Monday, April 29, 2013

Teen Book Con 2013: A Picture is Worth the Power of Closing Speeches

My Teen Book Con book haul. Honestly, I'm surprised I
managed to limit myself to eight. 
[Click here to check out Part 1 of my Teen Book Con coverage]

Continuing on from where we left off on Friday, my group split up for the next panel. My  best friend's brother and I headed to the graphic novelists' room while my best friend and a friend of hers who met us there headed to the "Take Me Away" panel.

We got the better end of the stick. The girls agreed that they enjoyed their panel, but that it wasn't great. (Particularly because one author was claiming she could write a book in one draft and the others were looking at her as if she were insane and then going on to explain how writing works in the real world.)

We met up and went to the rest of the panels together, and all of the ones I attended were fantastic.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words-Faith Erin Hicks, Mark Nasso, M.K. Reed, Bruce Small
Q: What gave you the ideas for your stories?
Faith Erin Hicks answered first, explaining that she found the material for her stories through experiences she had growing up and personal things she's working through. She added that many of the more fantastical elements of her stories come out of things she wonders about or wants to explore. For instance, one of her graphic novels stemmed from her wondering why people in zombie movies seem never to have seen a zombie movie.
Mark Nasso pointed out that the longer you live, the more your experiences feed into the stories you have to tell. The battles you had to fight growing up give you new perspective and new experiences from which to draw.

Q: What made you choose comics as a medium?
Mark Nasso had always been an artist, but as he grew older, realized he had something he wanted to say and new things he was passionate about. He had a story to tell, so he started to speak.

Q: How do you develop an art style that is all your own?
Bruce Small made the argument that you generally have to get over things looking similar. Your art naturally reflects the art you surround yourself with, at least at the beginning. Most artists begin by copying and that's okay. As you develop your art, your style will present itself and will morph into something that is entirely your own.
Faith Erin Hicks added, "You want your style to reflect your voice." Increasing technical skills is important, but you also want what you do to say something about who you are.

Q: Can you give some advice for those who want to create?
Faith Erin Hicks suggested that you simply start creating. She explained that she had literally cranked out over one thousand pages of comic work before she got anywhere. In fact, she suggested that everyone do the same and every one of the other artists agreed wholeheartedly.
M.K. Reed added that there is no set path. Everyone makes their own way toward becoming who they want to be and making their art what they want it to be.
Bruce Small and M.K. Reed agreed that artists need to practice drawing everything, but they should especially work on backgrounds. Backgrounds are intensely important and can be vital in going anywhere in the comics industry.
Faith Erin Hicks finished off the answer by adding that meeting deadlines is also crucial. You can be an extremely talented artist, but if you can't meet deadlines, you won't get the jobs you're looking for. "It's art, but it's also a business."

The Power of Memory- Leigh Bardugo, Jessica Brody, Bethany Frenette, Claudia Gray, Dan Krokos, Lisa McMann

Q: Is it difficult to write a story from the perspective of the opposite gender?
Both Dan Krokos and Lisa McMann agreed that it was extremely difficult and that both constantly had to refer to teens of that gender in order to make sure things were accurate.
On the other hand, Leigh Bardugo and Claudia Gray disagreed somewhat. They suggested it was more a matter of what type of person the character was. In their experience, some men were extremely difficult to write, while others were easy. The specifics of the character made the difference.

Q: What made you decide to be an author?
Leigh Bardugo claimed that she had always known she wanted to be an author. She was always talking to herself as a child and making up stories. She simply had to make the decision that she was going to finish something, even if it killed her.
Bethany Frenette told us that she had been terrified of the dark when she was a child. To remedy that, her mother told her to make up stories until she fell asleep. She did and she's been doing that ever since.
Dan Krokos added that, for most writers, real life just isn't enough. He has always gone off on adventures in his head and wanted to live in a story. His choice to become an author was simply because he wanted more from life than to live just one.

Closing Speaker-Sharon Draper

In the closing speech, Sharon Draper talked about being a writer and being a reader. She told us that being able to write is a gift and not everyone has it, but if you do, you ought to hone it.
(Dan Krokos immediately refuted the first part of that by responding on Twitter: "Don't listen to her--anyone can be a writer #TeenBookCon.")
She went on to encourage writers to go into writing because they love it, not because they want to be famous or want to be millionaires. J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer are exceptions, they are not the rule. Many great authors are never appreciated during their lifetime and you have to be prepared for that.
In closing, she reminded the audience that putting a book together should be just as engrossing as reading it. You should enjoy what you write. If you don't, you're doing something wrong. And she finished by reminding us that the things that scare us are often the things that need to be talked about.

