Teen Writers Bloc

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Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional Truth

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On January - 27 - 2011

 Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional TruthWhen I read a book as a teenager with raging hormones and strict parents, I was looking to experience love alongside the character, because in my childhood household, dating was not an option. But while reading Neesha Meminger’s Jazz in Love, I was swept up in Jazz’s dilemma as her mother implemented the Guided Dating Plan to find her a suitable match, which often had me wondering, what kind of teenage boy would my mother have picked for me?

I caught up with Neesha Meminger to discuss matchmaking and how she achieves a deep layer of emotional truth in her novels.

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

I started out, like most writers, keeping a journal. And because English is my second language, I spent a lot of time constructing phrases, tinkering with word rhythms and, in general, figuring out how to wield the English language to the best of my ability. I grew up knowing the power of language because I saw my parents’ struggle outside of the house when they fumbled to say what they needed to authorities, school administration, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers, neighbors, etc. It was tough to see parents — two people I admired and knew were strong, intelligent, capable souls — being reduced to bumbling, nervous adults facing irritation and/or hostility from people in positions of relative over them. So, I worked very hard to gain a strong hold on the language I would need to protect and defend myself in the world outside my home.

And yes, I totally write full time. I am also a full time mother, I promote my books a huge chunk-of-time, try to run a home the other chunks-of-time, and desperately search for ways to find a balance between all that and my own personal need for quiet time, growth and rejuvenation. icon smile Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional Truth

How did you come up with the concept for Jazz In Love?

Jazz is a wise-cracking, wayward 17-year-old who keeps getting into trouble with her parents as she, ironically, tries to keep them happy (and meet her own needs at the same time). She is caught hugging a childhood friend in public and, because the friend is male, Jazz’s mother freaks out. She pulls out the big guns and sets out to find Jazz a suitable date so that Jazz doesn’t go poking around in unsuitable waters. What ensues is hilarity, a zany and hare-brained scheme involving Jazz’s own match-making, a celebrity, and a television show. At the end of it all, Jazz has to figure out what she really wants, and what she’s willing to do to get it.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where/when do you write? Where does your inspiration come from?

My typical writing day depends on where I am in the cycle. I have writing, rest, reading, and networking cycles, and sometimes a cycle of just complete daydreaming. But the typical day always starts with waking up far too early for my liking, and then:

1) taking the kids to school,

2) coming home, and starting the tea and breakfast ritual

3) eating and sipping while I catch up on email and visit my regular internet haunts

4) plunging into the work of the day

5) stopping when it’s time to pick up the kids

6) being on mommy-duty for the rest of the day

7) putting the kids to bed and mucking around on the computer for fun (or doing interviews like this one *smile*)

173505 618535284 7850699 n Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional TruthWhat has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

Oh my gosh, there have been so many surprises. But mostly I’ve enjoyed the process with all its ups and downs and loop-de-loops. In a nutshell, I wrote an epic novel over ten years ago, featuring three generations of Indian, Punjabi, Sikh women. I sent that to every single agent and editor I could find and was summarily rejected by each and every one of them. I revised, tweaked, started something new. I sent that around, again, to every agent and editor I could find. That, too, was soundly rejected. I continued like this until, eventually, the rejections became more personal and kind, and very helpful. I incorporated whatever feedback I received from the rejections and revised. I sent the revisions around again, to some new agents and editors who’d come onto the scene.

And then one of those agents contacted me. She said that I really had a knack for the teen protagonist’s voice and would I consider revising my manuscript to focus on her? I said, “HELL YEAH” (in my head) and sent her a nice reply saying Yes, I’d consider that and would she be open to taking a look at the revision? She said Sure. So that’s how it began. I signed with an agent, we worked on polishing my manuscript together and then sent it out. It was rejected in the first round of submissions. I was discouraged, but my agent said, “Why don’t we try another round before giving up?” So we did. And then we had interested editors.

The surprising parts for me are how hard I still have to work, even after publication. I must have thought things would be easy after that magical moment when the agent calls and says, “We have an offer!” But it was more work after that. And more work, still. Different kinds of work, to be sure, but lots of work, nonetheless.

