Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for January, 2013

 A RANT: The End of the Year Best Teen/Kids Books Round Up Lists Lack One HUGE Thing    DIVERSITY!DISCLAIMER: This post is full of YA and MG blasphemy. Read at your own peril.

I hate it when the end of the year book lists or the best books of the year come out.

I repeat: I HATE IT WHEN THE END OF THE YEAR BOOK LISTS OR THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR COME OUT EACH YEAR.

Publishers and agents love these lists if their authors are on them. It’s great press. And I’d be lying to say that I wouldn’t want to be on one of these lists one day. But these lists reveal something sad and ugly about the children’s and YA book market — it’s still lily white. The lack of racial diversity reflected on these lists is heartbreaking, disappointing, and above all, annoying. And I know many will say: “There’s more books written by minorities nowadays,” “There are more books featuring people of color,” or “Maybe the books written about minorities or for minorities aren’t that good,” and “Get off my soapbox!”

Here goes that black girl again, same complaint. That’s fine. I hear you. But I am still going to shout about it until it changes.

There aren’t enough books that make those lists that reflect diversity (and I am specifically looking at racial diversity versus other types). These lists show YA and MG’s dirty little secret — mainly white teenagers are written about.

If aliens were to use our libraries and bookstores as indicators of our society, and take a look at what the human offsprings are encouraged to read or what materials are celebrated, what would be reflected? What would they glean about our realities? Whose culture would they learn about? Who would be forgotten? What kind of children get to see their lives reflected on the page? Who is left out?

Earlier in the year NPR published the 100 best or favorite Teen Books. I was eager to see what they picked since I read exclusively children’s and teen books and I’m a teen book librarian.

I was appalled.

I was irritated.

I was disappointed.

There are only THREE titles on the list that feature people of color – Nancy Farmer’s The House of Scorpion (love this sci-fi book that takes place in a futuristic America near the border of Mexico, featuring a Mexican kid), Sandra Ciscernos’ The House on Mango Street, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. 

Here’s my take:

Adult Classics (that happen to have a child or teen protagonist) Shouldn’t Be Included

I don’t think classics like To Kill A MockingbirdThe Hobbit or The Lord of the RingsFahrenheit 451, Dune, etc, should be included. These pop up on other lists — do they have to show up again? Put them somewhere else. Don’t get me wrong, I love these texts and think every teen should read them, but do they need to occupy a space on this particular list?

I don’t think so. These books aren’t even shelved in the teen section of any library or bookstore, so for them to make this list is kind of annoying.

And some may argue with me and say that To Kill A Mockinbird  has diversity. Yes, it has black people in it, and shows the evils of the Jim Crow south, but I don’t consider it a diverse book. It’s a book about a certain time period told from the viewpoint of a white child who is figuring out racism. I’m still debating whether it’s a book black children need to read. It may be a book for white kids to figure stuff out. I don’t know. That’s another blog entirely.

The John Green Problem

Why does John Green need to occupy 5 slots on the list? Is this really necessary? John Green fans please do not send me death threats or nasty email messages or comments. I get it. I respect his writing and story-telling abilities. But I don’t think he deserves FIVE slots on the list. Can he get one slot and a mention of all his titles? Geez. All FIVE of his titles? I still can’t get over it. People might label me a John Green hater, but he doesn’t NEED FIVE slots. No author does. One slot should be enough to give other authors opportunities. I feel like the YA/MG real estate is getting gobbled up.

Multiple Titles by the Same Author

Like above, I wish that an author can be recognized once on the list. So that means Laurie Halse Anderson, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Dessen, and others who pop up once or twice, you should have one slot only for the canon of your work.

What is the criterion for these lists?

I think the list-makers should let readers in on how they selected these books. Maybe this will shed some insight into how a list like this is complied and maybe seek to answer the diversity question. Is it sales? Is it a poll that they send out?

I plan on analyzing other lists, like The Atlantic Wire’s Y.A./Middle-Grade Book Awards, 2012 edition, for PART II of this rant.

 

For Sona, the Proof Is In the Proofing

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 30 - 2013

Conjunctions main Full 300x136 For Sona, the Proof Is In the Proofing

So I have impeccable grammar, if I do say so myself. Yes, I’m a bit overly fond of the em dash, and I like to start sentences with conjunctions. But (and there I go again!) those are all purposeful decisions. The basics, I like to proudly declare, I’ve pretty much got down. It’s versus its. There, their and there. Whose and who’s. And I can really rock a comma. I know all of that like the back of my hand.

