26 Books in 12 Weeks

One thing I really wanted to do over maternity leave (apart from hanging out with my new baby, of course!) was to get A LOT of reading done. I ended up reading 26 books in 12 weeks, which I was really happy with. I'm always super interested in seeing what people are reading and what patterns emerge over time, so I thought I'd break down my 2017 reading so far:

Out of the total 26 books, I read:

12 adult novels (6 of which I would categorize as mystery/suspense)

9 memoirs (5 of which were written by celebrities)

4 prescriptive nonfiction books (2 self-help, 1 parenting, 1 writing reference)

1 YA novel

I wouldn't say that this breakdown is necessarily representative of my typical reading habits. The relative amounts of adult fiction and prescriptive nonfiction are probably about right, but the number of memoirs seems high. Because I was on maternity leave, I definitely was picking up books to read purely for fun, and the celebrity memoirs I read are likely not ones that I would choose in my "regular" life, just because I often feel the need to read within categories I edit, and I (unfortunately!) generally don't work on celebrity-driven memoirs. I also generally read more YA, but I was actively working on a YA writing project during my leave and I do try to limit reading extensively within the genre I'm writing to avoid being influenced by other authors' writing styles.

Now that I'm heading back to work and will be jumping back into the submissions pile, we'll see what kind of pace I can keep up with a full-time editing job, a baby, a writing project, and half-marathon training (!). Oh, and I guess I have to sleep, too... good thing I'm already 11 books ahead of my Goodreads goal for the year! :)

What are you reading lately? I'd love to hear!

 

Under the covers

In celebration of the book cover reveal of 26 Kisses on Friday (YAY!!!), I thought I'd round up some of my very favorite contemporary YA book covers, because, let's face it, YA cover design is THE BOMB.

Part of my day job as an editor is communicating with the cover design team to help steer them in the right direction when they begin work on the covers for the books I edit. It's fascinating to see how Sourcebooks' immensely talented and creative team can take the descriptions I give them and turn text into images that encapsulate the book perfectly, but that I would never have been able to come up with in a bazillion years. And since I don't edit YA, this is my chance to do someserious lovin' on the category. So here are 12 non-Sourcebooks YA novels whose covers absolutely blew me away (I can't include Sourcebooks books because I adore them all and the list would have to be 100+ and ain't nobody got time for that).

I like my YA covers colorful, bright, and loud. I like big type and bold fonts. I like books that scream, "Read me! I'm goofy and weird and exactly what you need at this exact point in your life to remind you that being goofy and weird is okay!"

I think that the 26 Kisses cover embodies all these things, and I hope you agree when it is unveiled to the world on Friday at the wonderful YA Books Central!

What's your favorite YA cover? Was the book everything you'd hoped it would be?


How a writers' conference changed my life

Five years ago, most of my friends were trying to figure out whether to go to grad school or join the Peace Corps. Maybe do Teach for America? Their options seemed endless—like they could literally just run off into the sunset, find something to do, and probably wind up pretty happy in the end. As for me…I knew there were only a few things that were going to cut it—working in publishing, building a career around books, maybe writing things that other people would actually want to read. The problem was, I had no idea how to get there.

Then I went to a writers’ conference.

Writers in Paradise is held in St. Petersburg, Florida, for a week every year in January, and I only decided to go because my life was a mess. My grandpa and my cat had just passed away (less than 30 hours apart), my parents were on the verge of splitting up, and I was desperate to escape snowy Minnesota during the heart of winter. I packed my bags and headed south, to attend a conference run by a team of writers I had vaguely heard of before but had never read. People like Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Ann Hood, and Jane Hamilton. You know, no big deal.

When I arrived in St. Petersburg, I was 22 years old, had two college fiction workshops under my belt, and had never even been to a book signing. A week of workshops, lectures, and discussions later, I walked away with all the tools I needed to start my publishing career.

I started small, continuing to plug away on the novel-in-progress I had workshopped at WIP (which now lives a comfortable life in the bottom drawer of my desk). The following spring, I typed up the story of how my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I met and sent it off to a contest at the New York Times—and was shocked when it placed as a runner-up and was published in the “Modern Love” column. That summer, I took a break from my full-time gig as a farmhand to attend the Denver Publishing Institute, where I learned about the publishing industry from the editorial, marketing, and sales perspectives. An unpaid internship, many nights of staying up late reading and writing, and a few key instances of incredibly good luck later, and I’m finally starting to feel like I have my foot in the door as I work for an incredible publishing company and my debut YA novel comes out next spring.