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

Write the truth. Even in fiction, what people connect with is emotional truth, or something that rings true to them – and a writer can only provide that by writing the honest, brutal truth. That’s the best advice I’ve ever received and I wholeheartedly pass it along.

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

I absolutely adored Tuck, Everlasting and Judy Blume’s books and Paula Danziger and Lois Duncan and S.E. Hinton and . . . Oh, sorry — you said “book.” Without an “s.”

I just finished re-reading (because it’s so awesome!) Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix and will begin John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story next.

 Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional TruthWhat’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Here’s another surprise — I had no idea my work load would DOUBLE with the release of another book! But it has, and I’ve been busy trying to play catch-up. So I really haven’t had a chance to think about what is next, but I am hoping to do a follow-up novel to Jazz In Love somewhere in there. Super-excited about that.

Due to the ethnic content of your fantastic books, did you have trouble placing them at publishing houses? Is the myth of the “one ethnic book” per season alive and well? Was it harder to place Jazz In Love even though it was second book?

The answer to this is a complex. The publishing industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum — it is part of a larger system of beliefs and attitudes that have taken centuries to form. The challenges in the publishing industry are no different from the challenges of marginalized or under-represented folks in film and video, music, dance, theater, business, politics, etc. There are dominant, prevailing beliefs and assumptions in all of these areas. So, do I think that these perceptions affected the sale of either of my novels? They had to; we are all products of our environment. There’s the belief that books by people of color don’t sell, that books with covers featuring people of color won’t be bought, that only the group written about will be interested in buying a book about that group, and so on. These are real challenges and barriers for authors of color. It’s much like what publishing was like for women in the early days of publishing. In a male-dominated industry, the belief was that women’s writing wouldn’t sell, that men wouldn’t want to read work by women. As a result, women started up their own independent presses, they self-published, they founded collectives . . . they went directly to their readers without waiting for the okay from the male-dominated presses of the time.

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

Abso-frickin-lutely. I joined the Debs as soon as I realized there was a group of debuting authors, and that has been nothing short of a god-send. Truly. I would be much more insane if I didn’t have this community. I highly, HIGHLY recommend joining a writers’ group, or at least some sort of forum or community where you can voice your uncertainties, ask questions, toot your successes, and throw pity parties. It is an absolute necessity if you’re really serious, and if you’re in this for the long haul. I forget who said it, but this writing gig is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And trust me, you’re going to want some friends along on the journey.

The 100 Book Challenge: Start Reading Now!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 18 - 2011

2011 so far e1295322741293 224x300 The 100 Book Challenge: Start Reading Now!Recently, all of us here at Teen Writers Bloc posted our New Year’s Writing Resolutions. With our goals published for anyone to read, hopefully we’ll all be shamed into making 2011 our most productive year yet. But something important was missing from all of our lists—something almost as important to our writing as actually writing. I’m talking about reading, of course. Without reading, our language skills would wither and shrink like fresh, ripe, grapes turning into leathery, wrinkled raisins. Just as importantly, we’d lose hours of entertainment and priceless opportunities to learn more about the world around us.

If anyone thinks the following confession is hopelessly nerdy, I dare you to force your insults through the thick insulation of hardcovers that shelter me from the outside world: I keep track of the books I read—title, publication date, where I got the book, and the date I finished it. I’m ashamed to say that in 2010, I came in at a paltry 81 books. Now, this includes everything from graphic novels and 8 parts of the Gossip Girl series to lengthy nonfiction tomes. Maybe I should give myself credit for the kind of books that take weeks to read. And don’t I get any credit for magazines? Nope, it’s the raw number of books that I want to see, and my number last year wasn’t high enough. My goal this year: 100 books.

Average it out, and 100 books comes out to a paltry 8 and 1/3 books per month, or 1.92 books per week. With not only physical bookstores and ebooks, but also the public library and book-nerd friends to supply us, we should have no trouble getting all the reading material we want. The question is whether we’re going to let our jobs, school, friends, or reality TV get in the way.

So here’s my challenge to all the book lovers out there: read 100 books with me! At the end of the year, we’ll really have something to talk about.

Trailer of the Week: Beth Revis’ ‘Across the Universe’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 17 - 2011

across the universe big1 197x300 Trailer of the Week: Beth Revis’ ‘Across the Universe’North Carolina-based high school teacher Beth Revis’ debut novel, Across the Universe, is a murder mystery set in space. Intrigued? So were we, especially after watching this creepy book trailer, narrated by Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose.

