Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Recommendations: Featuring Rather Less Kissing and Rather More Pictures

In today's edition of Books Kiersten Recommends, I'm actually spotlighting Books Kiersten's Kids Recommend. And, since my kids have impeccable taste (naturally!), hopefully your kids (and you) will enjoy these as well.

Nayna recommends:

The Babymouse Series

Stephanie Perkins, fine connoisseur of all things wonderful in writing, has been recommending this series of graphic novels for my seven-year-old for ages, and of course she was right. The storytelling is delightful--a central plot populated by Babymouse's hilarious flights of fancy. The writing is sleek, the pictures simple but expressive. I love sitting by Nayna as she reads (and re-reads) and letting her point out all her favorite visual gags. The world owes Jennifer and Matthew Holm's parents a debt of gratitude for not stopping at just one child.

Nayna also adores Dave Roman's ASTRONAUT ACADEMY and Ursula Vernon's DRAGONBREATH series. Both are excellent; the bonus of Babymouse is that there are already sixteen books out.

I really love these fun, funny, completely age appropriate graphic novels. They have the movement and sustained plots of longer books but with so much more visual engagement. Nayna loves reading, writing, and drawing, and these are the perfect books to feed those interests.

Dojo recommends:


We're big Adam Rex fans in our house. Dojo's one request for a prize on my last trip was FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH. It didn't disappoint. The poems are delightful and ridiculous, and the paintings are varied and charming and filled with enough humor for beginning-reader Dojo to appreciate even when he can't read all the words. I read it in the car on the way back from Phoenix and forced Shannon Messenger, my travel companion, to listen to most of the poems read aloud. They're that funny. I can't tell you how much I appreciate books for children that are also entertaining to read aloud.

I've talked about GUESS AGAIN, a collaboration between Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, on this blog before. It's in my top five picture books of all time, just for the sheer joy of watching my kids first get mad that it defied their rhyming expectations, and then laugh their heads off. (Even better was hearing them try to explain the book to other people. "But it wasn't a mouse! It was a VIKING! How could he live in the walls??")

Speaking of Barnett and Rex and brilliant combinations of brains, they have another book coming out. Here's the trailer. Tell me you don't want to read it:

I got to hang out a bit with Adam this weekend at the Changing Hands' YAllapalooza party. It's always nice when artists and authors whose work you adore turn out to be just as cool in person. Once you got past his five bodyguards, of course. He's kind of a big deal--he has a book coming out with Neil Gaiman, after all. His bodyguards were also lovely people, in case you were wondering, though I would have preferred fewer concealed weapons at a library event.

I had to wait in line five hours to get this picture. Honestly, these rockstar author-illustrators--and the paparazzi! It was insane.

(Unnecessary parenthetical: I am lying. Though that's how it OUGHT to be. And no bodyguards, though apparently his mom has mad skills with a bowie knife. But only versus dinosaurs.)

(Further shockingly necessary parenthetical: You know my kids aren't actually named Nayna and Dojo, right? Because...yeah.)

(Though of course my husband's driver's license says Hot Stuff.)

Speaking of Mac Barnett, his newest picture book EXTRA YARN with Jon Klassen is getting all sorts of starred reviews (as well as hitting the NYT Bestseller list). I'm getting it for my kids for Valentine's Day. Nothing says love like books!

So, tell me: If you have kids, what are they reading? And what are your favorite books to read aloud to them?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Super Hot Interview

(FYI, yesterday I guest vlogged a truth-or-dare on this blog. In case you missed it. Which you totally should have, don't go watch it, it's not ridiculous or embarrassing and you definitely don't want to hear poetry I wrote when I was seventeen.)

SO. A while ago I put out a call for interview questions for my husband. A "The man behind the woman behind the books behind the back of the bookshelf where they got knocked down and you won't find them until you move" sort of thing. So, people asked and Hot Stuff answered. 

(Now you will understand why my life is so happy. AND I finally got it confirmed that he is being passive-aggressive when he puts dishes away where I can't reach.)

1) Mr. Hot Stuff how do you handle this lil firecracker you call your wife, lol?

Great question. You know, I'm not sure how I handle her. I do know that she could beat me up fairly easily. She likes action movies, whereas I can barely handle "The Wind in the Willows." She also knows some karate and used to own various ninja weapons.

2) Do you speak and treat her the way she talks about you?? :)

Yes. I actually treat her much, much better than she treats me.
Gonna have to slug him for that answer. 

3) Has he read your books? Especially Endlessly? And what did he think?

I have read her books. I usually read them once she finishes a draft. Every once in a while I can get plot details out of her before she writes a story, but she's pretty good at being secretive. I do like her writing, and Endlessly has the best scene Kiersten has ever written in it. I don't think I'm allowed to give it away, but it made me laugh out loud. It's kind of disturbing what goes on in her head.

 Whatever. He totally loves the Dark Side.

4) Mayo, or miracle whip?

Mayo. Actually, I'm kind of in a kick right now where I don't use any dressings on sandwiches or anything else. I don't know why I started doing it, but for some reason I can't stop. I like mayonnaise better though because it works the best with Romanian potato salad. 

Hot Stuff's hand by a Romanian slug. Not an ingredient in Romanian potato salad.

5) What's the best part of being married to a short wife?

Being able to use my height and weight to push her around. She can't move me off the couch, or reach things I put on a high shelf. Whenever she's acting like she's too cool for school, I can just pat her on the head and tell her how adorable she is. That usually brings her back to earth. She does have a HUGE advantage in crowds though, and walking under trees.

 Also advantage in Romanian Castles.

6) Does your wife sometimes call you Lend? :)

Nope. She calls me his full name: "Lenderson" . . . or was it "Lendrew" . . .

7) Does she ever ask you for your input when writing and better yet does she take your advice?

Some days she'll ask me something or tell me a plot point and ask me what I think. Then she ignores my answer. I think she figures if I understand or like something, no one else will. I was pretty happy once because I told her to change something in "Paranormalcy" and she ignored me, but then several other people told her to change the same thing so she had to follow my original advice. HA!

8) How has having a bestselling author for a wife changed your life?

Not too much actually. I still have the same job, and we still live in the same area, and I still go running every other morning, and I still am somewhat scared of coyotes. My wife is gone more on work trips, but it's not that bad since she usually buys me candy before she goes.

9) I hear an author gets $1 for every book sold, and seeing as I've gotten 2 (with 4+ more on my wish list) you've gotten at least $2 from me, what have you done with those $2 and what will you do with the other $4+?

I used your particular $2 to buy 5/8 of a California Burrito at my second favorite place in the whole world: "Mexican Fiesta." It's kind of a long wait for a burrito, but it is well worth it if you are ever in Little Italy in San Diego. I will probably spend your next $4+ on 1.2+ California Burritos from the same place. That's really the only reliable thing I spend money on.

10) Who is the hottest person in his family?

My wife, Kiersten.
This is not a photo of Hot Stuff.

11) Who is his favorite sister in law?

All of them.

12) What's it like being married to a writer?

It's kind of how one would imagine being married to a hippy female version of Captain von Trapp from "The Sound of Music." Mix that with the plot of "Blue Crush" and you pretty much have my current life.

13) Which is your favorite book of your wife's?

All of them. They are all the best books ever. "Mind Games" is extra the best, in my opinion.

Monday, January 23, 2012

From First to Final: A Journey Through Edits

In conjunction with the lovely (and newly Printz honor award winning! I loved THE SCORPIO RACES, one of my favorites from last year) Maggie Stiefvater and a bunch of other authors (click on link to view a list of all the participants!), I thought I'd give you an actual glimpse into what happens between a first draft and a final. I do have some huge overhauls I've done with other books, but PARANORMALCY managed to stay fairly intact. That doesn't mean it didn't get redlined and cleaned up like crazy, though.

I've copied the very first version of the first half of the very first chapter (pulled from my email from 2009, when I sent it to Natalie Whipple under the title "A Present"), and then shown the markings for how it varies from this to the final version, along with commentary on why I did what I did. I hope it's helpful!

Chapter One: Oh, Bite Me
  Like I’d never seen this one before.  I might be sixteen, but trust me, I’ve seen a lot of things in my lifetime.  And what I was looking at right now was so utterly unoriginal I actually yawned.
We cut this opening paragraph entirely, feeling that starting with the vampire reaction was a stronger setup. It rendered this paragraph redundant. The fact that she is yawning is enough to tell us she's not impressed by vampires. Also, I didn't start out with chapter titles, but added them pretty quickly in the first draft.

