Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for the ‘Book Biz Buzz’ Category

The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On November - 10 - 2013
ThisWickedGame Cover The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Copyright Dial Books

I’m obsessed with all things voodoo, and even more so, hoodoo, but that’s a separate topic for another blog post. Ever since I was a kid, I loved reading anything and everything about it, especially books that used it as the foundation for the magic in their worlds. I was in love with voodoo because I was inundated with the western image of witchcraft, religion, and spirituality. Many books that feature witches pull their magical traditions and world-building from pagan European traditions. I loved those witches, but I didn’t find many brown ones as a young reader. I wanted to be included. So the use of voodoo, voodoo priestesses, and magic extrapolated from voudon or vodou, excited me. It’s from Africa. I found it refreshing to see something that reflected people who looked like me and encompassed many of my cultural values, whether it be superstitions or beliefs about my ancestors.

From this season’s American Horror Story: Coven to the CW’s spin-off show The Originals set in New Orleans, voodoo is showing up on TV, and trickling into the publishing industry. There has been a surge in voodoo appearing in YA Literature over the past few years. Two titles have come to my attention lately: Michelle Zink’s This Wicked Game and Kiki Sullivan’s The Dolls.

As a middle school librarian, author, and literary development co-founder of CAKE Literary, I consider myself a stakeholder in the children’s/YA book community, and I have been keeping my eye out for these books. And honestly, as a member of an American subculture, I watch for titles that present aspects of my culture or representation of black iconography in YA and children’s fiction. I always hope that the books do the traditions justice. But there’s always a nagging worry that the traditions will be trampled in the name of entertainment and universal marketability.

I was excited to read Michelle Zink’s This Wicked Game because I’ve read a few of her other books, and enjoyed her Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy. Her writing is smart, clean, and compelling. Plus, I am a librarian that needs diverse titles to serve a diverse student body.

The plot in a nutshell (SPOILERS AHEAD): Set in New Orleans, Claire is apathetic about Voodoo, despite being the great-great-granddaughter of voodoo queen Marie Laveau through her father’s side. This birthright ensures her membership to “The Guild”, a voodoo society that her parents are members of. One day when a woman orders a restricted item from the family shop—panther plasma, used to kill people—she alerts her parents. Her parents immediately whisk her off to her first Guild meeting with the other families.

Claire reports what happens, and learns that two more restricted orders were placed in the shop. Also, Claire has been dating Xander in secret. He is the son of the most prominent Guild family. The two of them start investigating the mystery, and break into the house of the woman who ordered the black plasma. Inside they find a photograph of the Guild members marked with Xs on some of the faces. The Xs connect with Guild families who have suffered from recent break-ins in their houses. Rooms had been ransacked for personal objects. Xander’s house is also broken into.

Claire notices the identical photograph at her house, but a man has been cut out of the photograph. Xander and Claire get together with Sasha and Allegra, who are two other prominent first-born Guild members. They decide to locate the exiled Crazy Eddie. They venture out to the seedy outskirts to find the old man. Crazy Eddie has been anticipating their arrival via his visions. Xander has also been having dreams and visions of Claire being sacrificed, and he’s been unable to help her. Crazy Eddie divulges past Guild secrets. He tells them all about Maximilian, the absent man from the photograph, and the details about his expulsion from the Guild. Claire’s great-great-grandma was anti-black magic, and rejected Maximilian from using the Cold Blood spell to save his dying child. In true villain fashion, Maximilian did it anyway and swore revenge against the Guild if his little girl died. She did die.

