and there were cupcakes (mindful of my weight I managed to say no) and juice – my throat needed that. I brought books and wristbands to give away to the small group attendees.

The questions were great, including the ever present “how much of PULL is real.” I always get that, and it always comes from a guy. And several of the people in the small groups brought writing samples they wanted me to look over.

I am part of an online critique group, my RWA chapter does critiques so I have given and received the things, I judge contests and do beta reads for other writers. I thought I could handle reading the first chapter and giving a little encouraging feedback to an eager student.

First of all, I loved her voice, it was really fresh and interesting. I like the character she created. It was a dystopian novel following an invasion of Earth, and she filled the first three pages with a huge backstory dump about how this happened and what our relationship with our new masters was like. Although it was well told, there was so much information I had to read the pages twice to begin to understand all that past history. When I finished I told her there was a lot of information there and she should look into spreading it out in several chapters.

She told me her friends thought the first chapter was wonderful.

I agreed, but mentioned that so much information about the past on three pages was confusing.

She reminded me she wanted to use a documentary style.

I’m a slow learner, so I tried again to explain that I loved he writing but it was difficult to untangle so much information delivered so quickly.

But her friends thought it was exactly right.

Finally the light bulb came on. There is a time in our writing careers when all we really want is validation. She wanted to hear this author confirm her friends statement that this was good, not hear suggestions on how it could be improved. I remember that feeling myself, in the days BC (before computer – swear to God, I wrote my first novel on a typewriter and used carbon paper to make copies and white out for corrections.) I handed my opus over to a reader expecting heartfelt praise. Needless to say she and I were never as close again. After gathering a few dozen rejection slips I put my child away. Like a time capsule, I uncovered it a few years ago, started reading and realized just how kind my friend had been. At that point in my career I only thought I wanted a critique. Hearing the truth put me off writing for decades, years when I could have been honing my skill. And it cost me a friend.

I subtly changed my comments and agreed that her story worked well exactly as written, that the documentary style of telling was appropriate and that I saw her talent. And I did. I hope I handled it right at the end, because she does have talent and a future, and I really loved her writer’s voice.

But my next contract with a school will include a stipulation that I not read any student manuscripts for fear I forget that I’m not in my critique group, and that beginning writers need confirmation first.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Boy Book Review - Lockdown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reese Anderson is locked in juvie, and just wants to get by. They call the place Progress, but neither the officials nor the inmates seem concerned with making any. Reese is part of a pilot work-release program that allows inmates to do public service, he works in a home for the elderly. For him it’s a few hours away from the joint, worth even the handcuffs and humiliating body searches he has to put up with every time he returns. Inside Progress the word fair does not exist. When Reese witnesses officials turn their backs when one of the older boys decides to beat on a 12-year-old, a sense of morality he doesn’t know he owns prompts him to intervene. As he expects he is punished and almost loses his right to continue in the work-release program. But this and other incidents teach him things about himself. Things that enable him to hang on when the police come after him for a current death with roots back to his two-year-old arrest and that could earn him twenty-years in the big house unless he confesses. This is a story about a boy who has everything against him, somehow manages to persevere.

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Boy Book Reviews

Monday, March 21, 2011

Boy Book Review - Compulsion

CompulsionCompulsion by Heidi Ayarbe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was difficult for me to read and difficult to like but it did pull me into its world. I've given it three stars because of the reason I found it difficult. This is an in-depth portrayal of the life of Jake, a young man with OCD. Heidi Ayarbe brought me deep into a disturbed mind that knows his life is not normal and feels his only hope of becoming normal is "magic." The magic of prime numbers and the hope that winning his third soccer championship will break their control over his life. Keeping himself a secret grows harder every day, as does his fear of what will happen if anyone figures him out.

I don't have OCD, I don't know anyone who does. Compulsion truely took me to a foreign state, and I totally recommend this book to anyone trying to understand this insidious illness. Watching Jake was uncomfortable for this so-called "normal" person. I knew his belief in magic was wrong but prayed with every page I turned that maybe in his case I was wrong. That is the power of this book, I had to root for this boy compelled to do things I could not understand and hope he would succeed.

