Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Off Year by Claire Zulkey

I raised the key and hesitated. Something wasn't right. I turned around, "You know, actually, I think I'm just going to go back home with you," I told my dad, who was still trying to decipher the campus map.

So begins An Off Year by Claire Zulkey (Dutton Books, 2009). Cecily Powell is about to walk into her freshman dorm room and just like that she decides to take a year off instead of going to college. But Cecily doesn't understand or even know why she wants to take a year off. She's not interested in traveling. She's not interested in getting a job. She's not interested in any of the other things teens usually do when taking a gap year.

I started reading An Off Year and before reaching the 50-page mark I stopped reading for a couple of weeks because nothing much was happening. Cecily is lost. But instead of doing some soul searching or trying to be productive, she . . . watches a lot of daytime television. I made myself pick up An Off Year again and continue reading, and it was worth the effort.

Not that a lot happens after the first 50 pages. Cecily starts seeing a shrink and a professional college counselor. She even gets a part-time job and audits a class at a university. (Her father forces her to do these things.) But mostly Cecily stays at home and keeps to herself. Still, I liked this young adult novel. It's about trying to figure out who you are and what you want and what makes you happy. It's about trying to figure out if college is for you and then which college is for you. It's a lot about college per se, too. What I got out of An Off Year is that it's okay if you can't figure out all of those things right away. It's okay to be confused and a little insecure and scared at first. What's important is that you don't let those things hold you back for very long.

An Off Year is worth reading because if you are a teen and you are confused about college and/or about what you want in life in general, it can really help to read about another teen going through the same thing.

[My copy of An Off Year is an ARC I won from a contest at Presenting Lenore. Thank you so much, Lenore!]

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tastespotting: An Off Year by Claire Zulkey

My favorite food scene in An Off Year by Claire Zulkey:

"You okay?" asked Angie as we walked down the street back to Josh's apartment, eating big floppy pieces of pizza on paper plates. We'd gone to a pizzeria that served slices with different kinds of pasta on it. Mine was topped with macaroni and cheese, and I hoped the moment would never end.

Me too, me too.

Wondering what we are so disgusted about? Click here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review and Author Interview: Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen

Fifteen-year-old Soli, a.k.a. Shifty, is a little confused. He has lived in foster homes almost all his life and has even spent some time in juvenile hall. He's always getting into trouble. He can't even go out to buy a burrito without getting into trouble. Soli doesn't know who his parents are. He doesn't even know what his race is. Is he Latino... ? Half Latino and half... ? Part black and part white... ?

Okay, so Soli is more than a little confused.

But his current foster home seems promising. There's Martha, his patient, caring, and understanding handicapped foster mother. There's Sissy, his sweet little foster sister. And there's Chance, a foster baby unfortunately born addicted to drugs. So they're a strange and unlikely bunch. But maybe, just maybe, Soli has finally found a family and a real home.

Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen (Tricycle Press, 2008) is a young adult novel with a slow pace, but I think that even the most impatient of teen readers won't abandon the book. They will keep reading because of its authentically portrayed characters and San Francisco setting. Author Lynn E. Hazen makes readers CARE about Soli, Martha, Sissy, Chance, and all of their ups and downs.

Today, I am happy to present an interview with Lynn E. Hazen.

Welcome to Into the Wardrobe, Lynn! What inspired you to write Shifty? What's "the story behind the story"?

The words “shifty” and “shiftless” were bouncing around in my mind about the same time I began to imagine an underage teenager driving a car (without a license). He was arguing with a young girl about something—I didn’t know exactly what. So I wrote the story to find out who the characters were and what their story might be. It takes place in San Francisco, my hometown, so the city as setting was also a strong pull into the story for me. I was a little nervous at first, writing a young adult novel, but it’s filled with humor, heart and hope--and I really like how the characters and story turned out.

I really like the characters and story, too. Shifty is truly filled with heart. :o) What was your creative process when writing Shifty?

