Donate (YA) Books and Boost Adult Literacy

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IndyReadsAd1So, I posted on Facebook yesterday that I’m excited to be a teen “shelf curator” for Indy Reads Books, and got a “What’s that mean?” response. So, hey, why not blog about it?

Magnolia and I started volunteering at Indy Reads in June. Besides being a beautiful and inviting bookstore with a friendly staff (and the only bookstore downtown Indianapolis), it’s a not-for-profit business. The majority of books sold come from donations and support Indy Reads, an organization with a mission “to promote and improve the literacy of adults and families in Central Indiana.” It’s been really fun to sort books, organize and shelve books, and see them find lovely new homes.

And given my love for teen literature, I volunteered to help curate the teen section. This means I get to review stock and pick the best YA and teen books to shelve in the store. I also get to recommend awesome books to shoppers–and recommend awesome books for management to purchase new because Indy Reads Books sells new books as well as used books. And if you don’t see what you want in the store, they can always order it for you at a discount.

So if you’re into books, or into helping support a great local Indianapolis business, or want to help improve adult literacy in Indiana, check out the store and buy books. And if you’re into helping me create a really fantastic teen section for young adult readers in my community, consider donating your young adult and teen books. Stop in to the store on Mass Ave., email me, or message me about book donations.

Of Corporate Meetings and Pedal Car Bars

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If you work or have worked in the corporate world, this meme likely resonates with you.

meetingI’ve been out of the corporate setting now for around three months and am more content than I’ve ever been. Instead of worrying if the team will actually adopt a new policy or if the client will actually implement the work we spent hundreds of hours on, I worry that I’m not saying what I want to say in my novel writing or that it won’t resonate with people the way I hope. But even if no one ever reads my fiction, I love the struggle of creating a thing that gives people a sense of personal and universal truth; and that’s what makes my life different now. They’re struggles I choose not struggles someone is paying me to nurture. I often wonder how many people really love their corporate jobs. It’s easy to assume that since it was never my first love that it’s no one’s first love. Maybe it is.

Last night, Josh and I went out on a date and the restaurant we chose was pretty meh. The crowd was not our crowd. The setting wasn’t inviting to us. The food was mediocre. We decided the restaurant was too corporatized. It was owned by a group, and you could tell that it was trying to reach everyone instead of cultivating a single personality of patronage. So that probably influenced what came next. We were sitting outside, and one of those pedal bars came down the street. If you’re not familiar, here’s a picture:

pedalbar

The idea is that you all get drunk and pedal around town while a non-drunkard gets paid to steer. As Josh and I watched it go by, I said, “Do you think anyone is actually having fun on that thing?” And then we started chatting about how it’s the perfect metaphor for corporate life. A group of people come together because someone organized it–and even that guy is sitting there the whole time wondering if he did the right thing and looking around to see if everyone is having fun. Then they all pedal around–some more furiously than others–going nowhere and drinking like crazy to get through it all-the-while never making any collaborative decisions about which way to go. Instead, they very strategically clog the flow of traffic.

I had some great times in my corporate life. I met some of my best friends and worked along some of the best people Indianapolis bred or attracted. I don’t regret it. I just think we’re meant for more than meetings and busywork. Did anyone ever fall in love because of a meeting? Maybe in spite of it. Does anyone ever look back on their life and say, “I remember this one time during a meeting…?” Well, maybe they do, but I’d bet the wonder and meaning of the moment came about because of the people and not the subject or project at hand. Is unrealistic to think that even in your work, you can and should have meaning?

 

 

Book Review: Noggin

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I loved this book! Noggin was my first John Corey Whaley novel, and I will certainly be reading more after finishing this funny and nogginbittersweet story that is the perfect follow-up to The Fault in our Stars by John Green or Love, and Other Unknown Variables, by Shannon Lee Alexander, or any other book that  takes you on a journey of loss and grief and teenage love and leaves you with a longing to make the most of life.

Noggin is a story about a teenage boy who has died of cancer but had his head cryogenically frozen until the day when doctors can attach a new body and give him a second chance at life. That day comes only 5 years after his death–much sooner than anyone could’ve hoped for and just long enough that everyone has grieved him and seemingly moved on, including his girlfriend who is now engaged. His parents are acting strange and his best friend isn’t acting himself either. But for Travis, it’s like he’s just had a nap. Adjusting is hard to say the least. And anyway, Travis knows that he’s been given a second chance for a reason, so he does everything in his power to get his old life back. Good idea, Travis. What could possibly go wrong?

