Welcome Guest Blogger Sleepless Cook N. Clean for The Real Hunger Games: Eating Up YA

The Real Hunger Games

Trying to Find a Balance between Reading, Writing, and Feeding a Four Year Old.

by Sleepless Cook N. Clean

I am in District 1, the kitchen. I am alone. Often, because I spend so much time by myself, I feel as if I am in control. In reality, President Mud (insert your child’s name here) is in charge. He lets me know he is the leader at every opportunity.

I turn to the stove. I am heating chicken marsala. The perfectly cooked, tender mushrooms sink into the succulent gravy. The velvety brown sauce will cover the pasta nicely. No, ‘pasta’ is a lie. ‘Pasta’ is word given to us in District 1 to make us believe that what we are doing is creating cuisine and—that is not the case; I am simply making macaroni. It is hard to escape the scourge of elbow noodles in District 1 and I wouldn’t try, President Mud has a keen eye.

I divide the large pieces of chicken with my hunting knife. This is as close as I will come to the woods today and in my mind, I thank Grocer Sue, the gourmet chef who prepared the marsala so I wouldn’t have to. No, I can barely call what I am doing work. I sneak a peek at the Suzanne Collins book on the counter. Another thing to be grateful for; this is the closest I will come to stealing today.

But it is a mistake, bringing the book into District 1! I find myself wishing I could bring the book to the table; ignore President Mud, something I have done far too often since he turned four, and I hit a wall with The Games.

Ah, The Games. When did they start to tire me so?

Four years as crowned Victor Mother and then, exhaustion set in. That, and a love affair with YA are what account for my criminal behavior: writing.

Yes, I write. Why? Because my mind is starved and that is the real crime; the real hunger.

Writing is my talent. Writing, certainly not design; my stylist would be disappointed if he saw me standing at the stove in my jeans and hoodie. The one thing that might garner his approval is my hair. I have stayed true to myself in this area. I have not cut my wavy brown locks, which are at this moment tamed in a braid that trails down my back. Tied to the schedule of the President’s demanding lifestyle, it is the easiest thing.

The toast is ready; fresh-baked bread dotted with sesame seeds. I close the book, but before I can even finish preparing the plates of savory steaming stew and cutting the slices of cool juicy watermelon which I will artfully arrange upon the silver platter laden with the green grapes that carry the taste of summer beneath their delicate skins, my characters are here!

Suzanne’s vanish like ghosts. It will be bedtime before I see them again.

A handsome dark-haired man enters District 1. He is dressed for the Capitol, but I sense this is an act. Still, I call him my husband and place a kiss upon his lips. Upstairs in District 3 where the Industry is Imagination, his blonde alter ego creates dramatic oil paintings and writes poetry as he puts the finishing touches on the pile of presents that he has prepared in my honor.

Why do I need two suitors you ask? Why two?

Because this is YA, I hiss, that’s why.

In this country called My House—a place somewhere in the dystopian future where Vampires are the norm and werewolves are taken for granted—there are always two. That is because Love is a four-letter word and although it reigns, Love Triangles Reign supreme!

Two, because everything around the country I call My House is part of a pair.

Even me.

I am a Mommy, and I am a Writer. A mismatch yes, but there it is.

Worse, I am a writer who has recently rediscovered the joys—and consequences—of staying up until one a.m. reading! Reading, and watching previous episodes of Mad Men, The Vampire Diaries, and Glee! If the Capitol discovers my offense, they will not just send a team of local Peachkeepers to slap my wrists, they will execute me! I sigh and roll my eyes.

All at once my suitor from District 3 appears, all jutting cheekbones and sculpted muscles, low chuckles and smirks. He glowers at me with smoldering eyes, lifting his dark brows suggestively, his lips quirking in a crooked smile. Forget about the fact that we can never consummate our relationship—why? Because . . . well, just because—I only need to look at him to know, we are a pair.