I was in the MFA program at Vermont College when I quickly captured the first ten pages. My mentor that semester was the wonderful Alison McGhee. I had to send more pages every month so I wrote like crazy. It was like jumping off a very high cliff--kind of scary. But Alison kept demanding more pages (in a nice way) so I kept writing. It was an intense creative process. I had the first draft in about six months. Then I spent a long time revising.

How long did it take you to revise Shifty?

I began capturing the first draft while in Vermont College's MFA program in January 2003. I had a very rough draft by the end of that semester in July 2003. I revised off and on and Shifty won the Houghton Mifflin Scholarship at Vermont College. The story became my creative thesis when I graduated with my MFA in 2004. Still, I revised more with responses from my critique group, and a bit with my agent. In 2007 Shifty sold to Tricycle Press, (now part of Knopf/Random House) and I revised again with my editor, Abigail Samoun. Shifty was published in Fall 2008. So that took 5+ years. It has since been published in Australia and the UK, and was chosen as a Smithsonian Notable, a VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers (Voice of Youth Advocates), and as a CCBC Choice (Cooperative Children's Books Center).

Soli and all the other characters in the novel (not just the main characters) seem so real. Did you draw from any real-life people, situations, or events for the novel?

One summer in college I worked in a camp for children and youth in foster care. Those youth really touched my heart, but Soli and Sissy are not based on any individual people I know. To read more about some ideas that came together for this novel, please see www.ShiftyTheBook.com.

What is your definition of "a bad writing day"?

A bad writing day? Hmm, I'm not sure there is a bad writing day. Many days are challenging, yes, frustrating sometimes, but even if I am not capturing the number of words or pages I'd like, even if I feel my progress is too slow during any given day or week or month, if I have a story in mind, I'm still thinking about my characters and imagining what they might do next. I'm also living my life; observing and interacting with children, youth and adults, friends and family; gathering and processing my own unique human experience. So even if I am not writing at all, my thoughts and feelings about everyday life might lead to some spark of creativity to explore on a "good" writing day. It's all connected, and of course, even on really good writing days, when my characters and scenes come alive and I am happy to have created them, I know I will be revising again soon.

Did you experience any “bad writing days” while writing Shifty? How did you deal with those days? What motivated you to keep going?

Ug, lots of challenging writing days, always. The deadlines of monthly packets due at Vermont College was very helpful. I had no choice but to keep writing. Getting feedback from my wonderful mentor, Alison McGhee, and later, my great critique group was also helpful.

What do you want teen readers to take away from Shifty?

I want them to remember Shifty, Sissy, Chance & Martha, to believe they are real for a while. I want them to remember Shifty as a good story, funny and full of heart, and maybe, just maybe, I hope readers might think, feel, and behave differently after they’ve read the story. If that happens or how it might happen would be unique I think to each reader. What each reader brings to the story would affect what he or she takes away from the book once they’ve read it.

What is your favorite response to Shifty from a teen reader?

Some teens have told me it is their favorite book ever. For an author, it does not get much better than that.

What kind of teen reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I read a huge variety of books in high school. I was all over the place. I had a great English teacher in high school who took a friend and me to Moe’s Books in Berkeley to choose used paperbacks—I remember just staring at the books from floor to ceiling and thinking, Wow!! It was a mind-opening experience. I remember reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and his short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House.

What is your strongest memory from when you were Soli's age?

Good question. Hmm, when I was 15 1/2, in high school, I remember taking drivers ed and drivers training. I was afraid to go on the freeway. Learning to drive was a strong memory--I was both excited and fearful about it. Oh, and gas was only about 29 cents a gallon. I remember paying for my own gas with babysitting money! Hanging out with my friends was fun, going hiking and backpacking, wondering what my future held--and feeling sort of “in between” my childhood and whatever was coming next.

In Shifty, Soli seems also really concerned about driving and getting a driver's license!

What young adult book are you reading now?

I’m listening to Going Bovine on Audio CD while I try to straighten up my office full of creative clutter.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a middle grade novel, Swamped. I'm really excited about it, and I'm revising.

