Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Update from the Very Busy Western Front in Statistics

6,395 tissues used
4 college interviews had so far
1 acceptance
$30,000 offered in scholarship money
3 exams taken
3 exams to go
2 more days until I don't have to care about school any more and can watch American Idol-- I mean, Mad Men-- without feeling guilty
1 second before I return to massive studying

Sunday, January 25, 2009


The weekend before exams, I get completely, utterly sick. Posting will be scarce until I can get antibiotics.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Help Me Teach Teen Writers!

I'm doing a presentation in a few weeks about getting published, hoping to cover everything from queries to contracts (and something in between!) Do you, fellow teen writers and adult writing experts, have any suggestions? If you came to the workshop, what would you want to hear? What are you interested in? What are you not coming to hear?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thought for the Day

Lone wandering, but not lost.

- William Cullen Bryant

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When to Work for Free

When young writers start out, you almost always start by writing for a byline. No cash, no contracts (as we talked about last week), only the pleasure of saying you got published in Examine Your Zipper or Orlando Bloom Quarterly. I've been freelancing for four years now, and only write for free in several situations.

Exploring a New Market. Travel is something I'm interested in writing about, so I'm hunting for travel zines or travel columns regardless of whether they pay. Once I've earned my stripes, I'll go after the heavy-hitting (and big buck-giving) travel zines (Geez, what's with the participles?).

Establishing a Reputation. Columns or guest positions are fantastic because now you can say, "I'm a columnist for Angelina Jolie Live Always and Everywhere." If you're offered a column position, take it. Your reputation will benefit if you do a good job (Hint: always keep track of your deadlines!)

Giving Back. Sometimes I write for free when I like the magazine editor and she's helped me out before. Write if you believe in a cause and want to support it. If there's a "giving" aspect, think about writing. Your art is not meant for pure profit.

The Prestige of the Prestige. If a big name approaches you about doing a piece for no cash, think about the name. In the bio part of your query letters, you don't put how much you were paid for an article, but you do note what the name of the magazine was.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Book in Your Pocket

Since I received all those amazing books over the holidays, I've carried books in my purse. This Gilmore Girl-like behavior isn't unusual, but now I'm being deliberate. Wherever I go, whatever purse I carry, I want to have a book on me.

I don't always have the time to read during school, or on the bus or waiting for a lesson; but I often do. Reading in between classes is a fantastic use of time, but it also serves a metaphysical purpose. Plugging in numbers or running from activity to activity means I'm not writing most of the time, not doing what I love most. It's easy to forget why you love what you do.

So my challenge to you, as writing teenagers and people who support writing teenagers, is to carry a book in your pocket or backpack or purse. It's good for those in-between moments when the teacher gives you 20 minutes to work on a project you finished last week. It's good to just search for your lip gloss and find your fingers on The Conde Nast Traveler's Guide or Cracked Up to Be, and remember for a moment that books exist, good books are possible and that one day you will write one.

Belated Bookshelf: Hey There to Tina Ferraro!

Tina Ferraro believes in the adage that it is never too late to have a happy childhood. She, in fact, had a very happy one, living in Westchester County, New York, with her parents, her brother, and several cats. She was an avid bookworm, earned a shelf full of medals for competitive swimming, and would sometimes play Barbies for days on end. It was her teen years that she feels she failed to make the most of--probably because she was too busy daydreaming of the exciting life she wished she had.

All these years later, as a wife of two decades and a mother of three teens, she is giving herself that happy teenage experience by writing stories about girls who not only dream big--but make their dreams come true.
Some of Tina’s favorite things include reading, drinking lattes, hanging with her family, watching the TV shows "The Office" and “Lost,” and chatting with her readers through her website,

INN: I first found your books when Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress came out because I was so intrigued-- what can you do with an unworn prom dress? Where did you find the idea for your debut novel?

TF: I came upon a nonfiction book called something like 101 Things To Do With a Bridesmaid Dress. And it started my mind racing...what if it was a prom dress? Because...because...the guy dumped her just days before the prom? And instead of 101 things, what if it was ten...

And I was off and running. I then took the idea to my on-line brainstorming group (which is composed of about 10 authors) and asked for input. I got great feedback, including the idea to go with “Top Ten” instead of just “Ten.” When I pitched it to my agent, she told me to drop what I was working on and start writing it right away!
INN: If Parker (protagonist of the upcoming The ABCs of Kissing Boys) had a New Year's Resolution, what would it be?

TF: Interesting question! Since the book takes place in August/September, I’d like to answer two ways, the New Years before and after. Before: to cut out the junk food and keep in tip-top shape for soccer season. After: to pay attention to the people in her life, and remember that not everyone is as they seem.

INN: How did you get published?

