Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for June, 2011

Riddhi’s Summer Reading List!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On June - 30 - 2011

Summer reads 300x300 Riddhis Summer Reading List!Summer is all about doing whatever you want. I never liked being forced to read, and luckily, because I like to read, I never had to be forced to read. Here’s a list of things I’ve been reading this summer (although in India it is actually the Monsoon). I’d gladly recommend these titles to anybody and everybody and have also explained why. But hey, no pressure…

The Spectacular Spectacle Man by Vishakha Chanchani; TARA Publishing

Because you need a different point of view!

Meet Chashmuddin Chashmewale, and you absolutely must, because there never was a groovier salesman of spectacles. In this neat picture book that opens out into one giant rectangle or folds back into 12 tiny ones — depending on how you look at it — the spectacular spectacle man makes a charming plea to customers to buy his awesome spectacles. I was sold simply on the artwork and the cellophane shades on the cover and more delighted to find that it is written entirely in verse and filled with wordplay and humorous puns. The many shades of this book bring out the qualities that Chashmuddin’s miraculous spectacles offer: from opening up a new green world for you, making all that is tragic vanish and making the thin look fat and the short look tall, you’ve got to have ‘em all. I especially loved the reminders that miracles follow wherever you go and life without spectacles is no life at all.


Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie; Penguin/GRANTA

Because summer is about journeys, the more magical, the better!

One of my all-time-favorites, if you still haven’t read this one, it is about time. A young boy named Haroun and his father, a story-teller named Rashid, also known as The Shah of Blah, go on an animated and adventurous journey to the Ocean of the Sea of Stories to find out why it is polluted. They meet many insane and entertaining characters like a water-genie, a talking hoopoe, a floating gardener and a pair of fish with mouths all over their bodies. Read this brilliantly hilarious book to understand why I’m cutting short the review. It’s a P2C2E, or a Processes Too Complicated to Explain.

The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend;  Puffin

Let’s face it, because you can’t get enough of reading someone else’s diary!

Recommended by our poet classmate Lenea Grace, this is a must-read for those of you who like it when you laugh so hard that your belly hurts. Written as a series of excruciatingly personal journal entries or in the secret diary format, Adrian Mole explains why growing up can be such a pain. Especially if you have a family as dysfunctional as Adrian’s. And really, who doesn’t? Adrian is fifteen and struggling to be noticed as an intellectual. His mother, who is fifty, is having a baby and his father’s trying to lie about a vasectomy. Adrian’s whole world seems to be falling apart. Could things get worse? Of course they do. After all, Adrian is getting spotty and is madly in love with Pandora. This tongue-in-cheek satire is the second title from the Adrian Mole series and a great travel companion.


The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle; Scholastic

Because nothing’s as sweet as nasty revenge!

As one reviewer on Amazon put it, this book is an “Awesome adventure of a shoe and a poo and how the two meet.” From the ingeniously funny chapter titles like “Chapter two million and seven” and “This chapter is named after my fridge because it keeps all my food fresh: Chapter FRIDGE” to revelations like “Dogs don’t like going to the toilet on the street. But their owners make them do it,” Roddy Doyle tells us a story about the gigglers: little furry creatures who serve justice to children that have been wronged by adults by placing a pile of dog poo right in front of the adult to step on. Fun. Fun. Fun.


The Boy with the Magic Numbers by Sally Gardner;  Dolphin

Because a little magic can go a long way!

In this easy-flowing narrative, Sally Gardner tells us about little Billy Pickles whose dad suddenly leaves home. A funny shaped moneybox, a trip to New York City, luck with numbers, a kidnapping mystery and a taste of fame make this a charming, well-paced read. Gardner easily slips in and out of the adventure to tell us how Billy is feeling, especially when Billy meets his grandmother, Mighty Mamma, and his father’s new girlfriend, Trixie, for the first time.


The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless by Ahmet Zappa; Puffin

Because you need the recipe for SOAP SCUM SPRAY SERUM!

Minerva and Max McFearless have just discovered that they are descended from a long line of monster-hunters. Their father has been kidnapped by the king of evil himself, Zarmaglog, and they’ve got to be fearless and rescue him. But it isn’t going to be easy. As the cover warns you: “The Monsters in this book STINK, EAT CHILDREN, SUCK OUT BRAINS, GROWL, STEAL and tell UNFUNNY JOKES.” Armed with disgusting and creative defensive recipes against monsters, scientific data on all things terrifying and priceless illustrations, this book is a hard-cover must have.

