Monday, August 29, 2011

In Defense of College Books

Last Wednesday marked freshman move-in day and the start of Welcome Week at Indiana University, my alma mater. Today is the first day of classes at IU. My own freshman move-in day? TEN YEARS AGO. Holy crap. I remember moving all my crap into Read Clark-503, where I was by myself for a couple of days until my roommate arrived. My mom was a trooper all day, until the moment it was time for her to leave, and then she burst into tears (and I cried a little, too).

Kathleen, me, and Lindsay hanging out at Delta Gamma
(Kathleen's sorority house)
I was one of those kids who couldn’t WAIT to go to college. I started requesting brochures and dreaming about dorm rooms as a freshman in college. I looked at a million different schools, but fell in love with IU because it had a kickin’ journalism program and just looked like college. I applied in September of my senior year, was accepted in October (note to admissions offices: rolling admissions? BEST. THING. EVER.), and spent the rest of my year getting psyched up for what I just KNEW was going to be the best four years of my life.

Showalter Fountain ... yes, I swam in it. And yes, I was there for the 2002
NCAA victory over Duke, which took us to the finals. AMAZING.
Being a high school student who was completely enchanted by the college, I devoured all the books I could find set in college. There weren’t many, and definitely not many literary once. I definitely read as much of Sweet Valley University as I could stand (I actually started reading these in middle school, which I probably shouldn’t have, because they were SCANDALOUS). And of course, I was completely plugged into Felicity (still one of my favorite shows of all-time).

My sophomore year, buddies in McNutt, our dorm (that's me, 2nd from left)
And even though I’m long since past my college years (oh sad...), I still love books set in college. Commencement? Joe College? I Am Charlotte Simmons? The late Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books? Oh yes. I just wish there were more YA-focused books set in that first year of college. Unfortunately, every time someone brings it up, it seems the idea is instantly shot down. Apparently teens don’t want to read about college-aged characters (I don’t quite believe that), or those books belong in the adult section (see several of the books I mentioned above).
Ballantine Hall, where I had most of my classes
But I want them. I’m begging for them. And in fact, I want to write them. And I'm tired of people telling me these books have themes that don't fit into the YA market, that the characters' experiences would be too different front the experiences of teen readers. Well, if fiction is meant to be aspirational, then I think the themes of college-set books will appeal to every desire of your average 16-17 year old American teen. I think these books would do well in a YA market.

And here’s why:

Maximum freedom, minimum responsibility

My first year of college, I didn't work (I had a job every semester after those first two, but at the beginning I just focused on classes). I had no parents, no curfew, few rules (other than the ones imposed by my university) ... I could take care of myself in a very low-risk environment where most everything else was taken care of for me. What an exciting time, when you can just jump in your car and drive to Chicago on a Tuesday because there's a concert you want to see. 

The ultimate opportunity to reinvent yourself
You can move anywhere, and as a result, become ANYTHING. Join a sorority, take up a club sport, run for student government, become an RA, study harder, study less, party harder, party less, audition for a play, since in a coffee house, read some slam poetry ... pretty much anything you could want to be is available to you at college, and you can be it, because you've ditched all that rotten high school baggage. NO ONE KNOWS YOU. It's a truly amazing thing. Remember when Felicity cut her hair off? Yeah, I did that too ... I was watching Sliding Doors and fell in love with Gwyneth Paltrow's short haircut, so I went to the salon in town and hacked it off. 

A flashpoint for self-discovery
Remember when Rory Gilmore went to Yale, and we thought it would be all predictable and fabulous for her ... but (spoiler alert) then she was told she couldn't handle 5 classes, and that awful Mr. Huntzberger told her she was only fit to be someone's assistant and she nearly lost her shit and stole a yacht? Yeah, ok, that's a little extreme, but college is the place where you lose your future and rediscover it several times a week. I changed majors a several times, made new groups of friends, tried out new clubs, and left college with a life plan that bared very little resemblance to the one I had going in. And hey, look at me now ... it all worked out, I think!

I loved my four years at IU (so much, that I earned a master's there, too!). Basketball games, late nights in the dorms, Little 500, parties, good friends, laying in the Arboretum, and all the amazing food in Bloomington ... I'm going to stop short of saying they were the best years of my life, but they were pretty damn good. College really CAN be SUPER DUPER AMAZING FUN. This is why Greek ran for FOUR SEASONS, and was hysterical all the way up until the end.

