Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Reading Rave – Eleanor & Park

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9781250012579_p0_v1_s260x420Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

St.Martin’s Griffin/2013

When I read John Green’s review of this YA novel in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, I knew I’d have to buy this book. I knew it was the kind of book I would love. I was not disappointed.

Sixteen yo Park is probably the only Korean-American, probably the only Asian, in Omaha. Eleanor, just recently moved, wants only to keep her head, her big red haired-head, down. But on her first day as she climbs onto the school bus, she knows that won’t happen – and already feels ostracized, even though the strange Asian kid lets her sit next to him. Day after day they ride in silence, until he notices she’s reading his comics over his shoulder, and then she realizes he’s letting her. And then he’s loaning her his comics, and introducing her to music on his Walkman. And then they fall in love against all odds – a Korean-American boy and a red-headed girl who lives in a rather bleak family situation. Park’s parents accept her (his mother more slowly) while Eleanor must hide her relationship from her family, especially her stepdad. Set in 1986, this is a love story – realistic, heart-wrenching, and honest.

Get thee to the store/library and read this book!

And The Winner Is…

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Thank you to everyone who stopped by to read the Spotlight on Brent Hartinger and his newest YA novel, The Elephant of Surprise!

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I wonder if I scared some people off from entering the drawing by my question of what is your favorite food and would you eat it from a Dumpster? 😉 In any case, I pulled the lucky name at random, and the winner of a copy of this fabulous books is….

(drum roll please)

Suzanne Morrone! YAY! Congratulations! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) and give me your mailing address so I can promptly send you your prize!

Come back soon, everyone, for another drawing in the near future! And happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight: Brent Hartinger and The Elephant of Surprise!

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Welcome back to my series where I put the spotlight on authors and books I love! I’m so thrilled to feature Brent Hartinger! I’ve been a long time fan. I’m especially pleased because we’re talking about Brent’s newest book, The Elephant of Surprise, book 4 in the Russel Middlebrook series. I’ve so missed Russel and his friends. Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this awesome book!

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The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger (Buddha Kitty Books/2013)

In The Elephant of Surprise, Russel is trying to maintain a long distance relationship with Otto while Min is having relationship issues with Leah. Gunnar is on a kick of recording every second of his life online. During the course of the story, Russel meets a Wade, a freegan – someone who lives a free life by collecting food and material out of Dumpsters. Russel is not only attracted to this alternate lifestyle but he’s attracted to Wade, too. Oh, and Kevin Land, Russel’s first love is still on Russel’s radar. This story is part mystery and a lot love story – everything I adore about a good book!

You have quite a career – author, playwright, screenwriter! Call you tell us a little about your path to publication (in YA) and how the other facets of your careers came about? Do you favor one over another?

Like a lot of writers, I think my landing in YA was a bit of fluke. I wrote a book about a teenager back in the 1990s, and my agent said, “This is young adult.” At first I was a little offended, then I started reading YA and realized, “Ohhhh. This is good stuff!” And the genre has just kept getting better and better. It’s one of those cases where the genre’s success has totally be driven by its quality.

Anyway, that first book sold to HarperCollins and it was a hit, and suddenly I had a career as a YA author. But I think if I’d had my first big success writing screenplays or plays, I would have been totally happy working mostly in those worlds too.

Honestly, I see myself as a storyteller. I just love the whole idea of “story.” I think an intricate, well-crafted plot is a thing of such beauty and power. Plays, screenplays, and novels are three very different mediums, but I see more similarities than differences. Basically, it’s all about structure, baby, structure: beginning, middle, end. A main character with a dramatic goal, rising tension, and some kind of powerful, life-changing resolution.

People often confuse “structure” with “formula,” but they’re TOTALLY different things.

Incidentally, most YA novels are all about plot and story too, which is partly why I think I’ve fit into that genre so well.

These days I really have the best of all worlds: I make enough money writing books and screenplays that I’m able to write plays whenever I feel the urge.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing you a few times before. (2003, 2004, 2007) I suppose you could call me a HUGE fan (I hope you don’t call me a stalker)!  Can you tell me a little about how this fourth book in the series came about?

Ah, that’s so sweet of you to say. You’re the opposite of a stalker. And I really, really appreciate the support!

HarperCollins published GEOGRAPHY CLUB, the first book in the series, in 2003 — before I even knew it *was* a series. It’s about a gay teen named Russel and his misfit friends. The book did well, so I was asked to do some sequels. I’m one of those writers who thinks that sequels can’t just “continue the story.” If the story was at all well-written, the story is over when the book is done. So you need to tell an entirely *new* story: a new setting, new goals, new conflicts, new themes.

So that’s what I tried to do with the next two books in this series, THE ORDER OF THE POISON OAK (where Russel and his friends get jobs at a camp for burn survivors) and DOUBLE FEATURE (where Russel and his friends volunteer to be extras on a low-budget zombie film).

