Reader creations (a.k.a. how you guys make me cry)

Let me get something out of the way: I HATE the word “fan.” I don’t think of anyone as my “fan.” I love readers, friends, bloggers, tweeters, people who enjoy my books … I think you get the idea. I know there’s nothing derogatory about the word “fan,” but it makes me feel kinda weird to think that I have fans, so instead I’d like to call you all friends.

Now that just sounds lame. Hello, friends. What, am I a sixty year old man about to give a reading? Am I Mister Rogers?

Anyway. You guys are amazing, no matter what you want to call yourselves. From the reviews, to the blog posts, to the tweets, to the emails and Facebook messages and whatever else you do … thank you. I read every message. When I write back (and I try to write back to everyone), it’s really me.

But then — BUT THEN — as if your awesomeness wasn’t already making me reel, you send me stuff.

Like this copy of Storm that made the rounds of several bloggers before coming to me. Almost EVERY PAGE has commentary and art and jokes and … it’s simply amazing. I cried when I opened the package. Seriously.

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Or this one, from a young reader? (This has been hanging on my refrigerator for months.)

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Or how about this incredible picture showing all of the characters? I’ve been saving it pressed inside a hardcover book because I want to frame it!

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And it’s not just art!! Check out this fan made YouTube trailer for the books? This blew me away!!

Am I missing anyone? If you’ve posted art/videos/fanfiction anywhere and you’d like me to link it, please let me know.

But from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who take the time to review, to tweet, to email, to Facebook, to text, to call, to send messages by carrier pigeon, whatever:

THANK YOU. You all make this whole journey worthwhile.

Small surprises

I love leaving small surprises for people. Not like gifts, but things that might make their day a tiny bit easier. For instance, I love emptying the dishwasher, yet leaving the “clean” light on, so when my husband goes to empty it, there’s no work to be done. I love paying twice the toll at toll booths, and telling the operator that I’d like to pay for the car behind me. I don’t have time to do big things, like volunteer (hello, two jobs and two kids), and I don’t have the money to do big things like philanthropy. (Though my husband hates when charities get me on the line, because I almost always give them money. And don’t get me started on when the fire department comes to the door.)

But then I read this article about people paying off layaway balances, and it made me cry.

I wish I could do this. Can you do this? You should do this.

I want to drive to Kmart right now and do it.

In a day and age where people are violently assaulting each other to grab an XBox, it’s nice to read an article about people doing good, too.

On being cool.

First, the title of this post is kind of a joke. I don’t know anything about being cool. Seriously, I was the girl in high school who wore glasses, came in early, and spent her free time in the library.

I’m the same person as an adult. I just have a healthy dose of cynicism and apathy.

So I’m not talking about the type of “cool” that people associate with James Dean or Colin Farrell. Or, for you kids out there, I’m not talking about the type of “cool” associated with Justin Bieber. (Though that right there will get me a little bit of flack from my husband.)

I’m talking about the type of “cool” that means treating other people with respect, no matter who you are.

I asked my husband a very basic question about politics the other day. I’m not even going to tell you what the question was, but most people would know the answer. I’ve never followed politics, but because my husband is fascinated by politics, I’ve spent the last year trying to understand it, follow it, and speak intelligently about it. (I’m still working up my nerve on that last one.)

My husband could have pulled the A-hole move and talked down to me. He could have patted me on the head and told me to go back to my little YA books. He also could have done the thing where you answer the question, then keep expanding on it to show how much you know about something. My husband didn’t do any of those things. He just answered the question and we moved on with the discussion.

This sounds like a little thing. It’s not.

I even remarked on it to him. It’s one of my favorite things about him, that he’ll never be arrogant or nasty about anything.

He said it’s a matter of respect.

I remember once I went out with this guy when I was around 22. My mom set us up, and that should have been a warning sign right there. I mean, the guy drove a Buick. Now look: there is nothing wrong with driving a Buick.

Unless you’re 22.

It was a new Buick, with leather seats and all the bells and whistles. I remember he had a button on the middle dash, something about traction control.

Now, I’m a bit of a dork, and I love knowing how cars work. I’ve been known to read the manual. (Yes, really.) I said to him, “Hey, I’ve never seen a car with a button for traction control. How does that work?”