FX AHS ImageGallery 0000 24 The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Copyright FX Networks

To counteract Max’s desire to use black magic, Claire’s great-great grandma spoke to the gods. She also assured that the spell would not work, as well as made an addition to the spell that required a special ingredient that Maximilian would be unable to get. She also did a counter spell. The teens put together all of these details because one of the grandmother’s journals was stolen. They point to Maximilian as the one responsible for the break-ins, and somehow found the addendum to the spell. They believe that he is plotting revenge on the Guild’s first-born children. Claire uses voodoo magic, and is able to watch her great-great-grandma in a dream as she writes the Cold Blood spell and the counter spell. Claire tells the crew and they band together to perform the spell and block Maximilian. Before they can complete their task, Claire is taken by Maximilian and Eugenia, the woman from the very beginning who wanted to buy the black panther plasma. They prepare for a voodoo sacrifice and start to bleed Claire. This harkens back to everyone’s visions — and her blood ends up being the essential spell ingredient. Xander, the rest of the teens, and Crazy Eddie rescue Claire just in time and enact the counter spell. Like magic, Claire is able to chant the right spell and call on the gods. The spell washes away her fear. In the end, she wakes up in the hospital and finds out that the others alerted their parents and the Guild. The police came, but Maximilian — of course to probably set up for a sequel — escaped. Claire feels better about voodoo and the belief system, and is more enthralled with her boyfriend Xander.

THE END.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am being selfish in what I wanted from this book.

First and foremost, I am a writer and would never want to be told what to write. I fully support creative expression and freedom. Write what you want, and if you’re not writing what you know — research. Furthermore, if you’re writing about the cultural traditions of a group of people outside of your own, make smart choices and think of the people who belong to those groups. Honor them! Be responsible and sensitive. I won’t assume that Michelle Zink isn’t Creole or doesn’t have African ancestry or ties to voodoo.

Whether she is connected to the community or not, why not make her main character reflect the heart of the voodoo tradition? In a YA publishing world that produces a massive number of books that feature white girls as lead characters, why not change it up and make this character reflect the heart of voodoo — black? Why neglect this opportunity?

Did she think it would alienate her readers or her base? Was she insecure about writing a black character? She wrote the black male love lead Xander.

t voodoo The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot Deck

Instead, Claire’s dad was African-American and a descendant of Marie Laveau (this famous voodoo queen was of mixed heritage and believed to be the daughter of a black woman and a white planter, as well as her daughter Marie Laveau II). Claire’s mother is a white woman, so it isn’t unlikely that she would/could be a blonde girl without many traces of the markings of African ancestry. New Orleans is a wonderful stew of cultures, which creates a fantastic mix of people, food, and traditions. The history of the city is complicated by these racial implications and cultural mixing. Voodoo is influenced by it as well. I wish the book pushed boundaries, and took the rich traditions of the city and its various cultures to explore, alongside her elaborate plot. Instead people are barely described. Their races and cultural iconography are missing. The flavor of their language and world-views are absent. Claire Kincaid reads like a white girl (I realize this statement is multi-faceted, inflammatory, and deserves it’s own post). Her black father and his link to Marie Laveau felt convenient, and like an accessory to the novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy her connection to this heritage. I didn’t feel it inside Claire or her thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc.

Mara Brock Akil, an American TV writer and producer said something that struck me: “My work is driven by my belief that the human spirit needs validation. It starts from the moment we’re born, and yet we’re born into a country whose greatest exports are images… Everywhere we turn — museums, TV, movies, magazines, and books — we’ll see beauty reflected. Unless you’re black, and a girl.” Her words stuck with me and made me think of this book because I selfishly wished the author validated those missing girls from YA fiction who are the darker faces of voodoo. The faces that brought this complex tradition over on slave ships.

I realize this is a lot to ask of someone. I realize that it is selfish. I realize that I have no right to tell someone what to write. I realize that in a nutshell, I am calling Michelle Zink a cultural appropriator or accusing her of making poor decisions in terms of her use of voodoo. Yet still, I wished that she (and her publisher Dial) made better decisions when tapping into a vast and rich cultural tradition attached to a marginalized group that has had a long history with cultural appropriation for profit. If it weren’t for this history, I think this issue wouldn’t be so loaded. And let me be clear for the Goodreads trolls or Internet bullies coming my way, I do not think that white people can’t or don’t practice voodoo. It’s like the same as a white person owning a taco stand. It happens. It’s fine. Those tacos are probably freaking delicious. This is a great benefit of living in a multicultural society. I just wish when authors use voodoo that they honor it by having practitioners reflect the tradition’s African roots. If kids of color only get a fixed number of books written from their cultural traditions a year/their POVs, wouldn’t it be nice if some of them featured characters who looked like them?

