relationships

NEW YA Book Review: We Are Still Tornadoes #amreading

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Newly out this month from St. Martin’s Griffin is a YA contemporary penned by co-authors Michael Kun and Susan Mullen called We Are Still Tornadoes–a quick, feel-good read.

Set in the 1980s, We Are Still Tornadoes takes us into the relationship between lifelong friends Cath and Scott through letters they write to one another after Cath moves away to college.

As someone who also grew up with a dear friend of the opposite sex (coincidentally, also named Scott), I appreciate how authentically Kun and Mullen capture the open, honest, sometimes goofy, sometimes flirtatious friendship between a girl and a boy.

Cath, Scott and their shared history are totally believable. Scott is very funny. Cath is more cerebral but can hold her own in the humor department. Both are genuinely good people navigating the turbulent seas of post-high school life. They make mistakes, deal with social faux pas, encounter tragedies, and through it all we root for them.

We Are Still Tornadoes’ only weakness is its ending, which would have benefited greatly from more of a build-up and a denouement. No joke, when I arrived at the last page of the story, I kept tapping my e-book screen thinking there had to be more–but nope. Despite the rushed ending, We Are Still Tornadoes is definitely worth the read and deserves a hearty four out of five stars.

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–Eve Messenger

What Makes a Character Noble?

Noble Characters in YA Fiction

Few things are as gratifying as reading about a truly noble character. So who are some of the most noble characters in modern YA fiction? Before we take a look at the list, let’s define “noble.”

A noble character is someone who:

  1. Sacrifices desires and emotional or physical safety for the greater good.
  2. Doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than who she is. (Probably my favorite quality of a noble character.)
  3. Doesn’t (necessarily) seek recognition for doing the right thing, in fact, prefers anonymity.
  4. May, in fact, lead a generally ignoble life, but when the time comes to stand up for what’s right, she does.
  5. Has a strong moral compass and sticks to it, even when ridiculed, pressured to conform, or ostracized.
  6. Can take the easy way out but doesn’t.
  7. Never abandons her friends.

Top 9 Noble Characters in YA

Inej Ghafa, the Wraith – Six of Crows
An expert assassin, Inej can kill a person in seconds with her bare hands, but she never veers from her personal code of ethics. She would die before letting down her friends.
23437156Todd Hewitt – The Knife of Never Letting Go 
Sure, Todd could have kept running when all hell broke loose in Prentisstown, but he had to stop and help Viola because that is how a noble character rolls.
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Celia Bowen – The Night Circus 
Celia Bowen could well be the most powerful magician in the world, but because of her strong moral compass she treats people with dignity and does what she thinks is right.
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Brimstone- Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Without giving away spoilers, let’s just say Brimstone meets the qualifications of being a noble character. Fellow readers of Daughter of Smoke & Bone, would you agree?
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Queenie – Code Name Verity
I finished reading Code Name Verity several days ago and am still in a daze over what a noble character Queenie is.

Thea – The Diviners
Thea is one of those enticing characters who never pretends to be anyone other than who she is. She follows her passions and is kind toward those who deserve it.

Kell – Shades of Magic series Kell could practically run the world with all the powers he has as a Traveler and, though he is treated as a second-rate son by the Maresh family, he remains loyal to crown, especially to his brother, Prince Rhy.
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Katniss Everdeen – Hunger Games
It would have been so easy for Katniss to leave District 12 behind and live the good life at the Capitol but, no, she has to fight for what is right.
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Day – Legend  Day’s defining characteristic is his unwavering loyalty toward family, close friends, and his oppressed community.
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What do you think? Are there other characters who deserve to be on this list?

–Eve Messenger

 

 

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2016 WEEK 1

Little Kimono & Dad

Little me with the best dad ever. 

As a child, who was your favorite relative?

My favorite relative was my dad. When he got home after a long day of work, he made time to talk to me, play board games and word games with me, start tickle fights, and make me feel unconditionally loved.

If you could be a tree or plant, what would you be?

I’d be a big tree with wide branches overlooking the forest and seeing up into the sky. Woodland creatures would make their homes in me and be my friends.

What would be your preference, awake before dawn or awake before noon?

My preference would be to awake before dawn, though I rarely do this anymore. I love the quiet of early morning, running and cycling, getting lots of writing in before the day begins.

Would you like to sleep in a human size nest in a tree or be snuggled in a burrowed spot underground?

If it’s big, really comfortable, and not too high off the ground, I’d go for the human size nest in a tree.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful that I “woke up” and starting reaching out to friends and family. I realized I was sort of cocooning, but I’m reconnecting now and it feels good. Next week I’m looking forward to the relief of being done with a couple of major events that have been zapping my time and emotional energy.