The recently-released Universe centers on 17-year-old Amy, the daughter of two leaders who are on a mission to colonize a new world called Centauri-Earth. But first they’ve got to get there, so they’ve all been cryogenically suspended for the 300-year trip on the spaceship Godspeed. One glitch: Amy finds herself awakened 50 years early in what seems to be a murderous plot against the colony leaders — and Amy. She must unravel the mystery of who’s trying to kill her while trying to survive the rules of the brave new world aboard the Godspeed led by the mesmerizing mastermind Elder.

A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On January - 17 - 2011

Exclusively Chloe 1 200x300 A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It RightWhen I was a teen (and even now) I thought, “Boys, just don’t get it. They don’t understand girls!” But, then came J.A. Yang and…he gets it! J.A. Yang is the rooster in the hen house and has somehow discovered teen girls’ habits, fears, neuroses, and their deepest, darkest secrets and the proof is in his book Exclusively Chloe.

I caught up with J.A. Yang to discuss teen chick lit and how he accomplishes understanding the teen girl pysche.

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

I’m from San Diego by way of Taiwan and in elementary school I used to get in trouble for reading too much. I’d never written much of anything until right after college, when I started blogging up a storm.  Before that, I’d never taken any writing or literature classes aside from what was required and boy do I regret that now. I never actually wanted to be a writer specifically so it’s something that’s really found me. I didn’t realize until after my first book came out how random and lucky my path to publication was.

Before I officially became a writer, I was a video game tester. As soon as I found out my first book had sold — a non-fiction book about blogging — I quit my job and turned my attention to writing. Of course, a year or so later I had to re-enter the world of the nine-to-five and since then I’ve been hopping back and forth between the normal work life and the writing world. It’s only dawned on me recently that people can do both at the same time. To those who have a day job and write, I say this: Overachievers! I’m consistently awed by people who have families, significant others, pets, other jobs, and are able to carve out time to write.

Currently I don’t write full time and for a long time I was uncomfortable with calling myself a “writer” until I did. But now I’ve just decided to go with it.  If I don’t call myself a writer, who will right?

2. Can you give us a quick synopsis of Exclusively Chloe? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

Exclusively Chloe is about a girl adopted from China into the loving arms of celebrity parents. Her mom is an A-List actress and her dad is a rowdy musician. Since she’s the first celebrity adopted kid in Hollywood, Chloe-Grace grows up with the searing spotlight in her face and by the time she’s sixteen she’s so over it. Determined to figure out what a normal life is like, she undergoes a make-under and sets out to not only find her birth parents but also to escape the glare of the paparazzi.

One summer a few years ago, my friends and I participated in a fantasy celebrity league (like fantasy football but with celebs) and it turned out that the babies of stars were on the cover of US Weekly just as often as their parents – Sean Preston Federline and Maddox Jolie-Pitt accrued a ton of points that season. This got me thinking about what happens to these kids when they grow up, and since my agent was also playing in the fantasy league, we thought it would be a great idea for a book!

51X1eXhKqnL. SL500 AA300  A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right3. What’s your writing process?  Where does your inspiration come from?

For my blogging book and Exclusively Chloe, I wrote both manuscripts in huge uninterrupted blocks of time that involved shutting everything out except writing, sleeping, and eating. Sometimes not so much of the latter. I had never written anything longer than fifteen pages before and approached writing a book like it was a term paper for school. I crammed in ten hour writing days and emerged a few weeks later with tens of thousands of words. Then I’d recover and do it again for subsequent drafts and revisions.

Since meeting other writers, I’ve learned that it’s probably safer/better/more sane to set up a routine and write a few hundred or thousand words a day. As I’m a very schedule averse person, it’s been a struggle sticking to that kind of plan but I’m working on it. I still work best under duress and intense time pressure but that’s a habit I’m trying to kick.

Most of my inspiration comes from consuming lots of media. I’m always jotting down notes in my iPhone after seeing, hearing, or reading something. Most of those fragments lead nowhere but after enough time, I’ll re-read them and pick out some themes and items of interest.

