Friday, November 30, 2012

YA for NJ

Just a quick note: There's a major charity auction, YA for NJ, going on right now. (The home page for YA for NJ lists only the first 100 items that are up for bid. In order to see all the items you must click the link at the bottom of the page, "Go see all current items for sale by this member.")

The auction benefits the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, to aid in the efforts to feed those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Everything from autographed books to professional critiques to ARCs to Skype visits to the chance to have your name in a book is being auctioned off, with more than 150 authors and editors contributing. And right now there are some real steals available: the entire Soho Teen List in 2013 with an opening bid of only $50 ... A professional manuscript critique and a basket of books with the bidding only up to $46 as of this writing ... three signed novels by Sarah Darer Littman with the bidding at $17.10 as of this writing ... three Ellen Wittlinger novels with the bidding currently at $15 ... two signed Nina LaCour novels for an opening bid of $12 ... and that's just for starters. Also, if you've never gotten around to my books, you could try for both of my novels (signed) with the bidding now at $12.

So check it out!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Reading

My reading slacked off a bit while I worked on an intense revision, but with that project done, I've been reading a lot lately. And I'm reminded how much I love it: the adventure of a new book, the chance to slip into another life for a while, the connection with another mind. I have a nice stack of books waiting next to me, and it's fun to shuffle through them and decide which one will be next. As usual, I'm not sticking to a single genre. My recent reads include We Killed (nonfiction, about women in comedy), The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan (humor), 17 & Gone (YA, suspense), Help Thanks Wow (devotional/inspirational), The Group (adult fiction), and Bound Feet and Western Dress (historical memoir).

Before I was a writer, I was a reader. And I'm thankful for that. It's as if I get to live several lives in one.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Arrogance is not attractive

There's a pattern we sometimes see in stories, of a girl being attracted to a haughty, arrogant guy. The idea is that the sparks of conflict are really sparks of attraction. But it's a dynamic that has always bothered me, largely because I don't think of arrogance as an attractive quality.

One of the cited prototypes for this is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, where the male love interest, Darcy, is insufferably haughty to the main character, Elizabeth, when they first meet. And these two end up happily married, so ... insulting behavior must be attractive, right? But when I look at the actual text of Pride and Prejudice, what I find is this:

Darcy insults Elizabeth. She's offended and dislikes him. And she continues to dislike him for about thirty more chapters.

His arrogance doesn't make her weak-kneed nor draw out the flirt in her. It turns her off, and while she is polite to him because they have friends in common, she is not attracted to him ("She liked him too little to care for his approbation"). And it is her self-confidence, her refusal to worry about his opinion of her, in addition to their shared interests in reading and walking, that kindles his respect and eventually his romantic interest in her.

This pattern continues throughout the book. Whenever Darcy is high-handed (as in his first disastrous proposal), Elizabeth reacts with disgust. When Elizabeth believes he has unfairly deprived her friend Wickham of an inheritance, she is angry. When he discourages his friend Bingley from pursuing Elizabeth's sister Jane, Elizabeth thinks this is unforgivable.

The turning point comes when Elizabeth discovers that Darcy is not as awful as he has seemed: That he discouraged Bingley's interest in Jane mostly because he honestly believed Jane did not return the feelings. That Wickham not only squandered an inheritance, but played fast and loose with the affections of Darcy's younger sister. At this point, Elizabeth's feelings soften, though not to the point of love (they are described as a mixture of indignation, compassion, gratitude, and respect). Her heart thaws even further when Darcy's housekeeper praises his fairness, kindness and generosity, and when she herself observes his protective affection for his sister. Darcy's willingness to help Elizabeth's own family out of a disaster (instigated by Wickham, no less) seals the deal for Elizabeth. But in all of these cases, it is when Darcy displays generosity and a lack of hauteur that he is most attractive to Elizabeth.

Some could say that the love interest in my first novel shows signs of arrogance. I would agree, but I always thought that the main character liked her in spite of it rather than because of it; there's a point in which he describes her arrogance as her least attractive quality. He really liked her vulnerability and her ability to poke fun at her own privileged status. I believe the appeal of an arrogant character is not in the overconfident shell, but in whatever qualities lie at the core of the character, beneath that shell.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


First, a Happy Thanksgiving wish! If you're in the mood for poetry, enjoy Kelly Fineman's take on holiday feasts.

