Five Awesome Things About This Week

via Aaron McFarlane
via Aaron McFarlane

1. We moved into our new house. We have only a handful of boxes left to unpack. Of course, when you are coming from a two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, NY, that is not really something to brag about. But still…Yay for this!

2. My son can spell his name. What is even more awesome about this than just the sheer brilliance of him understanding the concept of letters making words, is how epically proud of himself he gets. Not one for humility, he boldly shares this fact with every random stranger he encounters. He’s so stinkin’ cute that said strangers (who are eyed closely by me) smilingly entertain him.

3. I have read three books this week and currently am working on a fourth. Take that Goodreads! Not awesome, however, is that for every one book I finish three appear on my TBR list. I guess it’s saying something awesome about the YA landscape, but it’s a little overwhelming to me.

4. I had dinner with YA author and super cool chick Lindsay Cummings. As Texans, and blondes, and self-professed book nerds, we had A LOT to talk about. I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter @lindsaycwrites and check out her blog by clicking this link. Her book, The Murder Complex is due next year, and she just signed a deal with Katherine Tegen Books for an MG Fantasy called The Balance Keepers. So, yeah, she kicks major writing ass.

5. I have finished a rewrite on three chapters in my novel that I think are, well, awesome. I am now able to dedicate three workdays to writing, which, in itself, is quite possibly one of the most awesome parts of moving back to Texas.
kirk-inspirational-awesome2
Hope you all had as awesome a week as I did, and if you did and want to share (*clears throat* brag) feel free to do so in the comments section. Cheers!

The Top Five YA Books I Read in 2012

I have ambitiously decided to narrow down the thirty books I read this year, consisting of mostly YA, to my Top Five.

Yes. I’m going to try. *Cracks Knuckles*

I read a few non-YA books this year, but as I am a Young Adult writer, I think it’s most appropriate to limit the Top Five list to just YA. No offense meant for the amazing “Adult” books I read.

There is a certain gut reaction I can’t ever seem to escape, but I am really going to try and be conscious of reason. I write fantasy, so I read a heck-of-a lot of it this year. I will make sure to include a smattering of the brilliance happening all over YA, not just in fantasy, because there is a lot of amazing stuff to be seen. Try to keep in mind, I am still playing catch up, so some of my favorite reads may not have been published this year at all. In fact, I am sure at least two will not.

OK, so, enough chatter. Onto the list, starting with number 5.

5) The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

fios

I loved this book for so many reasons. It was my first John Green, which is sad, so I added all of his books to my TBR list. I actually picked this book up because Veronica Roth recommended it at the reading for Insurgent I attended earlier this year.

I am so glad she did. From the moment we are introduced to Hazel, and then Gus, they capture the reality of people living (and dying) with a disease and the sentiment of trying to make sense of an otherwise confusing world. They are children becoming adults. The tragedy is tempered skillfully by wit and humor, so it’s never too much. Until it finally is. Then it crushes you.

This book is a good read for a girl or boy. It also has the added bonus of creating a love story for the dying that anyone will root for. Check it out, even if you don’t like Contemporary.

4) The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson (Bonus: Its sequel The Crown of Embers)

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I found this book through a YA Highway suggestion, and again, I am so thankful I did. This is true high fantasy with a twist. Rae Carson set her book in a world influenced in dress and environment by an area in northern Africa between Algeria, Morocco, and Spain.

What’s even more compelling about these books than the landscape and food, is Elisa, the protagonist princess and fated bearer of a mystical stone of power. I really fell for Elisa, her transformation from weak, overweight princess to freedom-fighter and Queen is wonderful. Rae Carson draws on the classic Tropes of Fantasy literature and spins them around until their heads pop off. **Bonus** The Crown of Embers has a super steamy romance.

If you aren’t sure about high fantasy, this is a great pick for you. It’s nerve racking, tragic, inspiring, and based in a compelling world.

