ALA Booklist Starred Review

Booklist starred reviewThe First Twenty has made the August 2015 print issue of Booklist, and I couldn’t be happier! It received a starred review from Michael Cart. Check out what he has to say!

In the wake of the Collapse, billions have died and society has fractured into small communities of survivors. Two such are called Settlers and Scavengers. Their natural antagonism heats up when the Scavengers kill Enrique, the leader of the Settlers. His daughter, Peyton, assumes his role and captures one of the Scavengers, a young woman named Nixie. The two quickly fall in love, a relationship that is forbidden given their circumstances. Subsequently hoping to establish radio communication with other surviving outposts, Peyton, Nixie, and a handful of others make a potentially perilous quest to the ruined city of Hartford. In the process, a closely guarded secret of Nixie’s is revealed, one that can change all of their lives. But will it be for better or worse? There is nothing terribly original about Lavoie’s somewhat tame dystopian novel, but the relationship between Peyton and Nixie is well realized and heartfelt, and there is enough action to hold readers’ attentions to the end.

— Michael Cart

Questions #2

I love the questions you’re asking, so keep them coming! Today we have two questions from ‘Nathan, who asks:

Okay, I have a two-part question: Have you bumped into much negative feedback for writing LGBTQ characters? (and, the second part, to make it a less negative topic) What have been the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters?

Writing LGBTQ characters has been fantastic. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve honestly not had much negative feedback from the writing portion. I did have some issues with starting a GSA at the first school I worked at, but it was concerns on the part of an administration that wasn’t sure just how the GSA would benefit the school or students.

My biggest concern was with how my family–mostly my grandparents–would react. They come from a generation where being gay is just unheard of. Growing up, I found myself butting heads with my grandfather on many issues…a lot. It’s just who I am and it’s how he was raised. But even my grandfather has done me proud.

Book signing other viewWhen Andy Squared first came out, I had to explain what it was about. Of course my grandparents wanted to read it, but I did worry. I didn’t know how they would take it. I didn’t write it for them, obviously, but as my grandparents, I still wanted their approval. But I wasn’t sure if it would happen. When I had my book release party at the Bristol Public Library, they came. I couldn’t have been more nervous when I was standing at the podium reading from the book. At my feet I had my former students, and my grandfather sat right in front of me. When I opened the floor to questions and his hand went up, I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. But he surprised me. Rather than asking about Ryder and Andy’s sexuality and some, ahem, scenes, he commented on the style of writing and how he could picture being with the boys as they rode horses.

Book Singing with students at my feetAfterwards, he admitted he hadn’t finished the book yet, but that he was enjoying it. And when he finally did finish it, he told me how it had changed his mind on LGBT people.

I cried.

Then he surprised me again. He and my grandmother read the newspaper, and they enjoy columns like Ask Amy and such. In one, a mother had asked about her teenager being gay, and what books to read to help her understand, etc.

My grandfather wrote to the columnist and explained how his opinion had changed after reading Andy Squared, and how he realized how difficult LGBT teens have it when their family doesn’t accept them. I still have the email he sent me somewhere.

I cried again.

I guess you could say that was also one of the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters. Even though my books are primarily for teens, having a 70+ year old man read the book and change his opinion was pretty spectacular.

Readers have also contacted me from all over. My first ever reader email was from a young man in Costa Rica who had to order the book from the US and have it shipped to him. Another was from a young fan who reached out to me on Facebook, telling me he was going to come out to his family. I kept in touch with him for several months after that, checking in to see how he was doing. I also recently had a reader FROM upstate New York contact me, thrilled to see his part of the state represented with gay teens!

So the best moments are definitely when readers reach out to me to talk. I love that. I will always respond to readers, so please, don’t be afraid to reach out!

Your burning questions answered!

Do you ever wonder how an author gets their ideas? What inspired certain stories or scenes? What their favorite spot to write looks like? I know I have wondered that many times for my favorite authors! It’s interesting to find out about the people we read and what inspires them.

