Monday, December 30, 2013

Speed Reviews!

Lately I've had the chance to read a number of great books, but no time to do proper reviews. So, I thought I'd offer a quick rundown "speed dating style". Who has time to read a whole review anyway?

Eleanor and Park
This little treasure quietly brings to life the 1980s, first love, teen angst and the reality of teens living powerless inside a dysfunctional family unit. It's beautifully written but the melancholy makes your insides ache all the way through beyond the last sentence.

Reconstructing Amelia
So hard to read. So, so, so hard to read. As a mother, that is. Heartbreaking. Full of twists and turns and with a plot line that makes you want to jump in and twist the could have been choices around so that everything can be okay. Everything is not okay, but this book is still very much worth the read.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
I wanted to love it. There were moments when it came so very close. Sweet, a little too convenient at times and just short of mark, but still a cute little story that makes you believe in love. A read for an airplane or a beach.

Fried Green Tomatoes
I loved the movie so I figured it was time to read the book. There were some major differences from the movie but I still loved it. The mystery and intrigue were fine, but the real news here is the characters and the way they capture your heart and mind.

That's all folks! Hope your holiday reading is going well. And, Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Sex Word

Tonight at a church fundraiser the subject of teens and sex came up over dinner.

First you have to know, I'm a Unitarian Universalist. UUs (as we sometimes call ourselves)  are part of a community with shared principles about democracy, respect and the inter-connected web of life where people who hold many different faiths (Christians, Buddists, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, etc.) come together.

One of the things our church is kind of famous for is our Our Whole Lives program, which is a comprehensive sexual and relationship education course that our congregation created with the United Church of Christ. We offer a "how babies are made and taking care of my body" version for first graders, a "puberty" version for upper elementary and a year-long version that is quite comprehensive for eighth graders and later high schoolers. Classes are even offered for adults focused on relationships and sexuality as we age.

With all this focus on education, it was an interesting conversation to say the least. One person at my table was concerned with the idea that some parents let their kids start birth control "just in case". She felt this would practically guarantee that they would start having sex. "It's like writing them a blank check," she said.

But I couldn't help but offer up my point of view. That we are all born sexual beings and that only consistent, strong and positive healthy dialogue where teens feel safe will make any difference. The authentic teen experience often includes sex. But nobody wants to talk to teens about birth control, the importance of being in an emotionally safe relationship before jumping in, ensuring the selection of a safe physical location or even, sometimes, how to decide what kinds of birth control to use and figure out how to make them work.

Since there was no internet, or at least none I could access, when I was a teen I turned to Judy Blume for guidance. I combed the book Forever for advice and information. I suspect today's teens are turning to YA literature to help them figure all of this out, too.

At conferences I've been to over the last few years I've heard many different attitudes among editors and agents about the topic of sex in YA literature. But John Green knows it is part of the genuine teen experience and includes it in Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in Our Stars. It's not what his stories are about, he's not trying to preach to anyone or teach any lessons. He just recognizes it's a universal truth in a universal experience and I assume he knows he can't be real in any sense that teens connect with if he skates over it, excludes it or pretends it's not really happening.

I wonder what would happen if all grown-ups started thinking this way. Would millions of teens find themselves in situations where they could actually finding living people willing to help them understand this important topic? I wonder how many teens would find this a welcome and refreshing turn of events...


Friday, November 1, 2013

The Music, The People, The Scene: My First Indy Concert

Despite my age, which I'm not about to share, before yesterday I had never actually been to an indy concert. In fact, I'd only been to four concerts in my life-- Damn Yankees, Whitney Houston, Steve Matthews and Fleetwood Mac. My new book, however, features a teen band playing their first two gigs. I needed an education and my 13-year-old daughter was just the person to make it happen.

Her friend's mom scored tickets for three-mother-daughter couples to see the indy band Echo Smith. The girls discovered the band when they gave a free song away on i-tunes. I have admit I'd gotten so used to hearing Cool Kids around the house and in the car I didn't realize the band wasn't world famous.



