Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for March, 2012

Steven’s Writer’s Crush on JK Rowling

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On March - 30 - 2012

J.K. Rowling Steven’s Writer’s Crush on JK RowlingI have a writers crush on JK Rowling. If life was Hogwarts, JK Rowling would be the Cho Chang to my Harry Potter, (circa books 4 & 5), the Hermione to my Ron, the Harry Potter to my obsessed Rita Skeeter, the Fleur Delacuer to, well, every Hogwarts male with a pulse.

Sure, she’s old enough to be my mom, but if it wasn’t for her, I never would have had the incredible pleasure of tasting the intoxicating Butterbeer I had when I was at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Florida last month.

Okay, that’s not the only reason why I love JK Rowling. I will go on record, right here and now, and say that JK Rowling is one of the most prolific, skilled contemporary writers of our generation. Her prose is flawless; it has a flow to it that her contemporaries only dream of having in their writing.

Oh, and then there’s the world-building. The wizarding world, Hogwarts, and everything else about the Harry Potter series is so well thought out, so intricate, so tightly woven that it makes me curse the heavens that I wasn’t blessed with the idea (and the talent) to write the Harry Potter series (which means I would’ve been 12-years-old when Sorcerer’s Stone was released had I written it. Whatever, I’d be famous). To think that she is often mentioned in the same breath as Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins is laughable (don’t get me wrong, I also have a writer’s boner for The Hunger Games, but that’s for an entirely different reason). Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is one of the most poorly written book series I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying to read.

But I won’t be negative. Anymore. Starting … now!

Let’s get back to the world-building. She built that series with such care that each chapter in each book fits into each other, and in the end, it all comes together making sense as a whole piece. I can only dream of constructing such a world, a set of characters, a piece of writing. One of my favorite pieces by her is from The Tales of Beedle the Bard called “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” originally featured in the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. JK Rowling was able to construct her own fairytale in the vein of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, which is both entertaining and teaches its readers morals like humility and greed. It is prose poetry in the truest, most sincere form; simply breath-taking.

JK Rowling is an unending source of inspiration for me, not only within her actual writing, but as a writer in general. When Harry Potter was rejected by agents and editors (I bet you’re kicking yourselves now, eh?), she never gave up. She pressed on and became one of the best selling authors of all time. She’s a class act, a remarkable woman, and one helluva talented writer.

Since March is Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a moment to honor JK Rowling because, for this man, JK Rowling is a woman to aspire to.

Two Female Authors Who Have Sona Aspiring To Greater Lyricism

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On March - 29 - 2012

290382 Two Female Authors Who Have Sona Aspiring To Greater LyricismOkay, I’ll admit it. For the longest time, I would deny — to anyone who cared enough to ask — that I had a book in me. The idea of writing something so engrossing, so candid, so artful as a novel? Nope, not me. I couldn’t do that. I just didn’t have it in me.

It’s not an inferiority complex. Really, it’s not. But as intelligent as the SATs and GREs might deem me, I’ve always been fluff. That’s long been my thing. Writing about entertainment for a living sort of sealed my fate, in a way. And then, writing scripts, it was never that heavy, pedantic, indie route for me. It was go big or go home. High concept all the way, baby. Or as my husband likes to say, I’m all masala, all the time.

Which is why, two years ago, when he suggested I go to grad school to get my MFA, I scoffed. I wasn’t the MFA-type. I was hardly literary, after all. But I’m thankful I went, and I’m grateful for the astounding variety of books I’ve had the pleasure of reading through this program (including my classmates’ own). Books that are sometimes as deceptively fluffy as my own, and books that sometimes cut to the very bone.

So all of this is my typically long-winded way of saying that there have been countless authors, some male, but mostly female (again — including my classmates!), that have inspired me to — now that I have maybe, kind of accepted that I have a book (or perhaps a dozen) in me — try to temper all that masala with a maybe a small dose of lyricism.

Because the startling beauty of their way with words leaves me a bit breathless, a bit wistful, a bit hopeful that someday, maybe, I could write something that might also make someone stop and ponder, for just a second, something that hits so close to home.