Two pieces I've read recently spoke about the need for commitment in writing:

"On the side I was also pursuing my dream to become a writer. Key words: on the side. ... when push came to shove, other obligations always took precedence over my writing."
"If I was going all in with my writing, then I needed to keep an open mind about different strategies, be willing to try new things, and quit thinking I was an expert."
--Jody Casella at YA Outside the Lines

"But the hardest reason of all not to write is the feeling that we’ve lost faith in our stories or in ourselves and our own abilities to tell them. And that is the true turning point, the most important choice you’ll face in your writing life: when you reach that crisis-point, do you abandon your unfinished story in favor of another shiny-new idea? Or do you keep plugging away, even when everything right down to the basic premise of your book seems flawed, and you’re certain it will never be worthy of being read by any eyes but yours?"
--Anna Elliott at Writer Unboxed

Jody Casella talks about the need for commitment to start a writing career, and Anna Elliott describes the commitment needed to keep it going. I've experienced this myself in my writing life. I, too, wrote "on the side" for many years, and really didn't put writing on the front burner until 2003. I still have a day job; what the front burner meant to me was dialing back on other hobbies, watching less TV, and not writing just when I felt like it, but coming to the writing desk every day. Taking classes, going to conferences with a professional emphasis, researching agents.

As for the commitment to keep plugging away at a story even after it has lost its shiny novelty: I have been there, too. I have many days where I don't know what to do with a story, where I just can't see around the next curve, so it looks more like a dead end. But sometimes a writer's main virtue is in just not giving up. There are so many writer tools and tips that there's always something else to try. And stories have that miraculous quality of looking slightly different each time we read them, of presenting new footholds.

Not everyone has to write every day. And not every story has to be written to completion. But we all know what commitment means to us, what it feels like to jump off the diving board instead of just dangling a foot over the edge. The rewards don't usually come immediately, which is one reason that committing to writing can be so difficult. But they do come, often in unexpected packages.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Books of our youth: Romance!

From my guest-post series, here is Mieke Zamora-Mackay on a romance with an unusual ending.

I was eleven years old when I picked up my first Sweet Dreams book from Bantam Books. The pocket-sized collection of numbered stand-alone teen romances, featuring pretty, wholesome-looking American girls on their covers, were an instant hit among Filipino teens in the mid-eighties.

P. S. I Love You by Barbara Conklin was the first volume and is a favorite of those that still remember the series. In it, fifteen year-old Mariah and her family house-sit in Palm Springs over the summer. While there, she meets handsome, rich, but cancer-stricken neighbor, Paul Strobe. They enjoy their time together and fall in love, but Paul’s strict mother and the treatments that weaken him cut their time short. SPOILER ALERT: He dies in the end.

Capturing all the excitement, the uncertainly, and the tummy-flutters of young first love, as well as the heartache and pain of illness and loss, I ate it all up. And to have it end the way it did? I was blown away. I didn’t realize until then that books could have such sad endings.

I was hooked. With money saved from a couple weeks’ allowance, I’d buy volume after volume. The stories ran the gamut of teen issues from low self-esteem, angst from bullying and mean girls, confusion from a parents’ divorce, even the tug-of-war between choosing a dream over true love. These books formed my first personal library.


The series is no longer in production, and admittedly, it is of lighter fare compared to what is available in the genre today. However, I recently re-read P. S. I Love You and was pleasantly surprised to find that the issues and emotions were still honest and relevant. I still cried in the end, just like I did thirty years ago.

Mieke Zamora-Mackay blogs at The Author-in-Training.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The supporting cast

A while ago, I read a book (which I won't name) that had an extremely compelling central story line. But the author kept yanking us away from that story line, away from the main characters, to develop subplots for some extremely peripheral characters. Those subplots included barely-relevant family stuff and a cheesy, too-coincidental romance. Please, I wanted to beg the author. Please cut out all this froufrou stuff and take me back to the interesting part! I don't care if these side characters end up together. I feel like you're just stalling on the way to the main attraction.

Subplots and side characters can be fascinating. Usually I enjoy the time I spend with the supporting cast. So I've been trying to figure out why I didn't like it in this case. For one thing, it seemed to come at the expense of the main story line. There were important questions dangling, and instead of pursuing them, the author would pull back and spend all kinds of time in the side characters' backstories. In addition, the side characters' stories didn't really enhance the main theme. The romantic intrigue--which normally I'm a fan of--seemed tacked-on in this case, as if someone had told the author that it would ramp up the story to have this extra complication. The bottom line is that the subplots didn't feel essential or organic to the story.

