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About Seira Wilson

Seira Wilson can't remember a time when she wasn't surrounded by books, and instead of "eat your peas" her mother always said, "no reading at the dinner table." Not much has changed--today her house is filled with books: biographies, humorous fiction (it's good for what ails you), children's books, cookbooks, more fiction. And when she's alone, Seira reads at the dinner table.

Posts by Seira

YA Wednesday: Dreaming of Gods & Monsters with Laini Taylor

At the beginning of this month Laini Taylor came to town and we got together to talk about Dreams of Gods & Monsters, the final book in her trilogy.  I first met Taylor in 2011 when I interviewed her here in Seattle for Daughter of Smoke & Bone and we bonded over our shared love of YA novels and John Fluevog shoes.  At the time, I tried not to sound like an obsessed fan girl. Even though I kind of was. And am. 

If you haven't read this trilogy yet, prepare to get hooked on a beautifully told otherworldly story of angels, monsters, and a couple of key humans, enmeshed in love and hate, bound by friendship and family. The detail is so rich, but not cumbersome, that now I picture other angels or monsters as Taylor describes hers, in all their glorious variety and contradiction. I would wear a sandwich board for these books.

Dreams of Gods & Monsters is our spotlight pick for April's Best YA Books, and in this final piece of the puzzle Taylor introduces an additional main character, a woman named Eliza, who ties all three books together in a stroke of storytelling genius.  In the video below, Taylor and I discussed Dreams of Gods & Monsters, the happiness of organic storytelling, and resurrecting Mark Twain.

As for the shoes...well, some things never change and so it was that three years later we had ourselves another Fluevog moment.  Shoe lovers, scroll down to see photos from the interviews.

 

The Interview Shoes:

Daughter of Smoke & Bone interview, 2011 / Dreams of Gods & Monsters interview, 2014

MeLainiShoes2011MeLainiFluevogs2014

YA Wednesday: The Best Books of April

Usually it's May that has a ton of amazing books, but this year April is tearing it up with goodness.  So much so, that when it came time to whittle them down to a list of four books for Best of the Month, it just wasn't gonna happen.  So there are six books on April's Best Books list, every one a keeper. 

AprilBOTMIAprilBOTMII AprilBOTMIII

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
Anyone who knows me has probably heard me talk about how much I love Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. This is the final book that I've been waiting for for two long years, and it was worth it.  Taylor wraps things up beautifully but without closing the door on the possibility of more from the incredible world she built in these books.  An important new character and setting is introduced and some of my favorite things from the earlier books are revisited.  It's hard to talk about without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that I would wear a sandwich board for this series.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Ava Lavender is a girl born with wings. Not angel wings, but bird wings. Aside from this, she is a normal teenage girl and what unfolds in these pages is Ava's self-discovery, the history of tortured love that plagued her family for generations and may or may not continue, and the mad imaginings of Nathaniel Sorrows who becomes obsessed with Ava and brings this incredible tale to a crescendo.  There is  magical realism, passion, love lost and love found. A powerful debut novel from an author to watch.

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Page
We are not in Kansas anymore...Amy Gumm is living a lousy life in Kansas when she gets caught in her trailer during a tornado and dropped into Oz. In this Oz things are very different than when Dorothy arrived.  In fact, ol' Dorothy is no longer the sweet innocent who just wanted to go home, but instead she returned to Oz, seized power and became an evil tyrant, cruelly punishing all who defy her.  And Amy Gumm, the new girl from Kansas? Turns out she's the one who needs to kill Dorothy and free the land. This twist on The Wizard of Oz is dark, disturbed, and may have L. Frank Baum rolling over in his grave.  And guess what?  There's a sequel. :)

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
April is when it really starts feeling like summer is just around the corner, and this follow-up to My Life Next Door sets just the right tone with a coastal island romance.  But don't get me wrong, there is meat on these bones.  Fitzpatrick knows how to write a love story that also has powerful discoveries and consequences that give her characters authenticity and make her books more than just fluffy summer romance reads.  Gwen Castle is a teenager who just wants to escape it all--her hometown, her family legacy on the island, and especially rich boy Cass Somers.  A coming-of-age story wrapped in a love story that is the best kind of read for days spent on the beach, or just wishing for summer.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
This is time travel for even the non-science fiction reader.  A group from many decades in the future goes back to 2014 in order to correct things that led to the harsh world they came from. These visitors are supposed to assimilate as much as possible, but are also given a strict set of rules about their behavior and are closely monitored by the leaders.  Prenna is one of these travelers and a high school student who starts falling for a "time-native" and simultaneously questioning what she's been told about the group's mission and motives.  In her latest, Brashares has written an instantly inviting novel that led me to a reinvigorated appreciation of love and freedom.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
Reality shows have effectively replaced the sitcom, and if you watch reality TV or ever thought about what it would be like to participate in one of the series', you'll want to read The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy.  Set at an arts high school in Minnesota, Ethan and his closest friends are the outliers who don't appreciate the taint of For Art’s Sake, a reality t.v. show being cast and filmed at their school. As Ethan and the others' underground protest takes hold, questions and betrayals crop up in unexpected places.  Vigilante Poets is a funny contemporary novel about friendship, standing up for your beliefs, hamster love, and the truth in "reality."

YA Wednesday: 2014 Teen Choice Finalists

Voting has opened up for the 2014 Teen Choice Award and the finalists are a handful of the best books from last year.  You have until May 12th to vote, but why wait?  The winner will be announced on May 14 at a big gala event during Children's Book Week.

Here are the finalists:

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Vote for your favorite

 

A Peek Inside a Best-Seller...for Babies

Peek a WhoThere are some children's books that fly a little under the radar but are parent favorites year after year. These are not books by the "S's" (Seuss, Sendak or Silverstein) or books with characters that show up as a PBS show or on nursery decor.  These are the unsung staples of a first library, and Nina Laden's Peek-a-Who? is one of them. 

