Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for July, 2012

 Whos Author Couple Love Child Are You? Neil Gaiman and Virginia Hamilton, Of Course!This month at Teen Writers Bloc we’re each taking some time to think about who our literary parents are, whose writing traditions and styles best mirror our own, or which authors we admire enough to want to be compared to them.

When I think of the books I write and want to write, I would love to be the love child of Virginia Hamilton and Neil Gaiman, and for my books to to shelved in the middle grade/independent readers section of the bookstore. Why is Virginia Hamilton my “author” mother? Well, I’ve written about my love for her before. In fact, here is what I said during Women’t History Month:

“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. 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 FolktalesI 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!”

Right now, I am writing alternate histories (full of magic), writing brown kids into history in a different way.

Why is Neil Gaiman my author father? Well, when I was talking to my “NYC” mother Lisa Amowitz at our monthly dinner hangout, she told me she felt like my imagination was similar to Neil Gaiman’s imagination — the right touch of psychological creepiness. I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan (especially of his children’s fiction — Coraline and The Graveyard Book), and I enjoy the things that he weaves together in his tales. I was super flattered by her comparison and hope that I can channel a little Hamilton and Gaiman in my work.

Alyson’s Take on Comp Titles

Posted by Alyson Gerber On July - 30 - 2012

Clarissa Explains It All clarissa explains it all 20688951 640 480 Alysons Take on Comp Titles

 

I write middle grade contemporary novels, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about first crushes and kisses, best friends, and flavored lip-gloss. Most of the time in my real life, I feel like I am still in seventh grade—afraid to be left behind or, worse, left out and desperate to be okay (maybe even happy) with the fact that I don’t fit in anywhere, and probably never will. So, it makes sense that I am constantly exploring the experience of feeling alone and different in my work.

I like to think that my writing is sort of Clarissa Explains It All meets Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. My characters are fun and energetic, but not superficial. They have depth, a sense of their own reality, and real consequences.

I’m not sure about comp titles. I’m not convinced that they are ever that accurate, but they set the mood. Plus, they are fun to think about in a very seventh grade way. For example, when I was 12, I would have wanted someone, anyone,  to describe me as Saved By The Bell‘s Kelly Kapowski meets Alex Mack with a boyfriend like Dylan McKay. In reality, I was more like Deenie.

On the Shelf, Sona’s All Over the Place

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On July - 27 - 2012

cardboard bookshelves ddutv 300x243 On the Shelf, Sonas All Over the PlaceOh, there it is again. The dreaded what are you writing question. The problem? I’ve always got several works-in-progress, and they never fit neatly in one box. So I’ve frequently found myself discussing exactly where on the bookstore shelf my future works might sit. It’s a hard thing to pin-point for many reasons.

The first? Well, I’m sort of all over the place when it comes to genre. Not only do I write both YA and women’s fiction, even within those categories, my current works-in-progress would not really seem as if they’d be published by the same author. One is a younger-skewing YA that has a dash of fantasy to it. One is a chick lit-y high concept story with a definite ethnic flavor — though its angst is universal. And the third is an ambitious work of woman’s fiction that’s more far-reaching, but also universal. If you started pondering the stuff I wrote when I was working mostly on screenplays, things would get even more complicated.

One of the things that ends up defining me, whether I want it to or not, is my cultural background. I’m brown, so people expect my characters to be brown. And don’t get me wrong. Some of them are. A lot of them are. And I think those characters have important stories to tell. But some of them aren’t brown. And it wouldn’t make sense to their stories if they were. Because I have all different kinds of stories in my head. Don’t we all?

But working in media for the past decade, I’ve come to realize that it’s best to embrace your brand — and make it clear what readers can expect from you. To the point where, in discussing my broad range, I’ve had others suggest that I use a pseudonym for some of my work.

It’s route I’m reluctant to take. Each of my protagonists represent some aspect of me, big or small. But they’re not me. And their stories aren’t always my story. Still, I’m proud of them and who they are and the fact that I’m the one who gets to share them with the world. I’m proud to put my name on them. So I think I will.

