Friday, November 19, 2010

New Voice: James Klise on Love Drugged

James Klise is the first-time author of Love Drugged (Flux, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Fifteen-year old Jamie Bates has a fail-safe strategy for surviving high school: fit in. Keep a low profile. And, above all, protect his biggest secret—he’s gay.

So when a classmate discovers the truth, a terrified Jamie decides it’s time to change. After accepting flirtatious advances from Celia, the richest and most beautiful girl in school, Jamie steals an experimental new drug that’s supposed to “cure” his attraction to guys.


At first, Jamie thinks he’s finally on track to living a “normal” life. But at what cost?

As the drug’s side effects worsen and his relationship with Celia heats up, Jamie begins to realize that lying and using could shatter the fragile world of deception that he’s created—and hurt the people closest to him.


A star-crossed romance with humor and heart, Love Drugged explores the consequences of a life constructed almost entirely of lies . . . especially the lies we tell ourselves.


In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

Great question, and quite relevant to this book. My cover features all those beautiful pills, which fairly shout, “edgy!” My novel isn’t about recreational drug use—it’s about an experimental prescription drug intended for a very specific therapeutic purpose. But I recognized going in that any story about a teenager stealing and trying an experimental drug ventured into edgy territory.

Also, the narrator of Love Drugged is a gay teenager. Some readers will consider that fact alone edgy; others will consider the fact that he is afraid of being gay edgy. To be honest, these factors were a large part of the appeal of writing it.

As we all know, it’s exciting to write and read about characters who engage in questionable, dangerous, or self-destructive behaviors, things that make us cup hands over our mouths and say, “No, no—don’t do that!”

For me, the “edgiest” part of writing the book had to do with handling the narrator’s thoughts regarding sex and desire. I think we can agree that any novel that honestly captured a typical teenage boy’s thoughts would border on, well, pornography. But writing a pornographic novel for teenagers is not at the top of my “to do” list.

So I decided to let my characters simply talk about sex a lot. Talking about sex is a way to approach the issue with something of a filter. The fact that I can give Love Drugged to my students and to my family without blushing tells me that I accomplished my goals.

One YA novel, by the way, that addresses the subject of boys and sex really well (and in such a funny way) is Doing It by Melvin Burgess (Henry Holt, 2002).

It tackles the subject so well, in fact, that our library copies are stolen every year. Seriously, I need to replace them every fall! Let me tell you, theft is very strong indicator that your novel speaks some truth to readers.

As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

I might not be writing for teenagers if they didn’t surround me all day long. Prior to becoming a high school librarian, I wrote and published short stories about the troubles of grown-ups, and I was happy doing so for more than a decade.

That said, now that I’m writing for teens, I am addicted to it.

Writing for young people allows me to express a character’s motives very directly—it requires more “telling” along with the “showing.”

Also, there is a real sense of urgency in writing for teens, a feeling of: Kid, if this particular insight or idea doesn’t reach you at this particular stage of your life, how and when will it ever reach you?

Also, my writing benefits from the daily conversations I have with teens about books. I see check-out trends in the library, and it’s always interesting to see what prompts a student to take out a book, and why they may reject it after reading—or scanning—only a page or two.

They are passionate, demanding readers, impatient for story, and they always remind me what matters: vivid characters and compelling, well-paced plotting.

Two of our favorites in the teen book club this year were Acceleration by Graham McNamee (Wendy Lamb Books, 2003) and The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (Knopf, 2004).

These books grab the reader by the collar in the first chapter with irresistible narrators. And they both tell stories that you can’t put down.

The other thing is, my work in the library surely gave me an advantage when it came to selling the manuscript. I am physically surrounded by young adult literature all day long, stacks of great books waiting to be shelved. And most of those books include very useful acknowledgements pages!

Before I wrote my first query for Love Drugged, I had my list of “dream editors” whose work I admired, whose projects reflected a certain aesthetic that matched mine.

I didn’t use an agent for the first book, and it sold fairly easily. I think the reason I was able to do that is because I knew so much about the market through my day job. I felt like the universe was telling me, “Pssst, look—this is the kind of thing you are supposed to write next.”

Finally, I listened. I’m so glad I did!