Published in 2000, this board book with die-cut pages is one I like to recommend for baby showers or toddler birthdays, and hundreds of customer reviews sing it's praises.  This month, Laden released a companion book, Peek-a-Zoo!, which made our first list of Best Books of the Month for Baby-Age 2.  Fourteen years is a long time between the two books and we were curious about the how, when, and why now of Peek-a-Zoo! Here is Nina Laden on writing the new book and a peek (I can't resist) inside her studio and early sketches.

 


Peek a WhoIt was the year 2000. Some people were worried that the world would end, or that the Y2K virus would cause computers all over the world to crash. But I was anxious about my very first board book, Peek-a Who?

I'd published several picture books that were very well received, but had never planned to do board books. But I got to the stage when all of my friends started having babies and I wanted something hip, cool and interactive to give them, something more "me" than the typical "A is for Apple" and "B is for Ball" book Little did I know that Peek-a Who? would basically become "The Little Book That Could," as I've been calling it for years. My take on the game of peek-a boo struck a chord with parents and kids, and has sold beyond my wildest expectations. Even with that success, I am not the kind of author who likes to do series and didn't immediately plan a follow-up I just don't think that way. I am constantly trying to reinvent myself, mostly so that I won't get bored. But as the years went past, including some difficult years spent managing some family crisis, and Peek-a Who? continued to sell better with each passing year, I began to think of new board book ideas.

 

Backyard
Nina's backyard studio
Inside Studio
The inside view of Nina's Seattle studio

 

Interior SketchesAt first I played with eyes and noses of different animals and creatures and sent these ideas to my editor, Victoria Rock at Chronicle Books. They just didn't work on all of the levels that they should have, and for me those levels are: a good rhyme, fun images that have some sort of game or guessing element, a surprise at the end, and a way to end with the child reading the book. Then one day, the clouds parted. So many people had told me how much they loved the zoo image in Peek-a Who? and I realized that I could create an entire board book with zoo animals.

I did a thumbnail dummy and I rounded up a group of animals that all rhymed with the "oo" sound: MEW (kitten), KANGAROO, GNU, COCK-A DOODLE-DO (rooster), EWE, and the mirror at the end.

I sent these thumbnails off to Victoria and after we discussed them, I drew them full-sized and then I even started painting the kitten for the first spread. Something was bugging me, though and I wasn't quite sure what it was. Then I got the email from my editor saying "these really aren't all zoo animals." Yeah, that was it. They weren't. The kitten was replaced with a tiger cub. The kangaroo stayed, but the gnu failed the audition and was replaced with a cockatoo. The rooster became a panda eating bamboo, and the ewe went away because I had come up with too many spreads! (I may have to do a farm version of the book in the future.)

 

Mew Bamboo

 

Peek a ZooOnce we had the animals all set and my sketches approved, I painted all of the interior illustrations. I love painting in the technique I created for my board books, which involves painting the paper black first and then making it look like a wood-cut.

I had known basically what I wanted the cover to look like from the beginning, but we had to go through a few different background patterns. I had started with leopard spots, tiger stripes and peacock feathers. The tiger stripes won.

It was truly a lot of fun to create Peek-a Zoo! I've also embraced the idea of creating a series of "Peek-A Books." The good news is that there are so many great words with "oo" sounds to play with. But don't worry, I won't be doing Peek-a Tattoo. Or maybe I will. You never know.

Peek a Zoo SketchPeek a Zoo Sketch Concepts

YA Wednesday: Exclusive "Divergent" Photos

This Friday, the film adaptation of Divergent will finally (finally!) open in theaters across the country.  There've been teasers along the way in the form of trailers and photos from the set, but now we will get to see it all put together.  Will it meet expectations?  Exceed them? Disappoint? 

I managed to get a seat at an advance screening last night and the audience around me laughed, cheered, and clapped at the end.  It was pretty cool. To be totally honest, I went into it thinking I probably wouldn't like the movie much, and possibly not at all, but I ended up loving it from the opening shot to the end.  I thought Summit did an amazing job recreating Veronica Roth's Chicago and the tension between Four and Tris came off like a genuine older boy/younger girl attraction you might see unfold in a high school hallway rather than a brutal training ground (the brutal training ground making it much more exciting, of course).  I'm eager to hear what other fans of the series think.

Whether you are dying to see it, or still on the fence, here's an amuse-bouche to Friday's big fête--two exclusive photos of author Veronica Roth on the set of Divergent. 

Veronica Roth (center with the green accents) and the cast of Divergent

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Photo by Jaap Buitendijk. TM & © 2014 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

Author Veronica Roth with Divergent Director Neil Burger (wouldn't you love to know what she's talking about??)

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Photo by Jaap Buitendijk. TM & © 2014 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

YA Wednesday: Lauren Oliver--To Play or Not to Play

Panic344Lauren Oliver's new book, Panic, is her first return to realism since her best-selling debut, Before I Fall, and our spotlight pick for the Best Young Adult Book of March. Panic tells the story of Dodge and Heather, two teenagers, caught up in a high stakes rite of passage game (called Panic) played in secret each year in their small, poor town.  As I read, I found myself wondering if I would have entered the competition as a teenager, at what point I would likely have quit, and would I even think about it now.   I asked Oliver her thoughts on this and here's what she had to say about the question of to play or not to play...

My new book, Panic, is about a small, rundown town called Carp, in which a sense of isolation, an almost institutionalized boredom, and the social competition native to every American high school combine in one explosive, legendary game.

I didn't grow up in a rundown town--far from it--but my town was certainly small, and we were certainly bored. We did a lot of stupid things in high school: we drove too fast once we got our licenses, and I resolutely and universally refused to wear‎ my seatbelt, for reasons I no longer remember. We mixed whiskey and vodka and chugged it (not recommended). We scored fake IDs in the city, cut class, smoked cigarettes, and bounced from party to party on weekends, looking for something to do.