But here’s the thing (and again!). In this day and age, when I’m frequently writing something and then instantly sending it out into the Internets, things get a little sloppy. When you’re whizzing through text just to get to the end, mistakes are made. You put something out there — and then, reading it over three days later, you notice a typo here or there. Something that could have easily been fixed if you took a moment after spilling your guts to just clean up a little.

What’s happened in these days of insta-everything is that we forget to proof our work. And that makes us look less smart. I like to think I turn in clean copy every time, but I’m just as guilty of the slap dash as anyone else. That’s the thing I’ve got to remember — not just in the long run, when I’m focusing on a novel or story — but also in the everyday, when I’m putting my thoughts out into the world. As the title says, the proof is in the proofing. I have to remind myself: Spellcheck! Read through. Take a minute before you post. Put your best self forward. Even if you still use conjunctions to start a sentence.

Mary’s Great Middle Grade Reads

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 28 - 2013

Hello Teen Writers Block readers! Today I want to share with you a couple of great middle grade books I read this month.

Gustav Gloom 102x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsFirst, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Gustav Gloom and the People Taker by Adam-Troy Castro. It’s the first in a planned series, but never fear, it stands alone as a great read. Although Gustav Gloom is the title character, the real star of the book is Fernie, a plucky, scary-story loving ten-year-old who moves in across the street from Gustav Gloom’s weird, cloud-enshrouded house. She’s joined by her equally cool twelve-year-old sister and her hilariously cautious father. I couldn’t stop laughing at all the funny ways Dad had supposedly tried to keep the girls safe from imagined dangers. After noticing her cat’s shadow run off into the mysterious Gloom house, leaving the cat behind, Fernie is quickly moved to follow, and the adventure begins. The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s a fantastic adventure story all set inside a single house. This works perfectly because the house is much bigger inside than out and filled will all sorts of wonders and dangers. Gustav, the boy who lives among the weirdness, is an interesting, sympathetic character. Most importantly, there are plenty of laughs thrown in along the way. I’m so glad I came across this book and I highly recommend it!

The Mostly True Story of Jack 103x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsSecond, I finally got around to reading my copy of The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill. Wow, is this book right up my alley! It has a slow-building mystery, ominous and subtle magic, and a cast of unique but relatable characters. I recommend skipping the publisher’s book description, because it really does a terrible job of reflecting the book’s coolness. In the beginning, Jack’s mother drops him off at his aunt and uncle’s house to spend some time while his parents work out their divorce. But it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not right. Jack’s mother seems to have a hard time remembering him. He tries calling both parents, but his calls never go through. His letters mysteriously erase themselves. There are two weirdly sentient and protective cats and a book that talks about magic that couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Then there are the twins down the street, the silent and scarred Frankie with a mysterious past and his plucky sister Wendy, who will do anything to protect him. The writing is fantastic and the artfully layered story comes together in a unique way. This is for fantasy fans who are looking for something deeper than a wham-bang action extravaganza, and I loved it!

Well, it looks like I got lucky with my picks this month. How’d you do?

Cover Images: Gustav Gloom—Penguin, The Mostly True Story of Jack—Little, Brown

Mary’s ConFusion Roundup

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 22 - 2013

Sci fi 216x300 Mary’s ConFusion RoundupI just got back from my second sci-fi/fantasy convention ever, and it was a total blast! For those of you who don’t know, there’s this whole circuit of conventions for science fiction and fantasy writers and fans. Some are mainly for writers and other industry people to network and some have a huge fan component with costumes and games and general geekdom. ConFusion, held in Detroit, MI, was a great mix of writing talk and fun. There were panels on all sorts of topics related to sci-fi and fantasy writing, a costume contest, and even some science lectures.

Friday night I mainly spent at the dessert reception because, hey, if there’s a free dessert reception, why would I do anything else? I also caught the end of a strangely hostile panel in which some lady was basically arguing that fans who aren’t “authentic” (read “old and bitter”) should go home, and then award winning fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal satisfied the audience by handing the woman’s ass to her on a stick. Fortunately I never saw the crazy woman again and that panel wasn’t representative!

