Saturday, December 22, 2012

Contest results

The GoodReads contest for copies of Die Trying and other stories has resulted in three winners. Anna, Annika, and Pamela, your autographed copies are on the way.

If you missed out on that contest, don't worry. January 2013 will bring a new contest, and a chance to win copies of Being God. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Page 12 for 12-12-12

First, I admit to being a copycat. I saw another blogger doing a page twelve for 12-12-12, and thought, hey, why not.  So, for your entertainment, page 12 of Being God, due out January, 2013 from AllTheColorsOfLove press. It's YA, contemporary, gritty, and the sequel to Pull.

On this page, seventeen-year-old Malik Kaplan and his best (only) friend Cesare Russo, are at a party.  Only they are not having much fun:

“Down, Jekyll, it was an accident,” Cesare says. “Not the first tonight and probably not the last.”

“I thought Spencer said I was Hyde,” I growl as the kid rushes back into the crowd.

“Whatever. He’s not known for having all lights lit. I still think he was talking ‘bout himself. Sometimes that crazy dude plays both roles.” Cesare shrugs. “This whole thing sucks. I mean, chips and dip, what does Spencer think we are, eighth-graders? We should leave.”

“You just want to leave because Giselle didn’t come. At least there’s plenty of booze.” I finish off my second beer, or maybe it’s my third. Who’s really counting? I toss the bottle toward an already overflowing garbage can. The bottles inside rattle as I connect.

“Two points,” Cesare says.

I laugh and head for the basement. Cesare follows me. There’s a second beer stash in a wooden tub filled with ice down there. I need another beer and don’t want to face the kitchen mayhem again. There are only a few people in the basement. Unfortunately, Spencer is one of them.

I walk down the creaking staircase and see Spencer standing with a small group of guys. His AstroTurf-green shirt barely covers his stomach rolls.

He laughs and says, “Seriously, the Barn-girl had Malik shaking.”

“Oh no.” Cesare tries to grab my arm. “Let’s go back upstairs.”

“Like anyone cares what comes out of the big mouth attached to the useless hands,” I say loudly and step forward.

Spencer’s head snaps up. “Don’t go there”

“Like you didn’t go where you were supposed to on the football field?” I say. The tub filled with beer bottles sits in the middle of the room. I dig through the freezing cold, grab a bottle from the bottom, and twist off the cap. One chug sends fire streaming down my throat. I wipe moisture from my mouth with the back of my hand and wait for his next move.

“At least I play on a team where people aren’t afraid to hit,” Spencer says.

“Do you have a problem with the basketball team?”

“Not the team,” Spencer says. “Just the self-appointed god of the court calling himself the captain.” He sniffs and runs his hand under his nose, as if wiping away sweat. Or a booger.
Don't forget my contest to win autographed copies of my second book, Die Trying. Find out more HERE!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Contest Giveaway!!

You have a chance to win one of three free copies of Die Trying, my volume of short stories for adults and young adults, showing the sometimes humorous, and sometimes tragic facts of life. The stories include:

A GENUINE ORIGIONAL: See how Pull's David and Yolanda fall in love while surrounded by a nursery filled with toddlers.

BEGGAR BOY: She’s African-American from Indiana. He’s Iranian-African from Illinois. Kate Mason and Sayeed Hosseni meet in Jamaica where their lives are changed by a native boy too proud to beg and too ashamed to admit a painful past.

FATHERS AND SONS The age-old epic battle between fourteen-year-old Deondre and his father as they play the “my way or the highway” game and then wait to see who blinks.

AND IN THE END: An adult Deondre still has problems with his father, until the 2012 apocalypse approaches and his former "school buddy" helps him see the light, and show that she is more than just a friend .
WHY DOES IT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE ME? A generation gap story about a woman designated by her family to talk Grandfather into leaving the past behind and moving into assisted living. In the process she learns that the past can hold unexpected value.

ABOMINATION Life is good for sixteen year old Neill Mallory, until the day his boyfriend dumps him.  Carl’s parents have prayed over him, and neither boy wants to keep fighting people invoking the God thing and calling their relationship an abomination.

DIE TRYING Juvon was the pride of his inner-city neighborhood with only one goal, bringing home Olympic gold for his parents. Now, with the the "Terminator Cancer" attached his brain and experimental treatments failing, he makes the decision to take his future into his own hands.

There are seven more stories, plus a sneak peek at Being God, coming in 2013, a sequel to Pull.

The contest is hosted on On December 20, three lucky people will be chosen as winners to receive autographed copies.  Enter for free, just click here to visit the Goodreads contest site. and click the Enter To Win button

Good luck, and good reading.

And don't forget to LIKE my publishing press, AllTheColorsOfLove at

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Multi-cultural books

Sorry about not posting for a week. I attended the Indiana Library Federation (ILF) meeting in Indianapolis where I spoke on Multicultural Collections, then came home to prepare for Thanksgiving. Let me just give thanks that Thanksgiving is over.

In this post I will share with you some information from that ILF presentations. Of course, I shared information on my books, Pull and Die Trying. But the main focus of the presentatiomn was a general discussion on diversity in YA fiction. How can readers find it, and why should librarians care.

Happy librarians who all left with copies of Die Trying
Multicultural literature is defined as "Materials that share 'stories, facts, and customs from around the globe' (and around the nation) that allow 'children to become familiar with diversity and to become comfortable with adjusting to the unfamiliar'" according to Venture into Cultures: A Resource Book of Multicultural Materials and Programs. I heard much the same from the 800 plus librarians at the conference.