I wasn't just an inveterate bad-decision maker, though--that was just a pastime. I was also an excellent, ambitious, and enthusiastic student, nerdy and more than a little insecure, trying to conceal my fears and frustrations beneath an attitude of recklessness and indifference.

Would I have participated in Panic back then? Heck yeah. Because Panic, the game, is about more than resistance to fear; it’s about the promise of escape. ‎And although the kids of Carp have real problems to outrun, they're also (like many teens; like myself, at that age) trying desperately to outrun themselves, to escape their identities, their anxieties, their creeping sense that they've inherited a life that is broken or misshapen in some way. Paradoxically, the reason I was so reckless in high school was because of my fears, not in spite of them.  I was hoping that if I could pretend to be fearless I might not only become fearless, but the very things I feared would never come to materialize.

I'm less afraid now than I was at eighteen, and also far less reckless, though I have a deeply ingrained adventurous streak that now finds expression in activity, travel, and experimenting with new things. I'll be the first to hop on a rock-climbing wall or jump out of a plane, fly across the world armed with just a passport and a sense of fun; sample fried insects (not, like, off the street, but in places where people eat insects)‎ or monkfish liver. I've built a life I love. I'm no longer plagued by the insecurities and fears that used to eat at me constantly, the suspicion that if I let my guard down for a second, everyone would know how weak I really was.

Would I play Panic now?‎ Absolutely not. I'm not running from anything. I don't need money to escape. And I'm lucky enough to say there's really nothing I could win that I don't already have. ---Lauren Oliver

 

National Reading Month: Kate DiCamillo on the Power of Stories

KateDiCamilloMarch is National Reading Month and today is World Read Aloud Day, so we are kicking it off with a guest post from children's book author Kate DiCamillo that brought a lump to my throat (yes, I'm a total sap but don't judge 'til you read it...).

Probably best known for her novels Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, DiCamillo has had quite a year already.  At the start of 2014 she was named the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a post voted on by a panel of booksellers, the Children's Book Council, and the Library of Congress.  Then when the Newbery award winners were announced at the end of January, DiCamillo took home the medal for Flora & Ulysses (an Amazon Best Children's Book of 2013), marking her third time as a Newbery recipient (she won the medal for Tales of Despereaux in 2004 and an honor for Because of Winn-Dixie in 2001).  DiCamillo is a powerhouse advocate for reading and getting books into the hands of children and, as you'll see in her post below, she does it with immense grace, gratitude, and always a touch of humor.

When I was nine years old, my mother checked Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy out of the public library, and read the book aloud to my brother and me.  We read a few chapters of the story every night.  The three of us sat side by side on the flowered sectional couch in the Florida room.  The Florida room had orange shag carpet.  Its walls were paneled in cypress, and we could see Lake Minnehaha from the large bank of windows that faced south.

On the floor, stretched out parallel to the couch, was our dog Nanette.  Nanette’s flank rose and fell as my mother read, and the dog would raise her head off the floor and look at us every time we laughed. 

We laughed a lot. 

Ribsy is a funny book.

There was a lamp by the couch.  And as the darkness outside grew darker, as the lake disappeared into the sky, as more of the story got told, the light by the couch seemed to grow brighter.

We were a pack of four: my mother, my brother, the dog and me.  In the book, Ribsy the dog was lost.  But we were all safe inside.  We were together.

That was over four decades ago.

Nanette is gone and my mother is gone.  My brother and I live far away from each other. 

But every time I see the cover of that book, every time I see a picture of Ribsy, I am transported back to that time, to that cypress-paneled room, to the flowered couch, to the lamp and the laughter and the safety.

Reading together is a very particular kind of magic.

When I meet teachers and librarians who tell me that they read aloud to their classrooms, I always try to make a point of thanking them.

Reading a story together brings us together: large groups, small groups, packs of four and packs of two.  When we read together, we come in from the darkness, the cold.

It occurs to me as I write these words, as I remember the darkness outside that room in Florida, that I never explicitly thanked my mother for reading to us.

So, I will thank her here, now, in the best way I can, by encouraging other people to do what she did for me, and for my brother.

I will ask you to read aloud to your students, your children.  Read aloud to your husband, your wife.  Read aloud to your dog.

Push back the darkness.

Sit down beside somebody you love. 

Turn on a light.  Open a book.

--Kate DiCamillo

For more on Kate DiCamillo, you can check out our Omni interview with her about Flora & Ulysses (before it won the Newbery) and here are *some* of her books:

FloraUlysses160 Winn-Dixie MagiciansElephantTaleDespereaux160 EdwardTulane BinkGollie160

    MercyWatson160 LouiseChicken160 MercyWatsonPrincess160TigerRising160

"Harriet the Spy" Turns 50

Harriet50AnnivCover_400In the last couple of years we've seen some of our favorite children's books--Where the Wild Things Are, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Giving Tree, Amelia Bedelia--celebrate their 50th anniversaries.  Now it's Louise Fitzhugh's beloved story of the intensely curious aspiring young writer, Harriet M. Welsch--a.k.a Harriet the Spy, marking the half-century milestone. 

Half a century sounds so, well, old, doesn't it?  Michael D. Beil, author of the Red Blazer Girls series and the upcoming Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits (April 8), thinks old, in this case, translates to the wonder of pre-Google discovery and characters that are still believable five decades after they first appeared on the page.

In his funny and delightful guest post below, Beil joins the ranks of Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, and Jonathan Franzen, among others, in paying tribute to this iconic children's book that so many of us hold close to our hearts. Here's to another 50 years of inspiring young readers, Harriet.

