Tag Archives: Simmons Girl

in which some big things happen

I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for about a week labeled “Things I Should Probably Talk About.” Because I am often really good at writing about the weird little stories of no consequence that happen to me, but not always great at hitting the big things, and these last few weeks were chock full of big things.

So here are a few that I felt were worth talking about:

Big Thing #1: I finished my MFA!

Two weeks ago last Friday, I donned a funny looking hat, a wrinkled robe1 and a shroudy hoodish thing that made me feel a bit like a sorcerer, piled into a bus with four thousand of my closest friends and drove to the Bank of America Pavilion which, it turns out, is a terrible place to host anything when it is even remotely cold, and oh man, was it cold. Rainy and grey and the wind off the water was merciless. At one point, the girl I was sitting next to and I realized we could actually see our breath. In May. It was a cold, cold place to be forced to sit still on uncomfortable folding chairs for two hours while name after endless name was read off.

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But in spite of sounding very negative about the whole affair, it was a good time. Graduation ceremonies are a bit silly if you think about them too hard, mostly because of all the pomp and circumstance, but every time I’ve gone to one, I’ve had a genuine moment of pride and coolness when I got to walk up on stage, hear my name read, and get the little fake diploma. So overall the day was enjoyable. And my lovely family came in from Utah for the occasion, so I got to be with them. And, true to our usual classy selves, while everyone else went out to nice fancy dinners afterwards at places with multiple forks and cloth napkins, we went to my favorite eccentric diner and ordered a cookie sheet of onion rings.

So I’m now a master. I expect you all to refer to me as such from now on.

Big Thing #2: We went to Maine!

After a day of graduation and another of doing Boston things3, my family and I packed up our rental car and drove up to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we spent a very enjoyable week doing enjoyable and Maine-ish things, like hiking in Acadia, riding on boats, and tearing apart lobsters with our bare hands2. Maine was lovely and quiet and not anywhere near as cold as graduation, so we spent our time overdressed and marveling at how easy it was to breathe when the hiking trails are level and at a low elevation4.

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Maine was impossibly lovely, and after a rather arduous two years of graduate school, I really enjoyed a week of doing little to nothing that required any brain power5.

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Big Thing #3: I got a new job!

Okay, job is a relative term. It is an internship. But not just any internship. My dream internship, an internship I have been chasing and applying for over and over basically since I got to Boston. At last, they either got sick of reading my resume or decided I was actually maybe worth considering, because they hired me. I am over the moon about this news, and I feel really lucky to be putting my children’s lit knowledge to use so quickly after graduating from school.

And speaking of children’s lit things…

Big Thing #4: The PEN-New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award Night!

So as you may remember, a few months ago I went nuts with excitement over being one of the winners of the PEN-New England Susan Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Last week, there was an official awards ceremony, at which I was invited to read from my winning manuscript. And guys, it was amazing. I polled some friends who came to see if it was actually really that awesome or if I was biased because I was one of the guests of honor, but the general consensus seemed to be that it was genuinely awesome. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people who were enthusiastic about children’s literature and me as a writer and my possible contribution to the field.

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Myself, Rebecca, and Pamela, this year’s three discoveries.

Everyone deserves the experience of being shepherded around a room full of witty, intelligent people who all tell you how much they love the art you are creating and the things you are doing, which was basically what the whole night was for me. Everyone also deserves the chance to be introduced by someone you really admire and hear them say nice things about your work, which I was also lucky enough to have happen when Lois Lowry introduced me and my manuscript. I did my best to not freak out when this happened.

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Miss Lowry and myself

After Lois’s very generous introduction, parts of which I am considering getting tattooed on my forehead, I got to read from my manuscript6. I am pleased to report that I did not lose my place, drop a page, say “Ingolstadt7” wrong, or pronounce “Frankenstein” the way they do in Young Frankenstein, which I was worried might happen since the MT and I spent the whole week in Maine quoting Young Frankenstein in honor of my impending reading. Then there was a lovely Q&A, where I got to talk very fast8 about Mary Shelley and how cool she was and about the Danny Boyle production of Frankenstein that inspired the whole thing9. And then I ate cookies and talked to more amazing people and showed off my Frankenstein tights and basically just had an amazing night. It was a fairly once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure and carry with me as a badge of courage as I go forward with my writing career.

