Friday, September 28, 2012


Interview with Lisa Papademetriou

Lisa was born August 25, 1971 in Houston, Texas. After graduating from Vassar College, she lived in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where she taught English in a bilingual school. When she came back to the United States, she moved to New York City, where she worked a series of editorial jobs at various publishers, including Scholastic, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers, Disney Press, and what is now Alloy. She then decided that I wanted to be a big-shot businesswoman and enrolled in New York University’s Stern School of Business, but after a year, she decided that big-shotting wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, so she left to write full-time.

What are you reading right now?

EVERYTHING! I’m an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I have to read approximately a book a day. Right now, I’m studying verse novels. I recently read LOCOMOTION, EXPOSED, and MAKE LEMONADE—all of which are fantastic. Also A STEP FROM HEAVEN, which is utterly beautiful. Drop everything and read it right away!

What first sparked your interest in writing?

Reading. I remember reading THE CHRONICLES OF NARIA and thinking, Someone—a writer—wrote this. I want to do that when I grow up.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

What I love most about writing is the dreaming/ reading/ thinking part. I love imagining characters and how they feel and their thoughts. What I hate is getting reviewed. When you spend years working on something, to have someone dismiss it with a sentence is extremely painful. And even when people like your book, being reviewed has an unpleasant beauty-pageant feeling to it. It turns the book into a thing to be evaluated, rather than a work of art to be pondered.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

First I need an idea. I never know when it will pop up, but when it does, I never bother to write it down, because if it’s good, it will hang around and try to meet other good ideas. Next comes general staring out a window, followed by reading a few books that I can reasonably claim as “research.” Then, hopefully, a second idea will show up. You really need two ideas for any book—one for a character, one for an incident or conflict or ending. Okay, once I have my two ideas, I try to rub them together. Then I stare out the window some more, maybe go for a walk, maybe chat about the idea with someone. If other people are interested, I know it has potential, so I’ll start working on an outline. For me, an outline is a scene-by-scene breakdown of everything that happens in the novel. It is, frankly, easier to muck about rearranging things and changing them in an outline than it is after a draft. Then I start the long slog through the first draft. Then I revise. Then I revise again. Repeat until done!

What are your passions?

Social justice, writing, reading, dogs, my darling daughter, my sweet husband, the Oxford comma, and Martha Stewart Living magazine (embarrassing, but true).

What inspires you?

What inspires me are fans. They write me E-mails, and sometimes they tell me that they bought the book with their own money. When I think about that—about a reader choosing to spend her money on my books instead of someone else’s, or something else that she might want—I know I have to work as hard as I can to make sure she cares about the characters and enjoys the book.

Why fantasy?
I love fantasy. LOVE! It’s the oldest genre (think mythology), and I think a lot of people sort of have it in their DNA, as I do. Unfortunately for me, I don’t really pick and choose the stories I write—they just come to me in pieces, and I start putting them together, and I get interested in them and then I can’t stop. I also write humorous tween books (which I also love to write) that sell really well, and my editors, of course, always want more of that. But…oh, well. I also write fantasy. I can’t help it!

Why young adult?

I don’t really believe that “young adult” is a writing genre. It’s more of a marketing genre. If your book is about young characters, it’s now published as young adult. If GREAT EXPECTATIONS, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or—arguably—WUTHERING HEIGHTS published today, the editors and marketers would want them in the YA section. Well, after that ramble, I guess the real answer is, “I dunno. That’s just my brain!”

How was SIREN’S STORM born?

SIREN’S STORM jumps right into the story with a peculiar car collision and a tragic backstory. Did the book always begin there or did it take numerous drafts to find the right starting point?

This is an excellent question, because it gets at something that is always a challenge for writers (and by writers, I mean “me”)—finding a good opening. The way I work is different from most writers, in that I am a hard-core outliner. Still, I often find that the opening scene I had planned in the outline just isn’t compelling once it’s written. So I try not to worry about the first scene until the second draft. I’ll just write a junk opening and then go back and find a better scene after the whole novel is done. That said, SIREN’S STORM is one case in which I saw the opening right away and very clearly, and I still think it’s one of the best scenes in the book.

