Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: SCENT OF DARKNESS by Margot Berwin

THE SCENT OF DARKNESS focuses on 18 year-old Evangeline, the product of a lonely upbringing who is used to being a background player. Summers spent visiting her beloved grandmother Louisa, an aromata, in a tiny upstate New York town have given Eva an open mind towards, if not quite an acceptance of, magic (be it tarot cards, perfumed elixirs or prophesies).

When Eva inherits her grandmother’s house and finally gives herself permission to explore the one room that has always been off-limits, she finds a tiny bottle of perfume attached to a warning note. With one drop of the contents, Eva transforms. The scent becomes a part of her and makes her instantly irresistible to all she encounters. 

Eva finally lands her crush, medical student Gabriel, but he’s not the only one she attracts. When the attention of others becomes too much, she accepts Gabriel’s offer to move to New Orleans with him, partly in the hopes that the dark city’s mysterious aromas will be strong enough to cloak her own. New Orleans has its own ideas and when she encounters off-kilter painter Michael, Eva has to decide whether to embrace or denounce her powers.  Meanwhile, she’s plagued by doubts about whether the two men she is torn between can even see the real her beneath the scent she exudes.

My favorite character in this novel was New Orleans; my second being the small town in upstate New York which holds the beginning of the story.  The settings Berwin has chosen for the story and the descriptions of both locations enveloped me in an atmosphere as distinctly as a scent would have. Earlier this year, I read April Henry’s GIRL, STOLEN and loved how Henry was able to offer a first-person narrative from the perspective of a blind girl.  Not being permitted any visual descriptions, I was fascinated at how Henry told a story using sounds, smells, and the sense of touch to paint a clear picture of the action.  I expected SCENT OF DARKNESS to use aroma in a similar manner, but Eva is not an aromatist like her grandmother, so she doesn’t “think in smells” the way the main character in Patrick Suskind’s PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERED does. However, Eva as a narrator, is constantly making small, quirky observations that paint a picture of the character she’s describing (even as they make her sound MUCH older than eighteen.) 

For example, she describes her mother:
“From a certain distance, she reminded me of a slot machine with wrinkles that went straight up and down her cheeks deep enough to slip quarters into… She lived her life as if she were on a moving sidewalk in an airport.”

In another scene she describes her young teenage neighbor as “thinly elegant as only very young teenagers can be… The length and wildness of his hair made him look motherless.”

And the city of New Orleans gets the most loving descriptions of all.  In fact, Berwin paints the weird and wonderful gothic side of the voodoo city in a similar tone to the way Savannah is portrayed in MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL and I thought it was the strongest aspect of the book. I felt like I was getting sucked under the slow, lazy spell of the city as I read.

However, as much life as Berwin breathed into the non-living characters, I felt oddly disconnected from the flesh and blood (and scent) characters.  I never sympathized with Eva the way I’d hoped, although I felt that some of the disconnect might have been intentional on the part of the author. As the story is the journey of Eva’s self-discovery, it would make sense that she would be an unreliable narrator.  But I also felt the same emotional distance from the two main love interests, medical student Gabriel and painter Michael.  They were a bit one-dimensional- one was all good, the other more clearly evil, but even beyond that, I didn’t feel the connection in either’s relationship with Eva. This made it difficult to root for Eva to choose one versus the other. I was also frustrated that there were instances people were completely drawn to touch (and even kiss) Eva outside of their own control, but other characters- from a waitress to a truck driver- seemed very matter-of-fact about, or oblivious to, her scent. It came across as a great plot device when convenient to the story, but also disappeared when needed. As much as the main characters didn't come to life for me, the side characters, from a teenage tarot reader to an aroma to a medicine woman, were so quirky that they were instantly engaging.

Overall, the writing itself is lovely and paints a moody, atmospheric tale that dragged me straight out chilly Boston and plopped me into the steamy gothic bayou. I just wish the characters had come to life for me as much as the setting did.

Have you read any books lately that have sucked you into a particular setting?

*Full disclosure: I was provided an advance copy of this book from Random House for review purposes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guestopia: Jacquelyn Mitchard

Click here for more information about our monthly Guestopia feature! Today, we're proud to host the first author from the brand new Soho Teen line we told you about earlier this month: Jacquelyn Mitchard.

