Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for February, 2011

Author Interview: Jen Calonita Finds ‘There’s No Place Like Home’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On February - 28 - 2011

jen calonita.book  200x300 Author Interview: Jen Calonita Finds Theres No Place Like HomeI first met Jen Calonita when we were both working at Teen People magazine in New York City. Jen’s experiences with the teen celebs she interviewed at the magazine became the basis of her hit Secrets of My Hollywood Life series. And that was just the first of many successful teen tomes she’s penned. Now, she’s wrapping up Secrets with the sixth and final book in the series, There’s No Place Like Home. We caught up with Jen to chat about writing series, teens fascination with celebrity culture, and working from home with kids — a scenario this writer mama can certainly relate to!

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

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t till about seven years ago that I started thinking about becoming an author. Before that I worked as an entertainment magazine editor and spent my days interviewing teen stars. After a while, I started to wonder what it would be like to write about the things these stars experienced and their intricate world. It’s hard enough to be a teen. Being a teen in the glare of the media spotlight is scary! Kaitlin Burke, my Secrets of My Hollywood Life character, was born from my experiences interviewing stars as young as she is.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of There’s No Place Like Home? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

This is the final Secrets novel and I’m very proud of the way the series ends. I wanted to make sure the fans got everything they could possibly want from this story so I gave Kaitlin the send-off she deserves. Once and for all, she will decide whether she wants to be a full-blown actress or whether she’s going to give everything up and go to college — or whether she’s going to attempt to try to do both! It’s the only story in the series that has a fantastical element to it, and I really enjoyed delving into that type of story. It’s something I’d like to explore more in a new book in the future.

Can you talk a bit about writing stand-alones versus series?

Secrets was always meant to be a series. Reality Check and Sleepaway Girls were always meant to be stand-alones. I think SG could be a series though, and girls are always asking me to write a sequel (which I hope to someday do). As for Secrets, what’s fun about a series is having the chance to really watch a character grow and change over a long period of time. I liked having the opportunity to tell many stories for Kaitlin and put her in all kinds of Hollywood situations.

Do you think kids and teens are especially interested in celebrity these days? What is it about celebrity culture that resonates so strongly with your audience?

I think society as a whole is obsessed with celebrity culture and pseudo-celebs. All these reality stars think they are celebrities, and maybe they are, but there are only a few true movie stars out there these days and those are the ones who I really admire — the ones who give back and have a body of work you really enjoy. I think with my audience, all of us wonder what it would be like to have that much fame at such a young age. How do you handle it without it overwhelming you? There are so many young stars that I interviewed over the years that I’ve seen grow up gracefully. There are also a few that haven’t! There’s so much temptation for them out there, but so much glory to be had as well for those who care about the work they do and have a good head on their shoulders. That’s what I wanted for Kaitlin, realistic or not. Her family might be obsessed with celebrity, but she’s always been wary of it, like I have. She can be wishy-washy, and strong-willed at times, but that’s how I was as a teen too. I think celebrity or non-celebrity, all teens have the same issues and that’s what I really wanted to come across in the Secrets novels.

jen101010 Author Interview: Jen Calonita Finds Theres No Place Like HomeCan you talk a bit about your process, from conception to publication, especially doing series? What does a typical writing day look like?

I write from my home office and I have a dedicated schedule — as if I left my house to go to work everyday. My oldest is in kindergarten so I write during school hours so that I have time for the boys later in the day during the witching hours! I know I’m so fortunate to work from home and be there to take them to school and do homework with them. It’s been a nice balance. I have a sitter come in to be with my little one and I’m able to have lunch with him, which is so nice as well — well, when he’s not flinging food!

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

I think having a journalism background helped a ton. I really enjoy the revision process because I’m so used to doing it with magazine articles! When you write for magazines, sometimes ten people touch your article before it goes to print. There are a ton of cooks in the kitchen so everyone has an opinion and you get very used to making changes, cutting words to fit, and reworking a story. Doing those things is an important element to writing a novel. I actually like working on the second draft of a book more than the first. I like notes! I like to hear how a story can be improved and where I can finesse details. I think when you’re writing, you get very attached to a story and sometimes you can’t see the flaws. Having an editor—another set of eyes—is crucial to improving your work.

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

Spend a day with each of your main characters. Elizabeth Eulberg said that to me once and I think it’s a great concept. When you take the time to figure out every detail about your character, it becomes easier to empathize with them and know how they will act in a situation. So now when I start working on a book, I take the main characters with me for the day — to Starbucks (what would they order?), to the grocery store (vegan? Junk food lover?) and to the gym (would they sneak out of gym class and hang out at the juice bar or take two spin classes in a row?)

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

I loved the Sweet Valley High books! I used to drive my parents crazy because I could read one in a single afternoon on the beach and then I’d be begging to go back to the bookstore! I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett and it was truly the best book I read in the last ten years. I just loved the friendship between the three main characters and found the story so inspiring. I could not put it down. I recommend it to everyone.

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

I’m working on the first book in my new teen series, Belles, which will be out next spring. It’s about two completely opposite cousins who are forced to live under the same roof and co-exist in a privileged southern world. I’m really enjoying these new characters and a new world to dig into. This is the first of a four-book story so I’m also excited about having a long story-arc, like I had with Secrets.

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

To be honest, I haven’t found a “bloc,” but I think it would be helpful. I do have a writer support system though and love to bounce ideas or talk “shop” with other authors like Sara Shepard, Elizabeth Eulberg, Sarah Mylnowski, and Kieran Scott. It’s always nice to know you’re not alone in the whole process.

Author photo by Rick Delucia; Book Image via Poppy


african history month 300x200 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceWhen I was growing up, I used to think every character in a book was white. If a character wasn’t described explicitly my mind drew a picture of them and they were almost always white. I still do this. It is an automatic thing that happens when I read.

My mother once told me that when I was in elementary school I used to always ask her why everyone in the books I was reading was white. Did only white people populate fiction (especially fantasy stories)?

So I wondered if I was alone and polled a fantastic bunch of black authors and kidlit bloggers to see how they felt.

As a young reader/teen reader, did you imagine the people in books as white? When did you first encounter a black teen or child  in a book? What was that experience like? Did you have a different connection with the text? Do you remember the first text you encountered with brown folks in it?

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceEbony Joy Wilkins, author of Sell Out, answered:

“I also remember assuming every character I read about was white. I’m not even sure I can explain that at this point in my life, other than to assume I just wasn’t exposed to enough literature with African American central characters.  I can’t pinpoint the exact text when I first encountered brown folks, but I’m pretty sure the book was read in celebration of an MLK jr. day ceremony or for Black History Month. Although I cannot remember the specific text, I do remember the feelings I had of empowerment and validation after seeing brown folks like me on the page. I wish those feelings for all readers of color.”

Dia Reeves, author of Bleeding Violet and Slice of Cherry, says:

“The first book I read like that was Bizou by Norma Klein, which I read in elementary school. The main character was biracial and French, which I thought was so cool. Looking back, that’s probably why Hanna from Bleeding Violet is so exotic–Bizou made a powerful impression on me. Because, like you, I also thought that all characters in books were white, unless otherwise stated. Sad, but true.”