4. What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

My path to publication was very lucky, as mentioned above. My now agent asked if I’d ever thought about writing a book — she liked my blog — and I said “Sure!” After giving her a huge long list of things I’d like to write about, we settled on blogging and that was my first book. The jump to YA happened in a similar fortuitous fashion (as I talked about in question two). At the time we explored doing Exclusively Chloe, I had no idea what the modern definition of “young adult book” was and was clueless about the genre. I went to the bookstore and picked up the #1 YA book on the shelves. “What is this Twilight business all about?!” That was late 2006 I think.

The most surprising part of the writing/publishing process is how much I didn’t know heading into it. Unless you have friends who are already authors — or in my case, fantastic agents to guide you — you really have no idea how things work. Every day is a learning process, from the writing to the editing to the marketing to the events to the community. It’s very exciting in that way.  Nowadays I think there’s more easily accessible resources and voices, especially online, and book blogs have really pulled back the curtain a little bit, which was not the case even three years ago. Since my interests are at the intersection of books and blogging, I’ve really enjoyed watching the scene grow.

 A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right5. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best advice I’ve ever gotten, and now regurgitate to others, is this: finish stuff. Everyone has projects they are working on, a great idea waiting to be fleshed out, and things they hope to accomplish. If nothing is ever finished however, there’ll never be anything to show. We all know GI Joe said that knowledge is half the battle but the other half must surely be following through. This is some advice I’m trying to follow myself right now actually.

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

My favorite book as a kid was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, which I thought was my own personal gem until I realized, embarassingly recently, that it was an ultimate classic. Growing up, nobody else I knew had ever heard of it but then I discovered that it had won the Newberry in 1979 and was made into a 1997 movie called Get a Clue! I’ll save you the trouble of watching it: the movie is terrible.

I just bought The Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl by Barry Lyga and the first School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari, both at The Strand, which is the best and worst place at the same time. Best for its huge YA section and the worst for wallets.

7. What’s next for you writing-wise — and otherwise?

I just moved to New York to explore the writerly community and it’s been all kinds of awesome. The sheer amount of YA related events is staggering and I’ve already been to Books of Wonder like four times in just as many weeks. Writing-wise, I’m waiting for edits on the sequel/companion novel to EC, thinking about other projects I can tackle — something for boys?! — and trying to finish the proposal for my much-talked-about, not- very-much-anticipated, relationship book.

n684137966 669837 1148 A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right8. How does a man write chick lit so well? How are you so “attuned” to female sensibilities and thought processes?

We should probably hold off on the “so well” and “attuned” until my relationship book drops. Then we’ll know if what I think I know about women holds true, or if I’ve just been spouting total nonsense all these years. The reason (I think) I can write about shopping and celebs and boys is all due to my twin sister, George, who grew up being focused on all of these things and passed her deep knowledge base onto me. Without her I would have just been a typical guy who grunts a lot and wonders why socks and sandals are a no go. Also, newest auto-fail: white socks with black shoes. Fellas, don’t do it!

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

The year EC came out, I joined a writing community, the 2009 Debutantes, and they’ve been amazing. It’s the only writing community I’ve ever been a part of and although I’m less participatory than I should be, I follow everyone and love to hear how/what they’re doing. And following the Teen Writers Bloc has been great too, as I like to think that all young adult writers are part of the same karass. (Which is a word that’s always stuck with me after hearing it on this My So-Called Life episode.)

I’ve never had a critique group, just critics, but I’m going to find one soon. Okay, I lied, I don’t even have critics. But with the start of the new year, I hope to get some of both because I think having people keeping my writing accountable and my focus laser tight is something I could definitely use. Just having people to talk writing and reading is a luxury I haven’t really had, so I’m hoping to build some of that in 2011.

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionEver since I was a child I was drawn to fantasy worlds. I ignored contemporary books where characters faced real world problems in favor of fantastical worlds, outer space adventures, monsters, demons and dragons. My father’s shelves were filled with space operas, high-fantasy classics, and alternate universes. I grew up coveting his book selection. I remember at some point in elementary school I attempted to read his book Dune. Dust, sand-snakes, and strange creatures kept me up at night.

