Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for October, 2010

Trailer of the Week: Amelia O’Donahue Is So Not A Virgin

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On October - 29 - 2010

amelia Trailer of the Week: Amelia O’Donahue Is So Not A VirginWow. In the mood for something dark, decadent and totally watercooler-worthy? Check out the trailer for Helen FitzGerald’s first young adult novel, Amelia O’Donahue Is So Not A Virgin, which hits bookstores Nov. 1.

The plotline: In this prep school mystery, smartie pant Rachel thinks things are going swimmingly at her new school once she buddies up with Queen Bee Amelia O’Donahue. But when she finds a newborn baby in a cupboard (that’s one of those British cabinet-type things), well, popularity is the last thing on her mind. Right?

The Australia-born, Glasgow-based author of The Devil’s Staircase and four other thrillers, genre-bending crime fiction specialist FitzGerald serves up something subtly sinister in this professionally-produced-but-not-slick trailer, blending a creepy chorus of whispers (provided by Fitzgerald’s daughter Anna and her pals) with a can’t-miss-it clue to what the novel’s all about.

It definitely had me intrigued. But what do you think? Check it out below.

Amelia O’Donohue Is SO Not A Virgin from Blether Video on Vimeo.

Celebrity YA Novels: An Inspiration?

Posted by Amber On October - 25 - 2010
elixir 199x300 Celebrity YA Novels: An Inspiration?

Hilary Duff's New York Times Bestselling novel

I remember the first time I heard that Hilary Duff was going to transition from being an actress to being a musician. I was in high school. Back then I don’t think I gave her much of a chance. My opinion was, “Why can’t she just be satisfied with being an actress? Why not let other people have the opportunity to sing? Does she have to do it all?”

I felt the same way when Justin Timberlake became an actor and Nicole Richie wrote her first YA novel, The Truth About Diamonds. “When you already have so much, why can’t you let other people have a chance?” I would think. Thankfully, now, I’m a little more sophisticated in thought.

Last Sunday, as I strolled through the aisles of Border’s YA section, I came across Ms. Duff’s debut novel, Elixir. My default opinion was typical of my teenage self: “Everyone (as in every celebrity) has a YA novel now.”

Yep, complete that thought with an eye roll, and that pretty much sums up my initial sentiment. That is, until I picked up the novel and started leafing through its first chapter.  Gradually my opinion began to change. I was impressed with what she had created. Although I didn’t buy it, just reading some of it made me see that perhaps her work was more complex, or at least more thoughtful, than I’d given her credit for.  I think I tend to assume that a celebrity won’t take writing as seriously as me and my fellow MFA-ers — which is admittedly unfair on my part. If a celebrity wants to express herself via the written word, who am I to judge?

It all comes down to a mentality I feel we as aspiring authors should all embrace: What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?

This overused but still beloved quote implies that most would attempt anything that their hearts desired if they knew that they would succeed. I mention this for two reasons. The first being that with a built in audience — and perhaps a previously unspoken passion for the written word? — it seems natural for celebrities to become authors. They have so many opportunities at their doorstep. Why wouldn’t they?  If they have what it takes, it’s pretty much a given that they will be able to get their work published. Imagine how many contacts they may have across myriad industries and the many life experiences they’ve had that readers — both young and old alike — would die to know about.

Take Lauren Conrad, another successful YA novelist, previously of reality show fame. The fact that her L.A. Candy novels have sold well demonstrates that teen readers want to escape (don’t we all?) and Conrad has just the story to keep them enthralled. The content from her books is taken from her personal experiences, at least on some level, and I’ve always believed that the best fiction comes from a manipulation of real life experience. Nicole Richie, who recently released her second novel Priceless, is yet another celebrity who has taken the YA world by storm. And I’m sure that there are many more to follow. Although no one can ever know whether they will fail or succeed at something, the previous successes that these young women have garnered in their other careers demonstrate that they have the ability to create buzz and do well. From such prior successes, come confidence and the instinct to go after one’s dreams wholeheartedly.  To silence that voice of doubt.

