Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back on 2011

At the beginning of the year (oh, shiny New Year!) I wrote a post about my goals for 2011. Now it's time to be held accountable.

My first goal was to finish the 2011 Debut Author Challenge. GOOOOOAAAAAL! I read and reviewed 12 debut YA novels.

I actually read a total of 322 books this year, the vast majority of which were picture books. But there were three non-debut novels and two adult non-fiction books as well.

My second goal was to finish my WIP. This goal wasn't met, but I am up to Draft #7. It's taken me awhile, but I've finally realized that I started in the wrong place. So I've chucked the first forty pages. I know what the problem is and how to fix it. I've just got to do it.

Which means my third goal to query agents didn't happen. But I've continued to add to my list of researched agents.

I also had some mini-goals. One was to start a YA critique group. That didn't happen either. My regular crit group, which is YA and MG, is in flux right now. I'd like to keep that one going before I try to set up another one. And one of the MG writers is now working on YA, and maybe I don't need a separate group anymore.

Another mini-goal was to start on the next project, which was contingent on finishing my current WIP. So that's still on a back burner.

The last mini-goal was to keep up with social media. I've continued to use (and love) Twitter and I've gotten much more consistent about blogging. (I'm planning on some changes for next year; more details in the next post). That one I'm saying goal met.

I try to remind myself that just because certain goals weren't met doesn't mean the year was an epic fail. It just means that I'm further along the road in my journey. A big thing for me is that I'm learning how to slow down and enjoy the view.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to All

I happen to be sitting in a bar in Maui right now. I can see the waves heading lazily to shore and soft breezes drift through the open lanai windows. It seems as un-Christmaslike as possible.

But I want to wish all of you a very merry Christmas. And my gift to you is a cute cat video.


How to Wrap a Cat for Christmas:





Mele Kalikimaka!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy Book Review

Title: How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy
Author: Crystal Allen
Publisher: Blazer + Bray
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
ISBN-10: 0061992720

288 pp.

Reading copy via local library

I started reading Lamar's Bad Prank during the summer but got distracted by, you know, life. But I'm glad I picked up Lamar's story again because it's a flat-out great read.

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Lamar is a 13-year-old bowling fanatic living in a working class neighborhood in Indiana. His older brother Xavier is a basketball phenom and in his basketball crazy town, Lamar doesn't get any respect for being the King of Striker's, the local bowling alley. But Bubba Sanders, Lamar's bowling hero, is coming to Striker's on the Fourth of July and Lamar is planning on having the best summer ever.

Of course it all goes horribly wrong. Lamar's history with pulling pranks hinders his wooing of a local girl. Lamar begins hanging out with Billy Jenks, a decidedly bad influence who soon has Lamar hustling bowling games. And that leaves Lamar's best friend, Sergio, high and dry.

Lamar's home life isn't so great, either. Since his mom died, he and Xavier are always at odds and their working-two-jobs dad doesn't realize how out of control it can get until it's too late. Because by then, Lamar pulls the biggest prank EVER to get back at Xavier. A prank so big the whole town ends up hating on Lamar.

Crystal Allen's writing is both hilarious and touching. Her characters zing, especially Lamar, whose voice is dead-on perfect. The ending wraps up nicely, without being forced or sentimental. 

Lamar's Bad Prank would make a great recommendation to anyone looking for a boy's book, a humor book, or a sports book.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Taking the 2012 Debut Author Challenge

As promised, here's my list of books that I'm picking for the 2012 Debut Author Challenge.

This list is not binding. As the year progresses, I will switch out titles based on availability and mood. 

My completely unscientific criteria for picking a title is simple:
  • Early buzz
  • Availability from Netgalley
  • Intriguing title
  • I met the author at the SCBWI conference this summer
January: Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Early buzz! Available from Netgalley!)

February: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (Available from Netgalley!)

March: Pretty Crooked by Elisa Ludwig (I met the author at the SCBWI conference this summer! Available from Netgalley!)

April: A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont (Intriguing title! Available from Netgalley!)

After April, I don't know yet what's available from Netgalley, so I'm going with title alone.

May: What She Left Behind by Tracy Bilen (sounds like it might be a ghost story)

June: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller (sounds like YA contemp)

July: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid (possibly a dystopia)

August: The Wheel by Lisa Stasse (I'm thinking maybe a fantasy)

September: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (could be YA contemp)

October: Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone (oooh, I hope it's a time travel book)

November: Through to You by Emily Hainsworth (yet another YA contemp?)

December: Pivot Point by Kasie West (bet it's ballerinas ... or dystopia. I personally would love to see a post-apocalypse Nutcracker)

Here's to a new year with new books!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - November Update

Wow, the year's almost over and the 2011 Debut Author Challenge will soon be completed. It's been a great year of reading and next week I'll share my completely unscientific choices for the 2012 Debut Author Challenge. (Of course I'm doing it again. I'm hooked.)

Last month I read and reviewed The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. In other reading news, I also managed to finish Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell and I'm almost done reading Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery. I'll admit it ... I never read Anne of Green Gables before, although I adore the miniseries starring Megan Follows. The book is just as charming as I thought it'd be.

Bonus Video: Anne of Green Gables trailer



What classic novel haven't you read (yet)? What debut book did you read this year that you think will become a classic? (I'm putting my money on Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Random Cat Videos

This is a photograph of my cat Jasmine, who passed away earlier this year. She was 17 years old and I adopted her when she was 5, so that's 12 years I'm very grateful I got to spend with her.

Because it's Thanksgiving weekend and we've all got places to be, things to do, and leftovers to eat, this week I've collected a series of random cat videos for your entertainment and in honor of Jasmine.

Pepper, An Actor's Life:



Ninja Cat:



I'm a Kitty Cat:



An Engineer's Guide to Cats:







Friday, November 18, 2011

5 Teen Movies You Probably Haven't Seen (and why you should)


I recently saw Hanna, an action movie that came out earlier this year about a 16-year-old assassin. I thought it did a great job of using YA tropes (friendship, boys, identity), plus it's a pretty kick-ass movie.

