Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Dear John Green: An Open Letter About Diversity from a Little Brown Librarian

Posted by On February - 19 - 2013

Dear John Green*, After watching your fireside chat with President Obama, I got inspired to write you a letter. I am a middle school librarian at Harlem Village Academies in East Harlem, New York, and an up and coming MG/YA writer represented by the lovely Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider/ICM. My library has several copies of […]

Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdi’s MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by On January - 15 - 2013

Hi gang! To celebrate the impending release of my contemporary YA novel MY LIFE AFTER NOW (Seriously, is it April yet? I’m tired of waiting!), I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway! The giveaway is open from now through March 1, and one winner (chosen at random by Goodreads) will get a signed advance reader copy of […]

Kid Lit Critiques — A New Venture From Two Teen Writers Bloc Members!

Posted by On September - 7 - 2012

Announcement! Announcement! Jess Verdi and I have pooled our skills together to launch Kid Lit Critiques, a manuscript critiquing business. Check out a little more about us: Dhonielle Clayton and Jessica Verdi are two girls in New York City, living the writerly life: attending kidlit events, reading the latest books and ARCs, meeting editors and literary agents… […]

Jess’s Cover Reveal for MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by On September - 4 - 2012

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! Okay, I know it’s not considered customary or proper to begin a blog post with what is essentially a scream, but I can’t help it. My book has a cover! Check it out: MY LIFE AFTER NOW, my contemporary YA novel, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire on April 1, 2013. Yes, that’s April […]

Cover Reveal: Escape from the Pipe Men!

Posted by On August - 22 - 2012

Hello, Teen Writers Bloc Readers! I’m so excited to unveil the cover for my second novel, Escape from the Pipe Men! And yes, the exclamation point is part of the title. Take that, exclamation point haters!!! The book is about a couple of kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on […]

 Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROLThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Lydia Kang, whose sci-fi thriller YA novel, Control, hits shelves today. The book centers on explores family drama, alien abductions, and, of course, a good dose of romance. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Lydia to chat about the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction, and the beauty of science colliding with literature.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I’m a part time internist living in the midwest with my hubs and three kids. We have a lot of fish and pet stick bugs at our house! I started writing medical non-fiction in 2006. Little bits here and there, and I mostly published my stories about patient care in medical journals. In 2008, I joined a writer’s group that mashed up health care professionals with poets and writers. After that, the poetry started flowing and before long, I scratched the itch to write a book. I’ve always adored YA books, so it felt natural to try. Now, I’m still doing my doctor stuff a few days a week, and the rest of the time, I’m writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know I could do it until I tried.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of  Control? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Control is about a 17 year-old girl, who loses her only parent in an accident. Her sister soon gets abducted while they’re in a foster agency, and my MC must align herself with illegal, underground genetically altered kids to help get her sister back. I always wanted to write a protagonist who wasn’t classically beautiful; who used her intelligence (she’s a bit of a research/lab rat prodigy) to get her out of scrapes. I’m a stickler for making the science work, so one thing that I think sets Control apart is that there is no pseudo-science when it comes to the traits of these kids. They had to make sense, anatomically, physiologically, and genetically. And I had to have romance! The book has so much in it, it’s hard to distill into one genre. It’s adventure, a medical thriller, a romance, and sci-fi all at the same time. And there’s poetry! It was a dream to write.

Control promises to be an action-packed page turner. Did you think much about pacing it as you wrote? Action scenes are generally thought to be one of the most challenging kind to write. How did you feel writing the action? 

I concentrated very hard on pacing, and made sure there wasn’t action only the sake of action. I used to be horrible at action! But I learned, and got better. There are several action scenes in Control and I really enjoyed writing them!

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

I need to outline my stories before I write them. Individual scenes are written more spontaneously though. I’m sort of an omni-environmental writer. Sometimes it’s at a desk, sometimes on the floor, and often in a coffee shop. I need to listen to my Youtube playlist. My inspiration comes from just thinking about everyday things and using my imagination to ask the great “What if?”

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

The most surprising thing is that I actually did it! After I’d educated myself about the publishing process, I knew the odds were against me. I had to write a book that was well structured, well paced, with unforgettable characters and scenes and stakes that were worth turning the page for. I worked my tail off teaching myself and learning from other writers. Basically, I wrote every spare moment I had for two straight years until I found an agent and got a deal. Control is the third book I’ve written.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

“Show, don’t tell.” Man, that was hard to learn, but once you experience the nirvana, you never forget. Also, read voraciously and study what it is about your favorite writers that works. And write a lot. Keep the bar very, very high for the quality of your work. Always aim for “is this good enough to be next to (insert favorite, contemporary authors here).”

