Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for November, 2011

To Beat the Mid-Semester Doldrums, Alyson’s Looking for a Little Magic

Posted by Alyson Gerber On November - 30 - 2011

44918614 To Beat the Mid Semester Doldrums, Alysons Looking for a Little MagicWhen it comes to the Literati, my literature professor, James Allen, is hooked up. I’m not just saying this to try and land an A in his class, although I wouldn’t be opposed. But he is actually friends with the entire literary world, and most of them have come to our class.

When John Edgar Wideman, whose many accolades include being the only writer to have been awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction twice as well as the American Book Award for Fiction, the Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction, and the MacArthur Award, came to speak to my literature class about his novel Cattle Crossing, I was intimidated. I hid in my little corner and tried not to make eye contact, especially when he started asking us what we were reading. He wanted US to tell HIM what was “good these days.”

Mostly people offered up obscure novels and collections of short stories that sounded very impressive, and well, depressing. When he pointed to me and asked, “What are you reading?” I almost died.

Bras and Broomsticks,” I blurted, wishing I was one of those good liars, who with a straight face could say, “Sebald. I just love reading about the Holocaust,” instead of someone with verbal diarrhea.

“Is it good?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Very good.” And I meant it.  I loved Sarah Mlynowski’s Magic in Manhattan series. It was the perfect distraction from a less than uplifting semester of sad, impressive literature. I mean really, what’s better than a little magic and a lot of teen drama?

Luckily, I managed to keep that last part to myself.

Photo courtesy Random House

6604794 198x300 Looking for a Distraction? Sona Suggests Jandy Nelsons The Sky Is EverywhereI’m a busy girl. Generally, between work and writing and family and more work, I can’t afford distractions.

So I steal away reading moments when I can — on the subway, at 4 a.m. when I can’t sleep and can’t write, for five minutes with my chai in the morning. Never for extended periods of time. These days, I don’t have the luxury of picking up a book and reading it from cover to cover without putting it down. And I miss that.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to resist. And there’s occasionally a book that’s just so riveting, so enrapturing, that it just keeps calling to you, distracting you from the everyday, the mundane, the necessary. And I spent bits and pieces of my Thanksgiving weekend devouring one such book, Jandy Nelson’s delicious, engrossing The Sky Is Everywhere.

The book is truly heart-wrenching. Lennie Walker, clarinet player and awkward kid sister, sees her world shatter when her star sibling, the feisty, fiery Bailey, dies suddenly. But instead of having the expected reaction — mourning in all black silence — the band geek goes boy crazy. She finds herself falling in love for the first time with the knee-melting Joe Fontaine. And oddly, she also finds herself randomly hooking up with her newly-dead-sister’s boyfriend, Toby. Apparently, mourning does strange things to people.

Nelson’s characters are startlingly real, and the language is beautiful — casually composed poems are scattered throughout the book, little missives Lennie scribbles and tosses away on the wind, revealing her inner turmoil to no one and everyone all at once.

This book is peopled with vivid, quirky, uber-memorable characters, and drenched in such realistic emotion, it’s occasionally exhausting. But that’s also what makes it so completely un-put-downable. If you’re a fan of sister stories, gorgeous language, tortured love triangles, sweet romance or quirky characters, this is definitely a must-read.

This November, Jane Is Stuck on 16

Posted by Jane Moon On November - 22 - 2011

Seven Messages This November, Jane Is Stuck on 16It’s our third semester in the Writing for Children program at the New School, and we’ve run out of Children’s Lit seminars to take, which means we have to enroll in classes that are outside our genre. I decided to take a class in fictional autobiographies and I got lucky. The reading assignments are pretty interesting and the classes are bearable, but I still need my children’s and YA book fix. So this semester, I’ve been spending a lot of time at in the YA sections in of the bookstore and the library, either looking for new releases or finding books by my favorite authors that I previously haven’t read before.

These are some of the books that have caught my attention:

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. Mara Dyer (which is not her real name) is a 16-year-old girl who mysteriously survived a building collapse that killed her three friends, Rachel, Clair and Jude. Mara begins to recall what happened the night her friends died while trying to navigate a new school, bullies, and hot guys.

You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis. A year after the death of her mother, 16-year-old Luna finds her mother’s forgotten cell phone, still plugged in and fully charged. Luna discovers there are seven messages that have not been heard. Each message reveals a facet of her mother’s life that Luna never knew about and each message is a clue that leads to the cause of her mother’s death.