Obviously, you didn’t create the concepts of sirens or Furies, but in what ways did you take literary license and tweak these beings for your own world?

I went back to the original ODYSSEY and was shocked to discover that a Siren wasn’t a mermaid at all—it was a creature with the body of a fierce bird and the face of a woman. Over time, others changed them to be half-woman, half-fish. Every author tweaks these creations, I guess. For the Sirens, I wanted to get at their backstory, to think about how it might be that some people could think they were birds, some fish. I created a tale-within-a-tale about their evolution. As for the Furies, their history is extremely vague and even conflicting. I tried to simply take the nugget of the idea there and then re-create the Fury out of whole cloth. I combined it with the mythical Phoenix, which rises from the ashes, and discovered a creature I really found intriguing. Like I said above, the fun is in turning the puzzle pieces around and seeing how they might fit.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

As a former editor and present author, I have TOO MUCH advice! The two most important things I would say are: do not give up and remember that rejection of your work/suggestions for ways to improve it are just part of the process. Every step leads forward.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?    
I believe in talent, but more than that, I believe in hard work. In ten years, I hope to be a much better writer than I am now. That’s the other thing that inspires me—the belief that I can be better. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

What Type of Book Reader Are You?

Discussion Topic - What Type of Book Reader Are You?

I read a fun article online in The Atlantic Wire recently about different kinds of readers. Apparently, Mark O'Connell confessed on the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog that he's a "promiscuous reader" who eagerly starts books only to abandon and never finish them once another interesting book catches his eye. That post inspired Jen Doll of The Atlantic Wire to brainstorm some other reader types, only to add a second list when the flood of emails poured in about types not included. I already do a series of posts called "The Art of Reading" that touch on this idea that bibliophiles have different ways of expressing their book devotion, so this online conversation caught my attention. Below I'll include short summaries of the reader types, but click here to check out the fun, full paragraph definitions in the original article.

Audiobook Listener: You rarely read in the traditional sense, but you're always listening to a good story.

Bedtime Reader: You can only find time to read before going to sleep and you often drift off while reading.

Book-Buster: You love your books to destruction. You break spines and spill drinks; you bend and rip pages and drop your book in the water; you leave novels outside in the dirt or on the floor where someone will doubtless step on them. It's not abuse - it's love.

Bookophile: You love books. Not just the stories. You love the feel of a physical book in your hand and the smell of the page. You love the covers, especially first or special editions, and your books are beloved treasures. Unlike the book-buster you would never ever hurt a book.

Book Snob: You only read award winning books or those highly recommended by the most discerning of critics. You scoff at the idea of reading a bestseller or otherwise trendy title.

Book Swagger: You have book connections and you're not afraid to boast about them. You proudly hold your advance reading copies so people can see the future publication date, though it's hard to say whether you read them all or just like having the book before anyone else.

Cat: Books aren't for reading. They're for sitting on. Particularly if it looks like someone else wants to read that book right now.

Chronological Reader: The anti-promiscuous reader. You buy/borrow a book. You read it. You buy/borrow another book. You read it. Methodical and reliable.

Compulsive Reader: You always have a book with you. Whether you're walking down the street, waiting in line, working out, or eating lunch, there's always time to read.

Conscientious Reader: Nonfiction only. You should learn something from and find meaning in everything you read.

Critic: You're more likely to hate than love, but when you love you adore and rave about metaphors, pacing, themes, character development, etc.

Cross-Under: You're an adult who reads YA and/or children's literature and don't understand the phrase "too young for you."

Delayed Onset Reader: You're excited to buy/borrow one/lots of books from a bookstore/library/friend and can't wait to read them. Except you're so busy that somehow days/weeks/months tick by without you reading a single page.

Devoted Reader: When you find an author you like, you read everything they wrote and keep a lookout for everything they will write in the future. Doesn't matter if the newest book receives terrible reviews or thumbs down from people you know; you're loyal to those writers you love.

Easily Influenced Reader: You trust everyone's opinion, which means you'll read whatever is recommended to you by whoever recommends it. Your mom liked a book? Read it. There's an exuberant quote from your favorite author on the cover? Better buy that one, too. That actress mentioned a new novel? Check it out.