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a kid, I read the Little House book like a million times. I still read them! Laura was so smart and plucky. I’m also a huge Bronte and Austen fan. I’ve read those a billion times too and reread those all the time. I also loved L’Engle, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…there are too many! Right now I’m reading more non-fiction. I just finished The Poisoner’s Handbook and am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. So amazing.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I’d love to do a sequel or companion book for Control. I also have an idea for an historical fiction set in the 1917.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely! A writing group got me started, and I found a group of critique partners I cannot live without!

Thanks for stopping by TWB, Lydia! 

Thank you so much for having me at your blog! You guys are awesome. icon smile Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROL

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ThisWickedGame Cover The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Copyright Dial Books

I’m obsessed with all things voodoo, and even more so, hoodoo, but that’s a separate topic for another blog post. Ever since I was a kid, I loved reading anything and everything about it, especially books that used it as the foundation for the magic in their worlds. I was in love with voodoo because I was inundated with the western image of witchcraft, religion, and spirituality. Many books that feature witches pull their magical traditions and world-building from pagan European traditions. I loved those witches, but I didn’t find many brown ones as a young reader. I wanted to be included. So the use of voodoo, voodoo priestesses, and magic extrapolated from voudon or vodou, excited me. It’s from Africa. I found it refreshing to see something that reflected people who looked like me and encompassed many of my cultural values, whether it be superstitions or beliefs about my ancestors.

From this season’s American Horror Story: Coven to the CW’s spin-off show The Originals set in New Orleans, voodoo is showing up on TV, and trickling into the publishing industry. There has been a surge in voodoo appearing in YA Literature over the past few years. Two titles have come to my attention lately: Michelle Zink’s This Wicked Game and Kiki Sullivan’s The Dolls.

As a middle school librarian, author, and literary development co-founder of CAKE Literary, I consider myself a stakeholder in the children’s/YA book community, and I have been keeping my eye out for these books. And honestly, as a member of an American subculture, I watch for titles that present aspects of my culture or representation of black iconography in YA and children’s fiction. I always hope that the books do the traditions justice. But there’s always a nagging worry that the traditions will be trampled in the name of entertainment and universal marketability.

I was excited to read Michelle Zink’s This Wicked Game because I’ve read a few of her other books, and enjoyed her Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy. Her writing is smart, clean, and compelling. Plus, I am a librarian that needs diverse titles to serve a diverse student body.

The plot in a nutshell (SPOILERS AHEAD): Set in New Orleans, Claire is apathetic about Voodoo, despite being the great-great-granddaughter of voodoo queen Marie Laveau through her father’s side. This birthright ensures her membership to “The Guild”, a voodoo society that her parents are members of. One day when a woman orders a restricted item from the family shop—panther plasma, used to kill people—she alerts her parents. Her parents immediately whisk her off to her first Guild meeting with the other families.

Claire reports what happens, and learns that two more restricted orders were placed in the shop. Also, Claire has been dating Xander in secret. He is the son of the most prominent Guild family. The two of them start investigating the mystery, and break into the house of the woman who ordered the black plasma. Inside they find a photograph of the Guild members marked with Xs on some of the faces. The Xs connect with Guild families who have suffered from recent break-ins in their houses. Rooms had been ransacked for personal objects. Xander’s house is also broken into.

Claire notices the identical photograph at her house, but a man has been cut out of the photograph. Xander and Claire get together with Sasha and Allegra, who are two other prominent first-born Guild members. They decide to locate the exiled Crazy Eddie. They venture out to the seedy outskirts to find the old man. Crazy Eddie has been anticipating their arrival via his visions. Xander has also been having dreams and visions of Claire being sacrificed, and he’s been unable to help her. Crazy Eddie divulges past Guild secrets. He tells them all about Maximilian, the absent man from the photograph, and the details about his expulsion from the Guild. Claire’s great-great-grandma was anti-black magic, and rejected Maximilian from using the Cold Blood spell to save his dying child. In true villain fashion, Maximilian did it anyway and swore revenge against the Guild if his little girl died. She did die.

FX AHS ImageGallery 0000 24 The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Copyright FX Networks

To counteract Max’s desire to use black magic, Claire’s great-great grandma spoke to the gods. She also assured that the spell would not work, as well as made an addition to the spell that required a special ingredient that Maximilian would be unable to get. She also did a counter spell. The teens put together all of these details because one of the grandmother’s journals was stolen. They point to Maximilian as the one responsible for the break-ins, and somehow found the addendum to the spell. They believe that he is plotting revenge on the Guild’s first-born children. Claire uses voodoo magic, and is able to watch her great-great-grandma in a dream as she writes the Cold Blood spell and the counter spell. Claire tells the crew and they band together to perform the spell and block Maximilian. Before they can complete their task, Claire is taken by Maximilian and Eugenia, the woman from the very beginning who wanted to buy the black panther plasma. They prepare for a voodoo sacrifice and start to bleed Claire. This harkens back to everyone’s visions — and her blood ends up being the essential spell ingredient. Xander, the rest of the teens, and Crazy Eddie rescue Claire just in time and enact the counter spell. Like magic, Claire is able to chant the right spell and call on the gods. The spell washes away her fear. In the end, she wakes up in the hospital and finds out that the others alerted their parents and the Guild. The police came, but Maximilian — of course to probably set up for a sequel — escaped. Claire feels better about voodoo and the belief system, and is more enthralled with her boyfriend Xander.