He said, really snootily, “It controls the car’s traction.”

Well, gee.

Not one to be put off, I said, “But how? What does it do?”

I needed an answer. I mean, does it slow the wheels down? Change something about the pull from the engine? I was fascinated by the fact that something like traction could be controlled by pushing a button.

He kept trying to make things up, and I kept asking more questions, and finally he got really flustered and snapped, “Just stop asking questions about the car, okay?”

I think you can all deduce that the first date was also the last.

I mean, he could have just said he didn’t know.

We totally could have looked it up in the manual.

But really, I didn’t start this post to talk about old boyfriends. I actually started it to talk about writers.

A few years ago, I read a post on a very popular agent’s blog about one of that agent’s authors coming out with a book. I loved, loved, LOVED the concept of the book, and I was really excited about it. Here’s the kicker: the book was coming out eighteen months later.

Every now and again, the agent would mention the book on the blog. Around the time I thought the book was due to be released, I couldn’t remember the title. I actually emailed the agent and said, “I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, but I can’t remember the title.”

The agent wrote back. The book was coming out soon. I followed the author on Twitter.

On the day I ordered the book, I sent a tweet to the author (a debut author), that essentially said, “Just ordered your book! Been looking forward to it since I first heard about it on [agent’s] blog! Can’t wait.”

I didn’t expect a response. She didn’t know me from anyone. Really, no response would have been fine.

Here’s what I got back:

yeah thanks

That’s it.

Now, look. I’m not going to judge anyone’s Twitter style. Like I said, she didn’t need to write back. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions of the interaction right there.

I will tell you that I was kind of turned off.

Her Ladyship's Companion (Berkley Sensation)A few years ago, I read the debut novel of Evangeline Collins, Her Ladyship’s Companion, and it was frigging awesome. It also has a stunning cover. (It’s totally a romance novel, so if that’s not your thing, it won’t be for you.) 

I wrote an email to Evangeline Collins, telling her how much I loved her book. Again, no  response would have been fine. I know people have lives, and some people get boatloads of emails from readers. Besides, the purpose of my email was to say, “YAY! I loved your work so much that I wanted you to know!” Not to say, “Please engage me in conversation.”

But Ms. Collins wrote back. To thank me. That’s class.   And when her next book came out, I immediately pre-ordered it. And loved it.

I had another one of these today. A friend asked for some book recommendations on Twitter. Here’s  the conversation:

@BrigidKemmerer oh any book recommendations? im running low. and we need to finally pick a date for a playdate for the boys

BrigidKemmerer:
@
LesRhodes
Yes, we do!! I just read Boy Toy by @barrylyga and LOVED it. Also The Iron King by @Jkagawa. Good stuff.

If I know they’re on Twitter, I always mention the author when I recommend their books. Not only do they know I liked their stuff, but it usually links back to their website in case people want to find their stuff easily.
Boy Toy
I didn’t expect either of those authors to respond.

Barry Lyga did, to say thanks. I almost went all fangirl, because seriously Boy Toy is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s tough to make a book moving and gripping and un-put-down-able while still making it funny enough to make me laugh out loud in places. Incredible book. I almost want to stop writing this post to go read it again.

And the author, the author, took time out of his day and thanked ME.

I mean, come on.

That’s pretty cool.

Crits for Water: The Elemental brothers would approve

So who’s looking for a critique? Who’s looking to help people on the other side of the world?

Guess what? You can do BOTH.

Kat Bauer, who is an amazing person to begin with, is running a series on her blog to raise money for Charity: Water.

For everyone who donates $10, we’re doing a random drawing to win a 5,000 word critique from me (and I’m thorough, people). If you don’t win my critique, Kat is still giving away a 2,500 word critique to everyone who makes a donation. So either way, you win. Win win. Or, as Michael Scott would say, win win win.

Now that I’ve typed “win” so many times, it’s starting to look misspelled.

Here’s the link to enter the drawing: http://wp.me/phdMs-wU

Here’s a link to an interview that awesome blogger Mary Kaley did on my critique style.

