Friday, May 29, 2015

Five for Friday

Five things I'm obsessed about this Friday:

1. The endless rain here in Texas. The drought is over, at least the severe part, but yeesh. Enough. Scary and dangerous and oops, it just thundered again. Did I mention how on Monday it rained 1 FOOT in a few hours over the Houston metroplex? That is Noah level rain, folks.

2.  Kari Anne Holt's HOUSE ARREST, which will be out in October from Chronicle Books. It's so moving and wonderfully written and my heart is already aching for Timothy and I know more is to come.

3. My tomato plant. Tomato # 2 has ripened and more on the plant but the endless rain (see #1) is too much of a good thing.

4. Season 2 of CALL THE MIDWIFE. Chummy just returned from Africa. More babies have been born. One of the nuns has TB. Nurse Lee continues to learn how much she just doesn't know about life. And on like that and I am hooked.

5. Revisions. Revisions. Revisions. But when you read IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS NEXT YEAR, it will have been worth it.

Happy Friday y'all.

If you haven't read FINDING PARIS, get yourself a copy. I'm so proud of this book. It's sparking great conversations. I'll be talking about it with a book club in Austin next month and a bunch more next fall and so if you're a teacher or librarian and would like to see me -- either in person or via a virtual visit-- please let me know! The lovely folks at Harper/Epic Reads have created a fabulous book club guide to get you going. You can find it HERE


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

You Need to Read ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers

I had not read a book by Courtney Summers before ALL THE RAGE, although I’ve been reading about her books for awhile now. Yes, an egregious omission. I know. But we writers have very long TBR lists and they got longer each year and so it is entirely possible to follow someone’s career and still not have actually read her books.

And then came my own FINDING PARIS, (spoiler alert here) and the story of sisters Leo and Paris, a very broken family and late in the novel reveal of sexual violence. A story about a girl who has trouble finding her voice to tell her truth and a sister whose own truths are lost in her fragile nature—a story and a mystery that looks like a larking road trip through Vegas on its surface, but is, like the characters, much more than that.

In that context, it was time for me to catch up with the books of Courtney Summers and to read ALL THE RAGE, which just released this April from St. Martins/Griffin.

Romy tells us right away in RAGE that something is wrong, that she had had too much to drink, that she went with a beautiful boy she’d been crushing on and that he raped her and hurt her and left her on the road.

In bits and pieces and flashbacks and flash forwards, we learn the rest of Romy’s story. That she had told. That the boy was the son of the sheriff in her small town. That she is the daughter of a man dismissed as a loser and a drunk. That her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend love her and want her to be happy and whole. That her own friends have turned against her. That she likes a new boy at work but isn’t quite sure what to do about that. That she uses her red lipstick and her red nail polish as armor against the world.

It’s a hard to book to read because awful things happen and keep happening. It’s an important book to read for these very same reasons. It is a story about rape culture and bullying and class prejudice, among many other things. Here’s how Amazon summarizes:

The sheriff's son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything--friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy's only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn't speak up. Nobody believed her the first time--and they certainly won't now--but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.
With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, Courtney Summers' new novel All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women in a culture that refuses to protect them.

Obviously I want you to read FINDING PARIS. I want you to talk about FINDING PARIS. I want you to download the reader’s guide that the Harper Collins created, because it’s truly excellent.

And then I want you to read ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers. A tough and beautiful book, just like its protagonist, Romy Grey.

I’ll be talking about other related titles in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Welcome Adam Silvera and MORE HAPPY THAN NOT

Today I’m so excited to talk with my Soho Press ‘bro’ Adam Silvera, about his about to release debut YA novel, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, which has been racking up starred reviews and getting so much (well-deserved) buzz and press! Seriously, this book! And Adam—who I haven’t met in person yet— is pretty awesome, too.  (Full disclosure: The thing about writing books  for Soho Press is that everyone is pretty damn awesome. It’s just this crazy hive of amazing creativity!)

Anyway, here’s the synopsis from the Soho Press website:

Part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.
The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto—miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. Aaron could never forget how he’s grown up poor, how his friends aren’t there for him, or how his father committed suicide in their one-bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

I know, right? You totally need to read this book.
(okay, you totally need to read all my books, too, but today it's about ADAM!)

