Friday, December 28, 2012

December Update!

Wow, is 2012 over already? It's been quite a whirlwind year, but I'm even more excited for what 2013 has in store!

Bookwise, here's the recap.

Last summer I wrote a stand-alone YA fantasy novel that's been out to agents since August. I've gotten some amazing responses but still no news yet. Cross your fingers!

I self-published a new YA trilogy about two film nerds who fight creatures of the night! The Vampire Underground, The Zombie Playground, and The Monster Apocalypse! All are now available on Amazon for less than 3 bucks each. 

I took three graduate level creative writing classes at the University of Nevada, Reno, and have applied to ten MFA programs all around the country.

I met Shaunta Grimes, a kick-ass YA author, whose first novel is coming to bookstores everywhere July 2, 2013, and who has become both a mentor and very special friend. We co-author the book blog, Story Carnivores.

I'm currently outlining my next project, a stand-alone YA contemporary novel I'm going to start writing on Monday, January 7! 

I like to think 2012 was the calm before the storm. I can't wait for what 2013 will bring!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Wonder

When I was a first grade student at Oakhills Elementary School in Granite Bay, California, I was terrified. Not of my teacher Mrs. Bills (although she did scream at me once about my lackluster craft project, prompting me to hate craft making for the rest of my life!). Not of my homework (I could finish my entire week’s homework on Monday afternoon). No, I was terrified of a student. And not because he was a bully. His name was Michael, and he was a burn victim—his face was brown, chapped, not normal like all the other students. He scared me more than any horror movie could at the time, and I avoided him at all costs. I never once tried to talk to him, get to know him, be his friend. I never bothered to discover the person hew as on the inside.

I hadn’t thought about Michael in years, but he returned to the forefront of my mind as I read R.J. Palacio’s beautiful, if flawed, debut novel Wonder, about a young boy named August (aka Auggie) who has severe facial abnormalities, and who attempts public school for the first time in his fifth grade year.  Of course most of the kids are scared of him but don’t know what to think of him, but the friends come slowly and surely, like a girl Summer, and Jack Will, who holds a secret but ultimately stands for what’s right. He has a great home life, with his caring mother and father, and sarcastic but loving sister Via. The book is told in short one-to-three page chapters, and they cover Auggie’s sometimes difficult but ultimately heroic fifth grade year.

About half of Palacio’s 320-page novel is told from the perspective of August himself, and this material I really loved. While it was difficult jumping from John Green’s flawless and emotionally devastating YA novel The Fault in Our Stars, to a less subtle, more predictable middle-grade novel (not to mention, both books are about kids with life-altering defects!), I really got caught up in the boy’s story and wanted to see him succeed. The major flaw in Wonder, however, is that the author unexpectedly switches narrators 82 pages in, and I didn’t feel these changes in perspectives added much to the narrative—in fact, I found them unnecessary and even confusing at times. I enjoyed the chapters from Via’s perspective—she gave some insight into August’s difficult journey—but the quick shifts to Summer, Jack, Justin, and especially Miranda, broke me away from August and didn’t feel essential in making this story work. I don’t have a problem with books that shift narrators—Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World is one of my favorites, and that one jumps from one character to another chapter by chapter—but Wonder felt like August’s story, and when I wasn’t inside his head, I felt like I had stepped into filler material that was added to lengthen the novel.

But other than this one major flaw I found in the storytelling, I had a great time with Wonder. This is the talented author R.J. Palacio’s debut novel, and I’m excited to read more of her work in the future. August is a fascinating character, the kind you don’t find as the hero in too many novels, middle grade or otherwise, and it’s a story that needed to be told. This kid, no matter how deformed he may look on the outside, has nothing but love and warmth on the inside, with the kind of potential and opportunities that are boundless. If I can end with anything in this review, it would be three simple words: I’m sorry, Michael.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What I'm Reading (7)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

This one's been sitting on my bookshelf since LAST Christmas, so I decided it was finally time to read Stephen King's latest doorstopper. I'm 200 pages in, and what do I think so far? WHY DID IT TAKE ME THIS LONG TO READ IT? I love, love, love this book, this character, this story! And I can't wait to see what happens next. Stephen King's been around for decades, but he's still the very best. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: The Marvelous Land of Oz

Having only read the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a child (as well as the beginning of The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Book 7, for a reason I don't remember), I'm ecstatic to, even at the ripe old age of 28, to immerse myself into L. Frank Baum's world of Oz that he created more than 100 years ago, with reading all 14 of his novels, one a month, all the way until the end of 2013. I know a few details about the books, but pretty much everything beyond Tik-Tok of Oz, Book 8, is at a total mystery to me, and I'm curious to see how his tale wraps up in the fourteenth and final tale, Glinda of Oz, Book 14.

