Monday, September 22, 2014

You Go, Roo!: E. Lockhart's THE BOYFRIEND LIST

Just finished the first of E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver quartet, THE BOYFRIEND LIST, which my friend Jen Mathieu has mentioned more than once as inspirational to her writing of her smashing debut, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE.

Ruby, better known by her nickname Roo, is 15. She is in 10th grade at Tate Prep, a small private school in Seattle, which she has attended on scholarship for most of her schooling, along with the same insular group of (mostly) rich kids. She lives on a houseboat with two rather neurotic parents. And she is having a very bad year.

In the words of the School Library Journal review: "Through a series of social debacles, she loses her best friends, her boyfriend, her dignity, and the respect of her fellow Taters in less than two weeks' time. Following nearly half a dozen panic attacks, Roo starts to spend some quality time on Doctor Z.'s couch, where she makes (at her shrink's urging) a list of boyfriends past and present, official and unofficial, and starts on a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, Ruby begins to think about patterns in her life and ways that she might be more like her mother than she'd care to admit. Fortunately, Ruby survives her traumatic exile and lives to tell the tale."

What I love particularly about this book is that Roo's journey creeps up on you. That she might not be the most reliable of narrators is not immediately evident -- at least it wasn't to me. Roo believes her friends are worth keeping, her boyfriend worth loving, her social status worth keeping. She is totally blindsided by the machinations and betrayals around her and by her own callousness at times. She misjudges people. She misjudges herself. She acts passively when she should express herself. She gets called a slut because she kisses the boyfriend who has broken up with her most likely because he's been cheating on her with her own best friend. In other words - she is a teenager. She is a human. She is a girl finding out who she is and what she wants and who she likes. Why she likes a boy enough to kiss him or why she kisses a boy she doesn't particularly like. Why it feels good to be the girlfriend of a popular boy. And what it feels like to discover that maybe he's not as nice as she thought… and that maybe she still likes him desperately anyway.

(Let me interject here that a boyfriend once broke up with me via a phone call the day AFTER Valentine's Day. Which means that in one 24 hour period, I got a really cute, enormous Valentine's card declaring his affections (we didn't go to the same school, although this was less the problem than that we had zero in common except that he was a good kisser, which I appreciated. But I digress), and the next night he called and said he thought we'd been drifting apart. Yeah. Whatever, dude. I know this wasn't going anywhere, but seriously?)

 Particularly in the microcosm that is high school all that type of thing can be quite cruel to those who don't fit the mold-- even if they fit it the day before. Tough stuff to navigate. And sadly, even in 2014, girls often can't express a healthy sexuality without someone calling them names. (This just makes me crazy, by the way. Absolutely furious. As it should.)

And the whole pecking order craziness is tough stuff as an adult too, isn't it? So often there's still a territorial thing going on. We're just better able to hide our disappointments when don't quite make it to the 'cool kids' table. Or be more generous when we do.

BOYFRIEND LIST is a slow build. Ruby's narrative weaves back and forth in time and there are wonderfully clever and droll footnotes elaborating on various observations. It takes a few chapters to realize that Roo's world is not exactly what she thinks it is. But as she reveals the history of why each of the boys is on her list, (her sudden status as a social 'leper' has induced a series of panic attacks that land her with a therapist, who suggests that she create a list of all the boys who seem significant to what has happened to her), she begins to see the truth and so do we.

If you haven't read BOYFRIEND LIST, you really should. Emily Lockhart's most recent title, WE WERE LIARS, is of course, also brilliant. As are all of her books, including one of my favorites, THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS. I think you can see elements of both of those here in BOYFRIEND LIST, the germs of ideas she continues to poke and prod at -- about life and love and girls and power.

And thus endeth the Monday morning book talk.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five for Friday

Happy 9/12/14 y'all!

