After flubbing a question asked by a student after a reading:

… you asked me a smart Q after the reading and I didn’t give much of an answer. You know how I sought to overcome my own fairly protected childhood as a writer? I didn’t write about myself — not for a long time. I used my own life — in bits and pieces — b/c it was available. What else does one have? But I also wrote about my ancestors whose lives were turbulent and brutal in many ways. I sought out people who’d lived interesting lives. At a parade, an older woman was given an award. She’d been a nurse in the Battle of the Bulge. I looked her up after and interviewed her. My friend’s father was a Death March survivor. I asked her if I could interview him, and they both agreed. I spent time in nursing homes, listening. I set up a grant to design and teach a memoir-writing workshop to help elders tell their life stories. I have a desire for lives to be preserved. Basically, I reached out more than I reached in. To be honest, for a long time, I wasn’t interested in my own life and experiences at all. I eventually learned how to write in that way — or to better forage my own memories but understanding myself wasn’t what drew me to writing. I wrote far from myself. It was an escape.

Thoughts on YA as Cybils season gets underway

My literary diet is pretty evenly balanced among the various food groups, I would say. In the normal scheme of things, I probably read:

• 20% middle-grade including read-alouds to my younger kids,

• 25% adult fiction & poetry including classics for discussion with my homeschooled teens,

• 20% YA fiction,

• 20% picture books and early readers,

• 15% nonfiction (all age ranges).

That adds up to a hundred percent, right? It’s possible I’m just making these numbers up because I don’t think in terms of statistics or pay much attention to what category of book I’m reaching for next. I read where whim takes me, or duty. Which, duh, I suppose goes for everyone. Either you’re reading a book because it jumped out at you, or because someone needed you to. (Sometimes that “someone” is you, assigning yourself a book for any number of reasons. Research, training, education, camaraderie—in my view one of the best of all reasons, that last one—reading a book because someone you care about wants to share the experience with you.)


In 2010, the last time I served on the Cybils YA Fiction panel, the other literary food groups slid right off my plate. For three months I lived on an all-YA diet. And not just YA—’realistic’ YA, i.e. not speculative fiction. Contemporary & historical YA. It was a fascinating experience. Some few of the nominees were funny. A very few were madcap action-adventure tales. Most were weighty, brooding, often dark or grim, tackling grave issues or simply striving to show the world as it really is, which does mean dark and grim a lot of the time.

After three months on that diet, I was definitely ready for a change of menu—my book log for early 2011 contains a lot of humor, from Jenni Holm’s Turtle in Paradise to Quinn Cummings’s Notes from the Underwire. I slowed waaaay down, too, averaging only 3 1/2 books a month from January-April, compared to the many dozens per month I read during the 2010 Cybils season, or the more typical 5-7 titles that is my average outside unusual circumstances. 

But the all-YA Fic diet was immensely nourishing and incredibly tasty. Book after book, stew after rich, savory stew full of compelling ingredients and subtle flavors. I gained some mental muscle on that diet, I can tell you. One of the most delicious things about good YA fiction (and of course not all the books I read that year were *good* YA fiction, but a boatload of them absolutely were) is how it’s able to be at once gripping—a plot-driven narrative—and probing. That’s not an easy feat for a writer to pull off, to grip and probe simultaneously. The remarkable thing is how many contemporary YA writers can do it. 

Standouts that year—books I remember without even trying: STOLEN by Lucy Christopher. SCRAWL by Mark Shulman. SPLIT by Swati Avasthi. Not all the standouts had single-word titles beginning with S. Some had multi-word titles beginning with S, like Matthew Quick’s SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR. ;) No, seriously, we read so many great books that year! THREE RIVERS RISING: A NOVEL OF THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD by Jame Richards. I loved that book, a verse novel in which the verse wasn’t merely a device, it was a necessity for telling the story Richards wanted to tell.

I could go on. Several of those titles made our shortlist. There were others that didn’t but were wonderful books, keepers. 

