Friday, May 29, 2009

Pout On over at The Brown Bookshelf

I'm hosting a "panel" over at The Brown Bookshelf in honor of the BEA '09 Pout-A-Thon.

Today we're talking about Who's Who Among Brown Authors.

Stop in, participate.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

BEA Here We Come...sort of

Yeah, so BEA starts today in New York City.

Why yes, I am jealous as hell of anyone who's going because New York is my all-time most favorite city in all the world and BEA is one of the biggest book events in the U.S.

Stats, schmats. I don't have no stinkin' stats to prove that. It's the biggest and that's all there is to it.

And I don't like being left out of big things.

Lucky for me, I pal around with a lot of writers. And we're nothing if not imaginative. So Laurie Halse Anderson launched the BEA Pout-A-Thon, #BEA09PaT for those on Twitter.

So I'll be doing mini blog posts here and at The Brown Bookshelf throughout the weekend as we stage our own version of BEA.

If you're a bookseller, librarian, reader or author who would like to pout with us, stop by the myriad of posts and chime in. By the way, you have to chime in. You wouldn't go to BEA, walk around and not say anything to anyone would you? So chat it up!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Good Day

A wise philosopher once said, "Just waking up in the morning gotta thank God.
I dont know but today seems kinda odd...I cant believe, today was a good day"

For all you non-old school Hip Hop heads, that philosopher would be Ice Cube.

Kiddies, run out and listen to yourself some Ice Cube. Before he went family man in Are We There Yet? he was quite the lyricist. And I gotta give him props. He's still rocking the 'curl in the photo on his home page. That takes balls, Cube. For real.

So anyway, me and Cube, we're having a good day.

For me, it's the first in a VERY long time.

And as much as I love my cyber buds and soaking up all the information I can across the blogs, tweets, and threads - I'm going out to enjoy this good day.

Remember, it's Memorial Day weekend. Don't forget to remember those who fought and died so we'd have more good than bad days in our country. Drop a little libation on the ground while you're swigging your cocktail for the brothers and sisters who ain't here.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'm SORMAG YA Author of the Year

Let me see. I'd like to thank my wonderful agent, Jen Carlson. Without her I...

Oh sorry. I had an Academy moment, there.

Seriously, though I'm honored and psyched to be the Shades of Romance Magazine YA Author of the Year and have my books chosen as YA Book of the Year.

My life as a writer isn't easy, primarily because it's my second job. A second job that feels like a first job when on deadline or promoting books or up late, alone and tired.

But it's been especially hard over the last nine months since my accident and the passing of my dad. A LOT of times I feel like I'm toiling in total obscurity.

Because I frequent author communities, I'm surrounded by the ups and downs of my peers and the myriad of book lists - some prestigious, others just playing their part to acknowledge the many good books that may go unseen by readers, if they weren't around.

It's easy to get caught up in sales numbers and the angst/hype of being left off or included on a list.

I've found it's way too easy to lose sight of why I write.

I haven't yet found the solution to not lose sight. Sometimes I just do. Luckily, I've always found my way back.

Thank you, LaShaunda and the Sormag readers.

This award means people are reading the books. And that's what it's all about.

The gravy is - they really like them.

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The "Secret" Life of Teens

One of the most frequently asked questions of YA writers is - how do you get inside the head of a teen character? Talk like them? Know what they'd do? Wear?

Here's my easy answer to that question:

When I celebrated my 33rd birthday *a few years ago* Yeah I said a FEW. Those who equate a few with two don't count like I do. Anyway, when I turned thirty-three, I made it very clear I wasn't celebrating 33 but the 20th anniversary of my thirteenth birthday. I said it to anyone who asked how old I was and did everything short of getting a cake that said Happy 20th Anniversary 13.

That should tell you a little bit about how I think and why it's not so hard for me to write from the POV of a teen character.

Last night, I had my first chat on the JORT and it reinforced that, hanging out with a bunch of teen girls is little different from when I'm with my adult friends. Yes, yes there are differences of course. But talk to teens on the regular, like I do, and the largest difference (for most, not all) you'll detect is how we view issues/problems.

Teens tend to see them face on. Adults tend to turn them over sideways, back around and upside down, dissecting it from more angles.