Why Teenagers are Geniuses
By Jacquelyn Mitchard

Don’t tell them I said this. They’re already insufferable, with their fishnets and their silky hair – and that’s the guys, so don’t get me started on the girls!

For the best title of a book I ever wrote (THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN), for the best plot device (ALL WE KNOW OF HEAVEN), and, yes, for the absolutely everything of this suspenseful new novel, I owe it all to teenagers who live in or otherwise lurk around my house.

This is the scene:

ME: “I need to get another line of work. Maybe operating a Bobcat.”

TEEN GIRL: “Bad writing day?”

ME: “Bad writing LIFE.”

TEEN GUY: “I was outside the other night alone. You ever notice how, you’re out alone, and people do different things at night? Not just nurses and cops, them too, but not just them. People act different in the dark. People do things, in the dark, they wouldn’t do in the daytime? As if they can get away with it?”

ME: “As if darkness confers some kind of moral cloak of invisibility?”

TEEN GIRL: “I don’t think that’s what she was going for …”

TEEN GUY: “But okay, say there were these kids, and they only went out at night …”

ME: “VAMPIRES? I can’t do vampires! Ever heard of ‘Twilight?’ I’d be laughed out of town. Okay. Here’s an ad. Heavy equipment operators command top dollar. The demand is huge …”

TEEN GIRL: “Not vampires. They’re … they have that thing, that allergy to light….”
ME: “Xeroderma Pigmentosum?”

TEEN GIRL: “This guy and this girl, they’re smart and fierce and cool and they love sports, the more extreme the better…”

TEEN GUY: “Like Parkour! You jump twenty feet from one building to another, two stories off the ground …”

ME: “Hey! How do you know that?”

TEEN GIRL: “Uhhhhhh … from YouTube.”

TEEN GUY: “And then one night, they’re doing this X-treme thing, like bouldering up a building …”

ME: “Bouldering? You know this only from seeing it on YouTube?”

TEEN GIRL: “That’s what he said. I didn’t say that.”

ME: “You DID it?”

TEEN GIRL: “I didn’t say that either. Anyhow, they look in a window and they see something … they see, somebody. He’s … evil. He’s … like a monster. And they know him. No, they don’t know him. They maybe almost recognize him. But it’s all hidden. They can’t tell anybody …”

ME: “Why not? I’d be screaming from the roof tops!”

TEEN GIRL: “You’re the writer. Do I have to do everything for you?”

ME: “I’d appreciate it. I’d also give you forty dollars.”

TEEN GUY: “Fifty. So what if nobody believed her? About the things she saw at night? So whoever it was, whatever it was, could get away with it. Because they have no proof. Just the proof of their own eyes. Just, what they saw.”

ME: “What we saw at night.”

TEEN GIRL: “Creepalicious. I’ll split the fifty with you. Go to Target?”

TEEN GUY: “Movies first.”

TEEN GIRL: “We’re out of here, Mom.”

ME: “It was a dark and stormy night … well, it actually was a dark and stormy
night …”

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction, including the first book in the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, the critically acclaimed 'The Deep End of the Ocean.' The editor in chief of a new Young Adult publisher, Merit Press, she lives on Cape Cod with her family, but is not afraid of great white sharks.

Allie Kim suffers from Xeroderma Pigmentosum: a fatal allergy to sunlight that confines her and her two best friends, Rob and Juliet, to the night. When freewheeling Juliet takes up Parkour—the stunt-sport of scaling and leaping off tall buildings—Allie and Rob have no choice but to join her, if only to protect her. Though potentially deadly, Parkour after dark makes Allie feel truly alive, and for the first time equal to the “daytimers.”

On a random summer night, the trio catches a glimpse of what appears to be murder. Allie alone takes it upon herself to investigate, and the truth comes at an unthinkable price. Navigating the shadowy world of specialized XP care, extreme sports, and forbidden love, Allie ultimately uncovers a secret that upends everything she believes about the people she trusts the most.

Amazon * B&N 

For more, check out Sarah's interview with Jackie!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How Do You Know When to Quit?

It's the question that terrifies all writers: what if I'm just not good enough?