I wish I’d thought of this plot. It is such a good metaphor for resisting all that adulthood brings with it–the thing that our beloved characters in The Fault in our Stars and Love and Other Unknown Variables will miss out on. And while we know that our friends in these books would have loved to have had the ache of adulthood, Travis must actually go through it before he’s ready, willing, and able. He does so bravely and stupidly–as you’d expect–and is all the more lovable for it.

I’d love to see this be nominated for the Printz this year. I’ve read a few tremendous books so far this year, and this is certainly one of them. So if you’ve just bawled your eyes out after reading The Fault in our Stars or Love and Other Unknown Variables, pick up Noggin.

The Dog who Loves Selfies

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Magnolia has adopted Instagram as her preferred social media platform, and I’m committed to not getting my parental funk all over the site by joining it. She didn’t specifically ask me not to, but it’s an easy enough gesture. So, I’m sharing a few of the selfies she took with Eleanor and the dogs. Because they are cracking me up so bad!

If you don’t know our dogs, allow me to introduce them:

Marlowe: A crotchety, old retiree who wants nothing more than to enjoy his early bird special at precisely 5 p.m. and then yell at the young pups from the sunny spot on the porch. Smelling the sweet stink of squirrels is also a welcomed treat, taking this hound back to the days when the chase took him on such adventures as “How did I end up at the Safeway dumpster again?” and “Hey Jody, have you met your neighbors at [xxx address]?”

Dandy: An eager, vain, bow tie-loving tramp ready to sneak your shoes into his stores. When confronted, he won’t admit his fetish. “No, no, I just missed you,” he’ll plead. Riiiiight. Your name is Dandy, son. We’ll love you no matter who you are! It’s no wonder he’s confused about who he is; he’s a mix of the smartest herding breed and dumbest retrieving breed. Also, a neat freak, this one hates messes so much, he cleans up after himself (and Marlowe), giving you a literal shit-eating grin after a long day picking up in the yard. If only he had the manners to cover his mouth when he belched.

Can you guess which of these sons of bitches loved the camera?

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Book Review: Eleanor and Park

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Eleanor and Park gets filed under: Books I wish I wrote. It is easily a new favorite. It won a Printz honor award, and I boldly declared on some social media site that it should have won, admitting I hadn’t read the others. I’ve read another of the honor books, which I’ll review soon. I did love the other one, Maggot Moon, but Eleanor and Park still holds a special place in my heart.

ImageI picked up Eleanor and Park in a local bookstore in Frankfort, Michigan, in the summer of 2013. It was in the window display. Since I have an Eleanor, I immediately scanned the jacket and became even more interested in the story, and of course, I was excited to see that it was YA fiction.

What captured me was the characterizations. Eleanor was insecure and somehow it didn’t annoy me. The awkward truths that bubbled out of her were remarkable yet simply stated. Park was equally awkward, but his earnestness was endearing. Rainbow Rowell took wonderful care in delicately and indelicately building Eleanor’s and Park’s relationship with each other, reminding us exactly what it’s like to fall in love for the first time when you feel like the worst version of yourself. I loved following them through their wonderful terrible days. Rowell gives a nod to Shakespeare as Eleanor and Park discuss Romeo and Juliet in class and hits us clearly on the head that this is–at its heart–the same story. Just look at the cover, and it’s clear that Eleanor is our Romeo and Park our Juliet. Park wears the eye liner in the relationship and Juliet remarks more than once that “Park is the sun.”

Now, here’s where I admit that my own Eleanor had to point out to me that Park was Juliet, noting the references to Park as the sun. Eleanor is a far more insightful reader than me, and this is the book where I learned that. It was one my favorite moments with my daughter, ever. Rainbow Rowell, if you somehow ever see this, thanks. You not only touched me and my daughter with your wonderful book, you gave us a connection through it.

But back to the book, our Romeo and Juliet here have an expectedly sad ending, but there are sparks of hope for them as individuals that make the story perfect for young adults looking to understand what it means to be an individual, looking for love, and trying to navigate the nuances of happy and sad, ugly and pretty, good and bad, permanent and transient, comfort and hurt.

Rainbow Rowell gets bonus points for the gym suit scene. It is my all-time favorite scene in a book, ever. It is perfection. And I’ve recently learned that the movie rights were sold on this book, so they better not screw up that scene! Hell, I may not even watch the movie; the book was so raw and rich and perfect. However, it does help to know Rainbow has been asked to write the screenplay. If you haven’t read this one, you most definitely want to before the movie hits the screen!