3.  UnWind, by Neal Shusterman (Unwholly is the sequel)

unwindunwhollyThese books will not be for everyone. UnWind was published in 2009, and it’s sequel, UnWholly was just released in the fall of 2012. UnWind is one of the most difficult books I have ever read in terms of theme.

It takes place after the Second Civil War in America, which was over the issue of Abortion. The solution is that life is inviolable from birth to thirteen, but from the ages of thirteen to eighteen a parent has the option to UnWind their child. UnWinding is a process where each piece of the body is separated and redistributed. The story follows three fated UnWinds and how they battle to stay alive, or in some cases, die.

This is a gut-wrenching subject and Neal Shusterman doesn’t shy away from it in the slightest. If you are a parent, especially of a teen, I think it is an important book to read. It is a brilliant commentary, as well as a non-stop roller coaster of a read. If you can get through it, it just might change you. If you can’t tell, I feel very strongly about these books. I think you will too.

2) Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

sbAnother high fantasy flipped on its backside. This is Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, and it speaks volumes about her potential as an author. She’s been around the Hollywood scene as a make-up artist for a while, and her eye for the dramatic is definitely felt in the pages of Shadow and Bone.

This awesome slice of fantasy takes place in a Czarist Russian inspired world called Ravka. A magical force has created the dangerous fog known as the Shadow Fold, which slowly grows around the country, cutting it off from resources and endangering the lives of the citizens. The First Army of the King is aided by a magical army called Grisha, led by the mysterious Darkling. The story centers around an orphan girl named Alina who possesses a dormant power much needed in this desperate nation. A power she never knew she had. This power changes her world forever.

Alina is a vibrant narrator, with a certain snark and sharpness to her that is refreshing, and the plot vibrates along at a comfortably quick pace. This book isn’t my number one only because I am a little jealous of the Fabulous Leigh for writing it and not me. I think anyone, even those who generally loathe high fantasy, can get into this book. If you haven’t already picked it up, do it…now!

**Bonus** Sexy boy love interests are exponential!

And…my favorite read this year…

1) When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead 

wyrmThis was a hard choice for me. When You Reach Me is actually Middle Grade, which I don’t usually read in, but I had heard non-stop raves for this book, so I had to. I am tickled pink that I did. Every time I think about this book, I smile, which is why it is number one on my list. It touched the child in me while giving me food for thought and stroking the science fiction nerd deep down.

When You Reach Me was the Newbery Winner for 2010, among other prestigious awards, but it’s really a very gentle, simple slice of life tale with a truly golden heart. It takes place in 1979 New York City, and is told by Miranda, a twelve year old girl who’s best friend doesn’t want to be friends anymore. When Miranda begins to receive mysterious notes with eerily accurate information in them, her world turns upside down.

I don’t want to tell you anything else. Just, seriously, read this book. Like, tonight. It’s short and sweet. It will reaffirm the goodness of humanity, the mystery of the universe, and the joy of true friendship. Be warned, you will probably cry, so keep tissues by your side. Anyone, anywhere, can read this and appreciate it. I would even read it aloud to younger children.

Phew, I feel better now. A few Honorable Mentions that I must now mention are:

Hope you enjoy the list, and get a few great reads out of it. Feel free, or largely compelled, to share your own list, especially if it differs greatly from mine. I am ALWAYS looking for more books to pile on my TBR list.

Road Trip Wednesday: #161 What’s in a name?

rtwRoad Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

 This Weeks Topic: The list of top baby names in 2012 had us talking about naming characters. How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

I have always loved the meaning of names. Not because my name has the most awesome meaning. Rebekah means, almost everywhere you look, “to bind“, although the link I’ve included does try to improve the connotation a little bit. I’ve accepted this over the years. When I was pregnant with my son, there was never another name option other than Samuel. Samuel means “God heard”. He did hear when he gave me Sam, so it fits.