Here are two very different writers who have caused me to just that:

Laurie Halse Anderson: I read Speak for the first time when I was in college, and the book shocked and moved me. It was so understated, you almost missed what happened all together. And yet, every page carried the pain of that life-changing experience on it. It was art, the way LHA wove that tale together, so seemingly effortless yet carefully crafted. And in my first semester at the New School, in David Levithan’s class, we read her latest, Wintergirls. Through that book, I learned how the so-called “problem novel” could be elevated to so much more than that, how one character’s story could illuminate a whole world, how structure and story could meld seamlessly into something that could stick with the reader possibly forever.

Kamila Shamsie: You won’t find Pakistani writer Shamsie’s works at your local Barnes & Noble. Her books, like Salt And Saffron and Kartography, are just too foreign, too literary, too flightful. But it’s definitely worth tracking down, if you can. She creates sprawling family sagas with startling parallels and gorgeous, understated language — all while touching down to the mundane, like that instant crush on a boy you just met, in the most lyrical of ways.

What books have aspired you to make your own writing better?

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury

Riddhi’s Favorite Female Author is Paro Anand

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On March - 28 - 2012

paropic 600x450 Riddhis Favorite Female Author is Paro AnandIt’s always hard picking favorites. But not for me, especially when it comes to women authors. I’ve said it before on this blog and I’ll say it over and over again. I love Paro Anand. She is hands-down my favorite groundbreaking female author writing today.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been inspired by other wonderful and talented women authors like Judy Blume, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Jhumpha Lahiri, Alice Walker, Coe Booth, Gertrude Stein, Laurie Halse Anderson and Cornelia Funke. But here’s a few reasons why Paro Anand makes it to the top of my list:

1. Her stories are set in India, but reflect the voices of children who could be from anywhere in the world. She captures the voice of a child beautifully, whether it’s a kid whose parents are going through a messy divorce or someone who is cheating at a test. She’s very versatile in her writing — as boys and girls and even animals and angels, of all ages and sizes. She even has a book called Elephants Don’t Diet, about Gol Matolu, an elephant that thinks she is too fat.

2. She’s funny. That’s a superpower in itself. Her book Wingless, about Chutki, an angel who is banished from heaven because she is born without wings, is my go-to book for whenever I’m feeling down. It always manages to get a laugh out of me. Especially, the line “That perhaps, this was the shape of wings to come.”

3. She’s serious where seriousness is called for. Her books Weed and No Guns At My Son’s Funeral are set in the region of war-torn Kashmir. The protagonists of both of these novels are young boys dealing with terrorism at a dangerously close range. She makes it all very real, the loss of innocence, the threat of militancy, the loss of life, themes such as these are handled sensitively and I would recommend this text to a classroom of students.

4. She literally can’t stop writing. She has authored more than 18 books for children and young adults, including plays, short stories, novellas and novels. She is published in several anthologies and has written extensively on children’s literature in India. She headed the National Centre for Children’s Literature, The National Book Trust, India, the apex body for children’s literature in India. She has been instrumental in setting up libraries and Readers’ Clubs in rural India and conducting training programs on the use of literature. She’s also a World Record Holder, for helping over 3000 children make the World’s Longest Newspaper (850 meters long) in 11 Indian states in 13 languages. The concept behind the project was to give a voice to those children who do not have a platform and to empower young people to create their own literature.

5. Paro still keeps in touch. I had the chance to meet her a few years ago and interviewed her. I bugged her with some questions last night, and guess what? She replied! Here’s what she said:

RP: Are you working on anything at the moment? Written anything new lately?

PA: Yes, I have just started a new novel – also about women, for groan ups and about hitting middle age. It’s in the very early stages write now. Also going to be working side by side on a non-fiction work called Literature in Action that basically covers the kind of work I’ve been doing with young people through stories all these years. My latest offering for YA is a collection of my stories from Penguin called Wild Child.

RP: Do you have a writer’s routine?

PA: I try and write at least two hours a day. It’s a goal I like to fulfill as I just love that time. It does not always work out, but I then try to make up that time on another day. I grab that time any time I can. Whether it’s sitting in the sun, amongst flowers, or sitting in a traffic jam and being driven to my destination.

RP: What are you reading these days?

PA: I’m just finishing Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif and will then start The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. As for YA, I’m looking forward to starting The Truth About Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthrone. Ranjit Lal’s book Faces in the Water was an awesome read, as was Sidhartha Sarma’s Grasshopper’s Run. I also recently read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

RP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Do you have any go-to books that you go to when you’re feeling less inspired?

PA: I love Chimamanda Adichie and Murakami because they are so contemporary but also have a voice that is so much their own and from their roots. I love reading young adult fiction.