Saturday I got up at the insanely early hour of 8:15 a.m. so I could make my 10:00 a.m. panel. This was my first time sitting on panels, and I’m happy to report that I made it through four of them without falling all over myself or saying anything stupid. At least, if I said something stupid, no one felt compelled to call me on it. I even got to moderate a panel, which was a lot of fun. The con organizers called it “The Curse of the YA Heroine,” and the premise was supposed to be that female protagonists are too often defined by their relationships to men. Whoever wrote the program made the mistake of suggesting that not only was this true, but it was the result of “lazy storytelling.” Well, all the other panel members (Aimee Carter, Sarah Zettel, Susan Dennard, and Courtney Moulton) had written strong female protagonists, and we had a great discussion about how strong YA women really are, among other interesting topics. During the day I also had time to hang out in the game room, where some cool people taught Wesley Chu and me how to play Munchkin. I was a little worried that I’d get thrown out for not being geeky enough (let’s face it, I’m just a nerd), but instead of throwing me out, they gave me twizzlers, so yay!

Add in a couple interesting science lectures on Sunday plus the bar-con aspect, where I met lots of great people, and the weekend was a success! Huge thanks to Wesley Chu for convincing me to go and Patrick Tomlinson for putting up with me as a roommate. Check out Wes’s forthcoming sci-fi novel The Lives of Tao (see, I plugged it, are you happy?) and Patrick’s forthcoming A Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition (pay no attention to the cover, ladies).

Photo Credit: Victor Habbick

Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdi’s MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by Jessica Verdi On January - 15 - 2013

photo 224x300 Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdis MY LIFE AFTER NOWHi gang!

To celebrate the impending release of my contemporary YA novel MY LIFE AFTER NOW (Seriously, is it April yet? I’m tired of waiting!), I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway! The giveaway is open from now through March 1, and one winner (chosen at random by Goodreads) will get a signed advance reader copy of the book. Woot!

Here’s what the book’s about:

WHAT NOW?

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family? Now, every moment is a precious gift. She never thought being positive could be so negative. But now, everything’s different…because now she’s living with HIV.

And here’s the link to the giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

15752348 Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdis MY LIFE AFTER NOW

My Life After Now

by Jessica Verdi

Giveaway ends March 01, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Jean-Paul’s Past is Not Perfect

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On January - 14 - 2013

past present future Jean Pauls Past is Not PerfectI have a problem with the past. I didn’t know I had a problem, though, until I started writing. The majority of my stories are told in the past tense. Writing in present tense just isn’t my style and a story told in future tense would make me crazy. So there are a lot of she was, he went, they looked, etc. My problem comes when I get into flashbacks and memories. There, I seem to get caught up in the narrative and forget to keep it in the past perfect tense which indicates that it had all happened before the present story. Which causes my readers to get lost in time and makes me cringe when someone points it out to me.

It all starts out fine, but halfway through I inevitably drop the ball. My had hads turn into just had; instead of she had found it becomes she found, and so on. I thought the problem was that I was writing too fast and not paying attention, or that my schooling had failed me by not teaching me proper grammar, or perhaps that I was just a tense doofus. Then I learned about the historical present tense. Most English speakers have a tendency to begin a story in the past tense and finish in the present tense and linguists call talking about past events in the present tense using the historical present. We begin in the past to orient our audience with the who, where, and when, and then move into the present when the action ramps up. To steal an example from Lexicon Valley, the podcast where I learned about the historical present, check out the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer is telling everyone what happened to him on the bus when he tries to take a woman’s severed toe to the hospital to be reattached. It starts in the past “I found the toe…” and switches to the present “So I’m driving the bus…” So, if Kramer can get away with shifting tenses in the middle of a story, then why can’t I?

Well, there are a few reasons why I can’t – the most important ones being consistency and not confusing the reader – but I don’t let it bug me too much anymore. We all do it at some point, mine just happens to show up in my writing. And when I notice the flashback moving out of past perfect into the past, that’s when I know I’m writing something really exciting.

Corey’s Picks for 2012

Posted by Corey Haydu On January - 8 - 2013

10798418 Coreys Picks for 2012I was not going to write a “best of 2012″ list. Mostly because I did not read nearly enough in 2012. So even if I loosened the criteria of “best of 2012″ to simply mean books I happened to read in 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to put on there.

But. BUT. Then I read WHY WE BROKE UP.
I started read it on Christmas Eve Day, at my good friend’s family’s house in Virginia. In front of a fire. With a cup of peanut soup (yes you read that right! Peanut soup!) in hand.
I’m not going to say the fire and the peanut soup and the Christmas spirit and the quiet away from the city didn’t influence this read. I’m sure they did, as every experience of reading a book depends partly on circumstance and timing and mindset.
But I believe regardless of the fire and soup and intense calm of the not-city, I would have fallen in love with this book anyway.
Because I did. I fell in love with the book. HARD.
I fell in love with this book so hard I had to slow down my reading of it to five days instead of two, just to make it last longer.
I fell in love with this book so hard my own writing magically stopped sucking and started being fun again.
I fell in love with this book so hard it has officially (or, unofficially since I am not one for spreadsheets or remembering anything or lists) made my Top Ten Books of ALL TIME list.

Daniel Handler’s WHY WE BROKE UP is a series of letters (or, more accurately I think, vignettes) written from teenaged Min to her (now-ex) boyfriend. She plans on delivering this packet of lovely stories detailing their relationship to him along with a box of objects from their time together.
It is simple and complicated. We know how it ends, but we also totally have no idea why it ends. Every moment Min details has a shade of anger over it, but the romance and love are all there too. It’s a masterpiece.
Plus there are gorgeous illustrations, a great cover, and heavy, thick, glossy, unusual pages.
It’s not a book, it’s an experience.
I needed an experience.

I loved this book so much it reminded me that I loved some other books this year:

LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay. A novel in verse. Another to-die-for voice of a smart teenager. The kind of book that makes you stop every few pages so that you can admire the loveliness of the writing.

GONE, GONE, GONE by Hannah Moskowitz: A haunting, raw story of two teen boys who are trying to love each other despite how screwed up the world around them might be.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr: Maybe my favorite of Zarr’s books so far, this accomplishes the impossible: two narrators who are both flawed, brilliant, lovable, and different. I was blown away by the story, the writing, and the voices.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green: I mean, yeah. I don’t have to tell you what a triumph this book is. Also, it gives me a special thrill to see a contemporary YA captivate the whole world and be taken so seriously.

WONDER by R.J. Palacio: I blogged about this book already, I believe. But it is one of my favorite middle-grade novels of all time, and again, a book that inspired me to do better in my writing, to take more risks, to remember why it is we spend time writing.

USED TO BE by Eileen Cook: This is actually two books packaged as one, and they got me through a 24 hour layover in the Mexico City airport. I probably don’t have to say much more than that, but these two novels are crazy fun without losing their depth, power, and emotional sparkle. I’d call them page turners, even though they don’t have killers or zombies or any traditional cliff-hanger tropes. Cook is an expert storyteller, and I couldn’t have survived Mexico without these charming, moving, exciting, beautiful books.

I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR BAND by Julie Klausner: This is a great collection of personal essays (non-YA!) by a great comedian and podcaster who details her dating life in NYC with humor, honesty, and the kind of quirky, specific details that for me make a good book or essay or memoir great. This is a great memoir. And so much fun.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Cheryl Strayed: This is a collection from Strayed’s advice column (I shudder to call it that, since it is a literary triumph and an ocean of therapeutic knowledge) which was featured on The Rumpus, a great literary website. Strayed is such an excellent writer she will make your jaw drop, and these columns/essays/moment of pure genius got me through a dark spot in 2012. I have since gifted the book to three different girlfriends, who have all gifted it to their girlfriends. It’s unmissable.

So, I guess I did have a lot to say about the books of 2012. I cared most about great writing this year. Page-stopping, arresting, startling, inspiring, challenging, unforgettable, soaring writing.

I needed to be inspired this year. I needed to be carried through some tough times. And I needed to really, truly love a book in order to read it.

