Hey, remember this?
It’s back, beginning February 1st!
Hey, remember this?
It’s back, beginning February 1st!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, thanks to the lovely Jamie of Perpetual Page Turner! I live for this Annual End of Year Survey, even though it hurts my soul to have to narrow down responses.
These are always a little weird for me to do because writing the preview posts for B&N means that I read a lot of books far in advance – my reading schedule isn’t like most other book bloggers’ – and being an author means I might’ve beta read books two years before they come out. So, I’m sticking to books that were published in 2016 and that I read in 2016 (except where noted)!
2016 Reading Stats
Clearly I am going to employ the breakdown option:
Weirdly, while I absolutely loved Six of Crows and The Wrath and the Dawn – like all-time top five fave fantasies loved – their sequels didn’t do anything for me. And I know they were good sequels; I think I’m just way more of a standalone person when it comes to fantasy. A thousand percent a case of It’s not you, it’s me, and I am very glad to see how alone I am on that front.
Cherry by Lindsey Rosin – not only was this a super fun read, but it wasn’t heteronormative! Which, in fairness, wasn’t a huge surprise when I read it because Christina told me it wasn’t, which is what shoved it to the top of my TBR, but still. I also don’t know what I was thinking going into Girl Mans Up, but I definitely didn’t think I was gonna love it, so that was a delightful surprise and I am very psyched about that Morris nom!
Series Started: YA: The Conqueror’s Saga; Romance: Five Boroughs by Santino Hassell and Cyberlove by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell
Series Ender: The Ends of the World by Maggie Hall (Yeah, that’s a 2017, but so it goes)
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger – I am not remotely an Urban Fantasy person but I thought this was a lot of fun, full of great representation, and it has drink recipes!
I often read books in one shot so this is always hard for me to gauge, but I feel like I remember being really bitter at having to put down The Abyss Surrounds Us at work.
This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
Lada from And I Darken by Kiersten White
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. Honestly, in any given year she writes a book, that book’s gonna be the answer. So to be fair, I’ll add another: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis. That’s one of my favorite LGBTQIAP YAs of all time now and people were talking about its greatness for SO LONG, but I was too lazy to pick it up for NO GOOD REASON.
“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.” (Kiersten White, And I Darken)
Never Missing, Never Found by Amanda Panitch. She is goooood at twisty psych thrillers.
Avery and [redacted] from It’s Not Me, It’s You
Frances and Aled from Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis, which thank God Becky Albertalli finally got me to read. Should also mentioned that I would never have picked up This Song is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin if not for Rachel G. telling me it had an ace MC.
I feel like this should be easy, and yet? I’ll go with Stellan here, because I’d been firmly Team Jack in The Conspiracy of Us and then somehow Map of Fates turned me.
I mean, Leigh Bardugo’s pretty unbeatable here, right? Ketterdam 4eva. (Runner up: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova)
It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo
Well, I read it in…2014, maybe? But This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp 4eva.
I guess that would be When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore? I just do not see anyone who writes like her, and the representation and imagination and imagery in that book are all just stunning. I feel like “unique” should be something that works with format in a cool way, but this was the only book I could settle on that felt right.
Asking For it by Louise O’Neill, and no, it definitely doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.
Queer Lit on my Mind, which isn’t exactly a book blog but it’s a (now-) friend’s Tumblr on which they post some of the most thoughtful and interesting reviews of LGBTQIAP books I’ve ever read.
I vacillate on whether or not I’ll do it again, but I’m really, really proud of #AuthorLifeMonth and how many authors it brought out of their shells on Instagram, and especially how many people said things like “I’ve never realized how much I’ve accomplished before.” Those two things were exactly the point, and I love that it worked.
Starting LGBTQReads. The love that site received upon launch was wonderful, and it still gets so much interaction every day. The messages I get on Tumblr in particular are so freaking wonderful, and it’s been amazing to help people find the books they need and to be a source for authors to promote stuff they’d ordinarily have trouble finding a place to do so.
The post introducing #AuthorLifeMonth!
I’m actually pleasantly surprised with the viewership on this blog, considering how infrequently I post on it these days. But I want more people to play Choices and interact with this interview!