RP: What do you do when you feel like you can’t write anything beyond what you have written?

PA: I shudder to think of that possibility, but as you know, you can’t shut me up. I always have a lot to say. I think I find stories in everyday things and not in some mammoth saga, so I think there’s always that. I don’t want to sound grand by saying ‘life is my inspiration,’ but it actually is. There was a time last year which was the longest I wasn’t writing anything at all, and I’d give in to panic. But somewhere, I knew that there was more junk in there to get out.

RP: How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?

PA: I garden. I have a large, loving involving family. I love watching TV (I’m a great couch potato), I travel, I talk on the phone. I mean I am NEVER bored, don’t know what that’s like. I always wish I had more time. And when I want to switch off, I play Spider Solitaire on my laptop.

Photo courtesy Riddhi Parekh

 

The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On March - 27 - 2012

 The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!The Hunger Games made a dynamic showing this past weekend and most fans seem to be generally pleased with the adaptation of the book to the big screen. They’ve praised the director and those involved with the film for its adherence to many pivotal elements of the book. But in the midst of excitement and great press for YA books, a nasty cloud looms.

A friend sent me an article from Jezebel about all of the racist posts and tweets about the characters of Rue and Thresh from District 11 (Read about these idiot racists more here). The tweets aren’t for the faint of heart and sound like they are snippets taken from some backwoods, Jim Crow bar before a Klan rally. I am horrified and disgusted and, frankly, PISSED!

These particular fans claim that neither Rue nor Thresh were written as black characters. They hated the movie because of it. They don’t believe black actors and actresses should have these dynamic, pivotal, and heart-breaking roles (especially Rue). Maybe they can use this argument with the character of Cinna, who isn’t completely racialized by Collins. But if these fans paid attention to Suzanne Collins’ text, they would discover that she did, indeed, write them as black characters. She was even quoted as saying that Rue and Thresh were African-American.

But I have to admit that even some of my like-minded, YA-savvy friends emailed me after the casting for The Hunger Games came out and said, “Was Rue really BLACK?” And then I had to re-think the plot and characters and remember this fact. I, myself, had forgotten. This is a huge problem that I will return to.

In my copy of the book, Rue is first mentioned when Katniss is watching recaps of The Reapings in other Districts. Rue is described as, “… a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor” (45). And the other tribute is described as “the boy from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and a half feet tall …” (126).

Gale and Rue from THE HUNGER GAMES movie The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!Perhaps this line is missing from the racists’ books. Perhaps I am wrong and can’t read very well. Perhaps the millions of fans who’ve come to defense of Rue and Thresh and the actor and actress who play them are somehow delusional.

I was so happy that Suzanne Collins created characters that looked like me with hair just like mine. I was so happy that Suzanne Collins populated her world with all types of human beings so that each teen reader could find their “future” self on the page. She could’ve made them all-white and no one would’ve blinked.

But I can’t help thinking: Did Suzanne Collins drop the ball with her minority characters by not reminding readers that they were minorities or non-white?

Should writers remind readers of what characters look like, even if it’s not pertinent to the narrative?

Crazy questions, right?

Rue doesn’t really come back “on-stage” in the narrative until page 184, when she saves Katniss while she’s in the tree by pointing the the nasty wasp nest. She isn’t described physically anymore for the entire book. We are supposed to remember the sweet, little brown girl who was mentioned as looking similar to Prim during The Reaping. We are supposed to remember that she is brown. Even when Rue chomps on leaves to make a paste for Katniss’s knee and they help each other survive for a little while, there isn’t another mention of her color. Not even when she died.

Did Suzanne Collins stumble?

Should she have continued to remind us through slight-of-hand ways that Rue was a little brown kid? Would these reminders have kept Rue as an “outsider”?

Did Katniss’ relationship with Rue progress as most human relationships do — beyond race?

Did we forget Rue was brown because Katniss forgot and it became irrelevant?

Did Rue’s race become obsolete as they were both trying to survive?

 The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!After subjecting myself to reading through the racist tweets and vile rhetoric lodged at the two characters, I found myself wondering more deeply why do “we” (people living in a Eurocentric culture) assume that if a character is not described in detail and/or racialized as an “other” that he or she is white? Last year, Teen Writers Bloc surveyed a smorgasbord of black writers about this very question. But I still can’t figure it out.

I have no answers.