–Eve Messenger

And the Muslim Woman Sang

My mother was born in Fukuoka, Japan. She fell in love with an American soldier (my dad) and moved with him to a small northern Virginia town. Though she arrived there well after World War II, my mother came to know all too well the sideways glances and outright scorn of white people who viewed her as the enemy.

Here’s another true story. My best class in high school was Freshman English with Mrs. Kiyoko Bernard. Woven among our exploration of great literature were stories Mrs. Bernard shared with us about her life. Like the story about how she and her young Japanese-American husband were forced by the U.S. government into an internment camp during World War II. This remarkable woman who touched our lives with her humanity and her encouragement suffered the degradation of having to bear her first child in an internment camp.

In the heart of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles is the Japanese American National Museum. JANM is beautiful, always clean, with many windows allowing in natural light, knowledgeable docents, and engaging Japanese cultural exhibits and activities. As a Japanese language teacher, I have taken my students on field trips there many times. But the museum’s purpose extends beyond expanding awareness of Japanese-American culture. Founded by survivors of Japanese internment camps who pooled government restitution money to build the museum, JANM exists as a reminder that, even in the land of the free, especially during the toxic climate of war, fear can drive the masses to ignore, subscribe to–even call for–foul human actions.

In 1942, by executive order of the president of the United States, everyone of Japanese descent, including natural-born U.S. citizens like Mrs. Bernard, were forced out of their homes, businesses, and schools. The lash of wartime anti-Japanese rhetoric fell swiftly. Here’s the story my dear friend and second mother Pauline once told. Pauline grew up in Bellflower, California, when it was still a small farming town. One morning in 1942, when Pauline was twelve, she arrived at school to find many of the classroom seats empty. To her horror, she realized that all of her Japanese friends were gone. Pauline’s parents and other good-hearted neighbors attempted to keep the land for the Japanese farmer friends. Others took advantage and bought the well-worked Japanese farms on the cheap.

Meanwhile, Japanese-American soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were fighting and dying in Europe for the very country that was forcibly interring their family members.  38 years later, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter called for an investigation into the government’s internment action. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians determined that interring Japanese-Americans had been a clear violation of their human rights and was stoked by “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Here is another true story. It is not set in the 1940s or the 1960s or even the 1980s. It happened very recently in the large metropolitan area in which I live.

My old friend Luke, whom I’ve known since high school, has a lovely wife Cathy who’s always been kind and generous toward my family, especially my children. Cathy is very involved in her church. During winter break, she invited my daughter and me over to decorate Christmas cookies. Some of Cathy’s church friends were there. The political discussion became uncomfortable.

One of Cathy’s church friends shared this story:

Across the street from her a Muslim family had moved in, and the church friend felt very unsettled about this. One day the Muslim mother, a woman in her thirties, even crossed the street with her six-year-old daughter and rang the church friend’s doorbell. The church lady was terrified. She peered through the peephole and panicked. What should she do? Her husband was at work, leaving just her and her own young daughter at home, and a woman in a hijab was standing there on her doorstep with a little Muslim girl beside her.  So here’s what the frightened church lady did. Through her closed door, she insisted she would only open the door if the Muslim woman proved her patriotism by singing the national anthem.

And the Muslim woman sang.

 

 

–Eve Messenger

 

 

 

 

Writing and Balancing Social Media #amwriting

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graphic courtesy of Ryan Lanz @ A Writer’s Path

As writers, most of us have four jobs: our day job, family life, writing, and social media. For obvious reasons, we have to spend time at our day jobs. We also have to spend time with our families because, well, relationships make life worth living. As for writing, that’s non-negotiable. Except it is. Even when our life’s ambition is to publish novels, we don’t always make enough time to write, and sometimes (often) the culprit is our fourth job, social media.

If you’re like me, you worry that you might be spending too much time on social media. Try not to beat yourself up about this too much. Marketing experts and industry specialists universally agree (I know, that surprised me, too) that, if you’re serious about building a writing career, social media is necessary. Authors must be visible to the public, accessible, and connected to what is happening in the publishing world.

Yay, so we don’t have to worry that we’re spending too much time on social media!

Well, maybe.

How Do You Know You’re Spending Too Much Time on Social Media?

Most of us have an innate sense for when we’re spending an unhealthy amount of time online. And our manuscripts definitely know because they’re not growing as fast as we’d like them to.

According to literary agent and writer’s-best-friend, Jane Friedman, “If it’s starting to drag on your resources and time to do other things more important to you (such as writing), then it’s time to re-assess.”

Why is social media so tempting?

“When we go on these sites, our underlying drive is to satisfy that innate need to connect to others. It comforts us and fulfills us to know that we are not alone.” Well put, Melissa Joy Kong.