My daughter was over the moon. The girls donned shirts made by a talented member of the group designed to match the band's album cover. They matched their jeans and converse shoes. We Mom's threatened to wear everything from matching "Me and my daughter are BFF" shirts featuring their pictures to leopard print with matching sparkle boas. But we're not that mean. We piled into the mini-van and headed to the concert.

The Scene: A and R Bar is a small club and music venue on Neil Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. Dark with a concrete floor and long bar leading to a few lone tables the place screams for dancing, energy and music that bounces off the walls and into your soul.

The People: When we arrived the band, which was the opening act, hadn't started yet. The girls made a bee-line for the t-shirt/poster sales table only to find it was manned by the actual band members. The band, who turn out to be a very sweet family of siblings from the ages of 14 to 20, took pictures of the girls' shirts and even signed them. They also signed posters that the girls bought and gave them free Echo Smith bags with the t-shirts we bought. They gave the girls tons of hugs and let them tell them they adored them countless times. Sidney, the lead singer, showed patience, kindness and maturity and seemed to really love the girls. This made their year. Maybe even their lives to date.

The Music: The band piled up on stage and sang their hearts out to crowd of maybe 50 people. The kids piled in to see them were captivated, swaying, putting their hands up and jumping to the music. Except my daughter who video taped the entire concert on her i-phone, mesmerized by the presence of her idols. Their sound is upbeat and fun, with different types of percussion in each song inspiring you to move and keep up with the beat.

What I loved about this experience was the intimacy of it. Next week we're headed to see Macklemore at the arena and I suspect we'll have a very different experience. At the Echo Smith concert we shared something special with the band and each other. The music, the people, the scene, they all came together into a magical spell that won't soon be broken.

I can't wait to weave this all into my story!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

I Can't Plege Allegiant (Spoiler Alert)

I finished Allegiant, the third and final book in the Divergent series and I really wish I hadn't. The author, Veronica Roth, is dealing with quite the backlash from fans online. She has every right to write whatever kind of book she wants to write and she should be safe and no one should threaten her as a result. So please take note, I didn't enjoy the book, I have nothing personal against the author.

There are three main issues with this book, the first of which is a MAJOR SPOILER, so please don't read further unless you are okay with MAJOR SPOILERS.


______________________________________________

Tris, the main character, the person you are reading the books to become, the heroine the books makes you fall in love with . . . dies. She dies.

Which leads to the second problem. She dies for a stupid reason. Now I know that Ms. Roth is a known Christian and there is a buzz out there that she sacrifices herself to save the world and her brother and all that in a very Jesus-like way. Or even in a Harry Potter-like way (except JK Rowling understood the rules of her genre and made sure Harry actually survived, which was kind of key.)

The thing is all of this is off base. Tris dies to advance a plan that seems pretty far-fetched to me, lazy almost in terms of plot and certainly a plan that could have been reached other ways if the author wasn't in such a hurry to kill off her main character.

And even if we pretend for a minute that the sacrifice was necessary to meet the goal, it wasn't saving the entire world. It was like altering a slice of the world. Kind of.

Which leads to the third problem. The plot makes no sense and the pacing is terrible. The introduction of layers of explanation for the outside world, the new lies on top of old twists and the supposed orientation of the entire universe just ends up feeling corny and wrong. For most of the book they sit around and snarl about this, go off on silly chases and then for nonsensical reasons two important people die. Then it wraps up with a bunch of whining from Tobias.

No. This is not how I wanted this series to end. In fact, I'm going to go to sleep right now and dream a different ending. Anything I come up with will be better than this. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Six Months Later Will Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat!


Six Months Later reaches out and grabs you from the first page. Chloe helps her best friend Maggie by pulling the fire alarm during a class to protect her friend from being made fun of for her stuttering. You're immediately connected with just how important this friendship is to who Chole is and who she wants to be. She doesn't care what other people think and she's not the best all around student, even though she knows she has to get her grades back in line if she wants to achieve her dream of being a psychologist.