Probably my favorite signed book from Saturday. She really
liked my new tattoo (Gates of Moria) and was eager to show
me her own Lord of the Rings inspired tattoo. 
When everything was finished, the authors were split up into the two school gyms so that they could sign peoples' books. It was really fun getting to interact with each of the authors on a one-on-one basis, even if only for a short while. I was able to tell Amy McNamara how beautiful her book was and how I had started reading the poet Philip Larkin after reading it, which she was really excited about. Francisco X. Stork complimented me on my name, which was really cool because he had mentioned in his earlier panel that he gets names for characters through events like this. (Look for a Kirsten in his next novel! I'm joking, though it would admittedly be pretty awesome.)
Maureen Johnson told me she liked my "fancy tattoo" and had a staring contest with my shirt (which happened to be the STARE shirt with her face on it). My best friend told Robin Wasserman that she thought her hair was awesome and Robin complimented her hair in response (both Robin and my best friend have intensely curly hair--think Merida from Brave).

All in all, it was a wonderful experience and one I'm so grateful to have been a part of. I left feeling so inspired and excited about the path I've chosen for myself. (For those of you scratching your heads in confusion, I fully intend to be a published YA author one day.) It was wonderful to see such a diverse and eclectic group of people all having chosen that same path and loving every second of it. It was deeply refreshing and I can't help feeling more inspired than ever to follow my dream.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Teen Book Con 2013: Making the Best of Murder, Mayhem, and Keynote Speeches

Maureen Johnson and I after she signed my book. You'll
notice she's making the same face as the image of herself on
my shirt. 
 Created with the purpose of letting teens interact with their favorite authors and teaching them that reading is both fun and worthwhile, Teen Book Con was a great event that I am so grateful to have received the chance to attend.

I found out about this lovely event through Maureen Johnson's blog. I saw that she, and many other awesome authors I've read, were going to be in Houston and immediately called up some friends so that we could make a road trip out of it. 

Upon our arrival at Alief Taylor High School, we were quickly swept away with the crowd of teens that had turned out for this event. They were everywhere! Now I love teens, but not necessarily when they gather in droves. Then again, being a socially anxious person, I don't do humans gathering en masse. I should mention that there were plenty of adults there as well, including teachers, librarians, booksellers, and the rest of us who were just there to see our favorite authors and promote something we all believe in.

However, I couldn't help loving everything about this event, even as I warded off panic attacks while navigating the hallways. The panels were engaging and fun to be a part of, so many students were eager to ask questions and pick the brains of the very authors who had inspired them, and those authors were extremely personable and willing to share as much as they could in hopes of connecting with their young audience. 

Whenever I attend book events, I tend to take a copious amount of notes on nearly everything the author says. This is partially because I know I'll be writing a blog post on it later and partly because I want to remember everything they say. During this particular event that lasted from 9am to 5pm, I took ten pages of notes, front and back. I won't type all of those little notes here, but I'll give you some of the more interesting details below. Please note that the panels were done entirely in a Q&A format, thus the reason I present it as such below. 

Keynote Speech-Chris Crutcher
To start off Teen Book Con, the event moderators asked Chris Crutcher to give the opening speech. He  was a very entertaining speaker, who kept us laughing and engaged throughout his time onstage. He spoke about how his time working with mental health services and dealing with Child Protective services gave him the drive and the inspiration for many of his stories. Seeing the desperation of teens and the difficult situations they had to navigate in a cruel and unfair world encouraged him to create something that could make a difference. 
Inspired by his deep love of To Kill a Mockingbird and the way Harper Lee speaks so plainly yet beautifully through the voice of Scout, he set out to become a writer and hasn't looked back since.

Memorable quotes from his speech:
-"Human freedom is about being able to think what you want." 
-"Storytelling is looking around for interesting people and interesting situations."

Murder & Mayhem-Kate Brian, Sharon Draper, Maureen Johnson, Barry Lyga, Robin Wasserman

Q: Do you plot out the murders in advance?
Barry Lyga makes spreadsheets of info about victims because serial killers have signatures and patterns. He needed to capture that and make sure the details were all in order when it came to the specific content of his books.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?
Here Robin Wasserman and Barry Lyga got into a quick, friendly argument about whether or not TV can be helpful to coming up with good material. He argued that while it can stimulate the desire to create, it also stilts that originality and creativity the author wants to capture. Robin  disagreed, claiming that TV is a great source of narrative art and should be considered as such.
Kate Bryan finds that eavesdropping is a pretty convenient way to tackle writer's block. There are plenty of crazy people and conversations that can inspire your work.