Cynsational Notes

Klise is a high school librarian in Chicago, where he advises the student literary journal, book club, and the gay-straight alliance. His short stories have appeared in many journals, including StoryQuarterly, New Orleans Review, Ascent, and Southern Humanities Review.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Sequels by Michelle Knudsen from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "When my editor expressed interest in a sequel, I was thrilled — and terrified. For the first time I had to really think about how to continue to the story, and figure out how to approach writing a new book that depended so much on something already written and out in the world." Don't miss part two, featuring insights from Ellen Jensen Abbott, Cinda Williams Chima, Janni Lee Simner, Jill Santopolo.

Plot Points and Vanishing Points by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.net. Peek: "Imagine the specific things that are happening in the story. These are the plot points. Plot points can be either external or internal to the character. Or even better--both. Those points would be the trees spaced out in the picture."

Online Persona Workshop Week 6 by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "While there are advantages to blogging daily (the more often your content is updated, the higher up on the search engine returns you are placed) in terms of building and connecting with an audience, consistency is probably more important than volume. Blog every Monday or every Tuesday & Thursday, or whatever works for your schedule. But be consistent."

Whitney Awards: "an awards program for novels by LDS authors." Note: "honor novels in the following categories: General Fiction, Romance, Suspense/Mystery, Speculative Fiction, Youth Fiction, Historical, Best Novel of the Year, and Best Novel by a New Author. Novels can be nominated by any reader (via this website or by mail), and nominees are voted on by an academy of industry professionals, including authors, publishers, bookstore owners, distributors, critics, and others." Source & for more information: Stacy Whitman.

Why Backstory is the Bomb from Denise Jaden. Peek: "Just because we don’t want that backstory up front, doesn’t mean we don’t need it at all. It doesn’t mean that we can vaguely imagine a few scenarios of what could have been the history of our characters. We have to know. And for that, in most cases, we have to write it."

Top 10 Religion Books for Youth from Booklist. Peek: "Religion and spirituality, sometimes bright, sometimes with a darker edge, get memorable treatments in these books reviewed over the course of the last year in Booklist." Source: Lee & Low.

Bethany Hegedus, Featured Author from ReaderKidZ. Peek: "I revise and revise and revise. I both love it and hate it. What I love about revision is I can shape and play and try, try, again. With writing, what you first put down on the page isn’t supposed to be perfect. I like that."

Get to a Bookstore by Julie Berry from The MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Massachusetts. Peek: "Your local independent bookstore employs those rare and priceless gems - salespeople who eagerly steer you around the store to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. From infants to octogenarians, they can find you the exact titles to suit your people."

Happy 40th Anniversary to BookPeople in Austin, Texas! Here's to 40 more!

Novels -- Sagging-Middle Fixes by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating, reporting on a workshop by Anita Nolan. A list of strategies.

2011 Debut YA/Middle Grade Authors of Color compiled by MissAttitude from Reading In Color. Peek: "I decided to publish this list earlier to put the books on people's radars and hopefully you can add on to my list!"

Deepening Your Novel with Imagery, Symbolism, and Figurative Language by Martina from Adventures in Children's Publishing. Peek: "For me, it's a combination of the above, but it's also that indefinable magic that suddenly makes symbols and images appear in the writing without my knowledge, the overarching, structural metaphors and symbols that bring disparate elements together and illuminate what the story is about."

Just Stay Comma by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "Now before you enter the terrifying world of the comma, you must remember one thing: the basic purpose of all punctuation is to help make text easier to read."

Interview with Laura Purdie Salas - Writing for the Educational Market by Donna Bowman Bratton from Simply Donna. Peek: "Educational publishers today are aiming to not just provide accurate information but to also engage and entertain kids."

Should You Include Illustration Notes in Your Picture Book Manuscript? by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "The point of an illustration note is to convey something to the manuscript reader that is not obvious from the text."

Historical Fiction Month: a celebration by Melissa Rabey from Librarian By Day. Peek: "“Every weekday in November, there will be discussion of young adult historical fiction. Whether it’s a book review, an essay from a guest contributor, or a post from me, readers will learn new things about historical fiction." Source: Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy. Note: learn more about Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide by Melissa Rabey (Libraries Unlimited, Dec. 30, 2010).