So when I started writing for teens, I naturally gravitated toward fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction. I bought all of these how-to books on world-building and creating well-developed fantastical landscapes. It is a daunting task for an author to create an entirely new place with new rules and a unique sense of order. Also, children and teens are tough critics. They will let you know if a world doesn’t work. But they will also dive head first into whatever crazy sensibilities or events you have set up in the novel. They suspend disbelief better than any other age ground.

Here are some fantastical lands I enjoy:

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionKat Falls, Dark Life. This novel takes place in the future after the world’s cities are overcrowded and overwhelmed with people. Some families have become subsea pioneers and have communities along the ocean floor. Kat Falls masterfully builds her underwater world almost like the Wild West of America. Her pirates are reminiscent to outlaws and people on the run. I got introduced to this woman’s work at a round-table Writer’s Intensive at the SCBWI Winter Conference a few years back. She read the first 500 words of this novel out to us. We all loved the text, except for the grumpy agent assigned to our table. I bet the agent is kicking herself now. The movie rights have been bought and it is a strong book in the market.

In an interview, Falls states that she “came up with the premise for Dark Life during a writing exercise. I’d set myself the task of combining three things that my son loved to read about into one story – the ocean, Old West pioneers, and the X-Men. Suddenly, the world of the story took shape in my mind and the plot came together fairly easily after that.”

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials. Armored bears, dirigibles, dust, a golden altheiometer, daemons, a knife that cuts into other worlds, the land of death, angels, strange horse-like creatures called mulefas, witches, golden telescopes, aeronauts, etc… Even though Philip Pullman’s world is controversial and ruffles people’s feathers (well, maybe it’s only in America), it is a well-constructed place full of complex relationships, conflicts, creatures, multi-cultural characters, and a small, girl-child who must save the world. He takes well-used fantastical creatures, such as witches and angels, and refreshes them. He also creates an epic tale on a grand scale that is so multi-faceted I had to read the text several times to grasp what he was attempting to do. This text and world has so many textures. He blends traditional fantasy with steampunk elements (machinery and technology that are steam-powered).

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionI was first introduced to this series during my last semester in college. Strangely, I decided to go abroad during my senior spring semester and went to England. My undergraduate university, Wake Forest, has a house in north London off Hampstead Heath (right next door to Jude Law’s ex-wife and kids!). My English professor from the States accompanied us and we had to take an intense British Literature course, as well as British Theatre course. She included His Dark Materials on the course list because she had secured for us to see the stage play that was all the rave in London at the time. In 2005, The National Theatre had adapted the three books into an elaborate two-part stage play. Each part of the play was 2.5 hours. They used Japanese puppetry for the daemons and had a million different scene changes. It was one of the highlights of my time there.

Phillip Pullman has admitted a fascination with John Milton’s famous poem Paradise Lost based upon the Bible’s description of the fall of man and Satan’s rebellion. Pullman borrows the phrase “His Dark Materials” from Milton’s poem.

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionSuzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. This dystopian text masterfully builds the world around a Big Brother-type of government that elects teens to participate in a battle to the death. Collins does a fabulous job invoking the different districts in the ruins of North America through the everyday mundane things Katniss must do to keep her family afloat, such as hunting and bartering and traipsing through the Wild. I can’t wait to see how the world is adapted in the film version. I hope they pay close attention to how Suzanne developed her world so subtly.

During an interview with the School Library Journal, Collins said she was influenced and inspired by the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as Spartacus and the Third Servile War. Katniss’ story arc and struggle had many parallels to those stories.

C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia. The classic Narnia has endured and will probably always be on the shelf. Even though at times C.S. Lewis’ wordy prose and mixed mythological beings are frustrating as an adult reader, when I was a small child I adored all things through that wardrobe. I read every single Narnia book over and over again. When I was in Catholic high school, we had to study his work in a Religion class and we examined his Christian ethos and mythology in the text. As a child, I never thought of these things. It was just a story about 4 kids and all the adventures they went on.

Lewis has been said to be influenced by his writer friend, J.R.R Tolkien, writer of The Lord of the Rings, and his introduction to Christianity. He also borrows creatures from different mythological backgrounds, from Greek to Asian to Irish/Celtic and so forth.