The Student Building in the Old Crescent at IU

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Birthdays Galore! And a little writing, too

Today is the fabulous book birthday of fellow Apocalypsie (lucky duck got her pub date bumped up!) Gretchen McNeil's POSSESS! I preordered my copy and it arrived right on release day (thanks Amazon Prime!)

The blues on this cover are even more gorgeous than you can imagine, so even before I've cracked the spine, I'm giving it an A+ for cover judging. I'm pretty excited to read it. It's jumping to the top of my TBR stack, as soon as I finish Hold Me Closer Necromancer by Lish McBride (the September Forever YA Book Club book) and my e-galley of Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard (yes, I'm reading two books at once ... it's pretty much how I roll these days).

Also out today is Sweetly by Jackson Pearce. It's a follow-up to Sisters Red, and again, holy cover jealousy! So gorgeous.

And for those that have been hiding under a rock today (or, you know, avoiding Twitter), you may not know that Jackson is celebrating her release day with an incredible heap of giveaways! Just tweet with the #Sweetly hashtag, and you're entered! Easy peasy.

As for me? Final revisions of Meant to Be are in! I'm meeting with Wendy, my editor, soon, and she promised to introduce me to the designer who's working on my cover. *DIES* I'm back to working on Monument Beach (working title, will come up with something snazzier later) again. Last night I read and revised the 10,000 words I wrote before MTB revisions came in. It helped me get back on track with where I was, and now I'm super psyched to get writing again. Mostly because I'm about to introduce lover boy #1 to my main character. I've also been watching A LOT of Gilmore Girls, because my goal for this one is to achieve snarky dialogue with a high level of wit and lots of heart. I was in deep like with this project before, but I'm about to upgrade it to passionate love...

Le sigh.... Jess 4EVA

Friday, August 19, 2011

Greetings and Salutations!

Sorry for the week-long absence from blogging ... between revisions and travel, life was a little upside down. Last weekend I was in Portland for roller derby, where the Boston Massacre played 3 games in 3 days (we only won 1 of them, but we're feeling really strong about our performance as a team, so no sad faces!).

I fell in love with Portland IMMIDIATELY. Food trucks? Voodoo Doughtnuts? POWELL'S BOOKS?! Oh hell yes. Powell's was my number one must-see location for the entire trip, and I managed to hit it on the first day. I picked up a tee shirt (of course), and then bee-lined for the massive YA section. I was NOT disappointed. I decided to buy a copy of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, because I didn't finish my library copy, and I think I want to take my time with it. There's a lot going on there (Libba Bray does NOT write for dummies). And then the find of all finds: an 80s-era copy of Just As Long As We're Together by Judy Blume! It was my FAVORITE book as a kid. I read it a million times, and it was the book that made me think maybe I'd like to write books for a living. Sadly, my mom accidentally donated it after I left for college. I bought another copy, but it had some modern, redesigned cover. Boo. But at Powell's, the used books are integrated in with the new editions, so I was able to find the original cover! I swear, as soon as I pulled it off the shelf, I started to tear up...

Here's a little photo tour of my awesome adventure in Portland:
A gorgeous latte from Stumptown Coffee
I visited the spot in Powell's kickin' YA section where Meant to Be will live!

Found a copy of my favorite book, with the cover I remember from my childhood

My total haul from Powell's ... I could have spent all the money in my bank account EASY
The Boston Massacre with our custom lobster doughnut from Voodoo Doughnuts!
Other than that, revisions are done and sent, and it looks like we're ready to move on to the next book of my 2-book contract (yay!). This means you'll be seeing a lot more posts about drafting (I'll try not to whine too much...).

Oh, and one other fun thing. There's a new contemporary blog on the block! A couple of ravenous contemporary readers have started For the Love of Contemporary, which launches on September 1. I, for one, can't wait! It's no secret that while I'll read a paranormal or dystopian from time to time, my one true love is contemporary. I read it, I write it, I love it. Can't wait to see what's what over there!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

REVIEW: Fury by Elizabeth Miles

Now that I'm back from Revisionland, I can return to my regularly scheduled blog posting! Of course, during my 10 day trip to Revisionsland, I kept having great ideas or seeing great links and thinking, "Oh, I should put that on the blog!" But because Revisionland is a destination that causes you to lose all sense of space and time, I never actually wrote those things down.

Luckily, there was one thing I experienced during Revisionland that was SO. AWESOME. that it stuck with me. And it was this:

Sometimes sorry isn't enough...