But honestly, HarperCollins wasn’t a very good fit for me. I wrote a total of six books for them, and I had six different editors — maybe more, now that I think about it. That’s just impossible, creatively speaking. No one really has your back. And while I’m grateful they published me, they made a lot of decisions regarding my books that seemed to me to be bone-headed.

So I left around 2008, moving onto other publishers. The problem was, I couldn’t write another book in the series, even though I wanted to, because they controlled the rights to the earlier books and had even taken a couple of them out of print. I was getting all these emails from people asking about the books, but at the time, HarperCollins wasn’t even interested in publishing them as e-books.

So my agent petitioned for the rights back, and we got em, and I started publishing my own independent editions. I didn’t get rich, but they sold a lot better than I thought they would.

Then, after about eight years in development, they finally announced the movie version of GEOGRAPHY CLUB. I’d always wanted to write another book in the series, so I thought, “Well, with the movie coming, why not just write it and publish it myself?”

So that’s what I did. I hired my first editor and copy-editor and everything. It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it. And if it continues to sell like it has, I’m pretty sure I’ll make more money from this book than I ever did from most of the books I published with HarperCollins. So it’s a happy ending for everyone.

One of my favorite types of stories is a great love story. I count THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE in that category. I was rooting for Russel to find true love. Without giving anything away about the outcome of Russel’s love life, how do you orchestrate (plot) the romance angle of a story? Obviously there needs to be tension for a reader to continue turning pages. Do you know ahead of time what the outcome will be? I suppose I’m most curious about you as a writer – plotter or “free-writer”?

I think the perfect ending to a story is one that’s both totally surprising yet completely inevitable in retrospect. Something that really packs and punch and makes you realize that the writer brought you on this particular journey for a reason — that there was a point to the story, a reason why it was told. The story is a coherent whole; it all hangs expertly together. Every scene is there for a reason, and (again, in retrospect) it all fits together like a perfect puzzle.

I happen think that kind of thing is really, really, really hard to pull off by the seat of your pants. It’s hard to pull off even when it’s planned out in advance!

I mean, there are different kinds of stories, and they all have their readers, their place in the world. The more literary type novels, the ones with softer ending or a more meandering feel, I can see how they can be sort of “discovered” along the way. I heard one writer talk recently about seemingly plot-free books actually having an “emotional plot.” I wasn’t very impressed, but if it works for some readers, I think that’s great.

But a story-story? That takes a hell of a lot of thought. For me anyway, it’s not an intuitive process — at least not entirely. It’s partly an intellectual one: figuring out how all the pieces fit together, and exactly why.

So yeah, I’m definitely a plotter.

As for the “romance” aspect, that’s always hard because — let’s face it — we sort of know the ending to a romance, right? But I’d like to think a threw in a few pretty wild surprises in THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE. And if I did my job right, they’re “earned” twists. At the end, you’ll be excited and surprised, but you’ll also think, “Of *course*! Why didn’t I see that coming?!”

Russel is introduced to an alternate lifestyle called Freeganism. You describe freegans as “a real-life group of environmentalists who give up all their possessions and live on the streets, foraging for food and other necessities.”  How did you hear about this and what kind of research did you do?

A friend told me about them a couple of years ago — they’re better known as the people who eat out of Dumpsters. Then I read an article, and I thought, “Oh, yeah! I’m totally writing about them one day!”

One of the reoccurring themes in the Russel Middlebrook Series is the whole notion of the “outsider.” Russel sees the concept from lots of different places. But when I read about the freegans, I thought, “Now these are the *real* outsiders!” I mean, eating out of Dumpsters? It doesn’t get any more outsider than that!

But it was important for me not to stereotype them. I spent a lot of time researching them, and I saw they have a coherent, very compelling point of view — and in many ways, it’s a very romantic one.

I loved writing about Wade, the freegan that Russel gets involved with, because he basically forces Russel to question absolutely everything about his life and what he believes. And dramatically speaking, you just can’t ask for a better object of romance than that!

The first book in the series, THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB, has been turned into a movie. How exciting! Can you tell us a little about that? What was the most exciting thing about that process? And when can we expect to see it?

I guess it’s a two-part story. The first part was pretty frustrating. The rights were optioned right after the book came out in early 2003. And it “almost” got made lots of times — a big-budget movie, a TV movie, a TV series, a micro-budget indie project. It went through a whole string of different producers. But it always seemed to fall through. At one point, one producer said to me, “I think this thing has literally been rejected by every studio and financing entity in town.” This was before the success of GLEE or anything.

But around 2010, everything changed. The producer invoked the option (which means they purchased the rights, and I got paid the full price we’d previously negotiated). And what do you know? It actually went into production!

