Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All the Shiny Distractions


Distractions are like Starbucks stores. They are EVERYWHERE! Practically on every corner. Sometimes two on the same block. All comforting and inviting with their warm, intoxicating aromas and soft couches and free wifi. And you think, why not? I deserve a venti pumpkin spice latte (you know they’re coming…) It's almost fall and I'm tired. And it's my only free hour before I pick up the kids. And it's right here. And… what was I saying?

Oh right, distractions.

With summer winding down and school about to start and soccer practice twice a week and a new job, (insert: any LIFE events here)…all semblance of a routine, let alone sanity, is out the window. New schedules, new stress. And less time to write. Less time for sitting down for any chunk of time to edit, plot or even just stare out the window and live inside my characters’ worlds for an uninterrupted moment of time.

And even if I do manage to sit down while the kids are taking a nap, it is SOOOOOOO hard not to immediately jump on fb, twitter, blogs I haven’t read in a while, the library webpage to see what anxiously awaited books I have on hold, or all the other things that I have to do first. Or to just kick back and read said books with a cup of coffee instead. Ooh, OR watch True Blood because it’s almost the season finale and I’m 3 episodes behind and it’s not like I can watch it when the littles are awake…

These things? They are called distractions. And they suck. They suck you away from your goal. And they suck because they are just so deliciously, deviously...well, distracting.

Writing requires DISCIPLINE and a lot of it. But writing should be fun, you say, and easy. Not a chore. Well sure, it should be. But that doesn’t mean it always is. Sometimes there is no motivation, no direction, no inspiration. Sometimes it is really, really hard to sit down and actually have words come. Sometimes you just have no time.

You have to make the time. Remove the distractions. Find a quiet place that works. Turn off the internet (I’m told they have programs for this…or maybe support groups). Pay for a babysitter. Go somewhere else if chores or the TV will catch your eye. Listen to music or don’t. Wake up early or work after the kids go to bed. Do whatever it takes!

I know what distracts me and I know that I have to actually work to not allow them to creep in and steal the short window of time I have to focus. And sometimes I need help to do it. Whether it’s my incredibly supportive husband, handling bed time on his own or my children understanding that mommy needs just a few more minutes to finish a thought before we keep playing. Maybe someone could bring me coffee so I won't have a moment of weakness and be drawn in to the nearest Starbucks down the block. (Is coffee delivery a thing?)

Whatever it is, I know that I need to write. Every day. Even if it's bad. Even if it's only 140 characters. And to be successful with that, I have to remove the distractions.

What distracts you from writing?? How do you work around it?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Stephanie Perkins

I just finished Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After, and need to wipe a tear or two from my face as I type. I loved this book! It tugs at every emotion humans can feel. I don’t know how I can possibly do it credit with my much more meager writing skills.

Isla is the third book in a connected trilogy. Each book follows a different couple, but in one way or another the couples are inter-connected. When I finished reading Anna and the French Kiss, I was afraid to read the next book, Lola and the Boy Next Door, because I knew it would be a let down after the joy that was Anna. Boy, was I wrong! I may have loved Lola even more. But Stephanie Perkins saved the best for last. Isla was more than worth the wait. <wipes tears>

Main characters, Isla and Josh, who were introduced as minor characters in Anna, attend the School of America in Paris (SOAP). Juniors during Anna, we knew that Isla was crushing on Josh, who was involved in a PDA-filled relationship with a fellow student that just about ripped out Isla’s heart. Now, a year later, Josh is free and Isla’s crush has hit an all time high after a late summer serendipitous meeting back home in New York. Their sweet, poignant relationship with its highs and lows is the story of Isla and the Happily Ever After. It is filled with insecurities, fears, moments of pure joy, and the newfound ability to take risks. Of the three books, Isla shows the main characters go through the most growth, as they come to know themselves and their place in the world.