Harriet the Spy at 50

My wife and I recently started an Old Fogey Jar. Whenever one of us says something that sounds suspiciously old-fogey-like, a dollar goes in the jar. Fogey talk is easy to identify because it usually begins with a recognizable phrase. For example:

Kids today . . . 

When I was a kid . . .

We didn’t have X and we all survived. (X equals Bike helmets. Car seats. IEPs. The list goes on.)

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

And, of course, that all-purpose favorite: The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

At the risk of losing yet another dollar to the jar (which I am filling at an alarming rate, I’m afraid), I’m going to say it: far too many of today’s kids are miles behind Harriet M. Welsch in one essential category: simple curiosity. Unlike in Harriet’s pre-Google, pre-Ask.com world, the answers kids seek are often just a click or two away. The concept of learning something they don’t need to learn, of simply sitting on a library floor surrounded by books, is foreign to them. It’s not the ease of finding the answer that’s the problem; rather, it’s the loss of those random and accidental discoveries kids make when they’re looking for something else.

Of course, they don’t all have an Ole Golly, who may just be the wisest human being in the history of literature. She reads Dostoievsky before bed; quotes Wordsworth, Emerson, and Keats; and urges Harriet to “find out all you can, because life is hard enough even if you know a lot.” Ole Golly was a life coach before people even knew that they needed such a thing. (There goes another dollar.)

Harriet is not only interesting; she is interestED, in everything and everyone. Like Jane Goodall living with the chimpanzees in Tanzania, Harriet realizes that the only way to truly understand the inhabitants of her Yorkville neighborhood is by observing them in their natural habitat—in other words, by spying on them. And like a portrait by an artist who paints exactly what she sees, completely disregarding how subjects see themselves, Harriet’s notes are honest, unvarnished, and often unflattering depictions. And does she take her job seriously! When her mother restricts the amount of time she can “play” with her notebook, she says, “I’m not playing. Who says I’m playing? I’m WORKING!” Harriet may not be entirely likeable, but fifty years’ worth of readers have admired her, and aspiring writers continue to be inspired by her imagination, intelligence, curiosity, and single-minded determination to be a writer.

She’s also believable, which is why kids (who couldn’t care less what critics think!) like her. I’m not usually a black-and-white kind of guy, but when it comes to adults, I think there are two basic types: those who remember what it was like to be a kid, and those who don’t. At the school where I teach, I have colleagues in both camps, and to be honest, I don’t know which type makes better teachers. When it comes to writing for children, however, it’s no contest. The ability to recall childhood memories and emotions, to channel one’s inner child, is critical to the creation of realistic, believable characters. Obviously, Louise Fitzhugh had that ability in spades. As for the rest of us, we just have to silence our inner fogey and keep trying until we get it right. ---Michael D. Beil

2014 Newbery Honor Winner: Kevin Henkes on "The Year of Billy Miller"

YrBillyMiller300I'm fascinated by watching illustrators draw, and award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes graciously agreed to have a chat about The Year of Billy Miller (one of our Best Children's Books of 2013) AND draw one his most beloved characters, Lilly (Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, among others) on camera when we met up at Book Expo America.  

When I say that Henkes is an award-winning author, I don't mean it lightly--he's won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten's First Full Moon, a Caldecott Honor for Owen, a Newbery Honor for his middle grade novel, Olive's Ocean, and this year he took home two awards: a Newbery Honor for his latest book, The Year of Billy Miller and a Geisel Honor for Penny and Her Marble, the third book in his new beginning reader series.  Henkes is truly a jewel of the children's book world, and a delightful, down-to-earth guy who was really fun to meet and talk to.  We chatted about how he decides which format to write next, where the story for Billy Miller came from in his own life, and about the fact that he's never had a main character that was a dog.  You can watch him draw in the first video below, and the second is our conversation before and after.

 

 

 

YA Wednesday: Andrew Smith on "Grasshopper Jungle"

Grasshopper200I loved Andrew Smith's 2013 book, Winger, and the same goes for his latest, Grasshopper Jungle, our Teen & Young Adult spotlight pick for February

This is not the sort of book you meander through--it is 432 pages of one of the wildest, most outlandishly original stories I've read in a very long time. The raw honesty of 16-year-old narrator Austin Szerba's f-bomb dropping, sex obsessed voice made anything--and everything--in this book seem possible.  

Smith was in Seattle recently, and we chatted about Grasshopper Jungle, his influences, some of this favorite books (including Breakfast of Champions), and his bout with invisibility that seems to be coming to an end.  It's all here in this exclusive video:

 

YA Wednesday: Author Exclusive - Ann Aguirre Asks Marissa Meyer

If you haven't already been drawn into her dark and addictive dystopian series, Ann Aguirre is the author of the best-selling Enclave trilogy.  Bonus---book three, Horde, came out late last year, so you can read them without the interminable wait in between.  In this Omni exclusive, Aguirre has some questions for Marissa Meyer, author of another highly addictive series, the Lunar Chronicles, now up to book three, Cress (a Best YA Book of February). Cress250

Ann Aguirre:  There will be four books in the Lunar Chronicles; Cress is the third. You planned and plotted all four books--and wrote rough drafts of all four--before even approaching agents. Why did you enlist that strategy?

Marissa Meyer: A common piece of advice given to aspiring writers is not to query a full series--rather, they say you should write and finish one novel, and if an agent and/or editor thinks it can be expanded, then start considering the next book of the series. After all, it's risky to put a lot of time and effort into a project that has no guarantee of selling! So my decision to outline and draft the series before approaching agents was definitely unorthodox.

But I felt really passionate about these books from the beginning, and, to me, the real selling point wasn't just the idea of a "cyborg Cinderella" or "fairy tales in space"--but of multiple fairy tales merging together into one continuous story. I felt that if I could get a publisher to see the same potential that I saw, they might catch my enthusiasm, and I would have a better chance of showing them the overall concept if I had more than just the first book written. It was a gamble, but I'm so happy it worked!

