Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Heart Indies!

Thanks Lisa and Laura for organizing this soiree honoring our  beloved Indies.

I'm featuring the world famous Square Books Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi, a little slice of heaven located a couple of blocks from my house. It is a spin-off children's store in a separate building from it's parent, the Grand Dame of all bookstores Square Books. (if you click the link, you will see my two youngest girls flanking Kate di Camillo in the last picture ... go look, I'll wait)

In the nearly ten years that I've lived in Oxford, I've met Kate di Camillo, Keven Henkes, Mo Willems, Deborah Wiles, Toni di Terlizzi, Christopher Paul Curtis, Karen Hesse, Laurie Halse Anderson, Trenton Lee Stewart, Ally Condie, Jan Brett, T.A. Barron, Laura Numeroff, Richard Peck . . . (and those are just the ones I thought of off the top of my head) at Square Books, Jr.

My dear friend Jill Moore is the head book buyer, and she runs the store in a way that is relaxed, inviting, and with just a touch of groovy-hippie vibe. My children and I can go to the store and read and linger without feeling pressure to make a purchase and leave (although we make many, many purchases).

John Bemelman Marciano and Jill Moore

The store is located downtown and close to the middle school. It is a local ritual for all of the sixth-eighth graders in town to walk to the Square after school to hang out at the bookstore, coffee shops, the yogurt shop, the candy store ... Square Books Jr. has a huge back room where they allow all of the kids to dump their backpacks so that they can walk around, unencumbered by fifteen pounds of Algebra textbooks on their shoulders. How cool is that?

I could gush on and on about all of the tiny wonderful things that Square Books does for our town, but the main thing I want to say is that it is the BEST thing in the world to have a curated store of hand-picked books with a knowledgable sales staff who know their customers.

Hats off to indies!!! Follow us on Twitter using #iheartindies and check out some more indie love at the links below:

Shana Silver
Elana Johnson
Stasia Kehoe
Shannon Messenger
Carolina Valdez Miller
Mundie Moms
Myra McEntire
Sara Bennett Wealer
Janet Gurtler
Joy Preble
Ty Drago
Kate Walton
Julia Karr
Randy Russell
Adele Griffin
Helen Landalf
Andrea Higgins
Beth Revis
Tess Hilmo
Sheela Chari
Gail Handler
Lisa and Laura Roecker
Crystal Allen
Christine Fonseca


Thursday, May 26, 2011


Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT is the most talked about book of the year . . . and with good reason. It is a brilliant combination of intense suspense and danger paired with a teenage girl's search for her identity in a world that makes you choose exactly where you belong.

I didn't think anyone could come close to Suzanne Collins' amazing storytelling, but my agent-sister Veronica has hit one out of the park.

Here's the blurb from her publisher:

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

For fun, take the DIVERGENT quiz on Facebook to find out what faction you are in. I'm a Erudite (I was totally hoping for Dauntless because they are the badasses--but I guess I'm too much of a chicken . . . and a book nerd).

Check out what the other Bookanistas are reading:

  • Elana Johnson sings praises for SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD

  • Shannon Messenger is wild about WILDFIRE + an ARC giveaway

  • Carolina Valdez Miller adores A NORTHERN LIGHT

  • Lisa and Laura Roecker dotes over DIVERGENT

  • Megan Miranda thinks MOONGLASS is marvelous

  • Jessi Kirby praises POSSESSION

  • Carrie Harris reveals the BAD TASTE IN BOYS Book Trailer

  • Stasia Ward Kehoe delights in BITTER MELLON

  • Christine Fonseca relishes in the RED GLOVE
  • Wednesday, May 18, 2011


    Picture Junie B. Jones as an all grown-up (or growed-up as she would say) middle schooler. That's how I see Sofia, (named after a "sofa") the star of Rose Cooper's adorable book GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS' ROOM.

    In this book Sofia is a blogtastic middle schooler who tries to use her blog as a way to ease her way up the all-important popularity scale. The middle schooler language is dead-on which is no easy task, let me tell you. And, both my fifth grade daughter and I laughed our way through this charming tale of secrets, deception, and stinky bathroom stalls.

    The book is written as if it's a secret journal--the blog behind the blog--where the whole ugly truth can be written. It's full of the most charming illustrations that I've ever seen. And, Rose did the illustrations, too.  Take a look:

    My daughter and I give GOSSIP FROM THE GIRLS ROOM an enthusiastic double thumbs up.

    Check out what the other Bookanistas are reading:

    Elana Johnson marvels at Moonglass
    Christine Fonseca  raves about It’s Raining Cupcakes
    Shelli Johannes-Wells  chats with Pure and The Summer of Firsts & Lasts author Terra McEvaoy
    LiLa Roecker  and Carrie Harris have a passion for Possession
    Beth Revis admires the audiobook of Anansi Boys
    Carolina Valdez Miller is giddy over Moonglass – with giveaway
    Megan Miranda  swoons over Strings Attached
    Shana Silver delves into Divergent
    Matt Blackstone is tantalized by Bad Taste in Boys
    Stasia Ward Kehoe  glories in a guestanista review of The Rendering

    Saturday, May 14, 2011


    Yes! It's true. Kate di Camillo came to Oxford!!

    Here I am going total fangirl on her.