Another book that is coming out through a packager The Story Foundation is Kiki Sullivan’s The Dolls. In Publisher’s Marketplace the book is pitched as:

Kiki Sullivan’s THE DOLLS, pitched as Pretty Little Liars meets True Blood, in which a girl returns to her tiny Louisiana bayou hometown only to discover that she is the powerful missing link in a trio of voodoo queens who rule the town – and the gifts she’s inherited may be tied to her mother’s death years before, to Sara Sargent at Balzer & Bray, in a two-book deal, by Holly Root at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency on behalf of The Story Foundation. (NA).

This much I can guess about the novel if the current trend of whitewashing voodoo continues:

(1) The protagonist is another white girl

(2) The voodoo queens are each from a different racial group — one black girl and another white girl (most likely — might have some Spanish or Native American ancestry to reflect old racial groups from colonial New Orleans)

(3) There’s an attractive black male love interest who looks mixed (fair skin, maybe light eyes)

Voodoo is fun and interesting. I get it. People want to incorporate it into their worlds. Go for it. But think about it’s roots and history. Think about the people who came from those traditions. Don’t leave them out or relegate them to side-kick characters when really it’s their story to tell. Give those characters an opportunity as well.

 

 

 

It’s Release Day for Jessica Verdi’s My Life After Now!

Posted by Caela Carter On April - 2 - 2013

It’s a super-wonderful-exciting day at Teen Writers Bloc—release day for Jessica Verdi‘s My Life After Now

 Its Release Day for Jessica Verdis My Life After Now!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 her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

Jessica stared writing this gripping, startling, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful novel during our second semester at The New School and by the time we read the first few pages of her first draft, we all knew she had started something special. Turns out the folks at Sourcebooks Fire agreed with us and, at long last, now you can too! Trust me, you’ll want to get your hands on this book!

Even better, if you’re in the New York area, come and celebrate Jess’s release with us next Tuesday, April 9 at 7:00PM at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn! You can enjoy wine, a reading, a book talk, and get a signed copy (if you can wait that long to get your hands on it!)

Reading Bad for Kids, New Study Shows

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On April - 1 - 2013

ID 10053661 300x199 Reading Bad for Kids, New Study ShowsScientists at the National Institutes of Health have published the results of a groundbreaking longitudinal study in this month’s Journal of Psychology and Education. According the study, which followed six thousand children from ages seven through thirty-five, reading reduces both educational and career outcomes over a person’s lifetime and is linked with an increase in criminal behavior. The scientists measured the amount of reading done by the children using self-reports and parental reports as well as by monitoring the children’s library card usage. The results show that library use is particularly pernicious—there was a direct correlation between the number of books checked out per year at ages seven through fourteen and the number of arrests suffered by the children as adults. One in five of the heaviest readers (one hundred or more books per year) failed to graduate from high school, while those who read the least (zero to five books) were the most likely to have a graduate degree. Readers were also more likely to be divorced and less likely to have health insurance. Teen Writers Bloc spoke with Dr. Ralph Schumaker, the lead author of the study.

“Some people might find the results surprising,” said Dr. Schumaker, “but we’ve always known that reading impedes children’s development of social skills. Since success in life is based on likeability and not intelligence, we can expect to see some disadvantages. Readers get frustrated by their inability to connect with their TV-watching peers, and they retreat into lives of vice and crime.” Dr. Schumaker then described the life of one study participant, Paul Fletcher, who read two hundred books per year as a child and is now incarcerated in Federal prison. “His wife left him for a normal TV-watcher, and he lost it and went on a bank robbery spree,” said Dr. Schumaker. “He wore a mask with giant glasses painted on it. I guess he was making some kind of statement, but you know, it’s sad. If he had just read fewer books, he could be making a good living.”