So I’m asking you, dear readers, to submit your questions! What do you want to know about me? What burning questions do you have that you just need answered? Feel free to post a question on my blog, the Facebook page, or send me an email!

The first question comes from Shelley, who asks:

What got you started writing? Why young adult specifically? Why GLBT themed?

 

All great questions! And it’s a long answer. Sort of. So sit back, folks, and listen up!

I’ve always considered myself a writer because I enjoy crafting stories. I was imaginative as a child, and would play with dolls and toys like a normal child did and create stories for them. I have a very specific memory of my first grade class. The teacher would post the lessons we had to get through for the day on the board, and some of them were at our own pace. At the very end of the list was free-writing. I loved to rush through my work to get to that because free-writing involved a box of pictures cut out of magazines pasted to card-stock. We had to pull a picture out of the box at random and write a story around it. It wasn’t often that I got to the end of my lessons, but by the end of the year I had a thick folder of stories I had written.

After that, I continued writing. I would keep composition notebooks full of stories. First I started with writing fanfiction. In sixth grade I started reading the Animorphs series, which had just come out, and I was obsessed. I wrote stories with those characters in new situations. Then I discovered Sailor Moon. I wrote crossover stories featuring the Animorphs kids and the Sailor Scouts. (I think I might still have one of those notebooks somewhere…)

Once my family got on the internet, things took over. I discovered fandoms and connected with people who wrote fanfiction. I read fanfic, I wrote fanfic, I posted it on different websites and started getting feedback. Then one day I had this brilliant idea to do a crossover with Final Fantasy characters…and original characters. I had written OCs before, but usually they were Mary Sues… ahem. This new crossover had dozens of original characters, and eventually I started writing it on my own, taking the Final Fantasy characters out and creating my own mythology. I started that when I was 18, and 12 years later I’m still tweaking that world. Eventually I will finish it.

About that same time I fell into other fandoms and discovered the magical world of online RP (role-play) writing. I was hooked yet again. I made some great friends, some of whom I still talk to today. I wrote with them, interacted with other writers, created complex stories and worlds that started with characters from a series, but evolved to becomes its own world.

By now I’m in college. I know I’m going to be an English teacher. There are certain courses that you must take. The one that truly started all of this was Literature for Young Adults with Dr. Cappella. In that course we had to read between 2-3 YA books a week and write about them. But we also had to write our own book. He said, “The only way to really know how to teach and understand young adult literature is to write it.”

Back up a semester. I was hanging out with a group of friends in the student center, eating a chicken ceasar wrap, and we were talking about TV shows. I had recently discovered Queer as Folk and I was extolling its virtues, when one of my male friends told me how much he loved the show. I didn’t think anything of it. We started talking about Justin and Brian, and it never clicked to me exactly why this conversation was significant until my friend pulled me aside after and came out to me. Talk about a “duh” moment. He had been giving me signals the entire conversation, and I was just completely oblivious! After, we became close and often wandered away from our group of friends. I introduced him to my favorite place on campus: Stack 2.

The library on campus at the time had LGBT books in a separate stack. I thought it was great because I could just wander down there, grab a book, and read. I visited almost every day and I only saw another person there once. It was warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and had a couch. Basically, heaven. I had discovered I enjoyed reading about LGBT protagonists much earlier when I was about fifteen and had read Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams and had been reading it since.

So, going back to the YA class, when Cappy told us we had to write a novel, I talked to my friend about the assignment. I had no idea what to write. And he said, “Why don’t you write a book about a gay teen? I wish there had been books like that when I was younger.” And I thought…. huh. Why not?

Andy Squared was born. The first draft was incredibly rough and it took my seven years from start to finish to get it where I wanted it, but I kept going because my professor encourage me to keep going because he saw something important in the pages, and my friend read it and loved it.

I could have stopped there, but I had always wanted to be published. So I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more. I eventually found a home for Andy and Ryder with Bold Strokes Books.