A quick five:

1. Started reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which has been on the TBR list for a very long time. It is a compelling read with a fascinating narration, but I do have to say that beginning this book while revising and trimming a sample chapter of a new project of my own, left me with some deep thoughts about adult novels vs YA novels and back story. I am fairly although not totally positive that the vast amount of backstory just leading up to the MCs conception would not fly in a YA novel simply because the entire matter could be covered with a sentence or two about gender. Now I might find I'm wrong about this and all that context about basal temps and Greek families and a brother named Chapter Eleven (which is still currently confusing me) and aunts predicting sexes with an egg will be of great significance later on. But my initial opinion stands. I'm feeling interested but I'm finding myself skimming. Thoughts?

2. In the 'in love' phase with a new project. Let's see if it sticks. And for any other writers reading this, I will say that I am definitely in synch with this post by brilliant editor and publishing friend Emma Dryden, which talks about loving and lusting after a new story. As well as this post that she passed on about it talking five drafts to get to the meat of the story, which I definitely relate to. I am certainly a wanderer when it comes to drafting and start out quite often in a very different place than I end up in later drafts. The core story remains, but the details? Holy cow, they end up different. This new project is case in point, although that's all I'll say for now.

3. Still loving the Jamie/Claire love story in #Outlander. And the STARZ series is still making me happy. Not just a guilty pleasure, but a well done one where the actors clearly care about making it all work. So hooray!

4. Oh how I want to show you the cover for FINDING PARIS. But I can't yet. But next month for sure, which will be six months out. For now I can leave you with this: What if your sister disappeared one night leaving only a cryptic note behind? What if you had to find her? And what if there was a boy who offered to help? What would you do? It begins in Vegas, by the way. Just so you know.

5. And did I mention that the dog sprained some soft tissue in her knee and we ended up at the emergency vet clinic on a Saturday nite and were told she had torn her ACL and would need surgery (which turned out not to be true) just after I had bought the pair of boots of my dreams? Yes. But the grand news is, that rest and inactivity was all that was needed. And she is healthy and fine now and not limping and crying and looking at me with sad eyes. So hooray!!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

13 Years Ago

So thirteen years ago, on 9/11/01, I was in my classroom, getting ready to teach. I had first block off that semester, so there were no kids with me and I hadn't even turned on the computer because I had a bunch of papers to grade and I didn't want the distraction of email and all the rest. But then around 8 AM CST, I walked over to the counseling center to get something. And the talk had begun. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. And I thought, terrible. But I also thought, must be a small plane. Because what else, right?

Of course, by the time my first class of the day tumbled in a little before 9 AM CST, I knew differently. And not long after that, well, you know the rest.

What I remember most distinctly from that day where terrible things were happening but here in Houston we were watching them unfold on the screen and not knowing what to do or what was truly happening is how both responsible and impotent I felt. I had classroom after classroom of kids coming to me that day. (school stayed in session. I think no one could get their heads around a national emergency of this scope then. Now it would be different, I think, but I am not sure) I didn't know what to tell them or how to comfort them and honestly after the towers were fallen, I turned off the computer monitor periodically because watching was becoming too much for some students and I think we tried to read a story that we were going to read. Not for any reason than because we were in shock, we were (as far as we could tell) safe, and we didn't know what else to do. Plus, there was the weird thing where the remove of watching it on the screen wasn't sinking in to some of the 10th graders under my watch. It was like watching a movie to them. They weren't getting that it was real and I think in the moment I thought if I let it just sit in their heads for a bit, they'll get it. Which for the most part they did.

My own son was in his own school during that day-- the high school across the high way from where I taught. And my husband was actually at the airport and had been about to take off on a business trip to Chicago. The phone lines were so busy that it took a frantic long hour before I knew he wasn't already in the air as he was supposed to be.

And so it's been since then. Each year remembering the moment. The horrific day. The dead.

