Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bookshelf: Welcome to Micol Ostow!

Micol Ostow is half Puerto Rican, half Jewish, half student, half writer, half chocolate, half peanut butter. When she is under deadline, she is often half asleep. She believes that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts except in the case of Chubby Hubby ice cream. She lives in New York City where she reads, runs, and drinks way too much coffee. -

INN: You have written many books for teens, spanning diverse topics: from high school politics in Popular Vote to the Simon Pulse romantic comedies like Crush du Jour and 30 Guys in 30 Days and even ethnic heritage in Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa. What inspires you to write about such different scenarios?

MO: Hmm...when you put it that way--maybe I just have a short attention span! Ha! Seriously, though, I have always had a broad range of interests and I love to read all kinds of books-- from chick lit, to thrillers, to literary fiction, and I think my writing reflects that. I'm very, very lucky that I have editors who encourage me to stretch and explore all of my areas of interest. And each project teaches me something new about myself. "Emily" was heavily based on my own experiences getting to know my Puerto Rican family, and I think it was a story that I always had inside of me. My graphic novel project due out this summer, "So Punk Rock," talks about life in a Jewish day school.

And of course, with "Bradford," I'm able to access my love of pop culture and the whole extended online community. The hardest part is balancing all of my deadlines and occasionally having to switch back and forth between projects very quickly--that can result in a bit of split personality and can be crazy-making. The truth is that not all of my readers will respond to all of my books. But if I keep publishing (knock wood) across a broad range of genres and topics, hopefully, there will be a Micol Ostow book out there for everyone.
INN: Have you always wanted to write books? If so, how is your present career different or similar to what you imagined?

MO: I have always, always, always wanted to write books. My summer camp bunkmates and I used to create the back cover copy to the Sweet Valley novels we were going to write when we grew up (okay, dork alert. You've got me. But hey--I knew where my talents lay). That being said, I never DREAMED that one day people would actually pay me to write the type of books that I love to read, and therefore, I took a very sensible job as a YA book editor when I graduated college. I loved that job (true story: I was an editor at Simon Pulse, which is just one of the many reasons why I adore publishing with them now--they're like family to me), and had no plans of leaving to write. But people knew that I was interested in writing and some opportunities came up, and literally, one thing led to another...

Eventually, I realized that I wouldn't be able to give 100% to my editing and 100% to my writing, so for now, at least, the writing has won out. But we'll see what the future holds. I guess you could say that my present is different than what I imagined in that I honestly never dreamed I would be able to do exactly what I've always wanted to do. I'm a lucky lucky girl.
INN: Your new series The Bradford Novels releases its first title, GoldenGirl, this January. What would you like to tell readers about this series?

MO: GoldenGirl and Bradford follow in the well-trod tradition of private school "mean girl lit," but I like to think that several things really set it apart. Firstly, I *hope* that the voice is one that readers will find distinct, funny, tongue-in-cheek, unique, etc.,etc., etc. But what is especially awesome about Bradford--and what really drew me to the project from the start--is the entire online "experience" that it offers to readers. I don't believe there's been anything like this in YA publishing yet. Sure, we've had dedicated websites for books and series, and Facebook accounts and that sort of thing.

But offers you a huge network, and a chance to really experience the stories and the characters from new perspectives once you've actually finished with the books. You can read about the series, yeah, but you can also email the characters, visit their profile pages, follow them on twitter, and read new blogs in real time (one character, for instance, is a fashion designer, and you can bet she'll have a lot of opinions come Oscar night). You might find a tertiary character in the books whose online blog reveals an entire subplot involving a clique you were only peripherally aware of. And you can check out the websites of many of the locations we've created in the books.

So basically everything you'll find online is meant to enhance and build on your experience of reading the books, as opposed to merely supplementing it. Teens--and writers!--are more plugged in than ever, and I think it will be very exciting to see how we react to a book series that responds to the ways in which we express ourselves and communicate today.
INN: What is it like writing a series, as opposed to individual novels?

MO: The self-employed businesswoman in me will tell you that it's comforting to know you've got three titles slated for the upcoming year. But the truth is that the process of writing a book is much more ephemeral than most people realize. For instance, the first draft of the graphic novel project I mentioned, "So Punk Rock," was turned in to my editor literally a year ago, and won't be out until July. There's a lot of downtime in between projects for a writer. So what I love about a series is the chance to spend more time with my characters, as opposed to merely sending the manuscript off to my editor and saying goodbye for, if not forever, at least a good chunk of time.

I feel more grounded and in turn feel like I have a chance to get to know my characters and watch them grow and evolve. And of course, with Bradford, there's *always* something going on--if we're not working on the book, then my editors and I are creating online content, thinking about web design, plotting out story arcs...I'm always knee-deep in Bradford and I like the feeling of working on something solid and all-consuming that way. It helps me to combat that split personality that I mentioned above that comes from having my hands in lots of different projects at any given time.
INN: As a huge Grace Kelly fan, I'm guessing that Spencer Grace Kelly's name is not an accident (if so, a wonderful coincidence!) Why did you choose to connect the glamorous icon with the main character in GoldenGirl?

