Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for December, 2012

Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 31 - 2012

Dragonswood 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Hello everyone, it’s that time again, the time when we take the arbitrary ending of the year on the calendar and make a big deal out of it. But hey, there’s no better excuse for a “best of” list! So today, I want to share with you my favorite 2012 YA books. I read lots of other books this year (more on that soon), but these are my favorite books that were published in 2012. Of course, this is in no way scientific, because I didn’t read anywhere near all the books published in 2012. I have to get work done sometime. But having said that, without further ado … let’s start with dragons! I read two fantastic books involving dragons this year! The first was Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey, the sequel/companion to the fantastic Dragon’s Keep (2007). In Dragon’s Keep, our heroine Princess Rosalind, a Pendragon, was born with a dragon’s claw, which she had to keep hidden on pain of death. Much action, romance (but not too much romance), and frolicking with dragons ensued. In Dragonswood, Carey returns to the same world two generations later. The heroine is a peasant who flees an accusation of witchcraft and finds romance and a connection to both dragons and fey. The historical world of Wilde Island is just as well realized as in the original, and the author has expanded on the world she created. Both books are must reads!

Seraphina 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And then, later in the year, we got Seraphina! Seraphina is even more about dragons. I loved the way Rachel Hartman created a realistic historical, yet pleasingly modern world in which science plays as much a part as magic. Like the heroine in Dragon’s Keep, Seraphina has a secret connection to dragons. In this world, dragons can fold themselves into human shape and mate with humans. To be frank, I had a huge problem with that premise because … physics! Mass! Biology! But I took a deep breath and got over it and allowed myself to get lost in the story. The world Hartman created is extremely well imagined and intricate, but the story never gets bogged down. Even though I’ve seen dragons before, the world felt completely new and fresh. Also, it’s the first book in a trilogy, but it has a satisfying ending that completely wraps up the plot. I’ve become extremely annoyed with the current trend of ending books in mid story, and I was super happy to see that Seraphina did it’s job and finished. All in all, a fantastic book!

Every Day 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Leaving dragons for the time being, the next book on my list is Every Day, by our New School professor David Levithan. In Every Day, our hero “A” jumps from body to body every night at midnight. Why? I never stopped to wonder, which is a credit to the fantastic writing. Every day our hero takes over a new person’s life, always the same age as A, which is sixteen. A has no intrinsic gender or sexual orientation, but after a lifetime of experiencing people’s lives in day-long snippets, he/she/it suddenly falls in love with a girl. Yes, suddenly. It’s YA insta-love, and like with giant reptilian dragons suddenly turning into tiny mammals, I just had to get over it. Once you accept the love, you get to experience all the interesting complications. How do you develop a real relationship with someone if you’re a different person and in a different place every day? This book really got me thinking “what if?” Levithan, unsurprisingly considering his wild optimism in Boy Meets Boy, chooses to see A’s predicament as bringing out the best in A’s human nature. A’s experiences in the bodies of different people make him thoughtful and understanding. I’m not so sure I would behave as well as A if I jumped into other people’s bodies. I think I might party hard and screw the consequences. But not A! He takes good care of the people he borrows. Until he falls in love, and his careful system threatens to fall apart. Will A get the girl? You’ll want to read this and find out!

The Theory of Everything 112x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And finally, my absolute favorite book of the year is The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson. I already reviewed the book here, so I won’t go into great detail again. Let me just say that I tend to read more fantasy than realistic fiction, so it’s a big deal that a realistic book ended up on the top of my list. I haven’t read a book with a better mix of sadness and humor. On its surface it’s a book about a girl dealing with the death of her best friend, but Johnson tells the story in such a way that it becomes about what it means to be a person dealing with life’s stuff. The main character’s voice is absolutely perfect.

Well, that’s my list! What were your favorite 2012 books? Is there anything that we here at Teen Writers Bloc absolutely must read?

Because it’s the most wonderful time of the year, apparently, here’s what’s on my to-be-watched list, in no particular order:

festivus.jpg.scaled500 300x225 Jess’s Recommendations for the Best Holiday Themed Movies and TV Episodes EverThe Festivus episode of Seinfeld

Actually titled “The Strike,” this episode of Seinfeld first aired December 18, 1997 and made Festivus a worldwide sensation – and a holiday that people (myself included) actually celebrate! The secular holiday Festivus is celebrated on December 23, and traditionally features a metal pole set up in one’s home (in lieu of a Christmas tree or menorah) and a practice known as the “airing of grievances,” in which everyone tells everyone else all the ways they’ve disappointed them throughout the year. Ha!

Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” from SNL

This just might be my favorite thing ever. I was 13 when this aired for the first time, and I think it may have been the very moment I first fell in love with Mr. Adam Sandler. “The Chanukah Song” is a hilarious-but-true song that lists the names of famous Jews and reminds the kids who are jealous of their Christmas-celebrating friends that they’re in good company. Love it love it love it. Check it out:

A Christmas Story 300x167 Jess’s Recommendations for the Best Holiday Themed Movies and TV Episodes EverA Christmas Story

It’s not just one of the best holiday movies ever, it’s one of the best movies ever, period. Based on Jean Shepherd’s short story collection In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, this ABSOLUTELY GENIUS film is almost not really about Christmas at all (I mean, it is, but also not really), but rather a very simple, yet very real look at what it’s like to be a nine-year-old in late ’30s/early ’40s middle America. It covers so many of the universal issues of childhood: bullies, fear of disappointing your parents, jealousy, schoolyard pranks, and the dream of growing up and showing everyone who picked on you when you were a kid just how wrong they were. And the acting and writing is some of the best I’ve ever seen.

The Family Stone 300x199 Jess’s Recommendations for the Best Holiday Themed Movies and TV Episodes EverThe Family Stone

I feel like this movie never really had a chance. It was advertised as a feel good romantic comedy in which Sarah Jessica Parker starts off dating one brother and ends up falling for the other… and hilarity ensures. Except that’s not what the movie is at all. Rather, it’s an incredibly touching drama about a close-knit family celebrating what very well may be their mother’s last Christmas (she’s battling cancer). If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. If you have and didn’t like it, I urge you to watch it again — without the rom-com expectations this time.

A Charlie Brown Christmas 300x183 Jess’s Recommendations for the Best Holiday Themed Movies and TV Episodes EverA Charlie Brown Christmas

Usually when people describe something as “a classic,” that’s just a nice way of saying that yeah, whatever it is is pretty lame, but it’s been around forever and makes us feel all warm and nostalgic, so we love it anyway despite its lameness. But A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of those rare productions that actually lives up to its “classic” status. It’s hilarious and witty and touching and simple and beautiful. And the soundtrack, performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, is magical. And you know what’s sad? It would never be made today.

Jean-Paul’s Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On December - 13 - 2012

three fingers Jean Pauls Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Better WriterHow to become a better writer in 3 easy steps (or, what I learned this semester):

1. Be open. Sometimes, the story just isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to start all over. Putting glitter and a bow on a turd makes it pretty, sure, but it’s still a turd. All of the editing, rewriting, and revising in the world isn’t going to make a story better if the core of it, meaning the characterizations, the plots, the dialogue, is all clichéd and uninspired. I had an idea and wrote pages and pages and pages on it; over three hundred pages, in fact! And I had to throw them all away. On the second attempt, I wrote about five chapters and I had to throw them away, too. It wasn’t until the third try did everything start coming together. I changed the location, the ages, and personalities of the characters. The main story stayed the same, but the events leading up to it changed. Instead of a rambling prologue, I inserted the most relevant parts into the story, allowing the information to unfold naturally. And now, finally, the story is becoming what I always imagined it could be. So, be open to letting things go. Be open to giving up on something if writing has become a punishment instead of something you enjoy. Be open to starting fresh if that’s what it will take to make the story a good one.

2. Try new things. A few months ago, I had never done an outline, or written chapter two before writing chapter one, or done any sort character development exercises, such as figuring out a character’s like and dislikes, what scares them and what excites them, etc. But after rewriting the same story three times (see No. 1), I knew I needed help. So I gave outlining a try. I found some different outlines that seemed to work for my story, cobbled them together into one perfect outline, and filled it in. Now I could see the bigger picture. I knew why each chapter, each sentence was important. Everything fell into place.

And when I got to the sections that I just didn’t feel like writing, I took some advice from my friends and skipped them so I could get to the parts that excited me. Forcing myself to write the sections I thought of as boring was only going to make those sections boring. So I decided to write them later and work on the parts I couldn’t wait to write. If I hadn’t skipped ahead, I’d probably still be working on that missing section, stuck in an endless loop of trying to turn lead into gold by editing, rewriting, and revising something that just wasn’t working.

As I was working on the third attempt, I noticed I was writing my characters in ways that worked for the plot but made them act out of character. So it was back to the drawing board because I didn’t know my characters well enough to keep them consistent. I had to try some exercises to get to know them better and it worked. Now their reactions are authentic and they don’t come across as weak when I want them to be strong. I needed to spend more time with them, get to know them, outside of the story so that I would know how they would act in the story.

3. Share. I cannot express how much sharing fuels creativity and makes you a better writer. Sharing what you’ve written or ideas and talking them through with someone lets you see the flaws in your story and come up with ways to fix them. In class, someone pointed out a clichéd scene and while we were discussing it, I came up with a brilliant new idea that was totally fresh and made the story exciting. If I hadn’t shared the scene so that we could discuss our thoughts, I would have never been able to see it from someone else’s perspective or had that epiphany. And sharing with another also gives you feedback on what you’re doing right, so that you can do it again and again and again, all the way to the end.

Jane Wants a Pony for Christmas

Posted by Jane Moon On December - 12 - 2012

pony e1354835731318 300x225 Jane Wants a Pony for ChristmasDear Santa,

I’ve been very good this year. I didn’t tease the cat and I ate all of my vegetables (well, most of them). I asked for a pony last year, but you never brought one. Maybe you forgot? I understand, it’s not easy to fit a horse in to your bag, even if it is a small one.

This year, I want something different. If you check Amazon, you will see that I have 68 books on my wish list. Wait, you can’t see it because I made my list private. I’ll tell you which ones I would like to find under my Christmas tree:

Reached by Ally Condie. It’s the third book in the Matched trilogy and it’s about a girl who lives in a society where choice is taken away. Have you read it yet? If not, you really should. And then you can appreciate how I chose to ask for books that are simple to carry instead of a pony.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang. This one is about two souls, Eva and Addie, who share one body. As they get older, one soul is supposed to fade away and the remaining one has full control of her body. It’s common in their world. What’s not common is that Eva hasn’t gone away and she would do anything to be able to move again. I think it’s similar to how there’s a part of me that still really wants that pony.

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. A YA book filled with short stories about teens trying to survive World War 3, alien invasions, a new ice age and any other catastrophe you can think of. It would be really useful to have a pony in these types of situations. You know, for travelling or just for company when most of the population is wiped out and I need to look for survivors.

Santa, you can see I like reading about dystopian societies and fantasy. As long as we’re on the topic of fantasy, I think it would be really great if I found a pony under my tree this year.

Xoxoxo,

Jane and Sprite (the name I chose for my future pony)

Drawing done by Jane Moon

Amy’s Advice (Not) Looking Forward: It’s Okay to Be Bad

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 6 - 2012

frustration.gif 300x201 Amys Advice (Not) Looking Forward: Its Okay to Be BadI’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, and this year will be no different. “Resolution” is such a stressful word. But I’m going to need something to get me through 2013. So what I’ve come up with is this.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

Now, as a debut author with an outstanding agent and a superb editor, things are often sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and puppies. I have worked incredibly hard on my first book, which has undergone two major revisions and is hopefully nearing that wonderful moment when my editor will proclaim, “Yes! This is just how we want it. Send it to the copyeditor!” And I will dance around my apartment with joy.

And then the realization will slowly sink in. Book One is over. I have to write Book Two now. A first draft. Something entirely new.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written a first draft of anything, and to be honest, I am terrified. I’ve never written anything with so much expectation on it. Writing a first draft is like learning how to walk again, which is just about as much fun as it sounds. Lots of falling down, bumps and bruises, awkward movements. But I need to let myself off the hook. First drafts are supposed to be bad — they are where you fumble around and screw up and figure it out. I need to give myself permission to fail, to try things that may not work. I need to go into a little hole and pretend that I’m writing this book just for me, because at the end of the day, loving your story is the most important thing.

Of course, I say this now. I’m certain there will be dark times ahead, times where I think, “I can’t do this. I’m a failure. Why did anyone ever buy this series in the first place?? It’s terrrrrrible!” And hopefully, I’ll remember my 2012 words of encouragement.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

 

Photo Credit: www.theelitemembership.com

Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)

Posted by Caela Carter On December - 4 - 2012

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)This fall, for the first time in 24 years, my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is ranked #1, has a 12 and 0 record, and is heading to the National Championship in  Miami in January to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in a fight for the crystal football.

(For you non-sporty people, that means they played twelve games, won them all, and get a chance to become this season’s champions.)

Twenty-four years ago, I admit I didn’t pay all that much attention to college football. I was a six-year-old girl. (Although, if you asked me, I would have told you I liked Notre Dame.) So, to me and everyone in my generation, this feels pretty remarkable.

But, this fall, other than the success of my football team, our recent graduation from The New School, and my new marriage, life was usual.