Last time I was in NYC, I rode the subway down the World Trade site and stood amidst the crowds headed to work and looked up at the new building. I went to the Memorial. (lots of New Yorkers I know have no desire to go, by the way. They remember in their own way. But for me it was a good thing.) It was a sunny June day then. After that, I rode the subway back and had my first visit to the Soho Press offices, then walked up Broadway with my editor Dan Ehrenhaft (who has his own stories of that awful day) and then when we parted ways, I walked up 5th Avenue back to mid town. I stopped and although I'd done it before and it's so touristy, I went to the top of the Empire State Building on my way.

I love you New York.
Today and all days.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Three For Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, my pretties. Getting back into the swing of fall and blogging and writing (well, that never stops, but somehow fall coming makes it feel like I'm revving up again) and all the other things.

And on to the three:

1. Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz and it is a wonderful, lyrical masterpiece. Shamefully, I have had an arc of this book since I went to BEA in 2011 but never got to it. Now I can't put it down. A coming of age story, a story of manhood, a story of what it means to be different but not marginalized, a story of love and courage and a million other wonderful things. And oh the voice!

2. Excited to be teaching a workshop later this fall on Finding an Agent at Writespace Houston. More on that soon. And so thrilled for so many upcoming events! To name some that I can name: I'll be presenting panels at AWP again this year in April. (more on that soon too!) And in February, I'll be down in Corpus Christie at the first annual Teen Book Fest By the Bay! Of course Comic Con Austin is coming in October and Houston Book Rave in November and more stuff to be revealed soon.

3. So excited to show you arcs of FINDING PARIS soon! Oh the cover! Oh the jacket design!
And thus my last of the three today is that two of my writing crushes -- two fabulous authors whose work I admire SOOOO much-- have read and blurbed FINDING PARIS (which will be out 4/2/15 from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins) !!

The first is Jennifer Mathieu, whose debut THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE (Roaring Brook) is one of those break out books that everyone needs to read.  It's about truth and lies and what it means to stay strong when everything falls apart. Great things are coming from her and if she's not on your list, put her there. And the second is Adele Griffin, whose writing simply blows me away every time. She is a master of craft and psychological drama and character study and I can't express the thrill of having her say kind things about PARIS. Adele Griffin's latest book is a tour de force-- THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE, which is not like anything else you're seeing in YA these days. It's a faux biography and a mystery and the kind of addictive prose that makes me want to read it over and over. It's out now from Soho Press. You need to read this book.

Here's what they both had to say:

“A compelling page turner—the perfect mix of heart-stopping plot and memorable characters—fully formed, flawed, and worth cheering for. A road trip story, a mystery, and a romance, along with Preble’s pitch perfect descriptions of place and you’ve got a real winner. I couldn’t put it down.” (Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice)

“Joy Preble’s signature style-breakneck pace, whip-sharp dialogue and sly humor—is the perfect fit for this ride-or-die novel of Leonora and Max. An inspiring story of lost souls, and the hope and compassion that must piece together a family long exiled and devastated by secrets.” (Adele Griffin, author of The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five for Friday and #icebucketchallenge for peace

So much going on: Waiting for arcs of FINDING PARIS! Working on IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS! Working on new book ideas. Enjoying the dog days of summer -- particularly because I am also plotting out events straight through next spring and beyond, as one does in publishing. But you know summer is waning when the family has already begun our "Who's hosting Thanksgiving" discussion. Yikes!!

Also keeping the world's craziness firmly on my mind. I wish there was an #icebucketchallenge for peace, you know? Wouldn't that be great and simple? Putin would dump ice on himself and stop invading. Every leader in the Middle East would do the same. And here, too, in Ferguson. Put down the guns and pick up the ice bucket. Done. Then everyone would eat a Klondike bar and just breathe.

But for now I've got my measly five for Friday.

1. So excited that our proposals for AWP have been accepted! Minneapolis here I come! 10,000 writers and writing teachers all in one conference. That's wonderful crazy. And I get to present academic-ish panels with amazing authors: Janet Fox, Geoff Herbach, Nova Ren Suma, Nikki Loftin, Kari Anne Holt, and Laura Ruby! How grand is that?