If you were to visit the Philippines, would you a) visit white sand beaches and underground caves, go sailing, go snorkeling and scuba diving, etc.; or b) check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Why?

I love snorkeling, but I’d be very interested in seeing natural wonders above ground too.

If I had you as my guide, I’d like to go wherever YOU think is interesting, especially if it’s not a typical tourist place. I like meeting real people and families, going where they go, trying local food. I’d love to see some schools and meet some teens in the Philippines, too. I guess I’m not a typical tourist, am I?

Thanks so much, Tarie, for inviting me Into the Wardrobe!

Thank you, Lynn!!

Readers, Shifty is now available in paperback. Below is the paperback cover.

[My copy of Shifty was provided by the publisher.]

Um, there's something wrong here.

For more information, check out Racebending.com.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Into the Wardrobe supports Racebending.com.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review and Author Interview: The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

"He asks me about an LP and I know exactly when I got it, where I got it and even whose collection it originally came from. I know the artist's musical background and I know if they played in any other bands, even if it was only as a sideman, even if it was only for fifteen minutes. Music, to me, is one giant puzzle, and collecting music is about finding all the pieces and trying to fit them together."

That's Allie. Allie is sixteen years old and she lives with her mom in Berkeley, California. For the summer she is working full-time at Bob & Bob Records. When not working at the record store, Allie is blogging about music at www.thevinylprincess.com. She also writes a music zine.

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz (HarperTeen, 2009) is about Allie (a.k.a. the Vinyl Princess) and her love for music, specifically her love for vinyl records. The Vinyl Princess is also about changes, summer, and seeking a community of people who share your passions.

Allie, her best friend Kit, her mom, her grandmother, and all the other characters in the novel seem very real. They are all unique, VERY interesting, and flawed (read: realistic). Their relationships are great to read about and their Berkeley setting is solidly established. Allie's narration of events is very convincing.

I love reading about a character with a creative passion. I loved whenever Allie obsessed over her blog and zine. I loved reading her musings and conversations with other characters about music. A well-written main character with a creative passion is always entertaining and inspiring to read.

The Vinyl Princess is one of those quiet YA novels. It isn't very dramatic or angsty or really emotional. But it's still very much about the ups and downs of being sixteen and I really enjoyed reading it.

Below is my quick Q&A with the author Yvonne Prinz, who is also the cofounder of Amoeba Music, the world's largest independent music store! I just had to know more about the woman behind this cool YA novel!

What is your strongest or favorite memory from when you were Allie's age (16)?

Like Allie, I worked in a record store, but it was in Edmonton, Canada. I remember being crazy for music. I went to my first Rock Concert that year- HEART and RUSH. It was such a thrill. I hated High School and couldn't wait to get out of there.

What was your favorite book and favorite music album when you were Allie's age? What is your favorite book and favorite music album now?

My favorite book was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It was sitting on my parent's bookshelf and I picked it up and started reading it. I was hooked. My favorite record? I had so many. I think I was still pretty into The Beatles White Album, although my record collection was vast. Right now, today, my favorite record is Howlin' Wolf, Ridin' in The Moonlight. That will change tomorrow, I guarantee it. The last book I read that I loved was The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster.

Why do you write for teen readers?

I like writing for teens because it's such a confusing time. I remember how excited I was at that age, when I found a book where the writer seemed to know about those years. I want to be that person now.

What do you think is the importance of quality books specifically for teens?

I think reading is a great way to learn about the world. It seems that there are more YA books now than ever before especially if you're into Vampires. Quality books are a little harder to find but if teens are reading, I'm happy.

Who are your favorite authors? How have they influenced your own writing?

Cormac McCarthy, Lorrie Moore, A.M. Holmes, John Cheever, Tobias Wolf. Dan Chaon. Good writers always inspire me to write. There is something magical about a well told story. All of these writers are brilliant storytellers.

What was your writing/research/creative process for The Vinyl Princess? Do you have any writing rituals?