Ann Aguirre: Since the series is four books and you've said that each plot is becoming more complex and incorporating characters from prior books, how do you manage the cast to maintain the same emotional intensity, spread across more characters?

Marissa Meyer: This is definitely one of the biggest challenges in writing this series. I expect readers to have "favorites"--favorite protagonist, favorite love interest, favorite plotline--but I want them to enjoy the other subplots too.  I've spent a lot of time trying to distinguish the personalities of all of my main characters and make each one of them interesting and talented, strong in some ways and flawed in others, so that (hopefully) readers will be rooting for everyone, and horrified when things go wrong.

I know that not every reader will love every character, but I try to build that emotional resonance throughout. I've also spent a lot of time contemplating the relationships between various characters, so that no one is ever entirely forgotten, even if they're not the focus of that book.

Ann Aguirre: As a series progresses, readers (from fans to your publishing team) grow protective of certain characters and storylines. How do you deal with people’s “advice” about where to take your characters and story? Is this more or less challenging than you envisioned before being published?

Marissa Meyer: I absolutely love hearing reader hypotheses for upcoming books, and there have been times when a reader might mention something like, "I can't wait to see what happens to _insert minor character here_!" and that will make me realize that, oops! I wasn't planning on including that character anymore! When this happens, I consider if the series would be stronger or weaker with that extra inclusion, and I go from there.

I've found it pretty easy to stay true to my original plan for the books and not get swayed by advice and suggestions, and I'm lucky that my editor and publishing team have given me a lot of space to do what I think is best. You hear horror stories sometimes about writers being forced to change something in their book that they didn't want to change, but I haven't experienced that at all. I find that I can often distinguish pretty quickly between which advice I think is worth pursuing or worth ignoring.

Ann Aguirre: There's one more book after Cress in the Lunar Chronicles (Winter coming out in February 2015). What are you most looking forward to about the series being finished? And what makes you feel proudest in regard to the finale?

Marissa Meyer: It is such a bittersweet feeling to think that it's almost finished--when it feels like Cinder just came out just yesterday! I am definitely excited to be moving on to my next writing projects. My first non-Lunar Chronicles book, "Heartless," a prequel to "Alice in Wonderland" focused on the Queen of Hearts, will be published in the fall of 2015, and I have many ideas for my next series as well. It's so refreshing to start building something brand new--new worlds, new characters, new stories. I look forward to taking readers on many more adventures.
 
As for what I'm most proud of in regards to the Chronicles, I look back on my plans for the series when I first started writing it, over five years ago, and I'm often floored that I thought I could do it at all. At the time, I had never completed a novel (only a whole lot of fanfiction!) and in hindsight it seems crazy to take on a four-book project with eight main characters, complex world-building, and countless intertwining subplots. As I finish up Book 4: Winter, I'm so proud of myself not only for tackling this story in the first place, but for seeing it through to completion. I love these books even more now than I did the first day I started working on them, and it's such an honor to see them out in the world, and to know that so many readers have fallen in love with them, too.

How Do I Love Thee? 150 Ways...

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When we think of February, love frequently comes to mind--and let's face it, for better or worse this four letter word is probably one of the most enchanting, infuriating, and exciting subjects to read about.  From stories of an idyllic marriage gone terribly wrong to mortals falling for immortal lovers, or the flush of crazy, passionate, first love, romance has always captivated readers and writers alike.  Where would Shakespeare be without Romeo and Juliet?  Or Hollywood without its larger-than-life affairs of the heart, often adapted from beloved novels?

Whether you like classic romance or stories of love gone wrong, we decided this month was the perfect time to look at some of our favorite novels of amour.  To that end, we chose 150 love stories in a dozen flavors—our own box of chocolates for the mind and heart, if you will.  The Beatles say, “all you need is love.” But maybe all you need is a good love story. 

Check out our hand-picked treats in:

 

YA Wednesday: 2014 Printz Award Winners

The Printz award is always exciting because there are no lists of nominated titles or finalists--it's anyone's guess and sometimes the outcome is not what I expected (I'm thinking of last year's omission of The Fault in Our Stars).  For 2014, there were four honor books alongside winner Midwinterblood, including our own pick for the best YA book of 2013, Eleanor & Park.   Here are all five recipients of this year's Michael L. Printz award and honors--consider it a great way to choose your next book.

  • Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick - Winner!: Seven intertwined stories told through time, Midwinterblood has been compared to Cloud Atlas but it also carries a dark edge of horror mixed in with love and fate. Highly praised by critics and readers alike, this is a novel that grabs on with both hands.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - Honor: 2013 was the year of Rainbow Rowell as far as I'm concerned.  Now I really want to go back and read her adult novel, AttachmentsEleanor & Park is contemporary fiction at its best and this story of family, coming-of-age, and first love tattooed itself on my memory and heart.
  • The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal - Honor: In this debut novel, detailed descriptions evoke the daily life and political atmosphere of the royal court during the European Renaissance.  Two young women laboring in the court--a seamstress and a mute nursemaid--become entwined with mad Queen Isabel and a struggle of power and greed.
  • Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner - Honor: Brutal, allegorical, and original, Maggot Moon is set in a nightmarish alternate 1956 under a ruthless totalitarian government.  Our narrator is a teenage boy with his own set of problems, who uncovers a global hoax that, if exposed, could destroy the regime under which he's been suffering.  Short chapters that pack a punch.
  • Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool - Honor:   Vanderpool won a Newbery Medal for Moon Over Manifest in 2011 and she's a masterful storyteller.  Navigating Early, set at the end of WWII, follows two boys on an epic journey along the Appalachian Trail.  There, they encounter pirates, a mythic bear, hardship, and finally forgiveness.