I haven’t even been to The Ripped Bodice yet (fingers crossed for February!) but it is EVERYTHING. They did host me for a Skype chat one month when they chose Out on Good Behavior for their book club and that was amazing ❤
Yep! Goodreads challenge was 175 books and I completed that, and goal was to finally set up LGBTQReads and I did that.
I really wanted to read The Reader by Traci Chee, Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, and Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana, and own all of them, so hopefully I’ll get to them early next year! Also still haven’t read Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak, which was my answer for this question last year, so that’s just embarrassing.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura. (Does Katherine Locke count as a debut despite having two Romances out already? Because if so, The Girl With the Red Balloon for the motherfluffin’ win.)
Honestly? Focus on it less. Looking forward to my personal life taking far more precedence in 2017.
Uhhh there are a lot of these, so I’ll just mention the five I’ve blurbed: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake, Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley, Whenever I’m With You by Lydia Sharp, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, and Geekerella by Ash Poston! (Yes, I know that’s a lot to blurb in one year but there was just no saying no to books I wanted to read that badly and then adored!)
That’s my year! How was yours?
Birthday, By Your Side, Kasie West, Kit Frick, Leigh Bardugo, Meredith Russo, Ninth House, Prom Queen Perfect, See All the Stars, Tara Altebrando, The Hazel Wood, The Opposite of Here, These Ruthless Deeds, Two Naomis
Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish! Today’s topic is completely self-explanatory, so, voila!
Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovitch and Audrey Vernick – I don’t usually read MG but this one looks super cute, and I like to have books on hand about Real Things to recommend to my friends for their kids. Knowing a good MG to rec for kids of divorce seems like a good thing!
The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando – I still have to read The Leaving, but I’m a big enough fan of Altebrando’s other stuff that any of her contemp YA goes onto my TBR automatically
Birthday by Meredith Russo – I was such a fan of If I Was Your Girl, whatever Russo did next was obviously gonna be an instaread, even if it falls outside my category of preference
Certainly, Possibly, You by Lissa Reed – Really enjoyed the first book in this series, and bought this one about halfway through it. I’m writing this post over a week in advance and honestly I’ll probably have read this by the time it posts. (Update: yup)
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Oh come on
See All the Stars by Kit Frick – Kit’s always been an awesome supporter of YA, and her debut sounds seriously excellent
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert – This was obviously an auto-add seeing as Melissa is my fabulous editor at the B&N Teen Blog, but I’ve also heard this book is amaaaazing from her CPs, and knowing how many agents were vying for it and how quickly it sold…yeah, I’ve got good feelings
These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – recently read and realllllly liked These Vicious Masks by this duo, so obviously I need the sequel!
By Your Side by Kasie West – insta-add, always
What have you recently added to your TBR?
Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish! Today’s topic is about our fall TBRs, and since mine is made of two different categories, I’m gonna share two different top ten lists. See, fall is a massive reading season for me, because I strictly observe all the Jewish holidays that fall within, which means in the month of October I’ll probably read what’ll average to a book a day. And so I’ve decided to use those days to read:
My Most Anticipated 2017 ARCs That I Already Own
2016s I Want to Read Before Year’s End
And so, here they are!
(which I start reading now for blogging purposes, since I generally do the Contemp and LGBTQIAP+ previews for B&N Teen Blog)
The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
Wing Jones by Katherine Webber
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinski
Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
Looking for Group by Rory Harrison
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin
Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Killer in Me by Margo Harrison
The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner
Bound By Blood and Sand by Becky Allen
What’s on your fall TBR?
So, there’s a possibility you’ve heard me gush before about a few certain phone apps, namely High School Story, Hollywood U, and Choices (which has three “books,” each of which is its own kind of sub-game), because they’re frankly fantastic writing and ridiculously for the YA/NA crowd. Well, it turns out that one of the crew responsible for these games, all made by Pixelberry, is Andrew Shvartz, the Swanky 17 author of the awesome-sounding Royal Bastards. Shvartz is Pixelberry’s lead designer, and he, COO Kara Loo, and Choices head writer Max Doty were kind enough to answer some mildly obsessive questions for me about the games, the process of writing, and more!
I don’t want to spoil anything about any games but first of all, I have to ask: How dare you?