A Couple Killer YA Books

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killer YA booksI don’t tend to read by the season, but this year I’m reveling in the Halloween season in all sorts of ways, including aligning my reading with the horror of Halloween. Part of the reason I’m excited about the holiday this year is because this will be our first Halloween in our new home, and my neighbors say we can expect to get anywhere from 500 – 1000 trick-or-treaters. Instead of getting overwhelmed, Josh and I decided to get a keg to go along with the more than 15 pounds of candy we’ve amassed for the event. Treats for everyone!

Another reason I’m excited about Halloween is because it coincides with my dear friend’s zombie book launch. Middle-Grade Ninja is not only a true friend, but part of my critique group. We’ve aptly named ourselves the YA Cannibals; we’re never afraid to eat our own, manuscripts that is. Our group is committed to honesty about our work both beautiful and ugly as manuscripts are wont to be. We don’t stop reworking our manuscripts until they are ready to be properly devoured by readers across the world. So to get to the point: after much cannibalization and rebirth, Rob Kent has published, “All Together Now: a Zombie Story.”

It is a truly fun and disgusting story with a bit of heart. The expected darkness of a zombie story prevails, and “All Together Now” exhibits the flavor of a young adult book–awkward and honest about the world. The zombie genre is perfect for exploring how becoming an adult often feels like giving away your brain and yourself is inevitable. It’s a perfect Halloween teen read.

Next, I’ll be reading a book called Ten. I haven’t read reviews. I’ve never read anything else by the author–Gretchen McNeil, and I don’t normally read horror. Ten appears to be the classic Oh-shit-there’s-a-killer-on-island-and-no-way-to-leave kind of books, except that it’s for teens. I’ll let you know what I think and if reading it during the Halloween season made it better than, say, reading it during summer.

Making a Revision Leap

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leapThank Rob for writing day! And the SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest conference I attended last month. The YA Cannibals had another very successful session of sitting around and actually working on our fiction this past weekend. So I finally used the notes I made from one of the sessions by Kendra Levin, editor for Viking Books.

One of Kendra’s many revision recommendations was to take a first draft of a story and do a brief summary of the plot–not just one, but at least 10. She gave us a simple template to work with. We were to fill in the blanks of the this sentence:

“After _____ (inciting incident), a _____ (protagonist description) must _____ (main action) or risk/while risking _____ (the stakes) [during _____ (setting, if unique)].”

So, I took my draft outline of my work-in-progress, IF I WERE ME, and tried to plug it in to this literary mad lib. It told me a lot about what was wrong with my draft. My first attempt was this:

“After laughing at her grandfather’s death, a confused teenage girl must grapple with if she’s losing her mind to a disease only clones can get while risking giving up her individuality and life instead of succumbing to the disease.”

So, several problems here. The main ones are:

1. My inciting incident isn’t that big of a deal and puts the focus on her grandfather instead of the main character.
2. All teenage girls are likely confused. This doesn’t really make us interested in my main character.
3. The main action is good, but the description is anorexic. We don’t see the real horror of the disease.
4. The stakes are like what? What is going on? What’s her individuality have to do with losing her mind. I’m trying to consolidate the stakes too much.5. Could the stakes be higher? I did say “give up her life,” but in what way?

So, I did my ten versions with this in mind. I kept refining. I let myself make a good sentence instead of trying to cram what I already drafted in my manuscript into the mini-mad lib. Here’s what I finally landed on:

“After showing symptoms of a deadly brain-destroying disease only clones succumb to, Tam must decide to ignore it and attempt to live her normal life trying to enjoy first love and her college hopes or risk being diagnosed so that she can make plans to end her life before becoming a weak, deranged and dying version of the helicopter mom she hates.”

Better right? There may be more work to do there, but at least now you can see more characterization and identify about five things that are going to go terribly wrong. You can see the struggle Tam is going to have in the book. What’s cool for me is that this informs my new draft in some pretty exciting ways. In the first draft of the manuscript, Tam thinks she’s going nuts and becomes horribly depressed and wants to kill herself. But the way I’ve framed the next draft because of the above mini-mad lib, Tam is more empowered to grapple with decisions instead of simply self-destructing. She has clearer high-stakes choices. SPOILER ALERT: She’s going to make some bad ones. Obviously. (I’m rude.) And also, the inciting incident is going to be bigger and much more impactful to the main character and therefore the book.

So now I have to go write it. I’ll check back in with a progress report in a few weeks! Cheers.