This was the second time I have presented on this subject. My first was a month earlier, in Sanduscky Ohio, at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OELMA).   And this was an ultra-hot topic at the YALSA Literature Symposium, discussed at two different workshops. Librarians care. Their patrons care. And I have survey results from librarians, authors and bloggers to show just how much.

The concern is how few books in this area are being published, and how difficult it is to discover those that are.  Many librarians said they selected books for their collections based on covers and reviews. But as far
Cover Collage

 as diversity is concerned, you can't always tell the book by the cover. As you can see from the cover collage, the books do exist.Every year there are more books about an ever-widening cast of diverse characters. These include books about people of different colors, people with of different ethnicities and abilities, and  books about GLBT youth. True, many of the GLBT books have covers that keep the protagonists hidden. You can't tell by looking at it that I Am J is about a transgender teen. The covers of Five Flavors of Dumb and Crazy Beautiful don't reveal they are about people with disabilities. And the books in the Numbers trilogy show no people on the covers, nothing to reveal they center around interracial romances. 

(And please don't get me started on the American cover for The Demon's Surrender, [the cover I included in the collage is the UK cover] or the original cover that the American publisher wanted for Liar before public hue-and-cry made them change)   But there are now many books about diverse characters, from Shine Coconut Moon, about a Sikh Indian girl living in an ordinary American city, to This Thing Called The Future, that takes readers to Africa to see how similar the struggles and problems facing young people there are to their own lives.  And that fulfills part of the promise librarians have for diversity. That  "readers gain an opportunity to view concepts, events, and issues from more than just the perspective of the mainstream group. When the world is viewed from more than one perspective, readers gain insight into their own behavior."  There are a variety of ways of living and being, but that at our core, we are all so very similar.

As one librarian said, "It’s comforting and empowering for anyone to see his or her cultural experience reflected in literature. And for general population readers, it’s an essential tool to appreciating/celebrating the differences among us, as well as understanding the similarities."

Librarians want to increase their selection, and during our discussion we centered on ways to do so.  Many readers of all ages want the same thing. If you have any books you think deserve to be in any of these collections to be presented to future librarian organizations, please leave a comment. Let me know and I will check them out and present to librarians in the future.    And if you have any comments on the on-going multi-cultural representation in YA literature issue, please share. I think we would all love to hear more.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

YALSA Conf report - Big things on the horizon

 HOT, hot topic at the conference
Speculation from the librarians attending the conference on what will be/remain big. This area was a huge discussion topic, filling several sessions and off-session discussions. These results relate to reader answers to surveys, the kinds of books young adults ask librarians for, and personal observation.


Paranormal will remain big. The genre continually reinvents itself, from ghosts to witches and wizards. Then vampires and shape-shifters arrived and became (and remain) huge. Zombies are a big and growing thing now, along with fallen angels. Speculation about future incarnations of the genre included mermaids and leprechauns and supernatural beings from other cultures. (There was a big cheer at the idea of a leprechaun paranormal). Many also speculated/hoped for paranormal stories based on myths and legends from other countries and societies, not just ancient Greek and Roman. Examples librarians hoped to see int he future were the chupacabra fromMexico and orishas from Africa. 

Reissue, but with a twist

Everything old is new again. A lot of old classics are being reissued by publishers with bright new covers to attract teens. But what the kids are are asking for is the new-style twist on those old favorites, like:
  • Android Karenina
  • Cinder (Cinderella)
  • Jane Slayer
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

 “The WEIRD”

Oddball things are always big good with teens, and librarians see that as something that will continue to grow.  Especially the scary stuff - horror never really died off
  • Where things come back – John Corey Whaley
  • Why we broke up – Daniel Handler
  • Dead End in Norwelt – John Gantos
  • Rotters – Daniel Kraus (a personal favorite that changed my funeral plans and includes the worst revenge of the bullied teen scenes since Carrie. Do NOT read this book on a full stomach)

Other areas

 Quest novels, both in science fiction and fantasy, seem primed for a comeback.


The thing to remember is that successful YA authors tend to put out strong books that even adults will enjoy because they know how to create something that fights to be read. Teens will "put down a book in a heartbeat" if it's not compelling. 
Librarians see growth in books with strong “World Building.” Young adults are asking for protagonists facing strong external conflicts while dealing with complex inner challenges. Librarians speculated that this was part of the allure of Dystopian, based on the kinds of issues and characters kids ask for books about. But they often add they want the story to be in a world they would want to live in, unlike most dystopian societies.
Which brings us to realistic fiction. There was a lot of speculation that the next really big thing could be a wave of realistic fiction with strong world building and protagonists who have heavy-hitting inner conflicts. Kids want to get away from their regular world, but not too far. Many want to believe that what they read about COULD be true.

More on realistic fiction in a future post.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

YALSA Conference report - student understanding

One of the more promising things I heard at the conference was how English classes are working to give students the tools they need to pick books, along with tools to critically analyze the many messages they are bombarded with. This includes:
  • Understanding and dissecting the messages in covers. Learning to understand how covers hook and why they sometimes have little to do with the story. This includes a school reading group that do not look at covers when choosing their next book to read. The selection is based on book front matter and reading the first few pages. Some of the books they have chosen by not letting the cover speak to them has been eye-opening.
  • Reading between the lines of information found in the front and back matter
  • Understanding the Creative Commons license, copyright issues, and plagiarism in music, art, and writing.
  • Understanding reviews. This includes everything from a critique, to a professional review, to the amateur review. They learn to differentiate between the professional and the amateur reviewers and how to evaluate reviews and use the information when selecting a book. This includes understanding the “code words” used by professional reviews in their quest to meet their editors' word limits.
  • Understanding and reading between the lines of reader comments in places like Amazon and Goodreads, or in blogs. What both the positive, and negative, may mean; and that the volume of reader comments represent popularity, but not necessarily literary quality. And that some of these reviews and blog posts, places without the hard word limits, might provide insight into the meaning behind the Codes of the pros.

