Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for December, 2011

The 100 Book Challenge: How’d You Do?

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 30 - 2011
Pig with Norton 300x208 The 100 Book Challenge: How’d You Do?

Don't try to take his book away.

At the beginning of the year, I challenged everyone to read 100 books with me over the year. Well, I’m happy to say, I met my goal! Despite all the agonizing and self-flagellating I’ve done over all the time I’ve wasted during which I could have been reading (exactly what is so interesting about The Biggest Loser?), I still managed to read 112 books! This is the first year that I’ve kept track of my reading habits for the whole year and tallied up what kind of books I read. It turns out that I read 62 YA books, 22 adult fiction books, and 28 nonfiction books. This makes complete sense, since nonfiction books generally take longer to read than fiction, and I generally prefer YA over adult fiction. I guess that won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading a blog called “Teen Writers Bloc.”

What did surprise me was how many of these books I read on paper. I was a Kindle early adopter—I pre-ordered the very first Kindle. So I expected a much higher proportion of my reading to have been Kindle books. As it turns out, only 24 of the books I read this year were electronic. What does this mean? Possibly nothing. Or, to be optimistic, maybe the rise of the Kindle won’t lead to the demise of the book industry. Granted, I did receive a lot of paper books for free this year, and that may have pushed me toward paper, but I also bought a lot of paper books, and I bought a lot of Kindle books. According to my Kindle lists, I still have 91 unread books on my Kindle. I just keep buying and buying and buying. It’s a compulsion. Perhaps it’s an addiction. Perhaps I need a 12-step program to wean me off the written word and push me out of my apartment and into the bars. OR, if we’re still being optimistic, perhaps I’m not that unusual. Perhaps book lovers are all out there buying more books than ever now that they have more formats than ever in which to read them. Hopefully it’s the last option!

In case anyone was wondering, here are my favorites in each genre:

YA Fiction: Herbert’s Wormhole by Peter Nelson and Rohitash Rao (2009)

Adult Fiction: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)

Nonfiction: The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World by David Deutsch (2011)

So what’s my goal for next year? Since I’m giving up TV again (yes, for REAL this time), I should be able to read a lot more books. I’ll be moderate and shoot for 120. Who’s with me??

Amy’s Plan for Next Semester!

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 29 - 2011

Blank page intentionally end of book 600x410 Amys Plan for Next Semester!Wait, it’s our last semester? Already? How did that happen?

My plans for my thesis semester are simple—finish my current work-in-progress. With one book done and in the midst of the querying process (a process that combines all the pain of a root canal with the humiliation of being dumped over and over again), I am determined to stay focused on this new character as she finds her way in a strange, isolated city. There’s nothing to keep my mind occupied like building a new world, and I am lucky to have a wonderful peer group (Jess, Caela, Mary, and Riddhi) there to help me nail down the rules and keep me in line if (and when) I break them. I’m also excited to work with my thesis advisor, the amazing Jill Santopolo, who loves fantasy as much as I do and will undoubtedly guide me through the writing of a new book with very capable hands.

Will it be difficult? Of course. Will there be tears? More than likely. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after three semesters, it’s that writing is something I just can’t live without.

Our Favorite Books of 2011: A Teen Writers Bloc Roundup

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On December - 27 - 2011

Books Our Favorite Books of 2011: A Teen Writers Bloc Roundup

Happy holidays, everyone! Now that we’ve reached the end of 2011, we at Teen Writers Bloc have come together with our favorite kid lit and YA books of the year. Here they are, in alphabetical order by author:

Bronxwood by Coe Booth
Caela says: Bronxwood is a must-read for any kid who has ever had a parent in prison.  Tyrell’s struggles to love, obey, and still disagree with his father when he returns from incarceration are poignant and heart wrenching.

Crossed by Ally Condie
Jess says: Though it’s not quite as gripping as its predecessor, Matched (read the review here!), Crossed, the second book in Ally Condie’s series, is a solid “middle book,” filled with beautiful language and a compelling story — complete with a giant mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. It is also told from Ky’s, as well as Cassia’s, point of view, so those of you who didn’t get nearly enough of Ky in the first book will be super happy to be inside his head in this one.