Hanna wasn't a mega-budget film and wasn't a mega-blockbuster, but there are good performances by Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett (if you can get past her Southern accent). And Saoirse Ronan as Hanna is amazing. (Oh, there's a pretty kick-ass soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, too.) It's definitely worth renting, streaming, or putting on your Netflix queue if you missed it in theaters.

Here's the trailer for Hanna:


 
Hanna also got me thinking about some teen-centric movies you may have missed entirely, because I almost did. These are indie movies that didn't have wide distribution and that I stumbled upon, either through recommendations or dumb luck.

The Chumscrubber stars Jamie Bell as a teen in suburbia whose drug-dealing friend commits suicide. The bad boys at school want the friend's stash and think Jamie knows where it is. They kidnap his brother to get him to talk, except they kidnapped the wrong kid. There's an amazing supporting cast of self-absorbed adults portrayed by Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, and Allison Janney, to name a few. If you like your comedy extra-dark, then The Chumscrubber is for you.

The Chumscrubber trailer:



Prom Night in Mississippi is a documentary I caught that explores race relations in a modern day Mississippi high school. Actor Morgan Freeman is from the small town of Charleston, Mississippi, and offers to pay for the high school's prom. But what makes this such an jaw-dropping offer is Morgan Freeman will only pay for it if the prom is integrated. This was filmed in 2008 and the school NEVER had an integrated prom. The school takes him up on the offer and the film presents some truly thought-provoking moments.

Prom Night in Mississippi trailer:



Another documentary, Resolved, focuses on the world of high school debating. I did Speech & Debate in high school (mostly Humorous Interpretation and Oratory), and this is a far cry from anything I did. More recently, my brother is a high school debate coach and has cajoled convinced me to judge at debate tournaments. The debates I judged were mostly urban kids, just beginners, and nowhere the level as seen in the documentary. But Resolved does raise compelling questions about how public speaking skills can be related to issues such as race.

Resolved trailer:




The Trotsky is a wonderfully quirky movie about Leon Bronstein, a high school student who believes he's the reincarnation of Communist leader Leon Trotsky. He unionizes the students at his high school, or at least tries to. Incredibly funny with a stellar performance by Jay Baruchel as Leon.


The Trotsky trailer:




The trailer for What Goes Up doesn't do justice to how good this movie is.
It makes it seem like a lightweight '80s throwback movie, which it is so not. It does take place in 1986, and it does star Hilary Duff, but don't let that put you off. The movie's saving grace is Steve Coogan, the British actor/comedian, who plays a newspaper reporter that befriends a group of misfit students. There's real poignancy in this movie and although it's mostly told from the adult's POV, I felt the teen characters were more than just standard Breakfast Club cliches.

What Goes Up trailer:



So pop some popcorn and curl up with a good movie. What teen movies would you recommend?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer Book Review

Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1442421769

446 pp.

Reading copy via local library


This book had a lot of buzz pre-publication and I can see why. Way cool cover. Intriguing premise of is-she/isn't-she crazy. And it almost delivers.  It kind of bums me that I didn't L-O-V-E it like I thought I would, but it's still a good read.

Mara Dyer (not her real name as we learn in a prologue) wakes up in the hospital after an accident has killed her best friend Rachel, frenemy Claire, and boyfriend Jude. Mara has no memory of the accident and starts seeing Claire and Jude. Mara tries to convince herself that she has post-traumatic stress disorder and these sightings are merely hallucinations.

Mara also convinces her family that what she really needs is to get away from places that remind her of her friends, so the whole family moves to Florida. There she enters a prep school and meets Noah, an annoying-but-hot-boy, who has a love 'em and leave 'em reputation.

As Mara tries to fit into her new school, she continues to have hallucinations. And these hallucinations are not just getting scarier, they're getting deadlier. No spoilers here, but Mara does finally confess what she sees to Noah. And we learn he has a secret of his own. No matter what his reputation is, he vows to help Mara. CUE gripping climax that sets up for the next novel.

The thing that bumped me as a reader was that I felt too much time was spent on the is-she/isn't-she crazy. There are sooo many hallucinations just to freak Mara out, but not many of them really moved the story forward. And one in particular, a phone call Mara convinces herself isn't real, is foreshadowed TO HAVE CONSEQUENCES. But when the shizz hits the fan at the end of the book, this phone call never comes up.

This is the beginning of a series, and I understand that some threads have to be left hanging, but some seem forgotten rather than deliberately crafted to be so.

But that's just me. Most readers probably aren't so picky. And I did enjoy this novel. I repeat, I did enjoy it. I would recommend The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer to readers who enjoyed Angelfire by Carolyn Allison Moulton or Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer book trailer:




Bonus video: Michelle Hodkin discusses how the book came to be









Friday, November 4, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - October Update

It rained this morning, I'm wearing my favorite red sweater, and I'm drinking a bigass cup of coffee. Fall is very much in the air.

The year has zoomed by, but I've managed to keep on track with the Debut Author Challenge. Last month, I read and reviewed Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (and guys, seriously, read this book). And I'm almost done with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (review forthcoming).

Alas, I haven't had time to go back and finish any of the other books I'm reading. So I'm going to choose one of them to complete for my December read. One thing I've learned during the year is that unless I can get an egalley before the publication date, I just don't have the time to read a book during the month it's published. Fetching by Kiera Stewart, which was my December read choice so very long ago, ended up being published in November, and I missed the egalley boat.

But I'm halfway through How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen and halfway through Blood Red Road by Moira Young. Two completely different books, I know.

So help me decide! Which one should I choose to be my December read?

Friday, October 28, 2011

This Is Halloween

I finally made it to LACMA's Tim Burton exhibit, which was all the awesome that I was expecting. No one is allowed to take a camera into the exhibit, but people are permitted to take a photo of the entrance, which is suitably twisted.

I am a huge Tim Burton fan, although I acknowledge that his work has been uneven (Planet of the Apes, anyone?). But in the spirit of Halloween, I thought I'd share some Tim Burton love.

First of all, Cakewrecks recently highlighted Tim Burton themed cakes that you just have to see to believe.