In case you don’t know anything about Elemental, it features four brothers who can control the elements of water, fire, earth, and air. (Each brother controls a different element.) Christopher Merrick, the youngest brother, controls water. He’s the star of Elemental.

Chris would totally be down with this drawing.

Even if you don’t want a critique, consider making a donation. It’s ten dollars. Ten dollars will provide clean water for one person for TEN YEARS.

Go. Click. Donate. If nothing else, you’ll feel better about yourself for doing something right.

Here’s how I feel about the whole WSJ YA censorship thing…

All right, look. This is going to be brief, because a thousand-and-one people out there are going to say this better than I am.

This relates to the Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Gurdon, talking about YA books:

Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

I first heard about this article from Alison Kemper, who posted about it on her Facebook wall.

Did you see some of the “appropriate” books they recommend for teens were written 50 years ago? I’m so sick of people saying kids can’t handle what these books are about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: books are a safe way to explore the world around you

When you can’t watch the evening news without hearing about meth addiction (Ellen Hopkins’ CRANK) or a female teacher having sex with a middle school student (Barry Lyga’s BOY TOY), or a kid being booked for murdering a classmate by lighting him on fire (RIGHT BEHIND YOU, by Gail Giles), then what’s wrong with reading books about it? I’m intrigued by Mormon polygamy due to all the media coverage and the stigmas attached to it, from the beliefs behind it to the religious sects that still practice it. Do I want to move to Utah and join a sect to give it a whirl? Do I want to practice polygamy right in my own home? No, I read THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams, and it was graphic and horrifying and downright amazing.  

(All those books I just mentioned are awesome, and I wouldn’t hesitate to give them to the right teenager.)

Personally, I think it’s far safer for kids to read these things and virtually experience them than for kids to explore things they see and hear about on the news in their own way. Fifty years ago, the news wasn’t broadcast far and wide, with headline crawls and graphic images on thirty different stations. Fifty years ago, there’d be no question of whether to show the gruesome images of Osama Bin Laden’s death wound — there’d be no question, because we wouldn’t see it. The article mentions that people protested a graphic cover on a book about cutting? Because that would be too much for a teen to handle? What about when the photoshopped (yet just as disgusting) image of Osama Bin Laden’s death was all over the internet — and on the front page of some newspapers — for all to see. My four-year-old saw that picture on the newsstand at the grocery store. And we expect teens to be shocked by the image of a few razor scars?


Really?

I was discussing this issue with my husband this morning, after he read the entire article. He said, “I kind of understand what she was saying.” He then described a graphic scene in the book he was reading, a book about zombies. He said, “I don’t know if this book is marketed to teens or not, but I’d never give it to Jonathan to read.” (Jonathan is my fourteen-year-old stepson.)

I hustled to Amazon and looked up the book. Though the protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl, it’s not marketed to teens.

And you know what? My husband is handling books like this the right way. He’s reading them first.

I agree that parents need to parent. I had to think long and hard about letting Jonathan read Elemental, because it deals with some pretty strong bullying and there’s one near-date-rape. I agree that teachers need to teach, and schools have an obligation to guide teens towards appropriate books. (Much like the author of the Book Reviews and English News blog, where books are read and reviewed prior to being recommended in the school library.)

But I don’t think that anyone has an obligation to censor books. If you don’t think it’s appropriate, don’t read it.

Just don’t take that opportunity away from anybody else.

~

Motherhood

When I was sixteen, my mother taught me to drive by taking me to the winding country roads of Westminster, Maryland, after an ice storm. She told me if I could drive on icy roads in January, I could drive anywhere.

I tell this story to people sometimes, and they ask if my mother was nuts.

No. She was right. I’m a confident driver pretty much anywhere, and I have no hesitation driving in snow. I know what’s possible in icy situations, and what’s not. I’m an assertive, defensive driver, and I have my mother to thank for that.

My mom is one of those people who will give you the shirt off her back. Really. I remember once, years and years ago, when she knew a friend of hers from the hospital (my mom is a nurse) didn’t have money to buy her kids Christmas presents. My mom gave her three hundred dollars.

And we weren’t rich.

(Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t poor. But it’s not like my parents were lining the litter box with ten dollar bills or anything.)