Basically, kids are learning things I wish I had known when I was younger. A lot more insight, and maybe a little less plagiarism as kids understand better the work involved in creation and that reviewers should be listened to, but they still need to apply their own evaluation and brainpower to others' opinions.

Monday, November 5, 2012

YALSA Conf report - FANDOM

I first heard of the world of fandom two years ago, but did not think much about it until this session. The world has existed for a long time. Many teens have grown up in a remix culture. A world where they have been able to build an AU or alternate universe where they change the words, outcomes, characters, etc. at will, for as long as they have been reading. AU - alternate universe, is part of the fandom vocabulary.  Yes, this world has its own language, a big part of it's community aspect that draws followers in. Including crossover, where two different worlds/books are are intermingled in one story.

Tumblr has become the de facto one-stop home for fandom. In addition to the ever popular transformations of Twilight and Harry Potter, there are fandoms for books as well as TV shows, movies, and musical groups. This includes classics such as Sherlock Holmes, Twelfth Night, Othello, Don Quixote, Jane Eyre, and Turn of the Screw. Fan created work includes art, prose and poetry. It is a community with people writing, editing and reading.

All of which makes fandom a low-pressure platform for teen writers and readers.

The original source work is considered the "cannon" - unchangeable. Fans take the cannon and apply their individual interpretations. As long as fandom is "non economic" the courts tend to keep distant fro what is considered transformative work, protected under copyright "fair use" clauses. Aside from a few early legal incidents, fandom and the publishing world exist in a state of detente.  The law has not been fully tested yet; almost no on wants to find out what the courts would say if a case went the distance. In some cases publishers are embracing fandom and even hosting fan contests.  They have gone from trying to do "cease and desist" and getting fan sites shut down, to "how can we participate and grow the fan base?"

People read fan created work for different reasons than they read commercial fiction. Many people love a good AU - alternative universe where their favorite characters strive. Fandom is easily read on the phone and in short spurts. Most who write fandom are in it "for the love of the game." In the process, they learn that anyone can create, and that can be good and empowering for teens. One fan was quoted as saying, "when the spirit moves you, you create, even if its a 500 word dribble about werewolves in space."  Another mentioned that while maybe 90% of the works are awful (bad grammar, tons of exposition, no plot), 10% is "worth dying for." I couldn't help thinking of the potential this media has for enticing reluctant readers, enticing them to get interested enough that they go seek out the cannon and possibly become writers themselves.

I said I had not heard of fandom before, but the more I learned, the more I realized I have participated in the practices since my own teen years. Just not in a community. My head is filled with my own favorite characters in an AU I created. It's a crossover since I just keep putting new characters into the same universe and watching them live their new lives. I understand the joy of a good ship, putting together coupes from different eras, books, genres, and letting them find true love.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

YALSA Conf report - Bring Your "A" Game

This is the second in a series of blogs I will be making about what went on at the 2012 YALSA Literature Symposium.  The first discussed Teens and eReaders. I said I was going to discuss the YALSA conference discussion on FANDOM next. But I heard something today that made me thing. Librarians, public and school, discussed the Common Core State Standards, and what it takes to get popular YA books into the classroom. The Core Standards have been adopted in 45 of the 50 states. Many YA authors would love to see heir books used in classrooms and/or perform author visits to school classes and libraries. Many teachers and schools would love to be able to offer YA books as part of their lessons, especially because they are books o many students actually want to read. Clamor to read. Contemporary fiction that speaks to issues that kids face, in their classrooms and students hands. When young men and women pick their own books, they are more likely both to read and enjoy them. Especially reluctant readers.

The standards do not mandate specific books. But they do include exemplars, and an emphasis on classical books and lexile levels. Teachers have to fit the school time they spend and the books they select for class study into the requirements of the Common Core Standards. We can help teachers who want to include popular YA books in their curriculum by having solid plots, with three-dimensional characters that students will challenge kids and also suck them into the book and keep them reading. Books that are well written and well-edited. And we as authors can help by adding in teacher guides and other information that can show how the books relate to the standards.

Many teachers and librarians would love to supply kids with today's YA to replace the Common Core exemplars. as classroom reads. Books that challenge kids and also suck them in and keep them reading. Authors and publishers can help by "bringing our 'A' game." Making sure our YA books, fiction and non-fiction, are well-edited, the plots, exposition, and characterization are solid and present situations that students, both proficient and reluctant readers, will find page-turners. Bring reasons why a modern/popular book could replace one of the Common Core exemplars. Help teachers who want to get our books into their schools and authors to visit by providing ammunition on how your book might help them.

If you are a teen reader, an author, a teacher, or a librarian, comment and tell me what you think.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

YALSA Conf report - Teens and eReaders

I'm at the 2012 YALSA Literature Symposium and learning a lot of interesting information anout kids and libraries, books and teen appeal. Some of it is not what I would have expected, but once I heard it things seemed pretty obvious.  For example, teens/tweens using eReaders:

Yes, more kids are using them. At least for a little while. But many school and public librarians are finding that after an initial transition, the novelty of using an eReader fades with many teens. They come to view those  devices and their attempts to make eReading similar to reading a physical book as things for "old people."

Instead, teens are more comfortable reading from a computer screen or from their phones. My eyes hurt at the very thought of using a phone screen to read a book, but it makes sense that kids would prefer that. Their phones are always with them, and well on the way to becoming the "everything device."  They don't expect eReading to be the same as book reading.