Book covers courtesy:

The Spectacular Spectacle Man — TARA Publishing; Haroun and the Sea of Stories — Penguin/GRANTA; The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole — Puffin; The Giggler Treatment Scholastic; The Boy with the Magic Numbers by Sally Gardner Dolphin; The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless by Ahmet Zappa Puffin


Digital imaging by Riddhi Parekh


Debut Author Interview: Dawn Metcalf’s Multicultural Paranormal Luminous

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On June - 28 - 2011

Luminous hires 197x300 Debut Author Interview: Dawn Metcalfs Multicultural Paranormal LuminousIn the chaos that was Book Expo of America in New York City, I met a wonderful author named Dawn Metcalf over lunch thanks to the wonderful Kate Milford. Along with another debut author, Shari Arnold, we discussed books, agents, publishers etc, while eating overpriced food. We also attended the YA Buzz panel together, and learned about many of the new YA books pubbing next year. I was so excited to learn about her book because 1) she’s a fascinating and funny person, and 2) she features a minority character in the starring role of her novel. Despite her busy schedule, I was able to catch up with her for an interview.


1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? What did you do before you “officially” became a writer. What made you want to be a writer? Do you write fulltime now?

The role of Dawn Metcalf will be played by the tall brunette in the off-the-shoulder, floor-length leather straightjacket. Makeup by Clinique, buckles by Jada Pinkett-Smith, hair by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
I have no good excuse for the way I write. I lived in a normal, loving, suburban home, studied hard, went to college, went to graduate school, got married, had babies, and settled down in northern Connecticut. Despite this wholesome lifestyle, I’ve been clearly corrupted by fairy tales, puppet visionaries, British humour and graphic novels. As a result, I write dark, quirky, and sometimes humorous speculative fiction. 

My debut YA novel, LUMINOUS, is due out June 30, 2011 by Dutton Books.

How did I become a writer? I sat down and I wrote from age 5 until the present tense where I sit down and I write. A writer writes, so that’s pretty easy! What’s a lot harder is writing professionally (i.e. getting paid for it) as I am new to that business, I can say that the best thing I ever did was join a professional organization (in may case, it was the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) and then take myself seriously enough to go to a conference, pay for some professional feedback, sit back and LISTEN. It made all the difference in the world.

Before I officially became a writer I was (and still am) an educator and advocate on gender and self-esteem. I design curricula and speak on issues like media fluency, diversity, bullying, communication, pregnancy prevention, safe sex, HIV/AIDS education, and GLBTQ advocacy. Aside from that I’ve been, in no particular order, a freelance writer, a waitress, a secretary, a bouncer, a creative consultant, a teacher, a health and wellness coordinator, a Jewish education director, and a daughter/sister/girlfriend/wife/mom. Aside from all of that, I’ve always been a full-time writer (when I’m not eating or sleeping)!

2. Can you give us a quick synopsis of LUMINOUS? How did you come up with the concept for the book?
Consuela Chavez discovers that she can remove her skin and craft new ones from the world around her to keep people from dying before their time.

Honestly, the book idea came out of a rant about the lack of cool minority superheroines and the blessing/curse of having a partial-photographic memory. Some memories of a Mexican anthropology textbook bumped up against my love of comic books and media greats like Joss Whedon and Tim Burton met up with old cult favorites like Sliders, Greatest American Hero & Quantum Leap. The result was the idea of a modern, teenage Lady of the Dead, a sort of Guardian angel ala Dia de los Muertos.

My brain is a scary place to play!