The point is, none of this would have happened without WIP and the amazing people I met there who a) showed me what it meant to be a “writer” and work in this very strange industry of ours and b) encouraged me to make it happen for myself. There are a lot of people out there happy to criticize writers’ conferences and question whether or not they actually benefit the people who pay to attend them, and it’s true that not all conferences are created equal. But if you’re a college kid, or someone who has written secretly for years, or a writer just looking to connect with other weirdos like you and get a big old injection of inspiration, then a writers’ conference might be just the thing to get you started on your path to success.

Me with my incredible classmates and the incomparable Jane Hamilton

Me with my incredible classmates and the incomparable Jane Hamilton

Top summer reads

I'm so lucky to be able to surround myself with books in my day job as an editor and to burn the candle the rest of the time as an author! The ONLY downside to pursuing both careers at once is that time for recreational reading is tough to come by. But if I only get to read a few "for fun" books this summer, these five will definitely make the list!

The first kiss

Imagine that you're in high school and it's the perfect Halloween night. You're wearing an amazing costume, it's not too cold out, and you're running through the streets with your friends feeling like the night and everything that it stands forfreedom, rebellion, the pure magic of being a teenager whose parents don't know exactly where she is right nowwill never end. Then you collapse into a pile of leaves on someone's front lawn with your forever-crush and he kisses youyour first kiss.

That's exactly what happened to me, and I've been kind of obsessed with first kisses ever since. Everyone remembers their first kiss, and everyone has a story to tell about it. Some are painfully awkward, some are teenage-movie sweet. All of them are interesting.

It's no accident that my first novel is about the magic and heartbreak of kissing. And even after wracking my brain, interviewing my friends, and searching the far corners of the internet to come up with the most thrilling, romantic kissing scenarios, I still can't get enough of imagining the moment right before you kiss someone new. But even better than that is the instant you realize that you've found the person you're meant to kiss over and over againmaybe even for the rest of your life.

I believe there's a whole world behind every kiss. I'd love to hear about yours.

 

I'm Wild for Wild

Books about walking may be my very favorite niche subgenre. A Walk in the Woods, The Man Who Walked Through Time, and, of course, everyone's current favorite outdoorsy memoir, Wild, are all incredible examples of how books can take you on outdoor adventures while you're actually sitting on your couch binge-eating chips and salsa. And the movie version of Wild is coming out tomorrow (omg!). Who wants to go with me to watch Reese Witherspoon tear it up on the Pacific Crest Trail?

And, in case you're slightly obsessed like me, here's a link to a great article on how and why Cheryl Strayed's memoir became so popular.

Where did summer go?

Things I did this summer:

Went canoeing. Edited books. Visited Seattle. Sang bad karaoke. Planned a wedding. Bought plane tickets. Went on a road trip. Brushed up on my Norwegian. Climbed mountains. Danced at weddings. Said goodbye to my friend who moved away. Played bass. Took pictures. Drove all night. Drank wine. Learned how to Snapchat. Grilled out. Slept in the car. Planned a honeymoon. Got married. Realized how insanely, unreasonably lucky and loved I am.

Things I plan to do this fall:

Read books for work. Read books not for work. Write things. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Happy Fall!

When book people get riled up

I have to say, I am LOVING all the energy coming from the book community right now. Folks are tweeting like mad about the TFiOS movie, Amazon's negotiations with Hachette, and the Slate article telling YA-reading adults that they should be embarrassed by their book choices, and I love it! Because, despite their quiet reputation, books are LOUD and CONTROVERSIAL and WE SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT THEM!

I have been known to get pretty fired up about my books from time to time. Here are my top 5 book-related freakouts (good and bad).

1996: I was in third grade and, at my elementary school, you weren't allowed to check out Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret until fourth grade, because it talked about *gasp* PERIODS. I was not pleased. There was information in that book I needed to know. Like, what exactly WAS a period?

1998: Two years later, I became so enamored with Harriet the Spy that I stole the only copy out of my fifth grade classroom's library (and I still have it today). Sorry, Mrs. Schatzman. You were the best 5th grade teacher ever... but I really needed that book.

2002: I read Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine for school and realized 1) Not all books that you have to read for school are totally bogus and 2) Well-written books are some of the most wondrous man-made objects in existence. Then I started speaking up when my friends or classmates would say that books are "boring" or that were "too busy to read."

2009: I spent three months of my life inside David Foster Wallace's head via Infinite Jest and deliberately read the last 100 pages in a public place because I suspected the world might end when I finished the book, and I wanted to watch it happen. NOTHING has ever altered my mental state the way that book did, and afterwards I told everyone I knew about it.