THE END.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am being selfish in what I wanted from this book.

First and foremost, I am a writer and would never want to be told what to write. I fully support creative expression and freedom. Write what you want, and if you’re not writing what you know — research. Furthermore, if you’re writing about the cultural traditions of a group of people outside of your own, make smart choices and think of the people who belong to those groups. Honor them! Be responsible and sensitive. I won’t assume that Michelle Zink isn’t Creole or doesn’t have African ancestry or ties to voodoo.

Whether she is connected to the community or not, why not make her main character reflect the heart of the voodoo tradition? In a YA publishing world that produces a massive number of books that feature white girls as lead characters, why not change it up and make this character reflect the heart of voodoo — black? Why neglect this opportunity?

Did she think it would alienate her readers or her base? Was she insecure about writing a black character? She wrote the black male love lead Xander.

t voodoo The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot Deck

Instead, Claire’s dad was African-American and a descendant of Marie Laveau (this famous voodoo queen was of mixed heritage and believed to be the daughter of a black woman and a white planter, as well as her daughter Marie Laveau II). Claire’s mother is a white woman, so it isn’t unlikely that she would/could be a blonde girl without many traces of the markings of African ancestry. New Orleans is a wonderful stew of cultures, which creates a fantastic mix of people, food, and traditions. The history of the city is complicated by these racial implications and cultural mixing. Voodoo is influenced by it as well. I wish the book pushed boundaries, and took the rich traditions of the city and its various cultures to explore, alongside her elaborate plot. Instead people are barely described. Their races and cultural iconography are missing. The flavor of their language and world-views are absent. Claire Kincaid reads like a white girl (I realize this statement is multi-faceted, inflammatory, and deserves it’s own post). Her black father and his link to Marie Laveau felt convenient, and like an accessory to the novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy her connection to this heritage. I didn’t feel it inside Claire or her thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc.

Mara Brock Akil, an American TV writer and producer said something that struck me: “My work is driven by my belief that the human spirit needs validation. It starts from the moment we’re born, and yet we’re born into a country whose greatest exports are images… Everywhere we turn — museums, TV, movies, magazines, and books — we’ll see beauty reflected. Unless you’re black, and a girl.” Her words stuck with me and made me think of this book because I selfishly wished the author validated those missing girls from YA fiction who are the darker faces of voodoo. The faces that brought this complex tradition over on slave ships.

I realize this is a lot to ask of someone. I realize that it is selfish. I realize that I have no right to tell someone what to write. I realize that in a nutshell, I am calling Michelle Zink a cultural appropriator or accusing her of making poor decisions in terms of her use of voodoo. Yet still, I wished that she (and her publisher Dial) made better decisions when tapping into a vast and rich cultural tradition attached to a marginalized group that has had a long history with cultural appropriation for profit. If it weren’t for this history, I think this issue wouldn’t be so loaded. And let me be clear for the Goodreads trolls or Internet bullies coming my way, I do not think that white people can’t or don’t practice voodoo. It’s like the same as a white person owning a taco stand. It happens. It’s fine. Those tacos are probably freaking delicious. This is a great benefit of living in a multicultural society. I just wish when authors use voodoo that they honor it by having practitioners reflect the tradition’s African roots. If kids of color only get a fixed number of books written from their cultural traditions a year/their POVs, wouldn’t it be nice if some of them featured characters who looked like them?

Another book that is coming out through a packager The Story Foundation is Kiki Sullivan’s The Dolls. In Publisher’s Marketplace the book is pitched as:

Kiki Sullivan’s THE DOLLS, pitched as Pretty Little Liars meets True Blood, in which a girl returns to her tiny Louisiana bayou hometown only to discover that she is the powerful missing link in a trio of voodoo queens who rule the town – and the gifts she’s inherited may be tied to her mother’s death years before, to Sara Sargent at Balzer & Bray, in a two-book deal, by Holly Root at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency on behalf of The Story Foundation. (NA).

This much I can guess about the novel if the current trend of whitewashing voodoo continues:

(1) The protagonist is another white girl

(2) The voodoo queens are each from a different racial group — one black girl and another white girl (most likely — might have some Spanish or Native American ancestry to reflect old racial groups from colonial New Orleans)

(3) There’s an attractive black male love interest who looks mixed (fair skin, maybe light eyes)

Voodoo is fun and interesting. I get it. People want to incorporate it into their worlds. Go for it. But think about it’s roots and history. Think about the people who came from those traditions. Don’t leave them out or relegate them to side-kick characters when really it’s their story to tell. Give those characters an opportunity as well.