3. What does a typical writing day look like? Where/when do you write? Where does your inspiration come from? I know you have little ones, how do you balance mom-time and work-time?
LOL! I’m still working on that balance but I write when the kids are napping, at school, or at bedtime, asleep. I write in my office when the house is quiet and I have nothing but my piles of notes and notebooks to distract me. (Except the phone. I’m from the Midwest and trained to be polite so I always answer it.) And then I write between 2-3,000 words a day. I greet my husband when he’s home from work, read a little bit or watch TV, then go to sleep and start the cycle all over again the next day.
4. What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?
My dream of being an author is that I would quietly write books that would get snapped up, published, I’d see them on a shelf and happily receive checks for ongoing royalties. While this daydream might have been true once upon a time–along with princesses, dragons, and the occasional ogre–nowaways there’s this thing called “online presence”. THAT has been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process today.  (“But…but…I thought my job was writing *books*…?”) Luckily, I happen to like being social so that’s not a problem; balancing writing on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, chats, group blogs, Verla Kay, SCBWI, etc. with research as opposed to the actual writing-writing? That’s a major challenge.
5. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?
Jane Yolen’s “B.I.C. = Butt In Chair” is perhaps my favorite. But here’s some others for consideration:
1) “Give yourself permission to suck.” (Maureen Johnson & John Green who’s also known for “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome!”) Write that first draft & do a happy dance. Hooray! You did it!
2) Set that manuscript aside for 4-6 weeks to percolate and think about what it’s done before you start editing and WAAAAY before you send it anywhere.
3) Have a critique group or critique partner shred it seven ways from Sunday.
4) In the meanwhile, between edits, submissions or any other period of waiting, save yourself the stress headache and start writing another completely separate project. Keep writing! It keeps the crazies at bay.
015 Metcalf crop1 244x300 Debut Author Interview: Dawn Metcalfs Multicultural Paranormal Luminous6. What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?
My favorite books were all spec fic, often cyberpunk and nanotech by folks like William Gibson or Neal Stephenson, or whirly head-games of the sci-fi/fantasy persuasion like Spider Robinson, Neil Gaiman, or Joan D. Vinge. Now I’m a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld, Holly Black, and MT Anderson so really, not much has changed. On my nightstand I have WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick, FOREVER by Maggie Steifvater, and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor.
7. What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?
A lot depends on how LUMINOUS does whether I get to continue Consuela’s story, but I have another fantasy out on sub that’s a sort of Peter Pan/Meet Joe Black love story with bladed weapons. I’m working right now on a sort of alternate-near-future tale of four friends and the year that changed everything, and I’m always scribbling down notes from persistent epiphanies that won’t leave me alone until I do.


Having just achieved my second degree black belt after ten years of training, I’m looking forward to learning more and my children both start school full-time and that will be the next stage of my Mommyhood that’s kind of amazing and a little sniffly as well. If you had asked me if this would be what my life would be like two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago, I would have never guessed. Life has a way of surprising you so I never quite know what to expect! But all the Big Dream goals I had while growing up have been met…now I need more Big Dreams!

8. Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?
Yes, yes, and OHMIGWAD yes! The only road to sanity is paved with the generous flagstones of folks who have gone before and have graciously paved the way and held out a hand to others on the path. Experienced authors or fellow would-be-writers are truly the best way to keep tabs on not only the industry and its changes, but your own sanity as well. These are the eyes, ears, shoulders, hugs and wise counsel we all need to succeed intact. I could never thank my crit partners enough nor could I ever repay all the kindnesses done on SCBWI, Verla Kay, the Tenners, the Elevensies, Enchanted Inkpot, Fangs Fur & Fey and other writing communities and the people out there sharing it all. So I Pay It Forward and love helping the next person on their journey.
9. Why did you decide to use multicultural characters, like your main protagonist Consuela? Did this help or hinder your publication process?
When the idea came to me, it was Consuela who was the skeleton in the old Jose Guadelupe Posada caricature, able to create otherworldly skins and zip across parallel worlds; she was Mexican-American from a loving family who had a strong core faith. I didn’t choose Consuela as much as Consuela chose me. I had to do a lot of research and ask a lot of intelligent (and not-so-intelligent) questions, keep my ears open, learn an awful lot and get some insight into who she was and why she welcomed this compulsion to help other people she’d never met. The next up was Sissy and where her powers came from, then Wish, then V. By the time I was able to mine my own culture, studies and experiences with characters like Yehudah, Nikki, and Joseph, I was well on my way to making a full multi-cultural cast that a Benneton ad would envy. That said, that wasn’t my aim, but rather each character had a unique way of seeing life and their powers were shaped by their ethno-cultures or life experiences; what I wanted was to have an “American college” feeling to the world and I think that’s what I got!
I’d like to think that diversity is a positive force in YA lit but there’s been an awful lot of backlash–everything from “whitewashing” controversies to who is and isn’t “allowed” to write Other Stories and the ever-present fear of somehow “getting it wrong”–but the truth is, I think we are all writing the human experience, full of questions and emotions, fears and failures, triumphs and dreams. I think the thing that helps you get published is working hard at your craft, being respectful in your research, believing in yourself and your work, and putting it out there. There is always room for good writing.

