The 12 Gifts of YA, #7: Teen Life 2.0

wyatt and gary build a girl

Wyatt and Gary build a girl


I have no desire to grow up.  None.  On some days, I think growing up is bogus bullshit, to put it bluntly.  This is another reason why it’s a gift to write about teenagers—I get to be young, if only when I’m working on a book.  It’s a chance to forget about bills, work, supper, all the crap you don’t have when you’re a youngster.  You get to be in the moment, which is the greatest gift of all.  So yeah—I love being a teenager, and I love having a *reason* to be a teenager (“why yes, I *do* need these supplies to build a bomb-thrower for a treehouse.  It’s research for a book.”).

What also rocks is the funding.  If people are going to make me have a job, by god I’m going to use that $ to support my teenage life.  Research trips to the Black Hills?  Sure thing.  A car whenever you want it, and no curfew when you have to bring it back?  Yes, ma’am.  John Hughes films?  Any time I want (FERRIS BUELLER #1, WEIRD SCIENCE #2 (see above), and BREAKFAST CLUB #3).  Plus there are fewer pimples and (marginally) less boyfriend angst, since the boyfriend’s been around 22 years.

This is not to say I could be a teenager forever: my grown-up life is pretty rad, and a huge chunk of people I love now were not in my life as a teenager.  But still—gimme angsty blissful unawareness any time.  What a stress-reliever!

Do you wish for your teenage world?  Let me know, so you can win some books!

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The 12 Gifts of YA, #6: book peeps

publicity folks at flux

Welcome to a new week of the 12 Gifts!

I seriously cannot rave enough about the people at Flux–I have been *so* privileged to work with them.  My editor is amazing (he’s also an award-winning writer), my cover designer is amazing  (an artist in her own right, and if you want to see other versions of BEAUTIFUL MUSIC covers, look here, and check out all the other covers of your favorite YA books!), my copy editors are amazing, my publicity folks are amazing, on and on . . . it’s  a writer’s dream.  I am extra-blessed to be in the same state with them, because I get to know them in person!  See those folks up there?  That’s the Flux/Llewellyn publicity team in their goofy mode (with me joining right in, of course).  I know them all by name, and I have hugged them.  We have hung out.  Not many people can say that about the people at their publishing house.

All of my Flux love aside, I think book peeps as a whole are pretty dang great.  Again, I can’t name all my favorite book peeps because the post would be too long (though I always give a shout-out to my agent Amy Tipton, cuz she is badass). From bloggers to editors to agents to publishers, the book world is a great place to mingle and learn stuff (and we can’t forget organizational book friends, like SCBWI folks, or MnSCBWI folks, or CLN and TLN folks).   Besides that, writers wouldn’t get very far without book peeps.  All our novels would languish inside our computers, wishing to be set free.  The book peeps make it happen.  Thank you, book peeps.

Thoughts from you about the people who make the books we love so much?  Leave a comment, so you might win some of those beautiful books!

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The 12 Gifts of YA, #5: librarians

Jason Puckett's librarian tattoo

(Photo credit goes to Jason Puckett.  What a badass tattoo!  But of course you can be a badass librarian without any ink.)

Meeting and hanging out with librarians has to be one of *the best* gifts of a YA life.  I don’t think I could love librarians any harder if I tried.   A librarian is a superhero, a search engine, and a kind soul, all wrapped into a smart and interesting person.  Plus, librarians make writers feel like rock stars in a way nobody else can.  It’s the best feeling in the world, to know that a librarian likes your book.

I could thank librarians forever–so many have been kind to my books–but I really want to thank the librarians who’ve slipped a copy of a YA novel (anybody’s novel) to a kid and said, “Read this.  I think you’ll like it,” knowing full well the kid will devour it and maybe even keep it, and the librarian will gladly pay to have it replaced.  Librarians are the people who KNOW:  they know what kid can use which book, and they can *see* that kid, even when s/he’s invisible to everyone else around him.  They know how to comfort people with good stories, and they set up love affairs better than the best matchmaker around.  YA literature wouldn’t be the force it is without them.

