A delightful twist on the familiar

I love books that take familiar stories and flip them into something new.

Books like:

Coraline (a creepy Alice in Wonderland) by Neil Gaiman

Ophelia (Hamlet from her perspective) by Lisa Klein

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

And Holly Black’s Tales of Faerie aren’t the ones from my childhood – they’re wonderfully darker!

These types of books are popular with my students as well. The boys love the Young Bond/ Alex Rider series and my girls can’t put down Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm. Perhaps this is because they already have the schemas in place, so their comprehension is clearer and they just need to adapt it for new knowledge.

As a class we’re currently reading the first book in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: The Lightning Thief. The odds that you could walk through my classroom at any given moment and not encounter a discussion about Greek Mythology are slim to nonexistent. In fact, today, despite the fact that it’s Halloween week, the Phillies are in the World Series, and it was SNOWING (yeah, it was a fun day…), the students begged me to read more during bus dismissal. They’re captivated.

And more impressively, they’re voluntarily doing research at home so they can know more about the gods, satyrs, and heroes. A few excitedly reported that they’d dug a VHS of Disney’s Hercules and watched it over the weekend.

So when I saw the book Pandora Gets Jealous by Carolyn Hennesey while I was popping around on Amazon (always a dangerous thing to do), I had to buy it. It’s touted as the start of a hilarious new series set in ancient Athens. Sounds promising and a delightful twist on familiar.

P.S. I also bought two other books that came highly recommended from friends. Scott Heydt’s O.Y.L. and Generation Dead by Daniel Waters. (I told you Amazon was dangerous – I never get away with less than three books!)

The Magical Writing Nook

I’m pretty sure my new writing nook-to-be has magical properties. Even without its spectacular view (right now the window holes are tarped over, it’s raining).


Matt’s off at a how-to-tile-workshop so he feels manly and learns how to install the slate bathroom floor. As soon as he left I changed the laundry to the dryer, crated the dogs (sorry puggles!), grabbed my writer’s notebook, a towel, my I-pod, chapstick, and water and made my way up to the addition. I’ve been dying to try out the writing energy in my nook-to-be.

And that’s when I discovered its magical properties. I was totally prepared to be covered in sawdust – after all, the whole addition is a sawdust factory and there’s a wood shavings trail a la Hansel and Gretel from the addition through the rest of the house to the door the contractors use. That’s why I brought the towel, to sit on. And that’s why I brought my notebook and left my laptop (Huey) safely in a sawdust-free spot. After all, I’m washable, Huey’s not.

But when I got up here, I discovered something – the writing nook is miraculously the only sawdust-free section of the floor! I still spread out my towel as butt padding and settled myself down to lean against the frame – which is conveniently spaced ideally as a shoulder rest. I knew I was going to love writing up here! (Okay, I’ll admit, I’m rather easy to please!)

Now I can’t wait until it features built in bookshelves and my customized writing desk and cushy window seat. I can’t quite picture it in this room yet (because of the lack of visual-spatialness in my brain), but I can picture it perfectly in my head.

This tends to be where I get in trouble – I picture things so vividly in my head and then get frustrated when they don’t come to be in exactly the same way in the world outside my brain.

But I can’t get too annoyed with these issues in translation or my ability to imagine, because these are things I rely on so much as a writer, creating people and settings so realistic in my head that I just have to write them down and make them real.

And isn’t that the best part of books, when you get so attached to a character that you’re absolutely depressed on the last page because you’ll miss them? Authors who create characters that realistic are my heroes – I fell in such a funk when I finished the last Harry Potter and the final Twilight book. I’m already anticipating the depression I’ll feel after I read Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock because I love all the Dairy Queen characters.

This is the feeling I strive to create in my own writing, a sense of I-wish-Tessa-was-real-and-my-best-friend, or Where’s-my-real-life-version-of-Cole?-ness.

The magical properties of the future-nook apparently even extend to my I-pod. It’s been selecting a wicked awesome shuffle mix since I’ve been up here. Can you imagine how much more magical it will be when it has actual walls and windows and is finished?

I can’t wait. I mean literally, I can’t wait. I woke up at 7 am this morning and my first conscious thought was I’ve got to go look at the addition again – you know, in case anything had magically changed overnight

… It’s going to be a long five weeks.

Roofless in Doylestown

I have no roof.  Well, I guess our bedroom ceiling is now technically our roof – but that peaked thing with shingles and gutters?  It’s currently in a confetti of pieces across my yard and in my bushes.  It’s a jigsawed heap in the suv-sized dumpster that’s conquered an unfair share of my driveway.

On Tuesday when I left for school, I had a roof.  I came home to a house that looked like grandma in a shower cap – roof off and tarps bungee-corded around the frame.

Yesterday I came home and half the new frame was up.  It’s crazy.  What was once the attic door is now a stairway up to the sky.

When you climb the stairs and stand amongst the scattered nails and planks, it’s a little bit scary.

I’m looking through a hole in the frame that will be a window, but I can also look through the walls-that-aren’t-there and the absent roof.

All I can tell so far is that our bathroom and new writing nook will have awesome views.

I don’t have great visual-spatial intelligence, or at least not when it comes to construction or furniture maneuvering.

I was the college student who talked her roommate into moving all our stuff into the hall so we could ‘rearrange,’ but then when we moved it all back in, it didn’t fit. (Sorry, Jenny!)

And when I try and pack a suitcase or a car – don’t expect it to be efficient or organized.  And obviously it’s not all going to fit and the most essential items will be left behind.

(I was also the college student who went home for a month-long winter break and forgot to pack underwear.)