I’m already diving into this year’s feast, starting with books I think are highly likely to be nominated. The nomination period opens on October 1 (watch the Cybils blog for details) and I’ll be haunting the list as it grows, devouring novels as fast as I can. 

Something I’ll be thinking about as I gorge is what stories these writers are telling and why. (Not just how, which is a primary measure of a book’s merit—how is this story being told? How well? How vividly? How compellingly? How convincingly? How searingly? Does it leave something behind? A scar on the mind, a rune engraved on the heart? A face you can’t ever forget? How? How?) 

In an endeavor like this, selecting a Cybils shortlist, the what and why questions are equally pressing. What makes this book stand out from the crowd—and a crowd it will be. Why this plot, this narrator, this voice. Why verse, or why prose? When you read a lot of books at once you can’t help but spot patterns and trends. Small details, perhaps, like the naming of cars—in 2010 we had a gaggle of them, including not one but two cars named “Holden,” (totally by coincidence I have no doubt). But larger trends as well, clusters of books exploring similar subject matter. In realistic YA fiction this very often means suicide, addiction, medical or mental disorders, sexual or physical abuse. And that, I think, tells us a great deal about what the world is like for teens. And is why the best YA is both gripping and probing—that’s what teens do: they grip tightly to each other, to ideas, to hopes, to identity, to music, to fears; and they probe and dig and ponder and search. In this light the naming of cars makes perfect sense—the quest for identity, the assignment of personality to objects of significance, the search for the real, true meaning of things. Naming a thing helps define the thing. Naming it Holden—oh there’s so much to unpack there. Holden Caulfield, the original teen gripper and prober. 

You can’t read a book that is gripping without being gripped, and that’s what I’m preparing myself for. To have my mind shaken, my heart squeezed. This is not to say that I’m expecting or favoring only ‘heavy’ books. Laughter leaves an impression on the heart too. So does a good romance. A well-crafted thriller puts a squeeze on the heart in much the same way that the crazy Temple of Doom guy did in the second Indiana Jones film. 

Well, now I’ve completely lost hold of my food metaphor, haven’t I. Except I recall a rather gory dinner of monkey brains from that same film. Brains and heart, here we are again. Perhaps that’s the culinary niche occupied by YA fiction: brains and heart. The vital organs. 

Cybils time

The official announcements came out this morning, so now I can say how pleased I am to be once again serving on the Cybils YA Fiction panel, round 1. (My last stint on YA Fic was 2010. Since then I’ve served on Graphic Novels, Book Apps, and Fiction Picture Books.)

A first-round Cybils panel means a lot of reading. A LOT of reading. Like a really really LAWT of reading. Nominations are open to the public beginning October 1st. That means you’ll be determining what I spend every spare moment reading during the next couple of months. 

I’m tweaking my website just a bit and one thing that means is that I’ll be posting my YA-related content here on tumblr. Over at Bonny Glen I tend to focus on books for younger readers (and my own horde of young readers). I decided I wanted a separate space for talking about teen books. So here we are. Iteration #6 (at least?) for this tumblr.

I revamped the template yesterday and then later I looked down at my pale green pants and red sandals and realized I’d drawn my color scheme directly from what I was wearing. I guess today I should switch this design to the colors of a ratty t-shirt.


Illustration crush: laurahughes-illustrator.


Orangutans, Ferris Jabr writes, possess an extraordinary intellect and have demonstrated a capability for cultural learning:

"At Camp Leakey, the orangutans had plenty of opportunity to observe and imitate people. They soon developed a habit of stealing canoes, paddling them downriver, and abandoning them at their destinations. Even triple and quadruple knots in the ropes securing the canoes to the dock did not deter the apes."

Photograph by Patrick Stollarz/AFP/Getty

Naturally this puts me in mind of Bernard Beckett’s GENESIS

“I had hoped that the move to a longlist would shine the spotlight on the full range of young people’s literature, and that has yet to really happen over the first two years. To wit: Are picture books not young people’s literature?”