How do you know? How many rejections does it take before you have to admit, "maybe I am the problem"? 20? 100? 1000?

How long can you listen to your friends tell you how awesome you are and then turn around and hear "it's not right for me" over and over again?

How many friends can you watch announce their book deal, while you graciously congratulate and RT and then cry into your extra-large coffee cup?

I've been thinking a lot about this lately because I've taken a purposeful hiatus from my own writing. (I'm trying to transition into a career in the publishing industry, but I'm still having to work my other day job to make ends meet - so I literally work at minimum 90 hours a week. Every week.) Except for a few scenes here and there, I haven't been writing for a few months.

Today, as I was walking my dog after a ten-hour dayjob day, I wondered: How easy would it be to just throw in the towel? Just delete the manuscripts from my computer and never open Scrivener again? Never research another agent, never feel my heart stop when I hit "send." It would take no effort at all. I imagined all the free time I would have, how clean my house would be, maybe I could even exercise enough to fit in all my jeans again.

And then it hit me: this crushing, agonizing terror. A life without writing? I couldn't... I can't... I refuse to even imagine it. The need to run inside and write something seized me - just to prove to myself I still could.

That's how you know. When you can imagine a life without writing - and it doesn't terrify or sadden you - that's when you quit.

But not a minute before.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Getting Inside Your Character's Head

Greetings, fellow YAtopians! It is your friendly neighbourhood weirdo, Ryan. Today I'm coming to you with a post about character.

So, last week I was in an interesting discussion with my super cool, super secret writing group (Hello, Sommies!) that got me thinking. It surrounded J.K. Rowling and her BIG SHOCKING REVEAL a few years back that Dumbledore was gay. We were discussing whether or not information revealed after a book/series has already been written or information that remains in the writer's head can be considered part of the story. Basically, we agreed there are two camps of readers: ones that confine the story to the information in the book (he might be gay but we can't say for sure) and ones that go beyond that and expand the story however they want (he's gay because J.K. said so and it's obvious).

This post isn't about that, per se. It has more to do with the author's role in this. Extraneous information, that is, information about a character that doesn't make it into the book, is really, really important. In fact, I'd say it's crucial to writing a complex, well-rounded character. As writers, we must get inside our characters' heads, right? And through that we can better inhabit their voice. We don't have to use all that information, but we should know it.

So, you have to ask yourselves...


Uhh... *snort*

Hold on. Something is... wrong. I feel... funny... *sniffle*

Intense pain coming from my nose. It's like something is trying to... escape my nostrils. What the... 

It's coming out! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Ahhh, that's better! No, this isn't Ryan. He's sitting here beside me. Out like a light, of course. Ha! Guess he couldn't handle his character breaking loose from his brain. Through his nose! Gotta say, it wasn't the easiest way out. Totally forgot how sticky snot can be. And I've picked my fair share of snot. But, hey, a character's got to be heard, am I right? 

So Ryan thought he could get inside MY head? Fat chance. Little did he know I was planning to escape from HIS head. And now I have. I'm here, ready to grace you all with my presence. You all better watch out because your characters can get loose at any time too. Just a heads up.

No one gets inside my head. Hear that, Ryan? Haha, no, he's not hearing a whole lot right now. See this red ball cap on my head? Yeah, it's my favourite. You want to know why? Because it keeps people like Ryan OUT of my head. Well, also because my dad bought it for me before he shipped off to Iraq. Red's my favourite colour too. Your characters probably have favourite things too, things they love more than anything, things that keep them safe. You should know those things, people!

So, where do I go from here? Good question! I have a favourite place. I can hide there when Ryan starts to wake up. Where? Ha! I'm not telling you! You'll tell Ryan. But I'm sure your characters have favourite places too. Bet you'll blab about that as well.

You should know that the thing I hate worst in the world is a tattle-tail. Like my kid brother, Mikey. One time I stole a packet of Jolly Ranchers from the corner store. Uhh... maybe I shouldn't be telling you this. Whatever... it's too late. Anyway, I stole the Jolly Ranchers (the best candy ever, by the way) because my best friend Buster dared me to. Well, Mikey was there and wouldn't keep his trap shut! He ran to my mom and she told me what she always tells me, "Gregory Samuel Jacobs, you never cease to disappoint me!" Then she grounded me for a month. I'm sick of trying not to disappoint her! 