Jane Suggests Two Great Summer Reads: Matched and Unwind

Posted by Jane Moon On June - 27 - 2011

unwind1 197x300 Jane Suggests Two Great Summer Reads: Matched and UnwindOnce classes were over, I began looking forward to all the free time I would have to read whatever I wanted. When Teen Writers Bloc asked for book suggestions for summer reading, I immediately thought of two YA books I recently read: Matched by Ally Condie and Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Both stories are set in dystopian futures, where the teenage protagonists rebel against what society considers “normal” by deciding their own futures.

In Matched, Cassia Reyes lives in a world where the leaders of society make the decisions for their citizens to ensure the best choices are made. Every detail – from what jobs they will have to what they will eat and who they will marry – are all made by the officials. At the age of 16, each person is matched with their ideal mate. When Cassia turns 16, she discovers she has been matched with Xander, her childhood friend. But when she views the information chip, a different boy’s face appears on the screen. This makes Cassia wonder if the choices the Officials make for her are really the ones she wants.

Unwind focuses on three teenagers, Connor (16), Risa (15) and Lev (13). Pro-life and pro-choice activists have reached an agreement. Instead of aborting unwanted pregnancies, teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 can be taken away and have their body parts harvested to be transplanted into other people, a process known as “unwinding.”  Once the unwinding contract is made, it can’t be undone. Connor’s parents decide that Connor’s behavior is beyond their control, so they sign a contract to have him unwound. Risa is a ward of the state who has practiced all her life to be a professional musician. Unfortunately, she was deemed not quite good enough to play professionally and will not be able to earn her keep. Since orphanages are expensive to run, Risa has been chosen by the State to be unwound. Lev is a tithe, a child who was born for the sole purpose of being unwound. Lev’s parents view him as their way of donating to the Church. In the end, Connor, Risa and Lev decide their own fates instead of what conforming and doing what has been chosen for them.

After reading Matched and Unwind, it really made me think about how every decision I make affects my future. For example, something as simple as choosing to read Matched increased my interest in reading other stories about choice in dystopian futures and this led me to Unwind. If I had chosen to read Judy Blundell’s Strings Attached instead, would that have led me to read more stories set in the 1950s or about showgirls? Matched and Unwind are two great summer reading books that I would definitely recommend.

Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Amber’s Picks For Fun Summer Reads

Posted by Amber On June - 25 - 2011

With summer finally upon us, we now have time to read the fun and powerful literature that school work and work obligations may have kept us from over the course of the past year. Here are a few suggestions for your summer 2011 reading experience.

Bloom by Elizabeth Scott: This book isn’t new. In fact, it came out in 2007. But I just discovered it about a month ago and I loved it. Scott’s writing is fresh and the plot is oh-so relevant and relatable. Lauren has the perfect boyfriend — or at least everyone around her thinks that she does. Girls stare at her with jealousy in the hallway at school whenever they’re together and each time she notices this she reminds herself just how lucky she is that he picked her. But then a friend from her past shows up again, disrupting the present. She begins thinking about him more than her perfect “other half” and in the end she has to make a decision: adhere to social expectation and obligation or take a risk on something as fragile as true love? It’s a must read, for sure.

What happened to goodbye 150x150 Ambers Picks For Fun Summer ReadsWhat Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen: Alright, I’m sure none of you are too surprised at this next pick. Sarah Dessen recently came out with a new novel and it is fantastic, of course. The protagonist, Mclean, has an unconventional lifestyle as of late. Her parents are recently divorced, and she lives with her dad, a chef-turned-restaurant consultant. Always on the move with her dad, who rehabilitates troubled restaurants around the country at the whim of EAT INC., a restaurant conglomerate, Mclean doesn’t just change locations; she also changes her name and identity with each move to a new place. From Eliza, the popular girl in Montford Falls, to Lizbet, the edgy new girl in a town called Petree, Mclean shifts her persona and keeps friendships artificial, knowing that its easier that way, and that if she doesn’t make attachments no one will get hurt, especially her. Of course, when she and her dad move to their newest location, Lakeview, and she begins to settle down, her positive outlook on this ever-changing lifestyle gets complicated, and things start to change. Add in a complex relationship with her mom and the fact that there’s also a strong dose of teenage romance included, and you’ve got a perfect summer read.

Well, those are my top two picks. I highly recommend them. Some other good choices are (in no particular order): Matched by Ally Condie, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, We’ll Always Have Summer (and the previous books in the series) by New School MFA grad Jenny Han, and Abandon by Meg Cabot.