Secondly, I stumbled upon the original version of The Nightmare Before Christmas poem, narrated by Christopher Lee, and here for you to enjoy:



Finally, here's a sneak peek at Tim Burton's Dark Shadows, which releases next year. (Yes, I have ridiculously high expectations.)



Bonus video: And because it's Halloween, I have to include Neil Gaiman's (why isn't Tim Burton directing The Graveyard Book?) pitch for All Hallow's Read.



Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Between Shades of Gray Book Review

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0399254123

344 pp.

Reading copy purchased at SCBWI conference

I've read several really awesome books this year because of the Debut Author Challenge, but none have affected me as deeply as Between Shades of Gray.

Lina is a fifteen year old art student in Lithuania during the outbreak of World War II. One night, she's rounded up along with her mother and younger brother and sent to a work camp in Russia. It's a harrowing story full of hardship and tragedy, but there is also kindness, hope, and even romance.

Ruta Sepetys created a story inspired by her own family history and shined a light on a dark corner of our shared human history. It is a powerful read and, believe me, you will need some Kleenex handy.

I would recommend Between Shades of Gray to readers who enjoyed Witness by Karen Hesse or Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.

Bonus Video: Ruta Sepetys shares how she researched the novel

Friday, October 14, 2011

Men of the Stacks

I've mentioned the website Hot Guys Reading Books before, which pretty much delivers what it says it does.

Now there's another website you need to check out: Men of the Stacks.

It gives "sexy librarian" a new meaning as male librarians get their very own pin-up calendar!

There are a couple of beefcakey shots (Mr. January is a yowza), but most are of fully clothed cute guy librarians.

 All proceeds from the calendar go to the It Gets Better Project, the brainchild of author Dan Savage to help LGBTQ teens who are bullied.

You may have seen one of the It Gets Better videos. Everyone from celebrities to politicians to CEOs to ordinary people have taped messages of support to LGBTQ teens to let them know that they are important and loved and awesome things wait for them.

One of my favorite It Gets Better videos is from Tim Gunn:



Consider buying the Men of the Stacks 2012 calendar as a Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus present!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - September Update (plus bonus video)

September went by in a flash, but I stayed on course and read Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard. I also read half of the remarkably fun How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen, and I hope I get to finish that soon. And I've started Rupta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray, a heart-wrenching story about Stalin's forced deportation of a Lithuanian girl and her family to Siberia.

On the non-debut side, I'm reading Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes, a nonficiton book about the annexation of Hawaii. Sarah Vowell has a quirky style that I love and is best shown here:


The books on my current reading list continues grow, but I'm not really complaining. What's on your reading list for October?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Paper Covers Rock Book Review

Title: Paper Covers Rock
Author: Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0385740555

192 pp.

Reading copy via local library


If you're in the mood for a thoughtful, lovely little novel, then pick up a copy of Jenny Hubbard's Paper Covers Rock.

Alex is a 16 year old student at a boarding school circa 1982. After his best friend Thomas dies in an accident, there are secrets to be kept and lies to be told. There is also English teacher Miss Dovecott, who tries to help Alex with his grief by encouraging him to write poetry. The fact that Alex falls in love with Miss Dovecott just complicates things more.

The novel is written as Alex's journal, an almost stream of consciousness confession of Alex's fears and dreams. There are many literary allusions, primarily Melville's Moby Dick, but Alex's self-mocking at his own pretentiousness makes them accessible to readers not familiar with these works.

The pretty boy cover would appeal to girls, but I think that it requires some hand-selling and good booktalks to convince boys that they'll enjoy this novel.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed Tangerine by Edward Bloor or I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier.





Saturday, September 24, 2011

How Many Banned Books Have You Read?

In honor of Banned Books Week, which is Sept. 24-Oct. 1, I thought I'd see how subversive I am by checking how many banned books I've read (only 17).

If you want to see how subversive you've been by reading books other people think you (or your kids) shouldn't read, I've created a poll.

The books listed are the top 100 banned or challenged (that's librarianspeak for trying to get a book banned) from 2000-2009, as compiled by the American Librarian Association. (You can read more about Banned Books Week here.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

YA Confidential Blog Launch and Contest Alert

YA Confidential is a new blog hosted by 6 YA authors, bringing you (nearly) daily tips and news from the YAsphere. What I'm really excited about is Teen Spy Tuesdays because teens will be talking about their lives and what they're excited about (see this recent interview with 15-year-old Kacey).

And to celebrate their launch, YA Confidential is giving away mega-prizes. Agent critiques! ARCs! Books! All for following an awesome blog. Read all the deets here.

The contest is international and runs until Friday, October 7, 2011. Sekrit prizes will also be awarded for leaving a comment with your sekrit code name. (I think I'm going with Spookygirl.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When You Shouldn't Read Your Work Out Loud

Revision is a bitch. I'm plugging away on Draft 7 of my WIP and it totally seems like a one-step-forward, two-steps-back endeavor.

But there are tools that writers use to help during revision hell. Critique groups give valuable feedback. Outlining the plot chapter by chapter helps figure out pacing. Another tool writers use is to read their work out loud.  It helps them catch clunky dialog and awkward phrasing.

But I want to put a big ole caveat on the "reading your work out loud" advice. Don't get me wrong. I think reading your work out loud is great advice. But not always.

I have a writer friend who was frustrated after a critique. Someone had slammed her dialog and suggested she read her work out loud. The thing is, my friend had read her work out loud. She felt insulted and hurt that she was already doing what she was "supposed" to be doing and it didn't seem to help with her dialog.

I have a theory why reading out loud wasn't working for my friend. It's a little thing called "line reading."

Line reading is what actors do when they take what's on the page and make it their own. It's their interpretation of what the writer intended for the character at that moment.

There is no better explanation for what a line reading is than this montage from Seinfeld:



"These pretzels are making me thirty" is a throwaway line. But it's given a different intent each time it's said. That's a line reading.

It's the director's job to guide the actor to a line reading that fits with the character, the scene, and the overall vision of the work.

So taking that to writing and reading your work out loud, I think my friend was being an actor and giving a line reading that made sense in her head. She gave the dialog a tone, an inflection, an emotion that's only there when she reads it out loud.