It is an indie project, so it’s not a $50 million dollar budget. But it’s not a micro-budget either. It’s a quality production with a great cast — some famous actors like Scott Bakula and Ana Gasteyer, and some up-and-coming young actors too.

And the good news, it’s actually a decent movie! It’s different from the book, but they were pretty respectful, and I’m very happy to have my name involved with it. The plan is it for it to be released later this year or early next.

It’s also exciting because I have another film project that I think will go into production later this year based on an old play of mine. So movie-wise, it’s been a very exciting year.

It’s just a coincidence that this is all happening now. But I’d like to think it’s sort of a reward too, because — not to pat myself on the back too much — I’ve been working my butt off!

Well! I for one can’t wait to see the movie! Congratulations, Brent! All exciting stuff!

BrentCameronBrent Hartinger and Cameron Deane Stewart, the actor who plays Russel in the movie

Brent Hartinger is an author, teacher, playwright, and screenwriter. Geography Club, the first book in his Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series, is now a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky. In 2005, he co-founded the entertainment website AfterElton.com, which was sold to MTV/Viacom in 2006. Read more by and about Brent, or contact him at www.brenthartinger.com.

You can also follow Brent on Twitter and on Facebook.

Win a copy of THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE!

Follow the directions below to be entered in a drawing where one lucky winner will receive a copy of this fab book! Good luck!

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, what is your favorite food (and would you eat it if you found it in a Dumpster?). I have many favorite foods, but the only one I can think of that I would eat if I found it in a trash can (and it would have to be a very clean trash can and I’d have to know it was tossed out just seconds ago) is a wrapped Lake Champlain Peppermint Crunch bar. Although I’d have to wonder why it was thrown out. Hmmmm.

2. Leave your comment and email address by midnight EST Sunday, April 21st. The lucky winner will be announced here and contacted by email on Tuesday, April 22nd.

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Thanks for stopping by! Happy reading!

When Words Count Retreat – Part 3

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The Food and The Adventure!

Welcome back to the final installment of my When Words Count Retreat series. In part 1, I talked about The Place and in part 2, I talked about The People and The Schedule. Today, I’m talking food!!! Mmmmm!

IMG_1999Let me introduce you to Chef Paul. He’s not only a genius with food but also friendly and helpful. As he built a fire where I was writing, one afternoon, I took a risk and asked him a question related to a character in my WIP. He gave me a perfect and helpful response. Chef Paul understands the writer, providing a hearty nourishing breakfast to get us going, a light lunch so we won’t feel sluggish and tired in the afternoon, and amazing dinners as a reward for a hard day’s work! I never felt hungry between meals until I smelled the amazing aromas wafting from the kitchen, and I was always satisfied after each meal, never feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. Perfection!

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I loved everything Chef Paul made! From the appetizers to the soups and salads to the main courses to the desserts! Delicious! I had to truly refrain from licking my plate clean every meal. One evening we had The Case of the Missing Apple Crisps. It was never fully solved, but it was entertaining at least. (And no worries. nobody went without dessert.) Some of my favorites were the Norman Mailer stuffed mushrooms, the chili roasted pork tenderloin, the red wine poached pears, and the caramelized onion and cheddar cheese tarts.

Cindy and I had a bit of adventure, too. On one of our walks, we followed the tap lines to a sugar house where a couple was busy boiling the maple sap. We were invited in to take a look around. It was fascinating! My first time (not Cindy’s though) in a sugar house! It was warm and steamy as the gentleman stoked the huge fire for the giant vat. And it smelled like sugar! The wife offered us a sample and how could we turn that down? (We couldn’t.) I expected a small taste but instead she handed us half a mug to share! Whoa! And share we did – we drank that whole mug of pure maple syrup! It was delicious! But, let’s just say I did not need any coffee, tea, or chocolate that afternoon. Maybe that’s a new trick I should use, drink a quarter mug of pure maple syrup in the afternoon to keep me writing!?

It was a heavenly stay at the When Words Count Retreat, and I miss it already. I have never been so productive, so inspired, so well-fed and rested than when I stayed those 3 nights. I hope to return again!

I haven’t forgotten the main focus of this blog, and I promise some great book recs and interviews coming up very soon!

When Words Count Retreat – Part 2

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The People and The Schedule:

IMG_2010As I mentioned in Part 1, the other guests turned out to be children’s writers as well. From left to right: Nancy Tandon (who was working on a MG novel), Enesa (who should definitely be a writer but was there keeping Sarah company), Sarah McGuire (who was working on a YA fantasy), and Cindy Faughnan (my long time writing partner who was working on a revision of a MG novel). We all got along fabulously, and more importantly, we were all dedicated writers, focused on using this gift of time to write, write, write!