On the other hand, the tactile nature of a physica book still appeals to young readers. Teens and tweens still like to curl up with a good book in their hands. But if it's electronic, they want to use their phone.  Especially since that phone or computer get them to some of the most fun-filled stuff on the web - FANDOM.

More on FANDOM in the next conference report.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

OK, I'm starting the long 50K word trek tomorrow - actually staying up late tonight, so I'll do my first words in less than four hours. I've managed to eek out a win for the last four years (and even sold my second NaNo novel, PULL, to WestSide books.)  But this year, I don't have an outline or a plot.

For a confirmed plotter like me, that's a major disaster.

For the last week my email has been filled with volumes of pep-talks. Over the yearsI've joined the forums for many different areas. Not just my base - Chicago, but also places like Wisconsin, Anchorage - Alaska, that is, New York City, DC, Mexico, Canada, and even France - parle vous Francais? I wish I could have been at  l'Espace Culturel de la Ferme du Plateau for the Paris kickoff.  I'm even on the list for New Jersey. Yes, they are still going to do NaNo and meet through virtual chatrooms because they are a strong, kick-butt region.  If they can do it, certainly I can.

So with all the kick-off pep talks in my in basket, I just have to write.  And find a protagonist, antagonist, plot, setting, etc. No excuses, not even the conferences I am attending this November. (Gulp)

Wish me luck come midnight Central Time.

And if you are doing NaNo too, I am b-writer. Feel free to be my friend and give me a kick in the rear if my word count drops.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

YA Fiction and the Next Big Thing

I'm pumped to attend the 2012 YALSA Literature Symposium, titled: The Future of Young Adult Literature: Hit Me with the Next Big Thing.  The conference is being held in St. Louis, Mo., the proverbial "hop, step and jump" away from my home. (Am I dating myself with that reference?) YALSA stands for Young Adult Library Services Association.

While I am not presenting (that will be at the ALA convention next summer) I will be haunting the halls, attending presentation on YA Literature and Fan-Created Work, the Future of Review Guidance, the Future of Whiteness in Young Adult Literature, Contemporary Young Adult FictionWhat Will Guys Read Next, and, of course, a special presentation on  Trends, Fads, and the Next Big Thing in Publishing.

If you're hanging around and find YALSA Author B. A. Binns, hit me with the secret words (hint: All The Colors Of Love) to get a free copy of one of my books, either PULL or Die Trying.

Monday, October 22, 2012


 Yesterday our church held a mini-reenactment of life on the frontier, when the Methodist minister traveled among multiple congregations, and lived on the kindness of his flock.  The good-old-days, when men sat on one side, and women and children on the other. And men were considered to be in their underwear if they were around ladies without a coat. And we were all dressed much to casually.

Good old days - I don't know. I'm happy with the idea that we can come as we please, sit where we want, and have a regular minister who isn't exhausted from riding his horse around fifty different congregations a month. But it was food for thought, and maybe for a historical novel  I may someday write.

And I liked the family who played music for us. Quite refreshing.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why is Teen Urban Lit considered dangerous

While at a librarian conference yesterday, I attended a session entitled Pushing the Envelope With Urban Literature.  I'm not sure what I expected, but what I got left me sad. The first assumption was that if it was "urban" YA literature, i.e. African-American, i.e. had black kids on the cover, then it was scary and needed to be kept away from middle school kids. Even though the speaker's school had a large percentage of minority students, the presenter told how  she separated out Teen books (7-8th grade) and YA and books (9-12) for the first time once she decided to "bite the bullet" and introduce Urban Lit to her collection. Before, 8th grade and had access to the YA books and 7th graders had something to look forward to.   But that was before she added Urban Lit to the collection, for fear those books would be dangerous for students.  BTW, the YA only list included some Sharon Draper titles of all things, along with the Kimani TRU titles.

I realize some books are not suited for younger teens and tweens.  But that should not be a general statement for an entire category, decided upon primarily because the protagonists happen to be African-American. She did say she was going to read some of the books, especially ones her 7th and 8th graders have been asking to read (she hadn't done that yet) and may decide to put a few into that Teen section.

Is it any wonder that publishers do not want to put African American faces on the covers of their books?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Multi Cultural Books

So what's your definition of multicultural? I talked to a number of librarians, teachers, authors and readers, and we didn't totally agree.  That's why my first step in the multicultural workshop at OELMA on Friday is to poll attendees. My former job taught me the value of what the bosses called "Level Setting."  Getting everyone on the same page.

Here's a definition I like:

The presence of a variety of cultures; including but not limited to ethnic, religions, sexual orientation, ability variances each of which has its own unique culture
But that's me.

Once the workshop attendees create their definition, I will see if I can give them what they need, information on effective ways to enhance library collections to help readers see that while there are "a variety of ways of living and being, but that at our core, we are all so very similar." 

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Attracting Reluctant Readers

On Thursday, 10-18-12, I will be presenting the first of two workshops at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association. I will be talking on a subject close to my heart, reaching out to reluctant readers. Advertisers and Marketeers know it’s easier and less costly to retain an existing customer than to win back a lost one. And young people are customers for reading and education.

Why do I care? 

 Because we as educators, librarians, concerned parents and as writers need to consider more than just the needs of the avid reader. I met a girl who informed me she reads a book a day. Maybe an exaggeration, but she’s the reader we all love. A member of her schools reading club, purchases lots of books, reads above grade level – a future leader. But what about others? We all develop at different rates, and reading at "grade level" may put too much pressure on some developing brains. And once a child gets behind, when they read one or two grades below their peers, reading aloud, in class can cause such fear and embarrassment that they turn away from books.

