Monthly Archives: June 2013

Four Book Friday: Katy Upperman

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Katy Upperman, a YA writer and blogger and book lover. Read on for the four books that have inspired her.

https://i0.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1325649538l/13369316.jpgBlubber by Judy Blume – While Just as Long as We’re Together is my favorite Judy Blume book (I read the copy I had as a kid so many times the spine split in two), Blubber had the biggest impact on me as a person and, later, as a writer. It was my first glimpse into the ugliness of preadolescence and it scared the crap out of me. It also gave me a greater capacity for empathy, and an early understanding of the scathingly brutal crowd mentality that exists among girls. Blubber is a dark book, and its instances of bullying are, at times, painful to read. No character is purely good or evil, which is refreshing and incredibly authentic. Blubber does not speak down to its audience, nor does it try too hard to impart a lesson. Even reading as a child, I understood these things, and I appreciated them.

https://i2.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1178743531l/830638.jpgThe Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney – This is the only YA novel I remember reading when I was an actual young adult. It stuck with me for years, until I finally bought a copy as an adult and reread it. Upon my second reading more than ten years later, the very same story element resonated with me: the romance. Sure, I was curious about Janie and what might’ve happened to her all those years ago, what with the milk carton and all, but what really kept me reading, flipping pages at an alarming rate, was her romance with boy-next-door Reeve. I recall the tiniest details about their relationship – Janie and Reeve in the autumn leaves, her feeding him cake, him taking care of her after she wanders deliriously into one of his classes. Admittedly, The Face on the Milk Carton is steeped in melodrama (wasn’t there a Lifetime movie inspired by it?), but it is the book that sparked my everlasting love of YA romance.

https://i0.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1347462970l/4374400.jpgIf I Stay by Gayle Forman – I read Twilight in my mid-twenties and thought: I could probably write a book this good. Shortly after, I started reading novels by Sarah Dessen, which made me think: I’d really like to write novels as fantastic as these. Then I read If I Stay (0ver the course of an afternoon) and I was so affected, so torn apart, all I could think was: I must to learn to write books that pack an emotional punch like this one. If I Stay one of the few books I’ve reread, and I still recommend it often. It’s the novel that made me long to write, to craft a story that might impact a reader as profoundly as this one impacted me. The tragedy, the romance, the desperation – it’s all so perfectly, enviably executed. It remains an inspiration to this day.

 

https://i1.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1345958969l/128029.jpgA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – Another rare reread, and another constantly recommended novel. I’m not sure why I picked this book up, initially. It’s not my regular fare, but something about the summary’s description of the unlikely friendship between the main characters Mariam and Laila spoke to me, as did the volatile Afghan setting. I read A Thousand Splendid Suns shortly after my daughter was born, and, as a new mom, it shredded me. I have never read a more evocative story, and I have never felt so strongly about characters and their futures. Khaled Hosseini’s storytelling is so rich and courageous; anytime I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse for these characters, they inevitably did. And then there’s this twist… This surprise toward the end that made me want to weep. I love when that happens.

ImageKaty Upperman writes young adult stories about cool girls, cute boys, and steamy kisses. She’s represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency. Katy recommends books with the Bookanista and blogs at YA Confidential. Once a fifth grade teacher, she’s now an Army wife, happy mama, passionate reader, and country music fanatic. She lives close to the ocean, loves long runs and warm weather, and she’s addicted to Jelly Bellies. Find her on Twitter.

Want more Four Book Friday? Here are more posts in the series:

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in which I share the best news in a while

I have been sitting on this news for a while, but I kept holding off posting it because somehow putting it on the blog makes it real, and I didn’t want to jinx it. But the papers have been signed, revisions undertaken, and lots of happy dancing performed, so I guess it’s pretty official, and I should tell the story.

This is a story I didn’t think I’d be telling for a long time. Someday, yes, but not this summer, or even this year, and certainly not today.

But here I am, telling it.

This is the story of how I signed with a literary agent.

A note for the non-publishing crowd:
An agent is an author’s representative to the publisher. It is really, really tricky to get traditionally published without an agent these days. Unfortunately, it can also be really, really tricky to sign with an agent. It takes time, patience, and a lot of anxiety. Having an agent does not guarantee you publication, and signing with an agent does not mean I am getting published. But it does mean that, in the words of the great Neil Gaiman, I am walking towards the mountain. Getting closer.