So when I look at board and holes or even the architect’s plans, my brain can’t translate from those to a finished room.  I can’t tell if it’s going to look huge or tiny.  Is the new closet massive (fingers crossed!) or just maneuverable?  Will Matt whack his head on the hanging lantern I’ve chosen for the bathroom, or will it hover helpfully a few inches above his hair?

It frustrates me that Matt seems able to look around the construction chaos and see a finished product.  I look around and see board and beams – and then I stumble over a scrap of wood.

I guess I’ll just have to be patient and wait – but when have I ever been good at that?


Writing between books

When I’m writing a book, I’m a bit manic; sleep, laundry, cell phone messages, cooking all get ignored. If I can’t eat it one-handed, it’s too much effort. If I’m not falling asleep upright at my computer typing nonsense, then it’s not time for bed yet.

But what about the in-between times? I’m not yet starting a new project and I’m done revisions on FLASH. So what do I write now? It feels weird not to spend hours at the keyboard, yet I’m not quite ready to jump into my next novel.

But climbing into bed without writing feels odd, like I skipped brushing my teeth or some other vital part of my daily routine.

So I’ve been thinking about this – worrying about it almost – will my writing muscles atrophy? My craft weaken? I tell my students to live like writers and to write everyday – am I becoming a writing hypocrite?

Then I realized that I’m writing constantly – blogs, e-mails, notes to myself. I just wrote 27 students each a half-page of feedback on their first narratives. I’m writing, just not with a central purpose.

And more than taking the time to physically put pen to paper, I’m always composing. I narrate my life (in my head) even more than JD on Scrubs – is this normal?

So although I may not be writing it all down, I’m still writing little stories in my head.

How do others find ways to keep their writing fires lit between book projects? I’d love to hear your suggestions and ideas.

Teen Reads Week 10/12-10/19

Today is the first day of YALSA Teen Reads Week. The theme this year is Books with Bite.

There are a few ways to interpret this, and I’ll offer suggestions for each.

Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Blue Bloods Series by Melissa de la Cruz
Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead
Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Vampire Kisses Series by Ellen Schreiber

Edgy Books:
Wake by Lisa McMann
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Nonfiction books about animals that bite:
Um, I don’t know much about these!  All I can think of is:
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I’m sure I missed plenty of titles, so post a comment and offer your suggestions. 

And if none of these books appeal to you (or if you’ve read them all!), find a different book to read.  The point of Teen Reads Week isn’t to tell you what to read, it’s just important that you take some time, find a book, and READ!


Endings and letting go

Today in my sixth grade class we finished reading aloud the book Zen and the Art of Faking it by Jordan Sonnenblick.  He’s among my favorite YA authors and this book is audible-laughing-hilarious, yet I was surprised by how my students reacted to the ending.

“I don’t like it,” said one.
“I’m not satisfied,” said another.
“That’s it?” cried a few

I needed clarification – this was a book that every day received a chorus of “just one more chapter!  Please!”  A book that I caught them discussing in the hall, on the playground, and during dismissal.

Why didn’t they like the ending?

Because it was an end. 

When I asked for more details they were quick to tell me:
“I wanted more.”
“I’m just sad that it ended.”
“There’s a sequel, right?”
“Can we write the author and tell him to write a sequel?”
“I want to know about San in high school.  Does he make the basketball team?  Does he ever become ELL?”

In short, even though they would admit that the plot was resolved and there was closure – they wanted more.

And isn’t that the trademark of a great book; when you don’t want to give up the characters after the last page? 

Dreaming of Dreams

Wake by Lisa McMann is one of those books I can’t get out of my mind.  I haven’t been sleeping much lately and as I lie awake, I wonder what dreams the normal sleepers in my house are having.   Judging from Janie’s experiences with dreams, I think I’d rather not know!

The format of this book really matches the plot.  The book is written with very little description, it is almost all dialogue and action, which makes it a fast read and also matches the pacing and intensity of the book.  I thought this format was especially effective and I loved the premise.  Imagine if someone could see your dreams… yikes! 

This is a book that is just waiting to be optioned for a film – it would make an excellent movie.  Just check out the video trailer at McMann’s website to see what I mean : http://lisamcmann.com/

I can’t wait for Fade… not too much longer until February 10th.


Why writing a novel is like building an addition…

Both of these things are taking up much of my time and attention right now.   We are currently putting a major addition on our Victorian home and I am also in the last-last stages of revisions before sending out queries on my YA novel FLASH.

Both are wholly consuming in mind-trapping ways and cause you to focus on them to the exclusion of other less important things… like, say, laundry or remembering to buy pet food (sorry Biscotti and Bruschi!).. 

In each of these instances, you’ve built ideas in your mind – whole new worlds and rooms.  I’ve got big plans for our new master suite and bigger plans for FLASH.  It’s the process of getting the ideas out of my mind and into reality that’s trickier. 

The hardest part is trying to decide where to start.  In the addition, we’re not doing any actual construction, but there are so many decisions we need to make.  Colors, flooring, fixtures, set up, windows… And with FLASH, where to start writing?  Do I have to write the book in order?  Would Tessa really say that?  What’s the hero’s motivation?  Colors and conflicts are the things that keep me up at night.

In some ways, it’s easier to transfer my ideas to reality with the novel.  I can take the world I’ve built in my head and record it on paper – often the hardest part is keeping my fingers moving as fast as my brain.

It’s harder with the addition.  I’ve spent 10 hours this weekend trying to find the tile that I can see so clearly in my mind, but that doesn’t apparently exist in any actual tile store.  Bringing my mental image of our bathroom-to-be to life is constrained by available materials – sigh!

Maybe I’ll give my heroine my dream bathroom so that it will still exist somewhere – even if it’s not in my house.

Wish me luck and patience in both of these endeavors.