But that line reading didn't make it to the page. That's why when other people read it, they felt the dialog was clunky. She forgot to be a director and consider the character, the scene, and the overall vision of the work. She didn't have the narration or the character development to make the line reading in her head be the line reading that everyone would naturally come to.

If you find that you're getting negative feedback with a particular scene or chapter, and you've read it out loud a million times and can't figure out what's wrong (because it sounds fine to you), then there are a couple things you can try.

The first one is get someone to read it out loud for you. They don't have to be an actor, just someone willing to give you a half hour or more to read out loud. Don't let them read it beforehand. You get the best results with a "cold reading," which means they're reading it as they're seeing it for the first time. That's when they'll stumble over words and hesitate and repeat themselves. That's EXACTLY what you want. Because that shows you trouble spots you've probably been zipping past because of the line reading in your head.

You'll also find that they may give a different line reading than you've expected. I've had this happen before at table reads (where a cast sits together and reads through the whole script). This is great. Because you'll find that they bring something fresh and unexpected to it or they'll get it completely wrong and you realize you need to rewrite that bit.

The other thing you can do is have your computer read it. Word has a voice feature which reads text. Sometimes a flat, computerized voice is the most objective voice and you'll discover all the extra words and clunky phrasing you've otherwise missed.

What are some of the tools you use during revisions? Would love to hear some new tips!



Saturday, September 3, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - August Update

I am happy to report that I am caught up for the Debut Author Challenge! I have read eight books by new authors this year, plus the bonus anthology Teeth: Vampire Tales. I even started the nonfiction book Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. Life has been good.

What I didn't get a chance to do was my own version of summer reading, which meant reading poetry, plays, and graphic novels. You know, to expand my reading horizons. Oh well. Maybe I'll get a chance in the fall now that summer reading is over.

Speaking of fall, I've got some good books to look forward to. I've started Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard (review forthcoming). And Between Shades of Gray by Rupta Sepetys is still sitting on my TBR pile from the SCBWI conference.

What are you looking forward to reading this fall?




Sunday, August 28, 2011

Teeth: Vampire Tales Book Review

Title: Teeth: Vampire Tales
Editors: Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0061935145

480 pp.

Reading copy via local library

This anthology of 17 vampire short stories (and 2 poems) isn't part of the Debut Author Challenge since many of the contributors are well-established authors such as Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Melissa Marr, and Tanith Lee. But it was sitting so seductively on the shelf that I had to read it.

I'm glad I did.

I totally missed the Twilight bandwagon, and I wanted to see what other authors had to say about vampires. And this collection has all kinds of vampires. Funny vampires, gay vampires, creepy vampires, psychotic vampires, and regular teenage angsty vampires.

I'm just going to list my top five favorites stories, but almost all stories are extremely strong (only one did I find a little clunky and I wasn't that interested in the two poems that are included).

"Things to Know About Being Dead" by Genevieve Valentine
Suyin dies and finds out she's undead, or jiang-shi, and her Grandmother helps her cope with her new reality. At least for awhile.

"All Smiles" by Steve Berman
A gay kid runs away from a boot camp and hitches a ride with a couple of strangers. Yeah, it's gonna get worse before it gets better.

"Sit the Dead" by Jeffrey Ford
Luke meets a girl from an unusual family. Maybe a little too unusual. Manages to be funny and creepy at the same time.

"Sunbleached" by Nathan Ballingrud
For the me, the saddest and creepiest tale in the anthology. Joshua hides a vampire under his house, waiting for the right moment to invite him in.

"The Perfect Dinner Party" by Cassandra Clare & Holly Black
Told from the POV of a perpetual 14 year old vampire, she describes how she and her brother ended up hosting a dinner party.

I would recommend this anthology to anyone who is a fan of paranormal fiction.

Bonus Video: Contributing authors talk about whether they'd want to be a vampire for a month


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend

Title: How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend
Author: Gary Ghislain
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: June 8, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0811874601

208 pp.

Reading copy from local library


Yeah, it's funny. Yeah, there's a sci-fi twist. No, there's no actual Johnny Depp. But don't let that stop you from reading Gary Ghislain's hilarious, hi-jinks filled book.

David is a 14 year old living in France with his dad, a shrink for troubled kids. And when Zelda, a superhot girl who is supertrouble, becomes his dad's latest patient, David can't stay away from her. Even though she says she's from outer space. And on a mission to find her Chosen One. Who happens to be Johnny Depp.

There's a ton of action, lots of laughs, and a French sensibility. By that I mean there is implied sex, although it works as both a plot point and character development. But this may be icky to some readers (especially given that David is 14; if he were 16, I think the ick-factor would be less), so know your reader well before you recommend.

That said, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson or Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard.

Friday, August 19, 2011

2011 SCBWI Summer Conference, or What I Did Over Summer Vacation

There are lots and lots of great blogs about the conference, but definitely check the Official Conference Blog. I can't chew gum and blog at the same time, so I left it to these speedy bloggers to give the play-by-play action.

What I do better is ruminate and then sum up. So here's an overview at my time at the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference.

Day One: Friday

I live in the area, so I skipped all the early morning sessions and showed up in time for the first keynote. Bruce Coville is all kinds of awesome, and I loved his speech about why what we do matters and how what we do affect others in ways we can never know.

Jerry Pinkney's keynote was accompanied by personal photos and drawings and how to bring a sense of place to your work. Awe. Some.

My first breakout session was Donna Jo Napoli's "Sources of Tension and How to Use Them." She did a very interactive session, taking suggestions from the audience how what were the elements of tension. But lessons I learned from the session on how to hook a reader and keep them were these quotes: "Make the reader trust you" and "People go to the fictional side for an emotional ride." (Can I have t-shirts with those made?)

Lunch was with some of my crit partners, which was a good time to compare notes and fuel up for the afternoon.

Then Libba Bray blew me away with her keynote, "Writing It All Wrong: A Survival Manual." She talked about how writing the third volume of her Gemma Doyle Trilogy was one of the most difficult things she's ever done. Draft after draft sucked and she couldn't figure out what was wrong. But she kept (painfully) at it until the story clicked. Boy, was that something I needed to hear as I make my way through Draft 7 of my WIP.