Happy holidays, librarians!  You rock, and I owe you.  Like a lot.  (And want to win some books, librarians and librarian friends?  Post a comment!)

(and DON’T FORGET TO BID at YA for NJ–win cool stuff and support the Community Food Bank of New Jersey!  Kidlit peeps = they are as badass as librarians.)


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The 12 Gifts of YA, #4: teenagers

two teenagers at a parade

My kid and his cousin, 4th of July, hot and surly at a parade

So maybe this is obvious, but I love teenagers, probably about as much as I love pumpkin malts, so that’s pretty huge, and writing about them is a complete joy.  When I sold my first book, my kid was 9.  Now he’s 14 and he’s one of my target audience members.  But even if he never reads one of my books (which he probably won’t, because he keeps saying “Mom, why can’t you write a normal book?”), I’m still trying to write for him.  I want him to laugh, to enjoy following a character around, and to be sad when the book is done.  I want his friends to feel the same.

But even if it’s not my own kid and his shenanigans, teenagers as a whole are phenomenal.  Sometimes they’re hurtful and out of control, but mostly they’re just confused, silly people running around in bodies that are freaking out.  Watching them discover this crazy world is a delight (and what they love is so random!).  Of course, I am restricted from my kid’s life because I’m The Mom (gag! eek!  ick!  no!), but his friends don’t feel I’m quite that awful.  So I watch and write stuff down.  Not in a creeper way, but I pay attention.

two boys on a jackalope

teenagers and their jackalope, Wall Drug

I love you, squirrelly YA subjects.  I want to write about you forever.

(Care to chime in?  Teenagers, yes?  No?  Only when you’ve had enough coffee? Comment away!)

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The 12 Gifts of YA, #3: other kidlit writers


gathering of teen lit writers in the Twin Cities

Oh friends–this is one of the most awesome gifts of all.  Do you know how many cool people write kidlit?  No, you do not, but I am telling you, there are *so many cool people* who do!  And I have met some of them, from all across the country.  This post would be a mile long if I listed all the cool people I know who write fiction and nonfiction for kids (all ages), so I’ll be non-specific.  But–wow.  Let me say it again–so many cool people.

I am particularly lucky to live in MN, where we have a crap-ton of kidlit writers who are GOOD, including National-Book-Award-winning good (our own Will Alexander!).  But also just really good, and they are kind enough to include me in their circle.  That photo is from a Teen Literature Network event about a month ago in the Twin Cities, and that’s just a few of us who write YA.  There are heaps more kidlit writers around here.

I always feel like a dork when I’m with them, because of all the things they know, but they are kind, and they help me learn.  And kidlit writers do good things in the world.  For instance, folks put together YA for NJ, a fundraiser to help the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.  I didn’t manage to get my act together in time to participate, but you should GO AND BID–auctions end December 7 (which is FRIDAY.  So much stuff from so many awesome writers–get it while you can!

Best writers ever, right?  Sing their praises and leave a thought.  You want a chance to win some books!

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The 12 Gifts of YA, #2: randomness

crispy hexagons cereal

most literal cereal name ever

Randomness = the gift that keeps on giving.  I’m curious by nature, so I pay attention to random stuff, but I also love it because “randomness” is generally another word for “hilariousness.”  It’s also a huge bonus for what I write: teenagers, by nature, are random as hell, so transferring all my favorite random things into my books makes perfect sense.

Some of my favorite randoms in my own stuff:  how Morgan yells in SKY; the chapter titles in BEAUTIFUL MUSIC; the dinosaurs roaming through one of my WIPs; and the character name “Uncle Epic” in another WIP.  Some of my favorite randoms in kidlit:  the name Stanley Yelnats in HOLES; the talking pagoda in PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ; and the game “That Guy is a Gigolo” in PAPER TOWNS.