That's the major diff and not even in all cases.

Last night, the girls and I chatted about relationships. We spent a good deal of time on the Chris/Rihanna spectacle, relating it back to how we saw it, Rihanna's decision now or in the future to stay with him and how we'd handle both our own and/or a friend's abusive relationship.

Pretty heady stuff, yet we had fun while doing it.

Since the C/R (fight?) many radio stations have cut his songs from the playlists. Truth is, it was probably time anyway. Evolution came out in '07 for God's sake. Why it took him being a public asshole for them to put a two-year old CD to rest is problem one with the industry. But I digress...the lack of play has not diluted his fan base. Not that I can tell, anyway.

Many callers to the radio stations, at the height of the spectacle, were female and most supported playing his music. From what I gleaned, they supported Chris the artist, not necessarily Chris the douche who beat up his girlfriend.

Yeah, you can separate the two in some cases. It's called reality.

I still like Chris Brown's music. Do I see him differently as a person, now? Yes. But until the whole story plays out it doesn't change that I like a good number of his current tracks.

My teen chatters felt the same.

They were disgusted and shocked by what he did. They all said Rihanna shouldn't go back to him. Felt like in a similiar situation they'd have no issue walking away the first time he hit them (which leaves for debate if this was the first time)and thought his image had taken a large hit. But, BUT no one said anything about not buying a future CD or terminating him from their playlists.

When Chris Brown went to court, there was a gaggle of girls out front squealing and calling his name. Some people thought this perplexing.

It's not. They're fans.

No matter how much the media attempts to saturate our brains with images of celebrity life and feed us every detail from what they had for breakfast to what items they bought their kid, I can honestly say that many of us - teens included - get it. They're just people. People who live a glamorous life, make shit loads of money and make mistakes.

The teens have spoken. Mystery unshrouded.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chat: I Love You So Much, It Hurts!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Real Teen Talk Chat - Monday, May 18th

I'm hosting my first live Real Teen Talk chat at Paula's JORT Monday, May 18th.

RTT is for the true Del Rio Bay fans. We’ll be taking issues from each book and talking about how we have or would handle the same thing in real life.

It'll help if you've already read the books but it's not mandatory.

Monday's topic:

I love you so much it hurts!

In light of the Chris Brown/Rihanna spectacle and the drama the character Jacinta goes through with her boyfriend Raheem in That’s What’s Up! it's time to put love on the stage.

So, calling all teens or folks who enjoy kicking it with teens, stop by the JORT at 8p.m. Eastern time!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I'm a Rat with an Island...are you?

I wish writing were easier.

I wish when I sat down to write it was with my kids off to school, my husband off to work and me in a sunny office with six hours of blissful silence ahead of me instead of at nine p.m. after I've worked a full day at my "other" job, made dinner, did the homework/bath thing, managed our household budget and am ass tired.

I wish when I sat down to write, all the exciting plot points and nuances that swam in my head throughout the day while I was at my "other" job would float from my head down my fingers and onto the screen instead of simply floating away.

I rarely get my wish, yet I'm still a rat with an island swimming around and around blindly believing that at some point my little paws will hit land. They've got to hit land. I know that island is around here somewhere.

I'm not so nuts.

Check out what Jenny Cruise wrote about this phenomena, known simply as believing in your dreams enough to block out reality.

Are you a rat with an island?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Diversity Roll Call

Mitali Perkins' article, Straight Talk on Race, is making a lot of folks think.

As you know, I recently committed to diversifying my own reading habits.

Yes, thank you. Thank you. Just doing my part.

Worducopia is asking folks to take Mitali up on her request to look at the books they're reading (have read) and assess how they avoid or (knowingly or unknowingly) embrace stereotypes.

Many times authors of color are purposely writing about a character of color, simply because those characters are missing in mainstream fiction. But that doesn't mean we're not guilty of stereotyping. Mitali confesses to some of her own, in the article.

Usually when someone says diversity, immediately the white writers are ducking for cover. But writers of color should be just as aware of embracing diversity and challenging stereotypes in our writing.

Have I?

Have the authors in books I've read lately?

Using Mitali's five questions, I took a look at Jumped by Rita Williams Garcia, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and my series:

1. Are the nonwhite characters too good to be true? The point of this question is to encourage us to pay attention to how and why the race of characters is conveyed in a story.