By the time Andy was accepted for publication I was teaching. I had students I worked with come out to me, and it meant so much to me that they would trust me with that information about them. When that first student honored me with that trust, it reminded me of my friend from college and I thought, “This. This is why I teach, and this is why I write. I need to keep writing these stories. These kids need voices. They need to see more characters like them so they know they’re not alone.”

It’s getting better out there. From the time I started writing in college until now, hundreds of LGBT books have been published for teens by small publishers and the big houses. But we can still do more. Stories need to be about more than just coming out. I keep writing because I want my students to see queer teens in the same positions as their straight counterparts. I want them to be the heroes and heroines of dystopias, fantasies, and scifi novels. So I’ll keep writing until the ideas run out. And that doesn’t seem to be anytime soon.

Boston Pride 2015

Until yesterday, I had never been to a Pride event. I had always wanted to go, but they were either too far away from me, or I forgot about it/didn’t know about it until it was too late. This year I had the opportunity not only to go to Boston Pride, but to help represent my publisher and sell copies of my YA titles.

WHAT A BLAST!

Boston is only about an hour and half from where I live right now, so it was really exciting to be able to make the trip for the day. I left early in the morning, had a heart attack navigating the tunnels into the city, but found a parking garage close to where I needed to be.

Just some of the books we had to offer. And me posing in the background.

Just some of the books we had to offer. And me posing in the background.

I was early. But it was still nice to see everything as it was being set up with so few people around. Because when eleven o’clock hit, it started to get busier. And when the parade reached us at around one, oh my GOD it was wall-to-wall bodies.

Since Boston is the home of my favorite drag queen, JuJubee, I had been hoping to meet her. She responded to my facebook post about being there, but sadly that wasn’t the case. However I sold out of all my YA titles, and fast! By an hour into the festival I was worried I wouldn’t have any left! With a little over three hours to go, I did sell out, but that just meant helping the other authors!

I was happy to have been able to bring Julie Blair and ‘Nathan Burgoine’s books as well. It was nice to have a good selection for festival goers!

I got to hang out with great authors from my group. I knew Cathy Frizzell from the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC, and Dena Hankins from the retreat last summer, but I also got to meet Jean Copeland and Holly Stratimore and their respective partners. Fun times!

Jennifer Lavoie, Jean Copeland, Holly Stratimore, CF Frizzell, and Dena Hankins

Jennifer Lavoie, Jean Copeland, Holly Stratimore, CF Frizzell, and Dena Hankins

But what was even better was the opportunity to connect with the readers. That was amazing. There were a lot of young adults there, and I had a blast talking with them. Some readers had no idea we existed and eagerly snatched up books. Some didn’t realize we were the authors until we asked if they wanted the books signed. Some readers were young – like one girl who bought Meeting Chance with her two dads and her little sister near – or older who had read a lost of LGBT fiction in their lives. Either way, I appreciated them all.

Dena looks on while Jean signs her novel and I...stare at something.

Dena looks on while Jean signs her novel and I…stare at something.

I can’t wait to do it again. I know all of us want to go back next year, and I hope I get to do more Pride events. I was originally going to do Providence Pride next weekend, but that had to be cancelled since no other authors were interested. And it’s a bit late for NYC Pride. But hey, maybe next year?

What do you think? Would you like to see Bold Strokes Books and NYC Pride next year? If you would, leave a message here! I’ll let my publisher know you want to see us! Any other Pride suggestions or events? Let me know! I’ll pass it along!

 

Rainbow Book Fair – April 18, 2015

Hi everyone!

It’s that time of year again! Next Saturday, April 18, I will be at the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC, helping promote and sell books for my publisher, Bold Strokes Books. But the most exciting part? I’ll be selling copies of The First Twenty almost a month early! You can buy the book at any time of the day, but if you want to chat or have it signed, I will officially be at the table from 5-6 with YA author Jeremy Jordan King, author of the Immortal Testimonies series! It’s going to be a great event! If you’re in the area, please stop by and say hello! We’d love to meet you! RBF banner

The First Twenty – are you ready for it?