Circle Nine by Anne Heltzel
Jane says: I went to one of David Levithan’s book readings at the NYPL and heard an excerpt read by Circle Nine’s author Anne Heltzel. Abby wakes up outside a burning building and is pulled away by Sam, a boy she doesn’t recognize but somehow feels a connection to. She has no memories of who she is or where she came from. Abby is happy to start a new life with Sam, but events and memories bring up the need to figure out who she is and what happened the night of the fire. Read the TWB interview with Anne Heltzel here!

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
Jane says: I chose to read this one because I don’t know of a lot of YA books that have a male narrator. It’s about 16 year old Stephen who’s living in a post-apocalyptic future with his dad and grandfather. The family wanders the land, looking for a place to live and where they can avoid being found by gangs that find people to enslave them. Grandpa dies and Dad has an accident that results in a coma, so when Stephen looks for help, he finds Settlers Landing, a town that’s rebuilt by a group of people trying to regain civilization. Stephen becomes involved in a prank that puts Settlers Landing and lives in danger, and he has to figure out how to deal with the aftermath.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
Jess says: The book starts off with our narrator and heroine, Mara, telling us that Mara Dyer is actually not her real name. Her lawyer insisted that if she is to tell her story to the world—the story of how she committed several murders—she must choose a nom de plume. So, right off the bat, we know this is not going to be a story for the faint of heart. Mara is going to kill people, and she is going to get caught. But how it all goes down is anything but predictable. If you are a sucker for dark, paranormal teen romances, trust me when I say you will love this book. Read the TWB review here!

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
Mary says:  Full of well-drawn characters and emotional pull, the story builds slowly and grows on you until you are right there in the frozen, claustrophobic fortress. Each person has their own motivations, feelings, and strengths. No one is idealized, and no one is simple. Kirby has done a masterful job of creating tension, intrigue, and action—even though the characters have limited space in which to move. Solveig especially is many-faceted and manages to be both relatable and awesome. Readers will enjoy exploring this world with her. Read the TWB review here!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Jess says: Bumped is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in… maybe ever. Though it has a sort-of “popcorn” feel to it, filled to the brim with cheesy references, corny names, and teen celebrity lust, underneath all that, there is an extremely edgy, daring story. What would happen if everyone over the age of 18 became infertile and it was up to teenagers to continue the human species? In this day and age of Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, it’s a question that, amazingly, doesn’t seem so far-fetched. This book is a fun, quick read, and yet, I guarantee it will really make you think.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Mary says: A Monster Calls is a great illustration of how fantasy can depict reality better than so-called “realism.” What, after all, is more real than our greatest fear? For younger children, that fear might be a monster under the bed or in the closet, but as we get older, we begin to realize that real life contains monsters that can’t be scared away by a bright light. The author’s writing is sparse but lyrical. With few characters and not a single gimmick, Ness brings us into a world of nightmares. Whether the nightmares will end depends on Conor. How will he face the monster that stalks him? Ness’s poignant answers make this book required reading for anyone, young or old, who appreciates the power of a story to reveal truth. Read the TWB review here!

Lisel & Po by Lauren Oliver
Dhonielle says: Liesl & Po has the best blend and balance of both magic and mystery, danger and safety. The tale reminds me of the books I used to stay up late to read as a kid — both classic and modern. Each character has layers and secrets, and Oliver’s flowery prose brings them alive. This book will stand up for multiple readings.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Jess says: Part Lord of the Flies, part Bumped, and part Battlestar GalacticaGlow is filled with murder, deception, and nonstop action. The characters are layered and complicated, to the point where you never entirely know who to trust. Sometimes that can be frustrating, but Ryan pulls it off quite well. Read the TWB review here!

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
Corey says: This is a beautiful contemporary YA about a Sylvia Plath-loving teen whose family is falling to pieces the same summer she has come down with an epic case of chicken pox. Left alone with her dysfunctional family, her confusing relationships, and her virginity to ponder, she spends a lot of time with an old typewriter and a well-loved copy of The Bell Jar. Narrator Keek is one of my favorite YA narrators of all time, and this creative, quirky, honest novel was a good reminder of why I became a writer and why I love writing for teens.