The study also revealed that the heaviest readers tended to get pooped on by birds more regularly than non-readers, but the authors note that causation in that case has not been proved.

What does this mean for children’s authors like the members of Teen Writers Bloc? “We’re all in shock,” said Teen Writers Bloc member Alyson Gerber. “We love writing books, but we don’t want to be responsible for bank robbery or bird poop. We’re going to have to think long and hard about what to do now.”

What do you think? Should we stop writing children’s books and burn our library cards? Tell us in the comments!

Photo credit: Phaitoon

 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in Brooklyn“So, serious question,” David Levithan asked the five authors who were on his panel on realistic YA fiction at WORD in Brooklyn last night. “How many of you have had sex for clothing?”

That question was inspired by our own Jessica Verdi who had just read from her debut novel, My Life After Now, about a girl who has HIV. (And, no, Jess’s character and Jess herself have not had sex for clothing either.) Jess’s book does not technically hit shelves until April 2nd, but patrons who were present last night got to buy the earliest signed copies.

Other highlights of the panel included Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Tricks, and so many more) giving us all a sneak peek (sneak listen?) of a project she’s working on for Spring 2014; Tim Decker (The Punk Ethic) discussing how his project went from graphic novel to standard form; Crissa-Jean Chappell (Narc) talking about writing across gender lines; and Amy McNamaras (Lovely, Dark and Deep) story about standing up to genre-snobbery among her poetry friends.

 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in BrooklynIn addition to a few pages of each of these saucy, clever and intriguing books (which included our own Jessica saying “sex” about 37 times—go Jess!) listeners like me were treated to a discussion on proces. And there’s nothing I love more than hearing how other writers manage to make the magic happen!

I especially liked David’s question about how a project starts. In response, it felt like each panel member had a recipe for what makes a story.

In fact, Tim said he pictures his work-in-progress like a petri dish: he puts a few things in there together and sees how they will react. Crissa-Jean defined author as “being evil all the time” because she takes a character she likes, then tries to make him uncomfortable for hundreds of pages. That’s, of course, the only way he’ll change. Amy said that, for her, a story becomes a story when she has a character and a place she can put together. And Jess said she started with the issue before she even knew the gender or race of her character.

I’m always amazed by how many different answers a question like that can produce!

Other pearls of wisdom I’m going to take away include Crissa-Jean addressing her self-censor. She said that sometimes when she’s drafting she hears an “inner voice” telling her she’s gone “too far”—but she calls that voice a “green light.” I love that idea. Push through that inner voice and go further than even you as the writer are comfortable with to get to the truth.

Jessica said focusing on her character and her character’s own individual experience helped her to avoid sounding preachy.

Ellen Hopkins told us not to read reviews of your own writing. (But it’s so hard, Ellen!) Apparently there are some silly people out there who think all of her characters are the same, which is just, you know, ridiculous.

And David Levithan, our moderator and the mastermind behind the Teen Author Festival (and one of our valued professors from The New School) said that when you find your comfort zone as a writer, you have to run in the other direction!

There are so many more awesome book events this week as part of the Teen Author Festival! Check out the full schedule here!

Also, you can see our own Mary G. Thompson on Friday at 4:40 where she’ll be part of a panel on Alternate World vs. Imaginary world.

And, you can see me, Caela Carter, on Friday at 3:00 on a panel discussing teens and bad choices.

Jess, Mary and Caela will all be signing books at Books of Wonder on Sunday along with about 90 other authors!

 

Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of ‘What We Become,’ On the Sequel

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On March - 11 - 2013

REV.WhatWeBecome 398x600 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelAccording to Hollywood, our culture’s largest purveyor of populist storytelling, the general wisdom on making a successful sequel is “the same, but more,” with the operative word being “more.” It’s pretty easy to see this in action (A Good Day to Die Hard is a recent example). Now, I’m not saying you can’t tell a big, enjoyable escapist story with this formula. However, one can also look at a sequel as a chance to expand and deepen the experience of the first installment.