Photo Courtesy of Viking Juvenile/ Amazon.com

22628 Alysons Summer Reading List Begs the Question: Is Rocky Horror Old Or Retro? My mother and I went to Barnes & Nobles a few weeks ago to buy my 15-year-old brother a “free reading book,” for after his final exams. We bought two copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one for my brother and one for me. When I called to ask what he thought of the book, he said, “It’s kind of old, Alyson. I mean, Rocky Horror Picture Show is dated.”

“Really?” I asked. “I thought it was retro?”

“And no offense, but it says MTV on the back.”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.

“Alyson.” He said my name like our 11-year-age gap made me elderly.

I expected him to have criticisms of the book, but it surprised me that he couldn’t get beyond the cover. When I was a freshman in high school (and my brother was 4), MTV was banned in our house. It didn’t stop me from sneaking downstairs to watch hours of forbidden music videos and marathons of The Real World, which at the time were “the shit.” And admittedly I went to Coolidge Corner for the midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show and left dancing to Meatloaf more than once.

So when I went to make my own summer reading list, I consulted an expert. My brother and I both agree that The Hunger Games is a must. And with the movie coming out, I say, read it now. Plus, I love starting a series over the summer, because it doesn’t have to end in the middle of your perfect beach day, which is why I’m also adding Harry Potter and Uglies to the list.

But as I told my brother, if you want a summer read that’s classic and contemporary (and epistolary), The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great pick, regardless of how you feel about MTV.

Dawn Metcalf’s Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On June - 23 - 2011

Luminous hires 197x300 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!Young Adult writer Dawn Metcalf is featuring a fabulous giveaway over at her blog. Her YA fantasy novel Luminous is set to release in 5 days on June 30th! Here’s a quick synopsis:

“When sixteen-year old Consuela Chavez discovers that she can remove her skin, revealing a lustrous mother-of-pearl skeleton, she slips into a parallel world known as the Flow; a place inhabited by archetypal teens with extraordinary abilities. Crafting skins out of anything – air, water, feathers, fire – she is compelled to save ordinary people from dying before their time. Yet now someone is murdering her new friends, one by one, and Consuela finds herself the focus of an intricate plot to end the Flow forever when all she really wants is to get back home, alive.”

In celebration of her fabulous debut novel she is giving away an array of prizes. Check them out and get over her blog and ENTER:

**GRAND PRIZE: Three Luminous Chicks of Paranormal Fic!***


 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!


ONE lucky winner wins something from everybody:
1. A signed hardcover copy of LUMINOUS
2. An ARC of IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma
3. An ARC of HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire
4. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
5. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
6. A packet of marigold seeds
7. 4 novelty buttons & a tiny troll doll c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
8. 3 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
9. A silver, beaded bookmark engraved with Native American blessing
10. A “Fan of YA” complete collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)


***1ST-3RD PRIZE: More Luminous Young Ladies!***


 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!


ONE lucky winner wins Consuela’s pick:
1. An ARC of DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB by Tara Altebrando.
2. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
3. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
4. A packet of marigold seeds
5. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
6. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
7. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)


 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!


ONE lucky winner wins Maddy’s pick:
1. An ARC of SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce.
2. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
3. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
4. A packet of marigold seeds
5. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
6. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
7. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)


 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!


ONE lucky winner wins Sissy’s pick:
1. An ARC of CHIME by Franny Billingsley.
2. A packet of glitter temporary tattoos
3. A single serve packet of the divine Bellagio’s Sipping Chocolate
4. A packet of marigold seeds
5. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
6. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
7. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)


***4TH-6TH PRIZE: Let’s Hear It for the Boys!***

 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!



ONE lucky winner wins V’s pick:
1. The first of the series, WAKE by Lisa McMann.
2. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
3. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
4. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)




 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!


ONE lucky winner wins Wish’s pick:
1. The first of the Vladimir Tod series, EIGHTH GRADE BITES by Heather Brewer.
2. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
3. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
4. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)





 Dawn Metcalfs Luminous Summer Reading Giveaway!



ONE lucky winner wins Tender’s pick:
1. An ARC of the upcoming, ultra-violent AU REVOIR CRAZY EUROPEAN CHICK by Joe Schreiber.
2. 2 novelty buttons c/o THE PULL OF GRAVITY
3. 1 hot-n-sweet mango-chili lollipops
4. A “Fan of YA” mini-collection of 2011 bookmarks (some signed by the author!)