Here's what Adam Silvera had to say when we sat down laptop to laptop:

Joy: I know that at least part of the setting for MORE HAPPY is the Bronx you grew up in. What did you consider as you worked to get that setting authentically on the page? Were there places (and I know there’s a slight speculative fiction aspect to the novel) where you worked harder to fictionalize? Did you learn anything new about the familiar places as you re-created them as a setting for your characters?

Adam: Great question! One hundred percent of MORE HAPPY THAN NOT takes place in the Bronx. The original draft divided the book between the Bronx and Manhattan where Aaron (the narrator) worked (previously a bookstore, now a bodega on his block) but it created tons of complications with the distance between the primary settings. I was also living in Texas when I wrote the first draft and it was the first time I spent that much time away from the Bronx (and New York) and the differences between the states helped me realize how beautiful—and scary, admittedly—the Bronx is, and I wanted the book to double as a love letter to my home borough. That said, the book isn’t a mirror to the Bronx I grew up in. I took some liberties with parks, hospitals, post offices, etc. because I wanted this book to be Aaron’s story, not mine. There’s already enough in me in Aaron’s heart that I didn’t need to make this a full-on memoir.

Joy: You recently mentioned that you were excited that the pub date had been moved back a few weeks so that you would achieve your goal of publishing a book by the time you turned 25!  How long have you been writing? What inspired you to set that goal? Did your work at Books of Wonder and Paper Lantern have an influence on those goals?

Adam: Getting the pub date moved on was such a funny miracle—totally unimportant but still really cool. I probably started writing when I was ten or eleven. Harry Potter fan-fiction, of course. I was writing a big assault against Hogwarts because I loved writing action. But I became really serious about writing when I was fifteen or sixteen, publishing fan-fiction online for a very awesome community of readers that were demanding of more chapters so they kept me fueled to keep going and going. The goal itself was born out of 18-Year-Old Adam being super ambitious for no reason, but I took it very seriously when I was 21 or 22 because I wanted to put my all into my dream, especially since I never went to college and assumed that meant I would have a harder time getting published. So I worked extra, extra hard.

Joy: Who/what have been your biggest influences as a writer/teller of stories?

Adam: I’m of the Harry Potter generation so J.K. Rowling, obviously. Lauren Oliver taught me tons about discipline, Corey Whaley taught me how to tell a complete story within 200-something pages, and Benjamin Alire Saenz taught me to tell an honest story, even if it doesn’t have the “commercial value” writers always fear publishers are exclusively seeking.

Joy: You and I share an editor at Soho Press, the very awesome Daniel Ehrenhaft. Can you dish a little about the editorial process as you experienced it, bringing this novel from its incipient stages to the awesome debut that it is about to be?

Adam: Dan and I clicked instantly. My first phone call with him led to another phone call with my agent Brooks where I was like, “This is our guy.” Dan understood the vision of the book where other editors hadn’t. Dan only wanted to enhance what I produced and never strip away the essence. Dan’s double life as an author too has been especially valuable because he (and Brooks, actually) taught me to be more conscious of Adam Voice vs. Aaron Voice. My author voice would sometimes invade my main character’s narrating and I think I’ve got the hang of it now. We’ll see. I also super love Dan because when we were entering copyedits I realized how to fix something that had been bothering me about Act 3 and he delayed production to give me another six weeks to get my sh*t together and I’m now fully happy with the final product, and not just more happy than not with it. :)

Joy:  MORE HAPPY THAN NOT has received an enormous amount of (well deserved!) early pre-pub accolades. This can be both thrilling and overwhelming for a debut author. How do you keep even and focused amidst the hype? (Cause you seem to be handling it all very well!)

Adam: I think I was doing way better a couple months ago because I had two new manuscripts keeping me busy, but I just turned in one to my agent a couple weeks ago and the other is due in October. Keeping up with social media a month before debuting admittedly is very demanding, but there are worst problems to have than chatting with people who are excited about something you’ve created.  I am definitely feeling pressures with my future books though because MORE HAPPY is such a personal book and I don’t think I can ever recreate that experience or fall in love with another book of mine the way I have with that book. But I guess that’s not any different than love, where sometimes you have to move on and end up surprising yourself with your capabilities to love again.

Joy: Once a novel is out in the world, it becomes the property of the readers and we authors have to let go. But as the story’s creator, what do you hope readers bring away from the novel? Why this novel at this moment in time? Why did this become your debut, the story you had to write?