In writing What We Become, a sequel of my book Those That Wake, I tried to adhere to three general rules to construct as compelling and satisfying a continuation as I could.

1. Deepen your themes and pay off your ideas – Presumably you’ve laid out your themes clearly the first time around, so rather than simply repeating them, delve more deeply into them and get below the more obvious conclusions. A famous sequel that did this extremely well, I think, was The Empire Strikes Back, in which the themes of heroism and fighting tyranny were deepened from the first movie as the narrative delved into the anguish, pain and sacrifice that heroism requires and how a victory may only be the first step in a more arduous struggle. Similarly, ideas and concepts introduced in a first part no longer have the novelty of the new and should be “paid off” with surprising and satisfying new applications.  Again, The Empire Strikes Back does a nifty job of this, by taking the idea of the Jedi and the Force introduced in Star Wars and immersing its main character in the philosophy of these ideas and showing off to audiences a wider array of functions.

In What We Become, I have taken the theme of not giving up, central to Those That Wake, and plunged in as far as it will take me. What happens when you can’t stop fighting?  What is the final cost of never giving up? What is the third choice, the one that is not about fighting or giving up? I’ve also given a new perspective to the theme of a world manipulated from behind the scenes by moving away from the more fantastical take on it in Those That Wake to one that, while still stranger than pure reality, is more grounded in the real world and recent history. Meanwhile, some of my Big Ideas, like the Librarian and the Global Dynamic, are taken to their natural fruition and have their origins and intricacies revealed in unexpected ways.

 2. Grow your characters – Hopefully, your characters had a full and satisfying arc the first time around.  So where does that leave you to go with them?  Well, an arc is just the narrative of a character’s growing understanding.  Coming to understand things always leads to seeing a larger world, greater possibilities and how much more there could still be left to understand.  Those initial arcs can flow organically into larger and more expansive arcs.  Characters in stories get to grow more neatly than actual humans, whose experiences and understanding are not divided into clear, narrative sections.  But a good fictional character should keep searching and growing as long as they live, just like actual people.

While Mal was the ostensible hero of Those that Wake, his arc in that book was very much about showing him his limitations. Laura, meanwhile, had a more classic arc, essentially moving from dependence to self-sufficiency. I have, in what I hope are interesting and surprising ways, reversed their roles for What We Become. Laura takes on more classically heroic characteristics here, even going on a physical quest for something crucial, Mal has his arc ultimately and completely fulfilled.  Using his arc in the first book as a mere first step, I push Mal to those aforementioned limitations and see what he has to do to actually break through them.

I’ve also introduced two new characters to share the main spotlight, whose own development as characters serves not only to flesh them out, but to highlight other aspects of Mal and Laura, making all four of them into more fully-formed and psychologically complex and authentic characters.

3. Don’t take your readers for granted or leave them behind – If things went right, you’re going to have some returning readers. Some of them may remember the details of the story very well and some may only remember a few key moments and strong characters. At the same time, you’ve got to assume that there are going to be at least a few people who wandered into your story right in the middle. So, you’ve got to be able to gently recap crucial information without being intrusive or artificial about it. You’ve got to integrate the recap naturally into the flow of the new story.

Having new characters caught up in the ongoing adventure helps with this considerably, as they will need to be brought up to speed even as events proceed at an engaging pace. In What We Become, I have also tied some of the revelations into the mysteries of Those That Wake, not so that you need to understand what came before, but so that if you do, the current story will take on multiple layers, and revelations will have a larger impact. At the same time, I have also worked hard to create echoes of elements from the first book: character moments, lines of dialog, situations, even tricks I play with chapter titles. For those who went through the first part, you want the second part to recall it and to connect with it to create a larger, more complete structure, but not necessarily be dependent on it. That’s why, I figure, they put the word “companion” on the cover of What We Become, rather than “sequel.”

You always want to give your readers a deeper, more expansive experience. In a sequel, the most effective way to do this is to give them something they haven’t seen before but that improves and is improved by what they have seen before. In other words “more, but not the same.”