In order to tell this story, I have to tell the story of me as a writer. It begins not so long ago, in the year 2005…

I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen, because I have always been a precocious overachiever. It was written in mad frenzies of writing throughout my ninth grade year, mostly on our Windows 95 computer with the screechy dial up internet. When I finished, I read it over only once to move around a few commas and revel in my own genius. I knew nothing about getting published, but I read somewhere that you need an agent first. Since this was the days before the internet was really a thing, I checked out the ninety-pound Writer’s Market book from the library, wrote down a lot of addresses in my composition book, and then I snail mailed out my query letters1 to publishers and agents. For good reasons, no one was interested.  Shortly after that, I discovered the theater, and writing fell of the radar in favor of a different artistic outlet. I spent a few years writing nothing but terrible poetry that mostly stemmed from unrequited crushes and break ups.

a photo I took in Riga, Latvia, where book #2 was set

Fast forward to my freshman year of college. I wrote my second novel2 on the upper floors of the Utah State University library with raspberry Italian soda and snow beating down the windows. When I finished, I did no revision and gave almost no thought to genre, though I recognize now I was essentially writing a young adult novel with adult characters. I wrote my query and sent it out as a romance novel with no understanding of what that meant3. No agent wanted anything to do with it, and I retired the manuscript after only twenty-five rejections.

Hamlet played a large part in book #3

Two years later, I found myself in the same library, but this time four floors below in the coffee shop, and it was fall. I had just returned from my study abroad in England and I was wildly unhappy in small-town Utah after the excitement of Europe. So in spite of being in possession of a schedule that was essentially suicidal, I used every free moment I had to write a middle grade novel. When I finished, I did some light revision for about a month and then blitzqueried. I got one partial request, which quickly turned into a rejection. That was it. Fifty rejections without a bite later, I abandoned it4.

I know my rejection is nothing compared to some people’s, but it wore me down, especially when all I seemed to read was stories about writers who sent ten queries and ended up with nine offers of representation. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew I was getting better. Every project was better than the last, and I felt like I was getting closer to something publishable.

I learned a lot about the publishing industry that year. I did a lot of reading. I read about revising, and about how some authors throw out almost the entire first draft. I started reading other writer’s blogs, and saturated myself with young adult literature. I wrote a lot, most of it terrible and unusable. I read more books. I applied for my MFA, and committed myself to the world of children’s literature and the decision to be a writer. I realized that even though it felt like I had done a lot of work on the other projects, it wasn’t the sort of work I needed to be doing. I had gotten better, but I wasn’t there yet.

Then, in January, I started what I knew in my gut was the best thing I had ever written. I wrote it in the USU library coffee shop between classes with snow howling outside the windows. Sometimes I kept writing just to postpone the cold walk home. I shortened my work hours so I could write more. I drank a lot of diet coke, and spent a lot of late nights staring at my computer screen, gave up the few social activities I had in favor of writing. And then I finished it, and I wrote it all over again. I rewrote this book for over a year5. I revised and revised and revised. I deleted about eighty percent of the first draft6 and rewrote it. Then I revamped the plot, deleted all that I had revised, and revised again. I did research. I workshopped it with my Simmons class. I wrote and I wrote and I rewrote and I rewrote7.

my lovely Venice! Home of book #4.

And then, in March, I decided the manuscript was as finished as I could make it. And like the Scottish king of old, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and I queried.

This time, I had very different results. I sent about thirty queries, and ended up with fifteen agents interested in reading the manuscript.

And then a few weeks ago, I got an offer.

Which leads me to my big announcement: I am officially an agented writer! As of very shortly ago, I am signed with Rebecca Podos at the Rees Literary Agency, and I could not be happier.

Really. I’ve read all this stuff about when you find an agent, it should be like falling in love—you just know when it’s right. And with Rebecca, I just knew. We had an amazing phone call where she started listing things she loved about my manuscript and I started writing “OMG” in bold letters all over my note-taking paper because she was pulling lines and thoughts and ideas out of my manuscript that I couldn’t believe she picked up on after one reading. She just got my book.

I could not be more excited to be working with her. I could not feel luckier. I still smile every time I think about it, and I’m so excited for whatever is coming next. Who knows what that will be. There’s probably more heartbreak and more rejection down the road, but for now, I am just holding on to this feeling. This awesome.

