Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recommended Reading: Saffy's Angel

I came across this list of characters with disabilities on a guest post at YA Highway, and decided to give some of the books a read. I've finished two of them so far, and I wasn't disappointed.

The first book I read was Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay.
The four Casson children, whose mother, Eve, is a fine-arts painter, have all been given the names of paint colors. Cadmium (Caddy), is the eldest; then Saffron (Saffy); Indigo, the only boy; and Rose, the youngest. When Saffy discovers quite by accident that she has been adopted, she is deeply upset, though the others assure her that it makes no difference at all. Saffy is the daughter of Eve's twin sister, who lived in Siena, Italy, and died in a car crash. Grandad brought Saffy, as a very small child, back from Siena.

At Grandad's death he leaves something to each of the children. To Saffy, it is "her angel," although no one knows its identity. How Saffy discovers what her angel is, with the help of an energetic new friend, lies at the heart of this enchanting story. Unforgettable characters come alive in often deeply humorous and always absorbing events to be treasured for a long, long time.
Sarah is the "energetic new friend". She has a lot of trouble walking due to a childhood illness and therefore uses a wheelchair. I feel like McKay does a great job of bringing Sarah to life without making it seem like she has anything to "overcome". You don't ignore Sarah's disability, but you don't ever find any spots in the narrative where you'd pat yourself on the back over your pity and understanding. She's just a fun kid who has a distinctive trait like just about everyone does.

It's a nice, quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed at the age of twenty-nine. I'm not sure if it would have resonated with me as an older teen, but I know I would have been all over it anytime before I turned fifteen. This seems appropriate since Saffy and Sarah are about thirteen during most of the story. McKay has several other Casson family books that apparently involve Sarah and I can't wait to read them.

P.S. Also, it's set in England so you get to have a fun accent in your head while you read it. Unless you already have an English accent in which case you'll just have to settle for liking the story.

Lets all hug and jump up and down

A short story I submitted a while back is going to be published!

The editor had some minor notes and he feels the ending needs to be "more satisfying" but overall he said I have the skills to be an excellent short story writer and he's really interested in working with me.

I like the ending, but I wouldn't take my ball and go home over it. And it will be great for me to have something to put in the writing credits section of my novel query letters. Plus, now I have something to prop up my fragile ego if my test readers tell me the novel sux.


Saturday, April 23, 2011


I've been working on my query letter as an alternative to e-mailing my test readers every five seconds. I'm happy to say I think I've got a reasonable draft that I've just now sent to a query letter critique site that I frequent. I'm pretty sure this won't be a final draft, but I'm at an end as to how I should proceed so here's hoping for some constructive feedback.

Also, I've got two new books to add to Recommended Reading and when I get back in town I plan to pick up at least a couple of the suggestions in the comments from the Courtney Summers post from the library where I've got them on hold. So both the list and the journey to publication are well under way.

Good job team.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


You guys Courtney Summers totally looked at my blawg! Then she sent me a really kind e-mail about the post and offered a book suggestion.

As you might expect, I peed a little.

Then it took me considerable effort to figure out how to sign-off my return e-mail.

Yep. Giant Nerd.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Unofficial Recommended Reading with Extreme Caution

Okay I've gone over this and over this and I just can't think of any better solution.

I love Courtney Summers' work so much it makes me want cry. If I could, I'd sleep with her books under my pillow on the minute chance I might absorb some of her brilliance while unconscious and hallucinating. In fact, it was a really bad idea for me to read Some Girls Are the day after I surrendered my manuscript to test readers. What was, "Hey, needs a little work but I think it might really be something." became in less than 24 hours, "Oh God! What have I done? Why couldn't I use some those words? Why did I have to use my stupid words? I suck!"

Alas, I just can't rationalize including her on the official Recommended Reading list because that's for people who don't want to feel like they're being punched in the face every few chapters and both  Some Girls Are and Cracked Up to Be are rife with the fat bashin' and body snarking. I haven't read any of Summers' other novels, but I plan to fix that.

Now, the thing about both of these books is that the main characters are fundamentally unlikeable. Not in an evil but charming way either. They suck. A lot. But it's so well written that you still care very much what happens to them and pretty much you're chained to the book until it's over and you're left sitting there mourning the fact that there's not more to read.