MO: Not an accident at all! She is meant to be a distant relative of Grace Kelly's (who was originally from Philadelphia, and therefore a local icon). Grace Kelly is the epitome of style and, as you say, glamour, that we associate not only with the series, but also with Spencer, who is by all accounts the "Grace Kelly" (that is, the golden girl) of Bradford Prep.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

MO: The best advice--and what seemed to work for me--is to read everything you can get your hands on, and to keep writing. Writing isn't about being published (though that's always fun too)--it's about sitting your butt in your chair and *writing.* It's harder than it sounds, but it's worth it!... THANKS!

INN: Thank you so much!

Monday, February 23, 2009

You Know You Want To...

Check out Micol Ostow when she comes to Innovative this Saturday, February 28!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

May I Recommend Some Good Books?

Have to run, but--

The Blind Assasin by Margaret Atwood

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Niffennegger?)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

are all completely, 100% worth your time.

They are why we write.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Holiday Bookshelf: Chatting with Ben Esch

While writing Sophomore Undercover (in bookstores February 24), Ben Esch slept on a fold-out sofa in his parents' basement, gained thirty pounds, and developed a crippling fear of raccoons. The author did not date much during this period. Ben now lives in Los Angeles and sleeps in an actual bed. Chase your dreams, kids.

INN: What inspired the unorthodox, unusual character of Vietnamese high school reporter and nerd, Dixie Nguyen?

BE: Dixie came from a couple of inspirations. First of all, I grew up in a small town in Northern California that was pretty homogeneous (homogeneous = chock full of white people). There was a Vietnamese kid in my high school class, and I used to think it looked interesting to see him walk around campus, completely surrounded on all sides by a bunch of huge, hickish white dudes. One day I got to thinking: what if he had an adventure?

As for the personality of Dixie Nguyen...well, to be perfectly honest, I'm not exactly sure how I came up with that. I guess I from the school of writing that when you write a character, you're basically writing about yourself. So, I suppose that means there's a fairly big chunk of the character that's me. A much more clever, adventurous, and slightly less of a big, goofy white guy version of me, but still me nevertheless. This fiction stuff is fun.
INN: Dixie uncovers a drug scandal involving high school athletes. How did you approach this topic-- through research, asking teens, memories of your own high school experience or something else?
BE: Though Sophomore Undercover took a lot of inspiration from my own time in high school, there was never a drug scandal in the football team. At least not that I'm aware of. No, let's just go ahead and say there wasn't a drug scandal. I just made up the drug scandal thing. Again, fiction is fun.

In terms of the rest of the story, I didn't really do any specific research until the book had gone through a few drafts, and even then, the "research" was just me walking around my old high school campus at night to remind myself where the buildings were. So, I got off pretty easy on this book. Unless you count the four years I went to the high school as research. In that case, I researched the hell out of this thing.

INN: If Dixie had his own game show, what celebrity would he choose to be the Vanna White and why?
BE: That's a good question...I've spent a lot of time thinking about this and I think he'd probably go with one of the cute but somewhat nerdy girls from that G4 channel (I'm all about that Ninja Warrior show, by the way) so let's go with Kristin Holt, maybe? Of course, I'm guessing that Dixie would spent most of his time staring at his feet and stammering if he was around anyone that pretty, so that would probably hurt the game show a bit...
INN: The ultimate question: how did your book break into print?

BE: Well, the first step was writing a book. An underrated, but essential part of the process.
The second step was finding an agent. There's a lot of stuff on the internet on how to go about doing this, so I won't get into the more boring details about how all that works.

The third step was working with the agent (Steven "I look uncannily like David Blaine" Malk) to make the book I wrote actually make sense. Turns out that most publishers are looking for something like that, which was a bit of a shock at the time. Anyway, we worked together for about seven months, I knocked off a hundred pages or so, learned quite a bit about writing, and in the end we had something that he thought we could sell.

The fourth step was selling the book. This was a rough couple of weeks, but in the end Disney-Hyperion was into the book and we were into Disney-Hyperion. Everybody at Disney-Hyperion is remarkably cool, by the way. And I'm not just saying that because they pay me. I mean, the money thing doesn't hurt, but they're still really nice regardless.

And that's how my book got into print.

INN: What's up next in your writing career?

BE: Well, the first thing up is the release of my book, "Sophomore Undercover" on February 24th which is equal parts exciting and terrifying. So, that's been taking up most of my time. I should probably tell you guys to go to my website: Oh, and we just got the Sophomore Undercover video game launched which is a guaranteed good way to waste five minutes. (

And after that...well, I'm under contract for another book with Disney-Hyperion that should be coming out in the Summer of 2010. So I should probably get cracking on finishing that.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

BE: Three things:
1. Try to remember this time in your life. The stuff that you are going to be obsessed with for the rest of your life (for better or worse) is going to happen during your teenage years, and like it or not, this is the stuff that you're probably going to end up writing about. There's just way too much exciting stuff happening in your life right now for you to not remember it and use for creative fodder down the line. Keep a journal, hold onto your yearbooks, make a scrapbook...just make sure you remember it.

