Thursday, April 30, 2009

The First Best Book of 2009

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
I loved this. Loved it loved it loved it. BUY IT!

This alternative vamp tale is told through Nina, a permanent 15-year-old whose funny, snarky view of life is clouded by the fact that she doesn't enjoy being a vampire. She has weekly meetings with other Australian down-under hidden-cover bloodeaters in the Reformed Vampire Support Group, but when one of their own is killed with a silver bullet, it's a race to figure out who the killer is, how to save their undead lives and maybe uncover secrets at the same time.

I loved Nina, I loved the supporting cast, I loved the whole story. I can't say this enough. Catherine Jinks is a genius (previous novel: Evil Genius) and I worship at her feet. If you're looking for witty, funny, sarcastic vampire tales with a dash of unusual romance and lots of adventure... heck, if you like great books, run out and get this one right now. Or Nina will come and suck your blood.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bookshelf: Hello to Susane Colasanti!

Susane Colasanti is the author of three novels, When It Happens, Take Me There, and Waiting for You.

INN: Your titles are awesome: When It Happens, Take Me There, Waiting for You. Did you know all of your titles when you started writing the novels, or did they evolve from many drafts?
SC: Before I started writing books, I always thought that coming up with titles would be the easiest part. I was wrong. It’s much easier for me to write a book than come up with a good title. At least, that was the case with these three books. I knew the title of my fourth book, Something Like Fate, in the early stages of writing it.
It’s interesting to see how titles evolve. When It Happens was originally called Trust and the plot was different in a few ways. After revising the manuscript, it was clear that Trust didn’t really fit anymore. The original title of Take Me There was My Way Home, but the sales & marketing team didn’t think that was catchy enough. By then, I’d decided that all of my titles would have three words. While I was writing Waiting for You, I knew the title would have to involve waiting in some way, so that title was easier to come up with.
INN: Your books often use multiple points of view. What is it like writing from several different perspectives in a single book?

SC: It’s a lot of fun! When I was a teen reading the limited supply of decent young-adult novels available back then, I was always so frustrated that the author only told one side of the story. If the book involved a main girl and boy character, we only saw the girl’s perspective. I was dying to know the boy’s side of things, like what he talked about with his friends and what he really thought about the girl. I promised myself that if I ever wrote a teen novel, I would tell it from both sides so my readers could know the whole story.

Take Me There was more challenging than When It Happens, since the story involved three different perspectives. Several chapters include scenes that we previously saw from another character’s point of view. I loved using this technique because I could have the reader wondering about certain things the first time they saw a scene, then fill in the blanks when the scene is shown from an alternate perspective. This technique was tricky, though. My obsessive attention to detail came in handy.

INN: Sometimes the grades in high school seem aeons apart, while other times they blur together. Having written characters in several different grades, what do you think makes each grade different for the writer and for the teen?

SC: I like writing about older characters. I find that time when high school is ending and an entirely different life is beginning the most interesting to explore. However, I wanted to also write a book a bit more accessible to younger readers, so Waiting for You takes place during sophomore year.

Senior year is the strangest. That’s when you realize that the microcosm you’ve become so familiar with is about to explode. For people like me who hated high school, this is a very good thing and a time for extensive celebration. This is when all of the people you have known forever are about to go their separate ways. You will probably never see most of them (or maybe even any of them) ever again. People who can seem like your whole world one day disappear the next. An interesting dynamic I noticed during my senior year is that people stop caring how you’ve been labeled all those years before and start caring more about who you are. Everyone sort of realized that we’re all distinct people about to start our real lives, not just parts of a larger group. They calm down. They’re nicer. It’s fascinating, really.

INN: How did you break into publication?

SC: After I read The Outsiders in seventh grade, I had this fantasy about becoming an author. I wanted to inspire other kids the way S.E. Hinton inspired me with the world of Ponyboy Curtis. That book was pure energy to me. I even slept with it under my pillow, wishing for some magical osmosis that might help make my dream a reality one day.