Congratulations to Kathryn Erskine, author of Mockingbird (Philomel, 2010)! Cheers also to the finalists: Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker (Little, Brown); Laura McNeal, Dark Water (Knopf); Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown (Amistad/HarperCollins); Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer (Amistad/HarperCollins). Note: links lead to full NBA information and author interviews related to each of the honored books. See also Sara Zarr's thoughts on the NBA judging process.

Random House to Shutter Tricycle Press by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "As of January 31st Random House Children’s Books is discontinuing the frontlist publishing program of Berkeley-based Tricycle Press, the 18-year-old children’s book imprint." Notes: (a) bad news, I know, but it's best that writers aren't awaiting answers on manuscripts at this imprint; (b) thank you to the authors, illustrators, editors, and publishing professionals at Tricycle for all of the wonderful books you've created over the past almost 20 years. Tricycle is already missed.

The Apocalypsies: Children's and Young Adult Authors Debuting in 2012. Note: fellow 2012 debut authors are invited to contact the group for information about joining.

AshleyPerez.com: official site of the debut author of What Can't Wait (Carolrhoda Lab, 2011)(excerpt). Peek: "When I’m not reading, writing, studying, or teaching, I am very busy hanging out with our little boy, Liam Miguel. He keeps me very, very busy. In the scraps of time that remain, I also like to run (I did the Houston Marathon in 2007 and the Chicago Marathon in 2009), bake (but let’s don’t revive the 'Cookie Girl' nickname, please), watch movies, work in my garden, and destroy my mother in long-distance games of Scrabble."

Do Book Reports Make Boys Want to Scream? by Margie Gelbwasser from Scholastic Instructor. Peek: "Here are eight surefire ideas that will send them running—to the library."

The 2011 Kerlan Award has been awarded to children's author Jane Kurtz. The Kerlan Award is given by the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota in recognition of singular attainments in the creation of children's literature. The award ceremony will be held next April.

SCBWI National States Position Regarding Self-Publishing from Austin SCBWI. Note: five points.

Happy Birthday Author: Where Reading and Birthdays Come Together. Peek: "The goal of this blog is to encourage families to read a variety of books together. The format of celebrating authors on their birthdays provides families an opportunity to have fun while developing their reading interests. I started celebrating the birthdays of children's authors when I was a teacher. Luckily, I am able to continue the celebrations as I am stay at home dad for my three children."

How to subscribe to KidsBuzz to "'Meet' the Authors"

Great news! In the upcoming weeks, I'll be joining the ranks for authors featured at KidsBuzz! Here's how to jump in. See also Publicist Interview: Deborah Sloan of Deborah Sloan and Company.

  • Subscribe to Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade (KidsBuzz runs in this book trade e-newsletter every other Monday and Wednesday).
  • Subscribe to DearReader.com enewsletter (via your local library); be sure to select the “KidsBuzz” e-newsletter (though there are lots of other subjects that might interest you, too).
  • To learn about new books for book clubs/book groups (grades 2 – 12), see Kidsbookclubbing.
  • Follow @KidsAuthorBuzz on Twitter for news of new authors, why they wrote their books and want is it about these books that makes them just-right for kids and teens (plus freebie offers too).
  • Subscribe to The Picnic Basket blog for notes about new KidsBuzz authors and books.
  • Follow KidsBuzz on Facebook.

Cynsational Screening Room

Maya Soetoro-Ng talks about Ladder to the Moon, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Candlewick, 2010).



Yuyi Morales talks about Ladder to the Moon written by Maya Soetoro-Ng (Candlewick, 2010).



In the video below, Scholastic interviews Siobhan Vivian, Cecil Castellucci, and Natalie Standiford.



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Love Drugged by James Klise (Flux, 2010).

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Love Drugged" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up. I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30. U.S. entries only; sponsored by the author.

Win an ARC of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) from Jama Rattigan from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Deadline: Nov. 21. See details. Peek: "Sounds tantalizing, no? If you're seriously salivating over the prospect of more amped-up vamps, generous servings of diabolically delicious suspense, romance, wit and gothic gore presented in a contemporary setting, enter this giveaway post haste!"