Sherri L. Smith, author of Flygirl, Sparrow, and Lucy the Giant, says:

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative Experience

“Hmm.  I understand what you are saying.  I think you saw everyone as white because if a character is white, the author tends to just describe them as a person.  Race is only mentioned when it’s non-caucasian, ie. “A tall man and a short black woman entered the store.”  I suppose the very first book I read with a black character is one of two picture books—Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day or Don Freeman’s Corduroy.  In YA books, it gets a bit tougher, especially at my age because YA was relatively new in the 70’s and 80’s, and much of the stuff I read was written in the 60s.  Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, that sort of thing.  Sometimes there were Latino migrant workers as part of a mystery story, but not necessarily in the lead.  Novels with black protagonists tended to be about being black — Richard Wright’s Native Son was assigned reading in my high school.  Pretty intense reading and definitely not an escapist piece of entertainment!  Of course, at the time I was more into fantasy and SF, so there were all sorts of races and species involved.  Maybe that’s why the shortage of African American characters didn’t bother me.  I was just as happy imagining I was Misty of Chincoteague as I was daydreaming about being Peter Pan’s Wendy, Nancy Drew or Uhura.  My parents raised me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be, so I didn’t feel limited by what I read.  Race was incidental.

These days, when books have trailers and get turned into movies left and right, I think it’s important to take a more worldly view of race.  Also, it’s discussed a lot more.  If a kid feels alienated because the books they read don’t reflect their own lives, then we should consider writing some that does.  Since I was such a big SF/Fantasy/Fairytale nerd growing up and nothing I read reflected the real world, I was more bothered by characters without parents.  It seemed to me I could never have an adventure until I discovered I was adopted.  Kids with their own families never turn out to be heroes in novels.  I understand the fairy tale paradigm now—the child being forced into self-sufficiency as a means of growing up.  But at the time, particularly when I was in elementary school, I would day dream about being an orphan. Only then (or so I thought) could my life really get interesting!”

Wendy Raven McNair, author of Awake and Asleep, says:

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative Experience

“I don’t remember how old I was but I was very young (probably in Kindergarten) when I came across Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day. I really connected to that story but as a child if you had asked me why, I probably would’ve said because it was about snow and I liked the pictures. I would’ve been oblivious to the fact that a main black character in a children’s book was rare. I grew up in Houston, Texas which is notorious for its snow-less winters and as a young child I felt cheated by this. So The Snowy Day gave me a taste of the frozen wonderland I dreamed of and the melancholy tone of the story appealed to me as a melancholy child. I also remember enjoying Keats’ Whistle for Willie and Goggles but not nearly as much as The Snowy Day.

After that, I don’t remember reading another book with black characters until The Color Purple by Alice Walker and I loved that book. I was a college student so that was my earliest “teen” experience and The Snowy Day was my “young reader” experience. That’s shocking to me now but when I was younger, I wasn’t as observant, so I don’t remember questioning the absence of black characters in the books I read. However, I’d be hard pressed to remember many of the books I read as a child even though I was a voracious reader. I had an active imagination and enjoyed daydreaming of my own made up stories which were always populated by black people so maybe that’s why I never noticed their absence in books. So what’s significant in my experience is that even though I read a ton of books without black characters, the stories I remember most clearly are the few that did have black characters. I’ve tried to make sure my daughter has a variety of books but finding variety within black titles has still been very challenging.”

Nathalie Mvondo, blogger at Multiculturalism Rocks, says:

“That first question demoralized me. As a young reader, I don’t ever recall encountering a black teen (emphasis on teen) in a book. Ever. It’s disheartening, and this is coming from someone who also lived in Africa in the 80s, so you’d expect that books with teenagers from my culture would have been available there. That said, I encountered black children, i.e. three characters while growing up in Cameroon, in Central Africa. One was Kouakou, the main character of local comic book, widely popular even outside our borders. In my memories Kouakou was around 7 years old. Its adventures were seasonal and published in French. The two other characters were part of my grammar and vocabulary book throughout elementary school, and published by the French publisher Hachette. We followed and grew up with Mamadou and Bineta while learning about adjectives and irregular verbs. The fact they looked like us, lived our lives and had a variety of things happen to them, made most of us (students) read the book entirely before the end of the school year.

Slice of Cherry 204x300 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceAll the characters in the books I read in my preteens and teenage years were Caucasians, and many were adults (think Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, etc…). Chester Hines’ books are an exception (thanks to the teacher who added him in our reading list), but the characters were adults. I only got exposed to a more diverse cast when I read some comic books such as Marvel or DC, with characters like Storm and theBlack Panther, but again: They’re adults. Some French comic books provided a variety as well with Asian or Native Indian characters, but from what I remember the stories were never set in the present. There were either taking place in another century or they were science-fiction and fantasy.

Folktales also appeared as the best source for finding culturally diverse characters: There you got people from over the world (Africa, Asia, South America)… conversing with speaking birds, snakes and lions. Outside of that realm, there were no brown teenage spy, wannabe doctor or else, no light readings of the sort. The first texts I encountered with Black Folks seemed all to be about slavery, except for the aforementioned Cameroonian folktales. Reading about the history of slavery, reading Roots and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and more classics in the same vein is important, but that is not all you can feed a brown child. Our identity is not limited to that part of our history, and when teenagers think of their future, that is not the first thing that comes to mind in terms of career path (obviously). A kid cannot only see a Black person portrayed in chains in books.

The first time I read a book with teenage brown characters was as an adult, after moving here, in the United States and working as a Children’s bookseller years ago. Marvel and DC comics were available there, but I found out about authors like Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Thomas or Jacqueline Woodson only after moving here. I The emotion that overwhelmed me was the same as when I was kid wondering where all the black dolls were. I will never forget the day I held my black baby. Every time I come across a book featuring a great story and a diverse cast, I’m excited and just can’t wait to share it with others, to put it in a reader’s hand and say, “Here it is. Enjoy.” hope that publishers consider the foreign market a bit more.”

 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceNick Burd, author The Vast Fields of Ordinary, says:

“Oh, God. I really can’t remember the first time I encountered a black teen in a book. I know I read books with black characters as a kid, but I have no idea what they were right now. As a teenager I was always more interested in why there were no gay characters in books. I finally found Edmund White and Bret Easton Ellis toward the end of my high school career and that was a very transformative moment for me as a writer and a reader. And really just as a human being as well.”

Crystal Allen, author of How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, says:

“My first encounter was a book entitled Manchild In the Promise Land by Claude Brown.  Since I wasn’t an avid reader, I don’t even remember who gave me the book, but I know I didn’t get it out of a library. I do remember it was paperbacked with several dog-eared pages, a missing cover and the book was very thick!  I was intimidated at first, but once I got started, this book changed my world from black and white to color in a matter of moments!  Even though I wasn’t raised on the streets of New York, but on a farm in Indiana, I could relate to Sonny, the main character in this book, and I didn’t know why.  Now that I look back, I think that book had been passed around so much that it lost its cover and the dog-eared pages represented bookmarks from different people.  What a tribute to Mr. Brown!”

lamars bad prank won 200 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceKaren Strong, blogger/writer, software geek living in Atlanta and working on a YA paranormal suspense novel, says:

“My mother was an avid reader so I followed in her footsteps. We spent many days at the library until it closed and I would go home with stacks and stacks of books and get lost in the pages. Most of the characters didn’t look like me and although I kept reading tons of books, a thought was always at the back of my mind, “Do brown girls like me live in pages?”

