#SixteensBlogAbout: Summer Reading

With the summer months practically here (seriously, how is it June already? Slow down, 2015…), the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about a particularly timely topic: summer reading.

This got me thinking about a lot of things. All the fabulous books I want to be reading right this second. The massive TBR list I’m dying to catch up on. The chair on my deck, beckoning me to sit down with a glass of Riesling and my Kobo.

Beach

Beach reading: one of the ultimate reading locations.

But the very first thought that came to mind? Being a kid and having the whole summer off, and not even appreciating how awesome that was. I  remember complaining to my parents, loudly and dramatically, that I was bored during those summers. Bored. There were only so many hours that could be spent playing outside, so many afternoons reading The Babysitter’s Club and hacking the hair off Barbies with my sister. So many days with nothing to do.

(It goes without saying that I also didn’t appreciate nap time back then. Because I had a lot to learn.)

As an adult, I relish any free time I get. There’s absolutely nothing more exciting for me than a whole day stretching ahead with no plans at all, nothing to do at all. It’s funny how things change— how what I now call the perfect day used to be a dime a dozen, ferociously underappreciated. What would summer reading look like for me, if I had back those endless summer days bereft of responsibilities that I didn’t value as a kid?

Summer reading would be both leisurely and fervent. It would involve starting and finishing a book in the same day. Maybe two books a day, since there wouldn’t be laundry to do or groceries to buy or meals to burn cook. Summer reading would happen everywhere. On my deck, where a waiter would magically refill my champagne when my glass got empty. (Hey, it’s my fantasy here!) At the beach, where I’d be careful not to get SPF 60 all over the pages. In the passenger seat during road trips, because let’s face it, I’m a useless navigator anyway. In my bed, where I’d sleep until at least noon like I did when I was a teenager. In an inflatable pool chair, floating from the shallow end to the deep end and back again, my toes dangling in the water. (In this wishful summer, I of course have a pool.) In the park, on a blanket in the grass. On a boat while my husband fishes. Summer reading would swallow up my days and the word “boredom” would never be used.

But that’s not the summer I have to work with. In reality, summer reading fits in wherever it can. On my breaks at work. While a TV show plays in the background. At the library. In coffee shops, accompanied by lattes. In my office. While I’m quickly eating breakfast before work. With a little lamp-light, under the covers at night. (Maybe I have something in common with kid-me after all.) I’ll read everywhere and anywhere, in whatever time I have, because quite simply, there is no better summer vacation than the ones found within a book’s pages.

And just for fun, here are some of the (many) books I hope to read this summer:

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

In A World Just Right by Jen Brooks

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

Learning Not to Drown by Anna Shinoda

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Mania by J.R. Johansson

Black Iris by Leah Raeder

Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Happy reading, everyone, whether it’s under the covers after dark, on a deck with champagne, or everywhere in between!

May, briefly

May has been a flurry of activity, to say the least. (Thankfully, no flurries outside… but touch wood, because in Canada, you never know.) I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to stay organized and on top of things, because otherwise something would have slipped through the cracks. The best part is that we have been experiencing summer-like temperatures here (Heat! Humidity! Be still, my heart!), which means I can do my work on the back deck with a glass of wine. Basically, that’s my happy place.

This month, I have been:

Pen

The coolest pen ever.

Working on: With one finished WIP in the very capable hands of my CP, I have been revising another completed WIP draft. Because of everything else going on, this second WIP has sat on my computer, untouched, for several months—and the time away has done wonders. After reading the full manuscript, I was able to pick out exactly what needed to be fixed and get to work quickly instead of dawdling over a page filled with question marks. I guess that saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” works for an author’s relationship with her writing, too. This WIP (another YA contemporary) is unlike anything I’ve ever written before, and it was something that started as an “in between” project, which was great because I felt no pressure from myself to make it into something.

I have also been hard at work for a secret project we have cooked up for FIRSTS. I’m looking forward to sharing more about this as soon as I can! I’ll say this much: it has been an insanely fun thing to do, and I hope everyone enjoys it!

Reading: I have been a bit behind on my massive TBR, unfortunately. (Can there please be more hours added to the day solely for reading?) But I finished BECOMING JINN by Lori Goldstein, which kept me up way too late at night. My relationship with Lori, my former Pitch Wars mentor, is very dear to me, so I was obviously quite excited to read her debut. She’s tremendously talented and balances drama with humor to absolute perfection. BECOMING JINN is the story of Azra, whose Jinn powers are released on her sixteenth birthday. I loved Azra’s snarky, sarcastic voice, her relationships with her Zar sisters and her mother, and how she reconciles her feelings for two very different guys. Often, the hardest part of writing is balancing the elements that make a good story, and Lori makes that seem easy: she has the perfect amounts of world-building, action, tears, laughter, tragedy, and plot twists. My only complaint? Having to wait for the sequel after THAT ENDING!

I also read I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson this month. I have heard nothing but great things about her writing, so I was really looking forward to diving in to this book. And basically, it knocked the wind out of me and replaced it with sunshine. Stunning, beautiful, and unputdownable, I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN is about many kinds of relationships– brother and sister, daughter, son, student, lover– and at its core, the relationship between artists and their art. For a book that centers around art and the “ecstatic impulse,” this book is art itself. Funny, sad, smart, insightful, and electric. Jandy Nelson knows how to make words bend, sizzle, soar, and take shape, just like art. I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN inspired me and made me want to create things.

