Some sunset shots taken near the island in Positively Beautiful. Enjoy!
My eight-year-old swore this was a turtle chasing a leaping dolphin.
I love the internet. I love reading a snippet of a story on Facebook or Twitter, and becoming so intrigued that I drop down a rabbit hole of searches, chasing the elusive white rabbit into completely unexpected places. I often emerge feeling victorious from these treasure hunts, holding a bit of precious, obscure information. Often the hard-won knowledge is completely useless. Often I have spent far too long obtaining it, but there’s a feeling of smug satisfaction, as if I have accomplished something worthwhile just in the pursuit of it.
As I am on these fox-and-hound hunts, I am also answering email, Twittering, and responding to someone on Facebook. There is something that feels so very productive as I do these things. My mind feels like it is moving lightening quick as I jump from task to task, as if I am in a particularly challenging video game, or driving a race car on a crowded track. I go faster and faster until I am a blaze of energy as I juggle all these tasks at once. I am invincible.
The problem, of course, is that this mastery of multitasking is an illusion. We have become a nation of multitaskers, while studies show that the vast majority of us are very bad at it, no matter how good it feels. A recent study at Stanford shows that this type of juggling of electronic information is actually bad for us, that it can lower our IQ, as well as making it harder for us to organize our thoughts and sort out relevant information.
And sorting bad information from good has become a skill that has never been more important. Who ever thought, “I’m glad Google puts the most accurate and valuable information at the top of my searches”? Nobody, because what pops up first is the most popular, and despite what people may think, accuracy and popularity are not the same things. We are constantly bombarded with information, from the moment we wake up, until we fall asleep at night, our tablets clutched in our hands. But as we duck and weave through an ever-increasing artillery fire of the obscure and the irrelevant, we need to make sense of it more than ever, because humans are hard-wired to see cause and effect. Instead we are slowly drowning in information overload. Sure, we may know all about how twenty thousand birds disappeared overnight from a generations-long nesting ground, but how does this information help us make sense of the world?
Because this is why humans have been telling stories, from the time we were able to draw paintings on the walls of caves. Stories put order in a chaotic world. They put things in their proper perspective. When we are in a story, our brain lights up. The sections of our brain dedicated to touch and movement positively glow as we experience a story, as if we are actually living it. Studies show that humans derive more information from fiction than non-fiction, because in a real way our brain experiences a story as if we are experiencing it ourselves.
Stories help us cultivate “theory of mind,” which is our awareness of ourselves and others. This is an important skill that helps us in our navigation of complex human relationships, and enables us to function in society. It helps us connect with one another in a meaningful way, by understanding how others feel and respond. People who read stories are just plain more empathic than those who do not.
And reading stories is one of the most effective ways to overcome the stress of living in our increasingly bewildering world. A study from the University of Sussex shows that reading reduces stress by more than sixty-eight percent, more than enjoying a cup of coffee, or playing video games. Reading a thoroughly engrossing book eases the tension in the muscles and the heart.
Most of all, we need storytellers for the moral statements they make. Most of us simply don’t have the time to draw the big conclusions, to make sense of the chaos of knowledge that is thrown at us. We are on a breathtaking information roller coaster that is going too fast to do anything but hang on and scream. But while we may be enjoying the ride, we are losing the narration. We are missing out on seeing the complicated web of relationships that connect every event, every person, inside the bigger picture of our world.
The world still needs storytellers.
More than ever.
Urban Exploring is the exploration of abandoned manmade structures, or basically just going where you're not supposed to go. Erin and the "Excaps" go to three locations in Positively Beautiful: the John B. Gordon School, the Atlanta Prison Farm, and the Braircliff (or Candler) Mansion. I've put together a few of the websites that I used to research the book. Enjoy!
Some are oldies, most are new, but these are five books that I read and loved in May.
Embers in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Laia is a slave.
Elias is a soldier.
Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
The intrigue and excitement in this story are heart-pounding, and the characters are beautifully drawn, multi-dimensional, and wholly unforgettable. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series!
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
It’s hard to imagine falling in love with an assassin as a main character, but Caleana is utterly appealing. The world-building in this story is phenomenal, and the love triangle is delicious.
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Dimple Lala doesn't know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she's spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a "suitable boy." Of course it doesn't go well -- until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your heart, finding your culture, and finding your place in America.