Try it yourself. Pick a language you don’t know and pick up a book and see how much joy you get out of stumbling through it. Get a feel for what it could mean to a struggling student when we say "Just try harder," or "Reading is fun," or the really great line, "Lose yourself in a book."

Is it really surprising so many struggling kids decide they hate reading? 

Human beings did not evolve for reading, the way we did for seeing and speaking. Instead, pars of the brain have learned to adapt and achieve that skill.  Sometimes things go wrong. We recognize that and call it a learning disability and work on strategies to help readers over come the problem. But sometimes things take a little longer, and our race to push and put every student at grade level or above can end up having a detrimental effect on someone who matures just a little bit more slowly. 

If we can catch them before they accept the label "Reluctant Reader," before they convince themselves they hate books, then we have a chance. And they have opportunity to achieve their potential.  If I take my car to work and someone else decides to ride their bike (GO GREEN!!) but we both get their on time, they don't fail going to work. I will be talking about ways to keep kids from feeling like failures just because they take a little longer to reach the goal of reading proficiently.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Joliet Regional Author Fair

Today I participated int he Joliet Regional Author Fair.  No, I'm not really part of the Joliet region, I live an hour north of the area, but I enjoyed the drive (in spite of the downpour), the day, and the people.

One of the best things about the day was meeting several of my fellow SCBWI members who also participated, or stopped by to visit. We've spent a lot of time on the Illinois email list, but it was great meeting them. This included Paula Morrow, who stopped by on her way to Indiana to see me and purchase an autographed copy of PULL for herself. In addition, she earned a coupon that allows her to download my new eBook of short stories, Die Trying, for free.

I also made a new fan, and met his family.

It was a great day, even with the rain and travel, and I'll do it again next year, when I have Being God (coming in November) available.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Woman's Work

I had my flu shot today and my right arm is already killing me, but I still have to keep typing. 

A woman's work is never done, especially for me because I never learned how to say no to people. You can see me over at Romancing The Genres to find more about the things I do to myself. And maybe offer me a little advice on how to get off the treadmill.  I would appreciate your stopping by, while I bury myself in paperwork. I'm heading back to finish preparing the speeches I need for not 1 but 2 presentations next week.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Intergenerational book club meeting

Our book club used the holiday to invite members of our local library's Teen Advisary Board to attend a meeting and discuss The Hunger Games.  Besides the pizza, which was awesome, we all discussed what we did, and didn't like about the book. We were divided on whether or not we would have children in such a society, but the majority of either age agreed they would take the chance and hope for a better tomorrow. Several people saw Haymitch as one of the more imortant and sympathetic characters, even viewing his alcoholism and like of children as his personal resonse to the situation (even without reading book two).  And one young man saw Katniss' mother as the most endearing character, outside of Katniss herself.

One thing all ages had in common. No, it's not great literature. Yes the story is empowering for girls. The teens were especially impressed with the parts about Katniss learning to defend herself.

Naturally talk turned to history and war, and to the current spate of reality programs (Survivor and The Amazing Race dominating). We also discussed politics and the need for personal stylists so you can look good and garner sponsors, ahem votes. The sad part was how the viewers in the capital were able to distance themselves from the idea they were watching real children be killed.  Just the way some of the adults and teens in our group admitted they could distance themselves from the all-too-real violence thy see on their TV screens. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A new job description

As of today I am more than an author.

I am a publisher.

Not exactly what I wanted to be.  But then, life is nothing if it is totally predictable.

My debut novel, PULL, a young adult novel geared toward attracting reluctant readers, was published in 2010 by Westside books.  Unfortunatly, Westside ceased publishing new books or reprinting existing books in 2011.  Because my book was not officially out of print, they retained rights. Because there was no promotion, sales plummeted. Even when people tried to order the book they were told none were available. I  know, because two booksellers and a school told me they had been unable to get books, and a second school told me the repeated trials they had to go through before finally getting  a supply for their students. 

Once the last copies were sold, and another school had to go without books, my agent was able to get my rights returned.  Great, I thought. I'll go the Indie route. I joined RWA's Self Publishing Forum so I could learn more about this and decide on my next steps. Only to discover I needed to move faster than I first intended.

Last week I was approached, first by a school, then by a distributor. They wanted to order and Westside sent them to me. I realized I needed to move fast or get replaced by a different selection.  That meant signing forms and making decisions much  more rapidly than normal for me.  And so, All The Colors Of Love was born, my own publishing company.  I looked at Amazon's Creatspace, and decided to use them as my printer/distributor. Even though I knew there would be more hassle involved, I chose to be my own publisher. I have a set of ISBN's and a Bowker account. I learned how to format documents for publication. I've signed legal papers and am in the process of establishing an account with a wholesaler.  I even bought my own copy of my cover-model (this was much more expensive that other stock photo shops, but in the end I paid because I just can't imagine anyone else as David) and learned how to use Photoshop to create a new cover.   I even kept the old motif of the hero being chained in by life, although I nixed the high-tension wires.
The new edition still needs some time to percolate through it's printers, but paperback, Kindle and Smashwords editions will be up shortly. And thoseclassrooms will have their books.

And somehow, I also found time to finish teaching an on-line writing class, get a new job, and keep on writing.  As I told my students in the Man-Talk class, women are excellent multi-taskers.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicago School Strike

It's week two of a strike that leaves kids in desperate need of an education without school, parents without care for their kids, and kids forced to walk past picket lines to get to "safe havens." I blogged about this when the strike started at Take a look, comment on your opinion, and then join me in hoping the union vote today sends kids back where they belong, inside classrooms.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Poison TreePoison Tree by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First the cover attracted me. Although this book actually involves four protagonists (Two couples) they cohose to picture the one who is of African-Asian heritage (a tiger shapeshifter) on the cover. That meant I had to read it.