Watching: My husband and I are mainlining Dexter on Netflix. We’re six seasons in now and I’m continually impressed with the suspense and tension and how it has held up. Generally, I feel like shows lose some steam as they get into later seasons, but in my opinion, Dexter is just as good or better as when it started. The writers have done a great job of keeping the storylines creative and making us care about the characters. I tend to compare Dexter to Breaking Bad (which is one of my all-time favorites) because in both shows, we root for a character who does seriously questionable things. I think this moral ambiguity is so interesting, and it’s a lesson to be learned for writing, too– characters need to have both good and bad elements for us to care about them. Plus, I can’t help it—I’m a total sucker for an antihero.

All that said, May has been a great month, and I hope June brings more hot weather, words, and backyard wine!

#SixteensBlogAbout: Diversity

This month, The Sweet Sixteens are blogging about diversity, so I wanted to share what diversity means to me– as a reader and as a writer.

I first remember hearing about We Need Diverse Books last year, when the hashtag kept appearing in my Twitter feed. I was blown away by what so many people had to say, and at how the whole kidlit community rallied together for something we all not only want to see happen, but need to see happen.

WNDB2It makes me very sad to think that kids grow up without being able to find faces that look like theirs on book covers, or characters like them within its pages. A big part of the joy of reading is being able to identify with characters, to relate to their struggles and feelings and realize that you’re not alone. There are few better escapes than retreating into a book and hiding there until you feel okay again. I remember lots of times where I felt awkward and geeky and out of place growing up, but turning the pages of a book and losing myself in the characters could deflate my worries like nothing else. I idolized characters, loved them, hated them, pictured myself in their shoes. I felt better about myself when I realized they made mistakes too, because they were just like me. Maybe when I was younger, a straight, white, teenage girl from the suburbs, I took it for granted that I would find a version of myself in a book’s pages. But that feeling is one that everybody deserves to have.

Every experience is unique, and reading about the experiences of people different from us makes readers more educated, more empathetic, more understanding. As writers, it’s our responsibility to create characters that resonate with people. It’s our duty to make our characters authentic. This means writing characters who are identified by more than their gender, skin color, weight, religion, cultural background, or sexual orientation.

Books should be more than that. Books need to be more than that. Because everyone deserves to see themselves as a main character. Not a sidekick, not a secondary character, not a stereotype, not the best friend or the loner or the misunderstood bully. But as fully fleshed-out, multifaceted main characters, with laughter and tears and triumphs and failures.

And don’t get me wrong: I think art is doing a great job of covering ground. There are so many writers out there creating wonderfully diverse books, changing the landscape of publishing. Brilliant writers who are making a difference, not just in the writing world but in the lives of so many readers.

But until everyone can see themselves as a main character, art still has a long way to go.

January, briefly

January has never been one of my favorite months. It seems particularly obnoxious, like a guest who has long overstayed his welcome and doesn’t realize it. Maybe it’s the reality of New Year’s Resolutions sinking in, or just the comedown after the Christmas festivities. Usually by January 31st, I wonder how a month can possibly feel so long.

But this January has been different somehow. Instead of feeling tired and defeated, I feel inspired. When I looked at the calendar today and realized it was January 29th, I wondered where the month has gone. Then I realized where: into several Word documents and a couple handy notebooks.

I'm a handy notebook! Fill me with words!

I’m a handy notebook! Fill me with words!

When you work a lot, whether as a writer or at any job, it’s easy for the days to blend into each other. It’s even easy to forget what day of the week it is. (At least, for me.) So I thought it would be fun to record a little bit of what I’m up to at the end of each month, to remind myself what I have accomplished and how I got there.

This month, I have been…

Working on: The Young Adult contemporary I wrote after FIRSTS. This isn’t just a book of my heart, but a book of my sanity too—it has been a decidedly tricky one to write. I’ve been playing with a mix of perspectives and tenses and actually plotting (gasp), which felt foreign. But this is one story I’ve realized I can’t just “pants” my way through. I tried. I failed. I moved on. Which leaves me here, with an outline and lots of chapters in the process of being written. Now that I have taken January to plot and really know the story and characters, I feel confident that February will be the month where ALL THE WORDS come out to play.

Reading: I started the year off on a very high reading note. The first book I finished in January was Marci Lyn Curtis’s debut, THE ONE THING. I was lucky enough to read this book before its release date (September 8, 2015—mark your calendar!) and was totally blown away. A witty, sarcastic protagonist, an amazing concept, and writing that grips you and doesn’t let go—this is a stunning debut that I’m still thinking about. (Psst… come back on Monday and you’ll get to see Marci’s brand new cover! Trust me, you don’t want to miss it!)

I also read THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black and loved it. Holly Black has created a setting in Coldtown that feels chillingly real. Her writing is rich and beautiful and makes everything in the book so easy to visualize.

I just finished HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown, which had been on my TBR for quite awhile. I had high hopes, and the book exceeded all of them. I love how it’s not what it appears to be, which is a book about a high school shooting—it’s a book about Valerie, the girlfriend of the shooter, and her long road to recovery.

Watching: My husband and I started watching LOST on Netflix. I had seen parts of it several years ago, but watching it a second time through and picking up on more detail has been really fascinating. I forgot how totally captivating this show is, and what a brilliant job the writers did with the characters and their backgrounds and their interwoven lives. Not to mention… the suspense! Oh, the suspense. The reason I stay up way too late.

So that’s my month in a nutshell. Words, words, and more words. Written, read, listened to. February, I can only hope you’re equally verbose!