I did know sitting down to read The Marveous Land of Oz that Dorothy was nowhere to be found, and that irked readers demanded he bring back Dorothy for Book 3. How did Baum take all this in? He never set out to write a series. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was supposed to be it, but after two or three years of unthinkable demand for a sequel, he finally penned The Marvelous Land of Oz. How does it compare to Book 2? Could anything he have written compare to Book 2?

The Marvelous Land of Oz is great fun, a new adventure in Oz that is similar to the journey taken in Book 1, but with enough small changes to make it completely new. Instead of Dorothy this time we have Tip, a young boy who's under the guardianship of a mischievous witch. He eventually flees, with a live pumpkinhead and sawhorse in two, and find The Scarecrow ruling The Emerald City. The city is overtaken by an all-girl Army of Revolt who overtake the Scarecrow and take what they think is theirs. Tip and the others flee to the Winkie Kingdom to find The Tin Woodman ruling over a kingdom of his own, and as a group they conspire to return to the Emerald City and overthrow the new regime. And in the end they find Glinda, who has a big surprise for the group that changes all their lives forever.

Let's be honest, though: this isn't The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It doesn't have the same charm and discovery of the original, and while I don't think Dorothy needs to be the focal character of all of Baum's fourteen books, I would lie if I didn't say I missed her throughout these pages. Tip is fine, and his reveal in the end makes his character's inclusion worth the reader's time, but he just doesn't have the same spunky personality of Dorothy. Also, while I loved spending time with the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, I missed the Cowardly Lion (now, hopefully not so cowardly)! Where was he? I'm curious why Baum felt he didn't even need to mention the lion at all in these nearly three hundred pages.

What I enjoyed about this sequel is the delightful prose that take us from the beginning to the end. I can see myself reading these books to my kids someday. There's a joy to the characters and to the journey that really brings back the wonder of childhood. I loved Jack Pumpkinhead and all his quirks. I loved the addition of another witch antagonist, Mombi, who actually plays a much bigger part here than the Wicked Witch of the West played in the original book! And the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman are such humorous, nostalgic character that spending more time with them is nothing short of a pleasure.

I like Baum's writing a lot. It's easy to read but still super detailed, and all of his characters, both new and old, burst with life. The ending does a good job setting up the next installment, and I'm excited to see how this series will evolve, especially with Dorothy, and even the Wizard (!), back in the mix.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What I'm Reading (6)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

I've read three John Green novels this year, and two of them changed me for the better (Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars). I couldn't possibly finish out the year without reading one more John Green penned story, could I? I actually didn't know about this book until I randomly came across it at my local used bookstore last summer, and I'm happy I did. Not only do I now have a Christmas-themed YA novella collection to read this week, but I also have one more John Green story to close out the year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

My first experience with death came not from real life but from the movies. After seeing Home Alone at the age of six I was Macaulay Culkin’s biggest fan – I remember spending long hours in front of the mirror practicing my big-mouthed scream—and I was uber excited to check out his follow-up, My Girl. I was only seven but I remember going opening weekend, at a small theatre in Sacramento, expecting a movie that would be similar in tone to Home Alone. What I got instead was a brutally honest and super sad coming-of-age story, where Culkin unexpectedly bites the dust in the end. While watching the scene where Anna Chlumsky walks past all the funeral goers and cries over Culkin’s dead body in the casket, I slowly realized what was happening on screen, and I remember crying against my mother’s shoulder. Macaulay was dead, and I didn’t know how to react. The idea of death hit my little brain for the first time, and nothing from there on out could ever be the same.

While reading John Green’s masterful and moving The Fault in Our Stars, I was reminded of that first experience with death, not just because there’s a scene toward the end of the novel that very much resembles that scene in My Girl, but because the whole book is about taking advantage of every day and appreciating all the small moments that make up a life. The novel is very sad – of course it is, considering its storyline – but it’s also life-affirming and strangely, in a way, uplifting. It’s one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read.