Adam: The book’s genesis came from me wondering about nature versus nurture in regards to homosexuality, and the way people often mistaken sexuality as a choice. And I thought about what life would look like if you could choose your sexuality, specifically, if a teenager who’s gay could choose to be straight. Would he do it? And what needed to happen in his life to lead to such a decision. I paired this with some emotional beats pulled from my relationship with the first guy I fell in love with, and came out for. I originally wanted to write a dystopian trilogy—that’s what was hot!—but I read some books that told very contained, grounded stories in a single volume that impressed me and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, too. Tell a full and honest story in one book, even if my narrator was dealing with emotional trials that don’t always necessarily excite a publisher or Hollywood.

Joy: What’s coming next for Adam Silvera?

Adam: My second novel HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME is tentatively scheduled for fall of 2016. It’s about grief and OCD and love and lies, and it’s kicking my ass emotionally and psychologically and is pushing me as a writer, and I hope I level up with each book.

Thanks, Adam!

For more about MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, go to the Soho Press website.

And for more about Adam Silvera, go to:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Five for Thursday

Normally I'm all five for Friday. But it's Thursday. Deal with it.

1. Titos and Pineapple
Best summer cocktail ever. At least it was yesterday. I believe were it not for me knowing how many calories are in those little cans of pineapple juice, I could have a number of these. Sipped one while making dinner.

2. My arc of Julie Murphy's DUMPLIN'
A gorgeous book. And I don't just mean the cover. Julie gets it all right--relationships and insecurities and how we can love and hate things all at the same time. Plus Texas. And pageants. And the crap we do to each other and ourselves. You are in my head, Julie Murphy. You really are.

3. Lyla the bassett/boxer
She is afraid of everything and nothing, my dog. She is long and unwieldily and yet oddly athletic. She celebrates after pooping. What is not to love?

4. My sort of gladiator sandals from Lucky and my not-quite maxi dress from Madewell.
You are my summer uniform. I love you both and yes I could wear you both every single day. So the thing is that I have skinny ankles. So shoes that show that off look weird on me. Seriously, I have ankles like wrists. But these sandals. Perfect. Likewise the dress. A full maxi makes me look like I am in my nightgown (okay, I don't wear nightgowns but if I did) because I am short. But this dress stops just above my skinny ankles. It is PERFECT. And I love it. And now you know.

5. My tomato plant! 
Because it is growing real, gorgeous tomatoes. That are very tasty. And I could be a veggie farmer if I wasn't so lazy and incompetent but this plant was sitting in a corner outside Kroger, like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of tomato plants and I brought it home and set it on a little round table on the patio and then it luckily rained for like a thousand days straight and now I think I will have 20 tomatoes in my crop.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Welcome to Kim O'Brien and BONE DEEP

Today I’m sitting down to chat with one of my critique partners, the awesome Kim O’Brien, about her debut YA novel, BONE DEEP. (Full disclosure, Kim is not only a friend, she is also a skilled equestrian and amazing cook and my recent partner in crime on the ABC morning news as we did our first live TV interview (thanks Tom Abrahams!) to promote the MoCo Book Fair a couple months ago)  Kim’s fans know her from her numerous inspirational romances or maybe even her board book series on horses, but with BONE DEEP, she is shifting genres to YA and she’s off to a great start with this contemporary mystery/romance, out today from Spencer Hill Contemporary!

Joy: Tell us a little bit about BONE DEEP.

Kim: Thanks Joy for having me on your site and congratulations on the release of your new book FINDING PARIS. I loved it!!!

As far as BONE DEEP goes… well, it is a mystery and, at its heart, a love story. It’s about a girl -- Paige Patterson -- who travels to Arizona to spend the summer with her archaeologist father. While there, she is reunited with her childhood best friend, Emily and soon finds herself falling for the project manager’s son, Jalen. But the summer takes a terrible turn when Emily vanishes. As the police struggle for answers, Paige sets out to find the truth. The search takes her from the Cliffside ruins of prehistoric Native Americans to the Navajo Nation to the horrifying possibility the answer is much closer to home. Her father has no alibi for the night Emily disappeared, and Jalen has some secrets of his own. As Paige digs deeper into Emily’s disappearance she realizes that uncovering the truth may cost her everything – even her life.         