 

 

 

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 Debut Author Interview: Mindy McGinnis discusses NOT A DROP TO DRINKThis week, we’re lucky to feature debut author Mindy McGinnis, whose dystopian YA novel, Not a Drop to Drink, hits shelves today. The book centers on teenaged Lynn and a world in which water is limited and Lynn, and everyone around her, will go any means to protect fresh water. t’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Mindy to chat about dreams, destiny, Ohio, and the benefits of staring into space.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I grew up in a small town in Ohio and went to Otterbein College in Ohio. I then took my degrees in English Literture and Religion and went back to the small town to be an assistant librarian in the same high school I graduated from. I’m rather Ohio-bound. I’m still working full-time as a YA librarian, and intend to keep doing it. I’m one of the very lucky (and very few) people who loves their job.

What made me want to be a writer? Life. Life and my brain. Also, writing is a job where you can stare into space and legitimately claim to be working. I’m an expert space-starer.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of NOT A DROP TO DRINK? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Not A Drop to Drink is set in a not-so-far future when freshwater is extremely rare. Rural dwellers who have hand-dug wells or ponds have their own sources, but must protect them constantly. My main character, Lynn, grew up completely isolated from any human beings other than her mother. Mother’s first priority was the welfare of her child, and that meant keeping their water safe. Lynn is taught at a young age to shoot first, ask questions later. The story begins with Lynn as a teenager, having spent her entire life this way. Changes come fast and hard, and Lynn has to learn how to protect her pond while entering into human relationships, which is quite hard for her.

The idea literally came to me in a dream after watching a documentary called Blue Gold, which talks about a projected water shortage for our planet. I woke up and thought, “Holy crap! This could be the one!” I wrote it in about six months, queried and landed Adriann Ranta as an agent in about two weeks. We were out on submission for about six months, and all told it will have been about two years after signing the contract with Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins to publication.

Not A Drop To Drink involves quite a diverse cast of characters. Apart from your main character, you feature a crippled boy, a mother, a pregnant woman. How did you handle developing your secondary characters? 

They were already so developed in my head, I didn’t have to do much more than deliver that on the paper. I swear it’s not a cop-out answer! They all had such a presence. All I had to do was write.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I’m a linear pantster — crazy right? I get an idea, I type “Chapter One,” and I see what happens. There is no typical writing day, I write when I have time — usually between 9 to 11 p.m.. And oh yeah, I write in bed.

What has your path to publication been like? 

The path has been awesome. I can’t say enough good things about my agent, my editor (Sarah Shumway) and the team at Katherine Tegen. But that’s the path of the past two years. There were ten years before that where I queried, failed, and kept querying. Yes, ten years.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

I’ve never had any “best” writing advice, but I would definitely tell aspiring authors that they should *not* think they have to write every day in order to succeed. Some people do, sure. I go months at a time without writing. I do space-staring instead.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I read The Stand by Stephen King when I was too young to really be doing that. So glad I did. Thanks Mom, for being cool. Right now I’m reading Pivot Point by Kasie West — awesome, original, well-written.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Next for me is holding on by my fingernails as I debut.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

How about invaluable? I truly believe that if it weren’t for the amazing community over at AgentQuery Connect I would not have landed an agent, or enjoyed any of the experiences post-agented. I now serve as a volunteer moderator at AQC and I advise anyone who is looking for an educated, professional, kind community to drop in.

Also I have to say that if it weren’t for my critique partner RC Lewis (Stitching Snow, 2014) I would be known as Mindy “Comma Splice” McGinnis. She does more than that, too, but I always say it’s a good thing I have a keeper. She’s the keeper, I’m the kept. She’s my more responsible, self-controlled half.

Beyond large communities and personal relationships, small groups like Class of 2k13, Lucky 13s and most of all Friday the Thirteeners, keep me sane. Debuting is a very chaotic time, and being with like-minded individuals is balm for the brain.

Thanks so much for stoping by TWB, Mindy!

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Neptune FINAL 198x300 Debut Author Polly Holyoke discusses THE NEPTUNE PROJECTWe are super excited here at TWB to be hosting Polly Holyoke whose middle grade science fiction debut, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT hit shelves yesterday! Polly has a lot to say about writing and reading and being a wonderful super-nerd so let’s “dive” right into her interview!

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a writer? What did you do before you officially became a writer? What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full time now?

I was a social studies teacher for many years. As much as I loved my students, I REALLY didn’t want to teach summer school. I’d always been a huge reader and loved books that took me to different worlds. So when I had those wonderful summers free, I finally decided to see if I could write a book that transported my readers to other realities, and I hope that’s what THE NEPTUNE PROJECT does. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to write full time now.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT? How did you come up with the concept for the book? Can you talk a bit about your process from conception to publication?