Once we walked out of our house, in a decent neighborhood, and a young girl walked out of a house two doors down and asked us if we knew the way to a nearby bus stop. This was in northern Baltimore County, in a good neighborhood. We were a long way from any bus stop, and this girl was, even to my naive young eyes, a prostitute. Totally out of place, and if she’d asked anyone else for help, they probably would have called the cops.

My mom drove her home.

When we were teenagers, my brother had a friend who was essentially homeless. I don’t remember what was going on with his parents or why he didn’t have anywhere to live, but my mother took him in, under her own roof, and treated him like her own son.

(He eventually stole money and ran off to live with someone else, but that didn’t stop my mother.)

Mom is the kind of mother who will stand back and let you make your own mistakes — but she’s always there with good advice if you need it. God only knows how she keeps her mouth shut when she sees me parent my son, but she does.  Sometimes she sounds too opinionated, but she’s not. She only gives her opinion once you’ve asked for it, and by god, she’s strong in her conviction. That’s a strength.

I tell my mother everything.

Some of my best memories revolve around being in the car with mom. We’d drive to Cleveland, Ohio every year to visit her mother, a solid six hour drive that should have been miserably boring, but we played loud music and joked and laughed and pointed out the landscape. We always stopped in Breezewood, PA, her favorite rest stop.

When I hit my twenties, I finally told her she didn’t need to make the moo sound when we passed cows.

When her mother started failing in health, my mom sold her house in Baltimore and moved to Cleveland to take care of her. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, but that’s the kind of thing my mother does.

While she was gone, I missed her terribly.

My grandmother passed away in 2006, not long before I got married. I flew to Cleveland to be with my mother. That summer, she moved back to Maryland, and found a house a mile down the road from me.

I love having her nearby.

Since becoming a mother myself, it’s amazing how much closer I’ve grown to mom. I suddenly have a greater appreciation for her strengths and sacrifices, for the amazing job she’s done in raising me.

She’s a wonderful person, and my best friend.

I’m so lucky to have her.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. I love you. Thanks for everything, always. 

Clique Clack Boo

So, yeah, I’m going to talk about the YA Mafia.

I don’t usually jump into the middle of these things, because I’m busy, I’m pregnant, and I’m generally late to the party and my hair’s a mess. And most of the time, I don’t have a lot to say that someone else has said better already.

First off, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll sum up. There’s a bunch of talk rolling around the blogosphere and Twitter that cover a few different things. First, that there are killer cliques of YA authors who band together to smite aspiring authors. There’s also some talk about book reviewers getting blacklisted by YA authors and agents for things they’ve posted on the internet.

Here are some links, if you want to read what other people have said (or just to get a feel for the story).

Holly Black: YA Mafia and the Ruination of Careers

Justine Larbalestier: YA Mafias & Other Things You Don’t Need to Worry About

YA Highway: Field Trip Friday Special Edition: The YA Mafia

Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier are great writers, and both those blogs are worth reading, for more than just the YA Mafia stuff. I also enjoy the YA Highway blog, so check it out, too, if you’ve got time.

Here’s some irony for you: when I first heard the term “YA Mafia,” I thought it was a new blog or something. Seriously, I thought, that sounds like a cool group name.

A lot of these posts and blogs talk about whether there is such a thing, whether there are YA cliques, whether powerful authors have the ability to blacklist authors, whether YA writers really do band together and talk smack about the little people. A lot of talk. Really.

Here’s my talk: who cares?

Ten years ago, I learned a fantastic piece of advice that has become my mantra. Sure, I learned it from a woman who was addicted to prescription painkillers who later accused me of sleeping with her husband in a stall in a horse barn, but don’t let that take away from the absolute power of her statement:

You can’t change others. You can only change yourself. 

Let me tell you, this is my go-to mantra. If I have a problem with people, I say it to myself. I might actually mutter it through clenched teeth while my fingernails are digging into my palms, but I say it. And it helps.

First off, I learned really early that there will always be cliques. Always. What can you do about it? Nothing. When you’re outside the clique (especially a clique you want to be in), it’s really easy to feel hurt and disgusted and imagine that the people in that group are all mean and hateful and devoting their time toward your personal ruination.