Book cover image courtesy of Little, Brown

Jane Gets Tense Over Tenses

Posted by Jane Moon On January - 7 - 2013

tense changing TWB 300x52 Jane Gets Tense Over TensesFor the New Year, the topic of my post
Is writing mistakes that I make the most.
There are small things that don’t bother me,
Like when I type “teh” instead of “the.”
Errors like these are a pain in the neck
But I know I can catch most of them with spell check.
If I write “form” when I really meant “from,”
I remind myself that I shouldn’t feel dumb.
Mistakes can happen and I shouldn’t be annoyed,
But there’s one problem I can’t seem to avoid.
Sometimes when I write, I tend to change tense,
From present to past, to me it makes sense.
Others see my error and they’ll point it out.
And I know they’re right, I have no doubt.
I don’t notice when I move between present and past,
When friends point it out, I am aghast.
How do I fix this? Where do I look?
I couldn’t find answers in my grammar book.
I searched online but found little support
On how to fix a problem of this sort.
So if there were any changes in tense this time
I hope you’ll forgive me since it was all in rhyme.

Sona Needs A Resolution, Right?

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 1 - 2013

january 1 2013 Sona Needs A Resolution, Right?So here I sit again on January 1. Another year, another resolution, right? You knew it was coming. It’s always inevitable — and then I inevitably break it. So this year, my resolution is not to resolve at all, but rather to evolve. It’s time to give up the gung ho race to the finish line and reassess what might actually work for me. After all, I’m in this writing thing for the long haul, right? Not just for the quick sale and the even quicker burn out.

I’ve often lamented here about my dilettante ways, how I’m always juggling three projects at once, rushing to get things done — and therefore not really moving forward at all.

So this year, I’ve decided to really focus. Focus on what my big picture goals are, focus on getting things done — but really, to focus on slowing down the pace, enjoying the process, and therefore actually managing to finish my projects, one at a time.

I’ve also decided to not jump into the querying process after I finish the first project, which is already quite near completion. Many of my fellow writers don’t understand the why behind this, but I just have to keep reminding myself of my long-term goals, rather than the short-term impatience — and believe me, I’m amongst the most impatient people I know. As a writer who works in two different genres, I’d like to be well-prepared, when seeking representation, to have a completed project in both areas, so that I can find an agent who really knows what she’s getting into, who really understands what my work is all about, who really sees the same big picture I’m seeing.

In the meantime, now that I have my lovely (if petite) desk and my awesome peacock blue velvet tufted chair to return to in a few short days, I do want to make one real, tangible plan-of-action and stick with it — and that is to put my butt in said gorgeous peacock blue velvet chair and spend some quality time with my WIPs at least five days a week. I won’t set unattainable word counts or ignorable deadlines. Instead, I’ll take my time, keep those eyes on the prize, and remember, for once, that the only person I’m racing is myself.

What’s on Alyson’s 2013 Wish List?

Posted by Alyson Gerber On January - 1 - 2013

wish list Whats on Alysons 2013 Wish List?

You might remember that I am a New Year’s resolution failure. Well, that hasn’t changed. When it comes to creating a routine and sticking to it, I am awful. Absolutely incapable.

I envy people who order the same salad for lunch everyday, who consistently check the forecast and leave home (all responsible) with an umbrella and a weather-appropriate jacket, who do the same things over and over again (or at least more than once). I wish I could be that way. It looks so much better, especially when it rains. But I am not. I can’t help it. Maybe I need things to be a little chaotic. I am pretty sure no matter how hard I try, I will always be a little bit of a hot mess. Or at least, I will see myself that way. It is part of my charm. I hate routines, and I don’t thrive on them. So, why have I been pushing myself to write the same amount of words, at the same table, with the same cup of coffee everyday? It makes no sense, and I am done doing it.

There is only one thing on my 2013 Wish List—I am making a resolution that won’t fail. I am giving up trying to be someone I am not. I am going to be okay with the fact that I am someone who writes best on my phone, and on random post-its, and on paper table clothes, and on the subway, anywhere but on my computer. Except, of course, when I have finally given up on staring at my computer, given up on my 2,000 word goal for the day, when I have accepted that I can’t write anymore, that is exactly when I can’t stop typing. It makes no sense, but it is me. It’s what I do, and this year, I am going to be okay with it, because my chaotic way of doing things is actually working. I can feel it every time I work on my new book. Every time I send pages out to be critiqued. Just being me is working, and I’m not going to stop.

 

pixel Whats on Alysons 2013 Wish List?
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