THE NEPTUNE PROJECT is set in a future where global warming is out of control. As people fight over scarce resources like food and water, a group of desperate scientists genetically alter their own children to live in the sea. TNP is the story of shy Nere Hanson who suddenly has to give up her life on land. The idea for this story grew in the back of my mind over several years. It seems so obvious to me that we are messing up both our land and our climate at a disastrous rate. If we wreck the planet, our species won’t have enough resources left to escape to other solar systems. That leaves us with the oceans as our last possible retreat. I wrote TNP in about six months, and it sold quickly after it was finished.

What is your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? When/where do you write? Where does your inspiration come from?

I’m a big daydreamer (one of the best parts of my job). I try to imagine around 20 different scenes in my story, and then I write out a rough synopsis of where I think my story is headed. I love to write in my office in my comfy chair at my desk which is littered with knickknacks like seashells and small rocks I’ve picked up hiking. I’m disciplined when I’m working on a rough draft and write between 4-6 pages a day at least 5 days a week. That way the story stays vivid in my mind and I remain connected to my characters. I read tons of fiction and non-fiction. I know this is going to make me sound like a super-nerd, but I love NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and the way its stories so vividly depict people around the world living in realities so different from our own (noticing a theme here yet)??? I get two or three story ideas from every issue I read!

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I’m a big believer in agents. Whenever I’ve had a good agent, my books have sold relatively quickly. I’m still a bit shocked by how much of my day is spent blogging, tweeting and using social media to reach out to potential readers. It’s fun, but it’s also a huge time-sucker. I LOVE to write, and I wish I could spend more of my day creating new stories.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give to aspiring writers?

The single best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard came from Nora Roberts. She said in her pithy, direct way that the secret to being a productive writer is to, “Keep your butt in the chair.” She went on to explain that when she’s writing that first draft and she sits down at her computer, she ONLY reads over the last paragraph she wrote and drives the story forward from there. I can’t always make myself follow that advice, but when I do, it does help me to write more quickly.

My best advice to aspiring authors is to make sure you write the kind of book which YOU love to read. I enjoy stories in which smart, capable heroines get to save the day, and in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, my shy heroine becomes a leader and guides her group through the dangerous sea to safety.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

It’s tough to name a single favorite because I had so many, but I will say that I read THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley so many times that my old copy is falling apart. In this wonderful story, a shy but brave heroine gets to learn how to ride and fight with a sword, and guess what? In the end, she gets to save the day! Right now I’m having great fun reading tons of ARC’s from my fellow 2013 debut children’s authors. I’m amazed and so impressed with the breadth and the originality of the stories my new friends have to tell.

What’s next for you writing-wise?

I’m hoping Hyperion and Puffin UK will both buy the third and final book in my Neptune series because I’m dying to write it! I’m also working on a YA tourist fantasy trilogy.

Do you believe in being part of a block of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful for you? 

Members of The Lucky 13’s and The Class of 2k13 both have been so supportive and generous about sharing information. I’ve also been in the same critique group for eight years now, and every time I take a chapter to them to be critiqued, they always find lots of ways to improve it.

THE NEPTUNE PROJECT is full of all sorts of creatures that we’re guessing you don’t come across very often in your daily life. How did you come up the descriptions for all the living obstacles Nere has to face? Was there one creature that was the most fun to write about?

We are a little short on oceans here in Dallas! I used to go scuba diving in the kelp forests in the Channel Islands, though, so those scenes in the first half of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT I could describe from memory. But I also spent lots of time on dive sites and NOAA’s fabulous website to find out what marine life lives in the waters up north around Vancouver Island. Dolphins are hands down THE coolest animals I researched. I could go on for hours about them, but I’ll just share a few of my favorite facts. They have the greatest brain-to-body ratio of any mammal except for us, so of course, they are highly intelligent. They are very family-oriented and love to play. While writing TNP I was surprised and delighted by how much Nere’s dolphins became important characters in this story.

 Thanks so much for stopping by, Polly! 
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It’s a super-wonderful-exciting day at Teen Writers Bloc—release day for Jessica Verdi‘s My Life After Now

 Its Release Day for Jessica Verdis My Life After Now!What now?

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

Jessica stared writing this gripping, startling, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful novel during our second semester at The New School and by the time we read the first few pages of her first draft, we all knew she had started something special. Turns out the folks at Sourcebooks Fire agreed with us and, at long last, now you can too! Trust me, you’ll want to get your hands on this book!

Even better, if you’re in the New York area, come and celebrate Jess’s release with us next Tuesday, April 9 at 7:00PM at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn! You can enjoy wine, a reading, a book talk, and get a signed copy (if you can wait that long to get your hands on it!)