Guess what? They’re probably not.

You know what else? When people fail at something, a lot of times, we want to look for excuses. It’s a hell of a lot easier to say we were blacklisted by a big agent than to think, “Hey, maybe I should take a look at my writing.”

Or to think, “Hey, maybe I failed.”

Here’s the thing: you can’t stop YA writers (or anyone else) from making friends. Sure, I see authors sharing private cover art on Twitter, or talking sorta secretly about inside information, and I immediately get that little gut clench that says, “I wanna know! I wanna be in your circle!”

But then I realize that I have conversations on Twitter all the time with Sarah Maas, and people are probably thinking the same thing about us.

Actually, considering our last Twitter conversation involved Sarah taking my eyeballs and keeping them in a jar on her desk, people are likely thinking we’re disgusting.

ANYWAY. I digress.

There’s also some talk about a book blogger who was forced to take down her blog, because she’d heard that it was going to hurt her potential for finding an agent or selling a novel. I feel badly that she felt the need to do that, but she made the choice to do it. No one forced her to. She couldn’t change the way other people were treating her, so she changed her blog and stopped reviewing books.

Look, people, from a mother, here’s another mantra: Life is full of choices, and sometimes they’re hard.

Sometimes I want to blog about something that happened at work. I’m deathly terrified that I’ll lose my job, so I don’t. (Buy lots of copies of ELEMENTAL in 2012, and maybe I can quit my job. Then I’ll share all the stories you want.) Sometimes I want to blog about my family, but I don’t want to put my husband in a compromising position, so I don’t. (My mother, however, is fair game.)

Sometimes I read a book that sucks, and I don’t talk about it.

The only person who can make or break you is you.

Here’s a little story. I once saw this guy on the news, crying about the fact that he was losing his home and his business. The government was seizing everything he had, and he didn’t know how he was going to provide for his family. A family who was used to high-end cars, a personal maid and butler, a huge mansion of a house. The poor, persecuted man. The big, bad government was after him.

Because he didn’t pay his taxes.

I didn’t feel any pity for that guy. He didn’t pay his taxes! I mean, come on! You can’t complain about someone coming after you, if you do something wrong in the first place.

I hope I’m drawing a parallel here, but just in case: if you openly trash people online, and they turn around and refuse to support you (or even actively bash you in return), well, you can’t really point any fingers, can you? I’m not saying it’s mature, I’m just saying you can’t be surprised when it happens.

Remember: you can’t change others, you can only change yourself.

You can’t stop the YA Mafia (seriously, I love the name. I want to join.) if it even exists. You can’t stop cliques. You can’t stop people from being friends. As my husband likes to say, you make your own stress. If you don’t like seeing authors interact on Twitter, stop following them. No, even better, go make your own friends and talk to them.

I have a three-year-old son, and I’m constantly telling him, “Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Worry about what you are doing.” I used to teach riding lessons, and I would say it all the time to those teenagers, too. “But, Miss Brigid!” they would cry. “So-and-so is jumping three feet! Why can’t I jump three feet??” Then they’d make snarky remarks about the other girl. She’s nasty. She abuses her horse. Her parents buy her everything. She thinks she’s so much better than everyone.

Yeah, because being a bitch is going to get you to jump three feet.

Wrong. Riding better is going to get you to jump three feet.

When I sold my book to K Teen, I immediately went to see what other authors had been acquired by my editor for the same line. Did I look at their badass cover art and squish up my mouth and talk smack about them? Hell, no. I sent Erica O’Rourke an email and said, “We need to be friends.”

(And people, you need to put her book on your to-read list ASAP. It sounds insanely hot. One of the love interests is the main character’s bodyguard. I actually might need to break into Erica’s house and steal the page proofs.)

(Don’t tell her I said that. Just in case someone actually, you know, breaks into her house and steals page proofs.)

I know I’m dissolving into rambles. I just hate when people get fired up and get their feelings hurt online. Take a step back. Repeat that first mantra to yourself.

I can’t change others. I can only change myself.

It’s powerful. It helps.

Now go out there and make some friends of your own.

~

P.S. – I’m on twitter and Facebook. I’d love to be your friend. We can talk about extricating eyeballs all day.