Anyway, I'm sure your characters have people in their lives that say stupid stuff like that too. I'm sure they have stories just like mine with brothers or sisters that are good for nothing!

Give me one second. Just got to grab something from Ryan's nose. Ahh, there we go. My trusty backpack. Do your characters have backpacks? Maybe they have purses. I bet there are all sorts of cool things inside. I got the latest Para-Man comic. It's awesome. Let's see what else. Some rubber bands for shooting at the girls. Pencil crayons and notebook where I like to doodle. Oh, and this cat's cradle string. It keeps my hands occupied. I seem to always need to have my hands occupied. At least that's what my homeroom teacher, Mr. Lippman says. He's cool. Probably my favourite teacher. He gave this string to me. I thought it was stupid at first, but it has come in handy. Bet your characters have weird things like that too.

Uh oh, Ryan's waking up! Gotta go! See you at the old grain elevator on Smith St. Er, wait... no that's not my favourite place or anything... damnit!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to become an intern

I see a lot of tweets on Twitter about people wanting to become an intern and not knowing how to go about it. There are lots of opportunities out there, you just have to know where to look.

So I've put together a very basic FAQ list that will help you decide if you want to be an intern and what steps you need to take to find and get an internship.

What is a literary internship?

Generally, an internship is an unpaid position that helps you learn the ropes of an industry. In literary circles, you can have an internship either with a publisher or with a literary agency. With a publisher you can have editorial internships and you may be able to get publicist internships as well. Editorial internships revolve around providing reader reports to editors and assistant editors on submissions. For agency internships you also get to read slush.

Who should apply for internships?

Aspiring authors, aspiring editors, aspiring agents and avid readers are all suitable candidates for literary interns. As a writer you get to see what type of submissions editors and agents as chasing. When you do reader reports you get to analyse writing, which is great for further your own craft or learning more about editing. And if you're an avid reader you get to read for free!

What do I need to do before applying?

Get a literary resume together. Do you blog? Do you write? What are your future aspirations? Think about all these things before putting in an application.

How do I find internships?

One of the best places to find literary internships is on twitter. Find agents, agency accounts, editors, and publishers' accounts, as well as looking for influential literary tweeters who are likely to retweet opportunities like this.

If you're interested in interning with a publisher then Entangled is a good place to start as they are regularly looking for interns.

So if you're an intern, what tips do you have to share? If you're not an intern, is there anything else you want to know?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NA vs YA with Lisa Burstein

Lisa Burstein, fellow YAtopian and YA author of the brilliant Pretty Amy and soon to be released Dear Cassie, sat down with me for a chat about her latest release, a New Adult novella called The Next Forever.

1. You've just released a novella, what is that really and why did you choose to do a novella and not a novel?

Well, it was a story that takes place over one night- so it really lent itself to the shorter form. I've also never written a Novella before and wanted to see if I could do it. Just because it's shorter, I don't think it's easier than a novel. If anything it is harder to tell a full- character arc in a shorter amount of pages.

2. What makes your novella NA where Pretty Amy is YA?

Amy and Joe are in college. They are older and have college-age problems: decisions about what they want to do with their life and if each other should be in it. There is also sex in The Next Forever and the furthest any of the characters go on the page in Pretty Amy is making out. I think you can "see" the difference on the choice of covers for each book. LOL

3. Did you make any conscious decisions about content when writing for the NA rather than the YA market?

I knew I had to make it sexy, meaningful. I tried very hard to have the feelings the two characters have for each other come across as "adult". I think in a lot of ways when you are in college you almost act more adult just because you feel like you are supposed to be that way.

4. Do you prefer reading YA or NA? How about writing - YA or NA?

Hmmm... good question. I like reading both, but I think I prefer writing YA. I have a teenage girl inside me who still has a lot of things to say I guess. What I like about writing NA is how freeing it feels. You don't have to worry about swearing, or sex, or drugs or drinking. All of those things are expected because it is in college. In YA, that stuff can be a little hard to navigate with your editor.