I just know that I don’t want anyone to forget the color of my characters. I don’t want their color to be overlooked. I just want their particular color to not be held against them.

As a writer, this whole uproar scares me about the potential of non-white YA characters to soar on the big screen or on the page in a big, splashy way. Can brown and yellow and red and black kids go to outer space or through the wardrobe or to a magical school or any other cool place and bring in money to the box office like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter? Or move books off the shelves in such quantities?

Do my characters stand a chance? Or will there always be racial epitaphs lodged at them?

What do you think? Did Suzanne Collins drop the ball? Should she address the controversy?

Get educated on the characters of the Hunger Games. Check out this article!

Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Female Writers from the Past and the Present That Inspire Dhonielle

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On March - 26 - 2012

womens history collage 1 Female Writers from the Past and the Present That Inspire DhonielleI love the months of February and March because I get to celebrate being brown in February and then celebrate being a woman in March. Two pats on the back in two months is great for me! For Women’s History Month, we at Teen Writers Bloc think it’s important to profile successful and revolutionary female authors of the past and present. Our fellow TWB member Caela Carter pointed out that the publishing market, and more specifically, The New York Times Best Seller list, is overflowing with men. So I love any and all opportunities to give women writers a shout-out!

A throwback lady: Virginia Hamilton

This prolific woman gave me stories as a child that featured people who look like me and had the same cultural sensibilities. As a child reader, I read everything and anything. But when I got a book by Virginia Hamilton, I can remember savoring every detail of it, and re-reading the book over and over again until I went with my dad to the bookstore the next week. Sometimes when I re-read her now as an adult, I can feel a little of the same childhood magic. Particularly, when I read The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, I feel entranced by the stories as if I’m still the little pig-tailed girl stretched out underneath my grandmother’s dining-room table with the book.

I wish she were still alive and could eventually read my stories. I wish that she could see the influence she’s had on my writing. Alas, we lost a great one!

A lady I’ve got my eye on: Kekla Magoon

I’ve seen Kekla Magoon read at a couple of events, even ran into her at ALA last year. I’ve read two of her novels, The Rock and the River and Camo Girl. I am very impressed with the way she tells a story, the depth of her prose, and the topics of her books. I am excited to see more from her in the future, and to buy her latest title 37 Things I Love (in no particular order). And I believe if Virginia Hamilton were still around to read her books, she’d be proud as well.

Photo Credit: http://wwww.nierocks.areavoices.com

Midnight Showing of The Hunger Games

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On March - 23 - 2012

Corey katniss ring Midnight Showing of The Hunger GamesA few of us at Teen Writers Bloc stayed up late to grapple with lines and crowds just to see The Hunger Games at midnight. At the Court Street Theatre in Brooklyn, the line wasn’t too bad when we arrived at 10:00 p.m., but soon thereafter it exploded and wrapped around the block. The crowd was thick with people of all ages and nationalities and racial groups. I didn’t see anyone dressed as characters from the trilogy, but some jackass showed up as a wizard from Harry Potter, complete with a wand!

At 11:10 they let us crowd into the theatre and made us travel all the way up to the 9th floor by escalator. Once at the top, we waited a little more until 11:35 and then they let us pile into the theatre. Everyone (including me) proceeded to run for seats.

In the theatre, every seat was taken and everyone was on their best behavior. I was nervous that there would be talking during the film or general debauchery, but these were dire-hard fans who wanted to see every frame and hear every word. Although my nerves were fried, I was able to settle in and enjoy the film. I thought the world of Panem was captured wonderfully: the crazy costumed people in The Capitol, District 12, the wilderness of the game site, the other tributes (especially Rue). I’m not sure there was a dry eye in the theatre when poor Rue was killed.

I don’t have much to say about the actual film. I was super-impressed and liked the way they let the story unfold. If I had to find a note of criticism, it would be that Gale was a more attractive than Peeta and, thus, it was distracting. I kept thinking, When are we going to see Gale again? I loved Peeta in the books, but he just didn’t look as lovely as Gale on the big screen.

Go see the film. Our New School Lit professor David Levithan was the editor on this series and it’s just a treat. I may never go to a midnight showing again because I have barely recovered from being out until 3:30 a.m., but it was quite the experience!

Photo Credit: Corey Ann Haydu’s wonderful friend Meghan bought her the Katniss ring, which is featured in the picture above.

