My Invented Life

With Roz and Eva everything becomes a contest—who can snag the best role in the school play, have the cutest boyfriend, pull off the craziest prank. Still, they’re as close as sisters can be. Until Eva deletes Roz from her life like so much junk e-mail for no reason that Roz understands. Now Eva hangs out with the annoyingly petite cheerleaders, and Roz fantasizes about slipping bovine growth hormone into their Gatorade.
Roz has a suspicion about Eva. In turn, Eva taunts Roz with a dare, which leads to an act of total insanity. Drama geeks clamor for attention, Shakespearean insults fly, and Roz steals the show in Lauren Bjorkman’s hilarious debut novel.

 

 Oh didn’t I just adore this novel. It has to be one of the most open-minded novels written. And I’m not saying so because of the issues embraced and talked about. There are a lot of issue based books out there but what the open-mined aspect of it really comes through because of the characters, I loved them. Every one of them. Even the mean girl. Yes, can you believe that? I didn’t start out loving her. I mean, she was a meanie and a bully of sorts but Lauren Bjorkman does such an amazing job with all the characters, they all have rich backstories to them and it worked out oh-so-well for me as a reader.

Roz is a most endearing protagonist – fickle, impulsive, overtly imaginative with an odd tendency to insult in Shakespearean slangs (!) Don’t you just love her already? She is out and ready to pretend to be gay to help her sister come out of the closet – who she believes is really gay after finding a book about lesbian lovers in her possession. It starts as a trifle dare spurred on by impulsiveness that sets off a a random set of events that make up this book. And it’s a hell of a ride.

The thing about My Invented Life, is that the atmosphere of the book is light and pleasant in spite of the difficult things the characters have to face up to. It doesn’t bog you down. Yet keeps you hooked so you can’t stop reading and then makes you wish it didn’t end  so you could keep reading it. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it all over again.

The writing is utterly delightful. You know the author’s done a fine job when the writing, the story, the characters are all handled skillfully. And really, Ms. Bjorkman’s characters are indeed ones to be boasted about. Roz, Eva, Jonathan, Bryan, Nico all had distinct personalities and the collison of them all in the school production of As You Like It is insanely amusing. And Andie. Eyeliner Andie has to be one of the most dynamic characters ever created in YA fiction. Oh, how I loved her. She may only be a supporting character but she is a genius in creation. It shows a lot of responsibilty on the author’s part to create someone like her. Because books and what you portray in them send you signals, and they may be wrong ones or right ones. And authors have such great influence over readers it is important to portray things in the right light. And Lauren Bjorkman’s handling of Andie’s sexuality…wow, just wow.

Way back last year, I interviewed Lauren Bjorkman but I didn’t get to read her book till now. And, for me, this is a book to hold on to. My Invented Life is clever, outrageously hilarious, big-hearted and has that funky vibe which just makes it very, very cool. I adored it to bits. And I had a lot of Shakespearean fun doing that 🙂

To give you an idea, have a look at the book trailer:

What’s the most fun book you’ve read recently?

LIFTED by Wendy Toliver

Being bad never felt so good. Poppy Browne never stole anything in her life before moving to Pleasant Acres and meeting Mary Jane and Whitney. But when Poppy walks out of the mall with her two new friends and her first pair of stolen jeans, she’s hooked.
Before long, Poppy is lifting whenever she gets the urge–it’s never about the merchandise, it’s always about the thrill. But when her secret gets out, Poppy’s clique turns on each other. As she watches her life collapse around her, Poppy must decide where her loyalties lie…and how far she’ll go to protect herself.
 
When I interviewed Wendy Toliver, this is what she said about writing Lifted:
I really wanted to challenge myself. I felt like I had a very powerful story within me and wanted to try my hand at writing it. It wasn’t easy, and you wouldn’t believe how many drafts I wrote to get it to the final stage. But it was worth it for me, and although it is a very different type of book from my first two, which are romantic comedies, I hope my readers come along for the ride.
 
And she rose up to that.
 
Shoplifting is a seldom explored subject in YA fiction, which is why I was extremely curious about Lifted. And once I picked up Lifted, it was hard to put it down.  It was addictive, like Poppy’s shoplifting habit and I breezed through this book. I say ‘breezed through’ because inspite of tackling  an criminal addiction, the book doesn’t bear your down. Both light and dark elements thread in and out and make Lifted a very enjoyable read.
 
Three particular things that worked for Lifted:
–Poppy ~ Smart, flawed and easily likable. Girl with the good grades and the nose-stud and a sense of humour which asserts itself especially in moments of crisis. The girl in the middle of it all.
— The Shoplifting Sequences ~ Oh, man. I loved these. They were my favourite parts from the book. And my only regret is there wasn’t more of them. Toliver does a great job of portraying the way an addiction catches up to you. It’s never for the the goods, always for the rush. And with lifting, Poppy goes through the sequence of emotions every addict experiences – first, excitement, then depression.
— David ~ The quirky, smart, preacher’s son who made the non-shoplifting parts exceptionally delicious.
 
