I have been lovin’ all my recent school visits! Last week I had a great time talking to four English classes at Lansdale Catholic High School outside of Philly. Those sessions mainly focused on why students should be concerned about their writing — think evergreen career skill! — and how to write better. Thanks so much to my friend librarian Tiffany Emerick, @Tiffany E, who loves her kids and loves YA and welcomed me into her library so sweetly. (She also got me addicted to Starbucks salted carmel hot chocolate while we talked books.)
The next day I landed at the Springside School and spoke to the middle school book club and the writing club. It was especially fun, because so many of the girls and several staff members had read Forget-Her-Nots and even used a passage of mine as part of a writing exercise. The girls had excellent questions about the writing life and the language of flowers. That evening the indie icon, Children’s Book World, hosted a Local Authors’ Night, which they were nice enough to invite me to also, although local is a stretch for me. I had a blast hanging out with old friends like Jenn Hubbard and Josh Berk and meeting new ones, like April Lindner, whose novel Jane, based on Jane Eyre, was just released. Can’t wait to read that one!
I’m trying to get back on track with my interview schedule, and I’m happy to welcome blogger Stephanie Su of StephSuReads. I first met Steph at The Strand before Teen Author Carnival last May and saw her again while she was helping out at BringYA2PA. Here’s a shot of Steph with Suzanne Collins on her Mockingjay tour.
Welcome, Steph! What’s your favorite flower and why?
Jasmine. It’s small, delicate, and white, and gives off the most amazing scent: sweet, expansive, lingering, and memorable.
Oh, I love the scent of jasmine, too. Jasmine is for amiability in the language of flowers.
Is there a quotation you live by or have posted at your desk?
I have two, actually! The first is by Einstein: “There are only two ways to live life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
The second is from the movie The Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams: “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.” Einstein’s quote reminds me to appreciate all the little details in life and to look upon the world with wonder instead of cynicism. The Dead Poets Society quote gets us to appreciate both science and the arts, and gives a valuable sort of meaning to the work I wish to do in my future.
Which book do you wish you could live inside?
Thinking about it, most of my favorite books seem to be dystopias or dangerous fantasy worlds! But boy, do I often wish I could be Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. Prince Edward Island is one of the most gorgeous places in the world.
I’m a huge fan of Anne! I so enjoyed re-reading them with my daughter, too.
What book have you read more than any other and why?
Haha, well, if we count childhood favorites, then I read my copy of Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine to tatters. I thought Ella was the most incredible strong female protagonist; the challenges she faced were grandly epic and exciting; and, of course, Char was swoon-worthy.
Nowadays, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve reread Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series, particularly the first two books, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. I find something new to like about it every time, from snarky moments to Megan’s absolute gift as an author to fully immerse us in Jessica’s mind.
You had a post over the summer in which you addressed clichés and overused ideas in YA literature. What inspired that post and what’s been the reaction?
The title of the post was “What’s Missing in YA Lit?” which (I think) puts a more positive spin on it. In it I talked about some real-world elements that I wish I could see more of in YA lit: a realistic depiction of the college application process, schoolwork, and sports, just to give a few examples. The post came into existence after I came off a long reading slump in which all of the contemporary realistic fiction I’d been reading one after the other started blending together, so similar they all were.
Nearly all of the comments and emails I’ve received from that post have been along the lines of, “You’re so right! I want to see these things in YA lit too! Thank you for writing this!” I find it funny how people seem to think I am some sort of spokesperson for thought-provoking issues regarding YA lit. Because, from the reactions to my posts, it’s very obvious that people have been thinking of the same things I have for a while now!
(Of course, there might be a post actually on YA clichés in the future…)
I’ll be interested in reading that! I know you’re doing some writing yourself. Can you tell us anything about your current project and its inspiration?