 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelJesse Karp is the author of Those That Wake, the sequel What We Become, and the non-fiction work Graphic Novels in Your School Library. He is also a school librarian in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.  Please visit him at beyondwhereyoustand.com.

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!

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

Kid Lit Critiques — A New Venture From Two Teen Writers Bloc Members!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 7 - 2012

kid lit critiques final banner JPEG 600x138 Kid Lit Critiques    A New Venture From Two Teen Writers Bloc Members!Announcement! Announcement! Jess Verdi and I have pooled our skills together to launch Kid Lit Critiques, a manuscript critiquing business. Check out a little more about us:

Dhonielle Clayton and Jessica Verdi are two girls in New York City, living the writerly life: attending kidlit events, reading the latest books and ARCs, meeting editors and literary agents… and, of course, writing! We received our MFAs in Writing for Children from The New School (Class of 2012) and we are both agented authors actively writing for children and teens. While at The New School, we studied under such esteemed instructors as David Levithan (author of over a dozen YA novels and founder of Scholastic’s PUSH imprint), Susan Van Metre (VP and publisher for Abrams Books), Hettie Jones (author of How I Became Hettie Jones and a Beat generation poet), Tor Seidler (author of several acclaimed children’s books, including National Book Award finalist Mean Margaret), Sarah Weeks (author of many picture books, chapter books, and YA novels), and Sarah Ketchersid (Executive Editor at Candlewick Press).

We have a fresh perspective on MG and YA literature while also keeping our fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry today. We are both members of SCBWI and while we both read and love all kinds of literature, our specific areas of expertise are different: Dhonielle is the Middle Grade expert, Jess lives and breathes all things YA. Dhonielle is also more fantasy-based, while Jess is down with the contemporary. It’s these differences that make us the perfect team for your critiquing needs – between the two of us, we’re able to cater to all different types of writing styles and genres!

We are both extremely experienced critiquers (those here at Teen Writers Bloc can attest) and we have started this joint venture because we know how valuable quality feedback is. Time and time again, we have received feedback on our own works-in-progress that opened our whole stories up for us. Oprah calls those “a-ha!” moments, and we know how crucial they are for a writer to take his or her work to the next level.

We wanted to start this business to give someone a workshop feel that might not be in an MFA program, who is in desperate need for unbiased feedback, but doesn’t have $600 -$1,000 to spend with a book doctor.

Our website was designed by the wonderful designer of the Teen Writers Bloc website, Navdeep Singh Dhillon, and it was an awesome experience. He built a customized site for us and arranged (and re-arranged!) the layout to meet our aesthetic tastes. Check out his writer-focused design company Pataka Design. He hand sketched every page so that we could see it before he built it which allowed us to see a rough idea of what it would look like before he started. He’s great!

Let us read your work. Come check us out!

 

Jess’s Cover Reveal for MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by Jessica Verdi On September - 4 - 2012

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

Okay, I know it’s not considered customary or proper to begin a blog post with what is essentially a scream, but I can’t help it. My book has a cover! Check it out:

9781402277856 3001 Jesss Cover Reveal for MY LIFE AFTER NOW

MY LIFE AFTER NOW, my contemporary YA novel, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire on April 1, 2013. Yes, that’s April Fools’ Day, but hey, that just makes the release date easier to remember! Here’s the back cover copy:

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 I love my cover! The Sourcebooks Fire design team really outdid themselves. I love the red dress (symbolic of the HIV but without being overly obvious), the stage-like lighting (the light flares are my favorite), and how she seems to be bravely facing her future—whatever it may hold. I also love the color scheme—it’s just so pretty!

Let me tell you—seeing my cover for the first time a couple of weeks ago made this whole “I’m getting published” thing a whole lot more… well, real. I cannot wait to get to walk into a Barnes and Noble and see my book on the shelves. Only seven months to go!

Click here to pre-order My Life After Now from Amazon!

Click here to add My Life After Now to your Goodreads list!

Book cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire

pixel Jesss Cover Reveal for MY LIFE AFTER NOW
Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: