Friday, March 29, 2013

Cupid's Arrow! Star Wars

This week's Cupid's Arrow is brought to you by Kristen Lippert-Martin, as requested by Jay Spencer.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Our Sweet Six: An Interview with Alex London, Author of PROXY

Have you guys heard about Alex London and PROXY, yet? If not, all I can say is thank me later because you are going to want a piece of this action. This book is a nonstop thrill ride of awesome that managed to make me feel all the feels along the way. Tired of melodramatic romances overshadowing the larger plot? PROXY is more bromance than romance, and the friendship that develops between the two main characters is one of my favorite parts of the book. Here's the blurb that sucked me in:

Knox was born into one of the City’s wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.

Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.

Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid

The Valentine's Sweet Six

 1. You're a writing pro, with several adult and middle-grade books out on the shelves, but PROXY, which releases on June 18th, is your first YA novel. Tell us about it.

I once wrote the sentence: Proxy is a semi-messianic, queer-affirming sci-fi thriller which critiques the corrupt meritocracy forged by neo-liberal capitalism and the dehumanizing nature of financialized debt...for teens. 

I vowed never to share this sentence in public. Oops.

Proxy is a futuristic thriller about two guys from opposite ends of society who are never supposed to know each other. There is Knox, a patron—privileged, entitled, kind of obnoxious, dashingly handsome, and there is Syd--an orphan, a loner, closed off, and desperately trying to get out of debt. It’s the debt he’s in that makes him Knox’s proxy. When Knox gets in trouble, Syd is punished. When Knox’s hijinks go too far, Syd has had enough and the two of them end up caught up in events much larger themselves. They're going to need each other to survive.

That’s the plot anyway.

To me, the heart of the story is these guys figuring out how to connect--with themselves, with each other, with the world around them in a larger way than mere self-interest. It’s sort of the fundamental journey we all have to go through in growing up. 

Usually, though, there aren’t clone armies after us. Syd and Knox have to deal with that too.

The book came from two places, really—Sid Fleischman’s chapter book, The Whipping Boy (which is an obvious inspiration; I even seeded references to it throughout the book. I wonder if anyone will get them all?) and from some stuff I was dealing with, guilt trying to process my own privileged upbringing and trying to figure out why all the stories I read with main characters who were gay were about being gay in some way, were "issue" novels. In this story, Syd happens to be gay, but that’s not really germane to the plot. I don’t believe that any one facet of a person’s identity should limit the kinds of stories they get to see themselves in, so I wanted to write an action-packed adventure tale about big ideas—debt, friendship, society—that didn’t shrink itself into a “gay” novel.

So there’s a lot going on, but I mean it to be a page-turner…I repeat: clone armies.

2. What scene in your book do you love the most?

How can I choose just one?? Did you see how long my last answer was?? Did you see all the big words I used in that first sentence??

I love the first chapter because I wrote it a very very long time ago, before I knew much about the book and the form it exists in now is almost identical to how it came out in the first draft. That is rare for me. Usually everything gets rewritten.

There is a camping scene in the desert in the middle of the book where the three central characters (spoiler alert: there’s a girl) get to (briefly) be normal teens again, silly, flawed, sarcastic, hormonal. I love that scene.

And lastly, the last scene of the book, which I rewrote and reconceived a million times (well, seven times, counting when I hid out in Penguin's offices and tweaked it in pencil one last time on the final page proofs). I ended up surprising myself with what happened. I don’t want to ruin it, but I did not expect it to go the way it did (although looking back it seems inevitable…like I was setting it up from page one…I just didn’t know that). It makes me cry and it makes me smile. I'm very proud of that scene. 

3. Name a YA character, not your own, that you love, who and why?

Obviously, I’m not going to pick just one! I could name a dozen! A hundred! Choosing a favorite book character is like choosing a favorite person…there are many I love, but some I keep closer to the bed. So: Titus from Feed by MT Anderson and Lyra from His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. 

Titus is just such a perfect depiction of an average teen in an all too plausible futuristic world (and he is, to a small degree, a literary antecedent to Knox in Proxy). I love his flaws, his na├»ve lack of enthusiasm for the wonders around him and his obliviousness to the horrors. In that way, too, he is like me, growing up in Baltimore as the murder rate was spiking in the 90's and AIDS was decimating the gay and the African-American communities…I knew none of that. I was just hanging with my friends in prep school, looking for a good time, thinking how lame everything was. But in Feed, Titus grows; Titus questions; Titus evolves. We should all hope that for our characters. We should all hope that for ourselves. 