Yeah, it’s all a bit messy. But I’m hoping that just means you’ll have to look for me all over the shelf.

Photo Courtesy Eric Guiomar

Author Interview: TWB’s Own Mary G. Thompson!

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On July - 26 - 2012

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!Teen Writers Bloc has interviewed a bunch of totally awesome YA and MG authors over the years (wow, has it been years already?!), but our latest is extra exciting because we’re interviewing one of our own!

TWB contributor Mary G. Thompson‘s debut middle grade novel Wuftoom is on sale now, and she’s dishing all her secrets about her writing process, her upcoming novels, and her former life as a lawyer!

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

Well, a long long time ago, in a demented alternate universe, I was a lawyer. This involved a lot of long hours and stress, and except for the fun of wearing a suit and having a large office with multiple desks, it wasn’t the rewarding career I’d always dreamed of. Don’t get me wrong, having more than one desk does make one feel very important. Also, I had a nice big window with a great view of a freeway, and that was really interesting. But the whole time, I really wanted to write. I’d write after work and on the weekends, and I found that I much preferred sitting in a comfy chair with a laptop and no desk at all. So I wrote Wuftoom and a couple more manuscripts, and I started attending writers’ conferences, and I met my agent, and the rest, as they say, has something to do with the number of desks you can stack in a courtroom while shouting “I object!” and pretending to try on a leather glove.

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

Wuftoom is about a twelve-year-old boy who is turning into a disgusting wormlike creature. Everyone else thinks he’s sick, but he knows what’s really happening because this creature visits him all the time. Evan is terrified of turning into this monstrosity, so he makes a bargain with the evil Vitflys. The Vitflys give him the power to inhabit the bodies of other boys so he can have a taste of life again, but in exchange, he has to promise to help the Vitflys destroy the Wuftoom. Of course, as Evan’s transformation progresses, things become a whole lot more complicated. The Wuftoom also want something. And are the Wuftoom really as bad as Evan thought? The Vitflys threaten Evan’s mother, and Evan has to figure out where his loyalties lie.

The concept just sort of popped into my head. I suddenly pictured the boy, Evan, sitting on his bed in a dark room, debilitated by membranes, and the creature was sliding toward him across the floor. It was immediately apparent that Evan was turning into the creature. I then wrote out a quick outline, but I didn’t really follow it. The original concept was actually (if you can believe it) much darker and a lot worse for Evan. It ended up evolving into the more heartfelt, fun-gross adventure it is today.

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!What’s your writing process?

With Wuftoom, I wrote after work in various coffee shops and chain restaurants, or when I could, at home in my comfy chair. That was not an ideal situation, which is why I decided to quit the job and come study at The New School. Now I try to write first thing in the “morning,” which means something different to me than to most people. I just try to write every day or whenever possible. Even if I don’t feel “inspired,” I sit there pulling my hair out until something gets written.

What has your path to publication been like?

After I wrote Wuftoom, I started attending writers’ conferences and managed to get an agent pretty quickly. It took a long time to sell the book after that, though. I hated all that waiting, but my agent never gave up on me, and four and a half years after I finished the book, it’s finally on bookstore shelves! I think the most surprising part is how much support I’ve gotten. People I haven’t seen in a long time have gone out of their way to congratulate me, and of course, my classmates at The New School have been fantastic, even though we just met less than two years ago. Not that I expected mass disapproval, I just didn’t expect people to be so nice. Yay!

Can you talk a bit about world building? What is your process?

I start with the main character and their basic situation. With Wuftoom, it was Evan turning into this disgusting creature, and with Escape From The Pipe Men! it was Ryan and Becky having grown up in this zoo and not really knowing anything about how normal kids live on Earth. Then I work outwards and build the world around the kid’s adventure. There are times when I have to stop and spend a lot of time figuring out what the world looks like and how it works, but I try to always keep the main character and the adventure in mind. As the character explores the world, so do I, and by the time I’ve revised the book about a thousand times, the world has magically become a real place — at least to me!

