Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for February, 2013

It’s Launch Day for Caela Carter’s ME, HIM, THEM AND IT!

Posted by Jessica Verdi On February - 26 - 2013

Screen Shot 2013 02 25 at 11.45.23 AM 199x300 Its Launch Day for Caela Carters ME, HIM, THEM AND IT!Today is a big day at Teen Writers Bloc — it’s the release of our very own Caela Carter‘s debut novel, Me, Him, Them and It!

When Evelyn decided to piss off her parents with a bad reputation, she wasn’t planning to ruin her valedictorian status. She also wasn’t planning to fall for Todd—the guy she was just using for sex. And she definitely wasn’t planning on getting pregnant. When Todd turns his back on her, Evelyn’s not sure where to go. Can a distant mother, a cheating father, an angry best friend, and a (thankfully) loving aunt with adopted daughters of her own help Evelyn make the heart-wrenching decisions that follow?

Caela began writing this incredible story during our first semester at The New School, so several of us at TWB were lucky enough to get to read early drafts of the book before anyone else. And now that it’s out there for all to read, we know it’s going to make quite the splash in the YA lit world.

I’ve held a finished copy of Me, Him, Them and It in my hands, and let me tell you — it’s beautiful. Definitely something I’d pick up off the shelf and Barnes and Noble. And we hope you will too!

If you’re in the New York area you can come celebrate the release of this book with us and with the author herself at the launch event on Thursday, February 28th at 6:30 PM at the Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue at 93rd Street.

Dear John Green: An Open Letter About Diversity from a Little Brown Librarian

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 19 - 2013

 Dear John Green: An Open Letter About Diversity from a Little Brown LibrarianDear John Green*,

After watching your fireside chat with President Obama, I got inspired to write you a letter. I am a middle school librarian at Harlem Village Academies in East Harlem, New York, and an up and coming MG/YA writer represented by the lovely Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider/ICM. My library has several copies of all of your books, and they stay in constant circulation with my students. I was first introduced to you as an author in David Levithan’s Teen Lit course in my MFA in Writing for Children program at The New School. We read Looking for Alaska, and your prose, your characters, and the heart of the novel blew the class away.

There’s no denying it. You’re great!

I don’t need to tell you that you’re an awesome storyteller and that the stories you tell connect with millions and millions of readers. You’re a New York Times bestselling author, and what you write turns to gold!

I just have a question for you: Why is there a lack of racial diversity in your work?

Granted, I know that it’s probably unfair of me to ask you this question. I am a writer and don’t want to ever be told what to write or to be questioned about what I choose to write, but after watching you with President Obama, I couldn’t help but think, Can Sasha or Malia find themselves in John Green’s books? Is there someone who looks like them in his universe? Would someone who looks like them ever be the main protagonist in one of his awesome novels?

A child or teen (or a person, really) can connect to anything if there’s a thread of universality present or an emotional core that transcends race or class or ethnicity or religion. I get that. I’ve experienced that. You’ve done that in your works.

But what’s sad is that I get questions like this from my students when they visit the library weekly:

“Why is the library filled with books about white teens?”

“Why is everyone in books white?”

“Why have I read every single book about kids like me?”

“Do any books with brown kids – besides Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – hit the New York Times best seller list?”

You might say that there’s no way my students are asking these types of questions. That I made them up to suit my open letter.

Come visit and see! Harlem Village Academies are full of the brightest young minds, kids who are challenged to read 50 books a year as a requirement to go from grade to grade. They devour everything I give them, and they ask a lot of insightful questions about life and the world. When you can’t find yourself in the books you’re told to read, it brings up a lot of thoughts and questions about the world of books.

You don’t have to care about these questions. You don’t have to think about them as you write, even.

But I wish that you would consider them. There’s a pervasive whiteness to the stories you write. I don’t mean to be inflammatory or rude in this observation, and I could call out a hundred other YA authors who do the same thing. I’d like to ask you about it though. Maybe whiteness is all you know. Maybe that’s what your life journey and upbringing has afforded you. Since we’re supposed to write what we know, maybe that’s what you’re doing. I can’t fault you for that. Your stories reflect an earned authenticity.

