Literary Mash-Ups

First up – Our good friend Nathan Bransford is holding his 2nd Annual (I just made it annual) “Be An Agent for a Day”, or as I’ll call it “Be An Agent for a Day II: Electric Bugaloo.” So, you should all go check that out and participate!

Speaking of authors and agents blending together and blurring lines… this brings me to my question of the day. What two works of literature would you love to see combined to form a one awesome super novel? 
We all know about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Jane Slayre, but, to me, those are more Puff Daddy-style remixes, using samples of the real work with the heavy beats of vampires and zombies thrown in the mix.
I’m talking about a full, Glee-style mash-up. Maybe a “Out Stealing All the Pretty Horses” by Per Petterson and Cormac McCarthy? Or “Romeo and Juliet, Naked” by William Shakespeare and Nick Hornby? I’m not entirely sure how either plot combination would work yet, but so far I like the possibilities for cool titles.

But you tell me – what title combo or plot combo do you want to see happen?

The Book Connection

Last night on the subway, a guy I politely pretended to ignore was very blatantly reading over my shoulder. I was reading on my nook and at first thought he was maybe just interested in seeing what it looked like. (Which is what I do to iPad  and Kindle people.) Then he kept reading, and I figured he, too, must be enjoying Impossible by Nancy Werlin. So, I let him keep reading without doing my usual passive-aggressive “shift and sigh” routine.

Another thought came to me. If this guy is anything like me, it’s possible that he was simply searching for what I was reading, which can be hard to spot if you’re unfamiliar with e-readers. The way music snobs turn up their noses at beats radiating from others’ iPods, I scan subway cars, parks, and cafes for titles, and then (admittedly) I form an opinion on the reader of that title. The opinion is neither negative or positive; it just simply is. I assume people do the same thing to me. In fact, sometimes I secretly hope they do, depending on what I’m reading that day.

Once on the subway (this is where I do most of my reading), I pulled out Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. I was only in the second chapter, a dent had hardly been made. Across from me, a man was just finishing the same book. When he closed it, looking satisfied, he caught my eye (well, first he caught my book’s eye), and we shared a knowing smile. It wasn’t a big moment, but it was a moment. Made possible by a book.

Another time, maybe a year ago, I sat across from two people reading the same book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. If you haven’t read it, I’ll just say that it’s a book that heavily uses other references – some fictional, some not. When the two across from me – a college-aged girl and a middle-aged man – realized they were reading the same book, they began discussing how they felt about the sometimes frustrating use of references. While I never, ever speak to people on the subway, I felt compelled to join in and say I had read the book a month prior, and then the three of us enjoyed a brief conversation on the merits of false footnotes.

Yet another moment made possible by books.

The thing with e-readers though, and I know this has been said before, is that you can no longer openly see what a person is reading. Thus, no judgments can be made, and no friendships can be formed. While I have on my nook books that I am not at all ashamed of – Impossible being one of them, and also The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Infinite Jest – I suspect that many book snobs use their e-readers for hiding the guilty pleasures. With the exception of the titles I mentioned above, and a few others, my nook is basically a tool for manuscripts and novels that I don’t necessarily want to form a connection over. (I won’t name any by name, but let’s just say the words “sea monsters” and “vampires” may or may not appear in the titles.)

Now, I notice, that if what I’m reading strikes up a conversation at all, it’s usually to ask me about the device itself. No one cares what I’m actually reading on that device. Call me old-fashioned, but I just can’t see myself making the same type of connection over a piece of technology than I could over a tangible book. That’s not to say I don’t love my nook, but… I guess what I’m saying is, let more people read over your shoulders. If you’re going to allow yourself to get lost in an e-book, it might be comforting to know that a real live person still could be willing to go with you.

The Teenage Experience

First off, let me just say that I have had so much fun with Teen Writer Week this week, and I want to thank Kody, Steph, and Weronika for their contributions! You gals are amazing 🙂

Secondly, yesterday was Teen Lit Day and Scholastic, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and ReaderGirlz have some really great posts on it. Go read!

As Teen Writer Week comes to a close, I thought I’d share some of my own writing from my teen days. Since I was not nearly as creative or motivated as the lovely ladies mentioned above, these little snippets come directly from my old diaries. I promise no editing has been done. (It makes me cringe that I cannot correct my grammar!) So, enjoy the raw teen angst. To me, these quotes best represent my adventures in adolescence, and I think (hope) most teens and former teens can relate:

Age 13: “Today I got contacts! Finally no more glass. I hope I look a little more attractive than before. Maybe [major crush!] will start liking me. But, if he only likes me because of the way I look, then I don’t want him anyway. Well, OK, I still do.”
Age 14: “I’m sitting here watching Dawson’s Creek and everytime I watch it I get the urge to write in my diary. They’re fifteen on the show! That’s like me in like 9 months. I’ve never had a conversation like these people ever!”
Age 15: “I’ve been thinking about college lately, mostly about how I don’t know what I want to do w/ my life. I got my DAT results back, which is a test to see where you should pursue a career. They told me I should work w/ the fine arts or music, which is basically my dream job, but realistically I don’t see that happening. Oh well. I don’t really know what I’ll do.”
Age 16: “If 16 is supposed to be this great and wonderful age, and I don’t feel any different, then what the hell is 17 going to feel like?”
Age 17: “I hate high school. Every little thing that’s ‘a major crisis’ is just stupid shit no one cares about.”
Age 18: “I’m beginning the phase in my life where I’m just freaking out. The fact that I’m leaving and going out into the world alone is hitting me. I mean, I was aware of this before, but ever since I decided on Ithaca and they’re sending me more and more stuff, it’s like ‘ok, this is actually happening now.’ And I am completely terrified.”