You’ve already sold a few other books since Wuftoom. Can you talk about looking at writing as a job and seeing it as a business as much as art? 

I’ve sold two books after Wuftoom: Escape From the Pipe Men! (Spring 2013) and Evil Fairies Love Hair (Fall 2013). I’m also trying to sell more at various different age levels, so watch this space! I do see writing as an art, but I also approach it as a business in that I don’t believe in inspiration or writer’s block. I think you just have working and not working, industry or laziness, motivation or lack of it. If you are genuinely motivated to succeed, you will do everything you can with what time you have. When I had a full time day job, what I was able to do was limited, but I was still able to accomplish something. Now that I’m sort of mostly a full time author, I really don’t have any excuses! I always feel like I could be doing more, and I think that feeling is essential. You can never be happy as a writer! You always have to want more and be flagellating yourself for every failure to meet a goal.

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

Somebody at a conference once said something that really stuck with me. If someone says “I love this line!” you’re in trouble. Nobody should be noticing the “writing.” They should be so absorbed in the story that nothing like that jumps out at them. I guess that’s along the same lines as Stephen King’s advice: “Kill your darlings.”

My advice to aspiring authors would be finish your book. I don’t care if you think it’s crap or if it really is crap. I wrote two books before Wuftoom that never went anywhere, and I think finishing those manuscripts, even if no one will ever see them, taught me the skills I needed to get it right.

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

My favorite book as a kid was Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s one of her lesser known books, and I think it deserves a lot more recognition. It’s about a town that’s run by these seven weird guys, and it’s totally out there and weird and creative. It’s stuck with me all these years. Right now I’m reading Rotters by Daniel Kraus. It’s about a somewhat disturbed kid who moves in with the father he’s never met and discovers the old man is a grave robber. It’s not fantasy, but it has a great, absorbing horror feel.

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

My next book is a lighter-toned middle grade sci-fi called Escape From The Pipe Men! It’s about two kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on an adventure across the universe. Get ready for multiple eyes, legs, tentacles, portals, and of course, an exciting alien space fight! Look for it in Spring 2013!

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

Interacting with other writers is essential for my sanity, because there are some things about the job that people who aren’t writers don’t understand. I love reading my friends’ work and sharing mine. That said, it is not a good idea to write a book in a committee. You have to take some and leave some.

Mary G. Thompson was raised in Cottage Grove and Eugene, OR. She was a practicing attorney for more than 7 years, including almost 5 years in the U.S. Navy, before moving to New York to write full time. She was educated at Boston University, the University of Oregon, and The New School.

Book cover image courtesy of Clarion Books

Hungry? Riddhi’s Books Might Just Hit the Spot!

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On July - 25 - 2012

TWB JULY 600x450 Hungry? Riddhis Books Might Just Hit the Spot!If my writing projects were served for brunch, here’s what you might see on the menu:

Apéritif

A traditional whimsical middle-grade holiday drink made by combining two parts The BFG with equal parts Haroun and The Sea of Stories and The Butter Battle Book, a dollop of The Phantom Tollbooth, infused with Star Wars and misted over The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Complimentary shot of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Entrée

An environmental picture book summer salad generously tossed with The Giving Tree, sautéd bits of The Bear That Wasn’t and garnished with An Inconvenient Truth vinaigrette.

Plat Principal

A succulent slow-roasted humorous middle-grade with char-grilled Where The Wild Things Are, glazed Horton Hears A Who and marinated The Giggler Treatment, drizzled generously with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Served on a bed of finger-lickin’ Captain Underpants.

Dessert

A triple-layered decadent emotional YA trifle with delicate slices of The Interpreter of Maladies and bittersweet caramelized bits of Push and a fluffy icing whisked with a pinch of Bitter Chocolate, topped with delicately macerated Luna.

Bon appétit!