Obviously, I read a lot of YA. There are different authors I love for their various talents that shine in their books. But I can’t think of anyone who more fully develops characters than Stephanie Perkins. As I read any of her books, but especially this one, I come to feel like I actually know the characters, care about them, and boy do I root for them. I become a senior in a high school in Paris with a heart-wrenching crush on an adorable, talented guy. I’m right there with Isla as she finally navigates the waters of a long wished for relationship with the boy she’s been in love with for three years. Perkins is a master at tugging those heartstrings.

Some of that heartstring tugging comes in a subplot involving Isla’s relationship with her younger, and ever annoying, sister Hattie. I don’t know if I cried more over the Josh/Isla moments, or one particular Hattie/Isla moment, but I challenge anyone with a sibling to get through that scene dry eyed! And Isla’s relationship with her best friend since babyhood, Kurt, is a reason all by itself to love this book.

I discovered Stephanie Perkins the way I’ve discovered several of my favorite YA authors: I saw her at two Portland events. First, I saw her at LeakyCon2013, where I fell in love with her before I even knew she was someone! Dressed like she could be a Disney character, (cutest outfit ever!) I saw her charming a small group of people, and then heard her speak on a panel. A few months later she was at Portland’s Wordstock with her adorable husband on her arm and she impressed me again as she participated on a YA panel. I knew then that I had to read everything she had ever written. She hasn’t let me down.

If you love love, exotic romantic places like Paris and Barcelona, and tales of friendship and longing, you will love Isla and the Happily Ever After.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Admit It: I'm an Adult and I Read YA

Recently, a big brouhaha erupted in the literary world when slate.com ran an article by Ruth Graham who argued that not only should adults not read Young Adult literature, but also if they do so, they should be hanging their heads in shame.

Obviously, those of us adults who enjoy YA fiction were angered and fought back through every social media platform that exists. I know I tweeted my righteous indignation. Today I’ll spend more than 140 characters arguing my side of the coin.

There are so many arguments to be made against Ms. Graham’s assertion, I had a hard time deciding which I wanted to make here. I could easily start with the “Who is she to tell anyone what they should or should not read?” claim. While this is absolutely true, it is so obvious I don’t want to waste time on it. No, I would prefer to go in a couple of different directions.

First, there is the demographic question. If the reader isn’t a YOUNG adult, they shouldn’t read Young Adult, she says. Should I choose only from literature aimed at my demographic, with characters roughly the same age as I am? To take such a contention a step further, could this mean my reading choices should also extend to books about characters living the same lifestyle I live? If so, then I need to stop reading Pride and Prejudice—it’s SO New Adult, Gone With the Wind—when was the last time I had to save a plantation during a civil war, Jane Eyre—yes, I’ve been a teacher, but I’ve never lived on a moor with a brooding, dark, mysterious employer, the Outlander series—I don’t know how to time travel, Reading Lolita in Tehran—I’ve never been to Tehran, Romeo and Juliet—Oh My God the protagonists are teenagers which makes it YOUNG ADULT! In such a world I would be limited to reading books about white, middle-class, suburban women. Wow, that would be so much fun, and would enrich my life so much.

Oh, but Ms. Graham would say, demographics aren’t the issue. The problem is that Young Adult literature doesn’t sufficiently stretch the mind of the reader. Hmmm. So Huckleberry Finn, Romeo and Juliet, The Outsiders,  didn’t challenge me enough when I read them? I don't know--I felt pretty challenged by these books. Each of these is about young adults experiencing life as young adults so that could make them Young Adult literature, which I’m not supposed to read.

But they are classics, Ms. Graham might argue. Classics have borne the test of time and have been deemed to offer humanity an opportunity to vicariously experience something that will enrich the lives of the readers. My life feels enriched by my reading of many non-classics, both ‘adult’ and young adult.’ Some might even be, GASP, genre books!