“Wait—did you—you just yawned!”  The vampire’s arms, raised threateningly over his head in the classic Nosferatu Dracula pose, dropped to his sides.  He pulled his exaggerated, gleaming white fangs back behind his blood red lips.  “What, imminent death isn’t exciting enough for you?”
Ah, Nosferatu. You'll always be my favorite, but you aren't as instantly recognizable to the masses as Dracula and were thus replaced. It's important to keep audience in mind when making cultural references. Writing for teens is not writing for my generation, and the cultural touchstones everyone recognizes are different. I also cut just a few of the descriptors--here we have exaggerated, gleaming, white, and blood red. A little much. 

            “Oh, stop pouting.  But really—the widow’s peak?  The pale skin?  The black cape?  Where did you even get that thing, a fetish costume store?”
Hee. Yeah, decided to cut the reference to a fetish store, given that this is a book for twelve-and-up. I dialed back a lot of Evie's commentary in edits. If you can say one funny thing instead of two, probably best to go for one.

            He raised himself to his full height—just over six feet—and glared icily down at me.  “I’m going to suck your life from your pretty white neck,” he whispered.
We don't need to know exactly how tall he is. Glaring icily down lets us know he's taller than Evie. I also cut about 75% of my dialog tags in revisions, always. Be ruthless with dialog tags.

            “Go ahead,” I sighed.  I hated the vamp jobs.  First of all, they all think they’re so suave—it’s not enough for them to just slaughter and eat you like a zombie would.  No, they want it to be all sexy, too.  And trust me: vampires?  Not.  Sexy.  I mean, sure, their glamours can be pretty hot sometimes, but the desiccated, dry-as-bone corpse bodies shimmering underneath?  Nothing attractive there.  Not that anyone else can see them, though.
            He lunged forward; He hissed; just as he reached for my neck, I tased him.
            What, you were expecting holy water?  A cross?  A stake?  Please.  I’m here was there to bag and tag, not to kill.  Besides, if I had to carry separate weapons for every single paranormal I take took out, I’d be dragging around a full luggage set.  Tasers are a one-size-fits-all paranormal butt kicking option.  Mine’s pink, with rhinestones.  Tasey and I have had a lot of good times together. 
More cleaning, refining, taking out unnecessary words. A lot of editing Evie is pulling her back--cutting down the number of times she addresses the reader, eliminating a good bulk of her running commentary. Also, and this is weird, I have always hated that I let the copyeditors take out that comma in the middle of "Mine's pink, with rhinestones." In my head she says it with a pause. I should have fought for that comma.

            Oh yeah, the vampire.  He was twitching The vamp twitched on the ground, unconscious.  He actually looked really kind of pathetic now; I almost felt bad for him.  Imagine your grandpa.  Now imagine your grandpa minus fifty pounds.  Now imagine your grandpa plus 200 years.  That’s who I just sent a whole bunch of electricity through I'd just electrified.
Messy, messy. More cleaning, streamlining, tightening. I also had to be careful not to let Evie pull the reader out of the narrative too much, which is what her "Oh yeah, the vampire." thing did--reminded the reader she'd been off on a tangent and that they needed to get back to the story.

            Tasey’s work done, I reholstered her and pulled out the vamp-specific ankle bracelet.  Bracelet being a loose definition of a fairly complicated and bulky device.  They’d been streamlined in the last few years—you should have seen the early versions.  It was like the difference between that great big camera your dad used to take pictures with when he was a teenager and your sleek, slim digital camera.  And still they complain.
Again, too much explaining. I took out a lot of her explanations (though I still kept her talking directly to the reader as a narrative device, just in moderation) because I needed to trust my reader to a) suspend disbelief and b) wait long enough to get answers about just who she was and what she was doing. A mistake I (and many writers) make in first drafts is not trusting the reader. You give them just enough to hook them--they'll keep reading to get answers. They don't need you to hold their hand through the first few chapters. I find my first chapters always lose the most lines out of any sections. That's okay! First chapters are when I am feeling out voice and setting up world. Sometimes I need to write things for me and then lose them later on.