 

  1. Pitch letters, if you don’t speak publishing.
  2. Which also stemmed from an unrequited crush and a break up, ironically.
  3. This would have been the most chaste romance novel in the history of romance novels. There was like one kiss and a lot of unrequited pining. Which also summarizes my high school years pretty well.
  4. I still love this project dearly, though I recognize it needs an absurd amount of work. Someday I would like to revive it.
  5. With a brief two-month hiatus while I was in Chicago.
  6. Not all at the same time, thank goodness.
  7. It should be noted that each of these different stages was accompanied by intense periods of self-doubt and crippling anxiety.
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in which I get colorful

So none of the photos loaded, because I tried a different uploading technique which was apparently a terrible idea. Photos are now there!

Three words/phrases that do not describe me:

  1. Visual artist
  2. Cat person
  3. Athletic

It is the third one I would like to particularly focus on. Because in spite of the fact that I can hardly tell a soccer ball from a basketball, and that I have faked injury multiple times to get out of participating in various sporting events, this past Saturday, I found myself standing at the starting line of a 5K with a number safety pinned to my tshirt.

???????????????????????????????Fortunately, it was not your average 5K. It was the kind of 5K where you get colorful chalk dust thrown at you.

And fortunately we did not do much running.

Team DFTBA—which consisted of me, the MT, 14, and a friend who is making her blog debut, so let’s call her Rose Tyler—made the color run into a casual walk rather than anything that required athletic prowess, primarily because 14 is the only one out of us that would have had the stamina to run a 5k. And it was 3 to 1 in favor or walking, overwhelmingly against 14 and her physical fitness.

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I have never done a 5K that wasn’t elaborately themed. I’m not really into running, so there has to be a big push1 for me to actually get out and put my trainers on. The other run was a mud run, which was only slightly dirtier than the color variety.

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But it ended up being a lovely morning. In spite of being robbed of my usual Saturday morning lie-in, it was lovely and cool, and I got to spend time with friends I don’t see very much. Except the MT. I see too much of her2. I have always loved walking, which I know is a bit odd, but I think it’s a residual of my year in Europe. Wherever it comes from, it couldn’t have been a better morning for a walk through downtown Salt Lake while people threw handfuls of dyed cornstarch at you.

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Points go to my father, who I asked to come and take pictures, and he ended up walking the entire race with us, even though he didn’t register3. He stayed on the sidewalk, out of the line of fire.

He also took what is one of my new favorite pictures ever, in which I appear to be levitating out of an orange cloud.

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Oh to be young and weird in Salt Lake City.

 

  1. Other than the whole charity thing
  2. Before the race, the MT who, like me, is prone to fits of irrational anxiety, almost didn’t do it since she was concerned everyone else would be running and we would be humiliated by our inevitable last place finish. If it were the podracing scene in Star Wars, we would be that one guy who never makes it off the starting line. But I dragged her there, on account of she had already paid the entrance fee, and she calmed down significantly when she saw children at the starting line. Also dogs. So we wouldn’t lose after all.
  3. I say this like it was some tremendous feat, but we really weren’t that hard to keep up with. We were being lapped by children. There were actually times when my father ended up ahead of us. Which was embarrassing.
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Four Book Friday: Krista Van Dolzer

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Krista Van Dolzer, a writer, blogger, and my mentor from The Writer’s Voice contest. Read on for the four books that have inspired her.

When Mackenzi first asked me to participate in “Four Book Friday,” I was admittedly a little nervous. Four books that changed my life? I could barely think of one. So I wouldn’t say these books literally changed my life so much as they forced me to look at books—and myself—in a whole new way. But I guess that’s life-changing in and of itself!

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5124nNRapAL.jpgThe Giver by Lois Lowry

I read this book for the first time as an annoying, know-it-all thirteen-year-old. It was the first time I ever had a visceral reaction to a book, and in this case, that reaction was hate. I hated that Jonas was obviously a metaphor for Jesus Christ but lacked some of His more prominent characteristics (such as His perfection). I’d never read a book that featured a Christ figure (at least that I recognized), and it drove me crazy that my friends neither noticed nor cared.