Kara: Well, despite Andrew’s first reaction, we’re not actually evil. But we are always trying to tell the best story, even if that means breaking some hearts along the way!
Let’s start with the basics: how did Pixelberry start, and where did the concepts for HS Story, Hollywood U, and Choices come from?
Andrew: Pixelberry was founded in 2008 by a small group of friends who’d been working together for a while, first at a mobile games company called Centerscore and then later at Electronic Arts. Our biggest game before Pixelberry was called Surviving High School, and it was an episodic interactive story for the YA audience, all about teen romance, friendships, drama, etc. It was actually really big for its time, one of the biggest original hits of the pre-smartphone era, and it ended up running for hundreds of episodes. It even had a crime-based spinoff, Cause of Death.
After we left EA and started Pixelberry, Surviving High School was kind of our guiding light. It showed us that there was a really big market that wasn’t being served, of mobile users who wanted story-based games, and in particular, stories that deviated from those represented in traditional gaming: stories about romance, focused on character, and frequently about women. At the time, sim games were really popular, so we decided to combine our existing experience making narrative games with a simulation design, which is how High School Story was born. Hollywood U was the logical extension of that, taking a lot of what we’d learned and applying it to a slightly older setting.
We considered a lot of different options for our next game, but Choices stood out right away. It was a way for us to get back to our roots in a lot of ways, to go back to episodic interactive narrative, and to really let our writing team, which I think is the best in the business, shine.
How did the writers for the games come on board?
Kara: Mostly people want to come work at Pixelberry because they’re passionate about stories and games. We have a really intense application process and interview system that I can’t talk too much about or it would ruin some of the things we do. We’re actually right now looking for awesome writers… if anyone’s interested in applying, there’s a link on our Careers page: http://www.pixelberrystudios.com/careers/
Bless you guys for the lack of heteronormativity in your games, especially in “The Freshman” in Choices, which really well balances inclusion without the pretense that everyone in the world views queer relationships exactly like straight ones. Please tell me we can expect this to keep up with future installments and games! And in general, how much is diversity a priority in the game creation?
Max: Representation and inclusivity are really important to us. In crafting “The Freshman,” we knew right away that we wanted players to at least have the option to date a woman, and we’re certainly interested in exploring that relationship further in sequel books.
To some extent the way our values inform our writing might lead to experimentation book to book. For example, in an upcoming story, we may let you switch POVs, inhabiting some characters that are straight, others that are gay, and others with a more fluid sexuality. Above all, it’s about staying true to the characters while striking the right balance in terms of giving players the freedom to roleplay and choose who they love.
Are any of the storylines, characters, or dialogue based on real people, other than the ones that are openly celeb-inspired?
Andrew: Sometimes we might take inspiration from current events, like when we had a storyline in HSS about the harassment of girl gamers. But we usually try to keep things original, and definitely try to present them in our way. It’s definitely something to be careful about; one time, I named a serial killer character after a friend of mine, and it still comes up as the top result when you search his name!
High School Story has so many different categories of kid, from the basic “jock” or “nerd” to the more specific “foodie” or “mountain climber.” How do the Pixelberry crew generally identify their own high school “types”?
Max: As you’d expect at a gaming company, we’re almost uniformly jocks…
…just kidding! Actually, there’s an incredible variety of “types” represented in our office, from pure nerds, to anime fans, school presidents, student journalists, artists, and more… and actually, yes, a couple of athletes too.
How do you prioritize future updates, and how much does reviewer feedback feed into them?
Andrew: This is a long and complicated process, because there are a million-and-one ideas on how to improve a game and only so much that can be done. We have a lot of meetings to figure this out, and we try to get feedback and ideas from everyone. Player feedback definitely plays a huge role in our decision-making process; we try to read all the reviews, and we regularly compile lists of the most commonly requested features, improvements, etc. One of our big goals is that every update has at least one thing that will make our players really happy, and their feedback is our best way to figure out what that will be.
Obviously, as a YA/NA author, I love that most of these games are all geared toward that same audience. What have been some things that are really important to you to include as part of writing for teens?