2. Taking a break from Outlander. 6 books this summer. That is a LOT of Jamie and Claire. But you can't get enough of Jamie, you know? You really can't. Still, the series has jumped the shark more times than I can count and the plot threads whip here and there and sometimes I feel that things are thrown in just to throw them in: Meningitis! Murder! Incest! Adultery! More adultery! Illegitimate children! Rape! More rape! Explosions! More Explosions! Kidnapping! More Kidnapping! Time Travel! Pirates! Executions! Witches! More witches! Sexy Times! Hangings! Missing Limbs! More Missing Limbs! And look! it's John Hancock! And on like that. Still. I will finish the series this year. Just not right this second.

3. Some other grand book events shaping up for next spring which I am very excited about and will tell you about soon. FINDING PARIS is on its way. And soon I can show you the cover. Just a few more weeks…

4. Had an awesome time at Ft. Worth Library Round Up last weekend. Thank you a million times over to Wendy Dunn for inviting me and asking me to moderate the What's Hot in YA panel.

5. And did you know that COVERT AFFAIRS is back for another season? Well it is. Oh Auggie. Oh Annie. Everyone's spying. Everyone's keeping secrets. And I say we need more Eyal Levin. But maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, Making Art, and Other Tuesday Thoughts

I'm not the only one mulling over the terrible sadness of Robin Williams' death yesterday, seemingly from suicide, most likely from depression/addiction. None of which, I would imagine, even begins to touch on all the true causes of this tragedy. We weren't in his head. Not even his family was, I suppose, or if they were, even they-- the people who loved him most-- were able to stop it from occurring.

Making something out of nothing--making art, be it comedy or drama or music or paintings or sculpture or poetry or novels or whatever--is enormously gratifying. It is also often difficult (even when the work itself comes easily) and painful and draining. The muse doesn't always arrive on schedule. Or the muse arrives too often and can't be turned off and all you can think is some version of 'why am I sitting here making small talk when I should be working.' I won't even begin to know what it is like to be so hugely gifted and so enormously talented and keep up with what you presume and in fact know is everyone's expectations. 

Even I, on the barely anyone knows who I am or what I write end of the spectrum, understand that the expectations can be burdensome. You got a huge book deal and now the book better perform. Your book deal was barely enough to buy everyone a Happy Meal and now you better write a bigger, better book to follow it. Your book was high concept and everyone loved it. Better make the next one even higher concept. Anyone who says they never think about these things is either lying or more well-grounded than the rest of us.

When you make art, you dig into the deepest places of yourself and they're not always the pretty places. The fears and dark stuff and the things about the world that make you cringe. You go to the good stuff as well -- what it means to be loved and to love in return, what it means to be a human being in all its messy craziness. But the best art comes from a place of honesty. And that itself can be daunting. Because to write honestly is to see yourself honestly and often it's not a pretty picture in there. 

I was lucky enough to see Robin Williams perform live (from the 1st row!) when he was still doing stand up tours. He sweat buckets and was amazing. I still remember how hard I laughed. And the movies! Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet's Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook,  Good Will Hunting, and so many more. Such a huge and varied career! It is a huge loss and a huge shame and I am infinitely sorry to hear such sad news.

In other Tuesday musings, I would like the Middle East to calm down. I would like everyone to hold hands and eat cookies and milk and just stop it, okay?

And on this front, I just turned in my dedication and acknowledgement pages for FINDING PARIS (coming April 21, 2015 from Balzer and Bray) In keeping with this post, let me say that this book is darker than some of what I've written before. I'll be talking about it very soon. For now I shall just say that I am both honored and excited to have you read Leo and Paris and Max's story.

