Tag Archives: young adult books

Barry Manilow: He Writes the Songs

I grew up listening to Barry Manilow, and he’s continued to be an inspiration to me throughout my life. It’s not his fame or fortune. It’s the music, the words and the man behind them. It’s hearing him talk about his Manilow Music Project where he encourages people to donate gently used musical instruments to be given to schools. How can you not love this man?

But knowing he married his manager and long-time partner, Garry Kief, makes me love him all the more. I can’t imagine hiding who I am for fear of what people might say, but I commend him for coming out and coming out so brilliantly. However, I hope we get to the point where nobody ever feels like they need anyone’s blessing to love who they love. No matter who you are.

For all those who may not support him, there are a thousand more who will embrace him and encourage him and rally around him.

I had planned to write this post about Barry Manilow after I attended his concert at the Verizon Center in DC last month, but now I’m glad I waited. My husband of sixteen years took me to see Barry Manilow four times throughout our marriage and he sat beside me as I sang all the words and smiled the whole time, because, SERIOUSLY! How can you not smile when this man sings? My husband jokingly said, “I’ve now seen Barry Manilow more times than Rush.”

Barry Manilow sings with heart. He sings with soul. He sings with sincerity.
Whether he’s singing about what it means to be a parent or a friend or a lover, he sings with conviction. Or whether he’s singing to the misfits who feel like they don’t belong… he reminds us that we are one and we all belong. Best known for his power ballads, his words indeed hold power. He can sing about love that inspires you to love better than you ever have before.

I’m either giving him the credit or he’s taking the blame for me becoming a romance writer. In several ways. He set the bar so high. His swoon-inducing lyrics never made me think I should settle for second best. I wanted the kind of love that he inspired.

When I first heard him, I was too young to even understand the meaning behind the words, but, ohmygod, whatever it was he was singing, I knew I wanted THAT. I wanted to feel deeply and passionately and forever.

When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to listen to Barry Manilow on my stepdad’s stereo. This was back when you had to work to hear music. And especially me. We lived in a small house—where our electricity and water were shut off due to nonpayment more than I liked to admit—and I knew the value of having money and power. Literally and figuratively. So, money wasn’t something that I ever took for granted.

My stepdad had a nice—by our standards—stereo, but I wasn’t allowed to touch it. So, of course I did. Every day in the summer I waited patiently for him to go to work and then I’d run over to his album collection and pull out Barry. I would take the album over to the stereo, put it on the turntable and fool around with the needle until it worked correctly. Then I’d listen to that album again and again and AGAIN. I’d dance to the upbeat songs and sit all dreamily during the ballads, not even understanding that kind of love yet.

My mom was in on the secret, but she told me to make sure I was responsible with the stereo and album. We only had one small air conditioner in the house and it was for the back three small bedrooms, divided by a makeshift curtain hanging across the doorway. That made it pretty damn hot in the living room, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to listen to “my” music. One day, I got sidetracked with the temptation of the coolness in the back of the house. And I went. And fell asleep.

Later, I ran back to the living room to put the album away before my stepdad got home from work so he woudn’t know I’d been using his stereo. I looked at the stereo under the window and my heart started pounding. There was the album, completely warped like something out of a Salvador Dali painting. My heart just broke. I tried to heat it even more so I could bend it back into shape, and I managed to lay it flat and slip it back into the album cover.  But it was ruined.

I remember going back to my bed and crying. Sure, I knew I was going to get in trouble for fooling around with my stepdad’s stereo and ruining his favorite album, but it was more than that.

The music was gone.

It took awhile for my mom and me to save up the money to replace the album. It’s strange to look back now at the girl in that house who couldn’t scrape together enough money for music when now it’s something most of us can experience with one click on the internet. When people are streaming and sharing and even pirating artists’ work—whether that’s music or books. But that’s a whole other blog post.

I often think back to what inspired me to begin writing, and the answer would probably be a combination of Barry Manilow and books. Both were something I could experience in certain degrees for free or for a relatively low cost. They were my escape to different worlds. They made me imagine the lives the words told. They made me want so much. Like I said, they set the bar very high.

I write stories about love because I think love is what makes us who we are. I think love is love, and it should be celebrated every time two people find it.  I’m writing a young adult book now about two boys who fall in love, and I’ve been a little scared to finish writing it. Because I’m not a boy. I’m not a teen. And I’m not gay. With the #WeNeedDiverseBooks taking off in a different direction than how it started—which is veering off from diverse books to diverse authors, I’m wondering if it scares other authors who are writing a story that’s different from their own experiences.

But I think Barry came along once again to give me the inspiration I need. It’s not about whether I’m a gay teenage boy. It’s about whether I can write a book that shows two people—no matter their sexual orientation—falling in love.

And I hope I can do that justice.

That’s why I write romance. That’s why I write for teens. And that’s why Barry Manilow will always be my favorite songwriter. Because he sings about love, and couldn’t we all use more of that?

After all, Love is Love.

Shrugs, Smiles and Sex

by Kimberly MacCarron

As writers, we’re supposed to write what we know. Apparently I know lots about shrugging, smiling and sex.

If I do a find and replace with the words ‘shrug’ or ‘smile’, there would be a gazillion replaces going on. Now, the sex is another story. I don’t use the word much, but, boy do I like to write about it.

This poses a significant problem for me because I write YA. Teens tend to smile and shrug a lot. I’m sure they even have sex. But shouldn’t it be a little bit harder writing sex scenes for teen readers?

Apparently not.

During this month of NaNo, I started writing a paranormal adult contemporary. I’m about 9,000 words in, which totally bites when we’re way past the halfway mark. On the other hand, I started a YA book at the beginning of October, which I had trouble writing. I’ve gone back and forth between these two books like the fickle woman I am.