This takes me to my second point. Instead of resisting the growing phenomenon that is celebrity YA authorship, we as aspiring authors should focus on our own work. It is hard to get published, and yet every day another opportunity is created for an aspiring author. Hence, we must create the best worlds and narratives that we can. We must think critically about our own work and invite the critiques of others.

Furthermore, we should be open to changing and rethinking our work in order to best tell our characters’ stories. And what is perhaps most important is that we go into each paragraph and moment of revision with courage. We need to believe that one day we will succeed and enrich the lives of others through our work — regardless of how many rejection letters we may receive in the process.  After all, if we don’t believe it, who will? The YA book market is so vast that I feel it is safe to say that if you’re patient, your work is up to par and you find the right outlet for it, you can have the same opportunities as anyone else. Most YA authors were not originally celebrities, so that helps put things into perspective.

So, congratulations Hilary Duff on making it onto the New York Times Best Seller’s List!

Maybe one day I’ll be on there, too.

Sweet Valley Feminism

Posted by Corey Haydu On October - 22 - 2010

Um, amazing.

After trolling around the internet reading about Sweet Valley High’s triumphant and soap opera sounding return, I found a blog that not only revealed that Elizabeth is sleeping with her boss in the new, decade later novel, but also included pictures of the covers of old books, and a picture of the cover of the new book.

sweetvalley Sweet Valley FeminismThe information about the sexy plot twists was great but these pictures are amazing, and I have spent the rest of my pre-determined internet procrastination time looking at old covers and old plot descriptions, reveling in the big hair, cheesy titles, and awkwardly sexual blurbs.

Now that I think about it…. Maybe I am better acquainted with the younger, more innocent Sweet Valley girls, from their junior high days.

I mean, come on. If this doesn’t define what I  thought being seventeen would be like, I don’t know what did. My image of teenagerhood was so sculpted by the Sweet Valley books (along with Babysitters Club and other like-minded series) that I couldn’t ever reconcile actual high school with the idealized version we would real about and then act out during play dates. (Side note: in my imaginary version of being 17, I was named Marcia and had a perm.)

And though at first I was shocked to think of Elizabeth and Jessica doing adult things in the adult world, I’m now seeing just how advanced they actually were. These were not the sweet, naïve girls in Babysitters Club or on Saved by the Bell. I’ll leave you with my favorite blurb on Amazon.com, describing the book Too Good to be True.

“The Wakefield twins are wild with excitement. Glamorous, sophisticated Susan Devlin is coming to Sweet Valley from New York City. For two weeks, Elizabeth will show her around town while Jessica has the time of her life in New York.

At first, Suzanne seems to be the most perfect girl in the world. She’s beautiful and friendly and not the least bit stuck-up. All the boys of Sweet Valley are absolutely crazy about her. But when Suzanne accuses Mr. Collins of trying to seduce her, Elizabeth knows there’s more to Suzanne than meets the eye.”

I mean, come on. There’s something here bigger than my old innocent “what will being a teenager be like?” fantasies. These are the essential questions of feminist theory, female sexuality and Madonna/whore complexes. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

Upcoming critical thesis on the influence of 1980s teen fiction over pre-adolescent girls’ sexual development and self-image struggles?

Yes, please. I am just that kind of dork, the kind who will suck all the fun out of something smarmy and wonderful and nostalgic like SVH.

But not until after I devour the new book in one sitting over a glass of wine.

How Do I Get Published? Part I—Write Your Book!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On October - 21 - 2010

I’m currently lucky enough to be in the process of having a book published. As far as the actual publication part, I’m still at the beginning—I’ve only just done the first revision for my real live editor. The book won’t actually be released until some time in 2012! Still, I’ve come a long way. As I go through the process, I plan to keep you up to date on how it’s going. First things first, though!

You can’t start to sell your book until it’s finished. Some people think I write fast. Right now, I’m about ¾ of the way through the first draft of my fifth manuscript in three years. I’ll be honest—it’s probably only the third that will see the light of day. Still, people are always asking me how I do it. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice on getting the darn thing written:

Write every week. Wait a minute? Doesn’t everyone say to write every day? Sure, every day is ideal, but most of us have “day jobs” (or school). Sometimes every day just isn’t realistic. If you can write 5 days a week, great! 3 days a week is fine, too. If you’re tired and stressed out, then write on the weekends. Set a goal for yourself, whether it’s hours or pages—whatever will get you motivated and push you to get something done. Make sure the goal is manageable for you. If you set an unrealistic goal, you’ll just stress yourself out and you won’t do anything at all. Every week is essential, though. Your novel must become a regular, non-negotiable part of your life.