The First Twenty coverIt’s just about a month for the release of The First Twenty and I’m getting excited! The author copies came in and they are BEAUTIFUL! I mean really, look at that cover! Stunning.

This book is my longest at 233 pages, and it looks great! I can’t wait to see what readers think!

If you read it, be sure to let me know what you think! I love getting feedback from my readers, and I would love to link to your review on my page.

Reviewer for The Novel Approach

I decided I would share the links to reviews I do for The Novel Approach on my blog, as the books I get a chance to read are great. I also post the reviews on Goodreads, but these links will redirect you to The Novel Approach. I will also keep a list through my review pages.

Keep in mind, unless otherwise noted, these books are for mature audiences, and as such readers should be warned.

The Sensualist and the Untouched by Susan Laine – 12/26/14

Green the Whole Year ‘Round by Rowan McAllister – 12/31/14

On Wings of Song by Anne Barwell – 1/4/15

A Spartan Love by Kayla Jameth – 1/7/15

Slave Eternal by Nasia Maksima – 1/10/15

The Year In Review! Books – 2014 edition

Continuing the tradition from last year, I recount the books I’ve read over the course of 2014. While last year I read a ridiculous 141 books, this year I did not come that far. I did read quite a lot, though, and many of them due to graduate school. I mean seriously. The two courses I took this year were filled with books, and many of them I completely enjoyed. So let’s review, shall we?

Total books read: 128

Not bad considering my original goal was 110, but I fell behind so I dropped it back to 100!

First book of the year: Souvenir Boys by David-Matthew Barnes

I had forgotten about this one! This is why I love this process. This is a book of poetry by fellow Bold Strokes Books author David-Matthew Barnes who has some amazing YA novels that I’ve reviewed here before. I enjoyed this book of poetry as well. My favorite poem was “Dear Mr. Sanchez” from this collection. It even inspired me to write some of my own poems, one of which I submitted for publication but which was rejected. Sad face. You can read my review right here on this site!

Last book of the year: In His Arena #1: Slave Eternal by Nasia Maksima

What a great end to the year! I reviewed this book for The Novel Approach Reviews, which I was recently accepted to as a reviewer. This book was fantastic. As a fan of Spartacus I enjoy stories with gladiators, and since I love Agron and Nasir, I thought this would be perfect. While totally different because it has fantasy elements, I adored this book. At this moment the review isn’t posted for The Novel Approach Reviews, however you can read my review on Goodreads here.

Adult books read: 47 (I think. Mature graphic novels and classic fiction not included.)

Favorite: This is a tough call. I really enjoyed Valerie Bronwen’s Slash and Burn, but I ended the year on such a strong note with Slave Eternal. I guess I’ll stick with both of those!

Teen books read: 6 (not including manga, of which there was a lot).

Favorite: I feel like this number should be higher. Oh well. But my favorite was definitely I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora. It’s the book I wish I had written. Not only is it about students who are obsessed with To Kill a Mockingbird, but it takes place in Connecticut! And the author is also a Bristol native, like me!

Children’s books read: 6 (More were read to my younger students, however many of them are not listed online so I didn’t include them.)

Favorite: Definitely One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. Having gotten into recycling plastic bags and turning them into useful products, this book was awesome. I did an environmental project for my school based on plastic bags, so this was fantastic.

Manga read: 42

Favorite: Attack on Titan series by Hajime Isayama

I completely blame my students on this one. They kept talking about this series and begging me to get it for them so I reluctantly agreed to buy the first one to preview for myself as I knew it was a violent series.

FOURTEEN VOLUMES LATER I’m all caught up. WHAT AN EMOTIONAL RIDE! Characters die left and write, it’s incredibly gruesome, but I love the characters! Jean and Levi have grown to be my favorites. Volume fourteen left on such a cliffhanger I freaked out because the next volume doesn’t come out until APRIL. My student who is reading it keeps bothering me about the book, even though there’s nothing I can do to make it come faster.