Also, in the spirit of Teen Writer Week, I ask you all to leave a quote – whether from a diary you have handy or from a moment in time that’s stayed in your memory – in the comments that you think sums of your teen years!

Getting to Know: Weronika Janczuk

Fans of the blog might remember today’s featured writer from her appearance on Glass Cases back in October 2009. Weronika Janczuk has since turned 18 and just completed a major revision of the novel she had given us a glimpse of before, Where the Doves Fly. Also back in October, Weronika expressed interest in attending a “NYC-based university,” a goal she can now cross off her list, as she plans to attend NYU next fall, where she intends to “double-major in English and Journalism with a focus on creative writing and real-life application (publishing).” Whoa.

Weronika queried a middle grade spy novel when she was only twelve years old. “But, of course, the darn thing wasn’t ready for the world,” she admits. Over the next six years, Weronika has had a few poems and essays published in various magazines, e-zines, and anthologies, and is now, obviously, focusing on her novel. She also writes on her blog, Weronika Janczuk: Writer & Intern. On writing: “I love to write and I love the possibility of exploring worlds and other people, so despite the hurdles that continue to arise I’ll always write.”

Among her influences are Kate DiCamillo, Laurie Halse Anderson, M.T. Anderson, and J.K. Rowling. She also gives me an opportunity to correct a mistake I made yesterday about a writer, who also happened to be one of Steph Bowe’s influences, Sara Henry. (I had accidentally referred to Sara as Australian yesterday. In fact, she is not!) Sara, along with Weronika’s other “real-life” mentors, YA novelist, Swati Avasthi, and writer, Ina V. Steinman, offered Weronika sage advice that has stayed with her, including how to apply screenwriting basics to make her novel work.

Weronika is currently looking for an agent for Where the Doves Fly and is in the process of outlining two previously written novels, one fantasy, the other contemporary YA. Where the Doves Fly is a literary, historical novel about “artistic struggle, the relationship between fathers and daughters, and obligations to both family and country.” She estimates that she’s 20% finished with a rewrite of her fifth draft, but can’t wait to start pitching it to agents: “I think I will pitch it as something similar to THE LOVELY BONES – an adult book with YA crossover potential.”

So after she accomplishes her dreams of becoming a published writer and graduating from college, Weronika hopes to turn her current internship at a literary agency into a career. “I’ve come to realize that I love this world of books and writing and quirky/witty/awesome people,” Weronika says of her “overarching plan” to eventually open her own agency. “It’d be awesome to do all of that within ten years,” she adds.

Getting to Know: Steph Bowe

Teen Writer Week continues with another talented adolescent. Steph Bowe is sixteen years old and has been running the popular blog, Hey! Teenager of the Year, since April 2009. Being from a rural area in Australia, Steph says she didn’t have many people to talk to in real life about what she was reading. So, she started a blog to fill that void. Since then, she’s also used the blog to review books and interview authors. 

Being an author herself, Steph began focusing on the writing and publishing process on Hey! Teenager… “As I’ve become a more serious writer I’ve become a more dedicated blogger, too, and it’s helped me a lot in terms of being aware of the publishing industry, other writers, and YA around the world,” says Steph.

When I asked Steph how old she was when she started writing (that is, with the intent to be published), her answer was 7 (!). She began querying by 14, was agented by 15, and is about to have her first novel, Girl Saves Boy, published at 16. [Note to “grown-ups:” any of you who say kids today are apathetic, unmotivated, and lack the work ethic of their elders, I’d ask you, nicely, to please stop talking.]
While many authors, especially in Australia, have been supportive and helpful to Steph, she hasn’t had any specific mentors: “Writing was something I picked up on my own because I enjoyed it, and the great thing I love about writing is it isn’t really something you need someone else to teach you. Obviously it’s not a club you have to be recruited into, either. You mostly figure stuff out for yourself and do it your own way.”
One Australian writer, Sara Henry, however, was particularly important to Steph. Sara was the first to suggest that Steph contact American literary agents to get Girl Saves Boy out into the world where it belongs. And it’s a good thing Steph listened because U.S. agents were apparently clamoring for her! 

Steph says, “I sent out three queries, then three fulls, and within a fortnight had two offers of representation.” Shortly thereafter, Steph was a runner-up in a writer’s blog contest, which awarded her a partial read by yet another agent. That agent was who Steph eventually signed with, and I have the completely unbiased pleasure of saying Steph’s agent is the fabulous Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown, Ltd.