Q: How do you create personalities?
Maureen Johnson: "It's like building Franken-people. You collect little bits of real people and distribute them among your characters."
Sharon Draper emphasized the fact that the writer must make their characters real people. They have to have depth and substance. The author wants the reader to become attached to the character and view them as a friend.
Kate Brian begins by determining what the character wants most in life and then starts throwing obstacles in their way. She also pointed out that a very great way of getting to know your characters is to interview them. It's time consuming, but is amazing at helping to shape and layer them.

Q: Why are mental health issues so prominent in YA and how does it play into writing in that genre?
Maureen Johnson was quite eager to answer this, explaining that she believes mental health disorders are becoming more prominent throughout YA because they are becoming more widely accepted and understood. In fact, there are a great number of people dealing with mental health issues of some sort and it is important to show teens and adults alike that they are not alone. She went on to explain that mental unhealthy is something that fluxes and changes in nearly all people. Most of us deal with it at some point or another. It's natural and it isn't necessarily a fixed diagnosis, but something we have to deal with in order to make it through.

Making the Best of It-Jen Calonita, Chris Crutcher, Amy McNamara, Lauren Morrill, Francisco X. Stork, Kay Honeyman

Q: What keeps you motivated to write?
Kay Honeyman immediately answered with "the story." The desire to make the story that has woven itself within her mind live up to its full potential is what keeps her manically typing away at her keyboard as often as possible. 
Francisco X. Stork added that there is a part of you that hurts when you keep the story inside of you too long. It's simply a relief when the writer is able to get everything out of his system and let the story be told.

Q: Do you ever have trouble writing the story you have in your head?
Amy McNamara pointed out that she often finds that if you have to wrestle the characters into doing something, it's probably not meant to be. You're probably trying to force the character into doing something that doesn't fit with their personality and you need to do something to change that.
Lauren Morrill jumped in to let us know that playacting is very helpful, especially when it comes to figuring out the physical dynamics of a scene.

Q: How do you battle writer's block?
Francisco X. Stork had the most inspiring answer for this question in saying that he asked himself what he was afraid of. Almost any time he truly hit a wall in his writing was when he was afraid of something (ie. not being good enough) and needed to work through that before he could continue on.

Q: Were there people who discouraged you?
Chris Crutcher: "You mean, everyone?"

It appears that my coverage of this event is going to take more than one blog post to present. In order to keep from boring you to tears or giving you way too much to read in one sitting, I'll be posting the second part of this on Monday. Stay tuned and feel free to let me know what you think about this event and everything the authors have had to say!

[Click here to check out Part 2 of my Teen Book Con coverage]

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Rites & Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson

Performance and public shaming are often virtually identical experiences, differentiated only by context. And often even then, not that different.

The Rites & Wrongs of Janice Wills was another of the books I picked up in preparation for Teen Book Con (the blog post covering that event is coming soon) in an attempt to read as much as I could from the authors that would be making appearances. Of course, I started working on this pretty late (probably two weeks in advance), so I only managed to pencil in a few new authors, but Joanna Pearson made her way into the list of those I managed to get to in time. At least, she would have been, if she had been on the list. Apparently, I grabbed the wrong book, but it was worth it.

When aspiring anthropologist, Janice Wills, enters her junior year, she is expected to participate in the Miss Livermush pageant along with the rest of the girls in her grade. After all, it's only the most important event of her high school experience (at least in the eyes of everyone else in town). Janice has other priorities: like studying the people around her, making anthropological observations, and doing her best to get an article published in Anthropology Today.

Her approach to life is standing outside of it, doing her best to watch and judge while not actually participating. This is what helps her survive the high school hierarchy. However, when her aloof attitude starts drawing in the wrong people and pushing away the ones that have always been there for her, Janice starts to realize that maybe she isn't as unbiased as she thought. And maybe you have to dive into the world around you, even if it's uncharted territory.

This was an adorable book. I really enjoyed Janice and getting to walk alongside her as she learned how to become the person she wanted to be. The subject of anthropology has always been fascinating to me and I loved seeing an author take an interesting topic and wrap it around a lovely coming of age story. This was a fun, light read. One of those quick books that I really enjoyed losing myself in.