As a minority in this country, I have a different experience as you probably already know from countless other minorities shouting from rooftops or PC culture, etc. But the fact remains that I am surrounded by white people. My identity has formed in contrast or in conjunction with whiteness. I am/was/will always be the smudge. The stories I write will always be multicultural because that is my experience. I don’t have the luxury to write about an all-anything world because that isn’t reflective of where I come from. So white people and children will always be written into my stories. You don’t have to have this experience. But it has given me a sense of creative responsibility to write invisible teens and people into the YA book world.

Do you feel a sense of creative responsibility?

I don’t have a lick of fame, yet I feel this overwhelming sense that I need to do something meaningful and inclusive with my creative work. Maybe this is all a function of my identity as a minority and my upbringing as a person from an oppressed group. I don’t have an explanation for this. It’s a feeling that runs parallel to my aspirations.

I often argue with my adult writer friends about the topic of creative responsibility. We’re a semi-diverse, motley crew made up of the ladies who blog on TeenWritersBloc.com. At our biweekly critique meetings, we sometimes discuss TV shows. At one dinner a few weeks ago, we had a fruitful discussion about whether writer/producer Lena Dunham should have meaningful diversity on her HBO show Girls. I always bring up the fact that I think she should have minorities present on her show. It’s the same argument I’ve had about other shows in the past – Sex in the City, Friends, etc. Some of my writer friends, whom I love no matter what they believe, assert that it isn’t Lena Dunham’s responsibility, and bring up a great point about why white men aren’t pushed to include minorities, yet white women tend to be pushed to do so. I always posit the following question at the end of this never-ending conversation: Even given all of that, why not include them?

So I’ll posit the same question to you – Why not include racial minorities in your work? What’s the harm?

I know the publishing industry is very different from the TV/film industry, and one of the ugly rumors floating about is that books with minority teens don’t sell. Their faces on books alienate white readers and their white parents, who buy the books their kids read.

I just don’t know. It makes me sick to think about it being true. And it really isn’t your problem. It’s mine. It’s something that I will have to face as a writer who includes teens/children of color as main protagonists.

But your career makes me wonder if someone with your fame and clout could change the game. You’ve done it in so many different ways already. If you wrote a book about a non-white teen, would it explode like The Fault in Our Stars? Or would it be the one book you wrote that flopped and didn’t make all of those best teen books lists? Would your white fan base say the book isn’t for “them”? Would angry minorities come after you for writing a book from a non-white protagonist and earning money from it?

I don’t know.

I’d just like to challenge you to write a book with some color in it, or at least consider it. I know if anyone can do it, it’s you. Even if nothing comes of this letter, I’d love to start the conversation about the lack of diversity in teen books.

Happy Writing!

Dhonielle Clayton, a little brown librarian (and writer!)

*NERDfighters do not attack, put the lasers down, this open letter comes from a warm and fuzzy place, and I am a small, humble librarian who wants no trouble. I speak my words in peace. Thanks!

Jean-Paul Loves a Good Jerk

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On February - 18 - 2013

VALENTINES DAY JERKS Jean Paul Loves a Good JerkI love jerks. Especially those with a tortured past.

Not only are lovable jerks fun to read, but they are also fun to write. They say and do anything as long as it suits their purpose, they are quick with the witty put-downs, and they make scenes more lively and fun just by being in them. Of course, the best jerks are those who, despite their epic jerkiness, do what’s right in the end.

I get excited when the jerk character makes an appearance in my stories because I know that, if I do my job well enough, the reader will fall in love with them as well and will be waiting for the moment when the jerk can put his jerkiness aside and help save the world. Because there’s nothing better than when characters who hate each other realize that they can’t do it alone.

Here are some of my favorite jerks in literature:

The Mysterious Jerk: Gentleman from Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Gentleman is the epitome of jerk. A smooth-talker, he can play both sides without missing a beat and make you trust him even though you don’t even know his real name.

The Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gilly Hopkins from The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

She curses, she steals from old blind men, she’s a racist, and she bullies emotionally damaged children. But you can’t stop yourself from falling in love with her. Gilly learns what it means to love and care for others and in the process, you learn that her big heart is what makes Gilly great.

The Reformed Jerk: Eustace Scrubb from the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

With a name like Eustace Clarence Scrubb, can you really blame him for being a jerk? But, by the end of the series, Eustace has appeared in three books and been the honorable hero of two of them. Not too shabby.