In addition to finishing high school, Steph is currently working on her next novel and hopes to someday work in the publishing industry in Australia. Girl Saves Boy, will be published by Text Publishing in Australia this September and then in the U.S. by Egmont USA in 2011. It is a moving story about a girl who saves a boy from drowning, leaving the two to deal with the consequences of a romance. Steph would like for Girl Saves Boy to speak to teens who feel isolated or misunderstood, which, she admits, “is basically every teenager ever.”

Getting to Know: Kody Keplinger

Eighteen-year-old writer Kody Keplinger is agented and soon-to-be-published. But, more on that later because clearly the most amazing, wonderful, and awesome thing about Kody is that not only does she currently attend my Alma mater, Ithaca College, but she is about to dwell in the very suite I lived in my sophomore year! Obviously this coincidence trumps anything she’s done or will do in her career…

OK yes, Kody and I have had fun reminiscing about IC, but let’s get back to what really makes Kody worth knowing about. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation. “The funny thing is, I’d actually never heard of her when I queried her. I found her name on a writer friend’s query spreadsheet and I knew she repped YA, but that was it,” Kody says. Joanna was her first and only full request, which happened on May 12, 2009 (“One of the best days of my life!”), so Kody did further research and learned that apparently Joanna was known for being “awesome,” or, as Kody’s all-caps response put it, “She is AMAZING.”

The full manuscript request she’s referring to was for THE DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), which she wrote for any girl who has ever felt like she is the odd friend out, the girls who never feel pretty enough, or who lack confidence in themselves. “I think every girl can relate. I want those girls to read it and put it down knowing that they aren’t alone,” Kody says.

It’s no surprise that Kody’s writing mentors are all strong, barrier-breaking women: namely Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, and S.E. Hinton. “Each of them has done something I admire greatly. Austen broke the mold. Rowling never gave up. Hinton didn’t let her age hold her back.  They’re all my heroes.” In real life, Kody names Buffa Hanse, the woman who taught her Braille, as her biggest inspiration. “She’s the one who convinced me to pursue writing in college and she never held anything back. I would not be here without Buffa, and I”m sure of that.”

Kody began the querying process when she was 17. It was for a novel she wrote before THE DUFF and she admits she “queried it badly.” When she decided to try again with THE DUFF, she did her research and lo and behold, Joanna happened! Right now she is working on another book for Fall 2011, and is planning a summer internship in publishing. “I’m fascninated by the agenting side in particular. And what better combination than agent/author? It’s my dream career!!!”
Whereas most 22-year-olds rarely have even one book to show for themselves, Kody hopes to have “a nice set of published books under my belt” by the time she graduates from college. THE DUFF (Little Brown/Poppy) will be available for you to buy/read/worship this September.


Teen Writer Week!

I declare this week in the name of teenagers! 
In case you were not aware, there are some pretty awesome teens out there right now who are writing fabulous and impressive books that you’re going to want to read. So, I decided to devote a week on Glass Cases to some of these wunderkinds, including interviews, discussions, and other fun things. 
To start things off, let me share two of my favorite teen writers – who are no longer teens! – S.E. Hinton and Nick McDonell. To me, The Outsiders was the first real YA novel. It was published when the author was only 16 years old, which means she was writing it when she was about 14. At that age, she managed to capture perfectly the pains of adolescence (in boys, no less!) and created some of the most memorable characters of all time in the process. My heart still breaks for Ponyboy. I just want to hug him, and that feeling only intensifies the more times I read it as an adult. 

The other author, Nick McDonell, is one I’ve mentioned before back when I read his first novel, Twelve. This was published in 2003 and written when the author was just 17. Again, the depth of his characters and awareness of what is happening in the outside world is so astute in that “beyond-his-years” way that I just could not get over. I definitely wouldn’t call Nick McDonell a YA author, even though his characters are teens/young adults. Rather, Twelve, read more like a 21st century Bright Lights Big City, which to me only made it seem more impressive and his age that much more unbelievable. 

Both The Outsiders and Twelve, while very different from each other, also have crossover appeal, which isn’t easy in YA in general, let alone by novels written by teenagers themselves. 

I also want to mention the first teen writer I was ever truly inspired by. When I was 14 and at the height of my love of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (OK, so there was no “height” so much as a never-ending devotion that continues to this day), a teen/vampire/romance novel came out called In The Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, who was also 14 at the time. I read about the release of her book in Seventeen magazine and was so excited that someone my own age was not only a published author, but writing about stuff I loved. They just don’t make books like that for teens anymore, unless you count pretty much all of them. Go back and read Amelia Atwater-Rhodes! Like L.J. Smith (The Vampire Diaries, Night World) and Annette Curtis Klause (The Silver Kiss, Blood and Chocolate) she was a pioneer in this genre that has absolutely exploded. 
So, in case you just joined us, we’re talking about books written by teens (note: not necessarily for teens) here on Glass Cases all week! Who are some of your favorite teen writers? And if you are a teen writer, feel free to share your inspirations/what you write in the comments below.

Stay tuned for profiles on Steph Bowe, Kody Keplinger, and Weronika Janczuk!