Speaking mostly for myself, I’ll hazard a guess that writers are particularly susceptible to social media’s siren call. Since we writers are not the world’s most extroverted creatures (hence, we immerse ourselves in imaginary worlds), the “comfort” of social media is logically a huge temptation.

Now for the Big Question . . . How to Balance Writing and Social Media?

#1 Set Goals and Prioritize

Just like setting goals for your writing, also set goals for the time you spend on social media. Joshua Graham recommends that you “Make to-do lists every day and put tasks in priority order.”

#2 Quality over Quantity

Don’t try to do it all; stick to social media platforms you enjoy and do them well. If blogging every day doesn’t negatively impact your writing time, then go for it. However, Chuck Sambuchino suggests, “It’s very possible to have a platform with the ‘less is more’ philosophy, as long as you focus on the absolute quality of your efforts.”

#3 “Batch” Your Time

There’s this term efficiency experts use called “batching” time. This means setting aside blocks of time for, in our case, writing. During that time block, all you should do is write. Then you can set aside other blocks of time for blogging and each social media platform. You’ll get far more accomplished if you’re not constantly switching between blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and, of course, all-important writing.

If resisting social media during your writing block is too difficult, consider downloading the Anti-Social app ($15), which you can program to block overly tempting websites during time periods that you set.

#4 Frontload Blog and Social Media Posts

During your “blog time block,” frontload blog posts. For example, set aside each Sunday afternoon to write all your blog posts for the week. You can also write and schedule social media posts in advance using programs like Hootsuite.

#5 Set a Daily Limit on Your Social Media Time

What is a reasonable amount of time to spend on social media? “It varies from person to person” is an answer I hate, so I won’t say that. Instead, I’ll give you Jody Hedlund’s wise answer, which is: “The time we give to our writing should be greater than the time we spend on marketing.” This makes sense, right, writers?

Here’s my favorite answer. (Way to be bold with your very specific answer, Katie Wagner.) In her video blog, Wagner says you should engage in social media for “fifteen minutes, three times a day.” During each fifteen-minute social media block spend:

  • Five minutes posting;
  • Five minutes responding to posts from others;
  • Five minutes reading and commenting on other people’s blogs and social media accounts.

There you have it. If you follow all these suggestions, you will never again have to worry about spending too much time on social media.

Right?

Well, except that we’re writers and we’ll always find reasons to worry. Plus, we’ll probably still spend too much time on social media. But even if you incorporate one or two of these suggestions into your daily or weekly routine, you’ll be making more time to write, which will move you ever closer to your ultimate goal of publishing novels.

If you’ve found other ways of balancing writing and social media, please share!

— Eve Messenger

Like Knows Like

I spent Thanksgiving at a recovery house visiting my beautiful, 16-year-old relative, Maria*, who’s working through severe depression and anxiety. After several weeks of very hard work on her part and intensive therapy at this great facility, Maria is blossoming into the person we once knew and so much more. She and I hugged and talked as several other girls and their families milled about. In the far corner, on the floor, sat a girl reading a book.

Like knows like.

“Who’s that?” I asked Maria.

“Trish*,” Maria said, introducing us. “She just got here.” Of course, I asked Trish about the novel she was reading, and then we spoke of other books and trilogies. I was mightily impressed when Trish revealed she’d read the entire Harry Potter series in under two weeks. Before entering this recovery house, Trish hadn’t left her home in over three years. Being around people gives her dizzy spells.

The next day, I returned to the recovery house to visit Maria again, but she hadn’t yet returned from an outing with the other girls. So I waited in the kitchen and chatted with the counselors. At one point, a counselor turned toward the living room and called out, “Hey, Trish, you okay in there?” The back of the couch was to us, so I’d had no idea Trish was there. I was happy when I heard her name, so I peeked over the couch, said, “Hello, Trish,” then returned to the kitchen.

The counselors and I had just resumed our conversation when Trish popped up onto her feet and said, “Dizziness gone!” She joined us at the table, and we picked up where we’d left off the day before, discussing more books–her favorite is high fantasy. I asked if she’d been to the Renaissance Faire and she said, “Many times. I’ve worked them!”

And we were happy. We were friends. We were family.

All because of a book.

— Eve Messenger

*Names and details have been changed to protect the awesome.

YA Reader, I Could Really Use Your Suggestions

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I’m planning a YA book that I’m REALLY looking forward to writing, but I’m having a hard time classifying the genre. It’s about a modern girl fantasizing her way through major life changes and social awkwardness. There’s an integral paranormal aspect, but it’s subtle – no werewolves, witches, vampires — and a sprinkling of chapters set in an earlier period of history.  There’s a little romance, but I’d say it’s more about family and relationships.

What would you call that genre?

Josie’s Book Corner, I’m looking at you.