2. Write the story that you want to read. This is pretty much the only advice I feel qualified to give to any other writer. The neat thing about being a writer is that you get to craft the exact kind of story that you are interested in/want to read. I know it's tempting to try to write something that is popular, but if you're not really writing something that you're passionate about, it's going to show in the final product.

3. Read. And this just isn't to get you guys to read my book...but you know, it would be pretty awesome if you guys would read my book, actually. The best education you can have as a writer is reading. Read everything. I can't emphasize this enough. READ. Sorry I had to go all caps on you guys there, but I'm really serious about this.

Thanks so much!

Learn more about Sophomore Undercover and Ben Esch at

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

YA Blog Newsletter

I've joined the new YA Blog Newsletter team and will be contributing on upcoming reviews. Check out to learn more. This is one of those "Duh!" things, like... how have we lived without it?

Also: look for In My Mailbox tomorrow, slightly tweaked to What Books I Have Been Given Recently. And Benjamin Esch will be joining us on V-Day!

Monday, February 9, 2009

_______ of the Week

Essay of the Week
"I Wish I Could Read Like a Girl"

This was written a month ago, but this essay about teen reading by Michelle Slatalla is excellent as well as entertaining.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Baby Steps to Better Bandwagon Behavior

As you may have noted, I've been scarce in posting because of major exam and end-of-term nastiness. I have survived exams with fairly respectable grades and all of my internal organs intact, to become that amazing creature of American high schools: the second semester senior.


This means I can finally get back to writing. I've put off working on my novel in favor of studying, and missed my January deadlines for sending out queries. February and early March will therefore be spent revising, with 10 queries being sent out by March 20th. Freelancing? That too. It was fun to have a magazine email me after 1.5 years to see if the article I queried was still available.

Career Week will be coming up, as well as some truly AWESOME interviews coming up with some spectacular authors. I'm looking to work with other bloggers to coordinate different Spring events, celebrating Spring Break and then finally graduation.

So: rest assured, I will be back and blogging well. My column for February is up at for those who are interested in finding inspiration in your old clips.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Post-Exams Bookshelf: Hello and Welcome to Daphne Grab!

Daphne Grab grew up in Rhinebeck, New York and attended Bard College, studying history. She's worked in Colombia, taught ESL in China and history in LA, and received an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her debut novel, Alive and Well in Prague, New York, was released in May 2008 to wonderful reviews. -

INN: Alive and Well in Prague, New York is such an unusual (and awesome!) title. Did you have this title in your mind as you began writing the book, or was it a last-minute suggestion?

DG: I am terrible at thinking up titles, in fact for my second book a friend’s husband is the one who came up with the title Halftime. But for Prague the title came to me before the book. I had this idea of best friends signing their emails in creative ways and suddenly the title popped into my mind. Originally I wanted it to be Matisse Osgood, Alive and Well in Prague, New York, but my editor thought it was too long and, as was the case with most things, she was right.

INN: Matisse deals with several serious challenges that other teenagers find, including moving to a new town in the middle of high school. Did you ever move as a teenager?

DG: I lived in the same small town until I went to college but I did change schools when I went to high school. My mom taught at a boarding school and I got to go for free which was awesome. It was really hard to leave my friends and the boarding school was another world. Kids there were about a thousand times more sophisticated than I was and I remember one senior said I was so innocent I was like a child of the sun. I think it was also that I skipped eighth grade so I was younger than everyone. But I wanted to write about that experience of being immersed in a whole social setting that is completely different from all past experience.

INN: If Matisse was a real person that you could take anywhere in the world, where would the two of you go and why?

DG: Hm, I think we’d have to hang out right here in NYC. Matisse could take me to all the cool places she shops and the fun restaurants where she hangs out with her city friends. I’ve lived in NYC for ten years but I’ll never know it the way a native like Matisse does!

INN: What was the most difficult part of writing Alive and Well?

DG: The rewriting. I pumped out a first draft quickly but it needed a ton of work and it was so hard to do. Major revisions are like surgery: you pull out an organ, put in a new one and then have to make sure each little vein and tendon attaches back up so smoothly you’d never know the surgery took place.

INN: How did you break into publication?

DG: I had a teacher at my MFA program bring in her editor to look at subs from our class and the editor liked mine. It can take ages for a story to fall into the right hands, those of an editor who will love it and help it reach it’s full potential, and to have it happen with the first editor who saw it is extremely good luck.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

DG: Two things: work as hard as you can on your story, revising and revising until it’s as good as you can possibly make it. Then show it to other writers and stay as open as you can to their critique. Make the changes that resonate with you (and be honest- no story is perfect and good critique will make you a better writer if you can listen to it) and then get an agent. It’s so important to have an agent to handle the business side of your relationship with your publishing house and a good agent will nurture your whole career.

Thank you so much, Daphne! Visit Daphne's website at, and watch for her blog on our Author's Blogroll!