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Rebecca, Susan (form whom the award is named), Cathie (head of the Simmons program) and me.

And those are the big things worth noting that have happened over the past few weeks. It’s been rather eventful here at Chateau de Lee, and I have enjoyed very much having a few weeks of good news and fun things. I’m bracing myself for real life to set back in again.

 

  1. Because some genius had the idea of making our gowns eco-friendly by crafting them out of recycled plastic bottles, meaning they couldn’t be ironed or else they would melt. To which I say, “A plague upon environmentalism!”
  2. The MT and I got very into naming the lobsters we met/ate. Or maybe that was just me and the MT indulged me. Whatever the case, over the course of the trip we met/ate Aloysius, Randall, Gob the Lob, Buster Bluth (because he was missing a claw), katniss, and Hannibal (because, it turns out, lobsters are cannibals).
  3. Such as treason, living free or dying, and protesting intolerable acts.
  4. Upon completing a particular hike, we were greeted by a sign boasting that we were now 520 feet above sea level. The Utahans, who live their lives at four thousand feet above sea level, were unimpressed.
  5. Though this doing nothing was interrupted by some strange and unexpected distractions, when I shall discuss in big thing number 3…
  6. This is the post modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein book I have talked about a little bit here. In case you were wondering.
  7. Far and away the hardest and most German word in the manuscript.
  8. “Fast” meaning both briefly and at break neck speed, which I often do when I am nervous or excited, and I was definitely both.
  9. I also very nearly got set up on a date with Benedict Cumberbatch. Really.
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in which things come full circle

Late in the winter of my senior year of college, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I was about to finish a history degree and knew I didn’t want to do what you are supposed to do with a history degree. I had a sort of inkling I maybe wanted to write things, or find some job that allowed me to read books for a living, but I wasn’t enjoying most of the adult books I was reading. I had had a similar experience when I was in high school—as soon as I hit an age where I felt I was supposed to start reading grown up books, I stopped reading. So I decided to check out the young adult section of my library to see what they had to offer. And I read enough really awesome young adult books to realize that the problem wasn’t that I didn’t like reading, the problem was that I wasn’t reading things I liked.

And that’s when I applied for my MFA in children’s literature.

One of the books that I picked up in the YA section was Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. This book was so lovely. It helped me realize what is important to me in a book—beautiful writing, vivid setting, and an atmospheric and imaginative world. This was the last book I read before I sent in my application to Simmons.

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A year ago last November, I was sitting on a mattress on the floor under bare light bulb in my very first grown up apartment in Boston. I was feeling a little overwhelmed, both by the adultness of it and by the fact that I had no furniture or things to call my own. Just a suitcase of clothes, a box of books, and a city full of strangers. So I picked up Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in Laini Taylor’s series that had just been released, and lost myself in the story. Because books are safer than people.

Last week, the third book in the series, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, came out. Through some strange voodoo magic, the third book in this series that was such a big part of me being where I am right now ended up coming out just a few weeks before I finished the MFA it inspired me to pursue. And by some stranger bout of luck, Laini did an event last week in Brookline, where I live in that once-bare apartment, and I got to meet her and tell her thank you, because she was a large part of me being where I am, and I love being here.Image

If you’ve hung around here at all, you know that I like things to be symmetrical. I like signs and symbols and when things come full circle, it feels like confirmation that I’m doing something right. The weird symmetry of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series with my MFA life felt like a confirmation, a nice feeling to carry with me as I head out into the real world with my degree.

Maybe I read too far into things. But that’s what grad school taught me how to do.

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in which I read Tuck Everlasting

One of the benefits of being a student of children’s literature is that you get to revisit a lot of books from your childhood. Some of these books I read so long ago it feels like another lifetime, but I remember the way they made me feel, and it’s interesting to compare that to how they make me feel now as a sometimes adult.

Recently, I revisited Tuck Everlasting1 by Natalie Babbitt, a novel I read for the first time in elementary school and have reread several times since then. Each time I revisit it, my affection for this skinny little book has grown, until this week it exploded in a mess of inarticulate feelings all over the freshmen I was supposed to be teaching it to2. Because every time I read it, it’s different. Or rather, I’m different, and my experience adjusts accordingly. In Tuck Everlasting, the difference stands out most strongly in the character I see myself as.