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ID 10053661 300x199 Reading Bad for Kids, New Study ShowsScientists at the National Institutes of Health have published the results of a groundbreaking longitudinal study in this month’s Journal of Psychology and Education. According the study, which followed six thousand children from ages seven through thirty-five, reading reduces both educational and career outcomes over a person’s lifetime and is linked with an increase in criminal behavior. The scientists measured the amount of reading done by the children using self-reports and parental reports as well as by monitoring the children’s library card usage. The results show that library use is particularly pernicious—there was a direct correlation between the number of books checked out per year at ages seven through fourteen and the number of arrests suffered by the children as adults. One in five of the heaviest readers (one hundred or more books per year) failed to graduate from high school, while those who read the least (zero to five books) were the most likely to have a graduate degree. Readers were also more likely to be divorced and less likely to have health insurance. Teen Writers Bloc spoke with Dr. Ralph Schumaker, the lead author of the study.

“Some people might find the results surprising,” said Dr. Schumaker, “but we’ve always known that reading impedes children’s development of social skills. Since success in life is based on likeability and not intelligence, we can expect to see some disadvantages. Readers get frustrated by their inability to connect with their TV-watching peers, and they retreat into lives of vice and crime.” Dr. Schumaker then described the life of one study participant, Paul Fletcher, who read two hundred books per year as a child and is now incarcerated in Federal prison. “His wife left him for a normal TV-watcher, and he lost it and went on a bank robbery spree,” said Dr. Schumaker. “He wore a mask with giant glasses painted on it. I guess he was making some kind of statement, but you know, it’s sad. If he had just read fewer books, he could be making a good living.”

The study also revealed that the heaviest readers tended to get pooped on by birds more regularly than non-readers, but the authors note that causation in that case has not been proved.

What does this mean for children’s authors like the members of Teen Writers Bloc? “We’re all in shock,” said Teen Writers Bloc member Alyson Gerber. “We love writing books, but we don’t want to be responsible for bank robbery or bird poop. We’re going to have to think long and hard about what to do now.”

What do you think? Should we stop writing children’s books and burn our library cards? Tell us in the comments!

Photo credit: Phaitoon

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 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in Brooklyn“So, serious question,” David Levithan asked the five authors who were on his panel on realistic YA fiction at WORD in Brooklyn last night. “How many of you have had sex for clothing?”

That question was inspired by our own Jessica Verdi who had just read from her debut novel, My Life After Now, about a girl who has HIV. (And, no, Jess’s character and Jess herself have not had sex for clothing either.) Jess’s book does not technically hit shelves until April 2nd, but patrons who were present last night got to buy the earliest signed copies.

Other highlights of the panel included Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Tricks, and so many more) giving us all a sneak peek (sneak listen?) of a project she’s working on for Spring 2014; Tim Decker (The Punk Ethic) discussing how his project went from graphic novel to standard form; Crissa-Jean Chappell (Narc) talking about writing across gender lines; and Amy McNamaras (Lovely, Dark and Deep) story about standing up to genre-snobbery among her poetry friends.

 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in BrooklynIn addition to a few pages of each of these saucy, clever and intriguing books (which included our own Jessica saying “sex” about 37 times—go Jess!) listeners like me were treated to a discussion on proces. And there’s nothing I love more than hearing how other writers manage to make the magic happen!

I especially liked David’s question about how a project starts. In response, it felt like each panel member had a recipe for what makes a story.

In fact, Tim said he pictures his work-in-progress like a petri dish: he puts a few things in there together and sees how they will react. Crissa-Jean defined author as “being evil all the time” because she takes a character she likes, then tries to make him uncomfortable for hundreds of pages. That’s, of course, the only way he’ll change. Amy said that, for her, a story becomes a story when she has a character and a place she can put together. And Jess said she started with the issue before she even knew the gender or race of her character.

I’m always amazed by how many different answers a question like that can produce!

Other pearls of wisdom I’m going to take away include Crissa-Jean addressing her self-censor. She said that sometimes when she’s drafting she hears an “inner voice” telling her she’s gone “too far”—but she calls that voice a “green light.” I love that idea. Push through that inner voice and go further than even you as the writer are comfortable with to get to the truth.

Jessica said focusing on her character and her character’s own individual experience helped her to avoid sounding preachy.

Ellen Hopkins told us not to read reviews of your own writing. (But it’s so hard, Ellen!) Apparently there are some silly people out there who think all of her characters are the same, which is just, you know, ridiculous.

And David Levithan, our moderator and the mastermind behind the Teen Author Festival (and one of our valued professors from The New School) said that when you find your comfort zone as a writer, you have to run in the other direction!

There are so many more awesome book events this week as part of the Teen Author Festival! Check out the full schedule here!

Also, you can see our own Mary G. Thompson on Friday at 4:40 where she’ll be part of a panel on Alternate World vs. Imaginary world.