The Single-Minded Jerk: Little Bear from The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Little Bear wants to fight. Little Bear wants weapons. Little Bear wants to protect his people and will do whatever it takes to win, even if it means shooting his best friend in the chest with an arrow.

The Jerk with Daddy Issues: Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Poor Draco. No matter what he does, he will always be a disappointment to his father. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to impress Lucius Malfoy anyway. Even though, deep down, he knows what he is doing is wrong.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros., Walden Media, BBC, HarperCollins, Paramount Pictures, and the mad Photoshop skills of Shyla Bass.

Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKED

Posted by Caela Carter On February - 8 - 2013

 Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKEDThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Liz Fichera, whose contemporary YA novel, Hooked, hit shelves last month. The book explores race, gender and class sterotypes and it’s a romance to boot. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Liz to chat about inspiration, romance, and what happens when the collide.

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

I am originally from Park Ridge, Illinois, but I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, after college, never expecting to live in the desert among cactus and people who’d never seen snow. I was wrong. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old when I wrote a story about my collie dog, Lady. My mother and my fifth grade teacher, Miss Bone, gushed about my little story and I was “hooked”. But then circumstances and responsibilities got in the way and I didn’t become a full-time writer until about 7 years ago.

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

Hooked is a story about two unlikely people who find each other under unusual circumstances and face prejudice, bullying, and lots of obstacles along the way.  The quick synopsis is as follows: “Sparks fly when a Native American girl from the Rez with a killer golf swing falls for the boy on her team with the killer smile.”

I got the idea for the story when I was driving down a long stretch of desolate desert road near my home that borders that Gila River Indian Reservation.  I got this image of a Native American girl and she was waving a golf club at me.  Weirdly, though Arizona is full of both golf courses and Native American culture, rarely do you see them in the same sentence, much less the same book.  I knew that I had to write this story.  Many, many, many drafts later and many, many, many submissions later, my agent was able to sell the book.

What’s your writing process? 

I write every day, mostly in the afternoons and evenings. I write in my home office which doesn’t really look like an office per se.  It’s filled with family photos and art that I love and, of course, my laptop.  I get a lot of my inspiration during hikes in the desert.

What has your path to publication been like? 

I think my path has been pretty typical of most authors who publish traditionally—lots of rejection, submissions, persistence and writing.  Things seem to go really slowly (when you’re getting rejected by agents and publishers) and then bizarrely fast (when you’ve sold a book) and then painfully slowly again when you’re waiting for your release date.

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

When my first book (which wasn’t Hooked) didn’t sell right away, my agent said, “Keep writing.”  And I did.  My advice to aspiring authors is to read, read, write, write, and then read and write some more.  Also, make sure you grow an extra layer of thick skin.

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

As a kid, I loved The Boxcar Children and all of the Little House books. Loved them to pieces! When I was in high school, I read and loved a lot of the classics like Wuthering Heights and Anne of Green Gables.  I had a wonderful English teacher my freshman year and she taught me to understand and love Romeo and Juliet.

 Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKEDWhat’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I finished another YA contemporary this summer which is currently with my agent.  I’m now working on another YA contemporary about a Hopi Indian teen and I hope to visit Hopi Land in northeastern Arizona this summer to do more research for the story.  My focus is on YA contemporaries and realistic fiction.  They are my favorite to read and write.

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

Absolutely! These groups are not only helpful but they are essential. Writers live such solitary lives. It’s important to stay connected with writing communities. If I didn’t, I think I would go a little bit crazy (crazier).

Okay, Hooked is a romance between golfers. (Yes there’s a lot more too it that — race, gender roles, etc. — that make us all the more excited to read it!) Which scenes do you enjoy writing more: sports or romance? 

It’s a romance (what’s a book without one?!), but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a book about dreaming big dreams and not letting anything or anyone stand in your way, including yourself.

It’s hard to pick which scenes I enjoy more.  I truly love writing all of them.  When I get into a writing roll and can *see* my characters and their motivations, my fingers don’t stop typing until I’ve told the story.

We’re so excited to read it, Liz. Thanks so much for stopping by TWB! 

Photo credit: Harlequin Teen

pixel Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKED
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