And Lyra. Amazing Lyra in the His Dark Materials trilogy. She’s tough, she’s bold, she’s inconsistent, she’s a liar and a dreamer and a hero and a fully realized human in a fully realized fantasy world. She may be one of the best ever created. She's accessible enough for the reader to pour himself into (for the same reason Harry Potter or Bella in Twilight are kind of bland…we need to project ourselves into them) but unlike Harry or Bella, Lyra is also a fully unique individual and far from bland. She's quirky and universal; a character we can aspire to be and also far from a role model. I mean…how did Pullman pull that off? The man is a genius.

4. What's the craziest, most memorable valentine you've ever received?

I have received precious few valentines. Actually there aren't any that I can recall! I guess I don't really do valentines day. I was closeted for most of high school, so romance wasn’t really in the cards and later, it just seemed like a corporate holiday for straight couples to overpay for dinner. After nearly 10 years with my partner, I like to think every day is romantic and special and we don’t need one prescribed day to celebrate our relationship. 

Also, I always forget about it until the morning of. But my rationalizations sounded convincing, right?

5. If you were a Brach's heart, what phrase would be written on you?

You R Not Alone

6. Flowers, candy, or... *Paula flails to come up with a more Y-chromosome friendly choice* human flesh? (What? According to his blog he wrote a MG book about cannibals!)

I did write a middle grade novel called We Dine With Cannibals, but in the story the Cannibals are (spoiler alert) a red herring. My way of playing with colonial stereotypes and assumptions about ‘the other’ through silly middle grade adventure stories. So probably a no-go on the human flesh. Not because of the taboo. I’m an adventurous eater, but because I couldn’t bear to think my dinner was somebody's son or daughter. It doesn't seem right. Then again, the same could be said about cows or pigs or chickens, all of which I  eat...hmmm....I'm a hypocrite.

Better go with candy. Flowers die, but cavities are forever.

So my dentist keeps telling me! Alex, you rock for being my first Valentines victim, er, interviewee, and I cannot wait to watch the public clamor for PROXY just like I did :)

Alex London writes books for adults, children and teens. At one time a journalist who traveled the world reporting from conflict zones and refugee camps, he now is a full time novelist living in Brooklyn.

Check out Alex's blog, twitter, and FB.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cupid's Arrow: BEES!

Katherine has shot an arrow, and I have responded...with the Tale of My Love for Bees.
(also I apologize in advance for my terrible handwriting.)
(and also a little helper pops up halfway through.)

The Tale of My Love for Bees
By Bethany Hagen

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Our Sweet Six: An Interview with E.M. Kokie, Author of PERSONAL EFFECTS

For today's Sweet Six interview, I'm talking with E.M. Kokie, whose beautiful, compelling debut PERSONAL EFFECTS is currently on shelves. The book was selected for YALSA’s 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults list and was recently named a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards. In other words, it's kind of a big deal. For those not in the know:

From Goodreads...

Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life — failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. But as Matt searches for answers about T.J.’s death, he faces a shocking revelation about T.J.’s life that suggests he may not have known T.J. as well as he thought. What he learns challenges him to stand up to his father, honor his brother’s memory, and take charge of his own life. With compassion, humor, and a compelling narrative voice, E. M. Kokie explores grief, social mores, and self-discovery in a provocative first novel.

Yes, this book is as good as it sounds. I loved it, and for those wanting to read guy-POV young adult, PERSONAL EFFECTS delivers. Now, on with the show!

The Valentine's Sweet Six

1) Your book has been out in the wild for 6 months now. Congratulations! What's been your favorite part of the debut author journey!
Hearing from readers. Hands down, the most amazing part has been hearing from people, especially teens, who are reading and discussing Personal Effects.

2) What scene in your book do you LOVE the most? 

Oh, wow, I think of the book as a whole, not the sum of its parts. So, I don't think I can pick a "favorite." And then there are spoiler issues -- some of the bits of which I'm most proud would give away key plot points. But, okay, from early in the book, I am really proud of the scene between Matt and his father in the kitchen discussing the fight. That scene has been there from the first draft, but with each revision I think it gained focus and tension. It has all these sharp-edged sentences and heavy silences that I love.

3) If you had to pick a literary character you LOVE (and not your own), who would you pick and why?

 I love so many characters, especially when they are supporting characters who encompass a lot of complexity. Like Severus Snape -- he is so wonderfully complex and layered. A great character.

4) What's the craziest/most memorable valentine you've ever received?

Nothing too crazy, and the ones that are memorable are too personal to share. ;)

5)  If you were a Brach's heart, what phrase would be written on you?