From Goodreads:

It’s winter break in Ascension, Maine. The snow is falling and everything looks pristine and peaceful. But not all is as it seems...
Between cozy traditions and parties with her friends, Emily loves the holidays. And this year’s even better--the guy she’s been into for months is finally noticing her. But Em knows if she starts things with him, there’s no turning back. Because his girlfriend is Em’s best friend.
On the other side of town, Chase is having problems of his own. The stress of his home life is starting to take its toll, and his social life is unraveling. But that’s nothing compared to what’s really haunting him. Chase has done something cruel...something the perfect guy he pretends to be would never do. And it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed.
In Ascension, mistakes can be deadly. And three girls—three beautiful, mysterious girls—are here to choose who will pay.
Em and Chase have been chosen. 

I loved Fury. I read it in 24 hours, which, with a busy schedule of work, writing, and roller derby, doesn't often happen for me. What kept me reading was the way that Miles painted such a creepy and seductive picture ... I was completely in Ascension from the first page until the last. She sets the stage for a typical northern small town in the dead of winter, then quickly yanks you off-balance. You HAVE to keep reading.

Honestly, the book was horror done well. I was reading the last third of it on my balcony in the middle of the night, and a car backfired or something and I literally yelped. That's how good Miles is about building tension in Fury. I don't think I've read a scary book that's affected me physically since ... well, I can't remember.

I've read a couple reviews where people noted that Chase and Emma's "crimes" don't seem awful enough to warrant the punishment the Furies dish out, and to those people I say, you're right! But that's what made the book so terrifying! Chase and Emma certainly did a lil wrong ... a lil wrong you or I might do under the right circumstances ... which means the Furies could come for US, too. Just like in a horror movie, where the girl is getting killed and it's awful because she's screaming, "Why me?! Please don't do this!" that was the horror and tension I felt as the book raced to the finish.

If you devoured Fear Street and Christopher Pike back in the day (and oh, did I....) I definitely think you'll be into Fury. I know I can't wait for the next one!

*Galley courtesy of Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Revisions are Done!

After half a pad of sticky notes...

and several rainy nights of writing on the balcony...

I sent in my revisions....

And made that face!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Winner Winner! Chicken Dinner!

(um, that title always makes me think of the movie 21, which was shot here in Boston)

First and foremost, the winner of the ARC of Sara Zarr's How to Save A Life is ....

Joni T!

Congrats Joni! I'll shoot you an email to get your mailing info. You're going to love this book!

And in other winner news, I was the lucky winner of one of Carrie Harris's Night of the Giving Dead auctions! With my winning bid (going to the University of Michigan Children's Hospital), I am the lucky winner of a 30 minute phone call with awesome agent Michelle Wolfson. I know! Lucky lucky Lauren!

For those that don't know, Michelle is a total rockstar agent who represents Kiersten White (um, hello NYT Bestseller list ... twice?!) and fellow Apocalypsie Kimberly Sabatini, whose book Touching the Surface will be released by Simon Pulse in Fall 2012!

So now, on top of my revisions, I need to spend my weekend brainstorming some super awesome questions to ask her. I want to get the skinny, folks. So I'm turning to you, loyal blog readers and Twitter friends. What would you ask if you had the ear of a supah stah (like my Boston accent?) agent like Michelle? Leave your questions in the comments!

Check out Michelle's Agent Spotlight on Casey McCormick's blog for more info on her career.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

Don't forget, you can enter to win an ARC of Sara Zarr's new book, How to Save A Life, simply by filling out the form here. It's such a fantastic book, you definitely want it! 

Lauren Oliver titled a revision email to me with that quote ... that was oh, about four revisions ago!

But this time it's really THE END of revisions. Wendy Loggia at Delacorte read the manuscript and loved it. Seriously, the email she sent me was the best thing I've ever received in my inbox. It had me dancing around Provincetown saying, "I don't know if you've heard, but Wendy Loggia says I have talent! Yup! She said it! I have TALENT!" She suggest some small changes, which I now have 10 days to complete and return. ACK! But then Meant to Be is done and ready and moves on to the next stage!

So yeah, you won't be hearing as much from me. And if you ARE hearing from me, it'll be because I'm hiding from my revisions (which I would never do ... no, not ever!).

My manuscript in a binder, colored pens, and Mad Men on Netflix.
This is how I revise.
(not pictured: a very very VERY large Coke)