The second breakout session I went to was with Laurie Halse Anderson. She talked about "The Nuts and Bolts of Crafting a Creative Life: Finding Lost Time and Reclaiming Creativity." She had the audience go through some mini-exercises on where our time disappears to and how to get rid of our time-wasters. I discovered that my biggest time suck is not Twitter, but the couch. Once I sit down, I'm pretty much down for the count. Now before I put butt cheek to couch, I think "What would Laurie do?" Haven't been 100% successful with this, but I'm getting better.

I skipped the last keynote of the day to do some writing. With all the inspiration in the air, especially after Laurie's session, I had to get some words on paper.

Then I went to the first autograph session where 1. Fonzie said "Hi!" to me as I waited in line (Okay, me and the other 50 people in line). 2. My nephew better appreciate how awesome it is to have a signed autograph copy of The Phantom Tollbooth. 3. I was concerned Libba Bray would get writer's cramp by the end of the session after she signed my books.

I stayed late for the networking and I couldn't help myself and bought Ruta Sepety's Between Shades of Gray. Ruta was so excited to be a newly published author and completely sweet. I told her that I had heard good things about the book and was really looking forward to reading it. "Email me and tell me if you liked it!" she said. "Email me if you didn't like it!" Gotta love that kind of enthusiasm.

I also chatted for over an hour with a woman I had just met, which is why I love this conference. To meet people from all over the country who share your passion and want to share their knowledge with you.

Day Two: Saturday

I skipped the early morning stuff again and got there in time for Lin Oliver's interview with Judy Blume. Judy freakin' Blume! She looks fabulous for a 73-year-old legend. She was funny and charming and everything Judy Blume should be.

Next, I did the first breakout session with Alessandra Balzer on "You Can Handle the Truth: Honest Advice on What Editors Are Looking For." Lots of great info, but the big takeaway for me was what she coined "trend bridges." These are books that are outside a current trend, but just. I immediately thought of Beth Revis' Across the Universe. It can be considered dystopia (big trend), but it also has enough light sci-fi elements that readers may want to read more sci-fi (thus, a "trend bridge").

I skipped the afternoon keynote to confer with one of my crit partners. Taking a moment to digest and reflect on what we had learned.

The afternoon panels were a little dry to me, so I found a corner and wrote for a couple of hours. Progress was made on my WIP. Yay me!

Day Three: Sunday

How awesome is Gary Paulsen? His morning keynote was brilliant. Another t-shirt worthy quote was "Read like a wolf eats."

The first breakout session was with Beverly Horowitz on "Even Though It's Not Quite Perfect! Acquisitions and Revisions." She's the V.P. Publisher of Delacorte Press, and basically they're looking for books with honesty and a sense of hope.

The luncheon was lovely. Not just the food, and the company, but the speeches and the evident dedication of SCWBI staff and volunteers. And thanks to Shaleen at my table for emailing me the photo of dessert (yum!)

And let's not forget Laurie Halse Anderson's keynote speech, "Daring the Universe." It touched on some of the topics from her breakout session, and it really emphasized the writer's role as a creator and the need the world has for creators.

For the last breakout session of the conference, I went to Krista Marino's "Perfecting Your YA Voice." Krista is an Executive Editor at Delacorte Press and she talked about the importance of narrative voice. She read excerpts from published novels, both with and without the narrative voice, to demonstrate how important interior monologue is. It gives those extra character details that helps engage the reader.

So there you go! I hope all of you get a chance to go to the conference at least once. It will change your writing life forever.




Thursday, August 11, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - July Update

It's been a busy, busy summer. Summer reading is going on full swing and I've probably read over 100 picture books. But that's not quite the Debut Author Challenge, is it?

I did read Through Her Eyes, which hasn't gotten the buzz of some other new releases and really should be a must read. I also read Wildefire, which was muy caliente and another must read.

So I'm caught up for the year, which gives me the warm fuzzies. I've started How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend, a hilarious read so far (and review forthcoming).

I picked up a boatload of books at the SCBWI conference last week (thoughts on that forthcoming), and the first to be read from that pile will be Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray. Ruta signed my copy of the novel at the conference, and she was so gracious and sweet!

That's all for now. Enjoy the rest of of your summer reading!


Friday, July 29, 2011

Wildefire Book Review

Title: Wildefire
Author: Karsten Knight
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 26, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1442421172
400 pp.

Advanced reading copy via Galley Grab

Wowohwowohwowohwow.

Wildefire grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go. There's action! Untimely death! Cute boys! Crazy-ass sisters! (not necessarily in that order)

Ashline and her big sis Eve were adopted from an Polynesian orphanage and they've grown up in an upper middle class Jewish family in upstate New York. They were close ... until Eve runs away from home. And when she returns, bad stuff happens. Really. Bad. Stuff. Stuff so bad that Ashline decides her only chance at normalcy is to transfer to a boarding school across the country.

And that's when stuff starts to get really weird.

There are too many twists and turns to give away the plot, but the long and short of it is that Ashline discovers that she's the reincarnation of a volcano goddess. And her new friends at boarding school? Also of the god class. And someone (thing?) wants them dead. For good.

Karsten Knight has crafted an amazingly good story, with memorable characters and funny dialogue. But there were two things that bumped me about this book. The first: I've read a lot of Buffyesque spec scripts and when every character throws out witty one-liners in the face of adversity/embarrassment/heartbreak/impending death, they tend to sound all alike. Karsten's characters are smart, witty, and have a tendency to sound alike.

The second thing: the last chapter is an info dump of what-happened-after-the-climax. Some of it is important information, some of it is not (the return of Ash's absent roommate in an obvious bit), but it's kind of rushed and clunky.

HOWEVER ...

There are two reveals in the last chapter that are awesome (one I figured, one I didn't see coming), which set up the next book for some mind-blowing good fun.

This was an out-and-out fun romp of a read and I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed Poison by Chris Wooding or Possession by Elana Johnson.