The book did not disappoint. It has one of the few prologues I've read that absolutely works, it sets the tone and background beautifully, as we watch the pureblood Tiger-shifter, Sarik dealing with the torture-muder of her younger younger human sister (and the differences int heir heritage became very important later in the story). She teams up with vampire Jason who was hurt when he refused to join his crew in torturing the girl. Meanwhile two assassins, Alysia and Christian, join forces to fight the rest of the vampire nest while Sarik and Jason escape. The rest of the action takes place six years later.

That's one of the best parts of this story. This is classified as a YA book, although most of the action occurs when the characters are in their early twenties. In essence, this is one of the New Adult books, with characters in college or starting their jobs, even if they work for a paranormal association. It's a different take on a paranormal (Jason goes to bed at midnight, prime time for vampires to be out hunting). Its a world with an international organization SingleEarth dedicated to bringing peace and understanding between humanity and the various shifters, vampires, witches, the three assassins guilds, and etc. (they never define what else might be around). Things get pretty complicated in this story, their are hidden relationships between all four characters, especially Sarik, who is not exactly who she claims to be. No love triangles either, although at times their pasts almost disrupt present lives and loves. The author made one continuity error that left something bugging at my subconscious until I went back ane reread to check that things could not have happened exactly they way the narrative claimed. But it was small, and the showdown between Sarik and her father made up for that little problem.

While this story was complete in itself, there is room for a sequel. I would enjoy reading more about SingleEarth, the problem of witches maybe having too much power in the organization they founded, and the assasins guilds that are finally moving into the 21st century and becoming computerized.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review - Rotters

RottersRotters by Daniel Kraus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book about grave robbers - who knew?

I actually met Daniel Kraus last year and received an autographed copy of Rotters from him. Then, foolishly, I put the darn thing in my to-be-read pile, the pile that never gets any smaller. The wonder is I finally worked my way to it.

Thank Heavens I did.

First let me say this is horror, this is gore, this is suspense. If you have a weak stomach you might want to skip this book, or at least skip eating. This is a book a bout the dead, not the undead or the risen dead, no flesh-eating zombies or vampires, just Rotters, the graverobbers unflattering name for the living, who think they will lie peacefully and undisturbed in their coffins. (BTW, I'm leaving instructions for a cremation)

Since I met the author in person I know he at least appears normal. He just knows his way around dead people better than anyone outside a certified forensic anthropologist--no, he knows even more. And he shares that knowledge with readers through the eyes, ears nose and every other sense of sixteen-year-old Joey Crouch a straight A student from Chicago sent to live with his unknown father after his mother's death.

He is ignored and abandoned by the man and doesn't realize that's a good thing until he finds his father prying jewelry from a dead woman's hand. Just her hand, the bones came lose from the rest of her skeleton while his father was robbing her grave.

Joey finds his way into the world of graverobbers as an escape from the new school where he is bullied and harassed by students and teachers. His father considers it an honorable profession, even names his shovel, and reluctantly takes Joey on as an apprentice. I learned way more about decomposition and the difference between a corpse and a cadaver than I ever wanted to.

The author knows how to be cruel to his characters. Joey faces the kind of trial that left me wondering what kept him sane. There's no way to tell about them without being a spoiler, but they are dark. Maybe he doesn't stay sane, his revenge against some of his tormenters is psychotic at best. (Again, empty stomachs are recommended)

The story does drag on a little too long, that's why there are only four stars. Things get so complex there has to be a long, involved telling to straighten out some of the lose ends and subplots. But that is balanced by the in-depth characterization of this boy thrust into a new and definitely strange environment where he not only survives, he thrives. There isn't a conventional happy ending, not even an ordinary hopeful ending. That's fitting, because nothing else about the book is conventional or ordinary. But it is an interesting ending, I'm not sure I'll ever forget those final paragraphs. I certainly won't forget Joey.

Did I mention - no grave for me.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Spoiler Alert

I review a lot of books. That means I read a ton, because I don’t chose to review everything I read. I try to be careful not to give out spoilers in the review. I once mentioned a plot device an author used in a book I won’t name here. It was a totally phony way of getting the protagonist out of a predicament, and I still maintain the author cheated. I noted that plot device in a review and got a nasty-gram from someone telling me I had spoiled the book by telling them what happened so they saw no point in reading. I had ruined the whole story for him/her.


A: I only talked about one of many incidents in the story.  B: that incident had nothing to do with the eventual resolution (although I suppose if the protagonist had been beaten then the story might have ended). 

But that made me think of the whole idea of Spoilers and the idea that knowing the end can make a book not worth reading.

Last week I read a book I could not put down. Before I opened the cover I knew the plot. Knew the characters, the hero, heroine, villain, who won and who lost, how and why. I’ve heard the story over and over since I was a kid. I’ve even taught the story to other kids as an adult. But the author kept me hanging on every word. The book was titled Esther. Yeah, that Esther, the story many of us heard in Sunday School. Like I said, I’ve taught that story to students. It’s all about … well, just in case you are the one person who never heard it, I won’t spoil things for you. I’m not trying to promote the book, so I won’t tell you which one – there are dozens of versions of the  story out there.  The point is, even knowing what would happen next, I kept going for hundreds of pages all the way through the epic final battle.  Because this book had more than just the plot – this story had VOICE.

I still can’t define voice, but I know it when I read it. Voice is the reason I reread favorite books again and again. Why I read a book even after I’ve seen the movie. (And why people still cry that the book was better).  