For Thesis Semester, Sona’s Got a Head Start

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 21 - 2011

Blank page intentionally end of book 300x205 For Thesis Semester, Sonas Got a Head StartOkay, I’ll admit it. I’m not great at finishing books. This isn’t a universal thing — I’ve finished screenplays, I’ve finished short stories, I’ve finished countless articles for magazines and websites and blog posts by the hundreds. But a novel? I just can’t seem to finish one. (Yes, that means I still have about 5000 words to go on that work-in-progress I’ve been referencing for the last year-and-a-half.)

Here’s the thing, though: I’m great at starting novels. It’s the part of the process I love — like a new romance, all fresh and new and butterfly-inducing. I love brainstorming the characters and their dilemmas. I love working and reworking the plot until it makes sense. I love figuring out what my story is really about. And I’ll admit it, I even love outlining. All told, I probably have five solid ideas for novels in various stages of development right now.

That’s the problem. Every time I get into the thick of one of my works-in-progress — the sticky middle, where everything is vague and muddled and the word count isn’t rising the way I hoped and the character has written herself into a corner — I turn to something else instead. Because it’s so much easier to be at the beginning than work something out to the end, even with an outline.

That’s what happened this semester. I have two works-in-progress that were largely abandoned (and both more than half-way complete) in favor of the latest, the one I’ll work on for my thesis. This new project has long been stewing, so it’s coming out in short bursts — and not in my usual form of beginning, middle and end. This is weird for me. But it’s ambitious — following three first-person narrators over the course of two decades — so I think I’m just trying to work the characters out before diving in. In my head, I do have a structure in place. I just have yet to start following it. Still, I’m about 30 pages in, and I think the experimentation has been necessary. And so taking the time this semester to figure things out has been really helpful. It’s really given me a head start in making a good dent in this novel during my thesis semester.  Yay for that!

But next semester, I won’t be solely focused on that. I’ll work on it for my thesis group, and use the newly-revived Monday group to really finish those other languishing projects. Because my main goal during my time at the New School has been to show myself that yes, I do have a novel in me, from start to finish.

Photo by: Wilfrid J. Harrington

For Jane, The Outline Is the Key to Finishing Her Thesis

Posted by Jane Moon On December - 20 - 2011

yes1 300x200 For Jane, The Outline Is the Key to Finishing Her ThesisIt’s our third and final semester of taking actual classes at the New School’s MFA program in Writing for Children. I’m really going to miss seeing all the other TWBers for Tuesday workshops. Other students have told me that they’ve heard our group is a close-knit one and they’re right. Over the past year and a half, I was amazed and grateful that so many different personalities found a way to get along so well.

When I started the program, my first story was a middle grade fantasy about monsters under the bed. Then I got stuck and decided to do a YA novel about bullying. That didn’t get very far. In my second semester, I went back to the monsters, but I only got as far as having my characters run into the monsters. I didn’t know how to save them. So as of now, they’re still stuck under the bed and I don’t know when they’ll come out.

For my third semester, I began another middle grade story about a girl who’s learning how to deal with her parents’ separation. I even made up what I thought was a great outline for the story — something I didn’t do for my previous works-in-progress. I started running out of steam on this one, too, and I discovered the outline I created wasn’t exactly helping me. So I called on the help of fellow TWBer, Dhonielle Clayton. I picked her brain about her outlining methods and I got some great tips. I was ready to start on yet another new story. This one takes place in the future and involves memory and transplants. Thanks to Dhonielle, I have my story set up and ready to go.

As we head into our thesis and final semester, I’m looking forward to finishing this latest project. I know what my character wants, I have a plot, and I have a story arc. Most importantly, I have the drive to finish this one. I’m definitely going to miss our Tuesday workshop classes, but working on my thesis will definitely occupy that empty time slot.

Image courtesy of Fotolia

Oh no, Another Thesis: Dhonielle’s Lack of a Plan!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On December - 19 - 2011

blank page 600x480 Oh no, Another Thesis: Dhonielles Lack of a Plan!The next semester is my thesis semester and I am not 100% looking forward to it. I’ve written a thesis before and the process can be so tedious that I am less than thrilled at having to do another one. The whole getting it printed on special paper thing, ugh! But I am the one who decided to go back to graduate school, so I must accept reality and get it done. Here’s the problem….