In February I started looking for new YA books to read – I was busy writing YA books but not consuming as many as I should have been – and an acquaintance recommended reading the books of John Green. I’d never heard of him, but I liked the sounds of his books (and the glowing reviews), so in March I checked out his debut novel Looking for Alaska (read my review of that book here). I was enchanted from page one. I couldn’t remember loving a book so much, and I gave it an easy A recommendation. I’m excited to read all of his books, but I was most excited to check out his newest The Fault in Our Stars, which has since January received the finest reviews of any novel I can think of. I bought it at Powell’s Books in Portland a few weeks ago, and it sat on the bookshelf above my desk, calling to me, begging me to read it. I kept putting it off, not because I didn’t want to read it, but because I knew I was going to love it, and because I knew it was going to bring me to tears. I’m not right about a lot of things in life, but I was right about that!
It usually takes me a week or longer to read a book, just because, even with the best, I like to take it in in small sips and really ponder what I’ve just read. But I read The Fault in Our Stars in two days. I decided for once I wouldn’t read a great book in small sips but devour it in large chunks. The story of Hazel and Augustus is so powerful and moving that once I hit the halfway point I literally couldn’t stop and had to find out how it would all end. John Green has said he struggled for many years trying to get this story down on paper, and I can definitely see why. Telling a love story between two teenagers dying of cancer is a tough plotline to pull off. In the hands of 9 authors out of 10, this book would no doubt be cloying and schmaltzy. But I don’t know how Green does it. He manages to infuse each character and moment with truth, with honesty, with tension, romance, sadness, and comedy. Just like in Looking for Alaska, we forget we’re reading a book after awhile, and soon become so immersed in the world of the characters that we feel like we’re living in it. I used to feel this way when I read books as a kid, but not so much in the last fifteen years. With John Green books, though? It happens. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
The Fault in Our Stars is the best book I’ve read since… well… Looking for Alaska. Stephen King has been my favorite author since the beginning of time, but John Green is slowly creeping his way up to take the horror master’s place. Everyone bow to Mr. Green. He’s my new inspiration.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What I'm Reading (5)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

Earlier this year I read Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan. I found it pure magic, and I've been seeking out more of his work ever since. He's been pumping out at least one book a year since 2003, so there's a lot of his early books I still need to read, but I couldn't resist his newest novel, Every Day. I'm about halfway done and absolutely loving it. I love this book, and I love this author!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: Where Things Come Back

John Corey Whales’ Where Things Come Back is one of those novels that comes out of nowhere and completely blindsides you with its originality. I picked up the book on a whim—Shaunta and I are looking to read as many of the Michael L. Printz award winners and honor books—and when I started it I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know the storyline, the characters, nothing. And starting this one after David Levithan’s wonderful Boy Meets Boy, I was on a high of reading great YA fiction. Where Things Come Back continued my journey through tremendous YA books. It’s funny, sad, surprising, and shocking, with a memorable set of characters and the kind of voice that keeps me searching out young debut authors. Whaley is a gifted writer, the kind I want to become, and his debut novel inspired me to no bounds. 

The plot bounces back and forth between two characters and places, and at first it’s jarring. The A story, told from the first person, concerns a teenager named Cullen Witter living in a small Arkansas town, trying to make sense of his existence as his cousin Oslo dies, his younger brother Gabriel disappears, and the town birdwatcher  John Barling claims he saw an extinct bird called the Lazarus Woodpecker, which brings an unusual amount of interest and press to Cullen’s small town. The B story, told in the third person, takes us over to Ethiopia, where a young man named Benton Sage is spending time on a mission from his church. His journey leads us to Cabot Searcy, Benton’s somewhat mentally deranged roommate. The second storyline ultimately weaves into the main storyline, and not how you’ll expect.
The book is a quick read at 228 pages (I read the hardback edition) but Whaley packs in enough emotion and surprises for a book twice the length. The Coming-of-Age novel is one of my favorite book genres—I’m currently tackling the second draft of a book that could be put in this category—and I’m always happy to meet a character on the page who is really able to draw you in, even if it’s with sarcasm and negativity. I loved spending time with Cullen. He’s like a younger version of Holden Caulfield, not yet severely messed up, but still with a lot of drama and issues to work through. I loved his escapades with his wily friend Lucas and the young women in his life—Ada and Alma. I loved his sessions with Dr. Webb, his feelings toward the devilish Lazarus Woodpecker, his heartbreaking coming-to-terms with the loss of his brother. You laugh a lot during Where Things Come Back, but there are also points that bring tears to your eyes. Yes, it’s that kind of book.