Bonus Video: Karsten Knight muses on Wildefire, the five-second rule, and lighthouses:

Friday, July 22, 2011

6 Favorite Harry Potter Videos

My husband thinks I'm a total Harry Potter nerd, but that's not true. I've never:

  • gone to a midnight book release party
  • dressed up in character
  • read one of the books in a single day
  • created a fan video

Now that the final movie has come out, I find myself unwilling to say good-bye. So I've collected some of my favorite Harry Potter videos to watch (over and over) again. (And it's quicker than re-reading all the books.)

Enjoy!


Harry Potter in 99 Seconds
: The entire series for those with ADD.



Literal Deathly Hallows Movie Trailer: Now that I've seen both parts, this is even funnier.




A Very Potter Musical: This is just the first part, but worth watching the entire musical (with Glee's Darren Criss as Harry!)




Gandalf vs. Dumbledore Epic Rap Battles of History: OMFG. Hilarious.



Potter Puppet Pals: There's a slew of these very funny videos, but I heart this one the most.



Harry Potter and the Brokeback Goblet: There's no shortage of slash-themed videos, but this one actually builds the best story and is more subtle than the rest (but still funny).




Bonus Video: Not a fan video, but made for fans (who still hope that someday this will happen)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Through Her Eyes Book Review

Title: Through Her Eyes
Author: Jennifer Archer
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0061834585
384pp.

Reading copy through public library

When I was thirteen, my parents moved our family from our suburban home to a small desert town. Let's just say that I was not happy with this new arrangement. Which means I instantly sympathized with Tansy Piper, the protagonist of Through Her Eyes.

Tansy is used to moving from town to town since her mom is a writer and likes to live in the cities where she sets her books. But instead of some place like Austin or Memphis or San Francisco, Tansy ends up in Cedar Canyon, Texas, the small town her grandfather grew up in. She loves her Papa Dan, who lives with her and her mom, since he's the one who understands her best and has been her best friend no matter where they are. But Papa Dan isn't doing well, rarely talking and barely eating. And moving into their creepy new home seems to be making Papa Dan worse.

Tansy finds out that a teenage boy named Henry used to live in the house and he committed suicide by jumping off a nearby bridge. And after Tansy finds some of Henry's belongings in a wood box, she suspects that Henry's ghost is trying to contact her. There's a watch, a crystal and a journal in the box, and these things begin to draw Tansy -- literally -- into Henry's world. In this world, she takes on the persona of Bell, the object of Henry's affection. And when she's Bell, she's also able to talk to Papa Dan as a young man, who is Henry's best friend.

Tansy is sure she is going crazy, and as she tries to figure out what really happened on the bridge so many years ago, she finds friendship with 13 year old genius Bethyl Ann and cute boy Tate.

This book is a really fun, suspenseful read as Tansy tries to fight the lure of Henry's world as her own world seems to fade away. Jennifer Archer uses Tansy's hobby of photography to establish the connection between Tansy and Henry in a way that truly original and downright creepy. The characters are all well-drawn and believable, and Cedar Canyon is given its own small town personality.

I would recommend this book to people who liked Dreamland by Sarah Dessen or Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora.

Bonus Video
: Through Her Eyes creepy book trailer

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - June Update

Summer has officially started and I managed half of my reading goals for June. As reviewed here, I did finish Possession by Elana Johnson, but I didn't get to reading a play for the month. (I checked out Invention of Love by Tom Stoppard, and it still sits forlornly on my bookshelf.)

I've started Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer, which I'm really enjoying. The book review will be up soon. This, of course, still leaves me a month behind. I'm hoping to catch up with Wildefire by Karsten Knight, which I pulled from Galley Grab. I started the first couple of chapters of that and all I can say is ... wow.

And that's about it for June. The days are longer, but it seems like I have less time to do stuff.

How has your summer reading been going?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

7 Query Resources

I recently won a query critique from an agented author in a charity auction. The feedback that I received was very positive. That made me feel fantastic. The author had a few notes for me (of course), but thought I was almost there. Yay me!

How was I able to achieve such positive results? First, I've written the query at least a bajillion times (not a precise number), trying out different approaches until I felt I finally nailed the main question of my book in the shortest amount of words. (Hint: queries are about setting up the question of "what happens next" ... it doesn't give away the whole story).

Second, I've had my critique group go over it, giving second and third and fourth pairs of eyes to help me see things I had missed.

Third, research, research, research. There are a bajillion (again, not a precise number) different blog entries, websites, tweets, etc. about queries. Going through it all is time-consuming, so I've narrowed down some of the best for you.

Writing the Query

YA author Elana Johnson has done mankind an invaluable service by offering an ebook titled From the Query to the Call. Great info to be had for FREE.

Rewriting the Query

This will take the bulk of your time (and frustration). Just like writing your novel, it's vital to get feedback. Your critique partners should be your first stop, but these resources will also help.

Absolute Write has Query Letter Hell where you can submit your query for feedback. You need to become a member to access the forum, but membership is free. (They do request donations if you are so inclined.) If you're too shy/vulnerable/terrified to submit, reading what others submit and the responses will educate you on what does and doesn't work.

If you're superbrave, you can submit your query to Evil Editor or Query Shark. Don't expect any hand holding here. The cold, bitter truth is what you'll find on these websites. If you can't muster the courage to submit, you can still learn from other people's mistakes.

A kinder, gentler version of query critiques is available in this recording of a live query event given by agent Roseanne Wells. Again, seeing what other people are doing, no matter what genre you're writing in, is a huge help in figuring out how to write the perfect query.

Submitting the Query

When you're finally ready to submit, you need to know who the right agents are to send it to. Agent Query is an excellent database of agents, giving their interests, preferred form of submission, client lists, and links to their websites.

And once you start sending your query, QueryTracker will keep track of your submissions. You can also share your submission experiences with other writers, giving some query karma back to the universe. There are both pay and free memberships available, and the free membership covers most of what you need.

Hope this information helps you on your query journey! Please share some of your favorite query resources.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One World, Many Stories - Film Edition

Summer reading programs are starting and as I've mentioned before, the theme at the libraries where I work is One World, Many Stories.

In addition to the books that I've previously listed, there are also some fabulous movies with multicultural stories that you might be interested in.