And, you can see me, Caela Carter, on Friday at 3:00 on a panel discussing teens and bad choices.

Jess, Mary and Caela will all be signing books at Books of Wonder on Sunday along with about 90 other authors!

 

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Screen Shot 2013 02 25 at 11.45.23 AM 99x150 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Hello Teen Writers Bloc readers! This week is the annual Teen Author Festival, hosted by none other than our former professor/bestselling author/Scholastic super-editor David Levithan. There will be more than ninety fantastic authors participating this year, and for the first time, the festival will include three of our own: Caela Carter, Jessica Verdi, and me (Mary G. Thompson)! You can find the entire schedule of events (starting today!) at the Teen Author Festival Facebook page. You’ll want go to as many of the events as you can, because there’s going to be a whole lot of awesome!

You can find us at the following times and places:

 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Jessica Verdi (My Life After Now):

Tuesday, March 19, 7:00-8:30, Word Bookstore, 126 Franklin St., Greenpoint.

The only way out is through: Engaging truth through YA.

—also featuring Crissa Chappell, Tim Decker, Ellen Hopkins, Amy McNamara, and moderator David Levithan

Caela Carter (Me, Him, Them, and It):

Friday, March 22, 3:00-4:00, 42nd St. New York Public Library, Berger Forum, 2nd Floor

Taking a Turn: YA Characters Dealing with Bad and Unexpected Choices

—also featuring Eireann Corrigan, Alissa Grosso, Terra Elan McVoy, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Elizabeth Scott, K. M. Walton, and moderator Aaron Hartzler

 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Mary G. Thompson (Wuftoom):

Friday, March 22, 4:40-5:30, 42nd St. New York Public Library, Berger Forum, 2nd Floor

Alternate World vs. Imaginary World

—also featuring Sarah Beth Durst, Jeff Hirsch, Emmy Laybourne, Lauren Miller, E. C. Myers, Diana Peterfreund, and moderator Chris Shoemaker

All three of us will be signing at Books of Wonder, 18 W 18th St., on Sunday, March 24th! Caela will be there from 1:00-1:45, and Jess and I will be there from 3:15-4:00 (yes, Jess and I have been separated from Caela by the dreaded alphabetical order bias. Curses!).

Please check out the list of the events and support your favorite NYC authors! There are so many awesome people involved, you can’t help but find something you’ll love!

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camel caravan in libyan desert wallpaper 300x187 Jean Pauls Tips for Writing About Places You Know Nothing AboutMy book is a fantasy novel and I wanted every location to feel rich with details to make it seem like a real place. Because I wanted to give my fantasy roots in reality, I had to make it seem like I knew what it’s like to live in a desert region, even though I had never been there. I knew I could only make up so much before the reader loses the ability to suspend their disbelief, so I had to do some research.

I come from the Midwest, where it snows and rains and the temperatures can reach in the triple digits, but it’s accompanied by humidity. We have tons of trees and grassy hills, not sand, sand dunes, and more sand. At the beginning, all I knew about deserts was that they are hot and sandy. I had a lot of work to do. The only way to write the desert sections of my novel with any sort of authenticity was to immerse myself in the desert as much as I could from my apartment in NYC.

Tip #1: Use Google. Google image search became my best friend. Not only could I see the desert, but I found images of villages and the people who live there. I used these images to give myself a visual and then I turned to texts and movies for the rest of the experience.

Tip #2: Movies and books are fun ways to do research. I watched Sahara (starring Humphrey Bogart), Lawrence of Arabia, and Walkabout, a brilliant Australian film about two children who must survive in the harsh outback after their father dies. Then I watched dozens of documentaries on television that dealt with deserts, from Biblical stories to lost desert civilizations. If it had anything to do with the desert, I watched it.

I researched the foods desert people eat, which crops they grow, and which plants thrive in arid conditions. Then I learned about the types of building materials they use, where they get water, and which animals are native to the desert. I learned how people travel across the desert, what signs to look for when searching for water, and realized that the desert was a much more interesting place than I had first assumed. I read graphic novels, like Habibi by Craig Thompson and Cairo by G. Willow Wilson, to see how others dealt with the desert in a visual and text medium.

Tip #3: Take notes from unexpected resources. What surprised me most during my research was the odd places where I found useful information. While reading a book about Alexander the Great for my own personal enjoyment, I learned that he traveled through the desert by following birds as they migrated from one oasis to the next. And in a show about ancient battles, I learned about caravans and how they survived for weeks at a time in the desert.

Tip #4: Put yourself there. Once all of the researchwais done I had to imagine myself in the desert in order to write about it. I thought about the sights, sounds, and smells that would overwhelm my senses if I was dropped on top of a sand dune in the middle of the desert. If I can’t imagine it, then neither will my reader.