Hate Reader: You love to hate books, always finding plenty to criticize and little to praise. Perhaps you're really that cynical. Perhaps it's all a show. Either way the supposed poor quality of everything you read doesn't stop you from reading more and more.

"It's Complicated" Reader: You refuse to be categorized. Each book represents a different aspect of your soul. Maybe pieces of these other "types" fit you, but none are exactly on target.

Multi-tasker: You and your books have an open relationship. You might read a few pages of a book in the morning, take a different one to work, devour a couple chapters of a third in the evening, and read yourself to sleep with a fourth.

Promiscuous Reader: When you start a book, you really do intend to finish it and you really do like it. Except a new book claims your attention, causing you to abandon the first. Do you finish the second? No, because there's another enticing book waiting to lure you away.

Re-reader: Why try something that might disappoint you when you can read something that you already know you love? Your books are like friends and your best friends are the ones with whom you spend the most time.

Sharer: When you like a book, you spread the word. You loan your copy, and, if you're really dedicated, you even buy extra copies to hand out.

These "types" definitely aren't mutually exclusive. I picked out four that fit me: Bookophile, Compulsive Reader, Cross-Under, and Multi-tasker. I'm a definite Bookophile, because I love books as objects as much as I love the words and stories inside them. I hang on to my favorites. Even if I never read them again, I like gazing nostalgically at my bookshelf, the titles and covers triggering reading memories. I'm much less a Compulsive Reader than I used to be, but, boy, did that definition ever apply to me in the past. I did have a book everywhere I went and would read even a single sentence whenever the chance presented itself. When I did weight lifting, I would read a page or two in between each set. In college, I read a leisure book on my walks to and from classes. However, I stopped carrying books everywhere when my friends started searching my purse prior to taking me anywhere. Apparently, they interpreted my book dependency as a lack of faith in their social skills. Anyone reading this blog knows I'm a Cross-Under Reader, since easily half of what I review is young adult. Last, my identity as a Multi-tasker is another one that has shifted over time. I used to be a hardcore Chronological Reader: pick one book, read that book and only that book all the way to the end, pick a new book, repeat. Then I gave reading multiple books at once a chance and was immediately hooked. I'm not a Promiscuous Reader by this article's definition - I always finish the books I start. However, I'm often reading more than ten books at a time!

Does one or multiple of the reader types above fit you? Can you brainstorm some more neither of the original articles covered? Feel free to share!

Friday, September 21, 2012


(review based on an advance reading copy) 

In the interest of complete honesty, the premise of this book didn’t appeal to me at all. For starters, I don't read very much science fiction and the book's blurb doesn't emphasize anything especially striking about the characters or the story. However, I read Lo's previous two books - ASH and HUNTRESS, both fantasy - and liked them enough to trust her as a writer and take a chance on ADAPTATION. I'm glad I did, because I loved it. So why am I telling you about my initial skepticism? Because I'm hoping anyone else who isn't enticed at first impression will look again before dismissing this book. 

So what's the premise? First, birds go crazy. They fly into planes and cause crashes and, therefore, mass fatalities. Second, our protagonist Reese and her debate partner/crush David suffer a terrible car crash in an attempt to flee the pandemonium. Third, Reese and David wake in a strange facility and a doctor informs them they've received a mysterious treatment. They can't leave until they sign confidentiality agreements and once they do return home, they both notice some unusual side effects. Last, the crazy birds and the mysterious treatment connect in unexpected ways. Oh, yes, and the American government, among other players, obviously has a withheld secret or two. 

Though definitely science fiction, ADAPTATION falls on the soft science fiction end of the spectrum, with plenty that doesn't actually make much scientific sense, even as speculation, and cliché sci-fi twists that serve more as plot tools without scientifically satisfying explanations and logic (though they are satisfying by other measures; character development comes to mind). I think the gentleness of the sci-fi element helped me like ADAPTATION even though I'm not a big science fiction fan. After all, this story isn't about the premise, the science fiction, or the twists. No, it's about Reese, a teenage girl, an individual, a person, and a totally unique character. And her story's definitely worth reading. 