Yesterday, I got to the halfway mark in the YA. Want to know how I did it? I decided my characters would have sex. Then I wrote almost 5,000 words leading up to it.

For all you writers out there who are stuck in your manuscript: write what you know.

I apparently know sex. After all, I am a mom of five kids. 🙂 I think sex makes the majority of people happy. Maybe I shouldn’t advocate that as a YA writer, but, hell, let’s be honest. Teens go back and forth between being on top of the world and being in the pits. That was most of us as well at that age.

I’ve written five YA romances now, and I always intend for my characters to have sex, but it never happens. It came close–just about as close as possible–in my last book, but it didn’t happen. I do plenty of hinting at the end that it WILL happen, but I’ve never written a sex scene for teens. That made me rethink things. I shouldn’t be writing FOR teens. I just need to be honest in the story and write it that way.

I think this is what motivates me today to write. I am going to write that sex scene. And I’m going to curb the smiles and shrugs. Unless they’re really, REALLY sexy smiles and shrugs. Today it’s all about the sex.

What about you? Do you write what you know? Do you get stuck when you’re trying to make your characters NOT do what they clearly want to do? What infuses excitement into your writing day?

Off to smile while I write. No shrugging allowed.

My Summer Reading Log

Trying to keep my kids reading throughout the summer is like pulling teeth and performing a root canal. Not so for me. My favorite part of summer at the pool is reading. The only time my body comes into contact with the water is to hang on the ladder for ten seconds when I get too hot. Then it’s right back to the book.

My kids had to fill out their reading logs and keep track of the books they read, so I decided to do the same. So many times someone will ask what books I’ve read recently, and I draw a complete blank. It’s not that I didn’t like the book. It’s that I read too many of them to keep track.

Without further ado, here is my reading log:
1. BOUND by Erica O’Rourke
2. THE FARM by Emily McKay
3. GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers
4. PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry
5. MY LIFE NEXT DOOR by Huntley Fitzpatrick
6. DEATH, DOOM, AND DETENTION by Darynda Jones
7. CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers
9. PAPER TOWNS by John Green
11. LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green
12. THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins
13. FOREVER AND A DAY by Jill Shalvis
14. SHADOW IN THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
15. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY by James Redfield
17. AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED by Khaled Hosseini
18. IT HAD TO BE YOU by Jill Shalvis
19. CRAZY LITTLE THING by Tracy Brogan
20. YOUTH IN REVOLT by C.D. Payne

I love books. Clearly. But I do have to say that I loved every single book I read this summer. I loved them for all different reasons. Some I read for escape. Some I read to better understand a culture or social position. Some I read just for the romance. When I looked at my reading log, it occurred to me that the books I like to read the most are the books that I tend to write—Young Adult. It’s a genre that’s not really a genre. It’s a group of books caught in between the cracks of so many types of books. Most of the ones I read this summer are straight contemporaries, but some paranormals entered my log. The first five books on the list were all RITA-nominated YAs, but Darynda Jones followed close on their heels. ☺ I always have to read her latest.

Jill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins sit together on my shelf, friends both in my bookcase as well as real life. Their romances make my heart feel lighter. They make me laugh. They make me cry. But, more important is the laughter and those family and friendship connections.

Just when I feel happy, I decide to read Khaled Hosseini, who makes me cry in a way that hurts my heart. His stories don’t tug at my heartstrings. They pull them so hard that I feel drawn and quartered by the end. But I love his books so much. They take me to countries that I’ve never been, but I feel that I have. When I put down his books, I feel like I’ve known every character intimately.

After reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS in the spring, I decided to buy John Green’s hardback collection, and I wasn’t disappointed. During our vacation, my daughters, husband and I traded John Green around like a bong at a hippie commune. If hippies actually smoked bongs. Not really sure about that as I’m not really acquainted with either hippies or bongs. I would say our John Green Marathon was successful since we all liked the books.

Several of the books were recommended by my nephew Heidar, who always gives me the best books during the summer. His recommendations were books that I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own: SHADOW IN THE WIND, THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE, YOUTH IN REVOLT, and THE TORTILLA CURTAIN. And I loved these books. Every year we go to California, I hit him up for his recommendations because I want to read out of my comfort zone.

Tracy Brogan’s book was funny and light-hearted but touching in the family relationships and the zany characters. I predict big, BIG things for Ms. Brogan. ☺

And of course, I’m probably going to get yelled at when I admit that—before this summer—I had never read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. What the hell took me so long? I think it’s because I’ve always been a bit of a rebel. If you WANT me to do something, don’t tell me I have to. As I always lumped Harper Lee’s classic into the “mandatory reading” category, I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. I’m so, so happy that I decided to cave to conformity. What a book! Now I understand why people read it again, and again and AGAIN.

Just writing this quick write-up about the books I read this summer makes me excited about reading—and hopefully writing—again.  If I could ever touch someone else’s life through my writing like these authors have done for me I would consider myself a success. It’s a rare gift indeed to change someone’s perspective about illegal immigration colliding with middle-class values (like THE TORTILLA CURTAIN) or doing the right thing in the face of prejudice (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD).

But, for me, it’s about teens. It’s about showing them that they aren’t alone—no matter their situation. Whether they’re struggling with that crazy hierarchy of popularity or identity crisis in any form, they need to know that they aren’t alone.
Isn’t that why we all read? To alleviate loneliness? To make our hearts feel? To know we aren’t alone?

Those are the reasons why I started reading when I was a kid and never stopped. My grandmother once said to me when I was four and bored: “When you learn to read, a whole new world will open for you. And you’ll never be lonely again.”

What books have you read lately that lifted your heart, changed your perspective or you loved for a different reason?

If you haven’t read any books lately (for shame!), what is on the top of your TBR pile?