I’m happy to! I’m currently doing the first rewrite of a dystopian novel set in a post-nuclear America where regionalized governments control civilians via fear, strict rations, and “an eye for an eye” justice. The main character is an Agent, a police-like worker for the government whose job is to enforce civilians’ obedience, often through brutality. She has lived her whole life brainwashed into emotional hardness by her government, and when someone comes along and threatens to tear that apart, she realizes exactly how tightly her beloved government controls even her.
I got the idea to write this because I’ve long been intrigued by the idea that what my MC calls “high emotions”—anger, jealousy, love, hatred, etc.—could be the cause of great physical and emotional destruction. How might one attempt to regulate such intense emotions in order to prevent disastrous conflicts from occurring? And would that actually lead to a better life?
On a more technical and stylistic note, I wanted to try my hand at writing several things: a protagonist whose actions should make her inherently unlikable, a world full of manipulation and double-crossing, and speculative fiction with POC characters that does not revolve around the characters’ race or ethnicity. My MC is Asian, like me.
That sounds fascinating! Best of luck with it.
You’re one of the few bloggers who reviews both YA and MG, which I appreciate. Why did you decide to do that?
I see no great distinction between books written for different age groups. If it’s an amazing book, then I believe it deserves to transcend recommended reading ages, which honestly is mostly for marketing purposes anyway. I’m sure we readers and writers of YA are often faced with skeptical audiences who keep waiting for us to “grow up” and start reading and writing “real” books, i.e. books for adults. I’m all for enlightening these poor narrow-minded schmucks, starting by raving on my blog about any book that blows my mind!
What advice would you give to new bloggers just starting out?
Definitely have lots of patience. Don’t expect great things for at least the first 6-8 months. Like any role you take on, the first part of the experience will be the toughest: you’ll feel like you’re working your butt off and not getting your dues in turn. I know that’s how I felt for the first 7 months I was blogging—and I’ve only been blogging for almost two years now.
But have patience! Don’t throw extravagant and meaningless giveaways just to attract followers; don’t spam fellow bloggers with emails asking for link exchanges or otherwise thrusting your blog upon them. Focus on developing your writing and reviewing style. Read more than you write, particularly other blogs. Make genuinely intelligent and passionate connections with other YA lovers through comments, tweets, and emails. And maybe this last bit will be too new-age-y for you, but I genuinely believe that if you act from the bottom of your heart, that passion will be reflected back to you in friends, followers, comments, respect, and love.
Excellent advice! What’s the best part of being involved in the YA blogger community? The worst?
The best is the community experience. Before January 2009, reading YA for me was a furtive pastime: I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, because I’d often receive skeptical looks questioning my intelligence in return. Now, of course, I can simply jump on Twitter and rave about X amazing YA novel I’m reading and get half a dozen “Amen!” responses. I LOVE that. And the funny thing is that my confidence in speaking about my love of YA in the “real world” has soared as well: I am now comfortable sharing with others the fact that I blog about YA lit, read it as my primary reading material, and write it. I’m extremely grateful to the blogging community for transforming my outlook on my love of YA.
And now I’m on such a high after writing that last paragraph that I can’t even think of the worst part, haha. Petty stuff pops up sporadically in the blogosphere, of course. And I’m pretty upset that I can’t seem to read as many books as I would like to, due to schoolwork. But it’s definitely the best decision I made in the past two years, starting a blog.
It’s an amazing community. I’ve been so excited to connect with so many book-lovers, too!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to write a novel?
Well, if you’re also blogging, then you’re doing fantastically. Blogging has seriously helped my own writing grow in leaps and bounds. It comes from reading and reviewing a TON of books, and figuring out what does and does not work for you. Read read read, but also read outside the genre—picture books, adult fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary analyses—and begin to decipher what it is about YA or MG fiction that appeals most to you. Treat every bit of writing you do, from scribbling in your journal to plodding through that painful English class essay, as an opportunity to practice your writing. And then, above all, write fiction. It doesn’t have to be consistent or always incredible, just as long as you make it a part of your life.
White bellflowers for sharing your thoughts, Steph!