I have NO IDEA what I’m going to work on and I have to kinda have it mapped out by the end of January. During the program, I finished two complete manuscripts (one being a collaborative project with two fellow TWB members, the lovely Corey Ann Haydu and Sona Charaipotra), and 85 percent of another one. I plan to have the second manuscript finished over the winter break, so I need to start something brand new.

The blank page is frightening. I have some ideas milling about and some old projects that can be re-worked, but I am having a fear of commitment. I think part of my problem is that I’ve been tutoring too much and I can’t access the creative part of my brain right now, so I am exhausted and the thought of one more thing to do is just not exciting. So I am resolved to having no plan. And if you know me, I always have a plan.

Sigh, sounds like other areas of my life. I hope that my wonderful critique group: Alyson, Corey, and Sona, can bear with me as I try to figure out what I want to write about.

Book Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Posted by Amber On December - 15 - 2011

impossible book final pb1 200x300 Book Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

This semester I haven’t done as much outside reading as I would have liked. A few weeks ago though, I did stumble upon a book by Nancy Werlin called Impossible that I couldn’t put down after I began to read it.  In this novel, Werlin takes the lyrics of a well-known folk song, “Scarborough Fair,” and turns them into a curse that has plagued protagonist Lucy Scarborough’s ancestors for many years. However, Lucy doesn’t find this out until after the curse has already begun to affect her.

The only thing Lucy knows when the novel begins is that her biological mother went insane shortly after giving birth to her and now walks around town with a shopping cart, humming the ballad “Scarborough Fair” to herself.  And while Lucy resents her biological mother in those first pages, eventually an understanding between the two emerges when Lucy realizes that she may one day have the same fate. An Elfin Knight with a  grudge has cast a spell, making it so that whenever a Scarborough girl turns eighteen, she gets pregnant, has a baby girl and goes insane. It’s a seemingly never ending cycle.

The only way to break the curse is to complete the tasks mentioned in the “Scarborough Fair” song. The tasks are to: 1. Create a shirt without needle or seam 2. Find an acre of land between salt water and sea strand and 3. Plow the land with a goat’s horn and sow it with one grain of corn. These tasks are nearly impossible to complete, hence the title and the perpetual insanity of each of Lucy’s ancestors.

Werlin is very skilled at keeping you engaged in the story. The story takes place in present day Massachusetts and because initially the plot has elements that could be a part of any realistic YA novel — prom night, track practice, falling in love with your best friend —the incorporation of the magical elements of the tale and their stark contrast to the YA norm really tug at readers, making them want to know more about how Lucy will overcome  this enormous obstacle before her.  Werlin tells the story from multiple points of view, using the third person past tense, allowing us to get into the thoughts of Lucy, the Elfin Knight, and those of Zach, Lucy’s love interest. This I found to be very effective. And while the discussions about pregnancy can feel a bit overdone at certain moments, it’s all essential information for the protagonist to know given her unfair circumstances.

If you’re looking for a quick and unique read, Impossible is a book you should at least consider.

Photo Credit: Penguin Putnam, Inc; Nancy Werlin


Amber’s Thesis Semester Plans: Take It One Day At A Time

Posted by Amber On December - 11 - 2011


birdbybird Ambers Thesis Semester Plans: Take It One Day At A TimeNext semester is what we’ve all been waiting for. A semester that’s 100 percent ours to do with what we will as far as our writing goes. No more classes. Just meetings with our peers and our advisors, with more time to either create something new or to finish something we’ve already started.

I plan on doing the latter. I’ve spent my time at the New School trying to figure out the best way to tell my protagonist’s story. I think I’ve finally got an authentic voice for her and I’m more certain than I was before about where her journey will take her. That said, while I’ve been invested in realistic fiction for a while, I’m also contemplating trying my hand at fantasy or magical realism. And it’s encouraging and very freeing to know that my peer group will understand that first drafts and first starts aren’t always going to be masterpieces. (If you are also working on a first draft, I recommend Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, where she basically admits that crappy first drafts are like a rite of passage, which is so unbelievably comforting to hear. Writing is revision after all.)