When Chloe falls asleep in study hall and wakes up six months later she learns she's got a new boyfriend (the guy she always crushed on) and a strange new connection with the school bad boy. As a reader you'd expect her to be over the moon happy, but her life isn't quite perfect. Her boyfriend isn't quite right and her best friend is no longer speaking to her. Then there's the mystery of what happened to her friend Julien, who disappeared in the middle of all that lost time.

As Chloe grapples for answers, readers will be on the edge of their seats, never expecting the twists and turns of this love story thriller.

Don't miss the chance to go on this satisfying ride.

Find out more at http://www.nataliedrichards.com.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Launch Party!

If you live in Columbus, Ohio or nearby don't miss a chance to meet an amazing debut author, Natalie Richards. Her debut Six Months Later comes out from Sourcebooks on Oct. 3. She's having a launch party with great give-aways and lots of fun at Easton Barnes and Nobel at 7 p.m.

Natalie is a two time Golden Heart finalist and member of my writer's group Central Ohio Fiction Writers. I am literally on pins and needles waiting for her book to come out.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My first published short story is coming July 15!

I used to think online dating sounded like so much fun. Until I tried it. While there were certainly lots of funny moments and I found the love of my life in the process I had to eat meals with a lot of frogs. And not all frogs chew with their mouth closed. 

 Which brings me to Summer's Double Edge, an anthology of short stories about love that doesn't quite work out. 

My story You Ain't No 5'10, an online dating disaster story, appears in the anthology. I've just learned the release date is July 15. I'll post the link as soon as it's available!

Meanwhile here is the cover as a teaser:



Saturday, June 22, 2013

Life on Youtube

Today's teens pretty much live on Youtube. And if we're being honest, most adults are living a good potion of our lives out there too. 

According to Jeff Bullas, 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute, or one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second.That's a whole lot of snippets of people on the toilet making weird noises, animated puppets singing and tone deaf eleven year-olds belting out One Direction ballads. But it's also a whole lot hysterical snippets on channels that are making every day people into Internet sensations. 

In honor of life on Youtube I'm embedding my top three favorite Youtube videos for your viewing enjoyment. 

1. Kids Snippets. These videos are hilarious. This one in particular can take a bad day and make it awesome sauce. And yes I stole awesome sauce from a John Green book. See video number two for more information on John Green. 

2. John Green. In addition to being one of my all-time favorite authors, John Green has so much energy he practically makes the screen explode. Here he is recommending books, which I love because it mixes two of my favorite things: John Green and books! Plus Divergent is my vacation read this week.

3. Social Media Revolution. Erik Qualman is a marketing genius. I saw him speak live this year and I was literally blown away. This video sends chills down my spine. Nothing sums up the power of social media like this.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

Twitter is a world of wonder if you have a couple of decades free and a whole lot of time to figure it out. Then again, if you've only got twelve seconds you can likely find a little something to tide you over.

I entered into the world of twitter with one goal: maximize followers. Why? First, I've always dreamed of having followers. I don't really have the time to start a cult so Twitter seemed like the best alternative. Also, I wanted to start building my "author platform." I wasn't 100% sure of what that meant, but I knew it meant getting out there while I was still working on the whole getting published thing. On top of that all the cool kids seemed to be tweeting up a storm. This guy I worked with said to me. "Jim Bob is such a big deal He has like 700 followers on Twitter." Well, I wanted to be a big deal, too!

I headed out into the wilderness without a guide book and started following all the interesting people. A lot of them followed me back. I said some interesting things and a bunch of mundane boring things no one cared about. But I kept it short and snappy. I tweeted several times each day. I even got all mixed up with Klout and tried to keep my social media score up. I have no idea why. I learned to retweet and to use hashtags and @ tags. (hashtags # are for denoting a subject people might be searching for like #Twitter and @ signs are for people you want to pull in to your conversation like @TaylorSwift)

After a while I was following almost 2,000 people and a little over 1,000 were following me. I'd achieved my goal of more than 700 followers! I must be a big deal, right? Why not just keep getting bigger and bigger? I could follow 10,000 people and some of them would follow me and I would be famous. I would be worldwide.