In Jumped, most of the characters are African American or Latino. However, early in the book, the female bully confronts a white, male teacher who is clearly afraid of her. Not only does she know it, she takes pride in being able to have this sort of power over him.

One could argue that this plays on the stereotype that white people are intimidated and/or threatened by Black people. But, in the context of the book, it's a very realistic portrayal of a kid living on the edge and a teacher wary of this type of kid which he probably runs across too often.

But I have asked myself, anew, had the teacher Dominique was confronting been a black woman, might there have been a different outcome? Assuming she has daddy issues, what if he'd been a black man?

Usually black teachers are portrayed as not taking any guff from students, while white teachers are portrayed (when dealing with black students, at least) of being more timid. Williams Garcia portrayal rings true to me, but I'm tempted to ask her personally about the flip side.

In Wintergirls, that I recall, there are no characters of color, token or otherwise. Everyone is white. In the realm of the story, it mattered little.

In my own books, I chose to make Lizzie, Mina's best friend who is white, the more grade-conscious, practical one who is not interested in losing her virginity. It never came to mind that this might feed into the stereotype that too often teens of color are the faces of declining grades and teen pregnancy. Out of context, it can be seen that way.

But in the context of the entire book, Lizzie is one of six characters. Nearly all of them get good grades, Lizzie just happens to be more of a straight-A type. And Lizzie isn't alone in her abstinence pact, the Latina character, Kelly, also takes it. So I think the traits are well-spread out. However, had I made Lizzie the rich character (instead of Kelly) then I would agree that Lizzie was made too perfect an ideal.

2. How and why does the author define race. (Does it need to be defined? Is their race crucial to the plot?)

In Jumped, the characters' race is defined by physical descriptions and dialect. I believe race is crucial to the plot because at its heart, it's a portrayal of an inner city school.

Because it, like most books, doesn't dwell on desciptors, it's easy to assume the characters in Wintergirls are supposed to be white. There are a few small hair and skin tone references which solidify the implication. However, the face on the cover is white, which also makes it easy for the reader to assume, early on, that everyone within is as well. I don't believe race is crucial to the plot.

In my books, I very obviously state race via descriptions of hair, skin tone and body types (Lizzie is the more straight up and down and curveless while Mina and Jacinta have more junk in their trunk).

I also use dialect and slang to show the different economic backgrounds of the characters. Could that be stereotyping? Yeah. But the point of the first book is that some of the characters are coming from a different mentality and economic place than Mina. So it was necessary. Race is crucial to the plot in So Not The Drama. Not so much the preceding books.

3. Is the cover art true to the story? (Mitali cites as an example the cover of Cynthia Kadohata’s novel Weedflower, in which the Japanese American main character is wearing a kimono, even though she's never described as wearing one in the text)

In both Jumped and Wintergirls, definitely. Jumped's cover is a desolate, dim hallway that foreshadows the ominous nature of being at this school. Wintergirls has a face peering through a web of ice.

My first cover is graphic and was meant to convey a vibe (light, teen read) and I think it delivers. However, when the covers went photo, they were meant to convey that the cast was multi-culti. And it delivers there as well.

I actually like covers like Jumped and Wintergirls where a single shot captures the essence of the story. I'm not sure, for the type of books my series are, what single shot would have done it quite as well.

None of these covers are stereotypical unless you want to count that Wintergirls implies that anorexia is primarily a disease among white females. But that's correct, statistically. I don't see it as a stereotype.

4. Who solves the problem in the story? (Would "Dances With Wolves" have been as popular with theater-goers without the white hero?)

The white person as the hero can grate, especially when it's done so often. And it is!

But none of the books I'm assessing suffer from this. Without going spoiler-rific, I don't know that the problem is solved in Jumped. Had a white teacher jumped in and made everything peachy, then yeah. You almost wish that would happen as you read.

In Wintergirls, the protag is her own hero.

In my books, there aren't any true "someone saved the day" moments, though someone did call me on the teacher character in So Not The Drama being a stereotypical white idealistic teacher who wants to save the world.

Maybe she is. But I had a teacher like her in high school. When a character is based on someone does that lessen its stereotypicalness?

