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!