As I settled into this story I had memories of taking in books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Cold Sassy Tree, and Boy’s Life, books that really rang true for me as a teenager. Whaley is a young author at only 28, and I’m excited to learn he has already written two more books to be published. In a time of a crowded YA book scene, Where Things Come Back stands out as a true original. Check out this book ASAP, and don’t forget Whaley’s name: this guy is an author to watch!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Monster Apocalypse is LIVE!!!

After fourteen months of hard work, great fun, and three novels, the Grisly High story is finally complete, with the release this week of THE MONSTER APOCALYPSE, the third and final book in my YA horror trilogy! This is an epic, action-packed novel like no other, and I'm so excited for you all to read it! Check it out!!

The Monster Apocalypse on Amazon

Monday, December 3, 2012

What I'm Reading (4)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

One of my five favorite novels of all time is A Home at the End of the World, the beautiful 1990 debut by Michael Cunningham, and his other books have all been terrific as well, especially the unique and unusual Specimen Days. Cunningham is one of my favorite authors so I'm excited to check out his newest book, By Nightfall!

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Update!

I'm excited to officially announce that my newest YA novel THE MONSTER APOCALYPSE is coming to Amazon NEXT WEEK!! I'm doing the final revisions over the weekend and will have the book up sometime between Tuesday and Thursday.

Check back this weekend for a reveal of Katie Bode's amazing COVER, and then I'll let you know when the book is officially for sale.

I hope you guys like it! THE MONSTER APOCALYPSE... just in time for the holiday season! :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Well, I’m going to be doing something that I imagine few book bloggers ever have: I’m going to read all 14 of L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books, one a month, all the way to the end of 2013.

I first got this idea over the summer, when I was writing my YA novel Over the Rainbow (currently out to literary agents), a modern update of The Wizard of Oz. When I was a kid I got the first 8 Oz books but only read two or three of them. I remember falling in love with the characters, with the world, but never taking the time to tackle the complete series. And going into 2013, as I look at a potential major rewrite of my novel, and possibly even come up with sequel ideas, I thought it would be important (and fun!) to read Baum’s series, one at a time, and take you along for the ride. 

And we start with the original, and to what to Baum was always intended to be the only. Instead of picking up any old copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I found an awesome edition of the book at the local library calledThe Annotated Wizard of Oz, which has the complete text, as well as hundreds of pages of trivia, biographies, funny anecdotes, and more. I devoured this 400-page book in about five days and loved every second of it. The book starts with about 100 pages on Baum’s history, and how he came to write Oz, and its thirteen sequels. I was unaware that Baum had been publishing multiple books throughout the years before Oz came along, including 55 novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and more. Even after writing The Wizard of Oz, he set out to redefine himself with other works of fantasy for children, all works that have been forgotten today. He didn’t want or need to write a second Oz book; he only did so when he was inundated with letters from children who demanded he write a sequel. All these years later, we can be glad he did, because these books are pure magic, and I’m excited to dig through this series, which includes at least 8 or 9 books I’ve never picked up before.

Not having read The Wizard of Oz since childhood, I was struck by a lot of things, mostly obvious of which how different the endeavor is from the classic 1939 MGM production, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’d been so long I just figured the book and the film were sort of similar, but I was totally wrong! Here, for example, are some major differences in the book:
  • No time is spent in Kansas hardly at all in the beginning. Within just a couple pages we’re tossed into Oz. There’s barely any Uncle Henry or Auntie Em, and none of the other characters from the film.
  • Dorothy is about 5 or 6 years old, definitely not teenage like in the movie. Oz producers initially wanted Shirley Temple, who would’ve been more in line with the age in the book. 
  • The shoes are silver, not ruby! Apparently ruby was chosen for the movie because red would look better against yellow on film. 
  • The Wicked Witch of the West is barely in the book! She doesn’t greet Dorothy at the site of her sister’s death, she doesn’t shout at them from atop a roof by the Tin Woodman. The Wicked Witch is in one single chapter about halfway through the book, and she’s described as short, old, mannish, one-eyed. Nothing like the movie!
  • No singing (obviously)!
  • The scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion all reveal to Dorothy in detail their histories, something the movie barely touched on. Did you know, for example, that the tin man was in love once and that’s why he needs a heart? 
  • The poppy field Dorothy and the lion get sleepy in is not enchanted by the wicked witch, but simply is what it is! Even worse, they leave the lion behind for a short while!
  • There are a ton of mini stories not featured in the movie, like a stork saving the scarecrow’s life, and the tin man beheading a wildcat and saving the lives of mice. Yes, that’s right, there’s a beheading. Not exactly material for 5 year olds. 
  • They have to wear green sunglasses in the Emerald City, or otherwise they’d be blinded by the bright lights!
  • The Wizard’s reveal as a normal old man doesn’t come at the very end, but arrives with another 50-60 pages of the book still to go!
  • Where the film ends, the book is just getting started, with plenty more adventures in store! Dorothy in the book does not just click her heels together; she has to travel all the way to the land of Glinda, the Good Witch (who is the witch of the South here) to find a way home. Along the way the scarecrow, tin man, and lion take advantage of their newfound traits. And they stumble across the Attacking Trees, which was a deleted scene nixed from the film!
All in all, I’ve have to say I still prefer the movie, but the book is loads of fun, too. I love Baum’s simple, classic writing style, which doesn’t overload the reader with unnecessary information. The whole adventure has a casual nature to it that makes for light, pleasing reading. I could totally see myself reading this book for a child of mine in the future. It’s filled with so many wondrous, magical characters, both the leads that are also in the movie, but also side characters who don’t even show up in the background in the famous film. The book is enchanting, and sets up so many questions about the world that it seems odd Baum didn’t intend to write any sequels. It’d be like if J.K. Rowling had written Sorcerer’s Stone then never wrote another Harry Potter. Doesn’t make sense. Therefore I’m glad I have many more opportunities to travel back to this world!