I read the book again as a (slightly) more mature grown-up, and this time, it moved me to tears (probably because I was reading it as a mom). But the thing that really struck me was how this book had engaged me as both a child and an adult, how it had made me feel. In the end, I think that’s the highest compliment I could ever pay a book—that it made me feel something I didn’t expect.

https://i1.wp.com/v4.bradblackman.com/wp-content/uploads/mockingbird1.jpg

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is another book I read for the first time in junior high, but unlike The Giver, this one instantly landed on my all-time favorites list. I loved the setting and the story and Scout and Boo. Especially Boo. I read this book again as a grown-up, too, and the thing that stood out to me was how little I’d understood it the first time around. I might have loved it as a kid, but I really appreciated it as an adult—and especially as a writer. In fact, I think it’s a shame that we teach this book to younger children as if it’s a children’s book (it’s not), but that’s another post…

 

https://i1.wp.com/groveland.spps.org/uploads/stargirl.jpgStargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I first heard about this book during my first (and only) year of teaching. (For those of you who might be wondering, I taught in a middle school, and no, it wasn’t as bad as you might think.) I saw a lot of students reading it, and something about the cover must have stuck, because when I was walking through the library a year or two later and saw that cover on the shelf, I picked it up. And promptly fell in love. I didn’t spend a ton of time in high school trying to fit in, but Stargirl made me wish I could go back and do it over. I thought I had to be effervescent and exciting to be of any worth in high school, but really, I didn’t have to be. I could have just been myself. Which brings me to my last book…

http://citypaper.com/polopoly_fs/1.1278371!/image/549105954.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_804/549105954.jpgQuiet by Susan Cain

I read this book last year, and it completely changed the way I saw myself. In high school, I was outgoing, opinionated, and not afraid to show it. If you’d asked me whether I was an extrovert or an introvert, I would have answered extrovert, no hesitation. But as I grew older—and less interested in impressing my peers—I noticed that I also grew, well, quieter. I was more content to sit and listen and not introduce myself to everyone. For years, I thought that I had lost an essential part of my personality, that I had somehow diminished.

But then I read Quiet, and besides making the point that introverts are of no less worth than extroverts, it also helped me see that not all introverts are shy or slow to speak up in a crowd. As it turned out, I had always been an introvert. (Case in point: I spent hours and hours as a teenager sitting alone at my computer, creating characters and writing stories that no one else would ever read.) I’m just an introvert who’s learned how to act like an extrovert in a society that values it, and it’s okay to go back and forth.

If you haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them, and if you have, I’d love to hear what you thought of them in the comments!

kristaKrista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a writer by naptime. She holds degrees in Mathematics Education and Economics from Brigham Young University but tries not to talk—or write—like a mathematician. If she’s not typing away on the computer, she’s probably watching college football or wiping someone’s nose. She lives with her husband and three young kids in Mesquite, Nevada, and blogs at Mother. Write. (Repeat.). Her debut novel, THE REGENERATED MAN, a middle grade historical with a dash of science fiction, will be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin) in Winter 2015.

Want more Four Book Friday? Here are more posts in the series:

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in which I am Iron Man

So Saturday was Father’s Day. Happy belated.

This year, the MT and I teamed up to get my father the single greatest Father’s Day gift of all time. After recently seeing Iron Man 1, 2, and 3, he has been constantly telling us that his new goal in life is to be Tony Stark. So we decided to make that dream happen.

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The rest of the suit will be next year’s present.

Also it shoots things. And makes noises like Jarvis. It is amazing. And also made for 8 to 10 year olds.

Irrelevant.

Since the purchase of this mask, there hasn’t been a moment that one of us wasn’t wearing it. We have discovered that it makes even the most mundane, everyday activities totally epic. The Iron Man mask can be worn while doing anything.

Reading…

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Playing the piano…

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Cooking…Image

Cleaning up after cooking…

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You can even blow dry your hair rather effectively while wearing it.

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It is handy for work….

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Or leisure…

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Bonus: The dogs loves it.

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That last one might be a lie.

We also took it on a jaunt up the canyon and discovered it is equally useful up there.

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And while hiking, you can wear it backwards on your head to get the Quirrel/Voldemort look. And then you will freak out the other hikers even more than before.

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Happy (belated) Father’s Day. From the Stark Family to yours.

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in which we make art

I should have blogged about this a while ago, because this story is almost two weeks old. But at first, there weren’t any good pictures, and then other things were happening, and then I got busy. But then, two weeks later, something else awesome happened which held distinct parallels with the first awesome thing. So bear with me while we go backwards in time two weeks…

If you’ve ever been to my parents’ house, you will realize that it is a little bit different from most houses. I think the word is unique. Possibly eccentric. Chaotic, maybe, if you’re not one for free expression. But I like unique1. My mother, who handles most of the decor, has a sense of style that manifests itself in wonderful and unconventional ways, like decorating the kitchen with antique liquor bottles, paintings of cookies, baskets of gourds, and a single disc of the Catching Fire audiobook that was stolen out of my father’s car.