Debut Author Interview: Aimee Agresti Talks ‘Illuminate’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On March - 23 - 2012

illuminate 400x600 Debut Author Interview: Aimee Agresti Talks IlluminateWay back in the day, when I was just starting out in journalism, I worked briefly with Aimee Agresti, who was then an editor at the since-shuttered but always fabulous Premiere magazine. So when I heard that Aimee was releasing her first novel, the hotly-anticiapated Illuminate, the first in a trilogy, I knew we had to nab her for a quick chat for TeenWritersBloc.com. Thankfully, she graciously agreed! Herewith, Aimee!

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

Hi there! Thanks for having me! Before Illuminate, I was a writer firmly entrenched in the world of facts, so the leap to fiction has been a great new adventure. I majored in journalism at Northwestern and spent years writing for entertainment magazines, which was just as fun as it sounds! Most recently I was a staff writer for Us Weekly, a fabulous place full of great people. But I always dreamed of writing novels. I grew up reading everything in sight so writing Illuminate and seeing it on the shelves now has all been such a thrill!

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

Sure! Illuminate is about a teen angel who’s forced to battle a pack of gorgeous, soul-stealing devils and ends up falling in love with one of them. But, of course, there’s so much more to it than that! Illuminate is a wonderful stew of so many things I adore. The first germ of the idea came from my love of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I thought it would be fascinating to update it and kept thinking, What would you have given your soul for when you were in high school? Then I added a few twists, some angels and devils, and, most importantly, a strong heroine. I grew up on Nancy Drew mysteries and loved Nancy’s fearlessness and confidence. I wanted my protagonist to be a girl who didn’t necessarily start out so sure of herself, but who became a force to be reckoned with by the end.

The book is set in a hotel. How did you decide on that for the setting? And you’re writing about angels and devils — did you dig into the canon on this?

I went to college in Chicago and I always knew it would be the perfect place to set a mystery. I loved its wild history — Capone, prohibition, and all those amazing tunnels beneath the city. What better place to serve as a backdrop for all sorts of sinister goings-on?

To get access to those tunnels AND to give my characters a fun place to call home, I decided to resurrect the Lexington Hotel — which is no longer standing. I liked the glamour element that came with living in a hotel. Dorian Gray is full of beauty and luxury, he lives in a pretty posh pad, so I wanted the setting to be special. I did look at old pictures of the Lexington but, since it no longer exists, I gave myself carte blanche to modernize it and make all sorts of changes. Illuminate‘s Lexington is a newly renovated version. (Capone sure didn’t have a spa when he lived there!)

As for the angels and devils: I wanted my characters to be angels because I thought learning to fly was a great metaphor for growing up. Since these are my particular angels and devils, I created some new myths and legends and history for them. I’m hoping readers come to the book ready to watch a whole new world unfold!

If I’m not mistaken, Illuminate is the first in a series. Can you talk about the challenges of planning ahead for books two, three, and so on?

I always envisioned Illuminate as the beginning of a trilogy. There are three tests these characters need to complete to earn their wings, so each book represents one of those tests. I’ve, of course, never written a series before, so I have a whole new appreciation now for all those authors who have done it so well!

There’s a lot of planning involved. I always need to map everything out, that’s just how I roll, I tend to outline like crazy before I start writing. But even so, there are certain little bits that I had planned for Book Two that went into Illuminate. And now, as I’m working on Book Two, there are certain bits that I was saving for Book Three that I can’t resist using now. Even with so much planning, you still have to let a book lead you sometimes!

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

Good questions! When I’m in Total Writing Mode, I have to admit, I become a little anti-social! I tend to stay tucked away in my apartment pretty much chained to my laptop from morning until mid-afternoon and I try to stay off of email, too. At some point, to prevent from becoming a complete recluse, I’ll emerge for a coffee break. And when I need a change of scenery, I’ll head to a museum to write. I live in DC, surrounded by the Smithsonians, and I absolutely love to write in the courtyard of the Portrait Gallery.

I tend to stop working in the late afternoon/early evening, but if it’s going especially well then I’ll pick things back up again at night, which can be the most wonderful, peaceful time to write.

Of course, this is my schedule in theory. It doesn’t always go so smoothly! I’ve had to amend it a little bit while working on the sequel to Illuminate because I had a baby boy a few months ago! He calls the shots!

Aimee Agresti new website photo 333x465 214x300 Debut Author Interview: Aimee Agresti Talks IlluminateWhat has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the process for you? 