And speaking of stories, watched the first episode of STARZ 's new Outlander mini series and I give it just about 2 thumbs up. I think I will always like the books best (I'm in number 6 of 8 right now), but Jamie and Claire are well-cast and I'm excited to see what comes next! Okay, I'll be fully honest. We had an issue with the cable company not coming out for their appt with us cause the cable wasn't working and when they finally got things all working again, they said, "Hey, would you like free Showtime for awhile?" and I was like "NO! Give me Starz." And they were like, "But that isn't as nice of an upgrade and we want to make you feel better." And I was like, "Give me freaking Starz so I can watch Outlander." And so they did. Okay, I didn't say that at all; I just asked. And said please and thank you. And then did the dance of joy because now I could watch Jamie and Claire. At least for a few weeks.

If you want an amazing and different read by one of the most brilliant authors I know, THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE is out today, written by Adele Griffin and published by Soho Teen. Adele Griffn's writing has alway simply blown me away. There is just something in her style and word choice and tone that makes me want to hug the pages, that thrills and chills me and consistently makes me aware that I am reading something masterfully constructed. Her command of place and small detail and her exploration of characters who are on the edge, the fringe, the emotional tight wire -- well, yeah. She's freaking brilliant. Truly. And I don't say this lightly. ADDISON STONE is also, like where this post began today, about fragile mental health and art.

More soon, dear readers.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Musings

Last Monday in July and I am not sure how that is even possible! But I think the swift passage of the summer has a lot to do with releasing a book in mid May while editing another, writing another and revising (more than once) a proposal for a future project. Plus life and some travel and various other stuff both good and bad (I'm looking at you, new AC system. But thanks for cooling us off!) Also it is Houston. And it is currently hitting 97 every day. And even walking the dog sometimes feels like more of an effort than it's worth unless I heave us out into the cooler (ha!) 80 degree air at 7AM.


A few observations on this steamy Monday:

1. It's almost time for SCBWI LA! One of my favorite long weekends of the year! I get to see my lovely agent. This year I get to see one of my fabulous editors! I get to hang out with writerly types and friends old and new, and learn some stuff and fan girl authors whose work I adore and if I'm lucky, drink some wine and hopefully breath in some cooler air and see the ocean. (I can see the Gulf here in Galveston, but we're having a huge seaweed issue this summer and no offense to Texas but it's just not the same as dipping my toes in the icy Pacific. )

2. Still forging through the Outlander series. Just began book 6. (maybe that's where the summer went, too!) It has jumped the shark any number of times, (see: Claire and Bree kill a buffalo with a saw and pretty much everything that happens to Roger Mac: kidnapped by pirates; sold to the Indians; hit on the head numerous times; hung… but not killed) but no matter. I am in it to win it, people. A review when I crawl to the finish line some time this fall.

3. Very much enjoyed teaching my first class this weekend -- on POV this time-- at the new start up, Writespace Houston. I do so love talking about artistic choice, among the many other issues we discussed and worked on. Hooray!

4. A little birdie has told me that arcs of FINDING PARIS will be ready some time in September. I can hardly believe it! And did I mention that the book starts in Las Vegas? I'll be talking more about FP very soon.

5. Also, Sharknado 2 is coming! This either thrills you as much as it does me or it doesn't. It the latter, shame on you for not sharing my very lowbrow tastes. In that same vein, let me list some of my current favorite summer TV moments, in no particular order:
 a. the return of Annie Walker  and Covert Affairs. Annie and Auggie. Enough said.
b. the new season of RHONY. More specifically, the final episode. More specifically, Aviva tossing her artificial leg at Le Cirque. Because.. well, do I have to explain it to you?
c. the return of RHONJ. Although the twins aren't doing it for me. But Rino. (or however you spell his name). Yeah. And the return of Dina "nobody's that f-ing zen" Manzo.
d. The Bridge. Dark and sad. But probably a fairly accurate depiction in many regards of life on both sides of the Texas border.

I could keep listing. But then you'd think I never did any work. :)

Til next time...