It wasn’t until I traded in my pink library card for my “big girl” beige one that I found The Friends by Rosa Guy that I felt a true connection. This book was so different from all the others I had read: This story was about a brown teen girl. I read the book several times and even bought copies for my cousins. I was just so excited to read about a girl who looked like me on the printed page. I soon found other books but unfortunately not many more as a teen.

Teens today have a lot more choices then I did growing up. But there is room for so much more. More “slice of life”, more mystery, more romance, more science fiction and fantasy. The landscape for readers of color is vast and there is room for more books that break the mold of the tried and true storylines.

I will always remember my first experience reading a YA novel featuring a POC character because it also sparked something inside of me: If Rosa Guy could write about brown teen girls, maybe I could too.”

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of Eighth-Grade Superzero, said:

8thGradeSuper RESIZED 198x300 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative Experience“I think the books like Soul Brothers and Sister Lou, Black Folktales, etc. were among the first I read on my own. I loved Langston Hughes.  I *adored* Maya Angelou and Malcolm X; Bette Greene, Mildred Taylor…Virginia Hamilton, Rosa Guy, Walter Dean Myers…In high school,  Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin left me laughing, open-mouthed or tight-lipped.  (Or all three.) I connected with Chinua Achebe and the other African Writers Series authors’ works in a wonderful way.  I was fortunate to have parents who actively sought out multicultural literature, from many cultures and countries.  Books in our home were about people living all over the world.  I would often stumble across offensive imagery and racist depictions, but learned early on not to ignore them, but to see them as they were and think critically about the culture that produces those things. There also wasn’t a whole lot of variety in the U.S. stories — often, in contemporary or historical fiction, their whole story was struggle without much beauty. I know that even then I craved variety, to see Black and Brown characters in different worlds, in other worlds.”

Ari, blogger at BlackTeensRead2 and teen student, says:

“What a coincidence this question is because I recently started thinking about this very topic! I don’t remember the EXACT first black teen I ever encountered but I do remember marveling over the fact. I discovered both the It Chicks series by Tia Williams and the Drama High series by L. Divine in 8th grade. I had gone through most of my life only reading historical fiction about white people. When I finally found Christopher Paul Curtis, it was a miracle. That was middle school and he wrote historical fiction. Amazing historical fiction to be sure, but historical fiction nevertheless.  Besides middle grade historical fiction, I read a lot of middle grade contemporary and back when I was growing up you can forget finding a middle grade book that was not” issues heavy” about kids of color just hanging out, solving mysteries, falling-in-like/developing a crush, dealing with friend drama, etc. Nope obviously kids of color didn’t have fun. I honestly cannot recall a single book with main characters of color between the ages of 9-12 that I read that was not historical fiction. How sad is that?

So you can imagine my reaction when I finally found books featuring teens of color. First, I distinctly remember just starting in amazement (I was at the library) then I eagerly grabbed it, in case anyone else tried to take it. Then I had to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. You see in the past I had thought books were about characters of color but it turned out the books really just featured cover models who were quite tan. Some of the stories were really good anyway, some not so good. Regardless, it was rather crushing to find out that the main character was actually not at least half something of color.

bleeding violet 199x300 Black History Month Round Up Question: The Color of Universal Narrative ExperienceMost girls read The Clique and Gossip Girl series. Yes the Clique series had a Latina character, Alicia and Gossip Girl briefly mentions some girl who was biracial (Isabel I think?), but neither of those girls received much attention in the books (Full Disclaimer: I quit with the Clique books right before Alicia apparently got a storyline but I faithfully read the Gossip Girl books until we all graduated and went our separate ways). But the It Chicks series, the Drama High series and (I later discovered) the Hotlanta series and the Del Rio Bay Clique series were my own versions of Gossip Girl, The Clique, Private, It Girl, etc. FINALLY I had found guilty pleasure reads about bratty upperclass black kids. Even better not all the teens were brats, but the books were pure fun. No one was running away from an evil slave master, no parents were abusing their kids, instead Jayd (Drama High) had to deal with haters, Sydney & Lauren (Hotlanta) had some serious family secret drama going on and Tangie (It Chicks) was KILLING it at her NYC performing arts school. All black main characters, non “issue” books. I was terrified and excited by high school so reading about these teenage girls’ adventures was an eye opening experience to say the least. You could say I was overly prepared (I definitely expected some mean girls to be prowling the halls of high school and desperately worked on some witty comebacks like my favorite main characters. Wouldn’t you know it; there aren’t a lot of mean girls at my school? And my comebacks really weren’t that good? Heh).

If I’m completely honest with myself, I was a lot more lenient towards books with main characters of color. When I go back and re-read certain books (doesn’t apply to any of the above books because I have fond memories of them regardless of quality) that I really liked, I can’t believe I read them. Especially if I end up reviewing them, I can be way more critical than I ever would have been had I not started blogging and discovered more books about people of color. I put up with some poor writing, ridiculous main characters and slow moving plots, all out of desperation. What if this was it? When would I finally read all the books about black teenagers in my library and run out? Then what would I do? I would have nightmares about this fact (erm ok not nightmares but it was BAD. For awhile I would constantly check out the same books one week, 8 new ones the next week and then only check out my old favorites the next week, it was a never ending cycle).

Don’t even get me started on the fact that I didn’t find any books with Latina/Asian/Native American main characters until after I started blogging in high school. But we’ll save that for Hispanic/Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American heritage months. The golden era of diverse middle grade literature is upon us. I figure it started in 2008. My middle grade years were roughly 2005-2008 and I am SO ENVIOUS of the more diverse reads coming out now and back in 2010. If I had found Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s Eighth Grade Superzero I would’ve died from happiness.”

Photo Credit: Kevin Fell at HOZA

Steven Issues A Battle Cry: Boys Need Books!

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On February - 24 - 2011

 Steven Issues A Battle Cry: Boys Need Books!I tend to go to Barnes and Noble a lot. It’s a great place to think. Finding myself among shelves of books, miles and miles of endless words, it’s easy to find inspiration. Living in Westchester (just north of Manhattan), it’s a lot more convenient than The Strand or Books of Wonder (two of the best bookstores known to mankind), and usually the bookstores up here have a lot of empty floor space for me to spread out and think.

The first thing I do upon entering Barnes and Noble (or any bookstore for that matter), is find the Young Adult/Teen section and glance at the New Releases. And every time I do, I’m hard-pressed to find a book that appeals to guys. There’s an abundance of glossy covers dripping with girly imagery, like bleeding roses, puckering lips, overly made-up tweens behind swirly calligraphic fonts. It’s easy to find books about falling in love with sexy vampire boys or How To’s on dating the unattainable football quarterback. Half the books have the word “Girl” in the title, and the other half have pink covers. These sections might as well be called the “Young Girl Section,” and get rid of the unisex “Adult” all together. I doubt any guys would notice anyway.