My mother encourages this same sort of home furnishing artistry in her children. When I was in high school and asked if I could paint musical theater lyrics on my bedroom door, she and my father helped me take it off its hinges and bought me paint. They even lent me their handprints. So I shouldn’t really have been surprised when a few weeks ago, my mom said, “You know what I’d really like for Mother’s Day? A mural on the back fence.”

This was not a new idea—she has apparently been lobbying for the MT’s art class to come paint her a mural all year, but that wasn’t quite in line with their idea of a good activity. But, after my impressive performance illustrating The Chamber of Secrets, she seemed to have a renewed and unexpected faith in my artistic abilities, and asked me if I’d like to do a mural.

Yes, of course I would, because I am always game for doing weird random things that involve mess and color. But I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

So I rallied the troops—the MT, and my friends Sondheim, Nevada2, and Pierre and Jean-Claude3. So two Saturdays ago, we donned our artist berets and prepared to create a masterpiece ala the Sistine Chapels4. The theme—children’s literature.

Nevada and I have negative artistic talent. Sondheim peruses it as a hobby. The MT is wildly talented. And as it turns out, so are Pierre and Jean-Claude. I said in passing, “Hey someone should paint Max from Where the Wild Things Are, since that’s my favorite book.” A little while later, I looked over and there was a life-sized Max painted on the fence. Maurice Sendak himself could not have done it better. They also did some spray paint magic that would have put Graffiti Pete5 to shame.

It took several grueling hours, and a lot of paint, but by the evening, our three-panel masterpiece was complete.

There is the amazingly unbelievable “wild rumpus” panel, done by Jean-Claude and Pierre…

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oh look! There’s even Pierre and Jean-Claude themselves! Don’t they look like artists?

The gorgeously beautiful fantasy panel, by Sondheim and the MT…

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And the “good for you” garden panel, by Nevada and I…

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And yes, we are for hire. We’ll paint your fence, any theme you like—all we require is cookies and paint! And for a few extra dollars, Nevada and I won’t even touch a brush.

Then, at the risk of overloading this post, this past weekend, I got to be a part of something equally as cool and artsy. The MT was a featured artists in the Utah Chalk Art Festival and she completed this masterpiece! I had much less to do with this one–I mostly watched and occasionally fetched Dr. Pepper. But I was very proud of the MT and her skills! Between fence painting, chalk art, and the Harry Potter art, it has been an unexpectedly artsy summer.

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  1. The most common comparisons that get drawn to our house are the Weasley house in Harry Potter and an I Spy book.
  2. The old Chicago roommate—remember her?
  3. High school friends. Not their real names.
  4. Which is not the Sixteen Chapels, like I thought it was when I was younger.
  5. Musical theater reference FTW.
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Four Book Friday: Hannah Thompson

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Hannah, with whom I have shared favorite books since we were in seventh grade. Read on for the four books that have inspired her.

Hi! I’m Hannah, a good friend of Miss Mackenzi Lee’s—she and I go way back. Like, all the way back to middle school. When I saw that Mackenzi was starting this series, I immediately volunteered to participate without even thinking of what books I would include—I just knew I wanted to be a part of it, dang it! As someone who just finished their senior year of college as an English major, I feel like I’ve read plenty of books, and I have lots of favorite books, but Mackenzi made it clear that this was for books that changed your life, which is an entirely different category.  Here’s my list of books that changed my life!

https://mackenzilee.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/5252e-rustyjames.jpgRumble Fish by S.E. Hinton

Most people are familiar with S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, but fewer know about her other books. The Hinton book that changed my life was Rumble Fish, and I read it in my seventh grade English class with Ms. Putnam. This was my first introduction to literature we studied in school that had some deeper symbolism. Ms. Putnam did a fantastic job of connecting with little seventh graders and getting them to understand some underlying themes, and I still remember some of them to this day (something about a river… and lights… anyway, it’s not important.). I consider Rumble Fish to be sort of the foundation that my analytical English career has been built around—and how could that not be considered a book that changed my life?