Do not wait for inspiration to strike. It will not. Nothing, nothing, nothing about writing a novel has to do with inspiration. Writing is a job like any other—sometimes you won’t like it. You wouldn’t tell your boss (or teacher) that you have to go home because you just don’t feel like working. Don’t tell yourself that either.

Keep a calendar. Remember that goal you set for yourself every week? Write it down on a calendar that shows what you will accomplish this month and next month, all the way until completion of your first draft. Then start marking your schedule for revisions. (More on that next time!) Then stick to it.

Say no. This is the hard part. Your friends, family, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband, co-workers etc. etc. want to hang out. You want to finally get away from the computer. But you can’t say yes until you’ve accomplished today’s goal. Tell people that writing is your job, just like the one you do during the day. If you do it well, you will get paid for this job, too. People who care about you will understand.

Don’t let anyone who is not a writer read it. I have a critique group made up of a few trusted friends—now I also have my class at The New School! But I never, never, never let anyone else read my work until it’s been revised a bunch of times. Even then, I’ve only let a couple trusted friends read my unpublished work. This is because people who aren’t writers don’t understand that your manuscript is not going to read like books they buy in stores—it won’t be “finished” until you go through the editing process with your publisher. Feedback from non-writers is likely to be discouraging rather than helpful. Giving your book to people who say they want to read it, but then don’t read it is even worse! You know your book. Trust yourself.

Push through your first draft. Nothing is perfect the first time you write it. As you are writing, you have to remember that your first draft is only a base for the finished product. You will have the chance to go back to it many, many times. I am very aware that many writers disagree with me on this, but personally, I do not do much revising at all until the first draft is done. There is nothing more exciting than finishing the first draft! It is a milestone that will give you the motivation you need to revise. Do revise, don’t agonize!

Next time: Part II: Revising Your Book

The Death of the Picture Book

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On October - 21 - 2010

 The Death of the Picture BookI was alarmed recently to read in the New York Times that picture books are no longer a staple in the U.S. book business.

It is sad to read about the plummeting sales of picture books in some parts of the world. But the real shocker is that some parents think that picture book are ‘dumbing down’ reading for children. In my opinion, picture books can have a lot more to offer, and not just visually, to the reader. Many picture books come alive with beautiful illustration styles and colors and can be an absolute delight.

Take for instance, some of these wonderfully executed picture books:

The Maestro Plays, by Bill Martin and Vladimir Radunsky

Using mischievous fonts that keep changing size and large, colorful illustrations of a clown,  The Maestro, this book rings aloud as we read that the Maestro plays “flowingly, glowingly, knowingly, showingly, goingly” as well as “nippingly, drippingly, zippingly, clippingly, pippingly.”

ABC3D, by Marion Bataille

This award-winning book can be enjoyed by children and adults. Its really incredibly simple, it is a pop-up book with alphabets opening up one after the other. What’s really interesting is the way some alphabets turn into others, along with the use of innovative materials involved in the book’s design.

Anything at all by Robert Sabuda

Robert Sabuda is a pop-up genius. His Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are timeless treats, with each pop-up chapter folding back just as well as it pops up. He has also done a fantastically dynamic book calledPrehistoric Mega Beasts that could serve as a pop-up encyclopedia on extinct creatures such as pterosaurs and  woolly mammoths.

The London Jungle Book, by Bhajju Shyam

Created by Indian Gond tribal artist, this book serves as a London travelogue through the eyes of someone visiting it for the first time. Shyam illustrates using traditional Gond style his experiences and observations showing a modern city as you’ve never seen it before—the London Underground becomes a giant earthworm, Big Ben merges with a massive rooster, and English people are shown as bats that come out to play at night. An absolute work of art, this book certainly is.