Don’t Rent from Bryant Company, Indianapolis

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ImageDear Bryant Buschmann,

Your company sucks.

The customer service and support we’ve have received from Bryant Company is the most egregious I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been a renter for over 15 years in four states and have rented 6 properties from 6 different rental agencies and I’ve never been treated this poorly by a company or home owner. I will never use or recommend your services to a friend or family member and have in fact warned and will continue to warn people away from getting involved with Bryant Company and any your rental properties.

The most recent insult came when you emailed a letter on March 19th asking if we intended to renew our lease. I responded within the time frame you requested in written form, as you requested, and asked if we could rent month to month. This request went unanswered. Today there is a lock box on our door and sign in our yard. This lack of communication is just one in a long list of unanswered communications we initiated. We haven’t had outdoor lighting since August of 2012, for example. We’ve sent numerous emails, which eventually resulted in a lackluster apologies and no resolutions. I hope the next tenants don’t care about having no outdoor lighting because surely this will never be fixed, along with plenty of other maintenance issues we’ve long lived with. And I hope they never feel free to ask to rent month to month or for anything because those requests, too, will go unanswered and unsolved.

Because the sign in the yard and lock box on the door have forced me to assume we cannot rent month to month, I will leave behind along with the keys to the home, the worst impression possible of Bryant Company. You should be ashamed of how you treat your tenants. Indianapolis renters should be ashamed of you.

Jody Sparks Mugele

Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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ImageI have this prejudice against “dying child” books. Basically, I feel like it’s cheating. Dying children is a sad topic; and as an author, you don’t have to work very hard to make me cry. If I’m going to cry, I want to be moved by a depth of character or deeply complicated plot that leaves me wishing I’d written the thing. I’ll still read a “dying child” book, but it’s going to have to work extra hard to make me love it.

That being said, Jesse Andrews didn’t try through typical means to give his main character, Greg, a meaningful connection to the dying girl. The connection between them wasn’t the point. The way he went about trying to be friends with her (his mom forces him to) put Greg in an increasingly brighter spotlight at school. This is Greg’s greatest fear. This unique way of pushing Greg to be something different and better by book’s end kept me engaged. And I left behind my prejudice for the “dying child” plot device.

The plot was piled over by a long and windy trail of descriptions of people, back-story, and self-deprecation by Greg as he tells his tale. And while the voice was admirable and probably very true to teenage boy, I found it at times distracting. He often referenced how bad a writer he is. Occasionally, I grew antsy and impatient with Greg telling me I probably wanted to punch myself in the face. Overall, the voice was funny and the whole reason I read it was because my 15-year old cracked up the whole way through this book and begged me to read it next. I’m glad I did. I was a great book.

One last thing: I especially like that the characters were carefully unique–misfits without knowing they were misfits, or at least no one was shouting or overtly angsty about not fitting in. Their qualities and traits felt real. Both my teenager and I love a book that makes an outsider so quietly accessible.

The Little Perfections

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bedJosh and I often marvel at the wonder of how good our bed feels. It’s not a special bed. We don’t have fancy sheets or expensive pillows. But climbing in after Josh’s busy shifts is one of his favorite things in life. For me, it’s watching him wind down and become downright giddy about the escape he’s about to make from the toughness of the day (or night). Hard work and exhaustion look good on a man. And I think we are both in one of our most content moments when we are together on the brink of sleep.

It also makes me feel like the wealthiest of people. So much comfort and happiness must only be for gods and kings. And in this modern world where I’m well-fed and educated and own property and pets and have the love of my children, I’m aware of the golden age I’m in.

You know what else makes me feel like that? Reading! I’ve missed it so much. This weekend I’ve read two books, critiqued a short story, and begun critiquing a novel for a critique-mate. It’s the most sustained reading I’ve done since surgery, and I’m not without the weirdest little zips and zaps of nerve pain in my head. (Not my face, though. It remains pain-free!) But, the point is, I feel back to my reading self. I can hole away for three days and quench my thirst for reading. I’m trying to pinpoint the satisfaction of it. What is it that is so sweet? I think it has something to do with how I daydream. I don’t know about you, but when I daydream, it tends to be a mishmash of images and memories–frustrations and delights strung together in the most random of ways. But fiction focuses my imagination, and my daydreams and imaginings as I go along become a full organized worlds of wonder, beauty, heartache, and hope. And when I’m done with a book, I feel that same feeling as getting into my bed. I am part of something little and perfect in a world that is better than it has ever been before.

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