How about you?  Say something random in the comments, or something about randomness.  Your comment may randomly win you some books!

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The 12 Gifts of YA, #1: readers

two women reading on a cruise ship deck

Gail and Teagan, don’t you want to have fun instead?

Duh.  Writers need readers.  But YA readers are especially phenomenal.  Up above is my friend (and former student) Gail, reading SKY, and her bestie Teagan, reading CHASING ALLIECAT by one of *my* besties, Rebecca Fjelland Davis.  And they’re on a cruise, people!  They’re not looking at all the pretty scenery, eating all the luxe food, or drinking themselves silly, they’re *reading*.  I love a reader that’s dedicated to her books.  Now, it’s possible this photo was staged (gasp!).  HOWEVER, I know these women, and I know there was reading going on at some point.

The really cool thing about YA readers is that they come in all ages, from all cultures, with all sorts of reasons to read about teenagers.  YA appeals to so many people because we were all YAs at one point in our lives.  It’s kind of awesome to know that humans everywhere share this experience.  And I love it when people argue about what should be in YA and what shouldn’t (yes sex!  no sex! yes darkness!  no darkness!).   Arguing about something means people are engaging with it, and that’s what good readers do.  No book will please everybody, and that’s OK.   When I find readers/reviewers who don’t like my books, it’s a great opportunity to learn.  I am not kidding about this–but sometimes the learning comes after the sad/mad moment.

Readers, you’re the best.  Maybe you knew that, but it’s good to remind you.  And now, friends, it’s your turn.  Wanna tell us what you like about *being* a reader?  Your comment gets you the chance to win books (leave your e-mail address, too)!

AND–here are the 6 books I’ll give away (along with 6 sets of my own books) during these 12 Days of YA:

Ask the Passengers, A.S. King (because Amy’s brilliant)

Silhouette of a Sparrow, Molly Beth Griffin (because it’s gorgeous)

Stupid Fast, Geoff Herbach (because Felton is impossible not to adore)

The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater (because it’s Maggie)

This Is Not a Test, Courtney Summers (because it’s a zombie-but-not book)

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (because everyone should read it)



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The 12 Gifts of YA = presents for you!

a white two-story house with a red bow across its front porch

Know what I love?  December!  It’s my favorite month of the year.  Why? The semester ends, which means I have more writing time (yay!), plus it usually snows, plus it’s Christmas and my birthday, and lots of other family members’ birthdays too (8 of us total), and there are Christmas cookies, A Charlie Brown Christmas (and the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack), and PRESENTS!  Who doesn’t love presents??

Imagine that house up there is labeled “being a YA author.”  Aside from my kid, being a YA writer is the best present I’ve ever been given, a house-sized giftie full of all the great things I’ll tell you about in the 12 Days of YA (and there will be no partridges or pears, though both are lovely).  I could go on and on about all this crazy amazing life I love, so I thought I’d share the joy with you, just for fun.  PLUS, in the spirit of giving, I’m going to give *you* gifts.  And that matters even more!

I’ll give away six sets of my books (one copy each of SKY and BEAUTIFUL MUSIC) plus I will *also* give away six of my favorite YA novels—titles to follow, because I’m still choosing—one (set of) book(s) for each day of the 12 Gifts.  How to enter?  Comment on any of the 12 posts.  The posts will run December 3-7, December 10-14, and December 17-18.  Winners will be selected at random, so please put your e-mail address in your comment so I know where to find you if you win.  If I hear back from you once you’re chosen, I’ll mail your book(s) before the world ends on December 21.  If I don’t hear from you, books will be mailed after the world starts again, but it will be in the new year, once I’m back from my holiday travels.

Come back on Monday for the first of the 12 gifts of YA (in no particular order).  Can’t wait!

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“Gratuitous hate crimes” (?) & why I write them (?)

the word "hate" with a "do not" red slash through itBless me, book people, for I have sinned–I have continued to read online reviews of BMUC.   Dangerous idea.  My justification is the controversial content of this book: I want to know what people are saying.  But knowing is a double-edged sword.