Just a few weeks ago I was at the Barnes and Noble in Poughkeepsie, NY, and a mother was browsing the Teen shelves with her son, who was about thirteen or so (if I had to venture a guess). The mother was combing the shelves for something, anything for her son, to no avail. I even heard him say something to the effect of “all these books are for girls.” He wanted something exciting, with action or sports or anything without the word “Girl” in the title. Now, usually I’m a loud person, and I would have jumped right in to recommend something for the poor kid, but I thought about it, and I truly had to wrack my brain for a title that he would enjoy. While I was thinking, the mother asked one of the workers to recommend something. And when I heard the words “Twilight is really popular,” I nearly fainted.

What exactly can be done to get boys to read? Well, for starters, bookstores can start displaying books for boys on their shelves, instead of hiding them in between more popular girlish covers. Now, I know that’s not even half the battle. The biggest hurdle to leap is at the fingertips of the writers out there. Even books like the Hunger Games appeal to male readers, but only to an extent. The themes and ideas of those books are great for a male readers, but I know that I just couldn’t relate to Katniss while she was getting made-over for the Games. There’s something about the female lead character that only appeals to a certain demographic of male readers.

steve 225x300 Steven Issues A Battle Cry: Boys Need Books!Not too long ego, I finished Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, and even though it follows Lily and straight-boy Dash on an adventure-to-find-love-and-friendship across Manhattan, I couldn’t help but notice the gay-friendly notes of Dashes character. He’s not weirded-out by The Joy of Gay Sex, and his best friends are both gay, and while I personally love David Levithan’s writing (I think he’s a genius), I think his books are (sadly) too idealistic for the average straight male reader (and boy do I hate that I have to separate and even categorize straight versus gay teen literature). Not to mention the obvious heart front and center on the book jacket, and I doubt a guy would just pick up the book, even though they should because it’s a great adventure for any teen.

This is a battle cry to all writers: Boys Need Books!

This is a battle cry to the publishing houses: Boys Need Books!

This is a battle cry to all librarians and book store clerks: Boys Need Books!

Books for the guys out there need to be promoted just as much as the next Twilight series. Librarians and book store clerks need to know the material and what appeals to their male readers so that they can properly and aptly recommend titles. Of course, simply stocking boy-friendly books won’t do any good without that extra bit of promotion. I know that I can’t walk into a store without seeing a poster for Twilight. So why not appeal to boys too? Why not have a separate store display for boys?

But, like I said, that’s only the first battle.

We as writers have to get in there and write for the guys. Right now, the book I’m working on doesn’t entirely fit the criteria for a Boy Book. But my next project certainly does (which, of course, gives me motivation to finish my current novel so that I can start on this next one). I have already planned out attack on Barnes and Noble shelves: writer a killer book with a teenage male target audience in mind.

Why? Guys need the same cutting edge books that girls get. Guys need the same fresh voices that girls are privy to. Guys need relatable books, books to get lost in, books to fantasize about, just as much as the girls out there need to dream about winning the heart of the all-star quarterback. Boys grow up and deal with growing pains too, just as much as girls. Boys have anxieties over school and homework and social lives and girls and first kisses just as much as girls.

So, don’t we deserve a bit of escapism that isn’t in the form of a videogame?

Don’t we deserve a voice that’s strictly our own?

Don’t we deserve to read?

Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

Posted by Corey Haydu On February - 23 - 2011

comicquery Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

I’m on the road to (hopeful) publication. Step One: The Query Letter.

Fact: QueryTracker is an evil enterprise designed to make writers go insane.

Fact: The New York City dating scene is, miraculously, less stressful than the agent search.

Fact: My time in the New York City dating scene included a guy who talked about himself in the third person (G-Man. I’m not kidding) and a guy whose big business plan was to sell tampons on the internet. Just giving you a basic sense of the levels of stress we are talking about here.

Fact: I am currently totally qualified to be working on my novel about obsessive-compulsive disorder because I have developed a OCD habit of checking email over the last month of querying.

For those who don’t know about the process of getting published, it basically starts with a query letter. This query letter has to pithily describe your book in a way that is both original and accessible, descriptive and contained, literary and commercial. Also, it requires bragging about yourself modestly and not sounding insane.

It’s a tall order.

Lucky for me, I have classmates who are actually good at this kind of skill. In the words of my boyfriend, I “go on” sometimes. I’m pretty sure this is a nice/vague way of saying that in my attempt to describe my work I end up writing something longer than the actual novel. I also lack certain skills, like writing business-y letters or basically doing anything that isn’t either writing creatively or serving cocktails to weird tourists or picking out really good restaurants.

But with people like Alyson and Sona on my team I am UNSTOPPABLE. These girls took my 27 page query letter* (*dramatic interpretation of reality) and made it a nice little three paragraph superstar query letter.

Once the query letter was polished into perfection, I added on a few fun quirky details (being careful not to “go on” too much) and picked out the agents who would be lucky enough to consider it. Once agents receive your query letter, they decide whether or not they actually want to check out the book. Sadly, they can (and very often do!) reject the manuscript based on the query letter alone.

This is where the obsessing begins.

Because there is a website called QueryTracker, on which you can see who else is submitting queries, how long it takes agents to get in touch with them, how often agents request Full Manuscripts after seeing an initial query letter, and who is actually getting an agent. Then, if you are prone to craziness, you do complex Beautiful Mind-like calculations to see how likely it is that you will become famous soon.

Note: I never finished high school math.

Note: This is a completely true fact. I squirmed my way out of any math after sophomore year. It has not yet affected my life negatively in any way. Aside from an unfortunate idea to attempt taking the Math SAT 2, which, funny enough, requires you actually have finished your basic math requirements.

The point is: I do not actually have the skills to do any mathematical equations but I’m so nervous and impatient that I, for the first time ever, wish I had learned things like probability and percentages and algebra back in the day.

Long story short: Agents are looking at my novel. It has been exactly one month since I began querying. I am a super-fun combination of excited and terrified. I am a joy to be around.

More on this process later. I must go watch The Biggest Loser, which is the only thing able to distract me from my thoughts of agents and query letters.

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

lamars bad prank won 200 Debut Author Interview: Crystal Allen Talks About Her Humorous Middle Grade Debut!I have the pleasure of being part of an online group called ACAIC (The Association of Children’s Authors and Illustrators of Color) for the past few years where I have conversed with many different authors, including Crystal Allen. Her humorous book, How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy, answers the cries of librarians, parents, and teachers for boys books. And it is out TODAY!

We caught up with the debut author of color to discuss her road to publication, her process, and the life of a debut author.

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

I’m a wife, mother of two young men, and a writer, living in Texas. I love hanging out with my family and cooking. When my sons were much younger, I wrote short stories using them as main characters,  just to get them to do their chores and homework. I enjoyed creating the stories so much that I began searching the internet for conferences and organizations centered around writing for children. Besides being a wife and mother, I’d worked for stock brokers, law firms, even owned a word processing company. Writing for my sons really made me think about it. Before that, I had no desire. Yes, I write full-time.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy?