Jake is compelled to look at clocks, knowing that some time were good - those he could manipulate into a prime number like 7:31 where 7-3-1= 3. Other times were bad and left him literally frozen in place while friends and family complained until the clock changed. This is not MONK, Jake needs more than just to have the shampoo and conditioner equal. One of the most compelling scenes occurred after well-meaning friends disturb his morning ritual and he is forced to risk loosing his spot in the all-important game because he has no choice. He MUST leave school and go all the way home and back to bed so he can start his day over again correctly.

The story also covers his best friend Luc, a young man suffering anger issues after living with an abusive father. We also meet Jake's younger sister who is sometimes forced to assume the role of mother because their own mother has her own form of OCD but really just wants to beleive that jer brother "has her back". When his father tells Jake he needs to help keep the family together and promises he won't ask the impossible of his son, it was hard not to cry as Jake thinks,
"You already have."

The weakest part of the book was an attempt to go into the past and offer an explaination for Jake's OCD and obssesion with clocks and time. I didn't care why. it simply was, and as a reader I was content with that. I just wanted to know what would happen to him and his family next.

This book comes out in May, 2011. It does not contain the conventional "happy ending." But it does offer hope, and for that it deserves to be read.

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Boy Book Reviews

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Can't Run Without You

In my so-called spare time I volunteer with the Senior Center in the village of Arlington Heights. Today they held their annual Volunteer Appreciation day luncheon. This local author who does a lot of her writing at the center in-between bouts of volunteering for the Library branch situated in the building, was invited to sit up front with the dignitaries. I autographed copies of PULL for Mayor Arlene Mulder, Senior Citizen Commission member Maureen Seleski, and the Village Manager, Bill Dixon.  The Mayor wanted to know how much of the book was true, and we discussed the impact of domestic violence on young people and how the hero, David, deals with the loss of his parents and his own feelings of guilt.

Village of Arlington Heights Mayor Mulder, PULL and author B. A. Binns
Lunch involved three types of pasta, all good and no one grumbled about the absence of corned beef and cabbage. The theme of the event was Can't  Run Without You! Former Senor Center Volunteer Coordinator Becky Hume, a personal friend who recently took the position of Village Clerk, reminded us how much we give to the community.

Becky Hume
She and Mayor Mulder presented awards to many volunteers who have put in long hours over the years, some as much as 6,000. I don't have nearly that many, but I and several other members of the Library staff got together after the event for a final shot.

Yes, there's that pesky book stealing a spot in the picture. PULL just seems to turn up wherever I go.
(P. S. The lady with the rose is MaryJo Lepo, my boss)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

31st Annual Children's Literature Conference

I spent Friday at the 31st Annual Children's Literature Conference as part of their YA Panel. I had the opportunity to talk to area teachers and librarians, listen to featured speakers Laurie Anderson, Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Sara Prineas, and Thom Barthelmess. The conference was held out in the cornfields - almost literally. Northern Illinois University, the host site, is out in DeKalb Illinois, over an hour's drive into nowhere. Lucky me, I only got lost twice. The conference theme was Literature 3.1: The Book & Beyond and the day long program featured a wealth of information on using technology to reach young readers. After Sara Prineas deomonstrated its power, I am now a SKYPE convert. I plan to get with it and plan to move into the 21st century asap.

Best of all, at least for me, was the opportunity to chat with one of my own personal heroines - Laurie Halse Anderson. She shared a lot of writing advice with us - including not to publish book one of a trilogy until you've finished book three, because your public will hound you you come up with a release date. (They even get mad at you for wasting time on useless things like shopping or even blogging)  I found her a dynamic speaker who readily shared herself with her audience. We learned that her husband was also her first love (and gave her her first kiss). And that writer's should always marry carpenters - and she has the cottage to prove why - and why she calls herself the "mad woman in the forest."

Me and Laurie - a major moment for me!!
 Until I heard her I had no idea that SPEAK was not only a controversial book, it iwas also a personal one for her. She talked at length about a teacher who helped her over a trauma that left her considering suicide by looking her in the eye every day and reminding her she was a real person. Her story reminded me to thank all the people in my life who helped me over rough spots, as she was able to publically thank him on the eve of his retirement.  As many people still move to ban SPEAK and consider it pornography, she reminds us of the importance of reaching out to the young because you never know what they may be experienceing. Her emails and letters from readers show how many understand and need the lessons of that book.  The best part of this is that she and I will share the same venue again in November when we both speak at NCTE Annual Convention in Chicago.

Thanks to the audience who attended the YA panel that included myself, Kathi Baron (another author with my publisher, WestSide books), James Klise, James Kennedy, Claire Zulkey, and Adam Selzer.
This group of librarians and teachers were attentive and interested in using the works of local authors in their classes and libraries. 
My book-signing location. (Notice how they mispelled my name on my sign, showing that nothing in life is perfect.

There's nothing like meeting a personal heroine. This was not a day - or a conference I will forget anytime soon.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Romance for Guys??

I few weeks ago I read a portion of a WIP to a small group of men and women, many of them writers. The section I read involved my hero in an E/R wearing that horrible hospital gown that leaves a portion of his thigh uncovered. The heroine looks at a scar on his thigh and remembers...

The muscles under the scar sometimes tightened up and produced a stabbing pain. Once it had been her pleasure to massage that pain away. Once he’d welcomed her touch. She placed a hand on his thigh. His skin was warm and the hairs in his flesh tickled her palm.

He froze. “I said my leg was fine.”

She stepped away and clasped her hands behind her back to prevent Kyle from seeing them tremble.

When I finished reading, one of the men in the group informed me that I wrote erotica well. As other men nodded agreement I took a deep breath and tried to explain that I had not written erotica.  Another man informed me that I wrote the kind of erotica a man could read, not like that stuff Harlequin prints. A female friend of mine and I left laughing at the differences between men and women.

In the words of Bill Cosby, I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

This weekend I went to the movies and saw a good romance flic. Not the one you're thinking of, I saw the Adjustment Bureau. I know, that's not a romance, at least its not being marketed as one.  But it is, and its a romance for guys. (I know, Matt Damon, I have to admit I get a little heart palpitaions myself)

Yes the movie is science fiction, about an up-and-coming politician who discovers that there are forces guiding the human race and that free will is largely a myth (although we are allowed to pick the kind of toothpaste we want).  This bureau is grooming him to be a future president of the United States, and while he may not like the idea that his life is being controlled by others, he isn't out to fight too hard, and the movie would be over after about fifteen minutes except - he meets a girl and falls in love.  That love is outside The Plan so the adjusters go all out to keep them apart.  Matt Damon spends the rest of the movie fighting for free will, a.k.a. the right to love. And if that means giving up the future presidency, and even risking his own sanity when they threaten to wipe his mind clean and leave him in a mental institute,  he's willing to risk it for love. The only think he can't risk is her safety. (Sigh)

Seriously, in spite of the chase scenes and political rhetoric, this is a romance told from the guy's point of view. BTW, the chase scene does last a bit too long, but I'm willing to forgive that. Men may never call it a romance, ditto for marketing, but without the Cute Meet (in the Men's bathroom of all places), the romantic Kink, and the Moment of Despair, not to mention the Happily Ever After, there is no movie.

My take on this is simple, that guys do like to see and read romance - they just don't want to use that word.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review - Inside Out

Inside Out (Inside Out, #1)Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This starts out well and catapults us into a totally different world. I loved the clash of cultures and slowly unfolding what and where we really were. Most of all I loved tha characters. And that's where the problem came. Because the author kills off one of my favorite characters. I won't say who, how or where in the book it happens, I don't want to spoil things. Other readers may not feel the same way. I just wish there had been a reason this character had to die, maybe then I could have accepted it. The deathe was sudden, and, to this reader's mind, unnecessary to the plot or character development. So I was stunned and hurt instead of intrigued.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, I do wonder what will happen next. But the final ending is so far in the future, and I'm still reeling from the loss of someone I had begun to think of as a friend, that I feel no desire to look at the sequel.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Guest blogging today

Today I'm blogging about why I write YA Romance and why the genre appeals to both the young and the young at heart over at the Lady Scribes.  I talk about YA, and especially YA for boys.

Stop by and say hello and remember again what it felt like to find that First Love. (You can also discover some of the secrets of my college days..)