Rating: ★★★★☆

"No, no, no, Janice," he said. "I thought you were a better anthropologist than that! You have the entire art of adolescent survival all wrong! You don't hide your weirdnesses. You embrace them, thereby making them cool."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

"Well I want to go on record as saying the sooner you learn you're your own life's accountant, the sooner you'll have tools to hammer out a decent life."

Tomorrow I'll be attending Teen Book Con, a convention for Young Adult Literature that is to be held in Houston. When I found out about a convention for my favorite genre, I immediately made plans to road trip it down there and roped a few friends into going down with me.

Chris Crutcher is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at this event, so it follows that I would immediately rush over to the library in an attempt to find a book of his that interested me. I finally found Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, a book whose title had me a bit skeptical, but I figured it was worth giving a shot anyway.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the story of Eric Calhoune, a teenage boy who seems to be defined only by his weight. When he was younger, he befriended Sarah Byrnes, another girl outcasted from the school's social hierarchy because of the burns that cover her body (the result of a childhood injury). Now Eric has taken up swimming and these workouts have him shedding weight faster than he would have expected. Terrified that Sarah Byrnes will think he's trying to outgrow her, he gorges himself, doing his best to keep the weight so she won't be alone in her ugliness.

Then Sarah Byrnes stops talking. She stops responding to the people around her. She snaps in the middle of class and somehow manages to entirely shut down, causing her to be sent to the hospital to tend to her mental health and throwing her best friend into an inner chaos that has him scared and angry, desperately trying to understand what made her snap and why the pain suddenly became unbearable.

I was surprised with how much I truly enjoyed this book. Like I mentioned before, I was a bit skeptical from the get-go. I'm definitely not a big fan of fat-shaming and figured it would turn out to be one of those cheesy books where suddenly they all start to look better and then the world is nicer because they're pretty. However, it was very different than I expected. The book ended up straying from superficial contemporaries and actually dealing with a lot of heavy issues that teens deal with on a daily basis. There was no discounting of a person's pain, but the simple acknowledgement that it is there and that we must each find a way to make it through, regardless of how hard it gets.

My only real complaint with the book was that many of the characters weren't as multifaceted as I had expected them to be. Each seemed to be defined by a single personality trait or part of their appearance that overshadowed all else about them, making them seem two dimensional, even while dealing with some very complex issues. It wasn't a huge problem, but more of a situation that kept nagging me near the end of the novel.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book and the way it dealt with many interesting points of view on a plethora of subjects. I really enjoyed getting in Eric's head throughout the story and understanding why he made the decisions he did. He was definitely a very interesting character to get to know.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
"Because the other day when I saw how hard it was for Mobe to go to the hospital to see her, I was embarrassed that I didn't know her better, that I ever laughed at one joke about her. I was embarrassed that I let some kid go to school with me for twelve years and turned my back on pain that must be unbearable. I was embarrassed that I haven't found a way to include her somehow the way Mobe has."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

"There's the drown of things and the swim of things, I guess. I've been going back and forth, back and forth. I feel the wight of it. And this bewilderment - how can something that doesn't have a form, doesn't have a definition, doesn't have words - how can it have such weight? And yet there's the need to swim."

My local library has a "For Sale" section in which you can find books they've pulled from the shelves for one reason or another are sold for about fifty cents or one dollar. I often frequent this section in hopes of finding a new treasure while at the same time using it as yet another way in which I can help fund something I believe in. (This is also why I have no problem paying my late fees as soon as I accrue them. I know where my money's going and it is something I love.) This is the section in which I found Love is the Higher Law. I recognized David Levithan's name from the fact that he co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green, as well as hearing his name all over the YA news annals, so I decided to give this small novel a shot.

Love is the Higher Law is a novel depicting the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, as seen by three teenagers all living in New York City at the time of the attacks. Claire, Jasper, and Peter all have very different lives and perspectives of life itself. As we see through their eyes, we see how such a great tragedy affected them and the way they will go about their lives from here on out. Each of them is tied to the others and each experiences September 11th in a different way, but maybe each will come out the stronger for it in the end.

Nearly everyone remembers where they were the day New York City was attacked by terrorists and planes slammed into multiple American monuments, killing thousands and sending the nation into a deep state of fearfulness and eventually a war. I was in fourth grade, playing on the playground, when my teacher called us in to tell us what had happened. My mother picked me up early. My brother had been home sick and he came with her to take my sister and I home.