Naming characters in my writing is a different process, for me. The name of a character isn’t always a choice, or something I plot out. I tend to get a name stuck in my head in the early incarnation of the idea, and getting it unstuck is nearly impossible later on.

As the character develops, the name begins to feel like a part of their identity. Sometimes the name meaning turns out to be  ordained, connected to who that character is or what they represent in the story. I love when this happens organically. I also love when I begin to understand the character more because of their name. When you meet people in life, they introduce themselves to you with a handshake. You see shades of who they are, you know pieces of what their life has been, and you know their name. Over time, you get to know a person better and their name becomes synonymous with who they are to you. My relationship with my characters is very much this way.

In the case of my novel, some of my characters names are not actual names at all. This is always a fun thing to have happen because it feels like you’ve discovered something no one else could, and you’ve gone to a place truly separate from the framework of your own world.

There are different kinds of writers out there, this is true of every art form. I’m the kind who doesn’t plan much, at least not in the first draft. I don’t always know who a character is, or is going to become. I don’t always expect the character to turn out the way they do. I think this makes my discovery of the movements in my work a lot more exciting for me. It also means I have to do a lot of  revisions. That’s fine, I’ve accepted this is my writing personality and it will never change. Just like I’ve accepted I don’t really have any power over how my characters are named.

Keep Austin Weird!

This post will be brief because I just arrived in Austin, TX for the Austin Teen Book Festival and I’m tired from watching my husband drive. My husband is very kind to attend this with me as he himself is not so much a reader of YA, but a supporter of my desire to be a writer of YA (not to mention my fangirling of all things YA), and I am not a great driver.

Phew! I have not been to Austin since the Thanksgiving before we moved to New York. The Texas Hill Country is one of my favorite landscapes in the US to view. If you have never been to the Hill Country, you really, really should. Upon exiting I-35 for our hotel in Downtown Austin, we were greeted by a pack of peaceful petitioners for the legalization of marijuana in Texas, and the US overall. They also carried a sign for us to HONK if we agreed. Needless to say, in a city with a slogan about staying weird, and a major university, HONKERS abounded. Nice to know free speech still exists.

Tonight we’ll chill, for tomorrow I plan on absorbing as much knowledge and awesomeness as my brain can hold. (I don’t know if we come with an awesome threshold, I hope not.) I will also be working with the teens in the afternoon, so my energy must be at full-throttle. It’s a thrill for a YA writer to get to shoot-the-shit with a group of engaged readers in her target audience, in a city so completely strange and oddly old-school as Austin. I imagine much fun will be had by all tomorrow, the least of which, a humble, prospective author. Happy Friday to you, wherever you may be!

Some stuff about this week for me.

I’m still in Texas. This is what my sister-in-law Rebecca calls a creative sojourn. I am immersed in opportunity to write and explore the world I am creating, to change things that should be changed, and to comb through my mind for the best and brightest way to confront the issues in my world (both in construction and in theme) with almost no pressure at all. It is an amazing time.

But enough about me, and my glorious exploration into the uncharted wilderness of my own mind. This weekend, September 29, 2012 to be exact, I will be venturing from Denton to Austin for a wonderful (free!) event called The Austin Teen Book Festival. Check out the link here.

I will be volunteering in the afternoon tweeting, facebooking, and tumblring pics and info from the panels. In the morning, I will attend the Keynote speech by the uber-genius that is Neal Shusterman (author of Unwind), and the panel featuring Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson and Sarah Rees Brennan (Shadow and Bone, Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Unspoken respectively) among other fabulous authors.

I’m excited about the opportunity to see all of these authors and hear what they have to say about where YA is and is to go. I also so appreciate that this festival exists, and is free, and that teens will get this opportunity to hear from the writers influencing the genre written for them. It’s a wonderful thing all around. If you are in the general area and are a lover of YA, please check it out. You can also make a donation to the APLFF, who are responsible for putting the festival on for free. Good stuff all around.