5. How is beauty defined?

The girl who is ultimately Jumped is Latino. Her beauty is implied in her actions, the way she carries herself and for the most part, the reason she's jumped in the first place. Williams Garcia doesn't necessary give her a tangible mark of beauty. The character believes she's all that and carries herself that way.

In Wintergirls, beauty is defined by the character's mission to be ever thinner. It's an American ideal that crosses all racial bounderies.

In my books...hmm...well I tried to keep it more along the lines of how Williams Garcia did it and convey it via attitude. However, I'll admit I probably used way more "outer" beauty landmarks - describing someone's size or hair, than I should have. I'll take the hand slap on that. I think I veered way into the stereotype lane, in that respect. does what you're reading or writing fare against the questions?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Flipping The Script is Top Shelf

Urban Reviews gave Flipping The Script five out of five stars and bestowed it the Top Shelf honor.

[insert applause here]

Yes, I'm pleased/proud of the honor and good review. As an author I reserve the right to adore every good review and ignore every bad one.

And while we're in blatant self promotion mode - FTS is the second Del Rio Bay series book to get a Top Shelf honor. That's What's Up! also received one.

Good reviews, feel good.

But I've always said it's balanced reviews I appreciate most. Urban Reviews points out to parents, without spoilers, that the book contains mature content and that it wouldn't be unwise to read the book with their teen.

I don't disagree.

The Del Rio Bay series started out so innocent and mild - a girl seeks popularity. By Flipping The Script we're dealing with sexual orientation and cheating boyfriends.

Woah! Who changed the channel, right?

But I wouldn't have done it any differently. Mina and the clique are freshman, in So Not the Drama. They are innocent. Their drama is mild.

But anyone who has ever raised a teen, been near a teen, mentored a teen, known a teen knows that as those years go by, their drama becomes more complicated and involved. So my series reflects that.

Like Urban Reviews, I encourage - heck, even challenge parents to read the series with or behind their teen's back, your choice. If the thought of talking sex, drugs or rock and roll makes you squeamish, my books might give you enough false bravado to get through the discussion without passing out...until your teen's left the room, anyway.

Monday, May 04, 2009

My BEDA-cation

So how did everyone do last month Beda'ing?

I came out of the gate incredibly strong. Even had a plan to make sure I blogged every day by straddling my own blog and The Brown Bookshelf blog.

But as I looked back over my entries, I realized I missed ten days. I'm not sure how the hell that happened because, I swear, it felt like I was blogging everyday. The good news is, it balanced out anyway.

According to my blog post count, it looks like I missed ten days (seriously, that has to be wrong!). BUT, I realized that I ended up doing double blog posts seven days, in April, and a triple post one day. So that's actually nine additional posts, which means technically I only missed ONE day.

Yes, only one. That is my story and I'm sticking to it!

Here's what I learned by blogging every day:

1) It's hard as hell! Sure, a few days I popped in here at the Ning and wrote a little rambling post about nothing. But on days where I was attempting to truly write an engaging or informative post, it took a lot of time.

2) Much like writing a novel, blogging requires staying "in the zone." I'd see potential for a blog in everything I heard, read or saw. And that's a good thing. But by doing that, it also meant I was using creative energy that maybe (probably) should have been used elsewhere.

3) I enjoy blogging. The last time I blogged regularly was early 2008. At that time, blogging was cathartic. A writing exercise that helped my juices flow. After my car accident (May 2008) blogging simply didn't fit into the scheme of things. I didn't think I missed it until BEDA.

4) Sometimes people enjoy being lemmings. I mean that in the most respectful way possible. I and about five hundred plus people jumped on board, without as much as blinking over what we were getting into. But it was a good thing. I feel like we emitted a lot of positive chi into the environment. But Maureen, know that I draw the line at jumping off cliffs (and learning to trapeze). I'll follow only so far.

5) As much as I enjoy blogging, it's about to take a dive on my priority list, again. Fact is, I'm working on a new manuscript that I'd love to get to my agent before she goes out on maternity leave. So I'm gathering every ounce of creative bandwidth I have to get that done. Blogging has to suffer. Though I'm less likely to totally abandon it now after having participated in BEDA.

So...until next year. I mean, this will be an annual thing, right, Maureen?