Max: I feel like there’s a bit of an attitude that writing “for teens” requires you to understand this alien species, the Post Millennial. Honestly, I don’t see teens as very different from adults, except they lack two resources fundamental to adulthood: life experience and freedom.
The former means that each experience is new and fresh. First love has no context. By the time you’re onto Tenth Love, you know the drill a bit better and you can look out for certain pitfalls and red flags, but you’re also a bit more jaded, more guarded. I think The Freshman draws on the rawness of a young love story, with lots of unintentional drama and heightened emotion.
A lack of freedom (most teens are dependent on their parents for food and shelter and therefore must play by their parents’ rules) means that stories about oppressive power structures tend to resonate more with a teenage audience. I think that partly informs The Crown and the Flame—a teenager is more likely to respond to a story whose protagonist wants to destroy the existing power structure and reshape the world as she sees fit.
Choices has three games/books right now, one “contemp,” one “fantasy,” and one “thriller.” I know there are some novel-writers on the Pixelberry staff – does what you write for Choices correspond to what you write elsewhere, or is it a dip into something different for you?
Andrew: I personally write YA fantasy, which is funny because the Book I worked on in Choices is the crime thriller. Our writing team is really varied in terms of what they’ve worked on elsewhere.
Kara: I love writing fantasy, so it was really great to work on The Crown & The Flame, but I also love when what I’m working on for Choices pushes me in a direction that I wouldn’t normally go. Sometimes it’s really exhilarating to try a new genre or take a story in a direction you wouldn’t normally go and realize that you actually have a lot of fun writing it!
My favorite character in any of the games, which would surprise no one who’s read my first NA, is Professor Hunt of Hollywood U. Who are the faves among the Pixelberry crew?
Andrew: Heh! Hunt’s a big favorite all around. I’ve got a big soft spot for Nishan and Sakura in HSS, and I had a blast writing Dave Reyes in Choices.
Max: I love Bianca’s entourage in HWU. Shae and Lance are awesome, especially as you get to know them better and dig into the complexities of their backstories. In HSS, I love Kara, especially once you get into her relationship with Mia. I respond to characters that switch sides, I guess—either villains who become heroes or vice-versa. Those kinds of turns always interest me and make for complex characters.
Kara: I love writing Val Greaves in The Crown & The Flame. I love writing for characters that are a little meaner and will really just say what they’re thinking, even if it isn’t exactly tactful.
And, sorry, but I must ask: when can we expect to see more???
Andrew: All the time! We’ve got plans to add new chapters every week, and you might even see some brand new Books soon…
Kara: We know people are excited for more, so we’re writing as fast as we can! In fact, we better get back to that right now!
*looks up from where she’s obsessively refreshing Choices on her phone right now* Uhhh I mean thanks so much for letting me pick your glorious brains, and please keep up the awesome work!!
A Darkly Beating Heart, And I Darken, Fantasy, Six of Crows, The Forbidden Wish, THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, The Impostor Queen, The Winner's Curse, The Wrath and the Dawn, The Young Elites, Top Ten Tuesday, YA
Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish! This week asks bloggers to pick their top ten favorites from any particular genre, and since I’d never be able to pick my top ten contemp, I went with my second-fave genre, fantasy! So, behold, my top ten all-time fave YA fantasy novels/series/whatever, in no particular order:
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
The Young Elites by Marie Lu
The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
And I Darken by Kiersten White
The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
If you have any recs for someone who loved all ten of the above books/series, feel free to drop them in the comments!
It’s been such a long time since I’ve interviewed a literary agent, so the opportunity to interview one as lovely as Jennifer is one I absolutely had to take! Check out her wisdom, scout her wishlist here, and above all, query her!
You acquire in such a wide variety of areas, from cookbooks to contemporary YA to law. What categories and genres feel the closest to your heart, and why?
I’m definitely a generalist! I’ve always read widely, and I think one of the joys of agenting is that you’re not constricted to a certain style or type of book. And it’s lovely to be able to send things out at the same time and not have to juggle editors—I’m going out in the next month or so with a women’s fiction, a YA, and a nonfiction project.