Being so young, and also living in Texas, I clearly didn't experience it in nearly the same way a New York City teen would have experienced this sort of thing. David Levithan manages to capture the terror one must have felt in the face of so terrible an event as well as the hope that came after it. Honestly, there are few books that I have read that can compare with this one when it comes to being so beautiful and heart-breaking all at once. His descriptions are stunning and the emotions he captures are so deeply truthful that you can't help feeling the honesty in his very phrasing of the words.

Beautiful really is the most accurate word I can find for this little gem. I look forward to rereading this again and again.

Rating: ★★★★★

This, I think, is how people survive: Even when horrible things have been done to us, we can still find gratitude in one another.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones

"Oh I did," he said. "I hated Them for aeons, make no mistake. But it wore out. You'll find that Things wear out, specially feelings." He didn't seem sad about it at all. He acted as if it was a relief, not hating Them anymore.

I picked up this gorgeous copy of The Homeward Bounders at the Shakespeare & Company bookstore beside Notre-Dame while showing the store to a visiting friend. I caught sight of this paperback while perusing the YA section and, being a huge fan of Howl's Moving Castle, another work by Diana Wynne Jones, I immediately snatched it up.

When Jamie stumbles upon the dwelling in which They live, he discovers that his world, an many others, are all territories in a series of elaborate board games that They control. Having discovered this secret, he is cast out of the game and made a Homeward Bounder. This means, he must travel through worlds on his own and with no control over when or how he goes. The only way he can make it stop is by finding his way home. If he manages that, he resets himself within the game and may continue as a player there.

The game has many rules, most of which are vague and never really explained to Jamie. Every Homeward Bounder he's managed come across has a different perception of what it is they might be. But one things is for certain: Homeward Bounders are meant to be alone and, therefore, must not team up or travel together. Teamwork could cause them to interfere with game play.

When Jamie meets up with Joris and Helen, he does everything in his power to make sure the three of them stay together, but it may not be in his power to keep the three of them that way. All bets are off if They find out about their teamwork, and the three aren't exactly subtlety personified.

I'll be honest here in saying that this book didn't exactly live up to my expectations after the masterpiece that was Howl's Moving Castle. I definitely preferred Sophie's adventures to Jamie's. That being said, I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed Jones's writing style and her deeply imaginative storytelling. Stepping out from under the shadow of Howl, this book still managed to be deeply interesting and I was definitely eager to find out how a resolution could possibly take place.

All in all, I would suggest this for a thoughtful read, but if you're only looking for the best, I'd give you a free pass to skip this one.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

"We took them off, " he said, "to show that we have no hope. Hope is an anchor, you know."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Novel Attraction Launch & Giveaway!!

Myself, my brother, and a good friend in front of an English
 bookstore (my natural habitat) in Paris, France.
Well there you have it, Novel Attraction is now live and I will begin posting new reviews and/or other book-related posts every Monday and Friday. (I'll do my best to keep that consistency as long as I can, but it may fade over time due to my work load or extenuating circumstances.) There may also be additional days where I choose to post, such as book events or signings.

I hope you enjoy the look and feel of the new blog. I know I'm certainly quite happy with it. I'm still working on moving old reviews over here, but for the most part you are now able to see the major changes and adjustments I've made so far. 

If you have any comments or concerns, feel free to hit me up on here or via Twitter. I'd love to hear from you.

Now, for the part you've all been waiting for: the giveaway!

I've decided to choose two of my favorite books for this particular giveaway; one classic and one contemporary. I decided to go with Emma by Jane Austen and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I think you'll agree that these are two very wonderful books. 

 (Both copies will be paperback and will have the covers seen on the left. I will be purchasing them from the Book Depository and shipping them to the winner as soon as the contest ends.)

How do I enter?: To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me what is your absolute favorite book. Pretty simple, right? (One entry comment per person will be counted.)

How long will the giveaway last?: The last day of the giveaway will be April 20th. That gives you ten days to enter. Any entries received after that day will not be counted (though I will still appreciate hearing about your favorite book).

How will you choose the winner?: I am going to let decide. Basically, all I have to do is input the number of comments and it will choose a random number for me. 

How do I find out if I won?: I will post the name of the winner on April 22nd in a new post. If you are chosen as the winner, please shoot me an email with your shipping address. The subject line needs to say "Giveaway Winner: your name." I will place the order immediately. (You can find my email address on the "About Me" page. Please don't spam!) :)

Good luck and I hope you enjoy the new blog! :)