    She read a bit from some of her books and answered great questions from the audience with off-the-cuff cleverness and humor.

    And, I was thrilled that I had the chance to tell her that she was my inspirational "Rocky music" during my phase of rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter ... Whenever it got to be too much--like cover your head in ashes and hide under the bed for a week "too much"--I would play a a video interview that I found of her on iTunes. In the interview, the interviewer asked Kate what kept her going when SHE kept getting rejections (she told us today that she amassed over 400! so hard to believe!!).

    Her response? Here's a copy of the transcript of this part of the interview (you can watch the whole thing on the Reading Rockets website):

    Why would somebody bother to keep on sending stuff out after that many rejection letters? I don't have an answer. I'd waited so long to start. You know, a whole decade of my life went by with me saying that this is what I wanted to do, but not doing it. I had reached such a critical level of self-disgust. I didn't want to die saying, "I think I could have done it."
    Since I was doing the work of telling stories, it was then an easy enough thing to then send the stories out and to keep on doing it, so I didn't have to say some 50 years hence, "I think I could've done that."
    Well you know, I've been in so many writing workshops, writing classes, and to the right of me and to the left of me, there's always somebody much more talented than I am. And what I figured out is they're not willing to go through the rejection, which is enormous, and then the compromise that comes with editing your work. I decided a long time ago that I didn't have to be talented. I just had to be persistent, and that that was something that I could control — the persistence. I've always been kind of persistent.

    Persistence. That's the key and it is truly the ONLY thing you can control in this crazy business.

    Wow!!  What a day!!!!


    Monday, May 9, 2011

    There oughta be a warning

    I had something wonderful happen this weekend. I was at a party talking to someone, and I told her that I had a children's book coming out next year.

    She said, "Is it ... did you ... um, did you do it yourself, or, you know ...?"

    "It's being published by Viking," I replied. Then she hugged me and said congratulations. And, I was pretty much over the moon because that NEVER happens.

    Here are the usual responses that I get when I tell people I have a children's book coming out:

    "Oh, my best friend/sister/coworker's aunt/ masseuse's three-year-old son wrote a book!" And, it's always something that person has self-published. Always.

    Or this:

    "Oh, I have a great idea for a children's book. It's a cute story about my cat/my grandmother/a preachy morality lesson ..." Then they stand there and wait for me to react. I'll talk about this comment more next week, but for now, all I can say is "ideas are cheap".

    Back to the self-publishing issue.

    I know that there are many, many arguments for going that route. It IS hard to get traditionally published. They DO take a huge chunk of your money. You STILL have to self-promote. And, these days you can create a pretty slick-looking book and hire your own editors and PR people.

    But, here's the thing.

    I have never personally read a self-published book that's any good (with one exception--Cheryl Klein's SECOND SIGHT--a compilation of her conference talks on writing). That's not to say that those books aren't out there (yes, I've read all about Amanda Hocking), but I've never happened across one. Normally, people self-publish because they've gotten a few rejections and see an easier and quicker way to get into print. It's ego driven, and people who are ego driven are usually people who don't like to take editorial advice (or they often seek advice from friends who don't have the dagger-in-the-heart ruthlessness needed to whip a manuscript into shape).

    And, what is most shocking to me is how much of the general public has NO IDEA that there's a difference between a self-published and traditionally published book. They don't know that there's a difference between beating yourself against the shore for years, reworking and reworking your manuscript, submitting and submitting--until finally you get THE CALL saying that someone believe in your work enough to pay you for it; and in writing a book, getting some people to read it and give you feedback, and sending in a large check.

    My wonderful literary book club just finished reading two exceptional books written by local traditionally published authors, Curtis Wilkie and Tom Franklin, and the authors came and spoke to us. Next month, my book club is reading a book by another local author--a self-published one--and most of the group didn't even realize there was a difference. I, of course, enlightened them.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm sure that there are some really great self-published books out there that didn't make it in New York because of the market or fickle editors. But, as it gets increasingly easier to flood the market with self-published books, I think a big yellow warning label on the cover makes sense.  Just kind of a "read at your own risk" label indicating that this book hasn't been through any kind of jury process and it may or may not have been professionally edited.

    So, okay. I'm pretty sure I've offended some of you. What say ye, bloggers?


    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Like Mandarin

    So here's proof that you can find a YA book that is NOT about vampires, zombies, werewolves ...

    LIKE MANDARIN by Kirsten Hubbard is a delicious read (and not in the blood-sucking, fang kinda way).

    Set in small town Wyoming, LIKE MANDARIN is a story about hero-worship, longing and the need to be true to yourself. The main character Grace, a smart girl who longs to leave her small town and her overbearing pageant-obsessed mother, becomes fixated on a wild beautiful girl who is older than she is. Their unlikely friendship allows both girls to grow and soar as they learn who it is they are supposed to be.

    Kirsten's writing is beautiful. Because I'm an artist, I love it when writing is done with a paintbrush--the images in the book are so lush and beautifully described, I feel immersed in the landscape of Wyoming.

    I highly recommend taking a swim in this book.


    *I normally review picture books and middle grade, and I do think this is best reserved for an older reader. The language and concepts are more suited to teens.

    Check out the other Bookanista posts today!