First of all, thank you to everyone who left a comment with an embarrassing boy-related story as part of The Boy Project giveaway – they all made me cringe vicariously. And the winner is . . . Janelle! Congratulations! I hope you enjoy Kami’s book as much as I did!
For the resurrection of my Read-n-Feed posts, I’m actually cheating just a bit. I am kicking it off with an author from YALLFest, but since Kami’s a friend, I actually read The Boy Project when it came out early this year. But I think spreading the word about a friend’s awesome book is the best way to restart Read-n-Feed.
Last year I decided I needed to add reading back into my life, not only because I love to read, but also because it’s an important way to grow as a writer. And since I wanted to be serious about it and keep myself accountable, I resolved to share the lessons I learned about writing while reading in blog posts called Read-n-Feed. Since there has only been one Read-n-Feed post in the ensuing fifteen months, you can see that plan worked out splendidly.
** mild spoilers ahead **
Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new girl at school. Soon the two become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, appears. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe – but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.
Soon she'll discover the shocking, fantastical truth about Ryland and Mallory, and about an age-old debt they expect Phoebe to pay. Will she be strong enough to resist? Will she be special enough to save herself?
Writing for young adults is tricky: we are supposed to have our characters grow and change so they can reach their goals, but at the same time we have avoid any whiff of teaching the reader a lesson, since teens have super sensitive BS meters. In Extraordinary, Nancy sidesteps this issue by actually focusing on the lesson, but in a way that integrates so well into the plot it doesn’t feel preachy.
The ‘moral of the story’ is that Phoebe must discover she is extraordinary just by being who she is. That’s important for all teens to realize (adults too!), but it can seem like something cheesy your grandma tells you while pinching your cheeks. Instead of trying to disguise this wisdom under layers of story, Nancy makes it the actual plot – I mean, even the title itself basically lays it out there for you. But because Nancy creates a flawed character we can sympathize with, even while yelling at her in frustration, Phoebe’s journey feels natural rather than forced to teach us a lesson.
There is a scene were Phoebe explains to Ryland that because parents lavish their babies with love just because they are cute and little, even though all babies are cute and little, this convinces them of their own specialness, so even when life tries to teach them that they aren’t extraordinary, they can never completely believe it. She says, “It’s probably why the human race survives.” This really hit home with me: even many years removed from my teen insecurities, I can feel plain and ordinary. And attempting to get published really intensifies those feelings – there are so many talented writers out there that I constantly question whether my writing is special enough to stand out. But reading that scene made me realize that even if the world never thinks I’m special for my writing, my family and friends love reading my stories, and that’s something to be proud of and cherish.
So in my first session of learning something about writing from the books I read, the writing itself ends up not be the biggest lesson for me. In admiring how daringly Nancy weaves the moral into her plot, I actually take the lesson to heart and believe that my writing can be extraordinary.
If you’ve read Extraordinary, what did you think? Have you read any books recently that gave you a boost you didn’t even know you needed?
I’ve always loved to read. My nose was constantly stuck in a book, even when I was supposed to be doing other things (usually sleeping). But when I started getting serious about writing, I pretty much stopped reading. It’s not something I consciously decided, it just gradually happened. I think part of it was that my mind was always in edit mode, which sucked the fun out of reading; so I gradually turned to other ways to enjoy stories (my beloved boob tube), where I could give that part of my brain a break.
The irony is I should now be reading more than ever. That’s the one standard piece of advice most authors give to newbies: read a lot both within and outside of your genre.
So I’m resolving here and now to do better – I’m going to Read-n-Feed. I’ll read more books to feed the monster in me always hungry for stories. And I’ll think about what I’ve read to nourish the writing beast in me always hungry for more knowledge. And to keep myself accountable, I’m going to report back here on the blog. I’ll share what I’ve learned from reading a particular book that I can apply to my own writing. It might be a new technique or a superb example that serves as a reminder of a tried-and-true rule or maybe even a ‘what not to do’ lesson. Hopefully these “key takeaways” (forgive me, I spent ten years in corporate software development!) will strengthen my writing and be helpful to any other writers who stop by.
So how do other writers out there Read-n-Feed? Do you analyze as you go? Or are you able to turn off the writer side of your brain and just enjoy the ride? If so, do you later think about what did and didn’t work?
Babblings of a Boob Tube Junkie
I’m a writer and filmmaker exploring the magic of stories. I’ve always loved to read and watch television and movies, and now I'm creating my own stories via YA novels, short stories, screenplays, and even short films. I’m also an animal lover with a menagerie of pets; and, yes, I’m one of those people who puts party hats on their dogs and makes them “cakes” for their birthdays.
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My Short Films
If a cat predicted your death, how would it change your life?
A greedy party girl is so determined to get what she wants that she employs the dangerous magic of a Gullah root doctor.
Blogging from A to Z Challenge