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The first time I read Tuck Everlasting, I was Winnie Foster. I must have been around ten myself, with that same sort of righteous indignation3 stored up inside my heart. And I felt the weight of everything, the impossible weight of entering the double digits, or starting to understand that there were forces at work in the world that I could not control. Why couldn’t we all live forever? Why did beautiful things have to end? Why couldn’t you drink the water and live forever with the carefree boy you found in the woods? I understood that things had to die, but I couldn’t understand why.

The next time I read it, many years later in high school, I was Jesse. Barefoot, bounding Jesse, wildly in love with everything about living, even the parts I didn’t like. I felt like I was always bubbling up with something, like there was this fountain inside me that would never run dry. There was nothing at work beyond the confines of my small sphere of existence, which would never cease to be amazing. Time did not exist. I felt invincible. I wasn’t, but I felt like I was, like I could never be irreparably broken, inside or out.

Then the next time, starting my second semester of grad school, I was Miles. A little bit heavier with what I’d left behind and carrying around empty holes that weighed just as much as the things and people that used to fill them. Not quite certain what I was or where I was meant to fit in the world, and not sure how to go about puzzling all that out. And I had started to understand not just the forces of the world and how they worked on me, but that I was a part of them. Where I sat on the wheel. How it carried me. And that someday I’d fall off it, just like everyone does.

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art by Jeremy Aaron Moore

And then I read this book last week, and I thought about who I am now.

Now I’m sort of all of them. I’m old and I’m young. One day I feel indestructible. The next like I’m already in pieces that can never be put back together. I am Tuck, with regrets and things I wish I had not done. I am Mae, trying to hold things together that maybe can’t be held. I am Gran, who hears fairy music in the woods. Some days I’m even the Man in the Yellow Suit, aware of the fact that I could exploit and hurt those around me if I wanted to.

While Tuck Everlasting is most often billed as a children’s book about the perils of living forever, really it’s a book about how we all live every day on terms with life’s big incomprehensible ideas, and it gives no easy answers to any of the questions it asks. Because in the end, there is no easy answer. To anything. It’s most truthful in that sense. I don’t understand everything about living and dying—no one does. Some days, I can wrap my brain around the immensity of it and have a few minutes of peace and clarity and understanding about how the earth moves. Other days, it totally freaks me out.

Today while discussing this book with my freshmen, some of them expressed dissatisfaction with the ending *SPOILER ALERT*—they wanted to know why Winnie didn’t drink the water and live forever with the Tucks. What happened between Jesse leaving her with a bottle of water on her front lawn and Tuck finding her tombstone eighty years later? They felt like something was missing.

For me, there is nothing dissatisfying about this ending. In fact, I think it is the perfect end for this perfect book. Because the answer to the question “What happened?” is that life happened. Winnie’s life. There didn’t have to be one big idea, one revelation, one moment of decision or impact where she realized truly that death and life are interchangeable. There didn’t have to be one thing that made her realize that life with death was better than life without it. Because life is that moment—life and its great bit pile of good things and bad things and the things that come in between.

As the Man in the Yellow Suit says, “Like all magnificent things, it is very simple.” And then again, it’s not.

  1. If you don’t know or haven’t read Tuck Everlasting, please rectify that immediately. Not to oversell it, but it’s a staggering work of impossible genius.
  2. Contrary to how this makes it sounds, my freshers and I did have a very coherent and amazing discussion about Tuck Everlasting today. It was awesome enough to inspire this post, actually. But I do have a lot of feelings, which they were on the receiving end of in the last few minutes of class.
  3.  I was totally that kid who said “I am running away!” And then made it to the corner before coming back. It was the principle of the thing.
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in which I complete my mentorship