More Personally

Inside the Writer's Studio with Cynthia Leitich Smith: an interview by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: "The challenge is time. Over the ten years I’ve been actively publishing, the marketing/business expectations that fall on authors have multiplied tenfold while we’re expected to produce books—of the same, if not higher, caliber—on a quicker and more predictable schedule."

Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Barry Gott: a recommendation from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: "How can you not fall in love with a book in which Mama and Daddy Loudly name their baby Holler because he cries so loud?"

Soup of the Day: Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Barry Gott by Jama Rattigan from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "Better tie yourself down, lest you end up flyin', blowin', and catapultin' through this uproarious, outlandish taller than tall tale." Note: the love, energy and creativity that Jama puts into her blog is simply jaw-dropping. Check out what she did with that soup bowl! Note: also features some interior spreads.

We Hollered Loudly about Alien Invasion and Truth with a Capital T: a report by Donna Bowman Bratton from Simply Donna on Sunday's launch event at BookPeople. Peek: "Besides the delicious books just waiting to be snatched up by adoring fans, all in attendance enjoyed chili, cake, and the yummiest sugar cookies prepared by author Anne Bustard."

Even more personally, my mother sent celebratory flowers!


Cynsational Events


"Fangs vs. Fur" event will include Cynthia Leitich Smith 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 19 at the University Hills Branch (4721 Loyola Ln.) of the Austin Public Library. From the promotional copy:

In a literary battle between vampires and werewolves, who will be victorious? You be the judge!

Play Family Feud: Vampires vs. Werewolves. Sink your fangs or teeth into the sumptuous Blood Bar. Compete for prizes in the Costume Contest or go for the gusto in the Howling Contest, if you dare. Enjoy Twilight sock-puppet theater, vampire and werewolf anime films, a Vampire Knight and Hellsing manga and anime discussion, and so much more.

For more information, call 512.974.9940.

Save the Date! Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Guest Post: Patrice Barton on the Difference Between Illustrating Picture Books and Chapter Books

By Patrice Barton

A picture is worth a thousand words. No pressure for an illustrator, right?

Luckily, in chapter books, the author has already supplied the words. So my approach here is to create illustrations that play a supporting role. My pictures must say just enough but no more.

When I was a kid deciding whether or not to read a chapter book, I would fan through it. If the illustrations captured my attention, I would read it.

Okay, fine, truth be told...I still do this. It comes naturally for me as an illustrator to look for an event in each chapter that will make an engaging illustration--one that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers so they will be enticed to read the story.

For example, in one illustration from my chapter book Layla, Queen of Hearts, written by Glenda Millard (FSG, 2010), we see the character Layla. We recognize her because of her long black hair. But oh my, what is she doing in a graveyard? Who is she with? Who are they talking to?

Another illustration from the Layla book has a more subtle example of engaging the reader. We see the family seated around a huge table enjoying a breakfast feast. One empty chair is invitingly pulled out from the table, coaxing the viewer to join them. However, the viewer must read the chapter to discover why the hard-boiled eggs are wearing tiny knit beanies. My pictures must say just enough, but no more.

On the other hand, the illustrations in picture books speak volumes. They must convey the heart of the matter, honoring the author's perspective.

With picture books, the words are fewer, the audience younger, so the images play a major role fusing seamlessly with the text.

For me, this begins in the sketching phase. I read the text over and over again. As the story seeps in, I begin to sketch--keeping it fluid. Don't think, feel.

I let the characters and scenes evolve...new layers to the story unfold.

In the picture book Sweet Moon Baby, written by Karen Henry Clark (Knopf, 2010), the author magically brings the story full circle, having it begin and end on a warm summer night. The illustrations needed to reflect this. I wanted them to come full circle too. So I swaddled the baby in a red blanket to begin her journey, and at the story's end, the red blanket has now become her bedspread.

Just like illustrations in chapter books, picture book illustrations need to engage the reader. But instead of playing a supporting role, picture book illustrations take center stage. They must move the story forward and compel the reader to turn that page and the next and the next.

Again, in Sweet Moon Baby, the baby, tucked in a basket, is being carried away by the river's strong currant. I drew her literally being swept off the page. To find out where she's going, the reader has to turn the page.

In closing, I'm reminded of when my son played T-ball.

After a game, his team would gather around and do a big cheer for the other team, for without them, they wouldn't get to play.