If the writing is fantastic, the story simply can’t be spoiled.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review - Tua and the Elephant

Tua and the ElephantTua and the Elephant by Randal Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is a little younger than I usually read, definitly middle grade, but totally enchanting. Little Tua (whose name means peanut because she was so small at birth) brings us her world, Thailand, as she struggles to rescue a baby elephant from the men mistreating her. In the process we meet her loving and hard-working mother, her aunt the actress who considers the world her stage and everyone a potential audience, and the men and women of the market who love little Tua and consider her part of their family.

There are also the bad guys, who even steal from a poor beggar woman. We learn a lot about Thailand, the culture and its people. Tua, while poor, has everything she needs, including empathy and a willingness to sacrifice for others. She sets off to take the elephant she names Pohn-Poun becasue if one Pohn means happiness then two has to be perfect.

The villains are perfect for the age range, one cruel but inept, the other a follower who shows what happens when you don't know how to say no. The added bonus is learning about the culture of Thailand and how the people feel about elephants as Tua takes Pohn-Pohn to a sanctuary and a happy ending for everyone.

A perfect book for the early years, with gorgeous illustrations.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review - Fighting For Dontae

Fighting for DontaeFighting for Dontae by Mike Castan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story depicts the struggles of a young man and his friends in the inner city. Javier is in seventh grade and joins a gang because the gang says so - they jump him and after being badly beaten in the initation he is in, no choice in the matter. But he does chose to stay as out of things as possible. Students will understand his struggle to be himself, when the friends he has grown up with turn to drug use and violence. His father is in and out of jail, more in than out. When he comes home things are great, but eventually he breaks a law and ends up back inside.

Javier has one thing going for him. A teacher that he learns to like and respect takes an interest in him. When he is forced to do a service project, that teacher recruits him as an aide to the special ed class she teaches. At first concerned that his friends will call him just another "retard", he learns to care for the kids he cares for, and have pride when he can help them. And when that teacher lets him know she beleives in him, his natural intelligence and empathy come to the fore. Dontae and the other kids need him, and that need serves as a counter pull to the call of the gang, the increasing violent confrontations his friends are involved in, and the drugs that surround him.

At times the story gets a little preachy. But it shows the difference a caring adult can make if he/she says just the right word at the right time in a young person's life.

Yes, there is cursing, there is a gang, and these are real kids, not saits. And yes, there is drug use, one of many temptations Javier and other real kids have to confront and learn to avoid. Watching Javier say no may help other kids learn to do the same thing. And watching Javier help Dontae and the other kids int he class serves as an example of the power that caring for someone else can have for the giver.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review - The Professionals

The ProfessionalsThe Professionals by Owen Laukkanen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four young people, disillusioned by the job market after graduation, come up with a supposedly foolproof way to make a fortune. Kidnapping, involving relativly small sums of money that wealthy families can pay quickly and forget. They criss-cross the country, researching potential victims, taking the time to build up a next egg and plan to retire in a few years.

Then they discover that no plan is really foolproof.

Hunted by the Mob, state investigator Stevens and FBI agent Windermere, they learn their only hope of survival is to become as professional as their adversaries. And that means people have to die.

As i read this book I alternatly sided with the investigating team plodding through nearly invisible clues (is there really a crime if no one reports it), the mob queen our for revenge, the kids who discover that having a conscious and caring for each other might be fatal, and the crazy rich girl who decides to tag along thinking a life of crime could be fun.

Who lives and who dies were questions that kept me turning pages right to the end.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review - Never Fall Down

Never Fall DownNever Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This reads like fiction, but it's true to the core, a bigraphy of a victim of child war.

Eleven-year-old Arn Chorn-Pond is sucked into the Cambodian war when he, his sisters, aunt and entire village are taken into virtual slavery by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Before they day he was force-marched fom his home under the promise that it would only be for three days, until the day almost four years later when he found himseld on a plane for America where he was adopted by an American minister, he was forced to endure an almost unimaginable hell where all he could do was survive while wondering if he should keep bothering. This is told from the child's point of view, his gradual realization that the three days might never end, watching people he knew being left dead at the side of the road or being led away to never be seen again, while the rotting pile at the edge of camp keeps growing larger. The broken English used makes the story all the more compelling. This is not a book for those with a weak stomach, and not just because diarrhea becomes a part of daily life.

Before he is fourteen he deals with the kinds of moral dilemmas that would destroy many adults. He faces a woman who first curses him for being an enemy and then begs him to kill her and save her from a slow painful death. Then he confronts his younger sister, gray as an old woman semi-conscious and dying by the side of the road, knowing that it would be a kindness to kill her and save her from future rape and torture or being eaten by animals as hungry as the people.

In spite of the death all around him, including being forced to witness executions of people he knows and help bury the bodies, he fights the growing "tiger in his gut." Somehow he is chosen to survive.

Even though we know this is the true story of a man who has become a powerful speaker for children and peace, founding Cambodian Living Arts ( the writing keeps us at the edge as we wonder what next can happen to this child, and how will he live through it and retain his humanity.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review - Cloaked

CloakedCloaked by Alex Flinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Alex Flynn at a conference last year and read one of her books (I won't say which one because I was seriously unimpressed by it) I just finished Cloaked. This one was an awesome page turner, I was immediately sucked into John the shoe repair guy's world. The mising father, the magic, the real life media-frenzy princess and the girl next door (okay the girl working in the coffee shop across the corridor from the shoe shop), it all flowed together into a really great story. Once I actually began to believe the princess wasn't insane and that her brother really had been turned into a frog - and John and I both had the same feeling when we first heard the story, I remained sucked into all the magic, the witches, the brownies, the magic cloak from the title, and everything else. Yes, I saw some twists coming, but the magic is in the journey, the destination doesn't have to be a secret.