Debut Author Interview: Cara Lynn Shultz Talks Spellbound

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On June - 22 - 2011

spellbound cover 186x300 Debut Author Interview: Cara Lynn Shultz Talks SpellboundWay back in the day, when I was an intern at the much-missed Teen People magazine, this fun chick named Cara Lynn Shultz was one, too. Our paths crossed again every so often at People, but I didn’t know that, like myself, Cara’s long been toiling away at a novel or two. And now we finally get check out Spellbound, Cara’s first effort. TeenWritersBloc.com caught up with her to chat about paranormal pursuits, marketing yourself and making time to write.

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

I’ve always been a writer/editor, just in a different capacity. I was the Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper, the Fordham Observer, and after college I worked in magazines as an entertainment journalist and editor. But I didn’t write fiction professionally, just recreationally.

When I was fresh out of college, I used to email my friend Vanessa little stories about characters I came up with who lived in New York. The characters were seniors in college, named Claire and Alex, and Vanessa would read these tales during her commute between Manhattan and the Bronx. Years later, Vanessa moved and she found print-outs of the stories in an old purse, and gave them back to me. I was reminded how much fun I had with these characters, so I took them back out and began playing with them at the end of 2008. So that’s when I “officially” became an author.

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

After a rough couple of years, Emma Conner moves to New York to live with her aunt and start over at a new school, a posh Upper East Side prep school. As she’s learning to navigate the somewhat shark-infested waters, she finds herself drawn to a classmate, troublemaker Brendan Salinger — and strange things start happening. Streetlamps explode over her head. She has disturbing dreams of herself in another time, and her late brother appears to warn her to stay away from him — or else.

About the concept, I had the characters already, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with them. So, I just started writing with a rough idea of what I wanted to do. I don’t really write with an outline; I kind of let the characters do what they want to do and see where it goes. I knew I wanted to do something paranormal since personally, I’m drawn to that kind of entertainment. And I knew I wanted a romance, since I was a newlywed and my head was filled with hearts and flowers and lollipops at the time. I’ve always been interested in past lives and reincarnation. So I just kind of put that all together.

Do you think kids and teens are especially interested in fantasy these days?

With fantasy, there’s all this possibility and unpredictability. Anything can happen — and anything usually does. It’s fun and unlimited and I think that’s attractive to teens and adults.

Can you talk a bit about your process, from conception to publication? What does a typical writing day look like?

Spellbound, originally, was a stand-alone book — writing a sequel came later. So, after I got my deal, I tweaked things in the first book to set up a sequel. I have a day job, so I don’t start writing in this capacity until night. I start writing around 8 or 9 p.m., and write until about 2 a.m. I’m a better writer at night; I’ve always been that way. On Fridays and Saturdays, I stay up until about 6 a.m., then sleep until noon, then it’s back to writing. There’s so much that inspires me; for this book, I drew heavily on my own teen experiences — and they’re ones that I think, for the most part, are pretty universal. The mean girls who you persecute you for no reason. The all-consuming crushes. Feeling awkward and out of place.

When I write, I write with my headphones on, so music plays a big part in my writing. It’s a huge influence, actually. As I write, I listen to songs that resonated with me in high school — it helps put me back in the headspace of being a teen — and some more current stuff, things I think my characters would like.

What has your path to publication been like?

My media background highlighted the importance of social media, and I’m really active on Twitter and Facebook. I think I’ve been pretty lucky — the YA community is really supportive, smart and dedicated community, and I’ve gotten to know a fair number of bloggers through Twitter.

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

Keep writing. It’s the best advice I’ve gotten, and the advice I’ve give an aspiring author. Even if you don’t have an idea for a novel, start a blog. Start a Twitter feed. Just stay active.

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

When I was a really little kid, I loved the Little House books. As I got older, I was crazy about The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Twins. Then I went through phases: Agatha Christie, Stephen King. Now I’m reading Got Junk? by Tom Acox and Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

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

Right now I’m writing the sequel to Spellbound, Spellcaster, which is due next year.

Thanks Cara! Can’t wait to read it!

Sona Remembers Those Lazy Summer (Reading) Days

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On June - 21 - 2011

GrandPlan Cover large.img assist custom 245x374 196x300 Sona Remembers Those Lazy Summer (Reading) DaysOnce upon a time, long ago and not so far away, I lived on this magical street called Library Place. And yes, it had an actual library on one end of it.