Photo source: stock.xchng

Corey Declares Her Love For the Simon Pulse Family

Posted by Corey Haydu On July - 23 - 2012

 Corey Declares Her Love For the Simon Pulse FamilyWhen my agent and I went out on submission with my upcoming debut, OCD Love Story (Simon Pulse, July 2013), we didn’t really focus on comp titles. I’m not one of those writers who’s opposed to them — but it simply wasn’t part of my submission or querying process. I’d like to think my book has a funny/quirky voice accompanying its dark story line. It’s definitely a straightforward, contemporary YA, and fits in well with other Simon Pulse titles. So in my case, I think the best comps are other books my editor and house have worked on, since I think my publisher has a strong point of view, a clear place in the market, and that my work fits in nicely.

Some Simon Pulse authors I adore? Amy Reed is a writer whose work I literally can’t put down. I have read all three of her books in one sitting each. I especially adore her debut, Beautiful, which reminded me deeply of the movie Thirteen (which I once had my work compared to, so there you go). She really captures the heartbreak, depth, and complexity of being a teenage girl in a fast-paced, addictive way.

Lauren Strasnick is another one of my favorite Pulse authors. Her prose is gorgeous, and her characters are complicated. She is a brave writer, and someone I aspire to be more like.

I’ve talked about Arlaina Tibensky’s Simon Pulse novel, And the Things Fall Apart about a million times, on the blog and other blogs and basically to anyone who will talk to me. The voice in that book is truly something to aspire to — funny, smart, quirky, thoughtful, fun. It’s one of my favorite YA novels ever.

I also am a huge fan of Hannah Moksowitz’s beautiful Pulse novel, Gone, Gone, Gone. Haunting, unique, and full of the kind of confusing romantic struggles I love to read and write about, it’s another book I would be proud to see my book next to.

I could go on and on about the wonderful authors over at Simon Pulse. They inspire me, excite me, make me laugh and cry, and I couldn’t be more proud to join their little family.

Photo courtesy Simon PULSE

Steven’s Lovechildren

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On July - 20 - 2012

Book 600x438 Stevens LovechildrenIf I had to describe my current projects as lovechildren of different YA titles, well, I’m not really sure that that would be fair to my work and the work of those poor, poor already established-and-published authors who would more-likely-than-not be offended by my comparisons. Alas, I love these types of games (and I secretly play this game all the time – not just with my work, but with other authors, musical artists and even movies), so I can’t resist.

My first second complete manuscript, How I Set Myself On Fire, is kind of a genre-crossing novel in the sense that it’s realistic, yet has certain cartoonish elements. It’s serious, yet fun and witty. It’s topical, specific, yet I think it relates to a broader concept. Vague, right? (I’m superstitious – and agent-less – so I like to keep details under wraps). Anyway, if I had to describe it as a combination of X, Y, and Z, I would have to say it has the wit, charm, and NYC flare of David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, the artistry and topical nature of Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary, with the lightest touch of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in my main character.

As for the project I’m working on now, without giving too much away, I would have to say it’s like Perry Moore’s Hero meet’s Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games meets your typical superhero graphic novel.

So there you have it. My literary lovechildren.

Note: David Levithan, Nick Burd, Suzanne Collins, and the legacies of JD Salinger and Perry Moore were not harmed in the writing of this TWB post.

Cover images courtesy of Ember and Speak

How Does Amy Describe Her New Book?

Posted by Amy Ewing On July - 16 - 2012

downton abbey handmaids tale 600x352 How Does Amy Describe Her New Book?When it comes to comp titles for my books, I am the worst at thinking them up. Which is why I don’t. I ask other people to do it for me.

With my current project, first, I went to Dhonielle. Then, because I was working on it so closely with her, I relied on my thesis advisor, Jill Santopolo. And now my editor, Barbara Lalicki, has come up with the final comparison: Downton Abbey meets The Handmaid’s Tale. I love it. Neither one is a YA title (Downton Abbey isn’t even a book), but I think it gives a fairly good idea of what sort of book THE JEWEL is.