The most surprising part of the process has probably been how well-cared for I’ve been. My editor is absolutely fantastic and I’ve learned so much from her. My agent is actually a friend of mine and she’s been so wonderful guiding me through every step of the way. And the whole team at HMH has been tremendous — from the fabulous cover designer to the publicist, who has been such a true champion of the book. I’m a lucky girl!

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

Write, write, write! The great thing about writing is that the more you do it, the better you get. I wrote so many unpublished stories before this, but I know that all of that work made me better. And I like to think that every time I sit down at my laptop, I continue to get better.

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

The Catcher in the Rye was my all-time favorite as a teen and it still is. I still reread it all the time, I love Holden Caulfield! But I had so many favorites as a kid: Alice in WonderlandLittle Women, the entire Nancy Drew series, Roald Dahl’s The Witches, so many!

Right now, I have a towering to-be-read pile and I’m always hopelessly behind. I just took a tiny break from YA to finally, finally, finally read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (I know, so late, forgive me!) And now I’m back to YA and just started The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg. A girl who dies of a broken heart?! Such a brilliant premise.

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

I’m working on the sequel to Illuminate right now. It should be out next year! You can keep tabs on it at aimeeagresti.com!

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

I love writers supporting each other in any way or form — whether it’s championing each other’s work in the blogosphere or whether it’s actually taking a critical look at something before it’s a finished product. For me, I find it comforting to connect with folks who are sharing an experience, and, though it isn’t any formal group, I’ve been lucky to have a few individual writers I go to to compare notes on navigating the world of publishing and to talk about our work. We tend to share our writing before it’s out in the world, but after we’ve done a good amount of revising and feel it’s in pretty good shape.

When it comes to getting real, solid constructive criticism on early drafts, I turn to my trusted first reader: my sister, Karen! She’s extremely well-read, has a sharp eye, and is honest. She’ll tell me if certain things aren’t working. She’ll pinpoint what I need more or less of. She asks great questions and gives me the kinds of notes I need to hear. I listen to her, and I’m always glad that I do! Our deal is that she reads a draft, prepares her notes and then I take her out to dinner and we talk about it all. It’s a good time!

Thanks Aimee, for taking the time to chat with us! We’re so excited to check out the series! 

Cover Image courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Author Photo courtesy Aimee Agresti/Rouse Photography Group

Steven’s Open Letter to His Former Teachers

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On March - 22 - 2012

2007 01 18 Dog ate my homework 600x475 Stevens Open Letter to His Former TeachersDear Every Writing Professor I’ve Ever Had,

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for all of those times that I wasn’t the model student. Remember when you assigned five page essays and a convenient deathly illness would strike me the day that they were due and you would get an e-mail from me apologizing profusely about how I wish with all of my heart and soul that I could’ve been well enough to come to class because I loved the class and you and this five page paper that I conveniently forgot to attach?

Yeah, I apologize for essentially calling you a fool with the above excuses for not being in class and turning in my paper on time. Now that I’m on the other side of the teacher’s desk, I know how you felt. Had I actually been sick (and prepared), I would’ve e-mailed you my paper well before the paper was actually due, not a day or two later.

I now know how excuses feel.

I remember when you all would joke about how you knew all of our “tricks” for getting out of class and for handing in assignments late. But I scoffed at this. I thought, “How could you know that I was out drinking all weekend and I simply didn’t want to write your essay?” I was 100% certain that my excuse that I was throwing up all day with a 105 fever and green spots all over my body was legitimate enough for you to buy into. My favorite excuse was, “I really loved this assignment and the idea behind it, but I just couldn’t figure what to say because I wanted to just get it right. Can I get an extension until tomorrow?” I thought I could undermine your intelligence and appeal to you with a flattering comment about how intelligent your essay assignment was. But I never thought, “How will one extra day suddenly spark the necessary inspiration needed to complete this assignment correctly?”

I also never thought about your feelings. And for that, I am sorry.

I never realized that my presence in your class was, in fact, appreciated…even if I didn’t say anything in participation that particular day. I know now that, if one of my students is absent, I feel like I’m not doing something right, or that I won’t have enough of a discussion to adequately teach. I never knew this before.

I also know how you felt when, had I been absent because I simply didn’t feel like doing an essay, I missed receiving new homework and essay assignments and you’d wait for me to contact you because that’s my job as a student. I cursed you for not contacting me and telling me what I missed…now I know that it wasn’t your job. I probably shouldn’t have called you all those nasty names. I know you didn’t know about that, but now you do, so now I’m even sorrier.