To answer your question, though, if I had to pick one category of my heart, it would have to be women’s fiction. I’ve been reading it for years; I devoured the Red Dress Ink imprint in the early 2000s. (Blogger’s Note: Me too!!) One of the reasons I read is to figure out who I am and what my place in the world is, and those are the books where I can most fully see myself. (And on a related note, I’d really like to find more diverse authors in this category so that a greater number of women can feel the same way.) But don’t stop sending me all the other good stuff, writers; I love it, too!
I never get to talk to anyone who works with cookbooks, but that was actually my first internship in publishing—the now-defunct (I think) little cookbook division at HarperCollins—so I have to ask about it. What kind of cuisine is your favorite to read about? To eat? To cook?
I think in the internet era, when we all just google “chicken goat cheese” or whatever we have in our fridges, a cookbook has to bring something extra to the table. (That was an unintentional pun that I’m intentionally leaving in place!) I really love cookbooks with a narrative component or themed cookbooks like Judith Jones’ THE PLEASURES OF COOKING FOR ONE, and my favorite sort of food books are memoirs with recipes like Molly Wizenberg’s A HOMEMADE LIFE.
On a trip to Italy once, my sister-in-law posed a question: if you could only eat either French food or Italian food for the rest of your life, which would you choose? I went French–I can’t live without my mother sauces and pommes frites. But I actually love to cook Italian food. The precision of baking is my favorite, but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so pasta is my savory equivalent. You know I like you if I bust out my gnocchi rolling board.
I actually have yet to sign a cookbook author—if you’re reading this, cookbook writers, query me!—but I DID just sign an amazingly fun project from writer Lauren Koshere (@LaurenKoshere) called PIE-WORTHY: How to Bake Smart in Love that guides you through what to bake at various stages in a relationship and includes recipes. I’m thrilled to be working with her on that.
You have such a wide variety of professional experience outside publishing, too. How do those experiences contribute to how you do your agenting job, and what you particularly want to see in work submitted?
If I’d just worked in a PR firm, too, I think I’d be fully equipped to be a literary agent! In all seriousness, though, while it’s by no means necessary to go to law school to be an agent, I do think that I have a stronger than average grasp on contracts, licensing, and copyright issues, which has been a huge help as I’ve gotten started. And working as a high school English teacher 1) improved my editorial skills and 2) gave me a firmer foundation in YA lit (another category I love so hard—I actually started a YA for adults book club in Austin!). This is very much a learn-as-you-go sort of job, but I do think that my other career starts gave me a solid foundation on which to build.
In terms of how it affects what I like to see, as a teacher talking to teens every day, I became very aware of the gulf between what teens want to read and what some adults want teens to read. I actually think most YA writers are aware of this and write for teens themselves, but it seems like a bigger issue in MG. With the law, honestly, that was largely a misstep for me, and more than anything the experience has made me connect more with stories about people who are struggling to find their way or opting for a less obvious path in life.
Obviously we’re all familiar with some serious agent-querier horror stories, but let’s talk the fiip side – what are some best practices you wish all queriers abided by?
First of all, let me just say that most queriers are lovely. And I can imagine how difficult it must be for writers! There are many agents out there who have talked in depth about queries, but here are the highlights:
– Do your research—An agent’s submission guidelines are the bare minimum. I love when writers respond to my #MSWL or note something I said on Twitter. (Non-book things are fair game! I got a query in response to my complaining about bridal showers; I LOVED that.)
– SELL your book to me—Don’t just summarize. Figure out what what makes your book special and what the most compelling way to convey that is. Comp titles are your friends if you use them right.
– Be responsive–If I ask for pages and you can’t send them within a couple days for some reason, that’s totally fine, but I appreciate you letting me know. I get excited to see things when I request! And definitely pay attention to the format agents ask to see your work in.
– Be polite–Obviously! This is a professional communication. I will say, though, that I don’t think you need to reply to a form query rejection.
– Query only when your manuscript is ready and only when you know you want an agent—If you know it needs more revision, do that first. If you think you might want to self-pub, make that decision first—or later, but I shouldn’t be involved in it.