Anyway, I’m going to try to finish a draft of something next semester but I’m not going to make any other big sweeping plans like I often tend to do. Instead, I’m just going to take it one day at a time. All I’m aiming for is a draft, something that I can fix up during revisions that will hopefully—someday—get published.

Photo Credit: Random House, Inc.

Corey’s Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

Posted by Corey Haydu On December - 8 - 2011
tea lounge Coreys Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

I have a feeling the next few months will be among the busiest of my life. I suppose, then, that it’s a good thing that classes will be coming to an end and our thesis semester is beginning, but, like Mary, I’m already missing Tuesday nights with the TWB crowd. Workshop can be frustrating and dramatic and exhausting, but it is also engaging and inspiring and downright FUN. I know I need the time off from classes and classwork to get things done, but I’ll be sad to be spending Tuesday nights at my favorite writing spot, Tea Lounge, instead of in the too-cold classrooms on 11th Street.

But I’ll be busy at Tea Lounge! I recently sold my debut YA novel, OCD Love Story, to my dream editor, Anica Rissi at Simon Pulse. And I will be deep in revisions over the next few months. I do love revising, but the mental and emotional work it takes can be quite overwhelming, as I learned this summer when I was working on revisions for my agent. I’m ready to tackle her exciting ideas, but anticipate a lot of late nights and early mornings and venti chai lattes.

In the spring I will also be working on my thesis project, a new YA novel that I’ve been writing a (VERY!) rough draft of since August. My advisor is the ridiculously inspiring Patricia McCormick, author of Cut! I have long been wanting to develop a relationship with an established YA author, so I couldn’t be more excited to work with Patricia. Her books are amazing and if our coffee date this fall was any indication, she is smart, funny, insightful and engaging. I’ll be sending her the first 100 or so pages of my new novel in a few weeks, and hopefully finishing a draft by the time we graduate in May. I have no doubt Patricia will push me and challenge me and encourage me to make this novel something special, and I’m honored to have her guidance.

I have no idea how I’ll balance the intense focus needed for revisions with the bravery needed to write a first draft, but with the help of Tea Lounge, Patricia McCormick, and my peer group of Alyson, Dhonielle, and Sona, I have faith I will find my way through!

Oh, and chai. Lots and lots of chai.

Photo: via Street Legal Play

For Her Thesis, Caela’s Finishing What She Started

Posted by Caela Carter On December - 6 - 2011

3429920162 10889abee4 300x199 For Her Thesis, Caelas Finishing What She StartedIt’s our thesis semester. It’s time to write the book I planned to write from the beginning.

When we first started TeenWritersBloc.com, all of my posts focused on how much inspiration I had drawn from my work at Chicago Jesuit Academy and the extraordinary teenagers I knew there. While working there, I began a novel called Trippin’, which became my writing portfolio for my MFA applications.

When I began at The New School’s Writing for Children’s program, I was certain I was going to take the opportunity of these two years to write that book.  But something happened. Another voice rooted in my brain — one not based on a situation I had fought and lived though. It was a lot easier to let this new voice get workshopped.  At some point during my second semester workshop, I attempted to finish Trippin’, but I went so crazy trying to improve the story and widen the possible audience that it simply became something other than what I wanted to write.

So now here we are on the brink of our last semester and Trippin’ remains in the same shape it was on my application. If I want to get it done during my time in school, I have one semester to make that work.

In the meantime, this is how I’m feeling: How is it possible that we only have one semester left? How sad that Tuesday is about to become a regular day of the week! I’ve been productive during our time as an entire class and I’ve learned so much. There is a lot I will miss about our regular semesters as we go into this last one.

But I’m excited for this upcoming thesis semester. I’m going to work with a fantastic advisor, Patricia McCormick, author of Sold, Cut, and other novels for young adults. I have a fantastic peer group who I know will provide wisdom and encouragement (and who are writing books that I’m thrilled I’ll get to finish reading). Outside of school, I’ll be working with my editor to finalize my first novel for publication, Me, Him, Them and It  (Bloomsbury 2013). And, finally, I’m really going to finish the book I’ve wanted to write from the beginning. Because if I don’t do it now, I’m afraid I never will.

Photo Credit: FlickRiver.com

pixel For Her Thesis, Caelas Finishing What She Started

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