Bend It Like Beckham: A Pakistani teen in London defies her parents by playing soccer.

The Chorus (Les Choristes): At a school for troubled boys in France, a music teacher changes their lives.

Empire of the Sun: A young English boy tries to survive in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.

Into the West: Two Traveller brothers find a mysterious white horse in their Irish slum.

Osama: A 12-year-old girl disguises herself as boy after the Taliban takes over Afghanistan.

Quinceanera: Magdalena gets kicked out of her home when she finds out she's pregnant, but finds a new home with her grandfather and gay cousin.

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Three aboriginal girls escape government custody and attempt to walk across Australia to reunite with their families.

The Secret of Roan Inish: A 10-year-old girl believes that Selkies (seal creatures who can take human form) have taken her baby brother.

Spirited Away: A young Japanese girl must save her enchanted parents from a bevy of hungry spirits.

Whale Rider: A Maori girl fights tradition to become chief.

Some of these movies are heartbreaking to watch and may be best for older children and teens (I'm looking at you, Osama and Rabbit-Proof Fence). But they are also good places to start to make others (including adults) aware of how children around the world live as well as different cultures and myths.

I've made my recommendations based on movies that I've seen. What are some of your favorite multicultural films for children?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Possession Book Review


Title: Possession
Author: Elana Johnson
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: June 7, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1442421257
416 pp.

Reading copy from publisher via Galley Grab


I don't give stars for my reviews, but if I did, I'd give 3 out of 5 for Possession by Elana Johnson. It fell in the middle for me ... somewhere between Across the Universe by Beth Revis, which I L-O-V-E-D and Bumped by Megan McCafferty, which I didn't finish.

The basic story is that Violet (aka Vi) lives in the Goodlands, but she doesn't think much of being a Goodie. She breaks the rules of this particular dystopian world and ends up in prison with Jag, the swaggering and sexy Baddie from the Badlands. She breaks out of prison with Jag and finds out there's a Resistance, which she may or may not want to join. And then there's Zenn, the boy Vi was matched with back when she was a Goodie. He may be trying to help her, or he may be keeping her away from Jag. Vi doesn't know who to trust or what do, especially since she's discovered that she has many of the same powers that the Thinkers who control the Goodlands have.

There's lots to like in Possession. Vi is a sassy, snarky kick-ass character. There's lots of well-written action. There are twisty turns that nicely set up the sequel.

But where it fell flat for me was the world-building. It was generic, even in the naming of the places (Goodlands, Badlands, etc.). There really wasn't a breakdown of the hierarchy or the history of this world. There's a conversation very late in the novel about what the different types of powers are and who has them, but it would have helped to have this information sooner. It would have helped me as reader understand the world and it would have helped build character in Vi because she could have had a stronger arc on how she learns what her abilities are and how she can use them.

The characters were a little generic, too. Cute Boy #1 and Cute Boy # 2 didn't seem that different from each other. And Vi didn't have that much depth to her. She's all id, all action, all emotion. She's not very reflective. For instance, in one scene she manages to take out a team of people using her new found power. When it's over, she doesn't think, OMG, I did that!?! What else am I capable of? Or any other sort of deeper thought. Instead, she yells at Jag about something else. If all id is her character, I hope in the sequel that Vi grows up a bit and learns more self-awareness.

So 3 out of 5 stars it is. I would recommend Possession to readers who enjoyed Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin or Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.


Bonus Video: Elana Johnson talks about Possession with YA Highway

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - May Update

One thing that I've realized doing the challenge is that it's okay to make changes on the fly. I started this as something fun to do and I wasn't very scientific on how I chose what titles to read. So if one title wasn't readily available, I would switch out with a title that was. Which is why Entwined was my May read instead of How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend.

And really, I'm behind a month. There was no April read. But I figure if I read 12 debut books by the end of the year, I'm good. Right? (Please say right.)

To complicate matters more, I'm itching to read Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, which isn't YA or debut. But Sarah Vowell is pretty awesome and the book is sitting on my coffee table looking all wistful and lonely, like a older cat at a pet adoption who isn't even going to try to compete with the kittens.

To complicate matters even more, last year I started a summer reading program for myself to get out the fiction/nonfiction rut I was in. I mentioned that to a friend of mine, and her response was, "What's there beside fiction and nonfiction?" By that I mean poetry, plays, and graphic novels. June is plays, July is poetry, and August is graphic novels. I really, really want to be able to read at least one of each this summer. Because I believe the more you read, the more well-rounded as a writer you are.

What are your reading goals for the summer? Juicy beach reading? Scary stories around a campfire?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

One World, Many Stories

Summer reading programs are kicking off soon at the libraries where I work, and this year's theme is "One World, Many Stories."

As I've mentioned before, I believe multicultural stories aren't just for people of color and I love that so many kids will have the opportunity to learn about the big, beautiful world we all share.

Here's a short list of books about people from the four corners the world, including right here in the USA.

Picture Books

Angel City by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Carole Byard
An African-American man adopts a Latino boy and when tragedy strikes this unlikely family, love is what keeps them going. Not for younger readers, but older children can appreciate the book’s message of tolerance and compassion.

D Is for Dragon Dance
by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan
Vibrant illustrations celebrate the traditions of Chinese New Year one letter at a time.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Neruda found inspiration in the world around him and the power of words made him a hero to the people of Chile.

Peek! A Thai Hide-and-Seek by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade
Ho brings a cultural twist to the timeless game with a little girl and her daddy playing Jut-Ay, the Thai equivalent of peek-a-boo.

Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace, illustrated by Raul Colon
The island setting and use of local folklore is an excellent way to introduce readers to Caribbean culture.

Middle Grade Books

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The simple story of an immigrant arriving to a new land is brought to new heights with Tan’s intricately illustrated, yet wordless, graphic novel.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza’s life turns upside down when she must leave her home in Mexico and become a farm laborer in California.

The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea by Anne Sibley O'Brien
Presented in a graphic novel format, this story follows the adventures of a young man who becomes a warrior and magician to fight corrupt officials.

No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia
Akilah discovers that while her best friend Victoria was in Nigeria, she forced to get an operation called female circumcision. The book approaches the topic with compassion and believability.