 That's when Twitter put the squeeze on all my big plans. It turns out once you get to 2,000 people you are following you have to keep a certain proportion between the number of people you're following and the number who are following you. Suddenly, I couldn't amass any followers just by following them. I actually had to say something so worthwhile that people would follow me without a follow back.

That's when it occurred to me that I had fallen for the world's biggest time waster. What in the world was the point of amassing followers simply for the pleasure of having them? It was time to check my ridiculous ego and remember that Twitter is just a tool. When used right it will connect you to information, to opinions, to insights, to front-line reports from a far away war, to people who know how to do that very thing you're struggling with, to a community that understands you like nobody in your regular life could because they don't do that one specific thing you do, to laughter and most of all to a little slice of the universe you'd never otherwise be able to find.

But when done wrong it was nothing more than the social media version of a vanity press. 

I put myself in check. I threw those priorities back into line. I'm still tweeting a few times per week and the followers seem to continue to trickle in. I've used the list function to set-up special lists of people who I want to keep up with on Twitter. My writer friends are my favorite tweeters.

These days I use Twitter to connect, to learn and to grow or I don't use it at all. #revelation

You can join my legions of followers, most of whom have probably forgotten they follow me at @storiestobe.

Happy Tweeting!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Instagram Syndrome

Below is the second in a series of posts examining various social media sites and what function they play for teens, parents and the world at large.


Instagram is the new Facebook. Not for you, necessarily, but for a a legion of teens on the run from their parent's constant supervision. My hypothesis is that the more parents hopped on Facebook the more teens took off for the hills. And the hills are called Instagram.

Instagram is basically a photo-sharing site, where selfies (self portraits), friend pics, funny pictures and memes rule the day. (In case you aren't up on the lingo a meme is any video or picture that gets transmitted around the web). Applications exist to create photo montages for Instagram or to create your own meme. For example, bright text boxes that say things like: That Awkward Moment When You Realize You Don't Know What a Meme Is or Repost if You Feel Tired Today.

A few key Instagram features include:

  • A short Twitter-like bio and profile pic
  • Higher levels of perceived anonymity than some other sides, many people use twitter-like "handles" instead of their full names like Supergirl21 or Teddybear119.
  • Photosharing is an important part of the site. Every "status" has to be a photo. You can choose to add a caption or not. 
  • Your connections are called followers. This can lead to more connections that originate online versus in the physical world. 
  •  Use of # to create a link to a topic other users might search for or @ to highlight your post for another user. So I might list: #Instagram for this article and I might @mymom to alert her to my brillance.
  • Users can post comments in a thread under a photogrpah to build a connected conversation, much like this blog.
I've watched entire relationships bud, grow, flourish and self destruct over Instagram, highlighting how publicly the new generation is willing to live their lives. What I haven't seen are very many older adults (read: parents) on the scene.

I think a fair number of retailers and corporations that cater to teens have seen the shift. I was recently in Urban Outfitters and saw a promotion focused entirely on Instagram. I predict this site will continue to take the younger generation away from Facebook until the older generations start jumping on board. After that? Who knows? The way the web moves it could be anywhere...

You can find me on Instagram at @jennagrinstead

Friday, April 5, 2013

Private Thoughts in a Public World

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of privacy. Research says that today's generation of teens and kids have no expectation of it. Every profession of love, every moment of angst streams live to their social media sites every instant.

Yet, I also notice that no one wants Mom and Dad trolling through their texts. The more adults pile on to Facebook the more the intelligent beings in search of some privacy side step over into other options like Instagram. It's got to be tiring staying one step ahead of adults on the hunt for a shred of information about what's going on in their kids' lives.

From Snapchat to Kik there's no end to the new options for connecting with friends in more private venues. Every option has its own little risk. (Example: Snapchat is so not a condom for sexting as promised. Believe me those pics will get out. Best to snap your fingers and skip it.) Not to mention the plethora of options for public social media connection. I've decided to dedicate this blog to a different social media option every couple of weeks.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.