So, cheers to authors! Thank you for sharing your stories, for without you, we illustrators wouldn't get to play!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Events: "Give Yourself a Longer Shelf Life" at the Writers' League & "Fangs vs. Fur" at Austin Public Library

Attention: Central Texans,

You're invited to my last two public author events of 2010--one for authors and one for readers!

“Give Yourself a Longer Shelf Life: Marketing for the Long-Term" panel discussion at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at BookPeople. Panelists: Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jay Ehret and Dana Lynn Smith. Jay is a book marketing expert, and Dana is a book marketing coach and author of The Savvy Book Marketer Guides. Sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas.

"Fangs vs. Fur" event will include Cynthia Leitich Smith 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 19 at the University Hills Branch (4721 Loyola Ln.) of the Austin Public Library. From the promotional copy:

In a literary battle between vampires and werewolves, who will be victorious? You be the judge!

Play Family Feud: Vampires vs. Werewolves. Sink your fangs or teeth into the sumptuous Blood Bar. Compete for prizes in the Costume Contest or go for the gusto in the Howling Contest, if you dare. Enjoy Twilight sock-puppet theater, vampire and werewolf anime films, a Vampire Knight and Hellsing manga and anime discussion, and so much more.

For more information, call 512.974.9940.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Event Report: Holler Loudly about Alien Invasion and Truth with a Capital T


What fun it was to join Bethany Hegedus and Brian Yansky in celebrating our new releases at BookPeople in Austin, Texas!

Bethany's latest book is Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010)(ages 9-up), Brian's is Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)(ages 12-up), and mine is Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)(ages 4-up).

Huge thanks to Mandy, Madeline, and everybody else who worked the event!

The menu consisted of turkey chili (homemade by Bethany), a variety of cheeses, mixed fruit, cookies, water, and both wine and root beer.




Take a look at these amazing cookies, homemade by Anne Bustard (thanks, Anne!), who also helped out at the refreshments table! Can you guess which cookie(s) goes with which book?

The one thing we had left over? Cheese! I still have cheese in my refrigerator. Do you like the Western-theme toothpicks?

And here's a closer look at the cake--complete with our book covers in frosting! Thanks to Brian and his wife, author-illustrator Frances Yansky for coordinating the cake!

Here, you can see Anne with Katie Bayerl, who was in town visiting and also helped out at the refreshments table. What a gem!

Here's my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, getting the PowerPoint up and running for our presentations. Thanks, Greg!

We also had a terrific activity table. Austin SCBWI ARA Carmen Oliver helps young readers....

choose and affix their alien-inspired temporary tattoos!

I never got a full count--but the room was at standing room only, and I think there are only two copies of Holler Loudly left in the whole store. A lot of guests stocked up with all three books for their own reading and/or holiday gift-giving. Brian and Bethany were signing like the wind!

Writer-teacher Jerri Romine (pink & jeans) with Bethany (in black), Carmen (behind an adorable young reader), writer Donna Bowman Bratton (white & jeans), DDD authors April Lurie and Shana Burg, and Frances.

April (all in black) with YA librarian Michelle Beebower. Note: I'll be joining Michelle's crew at the "Fangs vs. Fur" event, starting at 5 p.m. Nov. 19 at the University Hills Branch of the Austin Public Library.

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the party! I hope y'all enjoy the books!

Later that evening, Greg and I returned to the store for the BookPeople 40th Anniversary Party!

Penguin Young Readers sales rep Jill Bailey with YA author Varian Johnson.

Austin SCBWI RA and author Debbie Gonzales with YA author Jennifer Ziegler.

Writer Amy Rose Capetta with Katie.

Happy anniversary, BookPeople! Here's to 40 more years!

Cynsational Notes


Speaking of new books....

Last weekend, we attended a Writers' League of Texas joint author event that featured P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, signing The Necropolis (Blooming Tree, 2010) and Jacqueline Kelly, signing the paperback edition of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Square Fish, 2011).

At this same event, K.A. "Kari" Holt showed off the paperback edition of Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Yearling, 2010).

Congratulations to Tricia, Jacqueline, and Kari on their new releases!