I'm going to stop there; I think you have a clear enough idea of what my edits look like. It's all about tightening, refining, streamlining. Don't use four bland details when you can use two really good ones. Don't have something happen and then have your narrator think about exactly what just happened. Don't underestimate readers' ability to go along with you. These are things I have to remind myself every single book! Also worth noting is that many of these edits were my own, but several of them were also suggestions from my crit partners and my phenomenal editor, Erica Sussman. Sometimes you stop being able to see your own writing; this is where working with people smarter than you comes in handy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Night in the Life

Kiersten and Hot Stuff, sitting downstairs, though more accurately collapsed on the couch and the floor, respectively.

Nayna and Dojo, upstairs, brushing their teeth.

Dojo: Screams. "Nayna brushed her teeth first! It was my turn!"

Kiersten: "It doesn't matter!"

Dojo: Yells even louder, working himself up to a fit, which often ends in puking.

Kiersten: "Fine! You can brush your teeth first the rest of the week!"

Nayna: Anguished wails and sobbing.

Kiersten: "You go up."

Hot Stuff: Wisely does not move.

Kiersten: Stomps up the stairs. "WHAT is going on?"

Nayna: Mournful wailing. "You said...I can't...brush first...ever again!"

Kiersten: "I didn't say that."


Nayna: Heart clearly broken clean in two by this incredible injustice, continued sobbing.

Kiersten: "Tomorrow! He gets to brush first tomorrow!"

Dojo: "NO. EVERY DAY."

Nayna: Will never recover from the trauma.

Kiersten: "Two days! You get to brush first for two days!"

Nayna: Already desperately in need of intense therapy sessions to heal from this.

Dojo: "Nayna, I'm never playing with you again!"


Nayna: A thousand Care-Bears watch from the clouds, crying in sympathy to her tender feelings irreparably shattered.


Kiersten: "Did she hurt you? Did she take something away you can never get back? Did she say something mean?"

Dojo: "No."

Kiersten: "THEN IT IS SILLY."



Nayna: Sobs. "I just." Sobs. "You can't." Sobs. "It'll mess up the SCHEDULE!"

Kiersten: "YOU ALREADY MESSED UP THE TAKING TURNS SCHEDULE. THAT'S IT. IF YOU GUYS ARE GOING TO FIGHT OVER THIS, TOMORROW NIGHT NO ONE GETS TO BRUSH...their...teeth DANGIT I CAN'T EVEN TAKE THIS AWAY FROM YOU." Realizes that her kids have picked something to fight over that she literally cannot take away from them. Final tenuous grasp on control has officially dissolved.

Kiersten: "From now on everyone brushes their teeth at exactly the same time, no matter what, FOREVER." Realizes she has become her father, who used to make the same ridiculous statements in an effort to keep things fair. Realizes there are worse things to be, since her father is an amazing guy.

Nayna: Quietly devolves into sniffles.

Dojo: "Snuggle time!"


Dojo: "Also, I dropped my toothbrush in the toilet."

Kiersten: Gives up.

Dojo: "Nayna, come for snuggle time!"

Nayna: Resolved to wallow alone. "No."

Dojo: "But Nayna! Snuggle time is filled with LOVE!"

At least we've got that going for us.

(If that wasn't enough Kiersten for your day [and really probably it was too much], the longest interview I've ever given is up over at VOYA's website, and oddly enough also includes an anecdote about brushing teeth. Only this time the story is about me, and the time I accidentally brushed my teeth with...well, you can read it.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Little Bit More

A lot of people are posting about New Year's Resolutions, goals, what they are going to do this year to introduce broad, sweeping change into their lives.

Mine's not quite that dramatic. My goal is this: Do a little bit more.

Nothing set in stone. No requirements, no quotas, no charts. Just...do a little bit more. In everything. Spend a few minutes more cleaning my house every day. Spend a few minutes more planning and making meals. Spend a few minutes more exercising. Be a little bit more aware of what I'm putting into my body. Be a little bit kinder and more willing to reach out to those around me. Be a little bit better when it comes to documenting my kids' milestones. Spend a little bit more time outside, a little bit more time away from the internet and this worn-out keyboard. Spend a little bit more in quiet, reflective silence that doesn't involve music or screens. Slip a little bit more tongue in when kissing my husband.


Ahem. Maybe also be a little bit more mature.

But only a little bit. Because a little bit here and there isn't so very hard to succeed at, and doesn't give me anything to beat myself up over if I don't quite manage it today. Because there's always room for a little bit more tomorrow, too.