Too many adults read Young Adult books for escapism, Ms. Graham contends. I will go on record here as I admit I often READ TO ESCAPE. Yes, I do. I escape with commercial adult books and Young Adult books. In fact, the older I’ve gotten the MORE I read to escape. Life can be a bitch sometimes. I don’t have as much of a need to read a tearjerker book about one of life’s tragedies when someone I know and love is going through it for real.

But I can no more pick any YA book at random and come up with something that will provide escape, than I can randomly choose an adult book for that same escape. There are plenty of YA books that beautifully handle some of the more difficult themes, and could never be called escapism. The writing in these books soars, challenges, and leaves the reader with a new perspective and view of life. From the classic The Diary of Anne Frank, to the more recent Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, to Looking for Alaska by John Green. Some of today’s best writing is being done in the young adult arena.

When I read the Slate article, I had the feeling that Ms. Graham thought that adults, who read YA, only read YA. I know plenty of adults who read YA, and none of them read it exclusively. My tastes are eclectic, and my reading diverse. One week I may be reading a classic, the next it will be a commercial mystery, the following week the latest from a favorite ‘adult’ author, and another week a great Young Adult book. I do read a lot of Young Adult—I write it after all and we need to read widely within the type of books we write—but I do not do so exclusively. Reading only one type of book would make Monica a very dull girl.

So, why are adults drawn to Young Adult fiction? There are as many theories on that as there are adults who read YA. But my theory is that the themes in YA are universal, accessible, and familiar. And, all adults have been fifteen, or sixteen, or seventeen. We remember what it was like. Those particular years greatly influence the adult we eventually become. It isn’t so much nostalgia we’re looking for, as a shared time we remember, and experiences that shaped who we are today. Even when those experiences weren’t pleasant.

I love YA fiction. I read it extensively. But that wasn’t always the case, and I think my situation is very similar to many adults who read YA. I came to it originally so I could share in what my sons were reading, and to interact with them through our discussions of the books. I suspect MANY adults hiding behind the latest popular YA book will tell you that’s how they came to this party, too.

And it’s such a great party we don’t want to leave!

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulbence/548646841/">paulbence</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: ALIENATED by Melissa Landers

Let me be the first to tell you that I do judge a book by its cover. That judgment, in fact, has led me to more than a few AMAZING books. So, a few weeks ago when I was trolling the internet for a few good reads I came across this:

I mean WOW! I didn’t even bother to read the synopsis just said “yep” and put it on my library list. But then I did read the synopsis and I was even more excited!

Here’s what’s on the back of the book:

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.

But when Cara’s classmates get swept up by anti-L’eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn’t safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara’s locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she’s fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet

And I have to say “Take me to your L’eader!”

This book was amazing! I couldn’t put it down. I think it took me at most two days to read.
Cara was relatable and funny. I loved her choice of words like Craptastic and Sucktacular! She was none too fond of “rooming” with an alien for the rest of the year, but she grudgingly accepts the task. Hoping that sharing a house with the first L’eihr would boost her blog numbers and therefore open the door for her dream job as a journalist. She is a good friend (even when it hurts) and sticks by the people she believes in.

Aleyx starts off cool and detached. His very blunt attitude serves as strange comic relief and the “silent” arguments between him and his fellow L’eihrs is perfectly written. He is blindsided by the color and flavor of Earth and he wants nothing more than to forget this trip and go home. Sure, he’s a hotty but his emotional detachment is just one of the many things that separate humans from the L’eihrs. There’s also the food. Try as she might (and Cara does) it is very difficult to please Aleyx’s palette. 

As time passes Aleyx and Cara begin to understand each other and even like each other, but the anti-L’eihr movement moves into her school and town with a force. As Cara and Aleyx try to keep the peace they are met with violence, hatred and Xenophobia. 

The building romance between them was just the right amount of steamy and stand-off. I loved it!!
This is the first book in the planned series by Melissa Landers and I can’t wait for book 2!

If you haven’t read this yet I will quote Ferris Bueller:  “You’re still here? It’s over. Go..” Now go! Get your hands on a copy of the fun, inventive, amazing book!!