– Set guidelines if you get an offer–It’s incredibly helpful when you tell me you got an offer and plan to respond to it by X date. If I really need more time, I can ask for it, but I always flounder a little when I get an email that says essentially, “I got an offer, so let me know…”
Those are the basics, but here are a few for extra credit:
– Don’t change the subject line when you send requested material–Many of us use Gmail-based email, and if you change the subject line to say requested or what not, it moves it out of the conversation. Then, particularly if you’ve started an entirely new email, I have to dig through my inbox for your query to refresh my memory before I read. Which brings me to:
– Paste your query into the front of the manuscript—Then I don’t have to go back to my inbox at all, and I’m happy when I start reading!
– Use small paragraphs in your query letter–They’re easier to digest when I’m reading many queries in one sitting, and if I understand your work easily, I’m more apt to like it.
You used to curate YA content for Riffle. If you were doing that right now, what recent books would you absolutely have to include?
So many things. For those of you who have never checked out Riffle, it allows you to make lists of books, and part of my job was to come up with themed lists of YA titles. I don’t think I ever got to do a dance-themed list, which is a particular obsession of mine, and there are so many goodies to put on that now: TINY PRETTY THINGS (dying to read the sequel that just came out), POINTE, THE WALLS AROUND US…just to name a few. I’d also love to do a football list—FIRST & THEN would definitely be on it, and THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD gets bonus points because it could go on either of those two lists. And on a more serious note, I would definitely include a list on rape and sexual assault that would include, among others, ALL THE RAGE and EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR.
Anyone can see what you’re looking for right now on your site, but what’s something that you made you insta-request that you had no idea you were looking for until you saw it?
I requested a speculative fiction manuscript recently that I’m excited to read–I usually stick to the realistic world and leave speculative to my capable LDA colleagues who specialize in it. But this writer was responding to my MSWL request for books about happy couples, and the project just sounded fascinating. Though it’s important to follow agents’ guidelines, I think it’s also okay to take slight chances with queries particularly when responding to something an agent says she’s looking for. I’m really never unhappy about receiving a query; sometimes you truly don’t know until you see something.
Imagine you’ve just gotten a manuscript that looks amazing and you know you want to read it from start to finish. And whoa, you have an entire day free to do it! What’s your ideal reading setup? (Space, snacks, the works. Don’t skimp.)
Ah, the dream. When I really want to treat myself and focus in on a manuscript, I read in bed. I’m a little weird about my space division, and I normally make myself sit in a chair or at my desk if I’m working; bed is for sleeping only. But I have a very soft mattress and far more blankets than I need, so it’s very cozy.
I’d also change into what I call “play clothes”—not stuff you sleep in but not things you’d leave the house in on a normal day either; think, the ratty pair of sweatpants. Glasses, not contacts. Blinds open for the natural light. My “mellow” playlist in the background: Norah Jones, Sara Bareilles, Carole King, etc.
Definitely an oversized mug of tea in my favorite grey TYPEWRITER mug in the morning with a Kind bar or some such—I don’t like to waste time on meal prep when I’m in deep reading mode. Chex Mix and cherry Coke Zero (almost impossible to find in NYC, but a girl can dream) as the day wears on; eventually I’d break down and order a pizza. This actually sounds delightful; I’m going to implement this plan as soon as these moving boxes are gone.
And finally, tell us the coolest thing you’ve experienced in bookworld since starting work in publishing.
EVERYTHING; I love being an insider! One of the best things, though, is on the nonfiction side. Whenever I see someone doing something cool in the world, I can email them to introduce myself and ask if they want to talk about writing a book. Oftentimes, nothing comes of this, but the conversations I’ve had have all been fascinating. And it’s just such a luxury to have greater access to talented people.
One of my clients, Jessica Luther, is a prominent sports journalist, and when I was reading a proposal for a colleague a couple weeks ago, her client cited Jessica (not knowing she was a client of mine) in one of the chapters. It just tickled me to get confirmation that I’m working with someone who’s an influencer, whose work matters to other people. It’s wonderful to feel that, as an agent, I’m helping to put good and important things into the world.
Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.
Welcome to Dahlia’s book club, wherein I rec four books in each of five categories every month and hope that you read them. If you do, and you leave a link to a review for at least one of them in the comments, you’ll be entered to win one of three prizes every month – one entry per book. If you read and review* one in each and every category, you automatically win. The last weekday of the month is your last day to submit a review, and the length of the review does not matter, but it must be posted to Goodreads and Amazon or BN.com to be eligible for a prize. Simple enough, right?