Case in point:  this week I saw a review where the reader mentioned s/he didn’t like reading books where there was a lot of violence.  The reader said violence is sickening to him/her, and not something s/he wants to be a part of.   Totally fair and understandable, and I don’t disagree.  S/he then wonders whether there might be “gratuitous hate crimes” in BMUC.


I am taken aback at the idea of a gratuitous hate crime, because hate crimes are so very, very serious. I am taken aback at the idea that I’d glorify violence in the service of a story.  Actually, “taken aback” is a polite way to put it.  I’m pretty shocked.  I have strong feelings (too long to discuss here) about gratuitous violence and our culture.

At the same time, it’s good to sit back and consider why there’s violence in BMUC–did I use as a means to an end? I’ve come up with two answers to that question.

Side note: the violence was the hardest stuff to write, of course.  I cringed and cried my way through those scenes right along with the characters.  I am way more attached to Gabe than I want to be, and I take what happens to him very personally, even though I’m the one who shapes the story.  It’s a really weird double reality.

Anyway.  Back to the answers. Did I write gratuitous violence to lure people in?

1) No.  Hate crimes are included in BMUC because hate crimes are always possible for those who don’t conform to our ideas of gender.  If you want a recent example in my/Gabe’s state, just ask CeCe McDonald .  It’s within the realm of everyday reality for Gabe to be threatened and hurt in the ways he is in the book.  Absolutely within the realm.

2) Kind of.  But NOT for the reasons the reviewer thinks.  Including violence in BMUC was a way to include people like John and Paige in Gabe’s life, people who care for him no matter what, people who are there to pick him up after the bad shit happens.  The violence was a means to an end in order to say “hey, not everybody is an asshole.  There are good, loving people out there.”  I have met trans youth who don’t necessarily believe good, loving people exist anymore.  Paige and John might give a trans reader hope that an ally will stick up for them, too.

I wish the reviewer had given her/his name on the blog where the review is posted, or on their FB page–I’d really like to engage the person in a discussion about the idea of gratuitous hate crimes.  Writing the phrase makes me cringe, and it makes me a little pissed that the person can’t see beyond that interpretation of the book.  But I’ve neutralized my righteous indignation with an exercise of the good ol’ critical thinking skills.  I hate that.  : (  Critical thinking destroys a snit more quickly than anything else.

Should the words “gratuitous” and “hate crime” ever go together?  I fear they do, more often than I want them to.   I could probably watch an episode of Law and Order to prove my point: TV likes sensational victims like Gabe.  And it says a ton about us, as twenty-first century humans, that the person would even wonder about my use of violence as a writing tool.  In this culture, it’s a good question for him/her to ask.

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45 records that say "rock your b side" Way back in 2005, I decided I wanted to write a book where the main character is so attached to music he can’t get through his day without it (just like me).  Consequently, that produced a book with a crap-ton of music in it–all kinds, too.   Fast forward to May of this year.  My publicist at Flux asked me to make a Spotify playlist of all the songs and artists mentioned in the book, in case people wanted to check it out.  Know how long it took me?  8 hours.  Know how many songs are in it?  154.  10 hours of musical weirdness (though Share My Playlists says it’s 17 hours). Everything’s not quite perfect–the song I mentioned wasn’t there, etc.–but it’s close.  Justin Bieber and Britney Spears are mentioned in the book, but I couldn’t bring myself to put them in the playlists.

154 songs! 10 hours!  I had no idea.

I also made a second list of songs, the ones I would have used had I discovered them sooner (Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push”), remembered them sooner (“Tell Me Baby,” Red Hot Chili Peppers), or they’d come out sooner (Cee Lo’s “Fuck You”).  But music is like that–the more you listen, the more times your favorite song changes.

Poor Gabe has my funk and soul leanings.  I hope he doesn’t mind.

Posted in BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, epic-ness, music | 3 Comments