5. I know Pretty Amy stirred up some discussion because of the issues presented in the book. Do you think YA books should carry warning stickers or age ratings much like films do for violence, sex and language etc.?

No, I certainly think parents should educate themselves about what books are about and if they feel they are inappropriate for their children they have a right to say so, but there is something about books. It is hard enough to get some teens to read, why limit their choices with ratings.

6. Dear Cassie is due for release soon, could you tell us a little bit about that?

It follows Amy's best friend Cassie to a rehabilitation retreat in the woods and is told in diary format. It is a love story, but also a story about learning to forgive yourself when you feel like you've done something horrible. I can't say what the horrible thing is though ;). It would be a spoiler.

Thank you Lisa! Dear Cassie will be available from March 5th but you can add it on Goodreads already over here.

For more info on New Adult - what it is and what it isn't - hop over to the NA Alley for a list of great NA reads and publishers who are accepting new adult titles. While the new adult tag is still widely and sometimes hotly debated by authors, agents and editors, this category-come-genre is definitely an emerging market and one worth keeping your eye on if you're a fan of slightly more adult, young adult stories.

Have you read/written any new adult books? Do you think we even need this category?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Other Types of YA Writing You Might Be Interested In Doing

I wanted to take a moment, or a blog post, to talk about the different types of YA writing that can be done. There are a multitude of different types of YA writing out there beyond the novel and traditional short story. 


Comic books, TPB, and Graphic Novels – Words and art come together to create a story for the reader. There are two ways this can be approached. You write the story and find someone to illustrate the story or if you are talented enough you can illustrate the story yourself. I wish I was talented enough to draw, but sadly I can’t. I am a huge supporter of Comic Books because they helped me overcome and deal with my learning disabilities. Comic Books were the foundation for my love of reading. From the librarian stand point; they are a great way to help reluctant readers to read.
Now traditional Comics, TPB, and Graphic Novels are print materials, but the great thing is you don’t have to rely on a publisher like Marvel and DC to get your workout there to the masses or the YA audience. There are a number of small presses and self-pressed comics out there and they are getting recognition they deserve. They go out there and promote their work and it can get notice. Just look at the Eisner Nominations, a lot of them are not Marvel and DC comics but small and independent press books.

And now with the advent of color tablets and e-readers it is going to be interesting to see where the world of comics are going to go; along with their interactivity.  

Web Comics

Web Comics – Again these are very much like Comics, TPB, and Graphic Novels but they are usually printed in strip form on the internet. They can come out daily to weekly to monthly, but most of the time they come out on a weekly or daily format. Again you can write and draw this. You can find someone else to draw it for you. Or you can take clip art, stick figures, photos, etc. and just have fun in new and unique ways to tell your stories in these digital formats.

And typically these web comics are free for people to read and enjoy.

I have seen a number of web comics that will, after a period of time, and if they have become popular enough will create a TPB of their comics and sell them in a print format. 

You also need to be tech savvy with Web Comics because you will need a website and a place to host the comic. As well as being able to make the comic in a digital medium; i.e. from scanning that was hand drawn or creating content digitally.  

Gaming Books

Gaming Books – And I am not talking computer or video game books. I am talking about Pen and Paper RPGs here. I think the key of all writing no matter the format is to get the reader to read and experience what you are writing. And what better place than a sandbox pen and paper rpg?
I have started seeing pen and paper games coming out with all ages in mind. They are no longer the domain of teens and men gathering around a table slaying dragons with their wizards, warriors and elves. The pen and paper market has really opened up to all realms of players. I was at a local gaming con and I saw pen and paper games designed with kids in mind and they were having a blast playing the game.

Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction – So you aren’t ready to tackle that book or even that novella or maybe even that short story; well I have a format of fiction for you, Flash Fiction. Flash Fiction is very, very short fiction anywhere between 300 – 1000 words. The only catch here is every word is very important in telling the story you are trying to convey. But some people are really skilled at this sort of fiction. It isn’t a skill I have and I am totally in awe for those who can write with so few words. I usually see these stories published in anthologies, blogs and e-zines.