To Market! To Market!, by Anushka Ravishankar and Emanuele Scanziani

Innovative typography, intricate pictures and catchy nonsense verse make this book a treat as we are taken through an interesting Indian market by a little girl. Author Anushka Ravishankar has been involved with some absolutely dynamic books such as Anything But a Grabooberry and Tiger on a Tree, which no child can resist.

The United States may not be the best market for picture books, but it is a relief to know that this beautiful form is far from dying elsewhere in the world. Tara Books, a publishing house, has year after year been putting out books that stress the visual aspect regardless of what market-watchers may say.

Perhaps children are interested in different things all over the world, and for parents who may think that picture books are ‘too lame’ to have their child read them, perhaps videogames better sources of entertainment for their children. After all, everyone has a right to an opinion. But to me, picture books are timeless.

A New Sweet Valley book?! Sign me up!

Posted by Jessica Verdi On October - 20 - 2010

sweet valley 300x225 A New Sweet Valley book?!  Sign me up!Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. These (fictional) girls were dear friends of mine when I was a kid. Apart from Donnie Wahlberg and the oh-so-cool New Kids on the Block, the Sweet Valley twins were my first major obsession. The Sweet Valley book series was like junk food and soap operas rolled into one: addictive and juicy and a constant source of amusement.

The fact that my own name is Jessica and that my best friend at the time’s name was Elizabeth caused us to be that much more obsessed — we felt that Francine Pascal (and her posse of ghost writers, although my ten-year-old self was completely ignorant that ghost writers actually existed) was writing just for us. Even though we had absolutely nothing in common with the Wakefield sisters, we just knew that these books about gorgeous, privileged, blonde twins were, somehow, about us. We were delusional. In turn, the dynamic between Elizabeth’s and my friendship started to mirror the Wakefields: I became the fun, outgoing one who cared about things like makeup and fashion and boys, and Elizabeth became the smart, kind, bookish one. The really odd thing is that neither I nor my friend Elizabeth actually possessed these personalities in our real lives. We went to separate schools and lived separate lives having nothing to do with being particularly outgoing or bookish, and only morphed into these roles when we were together. Somehow, the Sweet Valley series defined us and defined our relationship. It was incredibly bizarre.

I loved the Wakefield twins (and their gaggle of friends, including Todd Wilkins, Enid Rollins, Lila Fowler, Amy Sutton, and Winston Egbert) so much that I played the Sweet Valley board game almost daily and watched the TV show religiously during my middle and early-high school years. (Even after the show was canceled in 1997, I continued to follow the careers of Brittany Daniel, who played Jessica, and Manley Pope, who played Devon Whitelaw and went on to star on Broadway as Roger in Rent.)

The Sweet Valley series is one of the main reasons I want to write for teens. Although YA literature has come a loooong way since the days of the “perfect size six” twins who were born four minutes apart, this series was hugely important to me during my adolescent years, and I’d like to pay it forward.

Today, my birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, and June 13 (the Wakefield twins’ birthday, of course) came early for me. I found out that a new Sweet Valley book, Sweet Valley Confidential, is going to be released in March 2011. We’re going to get to know Jessica and Elizabeth as twenty-six-year-old women. Francine Pascal has said, “I can tell you that what you thought was going to happen to those people doesn’t happen. Different things happen. Ten years, from sixteen to adulthood, has made very different people.”

Eeeeeeek!!! (That’s the sound of me totally geeking out over this news.)  I’m going to go pre-order this sucker on Amazon right now.

Book cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

Caela Carter: Why I Write for Teens

Posted by Caela Carter On October - 20 - 2010

hi ms carter cropped Caela Carter: Why I Write for Teens

I write because words run through my blood. Because it is the only thing I ever really wanted to do. Because, even though it is hard, when a story wedges itself between my ears, it can only escape through my fingers.

I have been writing my entire life: I dictated stories to my parents before I learned to spell, took every possible writing class in high school, concentrated in Creative Writing at Notre Dame, and joined creative writing groups in every city I have called home. My brain is always full of characters and voices and conflicts that have absolutely no connection to my actual life and itch to be brought to life on pages and sent to retire comfortably on the shelves of libraries.