https://i0.wp.com/johngreenbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/wgwg2.jpgWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Even if you don’t keep up with the YA literature scene, you may have heard of John Green because he has been on the top of the best seller list for 39 weeks so far with his book The Fault in Our Stars. While that book is also fantastic, we’re going to focus on another of Green’s books entitled Will Grayson, Will Grayson. WG/WG is a really interesting story about love and friendship, but seriously, the biggest thing I learned from this book was exactly how authors co-write books—one writes one chapter, the other writes the next, and so on. I’m not dumb, but the idea of coauthoring a book seriously mystified me until this moment—if I tried to cowrite a book with someone, I guarantee it would end in a bloodbath. The main reason I love WG/WG is because it introduced me more fully into the online world of Nerdfighteria (the online community that supports John Green, his brother Hank, and their creative work). Basically what John Green, his novels, and Nerdfighteria have given me is a renewed faith that what I studied in college is important to continue teaching to young adults. After hearing one too many horror stories about rude students, school shootings, and unhelpful administrators, it’s hard to forge ahead in the education program with a positive “I can make a difference!” attitude. Thanks to WG/WG (my first introduction to the inspiring words of John Green), I feel more confident heading into the classroom armed with knowledge and faith in my subject. Favorite quote from WG/WG: “He looks at me like i’m throwing spiked darts at the heart-shaped helium balloons that populate his mind, so i let it go.”

https://i0.wp.com/mediaroom.scholastic.com/files/HP1cover.jpgHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling 

Seriously? This is the third 4-Book Friday and there hasn’t been a mention of Harry Potter? This is crazy town. The Harry Potter series definitely changed my life. I remember reading the first book out loud with my mom and sister in my parent’s big bed. I remember waiting anxiously for the library to open the day after the new book came out so I could get Mom to rush me there for my copy that I reserved months ago. I remember reading the 6th book in a hammock in my backyard and calling my friend the second I finished it so we could talk about it. And also, I saw the final movie in a half movie theatre/half pizza place in the middle of Montana one summer and basically crying BY MYSELF surrounded by tween girls as I saw my childhood essentially come to an end. Awesome. Essentially, Harry Potter is a fantastic, imaginative story that intrigued adults and kids alike, but especially interested kids my age; basically, J.K Rowling got an entire generation hooked on literature singlehandedly, which deserves mad props. As a future English teacher, I hope that my students find something—whether in school or out—that inspires them to read like HP did for me. I blame HP for my overall love of reading!

Stotan! By Chris Crutcher

https://i2.wp.com/covers.openlibrary.org/b/id/1578254-M.jpgChris Crutcher’s YA novel Stotan! changed my life by essentially taking it over. I wrote my Honors thesis on Stotan! by creating a four week unit from scratch with this book as the base. It was the first time I had ever been trusted with an entire unit where I read the book and figured it what I wanted to pull from the novel to teach my students, and I found it extremely rewarding. (I was also extremely pleased to find out that I could, in fact, do something like that on my own… thank goodness) Working closely with a professor on campus gave me a chance to really learn from a seasoned professional who had literary connections—he wanted to send my whole thesis to Chris Crutcher himself because they’re old pals! My thesis was the culmination of my college career, and without Stotan!, I’m not sure I would have liked the result nearly as much. Also, Crutcher uses some killer similes—my favorite is when he talking about a boy’s handwriting: “It looks like he dipped the feet of a baby chick in ink, placed it on the page and set the little bugger ablaze.” That’s fantastic imagery right there.

Thanks for reading my post—keep reading whatever floats your boat, and may you find your next life-changing book tomorrow!

Hannah Thompson is about to embark on the final phase of her teacher education program by student teaching first at a local high school, then at a less-than-local high school in southwestern Norway. An English major and avid book lover, she occasionally puts down her books to dance, hike, play basketball, rappel, bake, and watch Modern Family (but usually not all at the same time). Her lack of social media smarts is evident in the absence of links to Tumblr, Twitter, and blogs, but you can go here if you just need something to do, because hopefully this will one day be Hannah’s life.

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in which I watch the Tonys

Last night was one of my favorite nights of the year—Tony Tony Tony!

Correct, it was the 67th annual Tony awards, celebrating the best1 that Broadway has to offer. In spite of the fact that what was clearly the best musical of the season hardly won anything, I am still a devoted Tony fan, and I was excited this year that I was able to join my family at our annual viewing party at Magwitch’s house, since it was she who took me to my first Broadway play. We all cheered on the Tonys like most people cheer on professional sporting events.

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Posters from the first shows Magwitch and I saw.

Though my pick for the season, Matilda2, only took home a smattering of the awards it should have, I was excited to see Pippin walk away with four, though frankly it could have won everything and I would have still thought it deserved more3.

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The MT and Mum prepare for the Tonys with identical manic grins

I had a very unexpectedly theatrical week. Between the Tonys, auditioning for my first show in a long time, and seeing a lovely production of one of my favorite musicals, I felt myself looking backwards at the girl I used to be with big Broadway dreams of her own. They don’t belong to me anymore, but they will always still be a part of me, and a part of who I am will always belong to the theater. Even though that’s not the direction I went with my life, I owe so much of myself to directors, performers, drama teachers, playwrights, fellow actors, technicians, and audiences. More than anything, I owe them a deep and abiding love for storytelling that began in the theater and has carried into my career as an author.

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Just like Neil Patrick Harris said in his absolutely brilliant opener; “There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere sitting and living for Tony performances and singing and flipping along with the Pippins and Wickeds and Kinkys, Matildas, and Mormonses. So it might reassure that kid and do something to spur that kid cause I promise that all of us up here tonight, we were that kid.”

That was me. That still is me—that kid at home wanting to do something amazing that makes other people feel as much as theater has always made me.

Theater, I love you. Broadway, I love you, and I always will. Even when you give Kinky Boots the Tony over Matilda.

 

  1. Theoretically
  2. Which I love because it combines my three great loves—children’s lit, musical theater, and England
  3. You remember the story of when I saw Pippin, don’t you?
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Four Book Friday: Clarissa Hadge

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Clarissa, a writer and one of my partners in crime at Simmons College. Read on for the four books that changed her as a writer and a person. 

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As if a photograph of me standing in front of a mammoth skeleton will somehow persuade you even more to read on.

So Mackenzi asked me to be a guest blogger for Four Book Friday, and here I am gang! A little bit about myself, for those of you who aren’t familiar:

  • I’m a native Californian (though currently you wouldn’t be able to tell, as I’ve lost my tan to the point where you can basically see through my skin)

  • I have wanted to be a writer since I was eight

  • I’m walking encyclopedia about a lot of things, and quite literally will explain it all if you ask (and sometimes even if you don’t)

  • I’m obsessed with woolly mammoths

Now for my four books. Picking four books was extremely difficult to do, let me tell you. I wanted to sneak in an extra ten books and make it 14 Book Friday instead, but I restrained myself to the four books, so you’re welcome. And for clarification, these are in no particular order:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

(Yes, I’m aware that this is the cheesy 80s cover, but this is what the copy that I first read looked like so I felt that it was only appropriate to use it here.)

I read this book for the first time when I was twelve, and Holy Moses, I both simultaneously loved and hated this book. I loved the book because I could feel Meg’s awkwardness come right off the page and empathized with her (poor Meg always wanting to hold someone’s hand, and instead shoving her fists in her pockets, but damn, she finally takes on IT and saves the day); I wanted a boy like Calvin O’Keefe to be mine (uhm, hello, did anyone else just about die when he tells Meg “…you’ve got dreamboat eyes”?); and I wished that Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which (and even Aunt Beast) were in my life to guide me. I hated the book (okay, maybe hate is the wrong word), I envied the book for the way in which L’Engle interweaves the fantasy within the reality, and I despaired because I was certain that I would never create something as well-crafted as this. A lot of people don’t know that Wrinkle is part of L’Engle’s Time Quintet and while I liked the other books in the series, none of them quite captured the magic that I felt when I first read Wrinkle. This book is the text that inspired my first novel, and my twelve year-old self is still longing for two things: one, for my novel to have even a fourth of the magic that Wrinkle holds between its covers, and two, (even though this is super embarrassing to admit) I’d like for my Calvin to appear.

North to Freedom by Anne Holm

Disclaimer: Anne Holm’s North to Freedom is a sad book. There’s no getting around it. I mean, look at that cover. David escapes a concentration camp to try and find his mother, who may or may not still be alive. On the way, he encounters some people willing to help him, and others who literally want to kill him. Kid can’t catch a break, and Holm doesn’t let David off easily. When I first read Freedom, it was as if a light went off above my head, since making things extremely difficult for my characters was something that I never thought to do as a writer – let my characters go through hell and back. Now, I subscribe to this treatment rather frequently. Let’s give create all the pain for my characters! With all the violence and trauma that David goes through, as I was reading and re-reading the book when I was younger, all I wanted to do was reach through the pages and hug him. When he almost dies saving a little girl from a fire, I practically had a heart attack. Rationally I knew that Holm wasn’t going to kill David off two-thirds of the way through the book, since it’s told in close third person, but she comes pretty close.  Originally written in Danish, Freedom as a translated novel still translates well, and the journey that the reader goes on with David is one that has continued to resonate with me even as adult.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