The other significant thing that happened when I was 12 was realizing I wanted to be a science teacher. I was a teacher for almost ten years. But I still carried that dream of becoming an author in my heart. While I was in grad school at New York University, I started writing some early pages of When It Happens. I kept writing and soon I had a manuscript. It was rejected by several publishers, but Viking Children’s Books saw something there and wanted to work with me. Now my books sit on my bookshelf next to The Outsiders, all of them with the Viking imprint on the spine. That dream I kept alive for so long has finally become reality.

INN: Do you have a favorite moment from one of your novels?

SC: Well, I love the scene in When It Happens with Sara and Tobey where he’s in the car and she’s outside his window and they press their hands together, separated by glass. I always thought that would make an excellent movie moment. I also love the iPod dancing scene on the pier from Take Me There. There’s something about being surrounded by the city lights and energy and night that makes the scene an emotionally powerful one for me.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?
SC: Read. Write. Repeat.

The more you read, the better your writing becomes. I developed strong skills in my high school English classes (not because I liked them, but because I had outstanding teachers). You definitely have to know the basics of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, so if you’re behind on developing those skills, dedicate time each day to learning. However, it was reading thousands of books that made me a writer. The rhythm of words, the flow of sentences, the intangible essence of a great book – all of these things can only be absorbed by reading.

If you’re feeling reluctant to write or just uninspired, maybe it’s time to think outside the box. You should be writing for fun because you love it, not feeling like you have to force yourself to write (unless it’s for school, in which case I feel your pain). Write about your passion. Whatever it is that makes you feel alive, write about that. Then, never give up. You can’t fail if you never stop trying.

Thank you, Susane!!
You can find out more about Susane Colasanti and her books on these sites:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Where have you been dating?

This debut novel by Beth Fantaskey, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, tells the tale of a somewhat normal Pennsylvanian teen who finds a Romanian so-called vampire moving into her house, stalking her at the bus stop and announcing that Jessica's his long-lost betrothed, destined to be a vampire princess. Jessica deals with everything from interfering cheerleaders and her own mixed feelings to a vampire war in order to figure out what the problem is, who the hero is and what she wants out of all of this.

The book was entertaining. With all of this Twilight obsession, it's nice to see the funny side of vampire lore. The first half of the book doesn't take itself seriously, which was a good move by the author, with several funny scenes involving farm boys, horses and school.

The second half is much more serious and dramatic (cue vampire war threats), when Jessica has a change of heart about her vampire betrothed while he's changing other hearts. I felt like this didn't completely fit in with the beginning of the novel, giving it an uneven tone. Major vampire drama is hard to pull off (Stephenie Meyer flopped in Breaking Dawn) and I wish the author had kept it set in Pennsylvania and focused on the Lucius-Jessica chemistry instead.

The messages Lucius shares about women with Jessica are almost all refreshing (I have differences when it comes to chivalry) and unusual to find in YA lit (not advocating diets? what?!). Readers looking for a fun vampire read will like this one, and I'm interested to see whether the author chooses to write lighter or darker fiction later in her career.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sophomore Undercover: A Review

Original is the adjective for Ben Esch's Sophomore Undercover. I didn't know what to expect, but what I got was an incredibly personable Vietnamese sophomore with raging hormones and an ironic sense of humor, with Pulitzer-sized dreams and an acid trip for a school. It's a little disjointing until you realize Esch is writing a parody that is, at the same time, the realistic story of a young misguided character.

What I admire about the writing is that although this is a debut, Esch has managed to avoid writing cliched sentences. 90-95% of the sentences are Dixie Nguyenisms, unique to his character and perfectly situated. Beyond that, this is outright funny. I wouldn't recommend it for those who only do family-wholesome humor but for any high schooler, it's a riot. I look forward to reading Esch's next work, and meanwhile comment to win a copy of Sophomore Undercover!