Writing about a place I’ve never been is daunting, but it can be done. With a bit of research and a great imagination, no one will ever know that the only time I’ve ever been to the desert is when I write about it in my novel.

Image courtesy of wallpaperpassion.com

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REV.WhatWeBecome 398x600 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelAccording to Hollywood, our culture’s largest purveyor of populist storytelling, the general wisdom on making a successful sequel is “the same, but more,” with the operative word being “more.” It’s pretty easy to see this in action (A Good Day to Die Hard is a recent example). Now, I’m not saying you can’t tell a big, enjoyable escapist story with this formula. However, one can also look at a sequel as a chance to expand and deepen the experience of the first installment.

In writing What We Become, a sequel of my book Those That Wake, I tried to adhere to three general rules to construct as compelling and satisfying a continuation as I could.

1. Deepen your themes and pay off your ideas – Presumably you’ve laid out your themes clearly the first time around, so rather than simply repeating them, delve more deeply into them and get below the more obvious conclusions. A famous sequel that did this extremely well, I think, was The Empire Strikes Back, in which the themes of heroism and fighting tyranny were deepened from the first movie as the narrative delved into the anguish, pain and sacrifice that heroism requires and how a victory may only be the first step in a more arduous struggle. Similarly, ideas and concepts introduced in a first part no longer have the novelty of the new and should be “paid off” with surprising and satisfying new applications.  Again, The Empire Strikes Back does a nifty job of this, by taking the idea of the Jedi and the Force introduced in Star Wars and immersing its main character in the philosophy of these ideas and showing off to audiences a wider array of functions.

In What We Become, I have taken the theme of not giving up, central to Those That Wake, and plunged in as far as it will take me. What happens when you can’t stop fighting?  What is the final cost of never giving up? What is the third choice, the one that is not about fighting or giving up? I’ve also given a new perspective to the theme of a world manipulated from behind the scenes by moving away from the more fantastical take on it in Those That Wake to one that, while still stranger than pure reality, is more grounded in the real world and recent history. Meanwhile, some of my Big Ideas, like the Librarian and the Global Dynamic, are taken to their natural fruition and have their origins and intricacies revealed in unexpected ways.

 2. Grow your characters – Hopefully, your characters had a full and satisfying arc the first time around.  So where does that leave you to go with them?  Well, an arc is just the narrative of a character’s growing understanding.  Coming to understand things always leads to seeing a larger world, greater possibilities and how much more there could still be left to understand.  Those initial arcs can flow organically into larger and more expansive arcs.  Characters in stories get to grow more neatly than actual humans, whose experiences and understanding are not divided into clear, narrative sections.  But a good fictional character should keep searching and growing as long as they live, just like actual people.

While Mal was the ostensible hero of Those that Wake, his arc in that book was very much about showing him his limitations. Laura, meanwhile, had a more classic arc, essentially moving from dependence to self-sufficiency. I have, in what I hope are interesting and surprising ways, reversed their roles for What We Become. Laura takes on more classically heroic characteristics here, even going on a physical quest for something crucial, Mal has his arc ultimately and completely fulfilled.  Using his arc in the first book as a mere first step, I push Mal to those aforementioned limitations and see what he has to do to actually break through them.

I’ve also introduced two new characters to share the main spotlight, whose own development as characters serves not only to flesh them out, but to highlight other aspects of Mal and Laura, making all four of them into more fully-formed and psychologically complex and authentic characters.

3. Don’t take your readers for granted or leave them behind – If things went right, you’re going to have some returning readers. Some of them may remember the details of the story very well and some may only remember a few key moments and strong characters. At the same time, you’ve got to assume that there are going to be at least a few people who wandered into your story right in the middle. So, you’ve got to be able to gently recap crucial information without being intrusive or artificial about it. You’ve got to integrate the recap naturally into the flow of the new story.

Having new characters caught up in the ongoing adventure helps with this considerably, as they will need to be brought up to speed even as events proceed at an engaging pace. In What We Become, I have also tied some of the revelations into the mysteries of Those That Wake, not so that you need to understand what came before, but so that if you do, the current story will take on multiple layers, and revelations will have a larger impact. At the same time, I have also worked hard to create echoes of elements from the first book: character moments, lines of dialog, situations, even tricks I play with chapter titles. For those who went through the first part, you want the second part to recall it and to connect with it to create a larger, more complete structure, but not necessarily be dependent on it. That’s why, I figure, they put the word “companion” on the cover of What We Become, rather than “sequel.”

You always want to give your readers a deeper, more expansive experience. In a sequel, the most effective way to do this is to give them something they haven’t seen before but that improves and is improved by what they have seen before. In other words “more, but not the same.”

 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelJesse Karp is the author of Those That Wake, the sequel What We Become, and the non-fiction work Graphic Novels in Your School Library. He is also a school librarian in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.  Please visit him at beyondwhereyoustand.com.

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