2012: I got hired as an editorial assistant at Sourcebooks and suddenly was paid to do book-related things all day and hang out with other people who would take issue if you gave their favorite book a two-star rating on Goodreads. MY PEOPLE.

What are your book rage/love moments? Did you name all of your Barbies after the characters in the Babysitter's Club series? (Not that I did that...) Or ever-so-casually cut in line at the midnight release of the fifth Harry Potter book? (Not that I did that I did that either).

Books are powerful and we should be talking about them! So--go out and share! The good, the bad, the ugly, the YA, whatever! I am feeling mighty proud of our community tonight and I hope you are, too.
 

All the feels about Donna Tartt and her Pulitzer!

I am flailing everywhere because I love Donna Tartt (especially The Secret History) and there's nothing better than a woman winning a big, fat literary prize!

Happy Pulitzer Day to everyone who has rooted for their favorite author to win, or, conversely, continues to lose sleep over the fact that DFW got robbed in 2012...

Five ways writing makes me a more functional human

There are a lot of things I really should do on a daily basis that somehow often don't get done--flossing, taking my vitamins, making the bed, etc. And although I usually manage to squeeze in at least a couple hundred words a day, writing sometimes joins that list. But, just like exercise or time with friends, daily writing is good for me. For some reason, whenever I drag myself out of bed at 5:30 and plink at my keyboard for an hour before stumbling into the shower, the rest of the day seems to go a little more smoothly. In fact, I'm pretty sure that writing makes me try harder, expect more from myself, and overall be a more effective member of the human race. Here's why:

1. It gives me energy

Matt always comments on how much more pleasant I am to be around in the morning, which is absolutely true. After 10:00 at night I am basically useless for any activities other than eating chips in bed and reading back issues of This Old House, but at 7:00 in the morning with an hour of writing under my belt, a hot shower, and freshly blow-dried hair? I am HAPPY and also possibly just a little manic.

2. It kickstarts my sense of accomplishment

I'm one of those people who writes things I've already done on my to-do list just so I can cross them off. So if I've already ripped through 700 words of my current writing project, I'm much more likely to wash the dishes, fold the laundry, and do other necessary chores just so I can be like LOOK I DID ALL THE THINGS.

3. It encourages me to read more

While writing does cut into my reading time, it also keeps books at the front of my brain (not that that's a problem, seeing as how I work in publishing but...) That means I'm much more likely to pick up a book after work than turn on the TV. And, really, I like reading books more than watching TV but once you turn on Glee and remember how adorable Kurt and Blaine are it's just really hard to stop.

4. It makes me read more carefully

There is absolutely no possible way to be a good, or even decent, writer without reading a lot of books. I read novels, particularly in the YA space, to figure out what is good and why. Then I apply that knowledge to my own work. And, bonus, mindful reading makes me a better reader by boosting my comprehension. So then I can get through work submissions just a little faster, which is actually what I have used my birthday candle wishes for over the past two years...so that's good.

5.  It inspires me to live more fully

Just as you can't be a good writer without reading, you can't be a good writer without LIVING. People want to read about interesting situations and characters and I don't know about you but I'm just not that good at making up interesting stuff in my head. So I think about something weird that actually happened to me or someone I know and I twist it around and dip it in food coloring so you'd never know where it came from unless you climbed into my brain. But whenever I don't feel like going out or trying something new, I remind myself that no one wants to read a fictionalized account of the Saturday night I spent sitting at my desk looking at pictures of bald cats and pretending to write chapter six.

What makes you a more functional human? Coffee? The interwebz? I could also add cheese and fuzzy socks to my list...

Why NaNo?

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): the completely insane act of writing an entire novel in one month.

Writing 50,000 words in a month--especially a month that contains only 30 days AND a major national holiday--may not seem like much fun to most people. And, turns out, it's NOT fun (for me, at least). But... it is necessary.

I am a terrible NaNo participant. I break all the rules. I start writing ahead of time and usually have about 10,000 words written before the whole event even kicks off on November 1st. I write out of order, just pounding out whichever scenes pop into my head. I've never "won." But in my writer's toolbox, NaNo is like the hammer. Nothing happens without it.

For me, getting the first draft of a novel out of my head and onto paper (or screen) is like ripping off a Band-Aid. It's best done fast, without too much thought, or else the pain becomes excruciating. I like to tinker, edit, and shape my work. But I can't nit-pick over something that doesn't exist. And knowing that there are thousands of other people out there struggling to write an insane number of words in one month somehow makes it easier for me to grind out that (initially) really boring sequence that gets the main character from her hometown in Minnesota to NYC where all the really fun, exciting things are going to happen.