Although, hopefully, my book will be something entirely different and unique, something unlike anything else out there. As writers, that’s what we’re always striving for, right?

Images courtesy of Carnival Films, Everyman’s Library

Mary Gets Cranky About This Month’s Question

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On July - 11 - 2012

Cow1 202x300 Mary Gets Cranky About This Month’s QuestionThis month’s question is “Where does your book fit into the kidlit world? Come up with comparable titles.”

Let’s be honest right from the beginning: I hate this question! My publisher has described Wuftoom as “Kafka’s Metamorphosis meets Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander.” I have no idea if that’s true because I haven’t had a chance to read either one of those books. I feel like I read a lot of books compared to most people, but I still don’t have time to read anywhere near the amount of books I’d need to read to be able to come up with comparable titles off the top of my head. Of course, it doesn’t help that my books tend to be a little (okay a lot) weird. Actually, it kind of bugs me that people keep mentioning Kafka in relation to Wuftoom, because I don’t like the implication that I’m somehow trying to do a Metamorphosis for children — there’s no kind of book that I dislike more than a purposeful retread of a classic, and I would never never never do that! Nope, sorry kids, you won’t be getting a Wuthering Heights and Zombies or Romeo and Juliet go to the Prom from me! I guess the reason people in the publishing world want comparisons is that they want to sell books to people who liked other books. And that’s fine. But I don’t want to read, say, another Wizard of Oz or another Harry Potter or another Hamlet. I want to read something that I haven’t read before, and that’s what I try to do with my books. I’m not saying I always succeed — after all, everything is built on something. Readers have to understand your book and identify with the characters.

So, for example, my next book, Escape from the Pipe Men! is about aliens. The aliens have spaceships and come from planets, and it’s possible to describe them using English and comparisons to things you might have seen before. But I hope that my aliens are different, and my world is different, and the challenges my kids face will be new and fresh. I hope that the book won’t be easy for anyone to classify by coming up with comparable titles on a minute’s thought. At least, I can’t do it. And truthfully, I wish people wouldn’t even try. I don’t want to know if a book I’m reading is like some other book, because if I haven’t read that other book, I can at least enjoy the first book under the illusion that it’s something new. It’s the worst to start reading a book and realize I’ve totally seen that. This book is called Nelly’s Hairy Boyfriend but it’s really just Harry Potter and Werewolves! No no no. I want to open up a book and go, “I have never seen anything like this.” When people are asked about comparable titles for one of my books, I hope they will shrug and look terribly confused. The biggest complement of all is “There’s really no comparison.” And yes, that’s a picture of a cow.

Why Caela Hates the “What’s Your Book About?” Question

Posted by Caela Carter On July - 9 - 2012

 Why Caela Hates the Whats Your Book About? QuestionWhat is my book about?

UGH! I hate this question. It’s an essential part of a writer’s life, like annual teeth-cleanings and scrubbing the dishes, but I’d probably rather do any chore than talk about my writing.

I used to say that I refuse to talk about a project while I’m still working on it. It was a convenient excuse considering I never used to finish what I started. But now that I am preparing to have a book on the shelves, I suppose I better be ready to describe it. Still, I maintain that this is the hardest part of my life as a writer: harder than banging my head on the wall and trying to get a plot to work out, harder than coming up with that perfect first line, harder than edits, and more annoying than copy-edits. Talking about my writing just doesn’t come naturally.

But, after all that whining, I still have to do it. So, here goes: ME, HIM, THEM AND IT (which is being published by Bloomsbury and will be on shelves in February and is available for pre-order now!) is the story of the succession of impossible decisions 16-year-old Evelyn must face when pretending to be a “bad girl” results in her pregnancy. It’s the quirky teenaged-ness of Juno meets the silent tension of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.

How was that?

Well, like a tetanus shot, at least it’s over.

(Oh, I guess this month’s question was to describe my WIP but I can’t do that… it’s not finished yet!)

Photo Credit: tetanusvaccine.net

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