Thirteen-year-old Lamar Washington is the maddest, baddest most spectacular bowler ever at Striker’s Bowling Paradise. But he doesn’t have game – not like his older brother Xavier the Basketball Savior. And certainly not like his best friend “Spanish fly guy” Sergio. So Lamar vows to spend the summer changing his image from dud to stud by finding a way to make money and snag a super fine Honey. When a crafty teenage thug invites Lamar to use his bowling skills to hustle, he seizes the opportunity. As his judgment blurs, Lamar makes an irreversible error, damaging every relationship in his life. Now, he must figure out how to mend those broken ties, no matter what it will cost him.

How did you come up with the concept for the book?

How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy actually began as a ghost writing possibility. I didn’t get the job, but I loved my characters and wanted to do something with them. At that time, it was a chapter book, written in third person, with multi-cultural characters. One day, while watching a CSI Las Vegas episode, a teenage, African-American boy began walking around inside my head like he owned the place!  He was struttin’ like some hot shot! At that moment, I honestly thought I might need some medical intervention!

But soon, the mental scenery changed as this boy took me to a bowling alley. Even though this was going on in my head, the vivid smells of hot dogs and pizza, the sounds of blaring music and kids bowling made it clear who was strutting around my brain. I can’t tell you much about that CSI episode, but I can tell you that moment switched my story from third-person to first and changed everything for Lamar and me.

 Debut Author Interview: Crystal Allen Talks About Her Humorous Middle Grade Debut!What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where/when do you write?Where does your inspiration come from?

I try to write at least four to six hours per day.  Even if I’m writing something that has nothing to do with my Work-In-Progress, I’ll still put in the time. I don’t have a typical writing day.  I wish I did! In life, so many things “pop up” that need to be handled and my home life takes precedence over my writing life. So my writing day can be split in halves, quarters, and sometimes even smaller intervals!

I’m a morning person. I have written in the evening, but I find my thoughts flow smoother in the a.m. When I’m at home, I have a writing room and it’s perfect for me. My husband travels a lot and many times I get to go with him. But my most favorite place to write, is on a cruise ship. I don’t get to cruise as often as I’d like, but there’s just something about being on the water that really helps my creativity.

I’m actually inspired by my characters. I try to let them write their own story through me. It’s a hard process to learn, but the inspiration level is dead red!

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

I attended numerous conferences, workshops, writer boot camps, seminars, group discussions, you name it. Plus, I had a circle of established writers and professionals in the publishing business who gave me continuous support. I wrote and revised and revised again. I sent my work to proofers, editing services, and joined a critique group. Even after signing with my agent, Jen Rofé with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, I went through lots of revisions before Jen and I believed  my manuscript was ready for submission to the publishing houses. How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy ended up in auction! It’s been long, but one of the most satisfying learning adventures I’ve ever experienced.

The most surprising, almost scary realization of the writing process for me was when I thought I’d heard Lamar breathe. I’d revised many times to make him stronger and allowed his personality to drive the story.  In the final days of revision, I got a visual of Lamar, in my head, inhaling and exhaling. I’d brought his story to life and, as a writer, it was the most gratifying moment ever.

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

Writing Advice Received: Write what you know.

Writing Advice Bestowed: Never give up.  Write what you know.

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

Honestly, I wasn’t a big reader when I was a kid. Reading wasn’t something introduced to me as “fun.” Reading was synonymous with school assignments and those books were usually something I didn’t want to read. So I grew up believing the library was full of books I didn’t want to read. (Wiping eyes with tissues.)

If I had known back then how wonderful reading is, and that there were so many books I would have totally enjoyed reading, I wouldn’t be playing so much “catch up”  on my reading now!

Dork Diaries – Tales from a Not So Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell (almost finished.  Going to pick up the second one, soon!)

Haunted by Joy Preble

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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

I’m working on a story where my main character is a very humorous girl. I hope to finish it soon!

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

Absolutely. I try to surround myself with two groups of people; one group is just like me and the other group is much smarter than I am.

If it had not been for my critique partners, my debut novel would not be nearly as strong as it is now. The writing community is a must for any aspiring and seasoned author. Like with any occupation, you must know your craft, what’s already out there, and what’s available to help you produce the best work possible.

Photo Credit: Author’s Website, BlackTeensRead Blog

8thGradeSuper RESIZED 198x300 Author Interview: Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich Follows the Sage Wisdom Of Madeleine LEngleOlugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is a fantastic writer of color who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for the past few years via the bustling online children’s literature circuit. I recommend her book, 8th Grade Superzero, to every reluctant teen male reader. Her protagonist Reggie and his quest to finish his comic book Night man was right up my alley (Did I forget to mention that I was a comic book nerd? And still have a great collection of X-men trading cards.).

Teen Writers Bloc caught up with her, despite her busy schedule, to discuss her inspiration and her new initiative, The Patchwork Collective Mentoring Program for writers and illustrators of color.

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

I was a freelance writer for years, I wrote grants and educational materials, I wrote Web content, and articles for teen fanzines. Along with the writing, I was a literacy coach and worked in youth development for about ten years. I currently teach a couple of writing workshops, and do some literacy work at my daughter’s school. I’ve always wanted to be a writer in some way; I used to write and illustrate stories for my little sister, and I had a couple of bedtime series going for a few years; I’d start the story hour after we’d been officially tucked in.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of 8th Grade SuperZero? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

After the worst first day of school ever, Reggie “Pukey” McKnight wants to get through the school year out of the spotlight and on the sidelines. He wants to turn his image around, but he has other things on his mind as well: his father is out of a job; life with his best friends is getting complicated by race and romance; and his nemesis Donovan is out for blood.

The elections for school president are coming up, but Reggie wouldn’t stand a chance, if he even had the courage to run. Then he gets involved with a local homeless shelter, and begins to think about making a difference, in his world and beyond. And when a pair of “Dora the Explorer” sneakers seem to have powers of transformation, Reggie begins to wonder: Pukey for President? It can happen…if he starts believing.

The story began as a bit of an accident. I wrote a couple of pages as part of an application for a writing workshop with Paula Danziger, who is one of my favourite authors. It was one of those night-before-the-application was due kind of things (a situation that I find myself in often), and I got an image of Reggie in my head and went with it for three pages. Paula really encouraged and supported me over the years; much later on, as I began to seek out Reggie’s real story, I was inspired by people and moments in my life, and some of the teens that I taught and worked with — their desire to tackle big questions, to be thoughtful, and to be activists in many different ways.

guysmiley2WEB 199x300 Author Interview: Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich Follows the Sage Wisdom Of Madeleine LEngleWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

Um. I suppose I just write when I can.  I’m usually at my best early in the morning, but I do more-than-occasional all-nighters, I write on the subway, etc. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of writing (especially first draft writing) out of my home, because I don’t have a laptop and won’t let myself be distracted by the Internet when I’m out. I still write first drafts and notes longhand; I doodle, write in the margins, etc. — it helps me to work things out.  Most days I’ll have a pot of strong black tea nearby, and if I’m home I’ll often have public radio in the background.  Inspiration is everywhere — conversations I have or overhear, people or things that I see and wonder about, random thoughts, news, stories I read…my job really is that “showing up” regularly that Anne Lamott has mentioned, and not waiting to be inspired. That is how I finally got Superzero done, by just deciding to write it and not wish I could try/talk about/wonder if I’d ever/talk myself out of writing a book “one day”.