And a book from one of my favorite authors:

Bronxwood, by Coe Booth. The sequel to Tyrell, written by New School Writing for Children alum Coe Booth, features a now sixteen-year-old Tyrell, whose family has been broken apart. His little brother is in foster care, his mother cares only about her own interests and Tyrell is figuring out how to make it on his own. Tyrell’s father has just gotten out of jail and he has plans that Tyrell doesn’t want to be a part of. Tyrell needs to figure out how to navigate through his life in the best way possible.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting new reads. What books have caught your attention?

Photo courtesy of Random House

For Corey, Funny is Key

Posted by Corey Haydu On November - 20 - 2011

kaling 211 For Corey, Funny is KeyThis is not the first time I have shared my love of the audiobook, but I can’t help it: I’m going to remind you all again of how great audiobooks are for changing up your reading routine, escaping into a great book, and, more importantly, still being able to read books even when your eyes really, really hurt.

I have a great job that involves reading for six or seven hours a day. Add that to the (super dense) reading for my non-childrens lit class, and I’ve already got a good 30 hours a week of reading on my plate.

But fear not! I can still read for pleasure through my extensive audiobook collection!

The downside is that sometimes audible.com’s teen selection isn’t what I’d hope it would be. (For instance, it is KILLING me that The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer  isn’t available as an audiobook yet.) So I resort to the occasional adult or crossover book. This month, I picked up a book being marketed to both women AND girls (sorry, not really being marketed for the men as it is pretty and pink), Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

For a quick, funny read, you can’t do better than Kaling, who’s best known for playing Kelly Kapoor on The Office. And in this collection of quirky essays, she writes about all the things a great contemporary teen novel might address: high school, crushes, body image, parental pressure, changing friendships. She does it with wit and depth, never dismissing the hardships of adolescence, but still finding room for humor in the growing pains of her youth. Plus, in the audiobook version, Kaling does the reading herself. And there’s nothing better than hearing a great comedic actress narrate her own book. (See also: Tina Fey’s Bossypants.) If you love YA literature, this is a great pick. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday Ms. Kaling joins us teen fiction writers and tackles a YA novel. She seems interested in and passionate about that period of time, and from these essays, it sure looks like she has a lot to draw on! In fact, I’m now I am considering starting a twitter campaign: Mindy Kaling, Please Drop Everything and Write a YA Novel. I’ll keep you updated on its progress.

If I haven’t convinced you, or if you’re really just looking for a contemporary YA novel, I’ve also enjoyed Sara Zarr’s 2009 novel Sweethearts, which is filled with heartbreaking, lovely, characters so full of life you’d swear you’ve actually met them. And looking forward, everyone should be on pins and needles waiting for New School alum Siobhan Vivian’s The List, which I have been lucky enough to get a peek at. Vivian’s new novel is one of those books I wish I’d written, and I have a feeling it’s going to be HUGE. So mark April 1st on your calendars and gets ready to enjoy yet another New School alum’s masterpiece!

Riddhi Saves Herself from Drowning by Floating in a Sea of Picture Books

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On November - 18 - 2011

TWB November 600x600 Riddhi Saves Herself from Drowning by Floating in a Sea of Picture Books

I often feel like I made a really bad decision with my literature class. At first I thought I’d be interested in the reading list, but after going through a lot of really dense and difficult texts like Tristram Shandy, Ryder, Pale Fire, Naked Lunch and Hopscotch, I wish I’d taken a class that involved some lighter reading.

Luckily, I was also working on a new story for our children’s writing seminar and drew inspiration from some really awesome picture books that I randomly picked them out at the New York Public Library. I was delighted that they were light and funny – just the thing to balance those pretentious fiction texts that were weighing me down.

Here’s a few of the ones that really rocked.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This one is so simple and charming, a story about a boy and a tree that gives the boy whatever he wants. I had never actually read this as a picture book, only as an email, which sucks because I was missing out on seeing the real Tree. And what a wonderful tree it is!

The Gift by Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan

A very subtle story about a little girl who wanders off from a woodland picnic and finds herself in a lovely clearing and meets an old woman who grants her wish in exchange for a simple necklace of flowers. Remarkably intricate floral details in a folk-art style with hand cut illustrations.

The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin

I may have written about this book before, but it’s become like home to me. It’s a bittersweet story about a hibernating bear that awakens to find himself in the middle of a factory where everyone he meets insists that he’s not a bear, but a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. What’s great about it is the way it tells you to be proud of who you are in a humorous, non-preachy manner.