In May, I will become a master, much like Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker of old. Except I will be a master of writing for children, rather than of the ancient Jedi arts. Honestly, I’m not sure which is cooler. But just as any good Jedi must complete a series of training and trials before they can become a master, so must I. One of these trials is the completion of a mentorship, which are two creative pieces that fall in the category of children’s, middle grade, or young adult literature. The first of those was due yesterday. This project, which I have mentioned in passing a few times here on the blog, began last February, when I sent the MT an email with a short synopsis of my idea. The first line of the email was, “I think I’ve finally come up with an idea that’s too weird.” Fortunately, the MT did not think a YA novel with steampunk cyborgs based on Frankenstein was too weird. She told me to write it. So I started writing it last term in my writing class, and received enough positive feedback from my classmates that I decided to make it my mentorship. I turned in a proposal in April, it was approved in May, and I started writing. Then, after a couple months of thinking about it, I scrapped everything I had worked on and started over. I wrote the whole first draft over the summer. I actually typed the last words in the Church Office Building during my lunch break. It clocked in at around 65,000 words. The integral part of the mentorship, and from where it derives its name, is that you work with a mentor from the wide world of publishing on this project. They read your piece and offer advice, much like a master and apprentice. So the last day of August, I sent my finished manuscript to my mentor, who I’m going to call Master Yoda because “my mentor” is going to get old fast. A few weeks later, she and I sat down in the Cambridge Public Library to discuss it. She pulled this out of her bag. Image It was my manuscript. Post-it noted. Color coded. She had really thought about this. I was so flattered that I creepily took a picture of it. Because I believe in making solid first impressions. So we sat down. And the first question she asked me was, “What is this manuscript about?”

Not what happens. What is it about.

I hemmed and hawed because really I didn’t know. I had written this thing in a furious burst this summer and it still felt like a stranger to me. I didn’t really know my characters, and the plot was slapdash and random in places. But more than that, I didn’t know what my book was about.

So I made something up. Master Yoda listened to me babble, then said, “Well I think it’s a novel about guilt, atonement, and forgiveness.”

Yes, I realized. Yes it was.

And suddenly, my book had a shape. And that shape got me excited.

I have been manic about this project since that first meeting in September.  I have thought about it constantly. I have read dozens of essays about Frankenstein, other books with similar themes, and every Frankenstein retelling I could get my hands on2. I went to films and plays and lectures about Mary Shelley. I read her original manuscripts and journals. And I wrote more than I ever have in my life. And it has been amazing. I’ve felt like a real writer, with focus and drive and a project I felt passionately about and that I understood.

And my manuscript got better. It is still far from anywhere close to perfect, or even good, but it got better. I’m astounded by how far it came in three months under the guidance of Master Yoda. As I read over it this past week in preparation for sending it off, I couldn’t believe how well the changes I made had worked, and how spot on Master Yoda’s suggestions for changes had been. In two drafts, I have a whole new manuscript. And it looks like this:  Image 72,000 words. 243 pages3. Because I have always been a student of the Hermione Granger variety.

Part one of mentorship is done. Now we do it all again in January!

  1. If you’ve been around me at all in the past five months, you’ll know my Frankenstein obsession has gone from endearing to annoying.
  2. If you ever want a recommendation, I’m here for you. I have very niche things that I know lots about.
  3. So thick! So heavy!
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in which I meet my heroes

When I was a kid, I really loved books, and I really hated math.

Neither of those things have changed.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is my deep and abiding adoration of a picture book called Math Curse. It is a brilliant book that I loved as a kid and love more as an adult.1

So a couple weeks ago, when Milton asked me if I wanted to have coffee with her and the author of Math Curse, I said, “Is a Fibonacci Sequence created by adding the two previous numbers?”

The answer was yes. Yes I would like to have coffee with Jon Scieszka2.

On Saturday, Milton and I waited in the Sheraton Starbucks. We were both a little nervous. I had no idea what sort of person Mr. Scieszka would be. Did he, icon of children’s literature, really have the time to meet with us? The phrase “Never meet your heroes” kept running through my head.

But then Jon arrived. He sat down with us, and we talked for about an hour about children’s books, literacy, gender, and writing. This guy  basically changed the face of picture books and here he was, sitting in a Starbucks with two grad students, telling us stories about Mo Willems and Jon Klassen and treating our opinions and ideas as though they were just as valid and intelligent as his.

Milton and I were both impressively articulate and kept our cool, but I think both of our internal monologues looked something like this:

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It was an amazing conversation with an amazing guy, and one of those “aha!” moments that affirmed yet again I am in the right field. I don’t think I’m ever going to change children’s literature the way Jon Scieszka did, but someday I hope I can return this favor and sit down with an aspiring author in a hotel Starbucks and tell them everything they need to hear.

And then I will sign their book with a math equation. The same way Jon did for me.