TF: Well, I started selling short stories back in college, but it took many years of reading, writing, networking, taking on-line classes and attending conferences to get to the point where I understood “my voice” and the situations that brings it to its fullest potential. That is in teen “dramedy” situations, where humor and internal struggle go hand-in-hand. When I found my niche, I found my agent, and the first sale happened relatively quickly.

INN: Did your own experiences in high school affect the way you write about teenagers now? What are some differences and similarities?

TF: Absolutely! I was a major people watcher and daydreamer in high school, spent hours creating exciting scenarios that I really, really wanted to happen. (In most cases, they never did, however.) So much of what I write today is based on those types of daydreams--larger-than-life drama. I stay current through my kids who keep me updated on the electronics and when to use IM, TM and what-not. And let me know when the phrases I use are horribly out-of-date!

INN: What are you most excited about with the release of ABCs?

TF: Well, modestly, I think I’m going to get good reactions from readers. ABC’s is probably my funniest book, and I had a great time researching and listing different kinds of kisses that readers can try out on guys (or, if they’re more like I was, simply daydream about trying out).
And I have to say, I put in several mentions of something called a Steam Kiss, which I did not research, so when my characters tried it, (obviously) they couldn’t get it to work. I’m looking for someone to try it for real and report back to me!

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

TF: Yes. It’s important to ask others (friends, teachers, other writers) for feedback on your writing. But sometimes that feedback conflicts with what you’re striving for, or what your gut tells you is right. In this case, I employ what I call my Rule of Three. The first time I hear criticism that I don’t agree with (say, someone says a scene is too slow), I ignore it. The second time, I seriously consider it. The third time, I throw up my hands and make the change. So far, this has worked for me.
Thank you so much, Tina!
Visit her website at and watch for her blog on our Bookshelf Authors' Blogroll.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Permissions, Releases and Contracts Part Two

Permission releases are another form of contracts, although a more informal kind. In them, you are giving permission for the magazine or company to use your work for an agreed-upon sum or reward.

Watch for weird clauses. Know what rights you're giving up, and weigh them against what you're being paid or the prestige of the magazine. There are shady zines that will steal your words for no payment, so watch out.

Photo releases. Sometimes big magazines will want your photo in the bio line, and will ask for a photo release. Make sure these are photos that you or your family took and are not copyrighted photos with a professional photographer. Senior portraits won't qualify most of the time. Choose a good pic of yourself!

Always know your goals. The best situation is when you allow a magazine to publish your story with First North American Rights or minimal rights given, for a large sum of money or prestigious publication. However, you usually have to decide what's most important: getting published, being published again, payment and prestige. Don't be in such a hurry to get published that you make the mistake of selling your work for little profit.

If your story is publishable, you are worth being paid well. Read carefully and keep copies of all your contracts. It's good practice for later life, or so my parents tell me.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Minor/Major Matters of Business

First, congratulations to everyone who applied for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards ( The results won't be known at regional levels for another month or so, but congrats. You guys work so hard. Please let me know if you win anything!

The PUSH imprint contest, for unpublished novels written by teens, is open until March. If you have 30-50 pages of a novel, run over to the Scholastic page and see if you're interested in submitting. Please pay attention to the rights you give up for the contest; know what you're doing!

You can find me today over at, and my Fresh Ideas column at has been published. Go read my life-altering words of wisdom-- or gently entertaining writing thoughts-- over at

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Permissions, Releases and Contracts, Pt 1

Negotiating the legalese world of permissions, releases and contracts as a teenager is confusing unless you're a prelaw student or your mom's an contract lawyer. However, there are some simple guidelines that I've found to be useful

Contracts. Contracts state that you are giving up certain rights (such as North American rights, all rights, etc.) to a magazine or e-zine in exchange for an agreed-upon sum. Make sure you know what rights you are giving away. I don't care as much about selling all the rights to my work if I'm being paid and I can't see myself re-using the article in question. Always note the price and date you will be paid.

Negotiating prices. You receive your contract and the payment is $25 less than you thought it would be. Do you email the editor and complain? This depends on how bureaucratic the magazine is. If the editor always responds within 24 hours to your emails and seems eager to work with you, you can bring up the price. However, this is best done before a contract is brought up. These are almost impossible to change if you're working with a major mag.

Negotiating rights. If you're unhappy with the rights you're supposed to be giving away, talk to the editor. Be prepared to wait, be prepared to be frustrated, make sure you know what is important and why it is important. That said, I relax my rights-worries when dealing with big name companies and magazines with good reputations. Be worried when dealing with Small Zine Nobody's Heard Of, and comb that dang contract.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Writing and Extra-Curricular Activities

How can writing and school intersect? I'm not an expert, but through different ECs I've been able to use writing and have fun with school friends. Writers having a social life? Not a completely impossible scenario... sort of...
Debate Team. Lincoln-Douglas, or LD, Debate uses both prepared cases and on-your-feet thinking to let students argue about moral issues of the day. The current resolution is about the United States joining an international crimes court. If you're interested in writing about ethics, see if there's an LD Debate team at your school.
Literary Magazine. This is a traditional way to be involved with literariness at school. Join your Lit-Mag and see how teen writing is different for "school" than it is for "publication." What can you learn? Loads. Most of these magazines focus on poetry rather than prose.
Destination Imagination. This of-the-coolest EC is designed to make you solve problems creatively. Many of the Challenges can be met with a script: quite an opportunity for budding playwrights. It's a neat chance to use the arts, science and technology in a competitive environment... with PEOPLE!
Newspaper. If journalism is your cup of tea, it only makes sense to start writing for your school paper. If your school paper stinks (it happens), ask the journalism teacher to give you the names of your local paper's community-friendly editors. Then get in touch with them about writing.
School Newsletter. Many schools publish a monthly or quarterly newsletter for parents, to let them know about events and experiences at the school. Talk to your school secretary about writing a piece on a landmark activity for this, and see your writing in the hands of all your friends' parents. It's usually a good thing.
Underground Blogging. If you're super rebellious, start an anonymous blog called The Secret Life of a ____ Student and write snarky reports about teachers and students and homework. Print out flyers and mysteriously spread them over the school. You could get suspended (minus) or super famous and never get caught (plus.) Just saying.

Monday, January 12, 2009

______ of the Week

Literary Landmark Photo of the Week

This is Box Hill, the place where the oh-so-dramatic picnic scene in Jane Austen's Emma was set. (It's true, look it up on Wikipedia!) I took this while on my oh-so-fabulous British vacation. Oh-what-a-wonderful Monday!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bookshelf: In Too Deep

In Too Deep by Jennifer Banash is the continuation of her Elite series, about how newcomer Casey fits into the over-privileged life of the Bramford apartments and the private school where its residents are educated. The story is told in several different points of view, as each member of the clique debates their current crises.

As I mentioned in In My Mailbox, I wasn't expecting to like this book. There is a glut of books about the super-rich and I find they rarely offer something original. However, I did read In Too Deep incredibly fast while another book I need to review -- Lord of Misrule -- is taking me weeks.

I enjoyed reading it. The characters were just stereotyped enough to make you hate Madison and like Casey (Team Quirky!), but they had unusual traits as well. It was interesting to have a lone guy's perspective -- Drew's-- and to hear Sophie's struggle with her parental sitch. The betrayal Drew feels when he also has a "parental sitch" was believable. I was a little annoyed that there were "AP Cinema" and "AP Algebra" classes in the book, because I'm a collegebound senior who knows there are no such classes. It's also hard to believe that Phoebe, Sophie or Madison would ever have a shot at Harvard without serious extra-curriculars and grades.

Overall: In Too Deep is a seductive read. While it may not add a new dimension to rich-girl lit, it provides an example of how to do it well. Now, where did I put my Hermes scarf? Must be right next to the Louis Vuitton luggage.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Woo-Hoo for Review!

My review of Letters to a Bullied Girl is in this month's January online edition of Teen Voices. Check it out at

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

So... What Were the Best Books of 2008?

I realize this is late, and because of this there's one more add. I read a number of books last year-- large number-- and out of those, I've kept a list of those I believe represent the best of young adult fiction published in 2008. There are a few ARCs I've read that are promising, but they won't count for this year.

I have five.

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr. This book was scathing and delicate and heartbreaking all at the same time. Last week I read one of Sara's essays in an anthology about weight loss; more and more, I think she's the YA author to watch.

A Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. This one is responsible for my current obsession with old movies and the reason I love Lauren Bacall so much. It's the story of three unusual teenagers in Boston, and how baseball, musical theater and growing up make for a definitive year in Brookline. I read it three times in a week.

Undone by Brooke Taylor. This debut novel didn't cut any corners and cut straight to the core of teenage experience. Serena's relationship with her best friend was staggeringly real to what I see in my own hallways, and the devastation she felt once Kori left... I was so impressed by the writing and by the story that Taylor wrought, and can't wait to see what she writes next.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. I am so proud of the fact that I loved this book the moment I read it, and that The Powers That Be agreed with me in making it a finalist for the National Book Award (and WHO did an interview with E. Lockhart earlier this year?) This book makes you laugh, cry, question female roles and the importance of the Ivy League and rejoice because life is life and P.G. Wodehouse exists.


Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I am a picky fantasy reader-- I mean picky. So it is with great joy that I announce that Graceling is by far the best fantasy I've read this year. It's beautifully depicted with strong characters and story, scary in its evil and gorgeous in its good. Although it was a long book, I didn't want the story of Po and Katsa and Bitterblue to end. Nighttime may find me drifting in the shadows of a Lienid city.