This was a lucky find. It was one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve read in ages. Dimple Lala is eminently likable, and the story is full of sincere teenage angst as Dimple struggles to find love, and her place in the world.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.
I always love Sarah Desson’s books, but this is definitely one of my favorites. I basically want to move in with the Chathams, and adopt Sydney as my little sister.
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero.
But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado - taking you with it - you have no choice but to go along, you know?
Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road - but even that's crumbling.
What happened? Dorothy.
They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.
My name is Amy Gumm - and I'm the other girl from Kansas.
I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.
I've been trained to fight.
And I have a mission.
I’ll admit, I never expected to like this book. I decided to read it because I’d heard so much about it, and in the end I was completely blown away. I’m in awe of an author who can take the cheesy (come on, admit it!) world of Oz and make it come alive in such a unique, terrifying way.
What books have you read and enjoyed in May?
I promised a picture of a baby manatee in a previous blog post, and I finally got around to finding it. These were taken a year or so again near the real-life SW Florida island I used as a model for the island in Positively Beautiful.
This mama and her baby (we named him Junior) came up to the back of our boat while we were out fishing. They hung out for a while just looking up at us. I think they were hoping we'd give them some water--they love fresh water!--but we resisted. One of the biggest causes of death for these causes is boat-on-manatee collisions, so we didn't want to encourage them.
Hope you enjoyed!
You know how sometimes when you finish a book, you feel kind of numb in an ecstatic, wow, that was good way? You close the cover, and for a delicious few minutes you’re still in the story. You don’t want to cook dinner, you don’t want to start another book, you don’t want to do anything but stay in that world for just a little while longer. At odd times over the next days, weeks, months you find yourself thinking about the characters, the story, that great line that was so beautifully worded, and oh, so meaningful. If you’re lucky there will be a sequel, but oh my God, why do we have to wait so long? If you’re like me, you read a TON of books, and after a while most of them fade into a blur of colorful covers and vague pleasant memories. But then there are those books that stand out, bright and shining in your mind.
These young adult books (in no particular order) are the ones that have stuck with me long after I finished them.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Artistically gifted twins, Jude and Noah, tell their compelling family story in rich alternating voices.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. Haley’s former soldier father, who self-medicates with drugs and alcohol, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. How can she possibly help him?
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King. Lucky faces a bully, meets a girl, and tries to bring his POW/MIA grandfather home from meetings that take place in his dreams as he struggles to find himself
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . .
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Karu questions how she came to be raised by the chimaera Brimstone. When she meets the seraph Akiva, events unfold that could answer her questions—but at great cost.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Hannah Baker recorded audiotapes before committing suicide, reveals an anecdote about another classmate whose actions the girl blames for her death.
We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. Four high school seniors put their hopes, hearts, and humanity on the line as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in this contemporary novel
Code Name Verity By Elizabeth Wein. Set in the landscape of World War II Britain and featuring women pilots and spies, the intricate plot involves espionage, Nazis, the Resistance, and occupied France
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Left for dead in a notorious prison work camp, Celaena is given a second chance at freedom by the Crown Prince himself. However, this freedom must be won in a cut-throat tournament of assassins, and some of her competitors are not playing by the rules.
Looking for Alaska by John Green. Tired of his boring existence, 16-year-old Miles “Pudge” Halter heads off to seek his Great Perhaps at an Alabama boarding school, where new-found freedom, guilty pleasures and an enigmatic girl named Alaska hurl him into life.
What are some of the young adult books that have “stuck" with you?
We all know that adults are devouring young adult books like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet. A whopping percentage of adults—55% in a 2012 study*—are buying and reading books aimed at a teen audience. What used to be a guilty pleasure, hiding the book jacket so no one could see, has become a badge of honor. “Why yes, I’ve read Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight. I’m hip, I’m happening, and what have you read lately?”
Don’t get me wrong. As a YA author, this trend is makes me jump for joy when no one is looking. Because a bigger audience translates into more sales, and more sales keeps me published. This is good.
By the same token, however, it makes me wonder: who should I be writing for? The more than half of the people who actually buy my books, or the teens who I am writing the book for? You would think that if you are reading YA, that you would expect to read a book about teens, and teenage issues, from a teen POV. But no, I’m not sure that’s the case. I wonder if adults prefer a teenage protagonist who is more mature, and more capable of making adult decisions than your average teenage bear.