In contrast, suspense-building, even through temporary shifts away from the main plot lines, was done much better in Sarah Darer Littman's Want to Go Private? In fact, Littman takes a huge risk when her story builds to a nail-biting plot point, and then the POV changes. But the suspense simply builds again, this time through viewpoints that add breadth to the story, and the questions that are raised in the book's middle section are still relevant to the main plot. We also begin to get some answers. And so, I would say that Littman succeeds in developing her supporting cast, which truly supports rather than distracts from the central story.

Perhaps we can't all aspire to a book like Louis Sachar's Holes or Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, where every little detail proves essential to the plot. But our secondary characters and subplots still need to have significance, as they do in Want to Go Private?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dear manuscript

Dear manuscript:

The time has come for both of us to move on.

It's been good. I learned a lot from you. But I need to grow and change. It's not you, it's me.

Well, okay, it's partly you. You did cost me a few tears and a LOT of sweat. But I'm not sorry I knew you. I hope you will go on to make many people happy. In fact, I look forward to the day when you will come back to me, all decked out in a shiny new cover, your margins justified. "You're looking good," I will say, and it won't even be awkward.

I know I'm going to get all caught up in someone new. At first it will be dazzling, thrilling, the way it was when I first knew you. And then the new manuscript will lead me on a long journey full of tedious slogging, wandering in circles, straying into briar patches and swamps. Just like you did! Oh, there will be flowery meadows and breathtaking views, too. Just as there were with you.

You will always be special to me. This isn't really good-bye. It's more like, "See you later."


Your writer

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Books of our youth: Wordplay with Dr. Seuss and Artie Bennett

The latest guest post in my series on books that inspired us when we were growing up comes from Artie Bennett:

Hi, boys and girls—and codgers (like me), too! I want to, first of all, thank my dear colleague Jenn for this golden opportunity to revisit an inspiring book from my boyhood—and offering me a forum to discuss it. When I think about books that inspired me, one book leaps readily to mind. Why, its very title promised thrills beyond imagining and set me all atingle. And that book was Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra! (published in 1955 by Random House).


You see, I was a precocious lad, and I’d acquired a formidable vocabulary at a young age. I loved words and, early on, sensed their beauty and power. Yet it all ended with “zebra,” didn’t it? Case closed. Well, Dr. Seuss took me to the outer limits of language, giving the befuddled-looking zebra on the cover reason for befuddlement. Through On Beyond Zebra!, I got my first whiff of the magic of language, and how a playful imagination can be an extraordinary and unquenchable gift. His unique bestiary and hilarious contrivances made the trip beyond “zebra” the greatest of adventures.

Dr. Seuss is responsible, I’m sure, for the fact that I write in verse—perhaps for the fact that I write at all! I’ve even dedicated my “number two” picture book, Poopendous!, to Dr. Seuss, though I tweaked it a bit: “To Dr. Seuss, my meuss.” I think the good doctor would have appreciated that. And I’m sure he would have found the title amusing, too, for no children’s writer coined more words than Dr Seuss.


What’s especially interesting is that there’s a verse in Poopendous! that goes, “Everyone poops—yes, it’s true—from aardvarks to the humped zebu.” This verse is my homage to that groundbreaking children’s book by Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops. The book that made it possible to write about such, um, fertile topics. But it’s every bit an homage to Dr. Seuss, for where can one find the zebu if not “on beyond zebra.” And the fact that several youngsters at my readings have asked me if zebus actually exist tickles me deeply.

Copy of BAB_Poopendous_Page_09
Yes, they exist. Ask any South Asian. But if they didn’t, Dr. Seuss would already have created them. For as long as we have imaginations to nourish, Dr. Seuss will always be there . . . to feed them most bounteously.

Artie Bennett is the executive copyeditor for a children’s book publisher, and he is the author of The Dinosaur Joke Book: A Compendium of Pre-Hysteric Puns (currently extinct), The Butt Book (Bloomsbury, 2010), and Poopendous! (Blue Apple Books, 2012). He and his wife live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The case for the arts

In this era of shrinking budgets, slashing funds for arts education, and threats to arts grants, we are reminded that in the public-policy arena, the arts are still often seen as a luxury. A frivolity.

Those of us who know better argue that the arts provide something essential to human beings, that creative expression helps us cope with life's big questions and challenges. That the arts reach many students in a way that math and science can't always do.