I think that's a pretty daring route to take and not one that you see very often, but the downside is that characters like that and the people they hang around, particularly in a high school setting, are gonna have crap things to say about other people, especially those peoples' bodies because that's where most of our insecurities lie.

So, the writing is amazing, the stories are incredibly engaging, and the body snarking that is in there to me feels faithful to the characters and not like the author trying to incorporate her own prejudices into the story. (And believe me, there's a difference. I told a friend of mine the other day that for this one book I was reading I could just see the author flipping through the manuscript and musing, "You know, there's just not enough fat jokes in here.") But ultimately, both books just use up way too many Sanity Watchers points to make the official list. If you've got the points to burn though, it's totally worth it.

Also, POSSIBLE but not really SPOILER trigger warning:

Both have very graphic (necessary, not gratuitous) descriptions of sexual assault that are stuck in my head forever and I used to work in domestic violence and am not usually fazed by such things.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I thought American Idol couldn't repulse me more.

I was wrong.

I'm really glad Ashley decided to speak up about her mistreatment. I think a lot of girls would have been too embarrassed to say anything because of the pervasive cultural messages that other people's crap behavior is some sort of reflection on you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I just finished revisions on my novel! At least I think so. I'm going to send it off to test readers this weekend. Still, major victory. Woot!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Run, do not walk to Shakesville and read this post about the new twitter hashtag #thingsfatpeoplearetold if you want a clear explanation of why I feel it is important that I pay attention to the body issues our readers are facing. Here's a taste.

Totally aside from whatever factors underlie Teh Dreaded Fat—which may in some cases include a lack of exercise, for a multitude of reasons, one of which might be physical laziness—being fat, living the life of a fat person, is not a life for a lazy person. It is hard work to move every day through a world that hates you.

Facing each day of one's life knowing that what awaits is navigating a sea of prejudice squarely rooted in the basic assumption that one is less than, a disgusting, shameful figure symbolizing sloth and avarice, too contemptible to even warrant pity no less dignity and respect, is not for the lazy, nor the faint of heart, nor the weak.
Then, as long as you're ready to be pretty depressed head on over to #thingsfatpeoplearetold and read the stories being shared there. It may make you feel less alone. It may make you more aware of the way life actually is for fat people. Regardless, these are stories that are not normally told in the mainstream and I think the more we have this conversation the better.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Recommended Reading: Something, Maybe

Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott is one of my favorite YA books. The main character is extremely likable. Anyone who has ever felt out of place (i.e. everyone) can relate to her. The voice in this novel is spectacularly authentic. You really feel like a sixteen-year-old is sitting in front of you telling you what happened.

It's a familiar story framed in an unlikely way. Taken from Elizabeth Scott's website:

Everyone thinks their parents are embarrassing, but Hannah knows she's got them all beat. Her dad made a fortune showing pretty girls--and his "party" lifestyle--all over the Internet, and her mom, who was once one of her dad's girlfriends, is now the star of her own website. After getting the wrong kind of attention for far too long, Hannah has learned how to stay out of sight...and that's how she likes it.

Of course, being unknown isn't helping her get noticed by gorgeous, confident Josh, who Hannah knows is her soul mate. Between trying to figure out a way to get him to notice her, dealing with her parents, and wondering why she can't stop thinking about another guy, Finn, Hannah feels like she's going crazy. She's determined to make things work out the way she wants....only what she wants may not be what she needs.
Obviously, with the Playboyesque theme running through it there is some talk about the value of certain types of bodies that some could find triggering. But I didn't feel that the reader was supposed to infer that these attitudes were absolutes, rather that these are the prevailing attitudes in pop culture. There is a lot of diet talk, but it is framed as not worth pursuing.

One of the things I especially like is that throughout the book it is clear that various people find Hannah attractive even though she doesn't wear make up or dress up. And there are no yucky makeovers.

Recommended Reading will be a recurring feature on this blog. I'm doing this in an effort to build a list of YA books that I believe are both great stories and treat people's bodies in a sensitive manner. I will do my best to point out things about books I suggest that might be triggering even if I feel the book as a whole is worthwhile. If you have suggestions for future recommended books or comments/criticisms of books I write about please feel free to leave them in comments.