The book has a rollercoaster pace. It opens with a leisurely scene in the airport that soon transforms into the bird chaos I've already loosely described and then that bizarre tragedy plunges downward into a painfully realistic chain of panicked events, speeding up faster and faster, until the car crash halts the pace to a slow crawl with Reese waking in an unknown location. From there, we follow her confusion over recent events as she fights for the normalcy of her life before the crash. Then a series of revelations sends us over the edge again and rushing along with no brakes towards an action and epiphany packed ending. 

Lo handles romance with a rare realism. I love romance books or plot threads that meet my standards, but I'm an extremely picky romance reader and frequently grow annoyed with hollow, melodramatic, or overdone romances. Young adult themes often focus on discovering oneself in general, or narrowed to a specific aspect, but Lo's one of the minority examining romantic self-discovery from a new angle. Most books take for granted that everyone must want a typical girl meets boy happily ever after, but in truth plenty of people, teenagers and adults alike, don't yet know what they want from a relationship. Lo's known for writing gay and bi-sexual romances, but I'm not exclusively referring to that aspect of her romantic exploration. Reese doesn't know if she wants a relationship at all. Now or ever. Not that it stops her from feeling attraction, sometimes towards people who surprise her.

I recently discovered, from reading Lo's blog that ADAPTATION's the first in a duology. While I never would have known that without being told, it makes sense. The ending finds a nice closure point that satisfied me, but there's plenty of room for elaboration and a continuing story. I can't wait to read the next book and the final ending! 

Monday, September 17, 2012


(companion to A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, review based on an advance reading copy)

I loved Gidwitz's first book, A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, and the second more than lives up to expectations. For those unaware, each chapter of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM twists a particular Grimm fairy tale while the children Hansel and Gretel link all the stories with an overarching narrative. Very well executed! The companion book, IN A GLASS GRIMMLY follows a less straightforward, though similar, structure. We still have numerous recognizable tales woven into one intricate plot, but they're not all from the Grimm brothers this time, each chapter isn't an entire twisted tale, and Gidwitz takes a little more license with molding the original stories. In some cases, he merely references well-known stories rather than entirely retelling them. (For anyone interested, at the end of the book there's a note from the author specifying his influences.) However, Gidwitz still connects each sub-story with a bigger plot following another boy and girl, this time Jack and Jill.

Another trend between both books is, of course, the tone. Gidwitz’s belief that children don't require nearly as much sheltering or coddling as adults assume really makes his work stand out. Therefore, he tells the real Grimm fairy tales. Twists, yes, but I mean he doesn't edit out the morbid parts. He does, however, make the narrator yet another character and this narrator cuts into the story every now and then, oftentimes right before the scary parts to provide a warning or right after to offer some insight or comic relief. Intrusive narrators can be difficult since sometimes they're simply too, yup, intrusive, but Gidwitz masters this tool, making the narrator one of the book's greatest strengths.

For those sick of fairy tale retellings I would still encourage you to try these books. The task with retellings is changing enough so that it’s a new story and Gidwitz certainly does that. The book surprised me again and again, even though I sometimes attempted guesses about what's ahead based on my knowledge of fairy tales, fables, and folklore. The wonderful unpredictability of IN A GLASS GRIMMLY made it surprisingly "unguessable” for a twisted fairy tale!

The book absorbed me throughout, but the ending in particular glows with a heartfelt and well-delivered message as vital for adults as for children. Not a message inherited from one of its parent stories, either. IN A GLASS GRIMMLY boasts a beautiful ending all its own.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Interview with Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo’s first novel, ASH, a retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award for YA Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the Lambda Literary Award. Her second novel, HUNTRESS, a companion novel to ASH, is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Her young adult science fiction duology, beginning with ADAPTATION, will be published in fall 2012. She lives in Northern California with her partner and their dog.

What are you reading right now?

Currently I'm listening to the audiobook of THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD by Ellen Kushner. It's set in a European-based fantasy world and is about a 15-year-old country girl who is invited by her uncle, a wealthy and notorious duke, to come live with him in the city. The condition is that she train in how to be a swordsman. The girl doesn't really have much choice in the matter, and the way she deals with her lot — as well as her swordsmanship lessons — are fascinating, and I'm completely addicted to listening to it. (I should note that this is not a YA novel.)