Be True

6) The all-important choice: Flowers or Candy? 

Candy (good answer!)

 Thank you so much for stopping by the blog and talking with us. You can follow E.M. on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cupid's Arrow: Potato Love!

This one goes out to Emily! Thank you for being one of the first to shoot a Cupid's Arrow!

Without further ado:

Ode to the Potato

                                                  (this pic is kind of gross... my apologies)

From the kingdom of Plantae
comes a crop I know of
Sit back and relax while I
profess my love.

Shapes and colors
and sizes galore
No possible choice which
snack I most adore 

French fries and hash browns
are even good rotten
dumplings and pancakes,
potatoes au gratin

Mashed, scalloped, roasted
or cubes in a stew
baked or twice-cooked
or Chuno from Peru

Butter and sour cream
cheese curds and gravy
all these fun toppings
to make bellies grow wavy

Carbs and calcium
Vitamin E
Potassium, zinc
and vitamin C

They've been known to
grow abnormally large
Eighteen pounds even,
holy s***, carbs!

A bold statement, maybe...
I don't want to grapple
but I think potatoes
could be the new apple

We must give this starch
the credit deserved
(I mean, potatoes can even
be long-term preserved!)

Did you know the Columbia
shuttle gave them a place
to be the first ever crop
grown out in space?!

Potato blossoms were even
the fashion to get
by royals like
Louis XVI and Marie Antionette

Eco friendly and cheap
versatile without measure
The beloved potato
should be our national treasure.

A. Lynden Rolland

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Rave: The Great Gatsby

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him”

They don't make 'em like this anymore.


I figured we'd break up the interviews, and I'd do a bit of gushing about a particular book over which I've been swooning for half my life. I realize it isn't YA, but I couldn't resist. In lieu of the new cinematic spin on the classic, I choose to give Gatsby some love.

I'm skeptically anticipating the impending release. It could be epic with Baz Luhrmann at the helm, and it is certainly casted well.

Judging by the trailer, the essential elements are there, right down to the looming eyes of T.J. Eckleburg. Hopefully, the loss of value and hollowness they symbolize will not apply to the quality of this rendition.

On to the book.

The setting still gets me: New York in the roaring twenties, the Jazz Age, the flappers, the prohibition, the speakeasies, the American Dream. The era itself is fascinating, but as a sixteen-year-old, it took much more than that to snatch my attention.

I was an adamant reader in elementary school, but due to the lack of incentive and the turbulence that is middle school, my hobbies had evolved into hair flipping and eye rolling. The Great Gatsby changed my life because it prompted my love affair with the written word and my hopeless crush on imagery.

                “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Fitzgerald's words were powerful enough to slap the petty foolishness out of me, to prompt me to dig deeper. Until then, I'd never read to find symbolism, hidden treasure within the lines. And I didn't realize how much I loved words. The power of them. I didn't know what to do with the emotions the book invoked within me. A man who would dedicate his entire life to the dream of a girl he couldn't have. A girl who was better as a dream than as a real person. Isn't that the problem with ambition? That you'll crawl, claw, and brawl your way to a goal, only to discover it wasn't at all what you expected.

                "There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything."

And what is left of you then, when you realize your mental creation is better than reality? Do you become a ghost of a person who decides to simply cling to the memories because they were the catalyst?

                "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

To go back to the past- what Gatsby meant to me as a teenager was romance, that someone would dedicate themselves in such a way, that someone could be captivating enough to cause such devotion. I can appreciate Fitzgerald so much more now at this point in my life, now that I'm beginning to understand nostalgia, the harshness of the world and the fallacies of "opportunity". I can truly appreciate the meaning of Fitzgerald's Valley of Ashes. The effect this novel has on me grows with the number of candles on my birthday cake. I've read few books with such influence.

Fitz's meaning is heart wrenching and powerful but sugarcoated with gorgeous candy strings of words. Dreams are dreams. Universal. Some people cheat or sacrifice morals to achieve them. Some work hard, but diligence doesn't necessarily equal success. There are more Wilsons than Tom Buchanans.

And endings are not always happy.



It's safe to say that The Great Gatsby is one of the loves of my life. I still have my battered copy from the eleventh grade, complete with my side notes...most of which are teacher prompted highlights and my own juvenile observations. Confession: It was the first (and last) thing I ever stole. Not sure how I got away with that one. I also kept the copy I used as a teacher when I was a student intern. (I actually paid for that one, however.) I was given the opportunity to gush about Gatsby for weeks to my honors tenth graders. And I own a third copy, clear of marks, free of my past reflections so as not to influence my current. I believe that I will obsess about Gatsby until the day I take my copy (copies) to the grave with me.