If a title’s in blue, it means I haven’t read it yet either – let’s do it together, shall we?
*To enter to win a prize, your review must be new. To be eligible for the Five Reviews Insta-prize, up to two of your reviews can be old, as long as they’re on Amazon.
If you’re loving something you’re reading from the list, please share on hashtag #DahlBC!
YA Published Before This Year
YA Published This Year
Out This Month+
+Anything in this category is still due by end of month for that month’s prize, but these books will continue to make you eligible for an entry for the next month. If you reviewed one of July’s books in this category, link in the comments to be eligible to win this month!
As for the prizes:
Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish! Love this topic and love these settings, so I maaaay have cheated a little. (But I did not do UK YA set in the UK or Oz YA set in Australia, FWIW.) (And, hilariously, in thinking of lesser-known titles I legitimately completely forgot about Anna/Isla and the Just One Day/Year duology.) ANYWAY, without further ado…!
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Japan)
Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo (Antarctica)
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Pakistan)
The Last Leaves Falling by Fox Benwell (Japan)
How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles (Israel)
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard (Central America)
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Iran)
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (Netherlands)
Sekret by Lindsay Smith (Russia)
Wanderlost by Jen Malone (Netherlands, France)
Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae (Italy)
My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter (Greece)
Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn (Egypt)
Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel (England, France, India, Thailand)
The Violet Hour by Whitney A. Miller (China, Japan, Vietnam)
Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan (Tanzania)
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (India)
5-to-1 by Holly Bodger (India)
Stolen by Lucy Christopher (Australia)
You guys know I’m not much of a Middle Grade reader, but there are a few authors for whom I happily make exceptions…like Tara Dairman and her series about a tween foodie named Gladys, the third book of which, Stars So Sweet, releases July 19th! One of the things I desperately look for in MG, to the shock of no one, is the presence of LGBTQ content, so I’m particularly excited to be hosting this guest post for the Stars So Sweet blog tour…and I’ll let Tara take it away from here!
Near the end of my new middle-grade book, STARS SO SWEET, a 12-year-old character admits to having a crush on a kid of the same gender. (I won’t say which character or gender here, since it’s kind of a spoiler.)
I remember the day I turned the first draft in to my editor. I took a deep breath before pressing send. I felt 100% right about the choice to include this twist in the book–it was something I’d always known about this character, and I felt that I’d written the pivotal scene well. But it hadn’t been in my proposed outline, and it had surprised a few of my beta readers. It might surprise my editor as well.
To her, and my publisher’s, credit, no one ever suggested I remove it. They asked me to shore up the narrative so that the “reveal” scene was better set up, and they told me to be prepared for backlash–for e-mails from offended readers, for the book possibly being censored in some places. But more likely, they said, the response would be too quiet to quantify. The book would simply not sell to some libraries and families; I’d never hear about why.
While my middle-grade series focuses primarily on foodie adventures and friendship, it touches on first crushes, too. THE STARS OF SUMMER (book 2) even has a first kiss. So in this third and final book, it would have felt disingenuous to me to hide this particular character’s feelings just because they were same-sex. It would have offended me to leave them out.
Advance copies of STARS SO SWEET have been out in the world for a few months now, and I’m pleased to report that pushback has been minimal so far. The couple of readers who have contacted me with concerns about this plot point have been polite and open to a frank dialogue. And I’ve heard from other readers in appreciation of the story line, too. I hope that both of these trends continue.
When I was growing up, “gay” was a playground slur, and there were virtually no gay characters in books for young readers. That’s not the world I want the next generation to come of age in. I want my readers to know that feelings like this character’s are normal and no big deal, and I want them to be able to read books in which that normalcy is reflected.
I deeply admire the YA and MG authors who are creating this literature for young readers, and with the publication of STARS SO SWEET, I’m proud to take my place among them.
Tara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade foodie novel ALL FOUR STARS (Putnam/Penguin) which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and won a 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. THE STARS OF SUMMER followed in 2015, and STARS SO SWEET (7/19/16) completes the series. Tara grew up in New York and holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her family.
As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise: her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.