There are an increasing number of YA titles being propelled to lofty heights on bestseller lists because of their crossover audience. What makes them especially appealing to adults (including me)? I love John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but I personally have never encountered any teens that talk and think the way Hazel and Gus do. Yes, their illness has given them a perspective far beyond their tender years, but the result is the same: teenage characters who sound like adults. And while I also enjoyed Hunger Games and Divergent, I think both Katniss and Tris act far more mature than most kids their age.
One of the most baffling critiques of my YA book, Positively Beautiful, (and I’m paraphrasing here) goes, “This book would work for teens, but it just wasn’t for me.” Well, okay, then. Because, honestly? I wrote the book for teens, not for middle-aged adults who want little adults disguised as teenagers running around making perfect decisions and saving the world during their lunch block. I want to write about the messy, mixed-up, treacherous world of a teenage kid, and still trying to figure out how to be you, how to live your life the best the way you know how, but still making mistakes, and learning from them, and then making more mistakes. Because that’s how I remember my teenage years. They were confusing, and delicious with firsts and possibilities, but ultimately they were full of mistakes. A lot of them. But then I grew up to be a half-way decent adult because, while adults want to tell teens every chance they get that you’re doing it wrong, a teen is not going to believe it until things goes gloriously, spectacularly wrong for themselves.
This is not to say that I don’t appreciate and cherish my adult readers. I am happy that you have chosen to read my book. It gives me little goose bumps of pleasure when you tell me that my book made you cry, and laugh, and think. Because ultimately, I am a storyteller, and I don’t care how old you are, I want my book to touch you, to leave you changed in some way when you finish. It doesn't matter to me if you're sixteen or sixty, as long as you appreciate the emotions and struggles of my characters. A good story is a good story, no matter what age the main characters happen to be.
One of my favorite authors when I was teen, and to this day, is Madeleine L'Engle, who said: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” This makes me smile. It gives me courage to write the books that may be hard for grown-ups to read, because, “Gasp! How could she be so immature/reckless/so, so…teenage?” That’s the book I want to write.
So, I will continue to write books about teens for teens. Not because I can’t write adult books (I can, and I have), but because this is the medium that I have chosen that best expresses the stories that I want to tell. And I will continue to write book about teens who are sometimes immature, make mistakes, question their place in the world, and wonder about the future, in the most teenage way that I know how.
Because I am a young adult author. And I write books for teens.
It was supposed to be 20 bookstores in 2 days, but after arriving at the Sawgrass Mills mall at eight o'clock at night and not being able to find the Books-a-Million after a hour and a half, we called uncle. It made me feel slightly better that it's the seventh largest mall in the US. Slightly. I think I've mentioned that I'm kind of obsessive.
It was a whirlwind trip. And I mean whirlwind, as the AC quit working halfway through the first day, and I arrived at each store sweaty, sunburnt, and looking as if I had just stepped out of a wind tunnel. The car wouldn't start in an eighth floor parking garage after visiting literally the coolest bookstore I've ever been to. Seriously, Books and Books in Coral Gables is absolutely awesome. The store wraps around an open-air porch and you can eat outside or inside. With the books. Need I say more?
The car started, and except for one random moment of terror when a scary-looking dude started screaming obscenities at my mom through the open window of our car (no AC, remember??), the rest of the book tour smoothly.
I know, I know, another picture of my book on the shelves. But it still gives me chills to see it, even though it was in almost every bookstore I visited. This sighting was at a B&N at Pembroke Pines.
This was view as we drove over the causeway toward Miami Beach toward another Books & Books. Gorgeous water!
Becky at Barnes & Noble in Plantation made my day. Not only did she tell me she had just sold my book to another customer, but she wanted me to sign one to her. Thanks Becky!
Koi at open air mall in Bal Harbour, home of yes, yet another Books & Books.
This Book-a-Million in Vero Beach was my second to the last stop of the trip, and is home of Lynn, the nicest store manager of the trip. Not only did she have me sign a book to her, she is a sincere, nice lady.
The independent stores were just breathtaking. If I lived on the east coast of Florida I would be permanently camped out at any of the Books & Books, The Bookstore in the Grove in Miami or the Book Center of Vero Beach, which had a fabulous children's section.
All in all, a successful trip, and I am diving back into my edits for the next book, due out Spring 2016.