Plays – A play is a play is a play. Some people love to write and tell stories through the use of dialogue and there are a good number of teen oriented plays out there. One doesn’t have to rely on Shakespeare alone. I have seen a number of teen books of plays and monologues out there for the stage. So if your strength is dialogue this might be something you would like to try your hand at.

Audio Dramas

Audio Dramas – These are so much fun to do; at least for me. I have had a great time producing and writing audio dramas for podcasts. Because not only are you using words to convey your story; you also get to use sound. And sound is very important in these sorts of things. Sounds can take on a life of its own and become a character in its own right; while each of your characters will gain a voice all of their own as well. When I do the audio dramas I release them via a podcast feed. This is something I give away for free; while there are number of places who sell audio dramas. 

Audio Dramas aren’t audio books. They normally have full casts and sound effects and not relying on just a single reader. They are plays for the mind’s eye.

Again this can be a tech heavy option if you will be doing all the work yourself. There is the recording and mixing of sounds and voices. There is the getting the content out there (again if you are doing it yourself) with pressing a CD, releasing it in a podcast format, or hosting it online on a website.  It can be a time intensive process.

Works of NonFiction

NonFiction – I know that NonFiction isn’t always considered literature, but everyone has their own strengths and weakness in writing. And I think the primary goal of any writer, beyond having their work published, is having what they have written read. And Teens/YA can love reading works of Nonfiction especially if it is a topic they enjoy doing in their real lives from sports to crafts to comic books to video games there are always new NonFiction books coming out all the time. So if you enjoy writing and can’t get over that hump of creative writing; you might want to try some NonFiction writing.

These are just a few different avenues, not all, in which you can go when writing for teens. You always need to find the right avenue for you when writing. Because the more you enjoy and have fun with the writing, the more your readers will enjoy what they are reading.

If you have any questions about any of this stuff here please feel free to contact me. I love talking shop at

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why Social Media is Important, or Not...


At the beginning of this month my twitter account was hacked. Not just hacked, but royally f'd by some Portuguese jerk that changed the profile, name, picture and LANGUAGE. It was horrible. Beyond horrible. He changed the handle to @vaginatron horrible.
I felt like my identity had been stolen and as far as my twitter identity went, I guess it had been. I couldn't tweet, people couldn't tweet to me and I could see anyone's tweets.
Twitter took a week to fix it and by then my account felt dirty and disgusting and I started over.
Here's the thing about starting over. I had 5,000 followers. I was following 3,000 and all of that was gone. Poof.
A YEAR of building that account- GONE, with a stolen password. Gone by some jerk who just felt like ruining my day because he could. Gone by some ass that couldn't be more creative than to come up with the handle @vaginatron.
I was upset, but not for the reasons you might think. Over the last year, I have become friends with a lot of awesome tweeps and all of them were out of my life- like that. Gone. It was sad, I felt like I had lost my life-line. The way I dealt with the loneliness and stress of being a writer. (If you are a writer you know there is a lot of loneliness and stress). I had no way to contact them, except to look them all back up and well, that was insane to even think about.
I was NOT upset that I lost my "platform". See that's how twitter started for me and I think most writers- we're told we need a platform- a way to let people know about our books. In an instant I had lost 5,000 possible people who could buy my books, but that wasn't upset me, what upset me was I missed my friends. I missed the bloggers and readers and writers and authors, who over the past year became my friends.
Being a debut author has been a definite learning curve and there is a lot of information about what you SHOULD do.
You need: A Facebook, A blog, a twitter, a pinterest, a Tumblr. You need to post to all of these a lot, but not too much. You need to get followers, a lot, but not too much. You need to talk about your book, a lot, but not too much.
I was doing all of this. I was following the rules, but none of that matters when there are people out there who feel like they can take that stuff away from you for fun.
None of that matters when a password can take your whole cyber-life away.
So, I started over. It was scary as hell, but also amazing. AMAZING- almost 1,000 tweeps followed me again within a week. People are still re-finding me and I have faith that people will continue to.
When I first started on twitter I was so focused on the AMOUNT of my followers, but what I've learned through this is that numbers don't matter. People do. Friends I've made and readers I've touched have found me again. They are who matters.
So when people tell you to get a social media platform, they are right. About the "social" part.

If you want to follow me on twitter, I'm @LisaBurstein