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

I was someone who went to a lot of writing conferences, read a lot of craft books, read a lot of any books for *years* before I actually started querying. I partcipated in writing workshops, and some, with Kate Morgenroth, Sandra Tyler, Nora Sayre, Paula Danziger, and Madeleine L’Engle, were tremendously helpful.

 Author Interview: Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich Follows the Sage Wisdom Of Madeleine LEngleWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Madeleine L’Engle told me “If you’re going to be a perfectionist, you’ll never get anything done.”  I often hear people talk about their perfectionism with pride, and I was one of those people for a long time, especially when it came to my writing. And she was so very very right. (I mean, it was Madeleine, so of course she was. And also, thinking that I could do anything perfectly was beyond hubris, so just the idea was…ugh, I can’t even think about it now.)  I thought of Madeleine’s words often in my frenzied, week-long, 180-page first draft of Superzero phase, and I have to remind myself of them every day. I have a tendency to edit as I write, or write a day and then spending three more going back over and “fine-tuning” what I wrote — it’s just not cool.  I allow myself a little “rewind and revise” just to get back into a groove, but, especially in early drafts, I just keep moving forward.  Madeleine helped me come to terms with the fact that it will never, ever be perfect — no, really, me, NEVER –  but I can work and write and rewrite and keep going until I get it “done”. I am grateful for the days when I get a few key scribbles down on the page, and the marathon sessions when the stories just flow.  So, my advice: Just write. And read.  It’s not original, but it’s effective.

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

Argh, the dreaded question! I feel like I loved everything I read when I was a child. I loved “family stories” like All-Of-A-Kind Family and Elizabeth Enright’s Melendys; I loved Lois Lenski’s regional historical fiction. Julius Lester’s Black Folktales and The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou by Kristin Hunter were dog-eared and re-read; A Wrinkle in Time and A Ring of Endless Light, The Chronicles of Narnia…Ellen Conford and Paula Danziger made me laugh out loud…Maya Angelou’s autobiographical works and Their Eyes Were Watching God made me cry…I devoured the African Writers Series (with books by Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, etc.), and the Autobiography of Malcolm XAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl…The Janes (Eyre and everything Austen) were great companions, along with Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and tons of tons of folk and fairy tales…Agatha Christie, I loved her mysteries…You see, this will never end! I also read a *lot* of drama as a child, for a while I planned to be a playwright. Have to add Marquez! Love in the Time of Cholera transformed my teen years! And reading Amy Tan with my mom. Noel Streatfeild to the childhood faves. I adored the “Shoes” books, and would encourage (force) my sister to be a student at my dance/theatre/circus school…

Right now I’m reading Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming, The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene, and Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks. And a bunch of writing-teachery books.

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

I am working on another novel, about a girl who feels that her words caused her brother’s death, and a chapter/early MG “family story” about a co-housing, homeschooled girl band.

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

My agent has a vibrant and supportive listserv, which is just a marvelous group, and some of my wisest and best friends and critique partners, like Audrey Vernick and Chris Barton, are in that group. I’m a member of two fantastic online author communities, the 2009 Debutantes and the “10_ers”, which have been amazing arenas of support, business savvy, and the occasional sillies. I’m also part of a new, small project called The Patchwork Collective, for writers of color and/or those who are members of underrepresented groups. It  matches published authors with writers looking to learn more about the business, the craft of writing and discuss the many-coloured world of children’s literature.  In person, I also meet with a “Writer Buddy” and a few other friends to talk the writing life, which is therapeutic and just plain fun. I think it’s a wonderful thing to try, and also wonderful to leave alone if it doesn’t work.

Photo Credit: Author’s Website, Arthur A. Levine Books, Square Fish Books (Madeleine L’Engle photo)

dscf531121 300x200 Author Interview: New School Grad Nick Burds Writing Rule    Finish What You StartAt the Fall 2010 New School MFA Alumni night, I heard Nick Burd read a section of his novel The Vast Fields of Ordinary and I was hooked. I immediately googled him, fell in love with his prose, and emailed my beautiful writer friend Ariana Austin, who was profiling up and coming black authors for The Root, because he had to be included.

In between traveling to Iowa for research for the upcoming movie adaptation of his book, Nick Burd paused to chat with Teen Writers Bloc about

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

I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always written stories, even when I was a very young kid. I’ve always loved books, so the desire to actually create them stemmed from that. I work as a copywriter during the day and write on the weekends and early mornings before I head into the office.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of The Vast Fields of Ordinary? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

The Vast Fields of Ordinary is about a teenager in Iowa named Dade Hamilton and the summer after his senior year of high school. He finally finds the kind of love that he’s been looking for.

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

On the weekends, I usually head to a nearby coffee shop and try to write for at least five hours. During the week, I wake up a few mornings before I head to my office and write for two hours. I wish I had more time, but this schedule isn’t the worst.

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

I was lucky in that I came into contact with an editor at Penguin on a social level, who heard I was a writer and wanted to read the novel I was working on. She read the first 200 pages and wanted to buy it. I didn’t really have to go through some lengthy rejection process.

As for the most surprising part of the process, it would probably be that getting published or having a publisher doesn’t do a thing to eradicate all those writerly insecurities we all have. It’s always hard and you’ve always got that voice in your head telling you that you could be doing better. Or at least that’s how it’s been for me. But at the same time, those things work to make you work harder as a writer, so I wouldn’t necessarily consider them bad things.

 Author Interview: New School Grad Nick Burds Writing Rule    Finish What You StartWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Probably to finish what you start. A teacher told me that once, and I think it’s the golden rule of writing. You can’t tell if something isn’t working until you get to the end, rewrite it, and rewrite it again. And even if you end up throwing it all out the window, you still learn something from it. I would be a mistake to think of it as a waste of time.

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

I was very much into the Hardy Boys series when I was a kid. I think I read every one of those books. I was also very into Batman comics. As I got older, my tastes got a bit more sophisticated, but these were the first things I remember behind really into. I just finished a book called Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross.

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

I am currently working on my second book for young adults. I’m almost at the end. It takes place in the same town as Vast Fields. And it looks like Vast Fields will also be turned into a movie, which is exciting. It still has a couple of hurdles to jump over before it’s a sure thing, but the people involved are very optimistic.

How was your experience getting an MFA at The New School? Worth it?

It was a great experience. Whenever someone asks if MFA programs are worth it, I always say that I don’t see how spending two years immersing yourself in your craft can be a bad thing. While I’m not going to say that MFA programs are a source of knowledge that cannot be gained through any other means, it’s an ideal setting for seeing how people react to your work. It also forces you to read books you might not pick up on your own. And then of course, you get to meet and read the work of other writers.

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

I think it can be very helpful. Writing is hard and it can help your spirit to hear about other people’s writer’s block or how tough their third draft is coming along. There’s support there that is necessary as a writer. After all, you’re doing most of your work alone. It’s good to know there are other people in your same situation.