Adding to the perfect mix of people – Diane and Paul as I mentioned on Tuesday (and more on Paul in the next post), Steve C. Eisner, the owner and operator of the retreat, and Jon Reisfeld, the VP of Marketing. Both Steve and Jon also offer editorial and PR services for a fee. Everyone was so friendly and nice and welcoming! By the beginning of my first full day there, I felt like I was at home, walking through the house in sock feet and helping myself to coffee, and feeling comfortable enough to just wander the house to find the perfect place to write.

I promise a detailed post about the amazing food, but here, I’ll share the schedule. A farm breakfast was served between 8:30 and 9:30 AM. Our group ate together, chatting about our goals for the day. After breakfast, we all disappeared to our respective writing spots to work the rest of the morning in peaceful silence. Chef Paul rang the lunch bell around noon and we drifted to the kitchen for a buffet style lunch – light and delicious! After lunch, Cindy and I would go for a walk to clear our heads with fresh mountain air. Then, back to writing for the rest of the afternoon! Time would blur until 5:30 cocktail hour when we would all gather in the Gertrude Stein room for wine, beer, and yummy hors’doeuvers and conversation. Steve and Jon would join us and we’d talk about our accomplishments for the day. Dinner was at 6:30 and always incredible! Jon and Steve joined us and the conversation about books, each other and writing would continue in a lively fashion.

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After dinner was the hash session were guests could choose to share their work, and we all did. It was so fabulous to hear everyone read a chapter from their WIPs. I can’t wait till I get to read each of the other guest’s complete work as a book I can buy! We were a supportive bunch for sure, with encouraging comments and suggestions.

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I am not a night owl so I was in bed by 10 most every night. I slept fabulously and was well rested the next morning.

P1050968I loved how well we meshed as a group and I think we’ll all stay in touch for a very long time to come! here I am with Sarah and Cindy!

Next time: The Food and The Adventure!

When Words Count Retreat Part 1

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IMG_1990Nestled in the Green Mountains of Vermont is a piece of paradise for writers called When Words Count Retreat. I was fortunate enough to win a 4-day, 3-night stay during their Christmas Sweepstakes. I spent the end of last week there, writing up a storm.

The Place:

Their web site calls the retreat a Home Away From Home. It really is! Everything about the place was comfortable, cozy, warm.

IMG_2264One of my writing partners, Cindy Faughnan, also won the sweepstakes and we chose to go at the same time. The house stood on a dirt road, among barns and fences (a former working farm), facing a huge expanse of fields and mountains. As a city girl, I was worried I’d feel isolated but I immediately felt welcome. We were greeted warmly by the fabulous Diana Mellar, the general manager, and  the amazing Chef Paul (more on him in an upcoming post dedicated to the food). I was thrilled to be assigned to the Emily Dickinson room!

IMG_1987Inviting and cozy, yes? There was a large dresser, a closet, and two nightstands with reading lamps. The walls were adorned with photos relating to Emily Dickinson. I do believe the photo above the desk was of her house. A book of her poetry was placed on the dresser.

IMG_1995The bed! Oh! The soft, comfortable, amazingly cozy bed! I never sleep well when I’m away from home, but here? I slept like a content baby!

IMG_2005On the first floor, past the kitchen is the Gertrude Stein Room where hash sessions were held in the evenings (more on that in a later post). And there was plenty of space to spread out to write during the day. The first day, I worked in my room, but after that Cindy and I worked in other parts of the house.

IMG_2014With a lovely view of the scenery, this looked like an inviting space to write. Unfortunately, I have light sensitivity issues so I chose to sit elsewhere. This is where I worked for much of my stay:

IMG_2015This was in the living room – adjoining the fabulous dining room (I can’t wait to talk about the food…!). This was truly a most amazing retreat – everything is taken care of for you so that you can devote all your time and energy and thought to writing. I arrived hoping to get a solid start on a brand new YA novel. I think I was shooting for a few thousand words during my 3-1/2 day stay. We arrived past 2 PM on our first day and I spent much of that afternoon getting situated and reading what I already had for my draft (not much). After that, I dove into writing. Day 1 word count: 3000+ words. Day 2 word count: 4000+ words! The morning of the day we left word count: 2000+. Seriously, it’s rare that I can write that many words in a day when starting a brand new draft. I completely lost myself in writing. I even forgot what day it was!

I woke up every morning around 5:30 (this is normal for me), and wrote (with breaks for breakfast, lunch, a walk, and dinner) from morning till 5:30 cocktail hour. That’s intense for me. The other writers seemed to feel the same – they were all productive and invigorated. There were five of us guests total and by some wonderful miracle, we were all children’s writers! Not only that, but we knew people in common.

I’ll be blogging about this retreat for the next few posts! There’s just too much to say about my wonderful experience there. Till then, check out their web site. I highly recommend checking them out if you’re looking to get away and write for a period of time. Next posts will include: The People, The Schedule, The Food, The Adventure!