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2014 Children's Book Award Winners

This morning I jumped out of bed at the crack of five a.m. to watch a webcast of the American Library Association awards ceremony taking place in Philadelphia.  Think of this as the Academy Awards of children's books, only early in the morning and minus the red carpet.  Some of my favorites from last year were awarded the top prizes, including the Newbery Medal winner, Flora and Ulysses by the recently announced National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Kate DiCamillo.  What a great start to 2014 she's having!  Here are the winning and honored books or two of the biggest awards, the Caldecott and the Newbery--I hope you see some that you loved here, too.  

Caldecott Medal for Picture Book Illustration

  • Locomotive by Brian Floca - Winner! Explore America's early love for trains with a journey on the transcontinental railroad.
  • Journey by Aaron Becker - Honor book In the spirit of Harold and the Purple Crayon this wordless picture book uses gorgeous illustrations to take a lonely girl on a magical adventure.
  • Mr. Wuffles! by David Weisner - Honor book Winner of multiple Caldecott awards, Weisner has done it again with a flight of fancy when a cat named Mr. Wuffles and a tiny spaceship of space aliens collide.

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Newbery Medal Winner for Children's Literature:

  • Doll Bones by Holly Black - Honor book Three friends on the verge of leaving a beloved childhood game behind, until the lure of a ghost makes walking away impossible.  Creepy, fun, and heart-warming adventure.
  • The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes - Honor book Billy Miller's second grade year starts out a bit bumpy (literally with a lump on his head) but as the days go by, things start looking up and he finds his groove.  A sweet and funny story about growing up for early elementary schoolers. 
  • One Came Home by Amy Timberlake - Honor book 1871 Placid, Wisconsin is home to sharp-shooting, no nonsense 13-year-old by the name of Georgie Burkhardt.  When her older sister disappears, Georgie sets out to find her despite the danger that awaits her on the western frontier.
  • Paperboy by Vince Vawter - Honor Summer of '59 changes everything for an 11-year-old boy with a serious fastball and a crippling stutter in segregated Memphis.  A paper route opens up his neighbors' lives in new ways, and a run-in with a dangerous bully results in a stunning display of love.

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You can see more award winning books, including this year's winners of the Coretta Scott King and Theodor Seuss Geisel Award here.

YA Wednesday How I Wrote It: Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak has become rite of passage reading for young women and I think her newest book, The Impossible Knife of Memory, is destined for the same. This time Anderson tackles the difficult subject of mental illness--in this case PTSD--in a modern family, and also the lighter (though sometimes difficult) experience of falling in love.  Though she is busy touring for The Impossible Knife of Memory,  Anderson took time out for some "how I wrote it" questions and I hope you enjoy reading about her life and work as much as I have.  I'm also insanely jealous of her book cottage.

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Who I wrote this book for: The early drafts of this book were written for me. They helped me worked through old feelings of confusion and sadness left over from when I was a teenager and my father was struggling with PTSD. When I started revising, I turned the focus away from me and started thinking about my readers, especially those whom love someone whom is struggling with mental illness.

How this book is different from my previous books: While it takes on a dark topic like my other books, this one is balanced by a love story and by friendship. I really enjoyed writing a story that had so much hope and laughter in it.

Space: I’ve written everywhere from a closet to the front seat of the car. Then I married a carpenter. He built me a writing cottage in the woods near our house. It has a ten-foot tall magic window that he found in a salvage yard and a wood stove that keeps me warm in the winter. I only do creative things in the cottage: writing, reading, drawing, etc. All business work, like email or paying bills, is done in the house. While I’m traveling this spring, rumor has it that he’s building me a wall of bookcases, too!

Here’s a video about the building of the cottage:

 

Tools: I love a thin-line gel pen (black ink) and heavy paper when I’m pondering a new book idea but, I’ll use anything when an idea hits, including an eyebrow pencil and grocery store receipts. Once I can hear the voice of my main character, I move to my laptop because I can type much faster than I can write. I try to spend a couple of hours a day working on the laptop while walking slowly on a treadmill. I recently started using dictation software because of carpal tunnel and tendinitis. I’m not sure if I like it yet, but it sure is easier on my arms.

Soundtrack: I like a huge range of music, from classic rock to country to alternative, some rap, and classical. Each book winds up with an eclectic playlist. Songs with lyrics can sometimes interfere with the flow of words in my head. When that happens, I put on ambient sounds, like recordings of waves or the music of Sigur Rós. Sometimes I play the music quietly, sometimes I crank it until the windows shake to bring up my energy level. It’s amazing how creative you can be after you dance until the sweat runs down your face.

Temptation: When I’m writing I avoid the Internet until the day’s work is done. If I’m feeling anxious about my Work In Progress, I avoid reading any and all reviews of my already-published books, even if they’re sent to me by kindly bloggers who liked them. I have an uncanny ability to distort positive reviews and make them into scathing denouncements of my writing and then I become a self-loathing wretch. It’s hard to write when I hate myself, so avoiding reviews is a healthy thing.

Surprises: I didn’t expect to enjoy writing the love story aspect of the book so much. Once Hayley and Finn started sparring, I had a blast figuring out how to move their relationship forward (and backward!).  I was surprised at how much sympathy I had for Hayley’s father, too. That’s why I put in the short chapters told from his point-of-view. Once you know what he survived, it’s impossible to hate him. ---Laurie Halse Anderson

YA Wednesday: Ransom Riggs and the Photos That Creeped Him Out

HollowCity_p323_500HHere are a few things I know about Ransom Riggs: he's tall (it's one of the first things you notice). He's very polite. He intended to have a career as a filmmaker. He became a bestselling author.  I met Riggs over lunch about a year ago, when I was still waiting for something--anything--to read from Hollow City.  We talked books, celebrated the great camaraderie of YA authors, and ate pasta. And, like a magician guarding his tricks, he told me nothing about the next novel...