At the end of November, I usually end up with 30,000-40,000 words of semi-usable stuff. Then I get disgusted with myself for not even being able to wrangle the whole 50,000 the event demands (if so many OTHER people, can do it, why can't I?!). I storm away from my fledgling novel in disgust, only to crawl sheepishly back in January after giving myself a stern talking-to during New Year's resolution time. The rest of the winter and spring are spent reshaping what I wrote in November, expanding and adding on until my word count hits 60,000 or so. After that, I get to edit and tweak to my heart's content and end up with a real live novel by the time the leaves change in the fall.

Not everyone uses NaNoWriMo the same way. And not everyone needs to "win" to end up with a successful novel. Can you even "win" at writing? Isn't that sort of like winning at arson? (If you haven't seen Powerthirst 2, go watch this).

So go forth, brave NaNo-ers! Use NaNoWriMo to do whatever you need to do--it could be writing 50,000 words or it could be surfing the internet for hours looking for pictures of people you don't know who look like your characters. If it makes you feel like a winner, it counts for NaNo.

A girl and her laptop

I got my first laptop sometime in July 2007 in preparation to head off to college in the fall. Windows Vista, Microsoft Office, The Sims 2, and iTunes--what else did a girl need to survive her undergraduate career?

During the first few weeks of school, I broke in my Gateway with a paper for the Great Conversation, unprecedented amounts of e-mail via Squirrelmail, and plenty of Facebook time. Since then, I've burned playlists to CDs, stayed up all night on G-chat with friends, edited photos, Skyped with my boyfriend, and written countless papers, a Modern Love column, and two novels. The battery died, so I replaced it. The hard drive lost its speed, so I reinstalled Windows. The comma key doesn't always work, so I have to be extra careful with my punctuation. And today, in a spectacular coup involving lots of scary whirring noises and extra heat output, I think The Sims 3 fried the DVD drive.

I'm generally good about not getting too attached to things. Things are not that important. They are replaceable. But I am sad about my laptop. It's getting older, and although I'll probably put off the inevitable for another year by getting an external DVD drive to feed my Sims addiction, my good old Gateway isn't going to last forever.

Here's to you, you 6-pound, dilapidated old computer. Feel free to go out in a blaze of glory of smoke and flames--just please, wait until after I've saved my most recent Word document.

Five books, one desert island

It's the classic book-nerd question: if you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island and could only bring five books with you, which books would you bring? Talk about one of life's tough questions. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about it, and here is my list:

1. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

This was my favorite book growing up. My elementary school library had two copies, both ancient, gray hardcovers that were falling apart. I adored them and checked them out repeatedly. In this book, Doctor Dolittle and his young companion, Tommy Stubbins, spend a brief period of time marooned on an island, so the reason for inclusion on my list is obvious. Plus, it's a fantastic story with talking animals. What else can you ask for?

2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Yes, Atlas Shrugged. I'm probably one of the very few people who would choose this tome as one of their five essential books, but Ayn Rand's behemoth of a novel is not only long (and I would argue that you want your books to be as long as possible if you're stuck in this hypothetical desert island situation), but when I read it in high school, it taught me more about how to simply think and use my brain than any other book I've ever read. Rand certainly has different perspective on the world than most people, and tapping into such a radical mindset was a revelation for me at that time. If I'm stuck on a desert island, I don't want my brain to atrophy--and this book will help me avoid that sad fate.

3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Speaking of using your brain, Infinite Jest is an infinite exercise in brain activity. I'm hauling this one along because no matter how many times I read it, I know that I will still not understand it. Plus it's over 1,000 pages long.

4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Another big one! Gone with the Wind brings all the romance I could ever want to my little island. I read it for the first time in 2008 and was stunned at how good it was--much better than the movie. So Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler get to come along for the ride.

5. A book that I have always meant to read, but haven't gotten around to yet

You know in the movie Castaway how Tom Hanks saves one of those FedEx boxes and never opens it, just to hang on to the hope that whatever was in the box would be able to save his life and get him off the island? Yeah, this book is going to be my box. It will be my life insurance policy--I can't do anything too stupid if I haven't read this guaranteed-to-be-awesome book yet. Contenders include The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Which books would you bring? Maybe if your island is close to mine, we can set up a lending library and sends a pages back and forth a few at a time, message-in-a-bottle style.