I also loved remembering the fairy tales this story is based on, and the way the author skillfully intermingled the stories.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Book Review - Crank

Crank (Crank, #1)Crank by Ellen Hopkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading this book it doesn't surprise me to learn the author suffered through a similar situation first hand with her own daughter. Because I did the same. There was so much in this book I recognized, and a lot that helped me understand my own child better.
Kristina meets Crank, a powerful street drug. The rest is pretty much a foregone conclusion. "The Monster" grabs her at first use. She becomes Bree, an alter ego that is almost her exact opposite, and that loves the monster, in spite of the dangers and cost.

This is not a book for anyone who wants a happy ending. Not even a hopeful ending. This is a book about reality. Yes the language is crude, the damage to Kristina/Bree is difficult to read. Authors are told to be cruel to their characters. Turns out the monster loves cruelty. What happens as Bree takes over and pushes Kristina aside make readers shudder, and so it should. This is the kind of YA book adults, especially parents, should read. Kristina really does love her family. She really does love the real world. She understands what is happening to her. But Bree grows stronger. And the monster never stops calling.

I can't believe it took me this long to get to this book. And, although I shudder, I'm heading out now to get the sequel, Glass.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

BOOK Review - Infinity

Infinity (Numbers, #3)Infinity by Rachel Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every good thing must end. This, the third book of the Number trilogy has a good ending, but it's not the difinitive ending I had been longing for. Trilogies often have a weak point. Frequently its the middle book. In this case, number 2, The Chaos, was the best in the set. Number three, Infinity is good, but not as good.

Infinity, like The Chaos, is told using alternating points ov view between teens Adam and Sarah. But the standout character is Sarah's two-year-old daughter, Mia. Mia is Sarah's daughter, but not Adam's although he has assumed the role of father and people think she is his. Mia demonstrated the ability to exchange numbers with someone else in The Chaos. The action takes place in England two years after Adam tried to warn the world about the coming disaster, The Chaos. Now Adam, a 17-year-old black male, Sarah, her daughter Mia, and Sarah's two younger brothers are living on the run in a country that has gone back to a primitive level of existance after the disaster. He's on the run, his scars make him too easily recognizable. And what's left of the government want him, badly. He's cursed with the ability to see the date people die by looking in their eyes. Worse, he feels the manner of their deaths.

Sarah is tired of running. She's pregnant with Adam's child and she wants to believe they can join other survivors and be safe. All that changes when Saul finds them. He's a government agent with his own reasons for wanting Adam's child.  His number shows that he's due to die in days, its the worst death that Adam has ever encountered.  Turns out Saul knows his own death date. But, like Mia, he knows how to switch dates with others.  He plans to switch with a child who can give him the ability to see someone else's number. Adam's child.

Frankly, as a stand alone book it might have earned a four or five. By itself this is a good, worthy story that I would recommend to friends. I loved the characters, even Saul, the villain, and the action and tension were great. The ending is satisfactory. More than that, it has a happily ever after flavor. It just didn't leave the same emotional hit as the other two did. But it didn't have the same level of tension as Numbers or The Chaos, and I kept wanting more of Mia.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

In Memorium

Her name would have been Camilla.

She would have been my first grandchild, but she died two weeks ago, two months before she was due.

She lived and grew and kicked inside my daughters body for six months. Then, for some reason only God and maybe the doctors know, she died. Doctors had to remove her from my daughters womb. My child had a few minutes to hold her child's dead body. Then it was done.

 We're still trying to adjust. Camilla was a wanted, anticipated, loved child. I hope that wherever her spirit is, she knows that. I was so looking forward to showing her off to my friends. And spoiling her totally rotten, as is a grandmother's privilege.

 I keep thinking I'm over it. Then suddenly I find myself staring into space, missing the little girl who was supposed to arrive in August, and now never will. The smiles I will never see, the laughs I don't get to hear. My daughter remains devastated. She has some health issues that may have affected the child, and she is now inconsolable, blaming herself. (I'm perfectly happy to blame her live in boyfriend, I blogged about that at Romancing The Genres.) But in the end, blame doesn't matter.

Camilla does.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Teen Reviewer Amanda is back to review PULL

Teen Reviewer Amanda joins us again with her second summer read

In PULL, David Albacore is just 17 years old when his father shoots his mother, killing her. With his mother dead and his father in jail he suddenly has to take on the responsibility of his two younger sisters. After convincing his aunt to take them in, he tries to balance a new job, school, a new girlfriend, and basketball. This story is an insight on resilience and real women abuse. This book was extremely well written and realistic. I would recommend this to anyone who likes realistic fiction and fast paced books. With everything going on in this book, I expected the characters to get a bit unrealistic simply because of how complex the plot was getting, but Binns kept the characters real and believable throughout the entire book. She did an excellent job making me care about what happens to the characters. By the end of the book I was on the edge of my seat just hoping David and his family would turn out okay and not end up on the streets. The description in this book was stunning because it wasn't overloaded. Binns didn't give me more then I needed. This really worked in the book because it let the reader focus on the emotions going on in the book rather than on the setting.

I connected deeply with the characters in this story. Because I'm a teenage girl, I connected with David's sister, Barney, the most. All she wanted to do was fit in at her new school, and be popular. She didn't want to have to think about money or anything too serious.

Linda, David's youngest sister, was kind of mysterious all throughout the book. She was described as very quiet and kept to herself. The reader never really got much information on how she was handling her mother's death. All you really know is that David loves her deeply.