Riggs' first book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is quirky, eerie, and enchanting. Vintage photographs wrap around the story of 16-year-old Jacob, who discovers he shares his grandfather's unusual talent and later--thanks to a trick of time--his grandfather's childhood friends.  Like so many other great young adult books, Miss Peregrine's draws in readers of all ages, and the sequel, Hollow City will do the same.  In fact, we put it on both our overall Top 10 Best Books of the Month AND made it our YA spotlight pick for January.

Hollow City picks up where the first book left off, and the peculiar inhabitants of Miss Peregrine's leave the island in Wales, eventually finding themselves in war-torn 1940's London.  The characters' bonds are strengthened, and Jacob, in particular, grows more complex as he learns to trust himself, takes comfort in belonging to this unusual group of people, and falls in love--something Riggs does with a light touch.  One of the most fascinating things about Hollow City, for me, is Riggs' ability to pull off the dynamic between a new series of vintage photos and the storyline when so much about the characters and plot direction was already set.  The evolution of the sequel is what I most wanted to know about--which came first, the photos or the story, or something in between.  So I asked the question. And here's what he said:

WRITING WITH PICTURES

My “peculiar children” novels are illustrated with vintage found photography, which I find in flea markets and antiques shops and in the collections of photo-hound friends of mine, many of whom have spent years nosing around for old pictures and turning up astounding finds. I originally started collecting photos just for the fun of it. I brought a handful of my favorites to Jason Rekulak, an editor at Quirk Books, and together we hatched the idea for a novel illustrated with old imagery. It then fell to me to develop the characters and plot, to actually write the thing, but all I had were a stack of brittle, yellow snapshots that creeped me out so much I kept them in a drawer most of the time, so they couldn’t stare at me. 

The books came together slowly and messily. People often ask me whether, when I’m writing, the photos I have dictate the story I tell, or vice versa, but it’s not that simple. The answer is, both. The photos will often push me in certain directions, plot-wise--I might think, hey, I have a lot of great shots of kids in a forest; I should write some scenes in a forest so I can use these. So the story will take a certain turn, nudged along by my collection. But then I’ll come up with some bizarre idea about what should happen to my characters while they’re in the forest --they meet a witch wearing a fur coat made of living, talking minks!--but I don’t have any images to support it, so I have to go out hunting for a new photo of a woman in a fur coat. But the picture I find is of a woman who doesn’t look particularly witchy, so the character becomes benevolent rather than a villain. In that way, there’s a constant, organic push and pull between the photos and the story while I’m writing. It’s a peculiar process, but hey, they’re peculiar books. --Ransom Riggs

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YA Wednesday: January Favorites

Ah, a fresh new year and a Best of the Month shelf clear of books.  Certainly the only shelf clear of books in my life, but let's not go there.  What are the first books that will begin to clutter that pristine space, you ask?  Why, it's these--my favorite January YA books.

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  •  Hollow City by Ransom Riggs: So loved this!  It's always hard with a sequel, and this one was two years in the making, but totally worth the wait.  Returning to Jacob and the other peculiar students, we find them trying to save themselves and their beloved Miss Peregrine in World War II-era London. Riggs writes fabulous descriptive sentences so it's like watching a movie in words, and, as in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, there are incredible vintage photos deftly woven into the story.  Check back next Wednesday for a Ransom Riggs exclusive.
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: Wow. Timely, fearless, and solid gold Laurie Halse Anderson.  Hayley is a teenager living alone with a father torn up by serious PTSD.  As a result, Hayley has to take on the role of watchful parent, face a myriad of scary uncertainties on a daily basis, and deal with her own painful memories. But Hayley also meets someone who cracks her shell, and falling in love can make everything a little less ugly...
  • No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale: Quirky and fun with a nice streak of dark and twisted.  The story starts out with the gruesome murder of a teenage girl living in a small town.  Our narrator is the murdered girl's best friend, socially awkward and kind of weird Kippy, who takes it upon herself to find the killer after it becomes clear that the local police are idiots.  Many of the folks in Friendship, WI demonstrate some bizarre--and funny--behavior, and hardly anyone is who they seem, making this a perfect blend of dark humor and good whodunit.
  • The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely: Kiely tackles a big subject: abuse in the Catholic church.  His protagonist, 16-year-old Aiden, lives in an affluent community where things look perfect on the outside, but the truth is not so pretty.  When his already absent father leaves for good, things fall apart and the local priest is there to pick up the pieces.  The Gospel of Winter raises questions of love, betrayal, and what it takes to shut out the things we don't want to acknowledge or risk it all and tell the truth. Kiely does a great job creating complex characters and a story that kept me on edge, wondering how it was all going to end.

Amazon Asks: Jerry Bruckheimer

Jerry-Bruckheimer-headshot_photo-credit-Greg-Williams_250H WhenLightningStrikes

I knew Jerry Bruckheimer was a huge name in the film industry, but I didn't realize just how big until I started looking into the new book about his career, Jerry Bruckheimer: When Lightning Strikes - Four Decades of Filmmaking.  Besides producing iconic film favorites like Flashdance and Top Gun, there's also Black Hawk Down and the string of hits that make up the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with Johnny Depp (who wrote the foreword for the book).

There are many more feature films to his credit, and he's also produced the hit television series' The Amazing Race and the CSI franchise.  Bruckheimer wrote the introduction for this book, but we also had the chance to ask him a few questions of our own about his life and career:

Seira Wilson: What was your favorite film growing up?

Jerry Bruckheimer:  That would have to be David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film was an amazing combination of epic war adventure and intimate drama, which raised some important questions of the true meaning of heroism.

 SW: What on-location spot did you most enjoy, and why?

JB: I'm not evading the question when I say that every single one of them is special in their own way.  Whether a beautiful natural location or a gritty city, you come away with wonderful memories of filming in them, and the people you meet along the way.