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Voice: Matthew Quick on Sorta Like a Rock Star

Matthew Quick is the first-time YA author of Sorta Like a Rock Star (Little, Brown, 2010). From the promotion copy:

Amber Appleton lives in a bus. Ever since her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out, Amber, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (aka Thrice B) have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (the school bus her mom drives).

But Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope and girl of unyielding optimism, refuses to sweat the bad stuff. Instead, she focuses on bettering the lives of her alcoholic mother and her quirky circle of friends: a glass-ceiling-breaking single mother raising a son diagnosed with autism; Father Chee and The Korean Divas for Christ (soul-singing ESL students); a nihilist octogenarian; a video-game-playing gang of outcasts; and a haiku-writing war vet.


But then a fatal tragedy threatens Amber’s optimism—and her way of life. Can Amber continue to be the princess of hope?


With his zany cast of characters and a heartwarming, inspiring story, debut YA author
Matthew Quick builds a beautifully beaten-up world of laughs, loyalty, and hard-earned hope. This world is Amber’s stage, and Amber is, well…she’s sorta like a rock star.

In writing your story, did you find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

My protagonist, Amber Appleton, is pretty wholesome, as far as teenagers go. She doesn’t drink or do drugs. She isn’t sexually active. She has a personal relationship with her God. She’s also a free thinker, a nonconformist who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and a strong-willed independent young woman waving her optimistic worldview like a flag.

Yet, when Amber suffers a horrific tragedy, she sinks into a serious depression for a third of the book, during which she does some understandable but unlikable things, including cursing the people who are trying to save her. She also has very bleak thoughts and even challenges the point of life itself.

Amber asks a lot of philosophical questions about God, the meaning of life, the lot she is given, why good things happen to bad people, etc. These are questions not everyone is comfortable addressing, but Amber explores them honestly, oscillating between reverence and irreverence.

I knew that Amber’s intense personality was going to rankle some readers. She calls Jesus Christ "JC" and "sucka," but her faith in him is sincere.

When Amber befriends a Vietnam Vet, she calls Jane Fonda a "bitch" and an "old-lady actress," but it is in an effort to make a deeply wounded man feel supported. Amber also repetitively calls herself a "freak" and the "princess of hope."

I worried that Amber might be too intense, too raw, too Amber. But I decided that allowing Amber to exist on the page exactly how she came to me creates an emotional vulnerability and honesty that I don’t always see in stories about young people.

Amber is just as weird, strange, flawed, child-like, endearing, and annoying as many of the teenagers I worked with when I was a high school English teacher. I decided that I didn’t want to gussy up her language or attitude for the page.

Part of the growing up process is being sanitized. We learn to suppress our questions, our quirks, our spunk, irreverence, etc.; we learn to fit in. For most kids, this is a simple process usually accomplished by the time they are at the end of high school. Other kids are different. But different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong or bad; sometimes different should be celebrated.

So the "edgy" risk I took was making Amber Appleton a complete weirdo with a good heart. I modeled her after some of my favorite former students who clung onto the ideals of their childhood a little more tightly than the rest.

Some readers have told me that they didn’t like Amber at first because they found her to be too immature and/or quirky, but then after so many pages they grew to love her and were devastated when the post-tragedy Amber gives up and ceases to be herself.

When I hear this, I consider it a victory for tolerance.

I realized that writing Amber’s story in first person, employing such an extremely quirky voice—Amber stocks a ridiculous hodgepodge of catchphrases—would test the curmudgeon’s tolerance. But I wanted to write a book that celebrated people who are different. There are many fantastic unconventional people in this world who will never be labeled "cool" or "hip" or even "appropriate," but they can still play important beautiful roles in our lives if we let them.

Amber is a freak, a misfit. But if you tolerate her, I believe you will find she is well worth knowing. The best freaks usually are.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

When I was creating Amber’s voice I mostly listened for laughter—meaning, if I heard myself laugh, I kept the dialogue. I wanted her to be funny, first and foremost. Second, as mentioned above, I wanted her to be quirky. And, of course, ultimately, I wanted her to be likeable.

But as everyone has different tastes, senses of humor, and—let’s be honest—prejudices too, a writer can never hope to please everyone.

So who should we please?

Who can we please?

I’ve written a lot since I quit teaching in 2004—petty much continually for the last six years. I’ve completed eight novels and abandoned dozens. I’ve only sold three.

The two books I’ve published—The Silver Linings Playbook (FSG, 2008)(published for grown-ups) and Sorta Like a Rock Star—were by far the easiest to write. That’s not to say the writing process was without challenges. But I enjoyed writing those two far more than all of the other unpublished books.


You might be thinking I enjoyed writing the published books because they were ultimately recognized by the powers that be in NYC, but to be absolutely honest, I knew when I was writing that something special was going on—that these two books were the most authentically me.

During the MFA experience, I tried to hone a more literary academic voice that always ended up feeling fake to me. And while I am sure there are people who will say that my published work doesn’t work for them—no book works for every reader—the books I have published really work for me.

My wife—novelist, Alicia Bessette—author of Simply From Scratch (Dutton, 2010)—knows me better than anyone. She is always my first reader. After she has read my draft, I ask her this question first: Is this manuscript authentically me?

If she says yes, it usually means that the book is ready for my agent’s eyes.


Sorta Like a Rock Star is about a seventeen-year-old homeless young woman. I have never been homeless, nor have I ever been a young woman. But the people who know me best say that they can see me in the book. They don’t mean that Amber is a thinly veiled fictional depiction of me, but that she is an authentic product of my personality.

I laughed and cried all through the writing of Sorta Like a Rock Star. I wrote a book that I wanted to read. I believe Toni Morrison once said—and I am paraphrasing here, as I am not able to remember the exact wording of the quote that once hung in my classroom, back when I was teacher—If there’s an unwritten book you want to read, you must write it. That’s what I tried to do with my debut YA book.

["If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it."]


Like Amber, I thought a lot about religious and philosophical questions when I was a teenager. I am sometimes irreverent and sometimes extremely reverent. I’ve always been a free thinker. I have a quirky sense of humor. I like befriending unlikely people. I like using language to exert my personal independence, even when I know people might think I am weird.

I am not Amber Appleton, but Amber Appleton is made from the stuff that I know and love. She is an authentic extension of me, and her voice reflects that.

I’m always telling young writers to write about the things they love, and that’s what I tried to do with this book.

So, in short, get out of your own way. Don’t self censor. Get to know yourself. Write a book you will love. Allow the voice to emerge from within. Don’t force it. Word.

Cynsational Notes

Visit Quest for Kindess, a blog by Alicia Bessette and Matthew Quick.

Donate Items for "Bridget Kicks Cancer: Season of Love and Hope" Auction

Bridget Zinn is a librarian and YA author who was diagnosed in 2009 with Stage IV colon cancer. Last year, a bunch of generous folks donated and bid on items in an online auction to raise money to help Bridget and Barrett with their medical expenses.

Bridget is still fighting, so this year there will be another auction, “Bridget Kicks Cancer: Season of Love and Hope.” Bidding will take place from Nov. 22 to Dec. 4.

Please consider donating an item or service by Nov. 19.

- To donate, go to http://bit.ly/bridgetkickscancer to fill out and submit the Item Donation Form.

- If you have more than one item to donate fill out a separate form for each item.

- For each item you submit, send images to accompany the item listing--up to four images per item! Please email images to: bridgetkickscancer@gmail.com.

- Get your donations in by Nov. 19!

Items that have been popular and successful in previous auctions include:

- Author and writer services: critiques, help with social networking

- Autographed books

- Handcrafted jewelry or greeting cards

- Local services: wine tours, house rentals, consulting work

- Original Artwork: perhaps design an 8 x 10 -12 x 24 around the theme of “Season of Love” (paying homage to Bridget’s “Summer of Love”), offer to commission a piece of art, or donate an existing piece

- Gift items

The Auction:

- The auction will begin at 8 a.m. Nov. 22 and conclude at 7 p.m. Pacific / 9 p.m. Central Dec. 4.

- To bid on items, visit the auction site at http://bit.ly/bridgetauction and follow the instructions for bidding.

- Winners will be notified by Dec. and sent instructions for payment at that time.

- As soon as payment is received, donors will ship or otherwise provide the item won to the winning bidder. Since this is around the holidays, send items as soon as possible after notification that payment has been received.

Questions? Email bridgetkickscancer@gmail.com!
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