I was about eight, and my parents (don’t call DYFUS!) used to let me and my sister (Meena, a year-and-a-half younger) walk down the block by ourselves and idle the hours away at the library, which back then was my favorite place to be. Summer was particularly fun, because without the weight of school and required reading on our slim shoulders, we could really indulge in those stacks of super-exciting reads of our own choosing.

I remember at the time that this particular library, the one on Library Place, had all these summer reading contests to motivate kids to read as many they could through that three-month break — with the prizes being a free book, a personal pie at Pizza Hut, or even just the simple gold star. I always loved having that record of all those books I devoured over the course of the summer, piles of Baby-Sitters Club monthlies that had built up during the school year, Judy Blume’s Fudge series, The Secret Garden, Bridge to Terabithia, Anne of Green Gables. (Yes, I know, I’m obsessed. But they were so good!)

Sadly, after third grade, we moved away from the magical Library Place, and while we still spent many summer hours at the library in our new town, it was never quite the same.

Recently, though, I’ve rediscovered my passion for the library, in particular the stately, long-standing Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library, which sits primly on Sixth Ave., not far from school. I spend hours before or after class perusing my options (and when I’m home, downloading eBooks and audiobooks from NYPL.org), and have managed to build up a fun summer reading list for myself. Here are my picks:

Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach
With his first “kids’ book,” novelist and poet Mansbach serves up a deliciously wicked take on the picture book, complete with lovely kid-friendly illustrations and a rhyming lyrical voice. Your little one will never be the wiser, but this sure will make that bedtime story a hell of a lot more fun.

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, by Uma Krishnaswami
Okay, so I’ll admit it: I haven’t actually read this yet. But boy were Dhonielle and I excited to see it when we came across it in Barnes & Noble the other day. And it’s at the top of my kid lit list. In the book, Bollywood-obsessed Dini, 11, is not happy about her family’s move from Tacoma Park, MD, to sleepy Swapnagiri, India. But maybe it will all be worth it if she can meet her favorite matinee idol, Dolly Singh.

How I Saved My Father’s Life (And Ruined Everything Else), by Ann Hood
In this middle grade tome by the author of The Knitting Circle and The Red Thread, young miracle-worker (at least that’s what she thinks) Madeline Vandemeer deals with divorce and dashed hopes — but can she keep the faith? A fun, flavorful read for middle-graders and grown-ups alike.

We’ll Always Have Summer, Jenny Han
The final installment in New School alum Jenny Han‘s delicious Summer series, book three sees beautiful Belly finally having to choose between her childhood pals Conrad and Jeremiah. If you haven’t read the first two, definitely start from the beginning — but all three will fit very nicely into your summer beach bag.

The Art of Forgetting, by Camille Noe Pagan
When her best friend Julia suffers from a brain injury, magazine editor Marissa learns how fragile the ties that bind can be. Fellow freelance writer Pagan knows of what she writes: a magazine writer who focuses on health and nutrition, she was inspired to write the story while researching an article on brain injuries. But science aside, Pagan deftly touches on the nerve-filled center of a friendship, loved and lost.

Steven’s Summer Book Club

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On June - 20 - 2011

Beach Book 300x180 Stevens Summer Book ClubDisclaimer: The following paragraph is an example of extreme laziness and horrific work ethic and should not be attempted at home by the faithful readers of Teen Writers Bloc.

When I was in high school, summer reading was — prepare to gasp — always a chore for me. The reading lists never really had anything that I wanted to read. Let’s face it, the chosen “Classics” are not always the easiest books to read, let alone the most fun. Usually, I waited until the week before school to cram in a book or three. Oftentimes, I’d be sitting in the hallway on the first day of school between periods skimming through the ends of the books I knew I’d never read. And if all else failed, well, Sparknotes.com always helped a brotha out. My teachers’ penetrating glares when I didn’t know the answers to questions, however, were no fun.*

Moral of this story: Summer reading lists sucked. I was a bad student.

When I was younger I never had enough time during the summer months to read what I wanted to read because I’d be forced to read what I didn’t want to read. I’ve noticed (thanks to my 16-year-old sister) that summer reading lists now have a lot more variety and a lot fewer of the boring “classics.” (They save those for the year-long syllabuses). And what better time to pick up a great book than summertime?