 Joy: Why the Southwest? Why archaeology and Native American legend?

Kim: This above photo is Montezuma’s Castle in Camp Verde, Arizona. My family and I visited there a few years ago and these ruins became the inspiration for BONE DEEP. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the castle is actually about 90 feet off the ground and set into a sheer limestone cliff. Imagine having to navigate a series of ladders and make that climb multiple times every day! But that’s what the Sinagua Indians did. These prehistoric Native Americans lived in these ruins for about 400 years and then overnight they mysteriously vanished. To this day no one knows why. I became fascinated by the ruins and the idea of people mysteriously disappearing. The more I learned about Native American mythology and legend, the more I fell in love with the culture. Even now, looking at this photo of the ruins, I wonder what secrets they are holding…    

 Joy: What are three things we might be surprised to learn about you?

1. I have two different colored eyes
2. I’ve written everything from non-fiction children’s books to Inspirational romance to young adult mysteries.  
3.  I love watching college football –  Gig ‘em Aggies! Sic ’em Bears!

Joy: Who are some of the authors who have inspired you?

Kim: Jodi Piccoult, Stephen King, Anna Sewell (Black Beauty), Carolyn Keene (a pseudonym for the ghost writers of the original Nancy Drew series)

Joy: Advice for aspiring writers?


1. Read constantly. There’s a saying that goes something like not all readers are great writers, but all writers are great readers. Not only is reading really, really enjoyable, but also it helps wire your brain for rhythm and cadence.
2. Practice your craft every day. Make writing a daily habit, even if you only have a short time. Pick a time and stick to it.  
3. Get feedback from someone you trust (and/or join a critique group). Having your work read aloud by other people is extremely helpful.

Joy: What's coming next for Kim O'Brien?

Kim: I’m working on a thriller called, “The Darkest Place.” It’s about a girl who gets stalked. Hopefully reading it will make everyone check their locks before they go to bed. Only kidding. More seriously, as I researched stalking I was amazed how common it is, and how hard it is to get rid of a stalker once he or she locks onto you.  

Joy: Okay, time for a quick Lightning Round:

Wine or whiskey?
Chocolate or twizzlers?
 Guilty pleasure TV?
The Bachelor/Bachelorette
Song you can't get out of your head?
Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood.”

Joy: Now you all need to go out and get a copy of BONE DEEP!

 And for more information about Kim O’Brien, go to:

Friday, May 15, 2015

What We Need to Know: 5 Statistics About Sexual Abuse

Earlier this week, I was honored and honestly, ecstatic that Amanda MacGregor at SLJ's Teen Librarian Toolbox gave FINDING PARIS this glowing and very thoughtful review.

And I'm good with the spoilers if I say that this paragraph in particular made me happy:

"There is so much to discuss here—the family dynamics, the silence, the secrets, the distrust, the suspicion, the denial, the shame and more. Because of the late reveal about the sexual violence, it forces readers to rethink what they think they know about the story and the characters. It also makes readers think about what the future will hold for Leo. This is a great addition to the list of titles that discuss sexual violence."

Because, as I've talked about before on this blog and elsewhere, here's what I know to be true. Despite social media where we seemingly tell every detail of our lives in painstaking detail, the truth is, we really don't. Too often--for so many reasons--we keep the bad stuff a secret. We can't bear to tell or we are afraid or ashamed or we just don't have the words. Even now. Even today where we have a hashtag for every social change, every paradigm shift we hope to make. The world is still, as it always has been, a very dangerous place for women, and even more dangerous for young women. Not everyone lives in a safe family. Not everyone has parents who do the right thing. Bad things happen even when you do. And despite what we might want, we aren't always talking about it. Particularly teens. Particularly those  most vulnerable.

So it was important to me to write a book where once you got to the reveal, you had to think back to all you were being told and shown page after page but weren't processing. To all those moments you were thinking, where is this road trip going? What is Leo really showing us about Vegas and LA and her life and Paris?

Here are some sobering statistics, courtesy of RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization:
  • 44% of sexual assault victims are under age 18
  • 80% of sexual assault victims are under age 30
  • Every 107 seconds another sexual assault occurs
  • 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police
  • 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail
And that's just the beginning.

Organizations like RAINN are making a difference. 