With my newest YA novel at the forefront of my mind, and with all of these Oz books to read, and with the awesome-looking Sam Raimi film opening in March, my life right now is consumed with Oz! And I couldn’t be happier. Check back next month for a look at the 1904 sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What I'm Reading (3)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

I've been hearing about this book for awhile, and when I found a copy of it at my local library, I snatched it up without hesitation. I didn't realize until I looked him up this morning that Daniel Handler is the real name for the man who wrote the Lemony Snicket books. Cool! Can't wait to read this one. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review: Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy touched me more than any book I’ve read in years. I’m gay. Have been pretty much since the beginning of time. (Of course I dabbled here and there—in the words of Ellen Degeneres, “who didn’t?”) Since I’ve started focusing on YA fiction, both in writing it and reading it, I’ve been on the lookout for solid gay YA books. I figured they were few and far between, but I’ve already picked up a few, including Definitely Positively Not and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I’ve also written my first gay YA novel, about a fifteen-year-old lesbian who survives the rapture and battles dinosaurs on her journey to find her true love. There needs to be more gay YA fiction out there, and Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan, easily sets the benchmark for this small but growing genre.
Boy Meets Boy is magical, not for any other reason than it tells the love story of two high school boys and treats it as normal as if the romance were between two members of the opposite sex. In the world of this novel, people, young and old, are gay, and no one cares. There’s no big coming-out scenes, no scenes of suicide attempts, no depressing “why-can’t-I-just-be-normal” contemplation scenes. In the world of Boy Meets Boy, it’s normal for a fifteen-year-old boy to be infatuated with another boy, it’s normal for a cross-dresser to be both football quarterback and Prom Queen, it’s normal to be gay and have parents who actually love and respect you for who you are.
The book feels so modern, as we slowly but surely transform into a society where gay people can be married and have kids and be happy with no opposition, where people can love who they want to love and not feel guilty or be punished for it. Thus I’m surprised it’s nearly ten years old—the book was Levithan’s debut novel and came out in 2003, before Glee, before Modern Family, before Neil Patrick Harris outed himself, before even Ellen started her talk show! Clearly Levithan was ahead of his time, and part of me is sad I didn’t discover this book when it first came out, as it would have helped me with my own coming out, during those awkward years between 2003 and 2006. I needed to turn to my own art to help me through that difficult time, and in 2005 I wrote and directed a gay short film, that you can watch below.
Every year I feel lucky when I come across a book or two that I love, and this year I’ve already found two: John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy . (You better believe I’m excited to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the novel they co-authored together!) These two authors have inspired me to no end, and I’m ecstatic to read the rest of their work. They understand the teenage years more than any YA authors I’ve come across yet, and I feel privileged every time I sit down to read their prose and drop down into their worlds for a while. Looking for Alaska was a joy from beginning to end, but Boy Meets Boy is a particular revelation, because it gives all the young gay readers out there hope for a better community, a better world, and a better life. Don’t miss this amazing novel. I can’t recommend it enough.