That's what I think. Thanks to all the authors and publicists who sent me novels and did interviews. We'll be reflecting in the next month and looking ahead to the fabulousness that awaits-- for after all, this is senior year.

Monday, January 5, 2009

______ of the Week

Awesome Blog Supportive Gesture of the Week
For writers interested in staying cool online
JJ's resolved to get 28 comments on every orb28 blog post. Orb28's a blog aimed for girls 13+, as an offshoot of New Moon magazine. Their fun, intelligent posts are interrupted every Thursday by my own rambles on life, but otherwise this is a great place to be for teen girls. Help them get their New Year's resolution!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year Bookshelf: Welcome to Elizabeth Scott

Elizabeth Scott is the author of Bloom, Perfect You, Stealing Heaven, Living Dead Girl (2008), Something Maybe (March 2009) and Love You Hate You Miss You (June 2009).

INN: Living Dead Girl deals with the horrible circumstance of child abduction and subsequent abuse. What moved you to write this story about Alice?

ES: Usually, when I get an idea for a story, it comes in bits and pieces. But once in a while -- great while, frankly -- an idea will come to me fully formed, a story demanding to be told.
Living Dead Girl was one of those stories. I woke up the night of April 5, 2007, from a disturbing dream. I write all my dreams down, and usually they're pretty nonsensical, but this one was different. I wrote:

"Alice." It is her name but it isn't her name. She thinks of who she was as someone far away. Long ago. Kidnapped when she was ten. Five years, and she lives with the kidnapper still. Now he wants someone else. New. She'll do anything to get him off her. Knows no one sees her, staring at blue thing, plastic like water but not water, reflection strange. Blurred, featureless. Flash of teeth, grinning not grinning, hands and pain, HIM. Thinks, I am a living dead girl.

By the time I was done writing, I knew Alice's story. I knew I had to tell it. But I had other projects I was working on, and I told myself to file it away. The night of April 6, 2007, I had the same dream again. By the night of April 8, 2007, I woke up from the now-familiar dream and wrote only one word:
I wrote Living Dead Girl because it demanded to be told, and I hope it speaks to you as strongly as it did to me.
INN: How did you break into publication?
ES: Pure luck! I'd been writing for fun for about five years when some friends talked me into sending a few short stories out. To my complete shock, they were published, and I eventually ended up writing a query letter for my first book, Bloom. It sat on my hard drive for a while, but I eventually sent it off and was lucky enough to land an agent and sell Bloom.
INN: Living Dead Girl has received starred reviews from writers, reviewers and readers. What's it like to see people love your work?

ES: Fabulous! Especially hearing from readers. That's my favorite thing EVER.

INN: What are you reading right now?

ES: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

ES: Well, I'd say if you're a teen writer, you're probably already super aware of what you need to do in terms of writing, and I'd just say to keep two things in mind:
1. Make sure you look into any agents/publishers you decide to query about your work, and don't rush to sign anything!
2. Read. And don't just read what you love--if you love science-fiction, try reading poetry. If you love poetry, try reading thrillers. I really think there's such an amazing variety of great writing out there--and really, what's better than a fabulous book?

Thank you so much, Elizabeth! Visit Elizabeth Scott at

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In My Mailbox / What I Brought Home / Hopelessly Plagiarized Attempts At Recounting Books Taken

The Story Siren has had to cut back reviews over at to take care of her puppy. My heart goes out to her-- we have a puppy who just needs a birth certificate to be a legal member of the family, and if he ever got seriously ill... yeah. So, in honor of her and because I have found some new books lately, here is a version of In My Mailbox/What I Have Now/Books That Found My Address.
Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine was sent to me by Penguin (thank you!) and I started this one on the flight over. So far, not in love, but I've got 200 pages to go.

In Too Deep by Jennifer Banash, also sent by Penguin. This I was prepared to hate, and read subsequently in about an hour. It's so addictive. Review to come soon.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is one of the 4 books on my Best Books of 2008 list. I was given quite a lot of cash for B&N, so I promptly picked up this, my favorite book of the year. I ordered online (new and exciting!) and hopefully will have it soon...

Dramarama by E. Lockhart is the only E. Lockhart YA I have not read. It's in paperback and impossible to find in school, so on to the virtual shopping cart it went. (Weird. You buy books... without touching them. Strange.)

The Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys: Great Writers on Great Places. How could I resist? The cover alone is delicious.
Now, I'm planning on picking up Cracked Up to Be tomorrow and I still have about $9-10 leftover. The question is, what YA paperback written by a fairly new author would you recommend? I'll buy it if it looks good. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles comes to mind, but please recommend things!
(Ooh. I also received The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen and Graceling ... I am a spoiled brat. I have books. Goodness.)