That’s So Gay: Steven Loathes the Titles “Queer Lit” & “Gay & Lesbian YA Lit”

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On February - 19 - 2011

s GAY large Thats So Gay: Steven Loathes the Titles Queer Lit & Gay & Lesbian YA LitI hate labels. So imagine my hatred every time I see the labels “Gay & Lesbian Young Adult Literature” or “Queer-Lit.” Why is a love story involving two teenage males or two tween girls any different than the typical male-female pairing? It would be ignorant to say that there are no more prejudices out there, because if there weren’t, there wouldn’t be a need to sub-categorize. Now, I know that every book is sub-categorized, but the books with straight characters who fall for each other aren’t sub-labeled “Straight Fiction.”

But, I digress. This isn’t mean to be a commentary on labels in our society. I want to highlight some really great YA titles, who just-so-happen to feature gay characters, and discuss the pitfalls and advantages of writing gay characters. Two books (out of the many on my shelf) that I’ve chosen to write about in this particular post are Perry Moore’s Hero, and David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy.

hero perry moore 200x300 Thats So Gay: Steven Loathes the Titles Queer Lit & Gay & Lesbian YA LitHero is one of the best books I’ve read with a gay male protagonist. Hero centers around Thom Creed, a high school basketball star who mysteriously suffers from seizures. Abandoned by his mother and living in his fathers shadows, who is one of the world’s most famous ex-superheroes (who was disgraced following his inability to save innocent lives during a horrible incident in the past), Thom is battling everything from being a social outcast to his own sexuality. As his powers start to develop, he has more secrets to keep from his father than just his attraction toward other guys. When he believes that his dad is about to find out about his sexuality, he runs away from home and right into a battle between a group of villains and The League, a group of superheroes fighting evil. When the leader of the group, Justice, witnesses Thom’s healing abilities, he extends an invitation for him to train with them. And so ensues an epic battle between Thom against his own hormones, sexuality, budding powers, and how to hide it all from his dad, who he believes will never understand.

What drew me to this book was the idea of a gay teen superhero and how he struggles with super powers on top of the usual coming-of-age fodder. And let me tell you – it was a wild ride, with twists and turns. Moore has this way of writing so that you think all of your questions are answered, and then he flips it on his head and surprises you. Not to mention, he did a great job of capturing what it’s like to grow up feeling completely different from everyone around you. This is a must-read for everyone out there who knows what it’s like to feel like you have to hide who you are from the world. In that respect, this is more than just a Gay Teen book, and really, it shouldn’t even have that label. Overall, it’s just a great book, with wonderfully written action scenes (which, in my experience and opinion, are frickin’ hard to do!), and a very relatable protagonist. Thom Creed is human, and his story is a part of the human experience. If you like action, this is a great book. If you like comic books and superheroes and have room for a brand new hero in your collection, this is a book for you. If you want to read about a slice of the human experience, then pick this up. If you want a book with social commentary about our society, try it out.

 Thats So Gay: Steven Loathes the Titles Queer Lit & Gay & Lesbian YA LitAnother notable book is David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy. Now, I have to warn you that this book is fiction at its finest. I’d even venture so far as to say that Boy Meets Boy is more fictive than Hero. Why? Levithan’s story exists purely in an ideal world, an optimistic town where being gay is as normal as eating cereal for breakfast. Nobody bats an eyelash when two boys walk hand-in-hand down the street, and it’s only natural for them to go to the school dance together.

While I admire Levithan’s creation of this town (which, in my opinion, is just as wild and imaginative as Narnia or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardly), I didn’t exactly find it relatable. Though, I can see how a teen struggling with their sexuality would pick this up and immediately dream of a place and time when they too will be able to walk down the street and be proud of who they are. In that respect, it’s truly a remarkable novel.

Still, for me, I found it hard to look past the idealistic setting and the sheer fabulousity in characters like Infinite Darlene, a drag queen and the star quarterback who demands to be referred to as a “she.” Alas, I kept reading. And boy was I glad that I did. One of the most remarkable characters in all of teen literature is, in my humble opinion, Tony in Boy Meets Boy. Tony is Paul, the main protagonist’s, best friend.

In Boy Meets Boy, Tony is talking to Paul about his on-going struggle with his parents:

“I know you won’t understand this but they love me. It would be much easier if they didn’t. But in their own way, they love me. They honestly believe that if I don’t straighten out, I will lose my soul. It’s not just that they don’t want me kissing other guys – they think if I do it, I will be damned. Damned, Paul. And I know that doesn’t mean anything to you. It really doesn’t mean anything to me. To them, though, it’s everything.” (152)

He continues talking to Paul about the possibility of leaving and running away, then says:

“All I know is that I can’t just run off. They think being gay is going to mess up my whole life. I can’t prove them right, Paul. I have to prove them wrong. And the only way for me to prove them wrong is to try to be who I am and show them it’s not hurting me to be that way.”

His struggle is the most true to real life. As I read further his character developed even more. For example, when a friend of his parents outs him to his mom and dad, I found myself breathless. I was experiencing what Tony was going through in the power of Levithan’s words. Beneath the idealism in the backdrop, was a struggle so many are familiar with. It’s one that made the entire book worth reading.

There are a lot of ups and downs in writing a gay character, and a special care that normally wouldn’t be there. You have to be aware of the stereotypes and pitfalls of gay or lesbian character. In Levithan’s case, he took those stereotypes, the fierceness and the fabulousness of living a life out loud-and-proud and exemplified them. As a result, he created a world where being exactly who you are, is exactly who you’re supposed to be. Moore’s character, Thom Creed, is a big “eff you” to the stereotypes: a straight-acting athlete with super powers. By all counts, he sounds like any other male teen out there. But therein lies the struggles of writing gay characters: How much is too much? What is believable? What will resonate? As writers, we’re committed to getting experiences right, to make them resonate, no matter how fantastical the circumstances.

Personally, I would love to live in a world where books like Boy Meets Boy are written without characters like Tony. By that I mean books that don’t have to treat coming out as some life-altering decision, but is just accepted as another part of life, like eating cereal for breakfast.

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Stonewallbook Thats So Gay: Steven Loathes the Titles Queer Lit & Gay & Lesbian YA LitIn the meantime, it’s up to us as writer’s to get it right. To humanize the experience. To appeal not just to the gay audiences, but straight readers as well. It’s our job to tear down the labels, and write. We must work on creating love stories as realistically as possible. We must treat the love as complex and with as much care as the love between a guy and a girl. That’s the only way to tear down the walls, to write gay characters fully and completely, with the same mastery and understanding of Levithan and Moore. Isn’t the whole point of books to get us thinking, to broaden our horizons, to find something out there we relate to, to latch onto?

What do you think? Are the labels still necessary? What YA novels do you think capture gay characters effectively, positively, and masterfully? What books can you suggest I add to my list? Get involved in the conversation and let’s work together to tear down the labels.

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images, Alfred A. Knolf Publishers, Hyperion Publishers

Thank You, Perry Moore

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On February - 18 - 2011

22 perry lgl 200x300 Thank You, Perry MooreIt took me months to track down a copy of Perry Moore’s Hero. I couldn’t even find a copy at The Strand. The one time I actually saw it on a shelf at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, the front cover was crinkled (a pet peeve of mine) and I had no money to spend. The second time I saw it, about a month later, I was in a Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie, browsing the Teen Literature section and my fingers happened to strum along the right shelf. There it was. And quicker than I could say “gay superhero,” I was at the checkout counter with my credit card ready to go.