For Tortall! (If you’ve read this book, or any of other Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet, or the many of the other novels that take place in this realm, you’ll get the joke. For those of you who have not, you are missing out.) I wanted to be Alanna when I was a kid. (Admittedly, a part of me still does.) She is such a bad-ass. Plus she had purple eyes, which made her, in my mind, that much cooler. What I loved about Alanna was that I immediately was sucked into Tortall and realms that many of Pierce’s novels take place in. There are obvious medieval influences here, but Alanna is pure fantasy, and it is fantastic. I read the Song of the Lioness quartet the summer before I went into seventh grade, and every time I pick up this novel, it reminds me of that summer and I’m taken back to sitting in the stacks at my local library reading these books. (Don’t worry – I actually did check them out from the library; I didn’t just stay in the stacks all summer reading.) As a writer, I strive to create strong female characters like Alanna, characters who stick to their convictions, and who are not only as capable in harrowing situations as their male colleagues, but that are even tougher and better. Alanna is another title that has very much influenced my own writing; Pierce’s writing has an underlying humor to it that I’ve tried to emulate, and whether or not I’ve been successful, well, only time will tell. (If only I could plug my novel’s publication date here…)

Mi Revalueshanary Fren by Linton Kwesi Johnson

Reading Mi Revalueshanary Fren for the first time was something akin to the first time I ever read on my own as a child. I had a revelation when I read Fren – like I had never realized words could sound the way they do in the way that Johnson writes; that the sounds of words, when written like this had a new magic that I had never stumbled upon before. I read Fren at a time when I questioning a lot about my academic career as an undergrad, and wondering if I had chosen the correct path, or if I had made a horrible mistake and needed make some big changes in my life. After reading Fren, I felt silly for ever thinking that I could do anything but be in a world of literature.  My copy of Fren came with a CD of Johnson reading his own work, and while reading it myself was magical, hearing Johnson’s voice took the text to a whole other level of sublimity. This is definitely a text that I try to recommend to as many as people as I can, because reading this will change your life. See for yourself here.

So there we go. Check out my blog too – the 5 and ½ Minute Hallway (bonus points if you get the reference).

Thanks, Clarissa! If you’re new here, you can read my first Four Book Friday from last week by clicking here!

Tune in next week when English teacher and book enthusiast Hannah tells us about two boys named Will Grayson and a book she and I read together in seventh grade English class!

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In which I mark a belated anniversary

Yesterday, I got a new phone. Which is good, because the old one was rebelling like a Russian Bolshevik1. It’s newest trick was randomly calling people in my address book. That and not receiving and/or sending most text messages. But it was doing that for a while.

So this morning in the shower while contemplating the life and death of a phone, I realized with a great stab of despair that with this old phone would die my personalized message from Carl Kassell on my voicemail! For shame! I must email Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me and see if he will record a copy for me, I thought to myself.

Thinking about “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” made me remember that it was almost a year ago to the day that I started my internship with them. It feels so long ago that I boarded a plane in a mild panic and moved to Chicago, which turned out to be the greatest city in America/maybe anywhere.

I thought about that plane ride, with only my laptop and my diet coke and my anxiety for company, and how I blogged on the plane ride over there. When suddenly it hit me…

I MISSED IT!

I missed my blog’s birthday! I celebrated the dog’s birthday on Saturday, and in all the excitement of that, I totally forgot that Looking for Chicago/Boston turned the big 1 on Sunday! What a terrible blogger to forget my own blog’s birthday. As a childless single young woman, this blog is basically the longest relationship I have ever had. Forgetting its birthday could be cause for a breakup.

Fortunately, my blog is not the vengeful type. So we are going to be celebrating the big anniversary sometime in the upcoming week with a GIVEAWAY2!  Are you excited? You should be. It will probably involve books, and maybe cookies. And when it arrives, you should enter!

Stay tuned.

  1. See, that history degree wasn’t a total waste.
  2. A giveaway, you say? What sort of giveaway3?
  3. A super mega awesome foxy hot giveaway.
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