Read & Write




Good Books

Books I loved when I was a young adult, which may or may not be young adult novels.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Have some tissues handy, because you'll be laughing so hard your eyes will melt.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Have some tissues ready, for the regular reason.

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
This book kept me drugless, and it was written back before drugs got scary.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
About carnal lust, insane obsession, grave digging, and ghosts. A contender for greatest novel in the English language, as far as I'm concerned.

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevski
Simply put, this is a novel about murder. Less simply put, this is an argument for the necessity of morality. It's not an easy read, but you can handle it. It's worth it, I promise.

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
Classic tale of misfits in a careless America.

The Secret Garden, and The Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Both great 19th century books, written before there was such a thing as a young adult novel.

The Dark is Rising Series, by Susan Cooper
The original Harry Potter. Scary, fun, comfy, cozy, and beautifully written.

The Tripods Series, by John Christopher
These books scared the heck out of me. If you're into science fiction that will creep you out, look for these.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
This book needs no explanation. It's genius.

The Time Trilogy, by Madeleine L'Engle
These books offer highly imaginative stories and a very comfy depiction of family life. They're thrilling and calming at the same time, somehow. Madeleine, you're the best!

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Just a lot of great, fun storytelling.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
This book changed the way I think about books. I read much more deeply now, and you will too.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein
These books are about how a tiny, insignificant seeming person can change the course of history. Based on one million true stories.

Books I love now

Octavian Nothing, by M.T. Anderson
At first I thought I was reading science fiction. When I figured out what I was really reading, I almost fainted. It's that good.

Weetsie Bat, by Francesa Lia Block
Poetry on every page.

The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall
Funny, lighthearted, but also very real, this is a modern classic.

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly
Written in a completely authentic voice, this book will make you very happy you get to go to school. I'm serious.

Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Sad, funny, beautifully written, this is a great book about friendship and heartbreak.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, Boy Toy, and Hero Type, by Barry Lyga
What can I say about Barry Lyga? He's a great writer. Every book is wonderful.

Falling Through Darkness, Stealing Henry, and Drawing the Ocean, by Carolyn MacCullough
These books show how love and loss are best rendered in beautiful language.

Fix, by Leslie Margolis
About accepting who you are, no matter what, this is a great book about finding your way through modern life.

How I live Now, by Meg Rosoff
This book has everything. Telepathy, apocalypse, eating disorders, and family fun. All around wonderful. This book influenced my voice for VIBES.

Star Girl, by Jerry Spinelli
A fairy tale about first love. Everyone should read this so they can learn how to be a person.

Refugees, by Catherine Stine
This poetic book shows that love can be found by anyone, anywhere. And it's worth traveling around the world to get it.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Read this book if you want to learn how to swear in German. More importantly, read this book if you want to learn how to write like a master.

Great classics, for the dauntless reader

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray
This book is hilariously funny, and is a study of why it's good to be good. Or is it?

Middlemarch, George Eliot
A masterful panorama of a 19th century English Village. It's such a big, important, brilliant book, I can only say it is a book about life.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
This is about first impressions, and how misleading they can be. Funny, sad, and incredibly clever.

Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
This is a tragedy, about a talented young woman of means who tries to make her mark in the world the only way open to her: by marrying.

House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
This is a book about a talented young woman of no means who fails to marry in time, and what happens to her. This book will make any girl glad to be living in modern times.

Favorite Science Fiction Novels

Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
At first you'll think you're reading about aliens.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula LeGuin
A weirdly disorienting book about sexuality.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, Susanna Clark
Set in a parallel universe, in 19th century England, tells the story of two rival magicians, who do real, actual magic. The writing is extremely witty, and the story is lots of fun.

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Atwood took real life indignities that women in different cultures have to put up with every day, mixed them all up, and set them in a futuristic dystopia in America. Brilliant feminist novel.

Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
A future history about the dissolution of America, and the religious leader who rises out of the rubble. Fascinating.



If you tell people you want to be a writer, they usually say things like, "Get ready for a lot of rejection," and, "You'll never make any money doing that." I used to resent this, but now I'm kind of glad I met with all that discouragement because it only made me more determined. Writing is one of the most competitive, difficult professions a person can take on, and only the strong survive. You need talent, sure, but even more than talent, you need a dauntless will and a capacity for hard, hard work. Most of the time, people succeed at getting published, not necessarily because they're the most talented writers out there, but because they don't give up.

There are three things that serious writers do to separate themselves from the nameless rabble of wannabes:

Serious writers write every day. I take weekends off, but otherwise, I write five pages a day, rain or shine. Every day.

Serious writers revise their work endlessly. We don't just type out our ideas, run a spell check and send manuscripts out to our publishers. We revise and re-revise our work, combing through every word, making sure we've said everything in the best possible way.

Serious writers read a lot in the genre they want to write. Want to be a mystery writer? Read mysteries. Want to be a young adult writer? Read YA. It's good to read outside your genre, too, such as poetry and essays, because this is where you get a fresh idea that every other writer in your genre hasn't already had. But know the market you want to publish in. Know it well.