Ah yes, back to the topic of pairs. I have two pairs of friends. My writing friends, and my ‘real’ friends, who need to visit the link below immediately. Read this article (yes, I am aware that it is not recent, but that does not lessen its value!) and rest assured, although I had a child and dropped off the face of the earth, I am still alive and well. The real reason you have not seen me lately is because I am walking down the dark road of YA literature.


For those who venture to the Link District, tell them Sleepless Cook N. Clean sent you, and remember—the hair on the back of my neck stands up. The President is here!

Let the Games begin!

My husband and my lover vanish in a flash of light—

Out beyond District 1 the Arena awaits.

I have trained with Legos of course, and the toy house with its miniature furniture. Blocks, balls, the trucks and cars—I know them well; I could play with them in my sleep, and most days, I feel as if I am doing just that.

But wait, something new.

I gasp. It’s. Not. New. At all! It’s . . . Mousetrap!

The word echoes through my brain and my past hurtles towards me as I see the shiny metal marble shoot down the plastic steps; I feel faint, and have to look away. The President is done with survivor style games, he’s on to psychological warfare; I flash back to my parents’ basement . . .

Suddenly, I hear a piercing sound coming from District 1!

I vault over two strategically planted ridearounds as I rush to the source of the sound—

The timer! My index finger flies forward like an arrow shot from a bow and I hit cancel.

Sweat beads on my brow and I gasp for breath. My hoodie is torn and blood gushes from a gash on my ankle yet somehow, I manage a dazzling smile as The President enters.

But—they’ve done something to his face in the Capitol! Yes, it has been altered! He, he looks like a small child! He looks . . . like my son.

“Mom,” he says.

“Who is Mom?” I ask quickly.

“Mommy,” he says. He has recognized me! I will have to serve him now.

In the role of the Avox, I say nothing; I don’t have to. My son begins to speak, and does not stop . . ..

Later, the President is in bed. My House is quiet, my two suitors sleep. Ah! Freedom!

Freedom. I suck in a breath; will I ever return to the world of Jonathan Franzen?

The Corrections . . . so much family dysfunction . . . the writing is so . . . real . . . so much scarier than any vampire, or werewolf, or fallen angel. Or—zombie? I can’t go there.

No, no Freedom for me. I’ll take the bonds of a first kiss anytime. YA lit. Sigh.

What Sells Books?

Every good novel needs a character with a compelling voice. Someone to sing a Siren song of love or loss, a Siren song of suspense or mystery, a Siren song of snarky cynicism, coming of age, middle school antics, musicians, or murder. There are a million stories (or a mere handful told a million different ways depending on who you’re talking to) and these stories must be told in a voice that matters. Authors, agents, editors, readers — everyone agrees. A strong voice is the most essential element of any story.

But something that not everyone agrees on, especially since the publishing industry is changing so rapidly, is the best way to sell books, although by now everyone has heard the word ‘platform’.

Platform is just another word for voice. Not the voice of the story, but the voice of the author. These days everyone seems to be saying that it takes more than a book to captivate and keep a reader’s attention. It takes a vibrant personality, someone who has A Story Behind Their Story, or at least, someone who is skillful enough to draw a crowd on facebook and twitter.

So do these things work? Does social networking sell books?

I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the YA books I read in 2011 and tell you how I came to buy them.

Shift is a YA dystopian by author/artist Charlotte Agell. I fell in love with Agell’s picture books, which she illustrates with gorgeous watercolors, so decided to read just about everything she wrote. I wrote about her here and here and after she told me about The Crosswalk Kings, her son’s band, I wrote about them here.

I read about the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins first in The New Yorker.

I connected with Tara Kelly on twitter. At the time she was posting music recommendations and I liked the music she suggested. I checked out her site and saw that she offered editing services. I liked her site and thought well, if I’m going to hire her, I need to check out her writing. I’d already learned that she was a musician and her book Harmonic Feedback was about musicians so of course, I was interested. I bought the book and hired Tara to do a Big Picture Evaluation of the manuscript I was working on. I liked Harmonic Feedback so much I ordered her latest book, Amplified from my local bookstore. I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a musician you MUST read Amplified.