Wendy Toliver scores with other things too. Like:
–Mary Jane and Whitney ~ The popular girls, who step out of the popular girl cliches gradually as the book progresses.
— Poppy’s mother ~ Perhaps, overbearing in some respects, but a very real parent. Which was refreshing after continuously reading about absent parents.
— Calvary High ~ The Baptist School setting? Pretty original. And the background score of ‘Amazing Grace’ which seems to play out over the school speakers every time Poppy faces a moment of crisis? Win. 
— The way it ended.
 
A very cool protagonist.
Some well-drawn out characters.
A fast paced plot.
An unique premise.
I thoroughly enjoyed Lifted.
 

Have you read Lifted? Or any other book that deals with shoplifting?

CHATTERBUZZ: *Interview + Angela Morrison Month*

CHATTERBUZZ features interviews, writer tips and the usual chatter from writers far and wide, published, upcoming and soon-to-be-published (well, I’m getting there!)

I have some great news.

*Drumrolls*

All right, so this month gets the official title of Angela Morrison Month, ‘cos – you guessed it – it’s gonna feature an interview, blog tour and a guest post..all from the immensely talented ANGELA MORRISON, author of TAKEN BY STORM (hardcover out now, paperback coming out in Feb ’10) and SING ME TO SLEEP (coming in March ’10).
You can tell I’m super-excited to have her here. First up, the interview! Hold your breath (on second thought, don’t -I don’t want you guys turning blue)..here goes.

Time you reveal your identity *big grin*…

No, no, please don’t make me. . . . I’m a mother of four–three boys and my perfect daughter. My oldest son is married and he and his wife have the cutest baby boy in the world. Being a grandma is great. You get all the fun and no poopy diapers. I was a full-time hands on cookie baking super mom for about two decades. When my youngest son, went to school, I did, too. I enrolled in Vermont College’s fabulous Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults low residency program.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I realized I needed to qualify myself. Learn from professionals. I tell high school kids I speak to that the arts are the same as any endeavor. You can’t expect to be a professional without some darn good coaching. At Vermont College, you attend two residencies a year and then work with a mentor via mail or email–like you would an editor. I learned from some of the best–Ron Koertge, Sharon Darrow, Louise Hawes, and Susan Fletcher. They set me on my way. It took three and half years of rejection and revision post graduation to land a contract, but it finally happened! And now I get to share my books with readers all over the world. It’s pretty fantastic.

Bee tells me that a lot of you readers are up and coming writers. Don’t give up. Keep writing and revising. Qualify yourself every way you can. When opportunities come up, don’t be afraid to push through the door and grow from them.

 

The cover of SING ME TO SLEEP looks so tempting, what’s it got inside to tempt us to read? (This is for cynical readers, I’m gonna read it anyway ‘cos I’m so in love with with your writing already)
SING is Beth’s journey from the ugly, harassed girl at school–the Beast–to someone who is truly beautiful. Her physical transformation takes place early on. All of the sudden she’s hot, and she doesn’t trust herself or anyone. But by the end of the novel, what she has learned through love and pain transforms her. She is truly stunning–inside. A beauty anyone would love.

So SING ME was inspired by The Phantom Of The Opera?
You are writers . . . so I’ll let you in a huge secret. Editors, agents, publishers, marketers are always looking for a high concept (ie. commercial) hook that they can hang a story on to sell it. I’m not that great at thinking like that.

SING was inspired by a dear friend of my daughter’s who sang with the Amabile Young Men’s Ensemble. My editor suggested the Phantom hook. I rebelled at first, but as I wrote the novel, it worked perfectly. My editor is a genius. One of my favorite scenes is the Phantom spoof Beth dreams.

Music plays an important part of Beth’s life in SING ME..How important is music to your writing?
I work best in silence, but I listen to music to get myself to the emotional place I need to be to create. I play the piano and sing in the choir at church. Music helps center me so I can tune in to what is important. And it gives me ideas for ways to express my characters emotions.

I have a playlist of the most romantic songs in the world that I listened to when I wrote STORM. No matter how far away from the manuscript I’ve been, listening to those songs takes me right back to Michael and Leesie. Maybe that’s why I feel compelled to keep writing about them.

I did the same thing with SING, but added a lot of other songs of all types because I had to write lyrics. I actually dissected many, many songs–wrote out their skeletons on a big piece of paper–and then filled it up with my words. Remember writing haiku or sonnets? It was kind of like that.