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  1. Also I’m pretty sure there were a few questions on the SAT that I got right specifically because of Math Curse.
  2. Mr. Scieszka is also the author of The Stinky Cheeseman and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, among other dark and hilarious books. His new book, Battle Bunny, is sort of brilliant. He’s one of the rare children’s authors who writes books kids actually want to read.
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in which I feast at Redwall Abbey

Grad students are, by nature, anti-social creatures.

They can most typically be spotted in their natural habitat, the library or a quiet corner of the apartment. They are usually drinking tea, wearing a large cardigan or two, and sporting thick-rimmed glasses. You will know you are approaching the den of a grad student by the stacks of books that mark the way and the tell-tale sound of furious typing. Be careful not to startle them. They startle easy.

However, every once in a while the wild graduate student will venture out into the wide world to engage in social activities, usually with others of their kind. And usually, after engaging in said social activity, they utter the phrase, “We should do this more often.”

They don’t, but it’s worth a try.

At the beginning of the term, Milton and I made a pact to engage in more social activities for the reason above—we always have fun once we get out and do it. It’s the getting and doing that can be a challenge. So in order to fulfill that pact, this past weekend, Milton hosted a dinner party.

The theme: Redwall.

You may remember Redwall from your childhood, or the childhood of your children depending on how old you are. It was Brian Jaques’s fantasy series starring a colorful cast of mice, rats, otters, weasels and other assorted varmints wielding swords and building fortresses and, most notably, eating fantastically delicious feast. Seriously, the descriptions of food are 90% of the reason you read the Redwall books. A sample:

“Tender freshwater shrimp garnished with cream and rose leaves, devilled barley pearls in acorn puree, apple and carrot chews, marinated cabbage stalks steeped in creamed white turnip with nutmeg.”

While I don’t like rose leaves, acorns, or barley pearls, reading that made my mouth water.

So this weekend, we gathered at Milton’s apartment and made a feast to rival that of Redwall Abbey.

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Main course. Complete with the very Redwallian iPad in the background.

French onion soup! Cinnamon tea scones1! Sweet potatoes and risotto! Turnip and cabbage mash! Pumpkin bread and meadow cream! And to cap it all, spiced cider and mulled wine.

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Dessert! Most important part of any meal.

I ate…so much food. So much delicious food. I’m not sure how these mice aren’t all grossly obese after eating like that every day. It’s a marvel they don’t have to be rolled onto the battlefields.

 

  1. This was my contribution. I spent at least two hours that morning wrangling them into shape because they did not work as well as The Pioneer Woman promised they would. Mine also did not turn out half as pretty as hers. But since the primary ingredients were butter, sugar, and cream, they tasted just fine.
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in which I examine my google search history

In order for me to become a master in May, I have to complete a thesis over the course of this year. This thesis is a novel-length piece, which I write and work on under the direction of a mentor from the wide world of publishing.

So my life for the past month and a half1 has been consumed by my thesis. This is partially me just informing you of this fact and partially explaining why I haven’t been blogging with any sort of consistency.

I have been absolutely eaten up by this project. Obsessive in a way I’ve never been with any other piece of writing. I think about it all the time. I dream about it2. I plan scenes in my head while shelving books at work, while riding the train, while watching television3. I’d rather be writing than almost doing anything else. I’ve been sort of acting like a real writer lately, and it’s been fun.

When I tell people that I’m working on my thesis novel, the inevitable next question is “What’s it about?” I’m still really terrible at talking about my own writing. Worse at giving an elevator pitch of it. Even worse where this particular project is concerned, because it’s just really hard to explain with any sort of brevity or sanity.

So I thought I’d let my Google search history explain it instead. Sometimes I think that being a writer is just an extended game of “The Weirdest Thing I’ve Ever Googled,” and I have been definitely winning with this manuscript.

Here is an eclectic list of my most recent Google searches relating to my manuscript:

  • Miles between Geneva and Lyon
  • Recipe for spiced wine
  • Paradise Lost quotations in Frankenstein
  • French pastries
  • Slang for cyborg
  • Regency winter wear
  • How long does it take to dig a grave?
  • Victor Frankenstein childhood
  • How to tell if a cut is infected
  • Parts of a bridge
  • Can a bullet go through a steel plate?
  • “Make me a willow cabin at your gate” full quotation
  • Swiss surnames
  • What color hair did Mary Shelley have?
  • Regency underclothes
  • How much does it snow in Oslo?
  • How to say “shut up” in Dutch

I now leave it up to your active imaginations to guess for yourself what exactly my manuscript is about. Anyone care to speculate? If you need more clues, here’s a Pinterest board to help.