Thank you for dealing with my shit all of those years. Seriously.

You rock so hard,

Steven

Cartoon courtesy of Saturday Cartoons by Mark Stivers

Mermaid Jolante Flickr Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Investigates The Lure (and Lore) of the SeaThe year 2011 was hyped by many as the year mermaids would dethrone vampires as the reigning monarchy of YA paranormal fiction. USA Today proclaimed mermaids were going to be the next big thing and even mentioned the vampire queen herself, Stephenie Meyer, was working on her own spin of the mermaid genre.

So, where are all the mermaids? While there was a school of mermaid YA titles published in 2011 and a small herd swimming to bookstores in 2012, I have yet to see the genre live up to the hype. Publishers seem to be focusing their attentions on the tried and true, vampires, ghosts, and angels, when it comes to paranormal YA fiction.  A quick look at Barnes & Noble’s list of the top selling paranormal YA novels reveals that vampires still dominate. In fact, I was unable to find a single mermaid novel on the entire list. Over in fantasy, dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and tales involving the supernatural or high fantasy such as Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series are the bestsellers, with mermaids nowhere to be found.

Are readers not ready to give up their beloved vampires? Or is the market just not delivering the goods? There are plenty of readers who love a good mermaid tail* (the year 2011 saw the introduction of a magazine and convention devoted to mermaids), but it’s still a small niche. Perhaps publishing houses are finding it difficult to widen the appeal of mermaids or maybe YA readers just aren’t that into tales from the sea.

While I would welcome a change from the blood suckers that currently rule the YA roost, I’m not convinced mermaids are what’s next. To me, mermaids seem a little too fantastical for today’s YA readers. Maybe when the Disney-fied mental image most YA readers probably conjure up at the mention of mermaids loses its impact, readers will be able to take the genre more seriously. Vampires have had centuries to develop their cool, from Bram Stoker’s iconic Count Dracula to Anne Rice’s genre-busting Interview With A Vampire.  So, until then, I can’t agree that mermaids are the new vampire, but they are definitely washing up on shore**** more often. In an interview with Susan Marston of the Junior Library Guild, she mentions that novels featuring half-mermaids will be a popular trend for 2012. And a half-mermaid is nothing to shake your trident at, right?

*Pun very much intended. I’ll try to scale** back on punning from now on.

**Get it? Alright, alright. Starting now, I promise: fin*** to bad puns.

*** Okay, starting now.

**** Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Bio: Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all.  She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction at The New School and is writing a memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.   

Photo Credit: Flickr — Jolante

Big News For A Friend of Teen Writers Bloc!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On March - 19 - 2012

i heard the big news Big News For A Friend of Teen Writers Bloc!

The year of 2012 has turned out to be a successful year for many so far. A good friend of Teen Writers Bloc, Lisa Amowitz has great news to celebrate. She sold her awesome book titled Breaking Glass.

Here’s the blurb from Publisher’s Marketplace: Lisa Amowitz’s Breaking Glass, about a troubled boy struggling to keep his grip on reality as he unearths long buried secrets and reawakens old nightmares after launching an investigation into the disappearance of his longtime crush who vanished only to contact him from beyond the grave, to Kate Kaynak at Spencer Hill Press, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider.

My very dear friend (and Jewish mother) Lisa Amowitz is the graphic artist responsible for our gorgeous website banner at Teen Writers Bloc. I’ve known this energetic and spunky lady for what feels like my entire life. She let me into her wonderful critique group back when I was a small-fry, trying to learn to write. Now, this group, populated with the fantastic writers — Heidi Ayarbe, Christine Johnson, Kate Milford, Cynthia Kennedy Henzel, Lindsay Eland, Trish Eklund, Pippa Bayliss, and Lisa Amowitz — has become my writing life-line. Coupled with the Teen Writers Bloc crew, if I can get a manuscript past their sharp critiquing eyes (and teeth), then I know it’s viable.

After a long journey and several manuscripts, Lisa has done it (courtesy of her fabulous agent, Victoria Marini, who also represents one of our own at Teen Writers Bloc — Corey Ann Haydu)! And the book is good!!!!!

Photo Credit: Dribble.com; John Duggan

pixel Big News For A Friend of Teen Writers Bloc!
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