What first sparked your interest in writing?

I was born being interested in writing. So: genetics?
What do you love the most about writing? The least?

This has changed or evolved over the years, but right now, after having written two novels about the same cast of characters (ADAPTATION is the first of two books, and I just completed the second draft of the sequel), I think my favorite part of writing is spending time with my characters. I've thought about them so much that they feel totally real to me. I know that I'm going to miss them a lot when I'm finished writing these books.

My least favorite part of writing is transition scenes. I hate these, I really do! I wish people would just get from point A to point B without me having to deal with it, but unfortunately, in fiction as in life, you have to suffer through the commute.

What inspires you?

Almost anything can inspire me. Food, nature, music, fashion, history, art, love, fear, mortality. I think that writers must be able to find inspiration in as much as possible. What's the opposite of inspired? Jaded? Those who are jaded or cynical cannot truly be creative, because they deny possibility.

That said, any creative project — novel or other art form — does not come solely from inspiration. It comes from putting in the time and going to work, even when inspiration does not seem remotely likely to strike.

Why fantasy?


Why young adult?

I did not set out to write young adult fiction. ASH was written for adults, or so I thought, but when it came time to send it out to agents, I realized it fit better in the YA market. Since then I've been writing YA because that's where I was launched, and I really enjoy plenty of YA fiction. I like its immediacy and its focus on story. That doesn't mean I'll only ever write YA, but I do think it's a wonderful category right now.

How was ASH born?

ASH resulted from my desire to write the book I'd always wanted to read. My favorite novels growing up were written by Robin McKinley, who has retold many fairy tales. My favorite fairy tale was "Cinderella." Robin McKinley didn't retell that story, so I decided to do it myself.

How was ADAPTATION born?

ADAPTATION came from a dream I had. In the dream, two teens were trapped in an airport while planes began crashing. It was incredibly vivid, and when I woke up I ran to my office and wrote it down in my writing journal. I thought immediately that it would make a great story, and I kept thinking about it long after I'd had the dream. That's how I knew I wanted to write a book that started with what I saw in that dream.

Your two worlds are very different. Was one harder to write than the other? One more fun?

It was a little difficult for me to get the hang of the style of ADAPTATION at first because I was so used to writing in that old-tymey fairy tale voice. However, I think at the beginning of every novel I grapple with how the book should feel, so this wasn't really that different. Once I figured out the book's voice, I found it wonderfully fun and liberating. I got to use all sorts of words that I couldn't in ASH or HUNTRESS — scientific jargon and contemporary curse words and slang. I really enjoyed it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Read a lot. Read what you love. If you don't love something, give it another couple of chapters before you give up on it. Sometimes books take a little bit of time to ease into. And try to read with an open mind; try not to judge it before you've digested it.

Similarly, write a lot. You will need to write a lot of crap before you write anything good. Keep writing, even if you think it's bad — and especially if you think it's good, because it probably isn't. Not at first. I've never written a first draft that rocked on all levels. You always need to step back, give yourself time to digest it (just like with reading) and come back to look at it as dispassionately as possible.

And don't rush. Everything now is go-go-go, but I think speed can be the worst thing to happen to writing. Slow down so you can see the words better.

Monday, September 10, 2012


(based on a review copy)

Anyone who read my review of THIEF EYES by Janni Lee Simner might recall my description of that book: "Reading this story is a little like walking into a dark tunnel. I can’t see where it’s going. I can’t even see very far in front of me, but once I emerge from the other end my surroundings are illuminated again." That line kept popping into my mind as I read THE HANDMAID'S TALE, due to its structure. Rather than a simple chronological story, a thread in the present interweaves with snippets from various time periods in the past. From the first chapter, there's an eerie and unsettling sense, but understanding builds slowly (unless you read the back, which summarizes aspects you don't otherwise discover for a while).