 

  1. Actually, since January really.
  2. Last night I dreamt that I was staring in a staged version of it. My subconscious is weird, man.
  3. Which I don’t do anymore, because I’d rather be writing.
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Four Book Friday: Rebecca Wells

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 Rebecca Wells. Rebecca is a bookseller and writer and one of my Simmons girls. Here are the four books that changed her life!

Walk Two MoonsWalk Two Moons by Sharon Creech – If all the books in the world were burning and I could only save one, there is a good chance it would be Walk Two Moons. Is this book perfect in every possible way? No. But it does contain the most perfect depiction of dead-parent grief I have ever read. Salamanca Tree Hiddle’s journey was painfully recognizable to me because I had gone through exactly the same thing. The first time I read Walk Two Moons, my first thought was “How did Sharon Creech know?” (I still don’t have the answer to that question, by the way. Even though I finally met Sharon Creech this year and cried. Twice.) I’ve since read my copy to pieces. The circumstances by which I make my way back to these familiar pages don’t matter — in every encounter, Walk Two Moons makes me feel less alone in the world. And isn’t that what extraordinary books are supposed to do?

Snow White, Blood RedSnow White, Blood Red edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling – Books like this make me infinitely grateful that my father exercised no parental control over my reading habits whatsoever. I was probably eleven or twelve when I picked up Snow White, Blood Red at our local Borders (RIP) and asked my father if I could get it. I have no idea what went through his head when he looked at the (fairly mature) cover, but he bought it for me. Snow White, Blood Red may not have begun my love affair with fairy tales, but it was definitely the first book that hooked its claws into my flesh and refused to let go. The stories in this book aren’t the ones you remember from the Disney movies. They’re darker, bloodier, sexier, and utterly captivating. Snow White, Blood Red opened my eyes to the ways in which familiar tales can be twisted and broken to form new wholes — a lesson in writing that I carry with me to this day. I devoured this book and promptly spent the next several months hunting down the other five titles in the series, even the out-of-print ones. (It speaks to how young I was that this was the first encounter I remember having with the idea of “out of print.” What do you mean, I can’t get every book I want?)
Sabriel (Abhorsen,  #1)Sabriel by Garth Nix – I have a hard time saying anything about Sabriel other than SQUEE. The world is captivating, the story compelling, the characters entrancing. There’s a certain air of different-ness in its pages that I’ve since come to associate with Australian authors. But what really drove me to include Sabriel on this list was the romance. Too often I see young adult titles in which the main characters are together because they’re just perfect for each other, and that’s that. In many ways Sabriel is the anti-typical young adult romance. The relationship that is forged is built on complex characters who each have their own agenda. They both have places to go and demons to banish, and the idea that they may end up together is not the primary motivating force behind their actions. Sabriel taught me that there was no law in young adult mandating its romance be bubble gum perfect — instead, its romance is complex, deep, and never obvious.

The Truth About ForeverThe Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen – …But even though complex is great, sometimes you just feel the need for bubble gum perfect. Sarah Dessen is one of those universally acknowledged Queens of young adult, and for good reason. Sarah Dessen books are familiar, comforting, and identifiable — like a root beer float on a hot summer day, or afternoons spent lazing in a hammock with your best friend. I’ve read most of her work, but the one I return to any time I need a pick-me-up is The Truth About Forever. I completely identified with Macy’s perfectionist-student role, as well as her complicated feelings regarding her father’s death. This book made me want to be Macy, to join a catering company, and to find (and kiss) my very own Wes. I’ve read The Truth About Forever so many times that its spine is now broken, but it never fails to cheer me up and restore some of my faith in the universe.

Rebecca Wells is a California transplant now living on the east coast, where it boggles her mind that it’s possible to cross states in less than a day. She wears many hats, including those of writer, graduate student, and bookseller. You can find some of her other internet musings at http://elephantsontrapezes.blogspot.com, or on Twitter at @rebeccawriting, where she maintains the unpopular opinion that dogs are infinitely superior to cats.