Joëlle Anthony is another author I connected with on twitter. I’m not sure how I started following her, I think I may have found her link in an article about twitter in the SCBWI bulletin. In any case, when Kidlit4Japan was auctioning off baskets of books to help raise money to benefit the victims of the earthquake and devastating tsunami, I bid on Joëlle’s basket because I knew the main character of her book Restoring Harmony was a musician, and at the time, everyone on twitter was talking about Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Joëlle’s basket had both, as well as an arc of Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Where She Went is the follow-up to If I Stay, so I ran out and bought If I Stay from my local bookstore. I wrote about Restoring Harmony here.

More tweets! Although my twitter account seemed to have a problem with me following Jay Asher (I swear I had to follow him three times before he remained permanently on my follow list!) no one else seemed to have that problem and his name and face seemed to pop up everywhere. Everyone I was talking to on twitter was talking about Thirteen Reasons Why and finally, after I connected with Jay on facebook and saw a gazillion copies of his book in Barnes and Noble, I bought a copy. And couldn’t put it down. Although I’d like to talk about it with him over a cup of coffee. There’s probably a club I can join.

Divergent by Veronica Roth was another book that everyone I chatted with on twitter was talking about. Another unputdownable book.

Twitter. Again. If you don’t follow @thunderchikin on twitter you must, if only to see his laughably gorgeous avatar show up in your twitter stream. But laugh is the key word here and it was David Macinnis Gill‘s sense of humor that made me go out and buy his book Black Hole Sun. He was kind enough to send me an ARC of Invisible Sun (Could it be because one of his characters is named Mimi?) and I will buy book III in this sci-fi grunge series as soon as it’s available. In this case, the author’s personality is what made me interested in his writing. That plus his hot avatar.

One of the local bookstore owners (who by this time, as you might imagine, has become a close friend) recommended Shiver and it still surprises me that I did not originally hear about Maggie Stiefvater online from #YAlitchat since that’s where I’ve learned about so many fantastic YA authors and their books and Stiefvater is actually a member of the group. I must have missed the chat that night!

I think Maggie Stiefvater is one of the best YA writers out there and if I could . . . I would eat her books.

I learned about Sarah Dessen at Ye Olde Local Bookstore, which, by the way is River Road Books in Fair Haven, NJ.

A whole rack of books by a YA writer? Yes please, I’ll take one. And go back for more.

Thank you SCBWI! For all you do for me, including introducing me to authors and people who work with authors. I met the author Natalie Zaman in a crit group at an NJ SCBWI conference and after reading 30 pages of one of her WIP became a fan.

Ally Condie‘s book, Matched was recommended by an editor I met at the same conference. Love.

And from Natalie Zaman, author of Sirenz, I learned about Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Good old fashioned word of mouth via NJ SCBWI. Love, love, love this book. Gorgeous writing, killer cover.

Jo Treggiari and I have friends in common, so again, word of mouth. I couldn’t put this book down, it made me think of the summers I spent in the Canadian wilderness as a teen. More on that in another post. I was surprised at the amount of time spent in the main character’s head at the beginning of Ashes, Ashes, as well as the many descriptions at the start of the story. I loved the way this writing technique enabled me to get to know the mc and her surroundings so very well.

I know, I know, I can’t believe I didn’t read this book sooner. The brevity in the writing, in the voice, made me think of a song. Beautiful, dark, perfect, I loved Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

And so I end my first annual blog post on books. I hope you enjoyed my totally unscientific fan-girl based conclusions. Maybe by next year at this time I’ll have something completely different to say about what sells books. Until then, I hope you continue to tune in to Sirenstories for new music.

Happy New Year!