TAKEN BY STORM spoke about the Mormon faith –did you set out specifically to become a Mormon writer or did it just happen along the way?
I set out specifically NOT to become a Mormon writer. I discovered that was impossible. It was kind of like my French. I know enough to say basic things, but it sounds dumb. What I wrote sanitized of my faith was dumb.

Jane Yolen, in TAKE JOY, says that if we leave our inner truth out of our stories, they are rags on a stick masquerading as story. That is so true. As I followed Michael to my home town where I so cruelly stranded him and introduced him to the only Mormon girl in town, I realized I had to involve my faith in a very open and realistic way. I had no idea how to do it without making it awful–boring, preachy or unintelligible. I had lots of helpful critiques at Vermont College, great mentors to guide me, and even ended up writing my critical thesis on how a person of faith can create great fiction. I studied Katherine Paterson. She says to let our faith be the “bones and sinews” of our work–not the outer dress. STORM has my faith written all over the outside. SING uses it as the bones and sinews.

 

Speaking of STORM, when are we getting more of Leesie and Michael?
You can read the first chapter of UNBROKEN CONNECTION, book two in Leesie and Michael’s saga, on my website. It’s in my editor’s hands now. I have no idea if Razorbill will buy it or not. I’m going crazy waiting for news. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

Did you have an ‘Eureka’ moment or did you always know you were gonna become a writer?
As soon as I learned how to write in first grade, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

What inspires you to keep writing?
I’m incredibly grumpy when I don’t write. I’m blissful when I do. I don’t want to spend the rest of life miserable, so I write. And I have been blessed with loads of novel ideas that I want to develop. More than I can ever complete. Give me ten years, and maybe I’ll be ready to slow down. Right now it’s full steam ahead.

Why YA? (You have grown out of teendom, haven’t you?)
Actually, I don’t think I have grown out of teendom. My teen years are still so vivid to me. Especially the painful stuff. And I was a scribbler even then, so I have journals full of stuff that I can’t bear look at. When I began writing full-time, my house was full of teen age boys. That’s what came out of my pen.

My historical work is borderline adult fiction, but what will keep me forever technically YA is my fascination with the coming of age journey. That’s a deep well that I can explore artistically forever. And if you want to be serious and literary, coming of age is the true definition of young adult literature–even if it’s coming of age with vampires.

‘Write what you know’ or ‘Write what you want to know’– which school do you belong to?
“Write what you know” gave me writer’s block for years. When I finally did it, I learned what that truly means. When I write a novel, everything I’ve ever done, seen, learned, known, imagined, read, watched, etc., gets broken into tiny pieces and spread out all over the ground. Then I have to pick up the pieces and try to fashion them into something with a beginning, middle, and end. That entertains and has meaning. What I want to know plugs the holes. I research a lot for every project. I never know enough.

I tell writers to write what they know, they love, they are curious about, they have just learned and are excited about, what they imagine–use it all. You’ll need it.

Rewind to teenhood. If there was a classification of high school stereotypes, which would you fall into?
Believe it or not, I started out a cheerleader. My big sister was Varsity. I was Junior Varsity. This was back before cheering had become a sport in and of itself. Dark ages. You did routines and yelled the whole game. I am very loud and loved to dance. So I was good at that. What I stunk at was the social expectations of being a cheerleader. My sister managed to be a good Mormon girl and popular. I think I alienated the entire football team. I didn’t get voted in again. My sister’s coat tails–or glorious long hair–weren’t long enough for that.

So I became the artistic nerd. Miss Writer. A loner. Very much like Leesie. Sat on the stage and read books. Escaped to wonderful writing workshops across the state where I fell in love with beautiful boys who were writers, too. Wrote long, long, letters to them. Haunted the mailbox. Ah, the internet would have changed my life back then! See, I still haven’t outgrown it. That’s why I write YA.

Time for five random things about yourself in the next 5 seconds.
Wow. Times up. I don’t do anything in five seconds. I guess that’s one. I’m left handed. I wear pink ballet shoes instead of slippers. I could eat Mexican food every day of my life. Arizona style Mexican food. I’ve been in coal mines in three countries. Phew. Five.

If you had a time machine that you could use only once, where would you go– past or future?
To write my historical novel, MY ONLY LOVE (work in progress), I invested so much time and capital in trying to recreate the lives of my ancestors who emigrated to North America from Scotland in the early nineteenth century. I’d love to go back there with a video camera so I could get it all right!

Thank you so much for being here, Angela! We wish you our best in your writerly journey and I, for one, can’t wait to see UNBROKEN CONNECTIONS out soon 🙂

Keep a watch out for the guest post and blog tour. I’ll be posting updates on the sidebar.
And, oh yes, the SING ME TO SLEEP review’s up next!