I have terrible writing habits but for The Vinyl Princess I rented a studio in Berkeley and I went to "Work" every day. I became very disciplined because I had a very good agent's interest and I wanted to present her with my best work. I had a boom box and a kettle for tea and a desk. My view was College Avenue, right near my character's house. It was perfect.

Thank you, Yvonne. :o)

[ETA: I bought my own copy of The Vinyl Princess.]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tastespotting: The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

My favorite food scene in The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz :o)

Kit and I walk down to Arinell's to get the pizza and my mom makes a salad and we put Nancy Sinatra and Brian Setzer on the stereo and talk with our mouths full and tell the worst jokes ever.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I am sooo happy.

Lee & Low Books, an independent children's book publisher focusing on diversity, has just acquired Tu Publishing, a new independent press for multicultural science fiction and fantasy for children and young adults.

Lee & Low Books is my FAVORITE publisher (I keep waiting for them to drop the ball, but they NEVER DO) and I am so stoked that their new imprint, Tu Books, will feature science fiction and fantasy with characters of color set in worlds inspired by non-Western cultures. Woohoo!

Writers, what are you waiting for? Tu Books is open for submissions and the first books are slated for 2011. =D

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Green Earth Book Award

Congratulations to the 2010 winners of the Green Earth Book Award!

Picture Book Category

Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green
Written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Anne Kennedy
Albert Whitman & Company

Children’s Fiction Category

Operation Redwood
Written by S. Terrell French
Abrams/Amulet Books

Click here to read my interview with S. Terrell French about Operation Redwood.

Young Adult Fiction Category

The Carbon Diaries: 2015
Written by Saci Lloyd
Holiday House

Nonfiction Category

Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World
Written by Marfe Ferguson Delano
National Geographic Children’s Books

Honor Books

A Place for Birds
Written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond
Peachtree Publishers

A Summer of Silk Moths
Written by Margaret Willey

Heroes of the Environment
Written by Harriet Rohmer and illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
Chronicle Books

Mission: Save the Planet and Mission: Planet Earth
Written by Sally Ride & Tom O'Shaughnessy
Roaring Brook, An Imprint of MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

Recycle this Book: 100 Top Children's Authors Tell You How to Go Green
Edited by Dan Gutman
Random House Children’s Books

Written and illustrated by Jason Chin
Roaring Brook Press, An Imprint of MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group

Written by Carl Hiaasen
Random House Children’s Books

The Curious Garden
Written and illustrated by Peter Brown
Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Click here to read my review of The Curious Garden and my interview with Peter Brown.

The Frog Scientist
Written by Pamela S. Turner and photographed by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children

Click here to read my review of The Frog Scientist and my interview with Pamela S. Turner.

Monday, March 08, 2010

*I'm interviewed by Charlotte at The Book on the Hill about blogging from the Philippines.

Charlotte is in Paris and she has the best job in the world. She works for a publisher and reads children's books all day long. She reviews the books, and based on her reviews, the publisher decides if they will buy the rights to the books and publish them in France. Wow!

*I interviewed the gorgeous and talented Fereshteh Najafi, an Iranian children's book illustrator, at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Simon and Schuster, you're joking, right?

Ah Yuan of GAL Novelty has a new blog post up about the cover of White Cat by Holly Black. The cover for White Cat appears to be whitewashed. A whitewashed cover for a YA novel with a main character who is a person of color. Again???


Me Likey

*DIPNET (Diversity in Publishing Network) promotes the status and contribution of social groups traditionally underrepresented in all areas of the publishing industry. It also supports members of underrepresented social groups who are seeking to enter the industry. DIPNET is an AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME initiative in the U.K.

You can register to be a member of DIPNET. I'm a member!

*I found out about DIPNET from "Demand Diversity in Publishing," an article by children's and YA author Zetta Elliott in the Huffington Post.

*Elle Magazine has a lit blog called Lit Life! It's cute and fun and even inspiring. =D

*At Color Online, I interviewed YA author Malinda Lo about the research she did for her debut novel Ash. =D