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

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Four Book Friday: Tracy Marchini

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 Tracy Marchini, a former literary agent and current children’s author. Here are the four books that changed her life!
There is a clear disadvantage to being an August child. One, my birthday party was always on days when my friends’ families were squeezing in their last summer vacations. And two, my penchant for August means that so many of the books that I would have chosen for Four Book Friday have already been discussed! (Clearly, Mackenzie and her friends have good taste!) In order to avoid repeats, my four would have to be:
https://i0.wp.com/cdn1.fishpond.com.au/0005/770/521/2013245/4.jpegChatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day by Suzanne Gruber and Doug Cushman – Though this is an easy reader now, when I was a child it would have been considered a picture book. And I loved it. I loved the repeating refrain (“Chitter, chitter, chatter. I like nuts!”), the artwork and the appearance of a cat (perhaps because I subconsciously knew that I would spend the next eight years of my life begging for one.)  As a child, I did not wonder if the cat would be more interested in the chipmunk than his winter acorn stash. Now – in my wiser, elder years – I think that I probably misunderstood the obviously murderous look on the cat’s face.
 
https://i0.wp.com/www.horsebooksplus.com/shop_image/product/28123.jpgA Treasury of Fairy Tales by Lucy Kincaid, Eric Kincaid and Gerry EmbletonThis book broke my young heart. Or more so, the destruction of this book by my younger brother (who, granted, was only four or five), broke my heart. This was the most gorgeous, illustrated collection of fairy tales my eyes had ever seen. Each fairy tale was a page to three pages max, with lush illustrations surrounding the page. I would have compared it to an illuminated manuscript, if I knew what that was at the time and ignored the difference between tri-color printing and painstakingly illustrating individual pages by hand. Even the end papers were lush! But when my brother threw it down the stairs and it snapped in two – with the cover going in one direction and the story of Snow White split right at the climax – it probably was the birth of my desire to never lend books to friends, lest they crack the spine. (I have mostly gotten over this. Depending on the book.)
The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1)Nancy Drew and ::fill in the blank here:: by Carolyn KeeneI followed Nancy Drew from her days of her vintage, blue 1970’s Mustang convertible to a puffy haired, puffy sleeved Bess in the Nancy Drew Case Files. At night, I would read until the point where Nancy was about to go into a dark room alone, then close the book and tuck it under the bed (not because books were ever censored in my house — it was more of a “Joey throwing Little Women in the freezer” reaction.) Then I’d pick it up again in the morning — Yay, daylight!
To me, Nancy was fearless — the kind of teen I wanted to be. (Though I wondered if she’d really spend that much time with Bess. What did they talk about, really?)
Caveat: This is not to say that Nancy and I would have agreed on all things. There are obvious problems with racism/sexism/classism in the original (and decades of rewritten) Nancy Drews. If the 1980’s were the decade of the superwoman, one could argue that a contemporary Nancy reflected that and that is why my recollection of the series is Nancy as a fearless/do-it-all-to-perfection woman. This, of course, comes with problems of its own. Moving on…
Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – In college, I did an independent study on Jane Austen’s politics. I had a friend at the time who was also an English major, and he hated Jane Austen with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I tried to convince him that Austen’s novels were actually very smart, sociopolitical commentaries, but to him she was just a silly woman who wrote trashy books.

So one day, I printed out a couple of Jane Austen quotes, and my roommate and I tucked them into various parts of his car, so that he’d have a little Jane Austen with him wherever he went. Fast forward a few days, and I walk into my bedroom and it is covered in thousands of little slips of paper, individually cut into little rectangles that say, “Jane Austen Sucks.” Years after graduation, I still occasionally find one of these papers.

ImageTracy Marchini is a freelance editor and author. She’s worked at a Manhattan literary agency, as a children’s book reviewer and newspaper correspondent. More about her editorial work and her books for children and teens can be found at www.tracymarchini.com. She’s also on Twitter at @TracyMarchini, where she daily fights the urge to tweet pictures of her favorite picture book protagonists — ducks.

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

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in which I complete an A to Z Survey

I said I wasn’t going to blog this month, but usually I lie and this is one of those times. Mostly because I saw this adorable A to Z book survey on one of my favorite book review blogs, A Reader of Fictions, and originated by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner, both of which are awesome book review blogs. I had to play because it just looked too fun. Also, procrastination, and it’s easier to do this while watching Doctor Who than actually work on my novel.