THE HANDMAID'S TALE falls into a category of what I've come to think of as "sneak attack" books. I don't realize how much I've invested until it slaps me in the face. In this case, the characters start off as foggy blurs with the reader plopped down in the middle of their everyday, but certainly not ordinary, lives. With each scene, the characters solidify bit by bit until they feel like real people. By the time I understood Offred’s world, I liked her almost as a friend, and that was an unfortunate combination: understanding and liking.

Atwood creates an unusual ending, too, with an interesting technique. Offred's story cuts off and readers can imagine happy or tragic endings, but will never know for sure. However, the ending of the book comes after the "Historical Notes" in which a class even farther in the future than Offred's generation attends a lecture discussing the political upheaval of her time. Don’t skip over that part!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Random Acts of Reading - Can't Wait to Read

I'm a guest blogger for Random House's blog - Random Acts of Reading. Check out this month's post about the books we're looking forward to reading in the Fall.


(first in THE LYNBURN LEGACY series, review based on an advance reading copy)

I’ve never read anything by Sarah Rees Brennan before, though I know fellow readers who heap praise on her work. Now I see why! "Good" doesn't do UNSPOKEN justice; it's compulsively readable.

With a boiled down description, UNSPOKEN doesn't sound all that unique and, in fact, the magical elements and many plot twists aren't that new. It's the characters who make this story incredible. At first glance, Kami's life seems normal enough, except that since birth she's communicated with a voice in her a head, a boy named Jared. I loved Kami and the tone of this book immediately. Brennan can make you laugh and cry within the same page, perhaps even within one sentence. The novel bounces chaotically between hilarious and intense and builds to an unexpected, breathtaking climax.

The dialogue doesn't feel that realistic. However, I don't necessarily mean that as a criticism, since it's thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. All of Brennan's characters - kids, teenagers, and adults alike - are smart and funny, making the exchanges between them highly entertaining even if similar traits run through everyone. Kami's one of those protagonists who's so well-written that I crawled into her mind (had to nudge Jared over a little to make room for me) and felt everything she felt.

Some readers may find themselves frustrated by the ending, which is a bit of an emotional cliffhanger. Myself, I can't quite put my feelings in terms or "like" or "didn't like." The ending broke my heart.

Monday, September 3, 2012


(review based on an advance reading copy)

Papademetriou doesn't waste pages. The story dives in headfirst with a car collision, strong sensory detail, and talented character building. As I continued reading, it became apparent that this book might be a little less fantasy and more focused on suspense. Oh, it's definitely fantasy, but that element doesn't come into play for quite a while, so those of you looking for the sirens from the title, be patient. Instead, there's an accumulation of strange events, characters, and clues leading our protagonists to fantastical conclusions. Even with the fantasy details set aside, the book has a fast pace throughout. I also found myself impressed with exactly how Papademetriou handled the magic in her story. As a reader, I'm always willing to put skepticism on hold regarding how quickly characters in a world similar to our own jump to the conclusion "MAGIC!" in a fantasy book, since usually that quick jump from mundane to magical keeps the plot moving along. However, Gretchen and Will's reactions to the bizarre struck me as much more realistic. Part of why it takes so long for the fantasy element to really step forward is because neither Gretchen nor Will is the type of person who might assume strange = magical. Their journey from "That's odd." to "That's magic!" felt plausible and fresh.

Many scenes in SIREN'S STORM feel so vivid and tangible that it's almost like spying on real people. Papademetriou has an admirable knack for capturing volumes in one small observation: a detail about the room's layout, a perfectly described smell or sensation, an apt gesture. I especially love the contrast between dialogue and inner monologue. The book dips into both Gretchen and Will's perspectives and both of them frequently think much more than they say. It's entertaining and insightful reading some of their blander, clipped conversations and comparing what's said with all that neither of them will voice.

The foremost strength of the book rests in the characters and their relationships. (Or is the writing the best part? Too much to love!) Even minor characters have the sense of greater depth, their own lives with their own problems, everything interconnected in a big, complicated world.

The suspense builds with each unsettling event and crazy, hesitant theories harden into dangerous facts. The tension rises to a violent climax of action and revelations and, of course, that key element: emotion. Even the ending's structure feels distinctive, though more on that later, in my review of the sequel, FURY'S FIRE.