Someone Used My Toothbrush and Other Bathroom Poems by Carol Diggory Shields and Paul Meisel

Breaking away from the nature them, I moved to the bathroom, with a book featuring lots of different families in hilarious poems with clever word play and just the right amount of grossness about potty training, cleaning the bathroom, waiting in line, an over-crowded medicine cabinet and so on.

BrainJuice: English, Fresh Squeezed!  by Carol Diggory Shields and Tony Ross

More poems by the same author who gave us bathroom poems, this one was just the thing for the grammar nerd in me. This one simplifies the English language, giving you a hilariously honest lowdown on punctuation, spelling, diagramming sentences, drafting letters, writing poetry and much more.

The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner

This one reminded me of the Chicken Little and the Sky Is Falling story. Only, in this case, it starts with the rabbits, who hear a terrible plop and begin to run through the forest spreading mass panic about something terrible that’s going to happen. I bet kids will love repeating the “PLOP” as it recurs on every page — and maybe they’ll be able to deal with their own fears through this adorably illustrated book.

Digital Imaging: Riddhi Parekh


For Fun Reads, Amy Turns To the Jessica Verdi Lending Library

Posted by Amy Ewing On November - 17 - 2011

When it comes to finding a good book to read – especially in the midst of all the drudgery of adult novels we’ve been reading this semester – I have developed a system which almost always produces excellent results. I call it The Verdi System, otherwise known as “What Is Jess Reading Now?”

Crossed For Fun Reads, Amy Turns To the Jessica Verdi Lending LibraryMy very good friend, Jess Verdi, is always reading something new, either to review it for our site or because she’s got a very close relationship with Amazon. Luckily for me, we have very similar tastes. So every time I come to her apartment, I usually end up leaving with at least one new book to read. So far this semester, Jess’s outstanding library has provided me with:

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. Haunting and disturbing, with a great love story and even greater elements of suspense, Michelle Hodkin’s debut novel definitely had me up reading into the wee hours of the morning.

Delirium. The only one I’ve borrowed so far that I didn’t like. While Lauren Oliver’s prose is beautiful and evocative, it doesn’t work so well with the genre. I like my dystopian novels to run at breakneck speeds.

Glow. I loved this book so much I had to start reading it over again once I finished it. The writing is clunky in places, but boy does Amy Kathleen Ryan know how tell a good story with non stop action. It’s like Firefly or Battlestar Galactica for teens. And you never know who to trust.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Okay, technically this is not a YA book, but I highly recommend it. Fifteen year old Christopher is an autistic boy who tries to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. Outstanding writing, and a beautifully unique way to tell a story.

At the moment, I’m about halfway through Crossed, the sequel to Ally Condie’s Matched. I’m reserving judgment until I get to the end. And after that…well, I wonder what Jess’s library will have in store for me?

Out of the Doldrums — Lauren Oliver’s Liesl and Po Helped Me Through!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On November - 14 - 2011

liesl+and+po Out of the Doldrums    Lauren Olivers Liesl and Po Helped Me Through!I am drowning in work this semester. Papers, tutoring, meetings, phone calls, books I don’t want to read for my snooze-fest Lit class. At times I feel like having a Kindergarten-style meltdown — hands waving in the air, feet kicking the ground, and screaming, lots of screaming. But, each night, when I return home from tutoring somewhere along 5th Avenue, I stuff myself and retreat to bed with one good book: Lauren Oliver’s Lisel and Po.

From the moment I spotted the cover, saw the smoky, black-and-white illustrations, and read the first line: “On the third night after her father died, Liesl saw the ghost”, I was HOOKED! Swept away! Captivated! I don’t want to describe Liesl or Po or Bundle or Will or The alchemist or The Lady Premiere, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. Getting to know all these characters was the best part.

Here is a little summary of the plot from our friends at Amazon.com: “Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone. That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable. Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.”

The language is sweeping and the characters’ dilemmas fantastically life-threatening. It reminded me of the books I loved growing up — the ones that I’d stay up all night reading even after my mother told me to go to bed. Stuck in the doldrums of a boring adult literature class, this book helped pull me through.

Check it out!