YA novelists are making a difference too.
Of course one of the well-known examples is Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK.
I'll be talking about others on this blog during the coming weeks, including ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers, which is out now from St. Martin's Griffin.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Magnets, Burgers, Revisions and Other Stuff

Spent a few hours at the Menil Collection here in Houston yesterday. An amazing museum complex that is totally free and has a phenomenal permanent exhibit of surrealism (including paintings by Magritte and Picasso) and this really creepy/cool room of items that the various surrealists collected (or facsimiles thereof). So you see their private stashes of feathers and masks and weird statues and those things people used to use to make postcards look 3-D. Okay hang on. I've got to look that up. I know there's word. Ah! It's stereoscope. (the more modern version for kids was called a Viewmaster, but the concept has been around a long while) One of the temporary exhibits was from this Greek artist, Takis (the man, not the shockingly orange snack food) who does all these pieces with magnets that make you go hmm, how the heck did he do that. Like this:
It's magnets behind the canvas that hold those things totally still in the air. Crazy.

Anyway, it's this amazing museum and the full complex includes the Rothko Chapel and the Cy Twombly Gallery. And if you're in Houston, you should really go.

Then because I had some things to drop off at Writespace, where I teach now and then, we had burgers at Stanton City Bites, where you can get the Truckstopper, which looks like this:
Yeah, those are onion rings on my burger. And cheese. And bacon. And ooh look, it's tomato and lettuce so it's healthy!

Then back to revisions for IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS (coming May '16 from Soho Press) and some really cool research on hawks and falconry and did you know hawks mate while flying then free-fall while, um, together. And somehow don't manage to slam into the ground. I don't think this factoid will make it into the book, but you get what you get when you sink into those inter webs.

And now it's Thursday and season finale for both Scandal and Blacklist tonight and so it goes her in the Bayou City where it has been raining on and off for weeks, nay, months. We're out of drought conditions, and my tomato plants are thriving, but oh the endless Seattle-esque gloom…

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Three for Tuesday

So much going on right now, but the Tuesday three shall be:

1. Happy surprise this morning with this review from a source I very much respect and thus I am totally honored and thrilled about what School Library Journal's Teen Librarian Toolbox had to say about FINDING PARIS:

Every author leaps for joy when a review totally GETS IT, totally understands what your novel is trying to do and how it's trying to do it. Makes my heart quite happy!!

Read the whole thing if you have a chance, but here's a snippet:

 "While this is a mystery and (less so) a romance, it is the much darker and more serious elements of the story that make this a hard book to put down and an even harder book to forget."

2. Just finished ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers, which is often a brutally emotional read, about a girl named Romy Grey, a small town, rape culture, recovery, bullying, and how hard it is for some people to believe the truth. As much - although not all-- of that is part of Finding Paris, I think they might someday make a fascinating companion read

And also on the nightstand: Just started my precious arc of Julie Murphy's DUMPLIN' and I'm already swallowed up in WillowDean's world and hoping she gets the happily ever after I want for her.

Skimming through editor Cheryl Klein's SECOND SIGHT, because if anyone is a genius at breaking down plot, character, voice and revision techniques (besides my own wonderful editors), it's Cheryl Klein over at Scholastic!

And I'm a few pages in to THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins, which everyone is reading and now so am I! I'm sensing this is not going to be a happy read, but a fascinating one. 

3. And in my pop culture report, Jane has had her baby on last night's JANE THE VIRGIN, which if you haven't watched, you should totally catch up on this clever series. I'm newly addicted to CALL THE MIDWIFE, a BBC show that's been on for a few years now and why didn't anyone tell me?! Even the hubs is watching with me, having been primed and perhaps broken in by a few seasons of DOWNTON ABBEY. For now, as I have revisions to finish, let me just say "Chummy Noakes!" I am totally Team Chummy forever. On the Housewives front, Carole is having her fling on RHONY, Bethenny is back and feisty and understandably cranky with all the divorce shenanigans and I kinda like Dorinda, although she needs to dump the boyfriend. (Just saying). 

There's more of course, but like I say, there's writing to do and a talk I'm giving in June to write about setting and a new manuscript to get back to and so I leave you for now.

Coming soon: My interview with debut author Adam Silvera, about his forthcoming MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, out in June from our mutual publisher, Soho Press!