Love comes in many forms.


Friday, March 8, 2013

CUPID'S ARROW: A tiny piece of heaven wrapped in a little paper cup.


 By Bethany Crandell at the request of Julie Cizenski

In nineteen-hundred and twenty-eight, 
two unfamiliar souls shared their very first date. 

The chocolate bar so rich and so sweet, 
on its own a decadent, PMS-numbing treat, 
was lonely and bored, in search of a companion, 
a partner for life whom it would never abandon. 

And then there was peanut butter, 
(PB to its friends) 
whose deliciousness knew no boundaries--no ends. 
Salty and sweet, creamy and thick, 
to the roof of your mouth forever will stick. 

Their meeting was angst-filled, as first dates often are. 
Nervous giggles, bashful glances, awkward silence in the car. 

But before long their nervousness disappeared like a ghost, 
and the two shades of brown partook in a toast. 
Over cocktails and dancing, they laughed and they mingled, 
flirting and flitting, while their innards did tingle. 

An unlikely duo? Possibly so. 
But wait! You've no idea where this story will go. 

From the club to the backseat of a Model T Ford, 
they unscrewed and unwrapped, and cried out, "Good Lord!"
The trumpets did blare, the angels did sing, 
and out from the car emerged the most heavenly thing. 

Nestled inside thin, waxy brown paper, 
with scalloped edges and in the shape of a wafer. 
It smelled of divinity and all things that are right, 
and made even the bleakest of futures look bright. 

The perfect combination of salty and sweet, 
even Jesus himself wept for this divine fete. 
Born of two opposites clearly made for each other, 
the little chocolate cup filled with peanut butter.

(Yummy photo courtesy my Flickr pal, Bob Fornal)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Valentine News and a COVER RAVE!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Tuesday SWEET SIX/Book Rave to bring you three very special Valentine News Bulletins!

Bulletin #1

Our own Paula Stokes announced her second contemporary YA novel with HarperTeen, LIARS, INC. Release date pending, but stay tuned to learn more about this nitty gritty contemporary gem!

Bulletin #2

The Top Secret Valentine has been REVEALED! Give a big Valentines' welcome to Sara B. Larson, whose YA fantasy DEFY comes out Spring 2014 from Scholastic! Head on over to our Books! page to check it out, and be sure to add it (as well as all the other *totally unbiased* fantastic Valentines books) on Goodreads!

Bulletin #3

Are you ready for this?

No, seriously. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?

We have THE FIRST official cover for a Valentines book! Some of you may have already seen its loveliness posted on the Books! page, but it is just so darn pretty, we decided it deserved its own announcement too. So I present for your proper oooing and ahhhing pleasure, the stunningly raw cover to A. Lynden Rolland's OF BREAKABLE THINGS!

Alex Ash always stands out in a crowd. Blame it on her quick tongue or her attraction to trouble, but Alex is willing to bet most people know her name because of her illness. Living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is like living on death row, yet even as a prisoner in her own body, Alex is willing to fight for her diseased life as long it includes her best friend Chase and his rambunctious brothers. But when Chase’s entire family is tragically killed, suddenly her disease is a blessing in disguise. When death finally comes knocking, she is packed and ready to go- only to discover her life has just begun.

Eidolon is a secluded reservation which has existed for centuries as a safeguard and governing capital city for those spirits who are strong enough to linger once the body is gone. In a peculiar world where rooms can absorb emotions and secrets are buried six feet under, Alex finds herself to be the talk of the afterlife due to her infamous prophet of a mother who disappeared years ago. Suddenly standing out isn’t so great especially since the spirits who hunted her mother seem to have their sights set on Alex. Yet even amongst envious peers, daunting magic, and soulless banshees, the most difficult aspect of Alex’s afterlife is juggling between Chase and his reckless brother, neither of whom are willing to give up the girl they both love.

So much for resting in peace.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cupid's Arrow: Cookie Rap with Jaye Robin Brown and a Winner of our Huge 14 Book Giveaway!

According to Integer Generator, you #10 are the winner of our inaugural month giveaway. So let's give a big round of applause to:

Sallie Mazzur
We'll be getting in touch with you very soon!

And don't forget to keep shooting those arrows because EVERY MONTH, that's right folks, every month, we will be giving away something awesome. But you have to shoot us an arrow to be included in the drawing!

And now for my humiliation.
Be kind, people. Did you know writers are introverts at heart?