Hero caught my attention a while back, when I was trying to track down teen lit about gay characters. When I saw that it was about a gay teen with super powers, I was obsessed with tracking it down. Who knew it would take me five months (I don’t believe in buying anything online, which would’ve shaved an absurd amount of time off my search), but when I finally found it, I couldn’t put it down.

It’s a slow burner, starting off with a bit too much back story, but I realized as I read that I couldn’t rush it. The relationships Moore was constructing needed time to simmer so when they boiled and bubbled and exploded, everything would resonate. What I responded to most was the struggle of gay protagonist, Thom Creed, and his balance of his private life with his family life and the life he wanted for himself. Even though Thom had super powers, he still wasn’t able to escape the “shame” that most gay teens face: “My father won’t approve or understand,” “I’ll be shamed and/or shunned,” “my family will get shunned from society,” “I’ll never have a normal life.” This struggle is something that Moore balanced beautifully. It’s something that struck an emotional chord with me.

Hero also deals with issues of gay-bashing and bullying, which makes it extremely timely. One of the super-hero’s-in-training Thom trains with throughout the book, Ruth, whose abilities include seeing into the future, becomes a sort of “It Get’s Better” friend to Thom, and allows him to see that first glimpse of acceptance, that “it’s ok to be who you are.”

hero perry moore 200x300 Thank You, Perry MooreBut, at the end of the day, Hero is more than just a book about a gay teen. It’s a book about being a teen in general. It’s a book that shows how hard it is to juggle school, family and the development of personal identity. It’s a book that shows us that to become the person you need to be, you might have to do things you don’t want to do and ruffle some feathers. It’s a book about the gray area between right and wrong. It’s a book about self-acceptance. It’s a book for adults and teens, boys and girls, straight and gay. It’s a book for comic book fans, and it’s a book for those who’ve never picked up a comic. It’s teen lit at its best.

Imagine my extreme sadness when I got home from work today and saw in my in-box that Perry Moore had passed away this morning. It said the 39 year old executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia films was found unconscious this morning by his partner. When I googled it to confirm, I found that he’d been working on a sequel to Hero, as well as new book series.

As I sit at my computer with my paperback of Hero next to me, I can’t help but think about how the world lost a true talent today. But I know that his words and message will continue to reach teens all over the world. Perry Moore will live on in the hands of teens who read about Thom Creed. He will live on in the minds of those teens he made a difference to. He will live on in my mind forever. Rest in peace, Perry. Thank you.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, Hyperion

Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the Recession

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On February - 18 - 2011

whereibelong 398x600 Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the RecessionWhen we met debut author Gwendolyn Heasley at one of David Levithan’s monthly teen author readings, we totally inspired by her story: having graduated at the height of the recession, the jobless and living with her parents wannabe journalist turned her broke-in-the-city angst into a fun fish-out-0f-water tale, Where I Belong. Gwendolyn paused from penning the book’s companion story to chat with Teen Writers Bloc about the arduous publishing process, nabbing her dream job and characters that talk to her — in a good way!

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

I was in school for about 21 consecutive years. After I finished my Master’s in Journalism at the University of Missouri, I moved to New York City with the hopes of a magazine job. I didn’t have any visions of grandeur; I realized I’d be fetching coffee for people with fabulous and glamorous jobs rather than landing a fabulous, glamorous job myself. But I did think I would get a job!

But I also moved to New York City the same month the stock market crashed (October 2008) and all of sudden everything was about the recession. Journalism budgets were slashed and tons of entry-level positions were cut. All of sudden, getting any job seemed extremely difficult. So instead of the single girl in the city with the studio apartment, I was living with my parents and frantically searching for jobs!

As a young girl, I had wanted to be a fiction writer not a journalist. But as I got older, working for a magazine (and having health insurance and a steady paycheck) just seemed more logical.

In order to keep my brain working while doing an unpaid internship and searching for jobs, I signed up for a YA fiction-writing course with Mediabistro — and put my recession tales into narrative!  With a lot of luck and good timing, my manuscript was sold to HarperCollins. My dream (although long forgotten) became a reality!

I love being a writer because you get to make everything up. In journalism, there wasn’t that creative license (for very good reason), but I love the freedom that fiction allows. I do not write full-time, although I am realizing how it is very hard to balance multiple jobs. Depending on the semester, I teach between one and three college writing classes, which I love doing. I teach both freshmen and adult learners, and I have learned a lot about life and writing from them.

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

Where I Belong is about a teenage Manhattanite Corinne who is about to head off to boarding school with her horse and her best friend. But then the recession hits and her family loses their money, so she heads to Texas instead to live with her parents and attend public school. It’s a riches to rags story that hopefully makes you laugh and cry.

The inspiration was the recession. I wrote it during the very height of the recession when I couldn’t find a job.  I didn’t want it to be completely depressing, so I created a humorous, spoiled character who only thinks her life is over because of the recession. In some ways, the recession isn’t her enemy; she’s her own enemy. I think the recession forced me (and many others) to reevaluate my life and I know I found lessons in the recession just like my character Corrinne does too.

Can you also talk a bit about the real currency of the book — these hard economic times and how you turned your own experience into Corrinne’s? Can teens relate?

I think teens (whether they are affected by the recession or not) can relate because it is a book about change and how difficult change can be.  I do think many teens today have learned tough lessons about money because of the recession, and I think they are rightfully called “the silent victims of the recession.” Money issues are very stressful for families (no matter the family’s socioeconomic status, and I think the novel taps on that.

My next novel is about Kitsy (the Texan friend) coming to New York and entering a world that’s a lot bigger (and richer) than Broken Spoke, Texas. The novel is going to be about how you find your confidence and place, no matter where you are. I love Kitsy, so I am excited to write a first-person novel about her!

gwen Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the RecessionWhat’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I write from home sometimes. ( I don’t live with the parents anymore.) I invested in a desktop, which makes writing easier.  But I also get cabin fever, so I have spent a lot of time at the PATH café in the West Village.

I like to write when it is light out because darkness makes me sleepy and lazy. (Of course, deadlines don’t make this always possible.) It might sound weird, but my characters truly tell me the stories and I listen. I am not saying this in a voices-in-my-head way. What I mean is that I think a lot before I write, which I think helps tremendously.

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

I had a lucky and quick path to publication due to the timely nature of my book. The extensive editing process amazed me! You do some much work in editing, and your editor contributes so much to your novel as well. Editors deserve more credit.

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

The best writing advice I’ve gotten is to write for yourself. If you love it — even if no one else does — that should be enough.

My advice to other authors is patience. You don’t know when you are born or when you will die or get married or any of those other milestones. So you also don’t know when you will be published, but I believe that it can happen any time and it will if you keep trying.

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

The Baby- sitters Club. Hands down. I love those girls! I am reading Delirium right now, and I just finished a Sara Zarr reading marathon.

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

I am working on a companion book to Where I Belong. After that, I want to keep writing YA!

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

My mediabistro class was very helpful to me. I think feedback is great! I am not part of a critique group right now, but I might join one soon!

Thanks Gwendolyn! Your story is super-inspiring!

Images courtesy Elizabeth Cryan/HarperCollins

pixel Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the Recession

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