But you can't quantify that value, which means that policy-makers still find it easy to dismiss. So for those looking for another way to make the case, I recommend Wendy Wasserstein's essay, "The State of the Arts" (which appears in the collection Shiksa Goddess), in which she includes an economic case for funding the arts:

"Nonprofit arts institutions are often pioneers in urban revival. The 'new' Forty-Second Street--the Disney-restored theaters and entertainment malls--would not be there today if the arts organizations sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and local arts councils had not taken the initiative to change the urban landscape."

"Nonprofit arts in America are a thirty-seven-billion-dollar industry."

"I mentioned that I had won a twelve-thousand-dollar grant in 1984, which had aided me in completing The Heidi Chronicles. In my mind, that's a small investment for a play that ran on Broadway for two years, toured the country for two years, and kept many people employed and inner cities lively."

The places we live would be poorer, spiritually and financially, without our art museums, theaters, bookstores, libraries, galleries, dance studios, and concert halls. These places provide employment for many and entertainment for many more; they provide emotional nourishment and a richness to our communities.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Revision fever

My posts have been a little scarcer lately because I've been in the throes of a big revision. It was the main thing on my mind (well, besides Hurricane Sandy, the election, and a few major things going on in friends' lives), and yet I didn't want to blog about it. I usually like to blog about writing ideas after I've had time to mull them over. Not only does writing about my work-in-progress carry the risk of draining some of the energy I need to pour into it, but the daily progress of a revision is not ripe for blogging (not in my case, anyway). It resembles the journey of a roller coaster operated by a bunch of lunatic cats. Documenting the ride would look something like this:

"I have no idea what I'm going to do in this scene. Oh! I know! Character A will fight with Character B! Wait, no they won't. They just fought 10 pages earlier. But I'm getting rid of Character C, that's for sure. No, what I'll do with C is give her an even bigger role. In fact, she can carry D's role too, and I'm axing D. No, I'm keeping D, and making him twins. Also, chapter 3 is going, but I'm bringing back the old version of chapter 9. Yes! No! I don't know! A will fight with B. And I'm getting rid of C. And D isn't twins--that's stupid. I know! I will combine the two fights that A and B have into one fight scene. They don't need to fight twice. And D will take on C's role, but will not become twins. There. I've fixed it. Unless ..."

None of that refers to the actual plot of my actual book, but you get the idea.

The most useful observation I've had from my recent revision was this: Whenever possible, use what's already there. Find another purpose for an already-established hobby or quirk; give more responsibility to an already-existing character. Develop a grudge or a crush. It's so much easier to water the seeds that we've already planted than to drag a whole new rosebush into the garden.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Many words, or few

It's NaNoWriMo, the month when thousands of people try to write a draft of a book in 30 days. While they are focusing on getting words to come out--some 1700 words a day--I'm toying with an idea on the other end of the spectrum.

A few years ago, I saw an article in National Geographic about a nature photographer who was feeling jaded and uninspired. He decided to try an experiment. For 90 days, he would take one photograph a day. Only one photograph a day.

Some days he knew exactly what his picture would be; he waited for the right light and took it. Some days he got the shot he wanted right away. Some days, he wandered a long time, changed his mind, and didn't get his picture until late. Photographers are used to taking many shots and weeding heavily for their final pictures. But this photographer found that having only one shot per day made him more selective, more observant, more careful. And he started having fun again, because of the challenge.

I thought: what if a writer who was daunted by the word counts of NaNoWriMo, or wasn't in the right frame of mind to draft a novel, went in the other direction and did a sort of writerly equivalent of the photographer's challenge? What if a writer set a goal of a single 100-word piece a day (or 50 words, or 500, depending on whatever feels compact yet manageable) for a month?  100 words could be a poem, or a piece of flash fiction. A writer could go even shorter and try one haiku a day. With only one short piece a day to focus on, the writer would exercise different creative muscles than the ones that are exercised by NaNoWriMo. So I'm just throwing the idea out there into the world, in case anyone cares to try it.

By the way, I see via internet search that many people have done versions of the one-photo-a-day challenge. But the one I saw first, the one I referred to at the top of this post, was Chased by the Light: A 90-Day Journey, by Jim Brandenburg.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Books of our youth: The Girl with the Silver Eyes

Today's guest post, part of a series about the books that influence us in our younger years, is by Michelle Davidson Argyle. It reminds me of how I, too, wanted special telekinetic powers when I was a teen ... but alas, they never materialized ...