SW: Do you have a specific genre of books you like to read?

JB: I really enjoy history, biographies and spy novels.

SW:  Do you tend to read biographies of people in show business?

JB: I do enjoy reading biographies of people in the entertainment business, because they always seem to have lived such interesting lives, and I can learn something from their experiences.

SW: The book, Jerry Bruckheimer: When Lightning Strikes-Four Decades of Filmmaking is a biography of sorts for your career in the industry--has this been something you’ve thought about putting together for a long time?

JB: Not at all, putting such a book together never really occurred to me.  But when the idea was presented, we thought it could be a really fun book for movie fans, and also people interested in photography.  It gives them a chance to relive some memories of our films, and perhaps get an inside look at the work which has gone into them by so many great directors, writers, actors, and crew members. They're the ones who make me look good.

SW:  What do you find most interesting about working in television that is different from motion pictures?

JB:  Both are fun to do, but I'm always amazed how much faster the development process is in television rather than feature films.

SW: What’s your most memorable moment working in Hollywood?

JB: Putting my hand and footprints in wet cement in front of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, alongside some of the greatest names in movie history.  It was very humbling and a great honor.  

SW: What’s the last movie you saw?

JB: That's easy. It was a rough cut of "Beware the Night," our new paranormal thriller starring Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Joel McHale and Olivia Munn and directed by Scott Derrickson, which is opening for the fourth of July holiday in 2014.  

SW: What’s the last movie you saw as a regular audience member?

JB: The last movie I saw with a regular audience was Thor, but I see movies that way as often as I can.

The Best Children's Books of 2013

This year we looked at even more children's books because, let's face it, there are some really special books for kids of all ages--Sense and Sensibility: Opposites Primer, anyone? Ab-so-lutely.  Here are the Best Books of the Year lists by age, and you can see the list for Teen & Young Adult here.

These are the titles that took the number one spot for each age range:

Humans of New York Rocket's Mighty Words by Tad Hills
Rocket has popped up in a couple of earlier picture books, but this oversized board book appeals to a variety of ages.  Babies and toddlers will enjoy the bright colors and learning to say simple words while Rocket learns to spell them. Little bird's teaching also gives preschoolers and kindergarteners a chance to practice their letters and early spelling skills. A perfect choice for households with little ones that are a couple of years apart.    Baby-Age 2
The Day the Crayons Quit The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
I still crack up every time I read this book.  The story's sense of humor--crayons who write letters to the boy who uses them--plays equally well to kids and adults and can be read repeatedly without my wanting to poke an eye out. The Day the Crayons Quit is also great for kids reading on their own because the personalities that come through in each crayon's letter offers an opportunity to explore the nuance of feelings behind the words ranging from whining to praise to peace making.   Ages 3-5
My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O'Hara
When his big brother gets a real chemistry set for his birthday, Tom knows the sibling torment is about to get worse.  How much worse is part of the hilarity, and first and second graders with teenage brothers and sisters will likely relate to this family dynamic.  Readers are sure to enjoy the turn of events when Tom's pet goldfish comes out of his chemistry set experience supercharged with hypnotic powers and a thrist for revenge. A really fun way to get both boys and girls excited about reading chapter books.  Ages 6-8

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow is a 12-year-old genius and outsider who focuses on her passions--nature and diagnosing medical conditions--and her family.  When she is suddenly orphaned, her world turns upside down and so begins her moving story of transformation and connection.  Counting by 7s is a story that lingers long after you read it, with memorable characters and beautiful writing that speaks directly to your heart.   Ages 9-12

YA Wednesday: Books to Read in 2014

2014 is shaping up to be a year of big YA books and I'm getting excited about some of the reading ahead.  A new book from one of my favorite authors, the second book in a hot series, and the final book in three much-loved trilogies--it's all coming in the first half of the new year. Here are some of the books I can't wait to start--what are you looking forward to reading next year?

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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - January 14,2014
I'm a huge fan of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and I've been bugging Riggs' publisher about this book ever since.  My patience (well, sort of...) has paid off and I'm reading this now--it's got the same wonderful old-fashioned creepy feeling and promises to have unusual black and white photographs, just like the first book. Looking forward to seeing where it all goes...

Cress (Lunar Chronicles trilogy) by Marissa Meyer - February 4, 2014
Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood have never looked so bad ass as they do in Cinder and Scarlet. Now Meyer adds a Rapunzel character to the mix in Cress and this should be a Blade Runner-style fairytale to savor.  Queen Levana is still set on making Emperor Kai her own, and the three ladies (and their male counterparts) are just as determined to stop her...

Panic by Lauren Oliver - March 4, 2014
Her first stand alone YA novel since Before I Fall, a small town hosts a dangerous high school rite of passage where one player can win big if they handle the fear and make it through the game.  Panic looks like it's going to to be a page-turner of suspense, fear, friendship, and self-discovery--plus I kind of love that this isn't the start of a series or trilogy but instead a book I am just meant to enjoy until The End. 

Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy) by Laini Taylor - April 4, 2014
Ack. I really don't want this trilogy to end.  I was hoping this would be a case where a planned trilogy turns into a six-book story arc, but no such luck... That said, I am dying to know what happens between Karou and Akiva, and the collision of the angel world and the human one, so as soon as I can get this in my hot little hands I plan to go MIA until I finish it.

Ruin and Rising - Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo - June 3, 2014
Things were looking pretty bleak at the end of Siege and Storm so I'm expecting that in the final book of the Grisha trilogy some major transformations are going to take place and startling secrets revealed between Alina and The Darkling.  The first book, Shadow and Bone, got me hooked so I'm really hoping the last book will end it all on an equally high note.

See Sara's All I Want for New Year's is...
See Robin's Geeking Out: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror in 2014

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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