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)My husband (who is thankfully also an Irish alum) and I attended five football games — three at Notre Dame, one in Boston, and one in Dublin, Ireland, which we fit in on the way to our honeymoon. At the end of our honeymoon, after traveling for 24 straight hours home from Crete, we watched the Michigan State game on only a slight delay before getting some sleep. The next weekend, I was at a beautiful wedding and I spent the reception as one of four heads bent over the same iPhone to watch the Michigan game streaming live. (I felt slightly bad about this until the bride called out to me to ask about the score.) And suffice it to say, I lost my voice shouting at the TV in the Public House in New York City during the Oklahoma and USC games.

But my football commitment goes beyond simply watching and attending the Notre Dame games. My family spent hours of Thanksgiving Day talking about who would go to which bowls. My friends and I email/Facebook/Tweet constantly about this subject. My husband and I, along with our friends Linda and Nestor, wrote a musical tribute to our star defensive player, Manti Te’o, to the tune of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” And, in some ways, this year’s time commitment has barely taken its toll because the Fifth Annual Carter Bowl (in which the members of my family pick teams and then trash talk brutally for the entirety of bowl season, all in a fight for the Carter Bowl trophy, pictured above — and, yes, that is a toilet bowl…) has not yet begun!

And yet, somehow, this was fall-as-usual for me in one other way. This year, for the third year in a row, I wrote the bulk of an entire draft of a novel during football season. In fact, during fall of 2010, (I attended four football games, moved to New York from Chicago, and spent every other Saturday watching football non-stop) I managed to complete my first draft of Me, Him, Them and It, which will become my debut novel when Bloomsbury publishes it this winter.

The past two years I marveled at this productivity. I thought to myself, “Imagine what I will accomplish in the winter when my brain can be consumed entirely by writing.”

But not this year. This year, I peer nervously ahead toward the winter months. Because in the past years, winter, spring and summer have not been ripe with words and inspiration the way I have planned. In some trick-math equation, more time does not equal more pages. So instead, I have to wonder, “why am I most productive during football season?”

Perhaps it’s simply the fall. As someone used to being on a school-schedule, maybe I’m just most productive when the leaves change because that was always the symbol of fresh starts and a new year. But, I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s that football provides some sort of structure for me. I always work hardest when there is a reward in store: write five pages today, go out to dinner tonight. But anyone who has followed a team like Notre Dame knows that this doesn’t necessarily work the same way. Because you are going to watch the game whether or not you deserve it. And because you approach the game with trepidation, unsure of whether it will be reward or torture.

No, after much thought, I’ve concluded that it’s pretty simple. I’m most productive during football season because I’m happiest. I mean, I’m a pretty darn happy woman in general, but during football season, even when we’re losing, I always know what my plans are on Saturday. In the moments that I’m being driven crazy by the world falling into the torrents of political upheaval and violence, I can always distract myself with a somewhat more trivial article on ESPN.com. And most importantly, my geographically disparate friends and family somehow feel a little closer when I know exactly what they’re all doing for at least four-hours of each week. (But it’s better when we’re winning.)

And, for me, happiness, more than time, leads to pages.

So now I just need to figure out something to create this much happiness in the winter. And don’t say basketball. I don’t have time for that!

Photo (and trophy) credit: Rich Carter

Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t Work

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 3 - 2012

Pig with Money 300x297 Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t WorkSo lately I’ve been trying to come up with some new ideas. Chickens. Pot roast. Time travel three minutes. Ice dancing. What? Oh yeah, I’m writing a blog post. I’ve been trying to come up with ideas. Six documents open, three pages of notes, eighteen prom scenes, three aliens. Ten more documents open. Let me look at all of last year’s files. Wait, I wrote 20,000 words of that? Hmm. Mary, that is some weird s***. I have no idea what is going on here. Nineteen worlds, three hundred alternate universes, thirty-three more prom scenes. Why are you so depressing, Mary? Why do you think that joke is so funny? How much fake science will people read?

“Write 20,000 more words, Mary,” says the pink pig. As he speaks, he carefully picks my Canadian money out of my wallet.

“But it makes no sense!”

“It will make sense if there’s MORE! Heh heh heh.” He laughs like a donkey.

Sometimes I wonder why I start changing titles on stuff and create new folders and move part of it into a miscellaneous folder and then decide to redo the concept and write 18,000 words and then forget I did it. And then I always like the first version better anyway but WHICH FOLDER DID I SAVE IT IN?

Sometimes the prom happens over and over and over again.

There is an opening chapter of something somewhere that involved mysterious entities that have something to do with traffic. And possibly time travel. And several fairy tale characters. And an alien is always useful. And I promised someone a book about Space Marines. And somehow there is terraforming. Invisible people are pulling my hair out.

I have 973,823 million pages of notes.

What?

pixel Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t Work
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