NBA Longlist — Heavy Medal (via schoollibraryjournal)

"As a judge of this category in 2013 when the longlist debuted, I’ll pipe up and say that I would love if the YPL category included picture books or if they had a category for younger children’s books.  I can honestly say that it is very hard to read and judge across so many age ranges and with both fiction and non-fiction lumped together.  Personally I was glad for the longlist so that we could highlight more books that were all winners in my eyes."

(via misscecil)

(via misscecil)


'Through The Forest' by Alex G Griffiths

This fox just became one of my favorite foxes ever.

(via tinglealley)

The other day I mentioned I’ve been meaning to write a post about the 1972 middle-grade novel Sarah and Katie by Dori White. THIS IS NOT THAT POST. This is purely a curiosity itch I can’t wait to scratch. I took my query to Twitter, too, and…crickets. Now, ordinarily the merest mention of any book on Twitter, let alone a childhood favorite, garners zillions of immediate and enthusiastic responses. People love to talk about their childhood books.

Which leads me to believe that no one I know either on Twitter or here has heard of this book!

Can this be? Am I alone in my Sarah and Katie mini-obsession?


I’m still in a post-Comicon haze. I’m in Burbank now visiting friends. Still need to post all my con pics. Here’s some of the commissions I remembered to take photos of. Sunday got so busy I had to turn people away.

Those cats. THOSE CATS. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Chris Gugliotti is a genius.

“The real scandal, then, is what’s considered “ethical.” The argument that Facebook already advertises, personalizes, and manipulates is at heart a claim that our moral expectations for Facebook are already so debased that they can sink no lower. I beg to differ. This study is a scandal because it brought Facebook’s troubling practices into a realm—academia—where we still have standards of treating people with dignity and serving the common good. The sunlight of academic practices throws into sharper relief Facebook’s utter unconcern for its users and for society. The study itself is not the problem; the problem is our astonishingly low standards for Facebook and other digital manipulators.”

On that Facebook study. (via katherinestasaph)

Good arguments for why this study should earn more than a shrug and a “Yeah, that’s Facebook, LOL.” Among them are:

  • FB’s data use policy doesn’t remotely constitute “informed consent” for this sort of research by any reasonable standard; 
  • With the explicit psychological manipulation, this is well beyond “observational” is pretty clearly experimental research; and
  • (check the updates at the bottom for more links) this was, in part, federally funded and somehow approved by an IRB.

(via davebloom)

(via davebloom)



TransCanada’s shoddy work on the southern leg of Keystone XL compelled the U.S. pipeline safety regulator to impose new restrictions on the company. Read more here: We won’t endanger the Ogallala aquifer, our land, and our livelihoods for a tarsands pipeline that. will. spill.

TransCanada already has a rep of more spills the first year on each pipeline than other companies experience after 10 years of operations.


 guess what’s happened to Denver crime rates in 2014? …

According to new data, they’ve fallen across the board. Property crime is down 14.6% compared to the same period in 2013. Violent crimes are down 2.4%. 

(via cognitivedissonance)

“Reading for fun is not really an economic activity. When you sit down with a book, you are not producing anything or buying or selling anything. You aren’t performing a service for anyone other than yourself. You aren’t hiring, supervising, soliciting bids or trading securities. You aren’t harvesting or polishing or packing or drafting or breaking ground or any of the other things people do when they’re participating in economic life. And that’s part of what makes reading so beautiful. —Max Ehrenfreund, “One reason to look forward to getting older””

I don’t know if some of you have been to these live reads at LACMA, where a classic film is read live on stage by actors who just sit and read the script. We did one recently of American Pie, but we reversed the gender roles. All the women played men; all the men played women. And it was so fascinating to be a part of this because, as the women took on these central roles — they had all the good lines, they had all the good laughs, all the great moments — the men who joined us to sit on stage started squirming rather uncomfortably and got really bored because they weren’t used to being the supporting cast.

It was fascinating to feel their discomfort [and] to discuss it with them afterward, when they said, “It’s boring to play the girl role!” And I said, “Yeah. Yeah. You think? Welcome to our world!

—Olivia Wilde crushing it when she talks about women in Hollywood.  (via leanin)

(via seriouslyamerica)