So let's assume that, even if you don't live by the three tenets above, you're prepared to do so because you want to become a serious writer. But it's not enough to be a serious writer. To get published, you have to be a professional writer, and that means that you have to develop a career. The younger you start, the better. Below is a list of all the things I wish I had done as a young person in order to develop a writing career sooner than I did:

  1. Join the yearbook committee or the school newspaper in your high school. This will give you great practice for writing professionally, and will help you figure out what kind of writer you want to be. Plus these extra-curricular activities will help you when you apply for college.
  2. Go to a college that has a good undergraduate writing program and major in writing. From an early age you will be rubbing elbows with published authors who can help you learn to be realistic about writing professionally, and can train you to be deft with the English language when your brain is young and soft.
  3. While in college, pursue publications in small, undergraduate journals, and enter undergraduate contests. Sure, you can submit your work to The New Yorker, but you're not going to get in. Sorry. They're too busy publishing writers who are better than you or me on their worst day and are already famous. You have a much better chance of being published in the literary magazine or newspaper put out by your university. Get a few publications under your belt in small, non-professional rags, and then you'll have something to put in your cover letter to larger magazines other than, "My mom really likes this story."
  4. Get an MFA in creative writing at the best school you can get into. If you have an undergraduate writing professor you trust, get all the advice you can from him or her, and if they will, have them read over your submission to MFA programs. A good mentor can really help you get a leg up on the competition. MFA programs are very hard to get into, even the programs that aren't so great. For that reason, if you get accepted into a creative writing program, it shows you have talent. That's because writing, from a distance, seems like one of those sexy, glamorous careers that everyone wants to have. MFA programs are the first weeding out process that squashes the dandelions and nurtures the daisies. Be a daisy.
  5. Be a great MFA student, and develop good relationships with your professors. Work hard in your MFA classes, read everything assigned, and always be ready with some smart comments for class discussion. Go to every reading, large and small, and attend readings in genres other than yours. If there is a panel with agents and editors, go to it. If there's an agent or editor there who you think you'd be a good match with, introduce yourself, especially if you've got a manuscript they might want to see. MFA programs want their alumni to get published, and they provide resources for you if only you're willing to utilize them.
  6. Once you've got your MFA and a few polished short stories, start submitting to real literary magazines. You might have to send out dozens and dozens of submissions before you get one published, but keep trying. Someone somewhere is going to like your writing, if you have talent. This, of course, only works if you want to write fiction for adults. If you want to write for young adults or kids, then you should probably not focus too much on this step, because, regrettably, there are very few real literary magazines that publish short stories for young readers.
  7. Once you're finished with school, find a lame job. Yes, I said a lame job, preferably one that offers retirement and health benefits. Don't find a job that expects fifty hours a week from you and saps your brainpower, because you won't be able to write on the side. You'll be too tired. Find a crappy job as a receptionist or working in a tollbooth somewhere, hopefully a job where you can steal moments to work on your own writing, and then really write. Every day. Because only publication will justify the fact that you aren't making any money at this crappy, lame job.
  8. Write a novel. A lot of people in MFA programs work exclusively on short stories, which is laudable. The short story is an extremely difficult genre that, personally, I've never been able to master. But the novel is what publishers are usually looking for. Unless you're big and famous, you probably won't be able to sell a collection of short stories to a publisher because, while there are exceptions, collections don't usually sell well in bookstores. Novels, on the other hand, tend to do comparatively well in sales. Therefore, you're much more likely to get published by a major publisher if you write novels. So write one.
  9. Once you have a novel manuscript that someone other than your best friend thinks is good, find an agent. Sure, you have to pay your agent fifteen percent of everything you earn, but if you have a good agent, you will get a lot more money for your work than if you try to represent yourself. Don't let me give you the impression that finding an agent is easy: it's not. You might have to submit to a dozen literary agents or more before you find one that wants to take you on. If you get rejected by a great many, it may be a sign you're sending your manuscript out too soon. So revise, and begin again. You can find agents in The Literary Marketplace, and The Writer's Market, among other publications. Even better, attend writing conferences and retreats, because agents go to these looking for fresh blood. Again, if you see an agent who you think you'd jive with, introduce yourself and pitch your novel. Once you have an agent, s/he will submit to publishers for you, and your manuscripts will be read much more quickly than if you submit yourself. Plus, you'll get much more money. That's just the way it works.
  10. Once you get published, hire a publicist. Why? Because you are one of literally thousands of first time writers out there, and you have almost no hope of capturing the attention of the reading public if you don't hire a publicist. You may have to spend your entire advance in order to get someone good, but it's worth it, because a publicist greatly increases your chances of standing out and staying on bookstore shelves. Here's an example to illustrate my point: My first novel was called Shadow Falls. Heard of it? Know why not? I didn't hire a publicist. My second novel is Vibes. You've heard of that one, haven't you? Guess why.