When I’m at the beach, soaking up some color and getting my GTL on, the feel of a book in my hand is wonderful. I can lose myself in the pages and find myself wandering through castles or neighborhoods I’ve never known before. It’s a great excuse to just escape. And since I’m worlds apart from the “bad student” I was in high school, if a kid approached me now asking for advice on what books to dive into during the summer heatwaves, I’d have loads to recommend for kids of all ages:

For the young’uns out there: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (and its accompanying sequels) by Judy Blume. When I was younger, Fudge ruled my world. I was talking to my 10-year-old cousin the other day, and she had no idea who Fudge was. I was flabbergasted. I demand that all 8 to 12-year-olds get to know this series, because it was my life back in the day.

 Stevens Summer Book ClubFor the ‘tweens: Try out Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan or Totally Joe by James Howe. There needs to be more tolerance and acceptance for kids who are different, and it’s best to start at a young age. I also love Holes by Louis Sachar— it’s a great summer book!

For those who love their classics: Catcher in the Rye is a must. It’s the first book that ever “spoke” to my soul. Dramatic? Yes. Truth? Absolutely. I read it once a year to remind myself to never lose my voice.

For the teens out there who are too cool to read books about teens and would rather read adult books: If you’re into nonfiction, pick up any one of David Sedaris’s creative nonfiction memoirs. Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day are epic. Also, Junot Diaz’s Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are wonderful too. If you’re into fiction, Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is at the top of my reading list.

For kids of all ages (especially those who are young at heart): Harry Potter, Books 1–7. Let’s face it, come July everyone and their dog will be flocking to movie theaters all over the world to see who wins the ultimate battle between good and evil. Neither can live while the other survives, right? Well, in order to know what the heck that all means, you gotta refresh your memory. And why watch the movies when you can read JK Rowlings’ exquisite and exciting prose? I know that I’m starting from the beginning and going straight through until the very last page of Deathly Hallows before I make my way into my local multi-plex.

And what will I be reading this summer? Well, I’ll definitely be re-reading the Harry Potter series before the last movie is released. That’s a must. Also, I’m determined to pick up Ned Vizzini’s Be More Chill and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. I also want to read Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club and Libba Bray’s Going Bovine.

*Note: No pencils, no books, and no teachers’ dirty looks were harmed in the writing of this article. Oh, and don’t use Sparknotes.com. That’s cheating and cheaters blow.


Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On June - 17 - 2011

 Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami YodaMy good friend Kate Milford raved about the straight-forward brilliance of a MG novel titled The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger. After she read this book, she came up with a fabulous summer writing challenge for our critique group: for us to attempt to write something clean, economical, and straightforwardly brilliant like this book.I kept passing it by in the bookstore and finally decided to pick it up at the library, so I could get started on this summer project.

My father says I got my love for science fiction/fantasy while I was in the womb. The day before I was born on May 26th, 1983, my father dragged my mother to stand in line on opening night to see Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi with his fingers crossed that her water wouldn’t break. And like a good daughter and future nerd, I stayed put and her water broke after they got home from seeing the movie. Strangely, I’ve always had a fondness for all things related to Star Wars and space operas. So when I saw the title and the little green and brown origami Yoda on the cover I was immediately hooked.

And the text did not disappoint because it is a case file and told from several different points of view. Tommy is investigating the weird/troublemaker kid Dwight’s origami Yoda, who seems to be giving magical advice to help kids solve their middle school issues and conundrums. Each kid involved in the investigation writes a chapter detailing their encounters with the mysterious and mystical origami Yoda, detailing the advice they received and how it helped them solve their particular issue.

 Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami YodaI absolutely loved the case file format and how we got to read things from other characters’ POVs, and each section felt so different than the others. The voices were wonderfully differentiated. Surprisingly, there was no physical description of each character (aside from the fact that one girl Sara wore hearing aides), and I found myself okay with it. As my fellow Teen Writers Bloc members will attest to, I am kinda of a nag when it comes to physical description. I want to be rooted in the way someone looks, even if it’s just one quirk. But this book used little doodles at the top of each chapter to show what Tommy, Rhondella, Kellen, Quavando, Sara, Harvey etc look like. The narrative didn’t have the space to go into physical details about each person, but the characters were developed through the way they relay their encounter with origami Yoda.

This book is awesome! I am inspired by  the structure and humor. Also, it was edited and published by our Middle Grade Lit professor Susan van Metre, editor extraordinaire at Abrams.

Check it out! I have already pre-ordered the next book Darth Paper Strikes Back.

Photo courtesy of Amulet Books and Anthony T.

pixel Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

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