A to Z Book Survey

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From:
I’ve read everything John Green has ever written, including his zombie novella. I think there’s probably an author with more books I’ve read, but John Green was the first author that I went out of my way to read his canon.

Best Sequel Ever:
Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor is the first that comes to mind. Also Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, sequel to Leviathan.

Currently Reading:
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt; The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris; Paradise Lost by John Milton

Drink of Choice While Reading:
Diet Coke. Ask me a hard one.

E-reader or Physical Book?
Physical book. Do not own an e-reader. Will not own an e-reader until there are no physical books left. Which, according to Doctor Who, is never.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School:
Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars. Oh. My. Yes.

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and Graceling by Kristen Cashore were two books I avoided for a while simply because of how popular they were, and I generally find that those mass market, six-figure deals aren’t quite to my taste–I usually need a little more depth. But I ended up really liking both of them.

Hidden Gem Book:
The first one I thought of was Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. It is a quietly beautiful and brilliant little book.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:
Reading the Jedi Apprentice series as a kid with my dad (really); Reading and being obsessed with The Thief Lord in middle school; Finding a bookish, ordinary girl who learns to stand up for herself in Jane Eyre; Reading Stargirl the summer before my senior year of college and remembering how much I loved children’s books; Reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma back to back, and then immediately applying for my MFA because they taught me not all YA is vampires. Mostly, it is beautiful, thoughtful, and creative.

Just Finished:
Divergent by Veronica Roth. I went in expecting to hate it. And though I could drive an L Train through the plot holes in it and almost threw it across the room a few times because ohmygosh can all these stupid YA clichés please die already, I was absurdly engaged for all 500 pages.
Also, Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Which made me sob uncontrollably on my lunch break.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
I’ll read most anything. Don’t really go for bodice rippers or the 50 Shades of Grey types, but I’ve got favorite books in every genre.

Longest Book You’ve Read:
Gone With the Wind clocking in at 1037 pages. This is a big deal for me, since I usually don’t read books that are longer than 400 pages. I like short things.

Major Book Hangover Because Of:
The Night Cirucs by Erin Morgenstern gave me book hangover for almost all of Christmas break last year. So did Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Denard, which was the book that snapped me out of my Night Circus hangover and then immediately plunged me into another.

Number of Bookcases You Own:
Just one in my apartment in Boston, but it is crammed slammed jammed full.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:
Only one? I revisit a lot of books. I read Code Name Verity three times this year. I reread One Day by David Nicholls every few months, because I start to miss the main characters like I would miss friends.

Preferred Place to Read:
Anywhere with a book.

Reading Regret:
I don’t think I regret reading anything. Every book is a lesson for a writer, either as a good thing or bad. I do regret how I used to feel the need to finish every book. I spent a lot of time reading things I didn’t like. I also regret not remembering until I was in college that reading could be more than torture inflicted by teachers.

Series You Started and Need to Finish:
I never finished Series of Unfortunate Events. Not sure I feel the need to finish it though. I don’t usually read series. It has to be a five star book for me to pick up the second one.

Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein; Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Unapologetic Fangirl for:
Code Name Verity. As most book-related things, this is turning into an exercise of how many times I can mention Code Name Verity in one post.

Very Excited for This Release More Than All the Others:
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein; Stoker and Holmes by Colleen Gleason; Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo. Wait, are these upcoming releases, or releases ever? Because I basically had a slow-motion meltdown waiting for Days of Blood and Starlight, and I’m going through it again waiting for Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Worst Bookish Habit:
Skimming. Grad school turned me into a terrible skimmer. I’m bored—I skim. And I inevitably miss things and have to go back and no time is saved at all.

X Marks the Spot (Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book):
Ah but all my books are in Boston! Okay, using my shelf at my parent’s house where I keep all my lesser favorites and duplicate copies: Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbottson. Aw I forgot I love that book…

Your Latest Book Purchase:
Transparent by Natalie Whipple

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (Last Book That Kept You Up Way Late):
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It was one of those, “Gotta work tomorrow, so I’ll just read a few pages…JK nope, it’s 4 am.”
And then this was me all the next day at work…

WORTH IT!

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