 

Photo Credit: Harper Collins

Mary Says Have a Laugh With “School of Fear”

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 10 - 2011

School of Fear Cover Large Mary Says Have a Laugh With “School of Fear”It’s our third semester at The New School, and it’s going slooooow. For some reason, The New School administration is forcing us all to take non-children’s literature classes, and let’s just say the books aren’t exactly what we love to read. This week I was supposed to read Naked Lunch, a book so obscene and offensive that it made me question my stance against banned books. Boy, am I in the mood for something fun! Thankfully, I’m in luck, because the third book in Gitty Daneshvari’s School of Fear series came out on October 3rd! I’ve got my order in to Amazon, and while I’m supposed to be reading some “adult” slog-fest, I’ll be eagerly devouring Daneshvari’s particular brand of goofy fun.

The original School of Fear (2009) is about four middle-schoolers who each have hilariously over-the-top phobias. Madeleine is deathly afraid of bugs, to the point where she exists in a cloud of bug spray. Garrison is afraid of water. Lulu is claustrophobic, and Theodore is afraid of dying. Think these fears sound serious? Think again! Each fear is hilariously extreme and the cause of seriously funny behavior. All of the kids’ parents have had enough and have decided to send them to the mysterious School of Fear, which consists of a weird mansion staffed only by Schmidty, a man with a ridiculously long comb-over, and Mrs. Wellington, a former beauty pageant queen with a penchant for silly wigs. Add in a dog named Macaroni, a ridiculous lawyer, a mysterious forest-dwelling former student, and a series of absurd “lessons,” and you have a recipe for much laughter and forgetting of your silly troubles.

The silliness continues without abatement in 2010’s School of Fear: Class is NOT Dismissed, in which the kids return for more fun with wigs, comb-overs, and beauty pageants. If you are looking for something to get you through your boring semester, try the School of Fear series! School of Fear: The Final Exam is out now.

Cover art courtesy Little, Brown and Company

Jess’s (Reading) Cure for the November Blues

Posted by Jessica Verdi On November - 9 - 2011

Crossed Jesss (Reading) Cure for the November BluesSuper-obvious fact #1: School is hard.

Super-obvious fact #2: School is time-consuming.

Super-obvious fact #3: Distractions are a necessary factor in keeping one sane.

This semester, as I’ve delved into my adult literature seminar on “the Use of Setting,” which requires me to read lots of long, not-so-entertaining books about not-so-entertaining topics and write lots of not-so-exciting papers on them, I’ve found myself needing sanity-saving distractions more than ever.

This month, one such distraction has mercifully arrived in the form of Ally Condie’s Crossed, which came out last week. In this dark, action-packed, emotionally-fueled sequel to Matched (read my review here!), separated lovers Cassia and Ky are trying to find their way back to each other — and the Society sure isn’t making it easy.

I also have a few go-to books that never fail me when I’m feeling sad/exhausted/depressed/overwhelmed/in need of an escape. Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me?, about a girl who wakes up in the hospital with amnesia and doesn’t recognize anything about her life — including her gorgeous stranger of a husband — is one of my all-time favorites. They really need to make a movie out of it — and let’s hope it’s better than that god-awful film version of Kinsella’s Shopaholic series.

Also, Stephenie Meyer knows exactly how to yank me out of any mood-induced funk. I’ll go back to The Host, Breaking Dawn, and New Moon (beginning at the part where Alice comes back, of course) time and time again, and even though I could probably recite the words by heart at this point, reading about things so far from reality as vampires, body-snatching aliens, and ridiculously perfect boyfriends makes me happy.

Crossed cover image courtesy of Dutton Books.

Debut Author Interview: Jessica Martinez Talks Virtuosity

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On November - 5 - 2011

13 400x600 Debut Author Interview: Jessica Martinez Talks Virtuosity

Write what you know, they always say. So it’s no surprise that debut author Jessica Martinez  —  whose first book, Virtuosity, about a musical protege, came out a few weeks ago  —  is a gifted violinist. We caught up with the Florida-based, Canada-raised author to talk about protege pressure, catching the writing bug and balancing work, motherhood and and fiction.

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

I’ve always been a writer, but it took me a long time to get serious about it. I studied English in college with music minor, went on to teach high school English, and then played violin professionally for a few years. When I started writing Virtuosity, I was mostly a stay-at-home mom, but playing as a sub with the Orlando Philharmonic and teaching violin too.

It was actually my obsession with reading that made me realize I had to write a novel. I couldn’t read without thinking, “This is beautiful — I wonder if I could do this?” Or “This isn’t that great — I think I could do better.” At the time, I had no idea how hard it would actually be to write a book!

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

Virtuosity is about a teenage violin prodigy who falls for the one person who can take her dream away — her biggest competitor. She’s also dealing with a pressuring stage mom and an addiction to anti-anxiety meds that she takes to perform. With the biggest competition of her career approaching, she has to decide whether taking control of her own life is worth losing it all.