All of these characters happen to be teenagers.

Until recently, I would submit a piece of writing to a class or a workshop and inevitably get the question “So…is this, like, YA?” posed to me as if it were sliding down the nose of someone unquestionably superior to myself. This question aggravated the heck out of me because I felt like I was being trapped in a corner, handcuffed to a genre, and that my work was being completely unappreciated by adults. I never really answered the question straight: the answer was yes, but the person posing it clearly did not understand what YA lit was truly about. In some ways I always knew that teenagers would connect most meaningfully to what I was writing. I just resisted the idea that that meant the writing was not worthy of adults.

I wised up eventually, and applied to The New School’s Writing for Children Program. Now, after only two months, I have some context of the rich, eclectic, controversial, and rather short history of teen books, and a better understanding for the breadth and depth of literature currently being published for teens. I have begun pity all of the people connected to the underside of nostrils who once thought they were snubbing my work with the “YA” label. I’ve embraced it fully: I’m a teen writer. And when people inevitably ask the question “So, does that mean you’re, like, going to write about Vampires and stuff?” because they know very little about teen lit, I’ve learned to view them with sympathy instead of anger. (Not that I have a problem with Twilight!)

So, it feels like teen lit chose me by trapping all of those young and irresistible voices in my head, but they didn’t come from nowhere. The true reason I find these fictional teenagers irresistible is that the most interesting people that I know and love are teenagers: my students. The writer in me is incredibly blessed by the way my students at Bishop Kenny High School and especially at Chicago Jesuit Academy opened their souls to me and allowed me to peer into thier brains for the past six years. These are people in the most honest way—more so than kids or even adults. They use deductive reasoning; they understand sarcasm; they search for truth in literature and TV shows and music videos and grown-ups whom they love. They are just beginning understanding the contexts for joy and pain, the genesis of honest emotion. They are innocent and yet just learning to hold themselves accountable. And, in the case of the students at Chicago Jesuit Academy, they are using their teenaged years to do something truly remarkable. The teenagers I know have always told and made the best stories, and that is why I choose to write about them.

My students said, “If you are going to leave us to be a writer, you better write about us.” I’m not quite there yet — the fictional characters they hatched in my brain are easier to capture. But my old students — now tenth, ninth, eighth and seventh graders making a true difference in Chicago — are my inspiration and the reason I write for teens. Teens feel everything adults do, but like it was under a magnifying glass. Teens connect to people they way adults do, but they use a barbed wire to tie themselves together while adults use dental floss. Teens read the way adult readers do, but when they find that book, they dive in and swim in the pages.

I write for teens because the remarkable teens in my life convinced me that, for me, they are the only audience worth having.

Kevin Joinville: Why I Write For Teens

Posted by Kevin Joinville On October - 19 - 2010

There is something intangible yet fascinating about growing up and waiting to become an adult. The fascination, for me, lies in the middle ground between the magic of childhood and the discipline of adulthood. The teenage years lose a bit of this magic, but have yet to lose all of it. Thus, the dreams of one day becoming an adult are layered with a coat of the fantastic and the amazing. These dreams show us all how life is supposed to be. That’s what I want to display to the world.

My hope is that every person can grab a hold of the imagination they had as a child and to never let go of it. I often wonder how that can be taught to someone whose main purpose in life is to get older in order to take advantage of all of the idealized benefits which age affords. I believe that the way to do this is to use dreams through writing to teach the importance of the imagination and to open up new ways of creative thinking to those willing to accept it.

 Rutgers One On One Conference, Take Two: Creating the Bubble and Getting Socially Tuned InIf you read yesterday’s post, you’ll recall that instead of working it at the Rutgers One-On-One Plus conference as I had planned, I froze. But I gave myself a pep talk and left my hiding place in the restroom. I salvaged the last five minutes of the break by talking to some of the published authors drifting through the conference. This warmed me up to speaking with editors and agents.

After the five-on-five sessions, we had a panel discussion about using social media tools to create buzz for yourself. Alvina Ling, a senior editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers, discussed how authors needed to be media-genic and how ignoring the social media revolution can be a detriment to a writer’s career. The panel focused on Twitter and other forms of social media, dissecting their strengths, weaknesses and how to use them effectively. The mantra was “reciprocity”. When someone reaches out to you via Facebook or Twitter, reach out to them. Create a dialogue. The panelists shared stories of connections made via Twitter. It was inspiring and helped me re-envision my use of Twitter and social media. I was certain it removed the stigma of social media in the eyes of many in the audience.

After the social media panel — and a quick lunch — we split into our one-on-one mentor sessions. Pam Gruber of Little Brown Books for Young Readers critiqued three pages from my teen novel. She gave me great feedback and we discussed the publishing process. Most of the conference mentors accept submissions from conference attendees, so I will be able to send my work to them and by-pass the “no unsolicited manuscript” rule. The conference ended with a speech from writer Deborah Heiligman, author of Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, who was hilarious and fabulous. She gave six great tips to becoming a successful writer:

(1) Take yourself seriously, because no one else will. Give yourself permission to write. Give yourself deadlines. Give yourself the space and the time. Virginia Woolf was right, you need a room — or a desk — all of your own to get down to writing. And DO NOT write in bed. (It is for two things, and two things only.)

(2) Create the Bubble. Tell everyone in your life that you’re writing or on a deadline. Do not answer the phone. Do not check email. Do not go on Facebook. Do not tweet. You can take breaks from the bubble, but only to pace around the house or go for a walk or eat. You must silence the chatter.

(3) Fight the Fear. Fight the fear of the business. Fight the fear of writing. You’re going to be scared if you’re stretching yourself. And to write well you must stretch yourself. Send out your writing, that’s the only way through the fear. Or get a job!

(4) Work on your craft. Use writing prompts to stretch your writing muscles. Set the timer for 15 minutes and write. It’ll loosen you up and help you focus. Her favorite prompt: writing the word traffic light at the top of the page.

(5) Trust your gut, but keep looking. Investigate your ideas and continue to scratch at what you’re trying to express.

(6) Luck comes to the prepared mind. Keep the invitation open to ideas and your writing no matter where you are. She wrote a picture book in the shower.

At the end of her wonderful talk, Deborah pulled an Oprah moment and distributed waterproof notebooks to keep in the shower. The crowd hooted and hollered. She imbued us with her infectious energy. The mentees left revved up and ready to get home to revise and submit their writing.

Driving back to New York City, I kept thinking that if I wanted to do this thing called writing I need to get serious: pull the all-nighters when inspiration strikes, create the bubble despite the hurt feelings it may cause, give myself a daily word count, and stop hiding in bathrooms.

I’m ready.

Check out the rest of Deborah’s speech: http://deborah18.livejournal.com/26850.html

Book Trailer of the Week: The Defense of Thaddeus A. Ledbetter

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On October - 18 - 2010

ledbetter Book Trailer of the Week: The Defense of Thaddeus A. LedbetterThink you can’t afford a book tailer? Go low budget!

That’s what Steven Barr, an agent at Writers House, decided to do on behalf of his client John Gosselink, whose middle grade novel, The Defense of Thaddeus A Ledbetter, comes out this month.

The book’s got a cute premise: protagonist Thadeus A. Ledbetter gets unjustly sentenced to in-school-suspension for the rest of the year, so he writes a defense for himself, along with a few blues songs. (You can check out the character’s blog for more on that!) These include the “I’m So Bored My Ears Fell Off Blues,” which is featured in the trailer.

The apparently Bob Dylan-inspired trailer was shot in the Writers House courtyard — starring Barr himself. Check it out.

“I learned that the publisher didn’t have much of a budget for a book trailer, so I decided to try something more homegrown,” agent Barr told Mediabistro’s GalleyCat.”Long story short, my brother and I wrote music to….the song, then an NYU film school friend and I shot a music video for it—an homage to a Bob Dylan documentary, actually—in the courtyard of Writers House, and voila, a book trailer made for pocket change! And now I own a vest!”

Sounds like fun — and easy, too. Does this inspire you to try your hand at making a book trailer? (I’m looking at you, Mary Thompson!)

pixel Book Trailer of the Week: The Defense of Thaddeus A. Ledbetter

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