Running with the Reservoir Pups
by Colin Bateman
Eddie moves to Belfast and falls in with a street gang called the Reservoir Pups in this hilarious and slightly surreal novel.

Young Adult Books

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Yang’s brilliantly conceived graphic novel of three different tales are interwoven into one Asian American teen’s search for identity.

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Simone knows she's adopted and it's never bothered her. But then she meets her birth mother, a Hasidic Jew, and learns life is more complicated than she thought.

Cuba 15
by Nancy Osa
Violet didn’t expect to get excited about having a traditional Cuban quinceanero; she didn’t expect to want to learn more about her Cuban heritage; and she certainly didn’t expect that her sudden interest in all things Cuban would cause a rift in the family.

Lives of Our Own by Lorri Hewitt
Hewitt tells the novel in alternating chapters as two girls, one white and one black, try to integrate the Old South Ball.

A Step from Heaven by An Na
Na's delicately written novel follows Young as she moves from Korea to the United States, but the promise of a better life in America fails to appear.

What are some of your favorite stories from around the world? Or from your own backyard?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Entwined Book Review

Title: Entwined
Author: Heather Dixon
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062001030
480 pp.

Reading copy from local library

There's romance and then there's Romance. Lower case "r" romance is what most people think of when they think of the word, which is pretty much anything the new Old Spice guy offers you in one of his commercials. (You know, walks on the beach, diamonds, tickets to that thing you love.)

Capital "R" romance goes back to the Romantics, the literary and artistic movement in the early 19th century that took off the neatly coiffed wig of the Enlightenment and let its luscious locks get windswept in the moors. Capital "R" romance favors emotion over logic and nature over order. Capital "R" romantics are Byron, Keats, Shelley. And Heather Dixon.

While there is more than a touch of lower case "r" romance in Entwined, it is, at its heart, an unabashed capital "R" romance. Based on the Grimm fairytale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," Heather Dixon creates a truly magical world. Princess Azalea discovers this magical world and ultimately must protect her family from it. But it is a beguiling world, a world Byron would have been at home in, a world ruled by a charming yet mysterious figure known as Keeper.

After Azalea's mother dies, she promises to look after her 11 younger sisters. Her mother loved to dance and it is a gift that Azalea wants to share with her sisters. But their father demands that the girls honor their mother through a year-long mourning and forbids them from dancing. Azalea hears a rumor of secret rooms in the castle and finds one, which leads her to Keeper's world. Every night, she and her sisters sneak into Keeper's domain to dance. And when Keeper demands a favor in return, Azalea doesn't realize how dangerous he is until it is too late.

Azalea is often forced to choose between the rules she is expected to follow as Princess and her own wishes. She often makes the wrong choice. But this is what makes her journey interesting and keeps the stakes high. Entwined is a beautifully written book, especially when describing the many dances. I, for one, would love to see the Entwine dance performed.

My only quibble is that with 12 princesses, it was difficult to keep track of them all at first. Having their names go alphabetically from oldest to youngest helped, but it did take me awhile to figure out their ages. The younger sisters were sketches rather than full-blown characters, but the most important of the sisters were well-developed.

I would recommend Entwined to readers who enjoyed Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine or The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.


Bonus Video: Absolutely lovely book trailer for Entwined

Friday, May 13, 2011

In Which I Profess My Love for Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman


Two of my favorite things are making a convergence this weekend. Neil Gaiman has written the episode of Doctor Who that will air this Saturday, May 14th. To say I am excited is to understate the level of squee this fangirl is capable of.

If you haven't seen Doctor Who since, oh, the 20th century, don't let preconceptions of bad special effects and cheesy aliens stop you from enjoying the reboot of the franchise that began in 2005.

Christopher Eccleston starred as the Ninth Doctor, bringing a edginess to the role. David Tennant took over as the sexy Tenth Doctor from 2006-2010. Matt Smith, the goofiest doctor I've ever seen, now stars as the Eleventh Doctor.

The BBC obviously upped the budget, but what made a new generation of viewers fans of the show is the remarkable storytelling. These stories are smart, funny, tragic, and scary, often at the same moment. Not every episode is an A+, but rarely is an episode anything less than a B.

I highly suggest that you start watching the show from the Christopher Eccleston series, but if you're not sure you want to make that kind of commitment, take the time to at least watch the episode "Blink" from Season Three. You don't need to know anything about Doctor Who except that it involves time travel. In fact, the Doctor is hardly in the episode at all. But it is one of the most gripping hours of television I have ever seen.

Writers have much to learn from watching "Blink," the way writer Steven Moffat plants clues, builds tension, and adds humor to craft a perfect hour of storytelling. (In fact, the episode evolved from a short story the Steven Moffat wrote, which you can read here. But watch the episode first.)
And I must admit, I am expecting that level of excellence from the Neil Gaiman penned episode. Neil Gaiman is a brilliant storyteller and the number of accolades he has garnered is almost obscene. That whole smart-funny-tragic-scary thing is a hallmark of Neil's writing, and he seems a perfect match for Doctor Who.

But.

Yeah, there's a but. The X-Files was once one of my favorite all-time television shows back in the day. Then they did some stunt casting (stunt writing?). Stephen King wrote an episode of the show that was derivative of the Talking Tina episode from Twilight Zone. William Gibson wrote a couple of episodes that I don't even remember anymore (except that they had something to do with virtual reality and artificial intelligence). These episodes were winks to the audience, but not really anything that made the show special.

I soooo want Neil Gaiman's episode to be everything I want it to be. I'm sure Neil and everyone associated with Doctor Who wants that, too. But I've worked production before. Good writing can be sacrificed to production delays. I'm trying to temper my wildly high expectations with reality.

Come Saturday night, though, all I want is an hour of epic storytelling. Is that too much to ask?

In the meantime, here are some Doctor Who related videos to distract you.

Dalek Masterpiece Theater (embedding is disabled, but it's awesome)

Musical Tribute to the Tenth Doctor (a must for David Tennant fans!)



And if Doug Adams had written an episode of Doctor Who, it might have looked like this.


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