One of the most memorable novels of my childhood is The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts. This book meant a lot to me as a kid, mainly because it’s about a girl who doesn’t feel like she fits in. I never felt like I fit in.

Katie, the main character, has silver eyes and can move things just by thinking about them. I realized, after reading the book about twenty times, that Katie probably would have felt like an outcast even if it weren’t for her strange silver eyes. I think this is one of the first novels that stuck it into my head how effective it is to give characters physical flaws that can mirror inward flaws. These days, you see this all over the place in young adult novels, but back when I was a kid, this kind of paranormal story wasn’t as “normal” as it is now, so it was exciting and new. I think kids and young adult readers are still reading this book, so I’m happy it hasn’t been forgotten!

MICHELLE DAVIDSON ARGYLE lives and writes in Utah, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. You can find more of her online at Her latest book is BONDED:


BONDED contains a fairy tale continuation (Cinders, based on Cinderella), a fairy tale retelling (Thirds, based on One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes), and a fairy tale prequel (Scales, based on Sleeping Beauty).

Sunday, November 4, 2012


At Writer Unboxed, Lydia Sharp wrote a beautiful post the other day about weathering the storms of the unpredictable writing life, including such lines as, "I lost my sanity long ago. Only the craziest of us have stuck it out." Many of us have experienced this: "You’ve had success in the past (that you will never take for granted), and this tricks you into believing that you should be further along your path than you really are." So often, our suffering is driven by the gap between reality and our expectations.

And, like Lydia, I can remember that some of my greatest writing and publishing moments came close on the heels of some of the worst ones. Just when it seemed as if I would never fix that plot problem, or get an offer for that story, or find the right ending ... I did. My best moments have been coated in the sweat of hard work and anxiety, rather than sprinkles and fairy dust, but hey, I'll still take 'em.

Writer Joelle Anthony created a lovely door hanger to celebrate the release of her book The Right and the Real. On one side, it has information about her books, and on the other, it says, "Don't bug me, I'm reading!" above a photo of a stack of books. Included in the pictured stack of books is Try Not to Breathe, and for that reason, Joelle was kind enough to send me an extra door hanger to give away.

I could just give out this door hanger at an author event, but I thought it would be nice to give it to a person who is interested enough in my writing to read my blog. I really do appreciate those of you who read and comment here, and help make this a cozy corner of the internet. So, if you would like it, email me at jennifer[at]jenniferhubbard[dot]com, and just tell me briefly why you'd like it. You don't have to be in the US, but you do have to be at least 13 years old. If more than one person wants it, I'll pull a name at random.

Also pictured in the stack of books: Imaginary Girls, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, The Winter Pony, Rose Sees Red, Everneath, and others. You can see what the door hanger looks like here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Writer on the storm (Thankful Thursday)

On Monday evening, we lost power as the storm formerly known as Hurricane Sandy (then known as Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy) swept through the area. We called the power company on our thankfully-functioning land line. We listened to our local AM news station on a little battery-operated radio. We lay in the dark, listening to the wind, and watching occasional brilliant flashes in the sky (lightning? electrical explosions?) that were mysteriously accompanied by no sound. We thought about the giant trees surrounding us. The wind blew all night.

On Tuesday, we attempted to take a walk. Two blocks away, a road was barricaded. Three blocks away, a snapped tree rested on sagging power lines. Four blocks away, another road was barricaded. At that intersection, the traffic signals were dark. We walked past the train tracks: their signals were lit, but no trains were running, or would run at all that day.

But we were lucky. Our house was intact and dry; our trees were standing; no power lines lay on our house or in our road. I was able to do some cleaning (something I never seem to have time for otherwise), worked on my book by writing scenes and notes in longhand, read next to the window and later by candlelight, and talked with my husband. That gift of slow-moving time, time to think, was a blessing, too. I was lucky to have all those blessings, and I knew it.

I did long for a hot shower (we had water, but no hot water). And soup took forever to boil on our gas grill. And our only sources of entertainment were writing, reading, and the radio. It was like living in 1947. But still? LUCKY.

The power came back first, after 27 dark quiet hours. A day later, the internet returned. I reveled in the shower, and in lights that appear at the flick of a switch. I'm glad to be back in touch with the world, but sickened by the devastation I can now see in pictures, especially in NY and NJ.

For me, it's a Thankful Thursday. I hope you and yours are well.