Graphic Novels read: 2

Favorite: I only read two and while both were good, they weren’t favorites I suppose. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier was cute and a graphic novel memoir. Soppy by Philippa Rice was cute and simple in it’s drawings, but enjoyable.

LGBT books read (adult and teen, not including manga): 48

Favorites: Why do I do this to myself? So many of the books I read over the year were great. I ended strong with Slave Eternal, and Sweetwater by Lisa Henry was pretty phenomenal as well. And really interesting and different was Pet to the Tentacle Monsters! by Lilia Ford. Really great year for LGBT books!

Nonfiction books read: 14

Favorite: More tough decisions as each of the books had something great to offer. I think maybe my favorite would be Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality by Jared Diamond. I read it for my Spring semester course and it was a fascinating look at how human sexuality has evolved since our earliest ancestors and what drives humans today. It really was fascinating.

Books read for Graduate school: 16

Favorite: Hard to choose as both of my courses offered fantastic books. I loved Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Not only was the edition amazing, but I was so obsessed with the book I read every single annotation and then watched the miniseries. I also adored Maurice by EM Forster which I had read and enjoyed before. For my Fall course I really enjoyed The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, and I renewed my love for The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I cannot wait for my next course!

 

It’s not too early to start thinking, right?

So New Year’s is coming upon us. Granted it’s still quite a bit away considering, I’ve already been thinking about what I’m going to do for a resolution. Let’s face it; I haven’t been the best with keeping them in, oh, EVER. But I do at least make the attempt.

Part of the problem I think is my making the resolution ON New Year’s. But why not think about them and start now to get in the habit? Maybe then I’ll be more successful.

In my advisory I had students write a resolution they truly want to keep on an index card. On the front they wrote what they want to do, and on the back they wrote a plan of action to achieve it. Once they were done I made up a pretty poster of a tree trunk and we added the green cards on to look like a tree. It’s our resolution tree!

The resolution I added was to be more organized. A lot of my girls followed my lead, and we agreed to encourage each other to stay organized. I hope it works out! It was fun activity that got them thinking about not just how they want to improve, but ways they can improve their own lives. It puts the responsibility on them.

  • Next year I’d like to blog more. At least twice a month. I resolve to do that.
  • I also want to lose weight. But I’m going for specific. I want to lose three pounds a month until I have lost twenty-five pounds. I think that’s pretty reasonable, right? I’m not asking for a lot. Just a little progress.
  • Write more. I’d like to expand my writing into new areas.
  • Study hard. I want to keep my 4.0 GPA for grad school. It’s been three semesters so far and I’ve somehow maintained it. I’m SO proud of myself because the program is rigorous, and it’s the first time in my life I’ve achieved this!
  • Read more, specifically in new years. This past year I added several nonfiction books to my reading schedule which I enjoyed. Next year I’d like to expand my horizons and read in genres or subjects I wouldn’t necessarily check out.

What about you? What are your resolutions for 2015?

Happy Holidays!

It’s certainly been awhile – too long in fact – but today was my last grad class of the semester and now I’m on break until my next class starts! At least for my own education. Still three days left until winter break for my teaching job!

This semester has been full of hard work but it was so rewarding. This class was on gender and modernism and we read so many great novels. I got my final exam back tonight and I’m so proud! I got an A! I turned in my research paper on The Sound and the Fury, so we’ll see how that does!

Next semester I’m taking a course on Victorian literature and I’m chomping at the bits to get started on the reading for it. Of course we don’t have the full list yet, but I spoke with the professor and heard Great Expectations and Jane Eyre are likely candidates.

Finally, I have some wonderful news! Most of you already know this if you follow me on Facebook, but my fourth book, The First Twenty, was picked up my Bold Strokes Books! It will be published in May 2015 and features my first female protagonists Peyton and Nixie. I’m editing the book as we speak!

And with that great news comes the cover! I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE IT. It is STUNNING work! Check it out and let me know what you think!

The First Twenty cover