It started with a single image.  I pictured the scene from the prologue: a girl lying on a balcony hanging her million-dollar violin off of the edge. As a violinist, I can think of all sorts of reasons she would want to drop it, so I started writing some of those reasons. I wrote a lot — almost a full novel — before I realized it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. I could do better. It took several very different drafts for me to determine what kind of challenges I wanted Carmen to face and exactly who I wanted her to become.

Music obviously plays a major role here — do you play? Where did you draw from for this aspect of the book? Were you a child prodigy yourself? Talk about pressure! 

I started playing the violin when I was three and played fairly seriously throughout my childhood and teenage years. Every moment I wasn’t at school I was at the music academy or practicing, and I went to a unique high school that let me do most of my work by correspondence. While I was a teenager I competed in major competitions, and performed as a soloist with professional symphonies. I knew lots of stage moms like Carmen’s (though my mother was not like her at all), I knew people who used anti-anxiety drugs, and I had teachers like Yuri. Actually, I had a few teachers meaner than Yuri. I also loved and still love music intensely, so Carmen’s dilemma is very real to me.

Pressure! What can I say? It was always there, and I’ve often wondered which of my personality traits (the good and the bad) I owe to it.  I had trouble sleeping for most of my childhood, and although I learned to control my stage fright, that anxiety was a constant companion during my formative years. In many ways it separated me from my peers—their experiences were so different than mine — so I bottled it all up in and dealt with it in some less-than-healthy ways.

 

It wasn’t all bad, though.  I learned to work hard in the face of discouragement and exhaustion.  And I learned not to cry when being yelled at in public.  That sounds sick, but seriously, I can always hold it together and save my breakdowns for later!  I also had incredible experiences that shaped the way I saw the world, and still do.  So, as difficult as the pressure was to handle, I wouldn’t change anything about my childhood.  It made me who I am, and I kind of like that girl.

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

I’m a slow writer, and I think drafting is brutally hard. Once I get to the editing, though, I’m in love. I plot, but I almost always change the outline as I go along.

I used to write just at night and during naptime when my two children were sleeping, but now I have three hours every morning while my youngest is at preschool. It is divine! I write at home, or at Starbucks if the piles of laundry are distracting me.

What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

Finding an agent involved a good number of rejection letters, but once I’d revised my query (it was pretty lame at first), I got a bite from Mandy Hubbard. After revising, I signed with her, and she got Virtuosity to all the right people quickly. I was lucky, and it sold right away.

Virtuosity 198x300 Debut Author Interview: Jessica Martinez Talks Virtuosity

Honestly, everything about publication has been a surprise. My big dreams all had to do with the writing, so I don’t think I ever really envisioned what it would be like to go through the publication process and be a published author. I will say I’ve been amazed by how much work authors do to promote their novels. Generally, I’m more comfortable with the artistic side of things. I prefer to let someone else handle business aspects, so all the self-promotion has been a little difficult for me at times.  I’m learning, though!

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

The best advice I’ve received is to write every day. I’ve learned writing is like any other skill — there’s no substitute for repetition and consistent hard work.

The advice I’d give other aspiring authors is to lay off the delete key. I was so self-critical for so many years that I didn’t produce anything at all — or I did, but I deleted it! You have to be merciless in the editing, but don’t let that mindset infect your drafting process.  Just write.

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

When I was a teenager I loved Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice — all of those romantic novels with spunky heroines. Now I alternate between contemporary YA and adult books. I just finished Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins and I’m downloading The Marriage Plot by Geoffrey Eugenides today. Oh, and I’m dying to read Past Perfect by Leila Sales, so that’s my next YA.

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

My second novel (title in the works) comes out next October, also with Simon Pulse, and I’m working on my third novel right now.

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

I’ve found that being a part of the Elevensies (debut YA and middle grade authors in 2011) has been incredibly helpful. Writing is such a solitary process, it’s nice to connect with people who are going through the same things as you are. Also, I’m touring with a group of YA authors who write about the performing arts called Stages on Pages. Getting out there and doing store signings and school presentations with other authors makes all the difference. There’s safety in numbers! As for critique groups, I’m not a huge fan, but I know I’m in the minority. I’m not opposed to them in theory, I’m just so busy, it’s all I can do to squeeze in my writing time.

pixel Debut Author Interview: Jessica Martinez Talks Virtuosity
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