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionTony Diterlizzi, The Search for Wondla. I came across this book recently and ploughed right through it. Eva Nine is a curious and sensitive 12-year old, who has existed only in a subterranean home called Sanctuary. She is looked after by a robot named Muthr. Eva’s greatest desire is to go above ground, and her wish comes true, though not as she had pictured. The illustrations that accompany the text are beautifully strange and magical and lure readers further into the text. I wanted to continue with the story and also turn the pages to see what illustration was next. There is also an online component to this novel, which is so cool. You can experience Wondla-Vision and hold the illustrations up to the computer screen and interesting things are revealed.

Diterlizzi is quoted in an interview stating, “WondLa is full of many classic sci-fi elements (robots, aliens, hovercraft, etc.), but it is a fairy tale at its heart. It contains many familiar fairy-tale plot motifs we all know of: a little girl lost in the woods, an evil huntsman after her, forest spirits who aid her in response to her own kindness and an uncaring queen who rules the land.”

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionScott Westerfeld, Leviathan & Behemoth. This steampunk series is a force to be reckoned with. Scott Westerfeld dives right into the genre. He re-imagines World War I with a global conflict between the Clankers, who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose technology is based on the development of new species. He follows Prince Aleksandar after his parents are assassinated and his people turn against him, as well as Deryn Sharp, who is training to be an airman with the British Air Service, and praying that no one will discover that she is a girl. Deryn serves on the Leviathan, a massive biological airship that resembles an enormous flying whale and functions as a self-contained ecosystem.

By definition steampunk is (usually) an imaginary Victorian age that features brass and copper clockwork and steam-powered inventions that extend beyond the scope of 1800s technology. The novels from this genre also include steam-powered mechanical wonders, gear driven computers, dirigibles, clockwork machinery etc…I appreciate this world because Westerfeld re-imagined an historical event and meticulously created machinery and clockwork to accompany it.

There are so many facets to Scott Westerfeld’s world-building it is hard to pin down everything. He’s interested in tanks, guns, and machinery from the WWI period, biology, airships, etc…Read more about it here.

All of these worlds took a great deal of complex world-building through scenes, characters, and powerful descriptions that doesn’t slow the narrative. I wish I could interview each author and determine the inspiration for their fantasy landscapes. In my writing class, I am privileged to be in good company with two other fantasy and science fiction writers: Mary Thompson and Amy Ewing. As the nosey person I am, I wanted to immediately know how they went about building their fantasy worlds. So check back to see how Mary Thompson, Amy Ewing, and I build our own worlds.

What are some worlds you like? What world would you like to live in? And how do you world-building?

Vernacular in Young Adult Fiction

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On January - 13 - 2011

 Vernacular in Young Adult FictionI’ve always known the power of language. I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t. The world is built on words; letters strung together and given meaning. Words are a beautiful, calligraphic foundation that informs our past, forms our current thoughts, and shapes our future. They open us up and can close us off to each other. Written words and language create the building blocks of pretty much everything. And just as powerful is the creation of vernacular.

As I continue to work towards my MFA at the New School, I’m constantly learning new aspects of writing and how best to improve myself. In the spring of 2010, I took a literature seminar, taught by author Robert Antoni, in the written vernacular. I learned more about the construction of a novel than in any other class. I only hope my brain will remember it when I’m ready to call upon it. I already use what I can when I construct my own prose and dialogue.

Vernacular is defined as a native or indigenous language written as it’s expressed. It can be constructed by the author, indicative of their own rules, or it can follow the oral traditions of the language (for example, being written phonetically, like how one would hear it spoken out loud), or it could be constructed out of an already established vernacular. It includes dialect, patois, slang and anything that makes the language seem authentic. It very much informs the voice, which is the one thing that really draws me into a novel. I’m trying to incorporate these ideas into my writing, because often times I find the voice of many teen novels to be too samey; there is nothing that sets them apart. And if I can tap into something realistic, I think it could really jump start things for me as a writer.

The book that really brought this to life for me was Push by Sapphire. While not published as a teen novel, Push is told from the perspective of an illiterate 16-year-old girl who is pregnant for the second time with her father’s child. She is the victim of incest, sexual abuse, and all she wants is to be white and pretty and free from her life. As the novel progresses and she learns to read and write (yes, at 16), the prose becomes more fluid, more like poetry. And the way Sapphire constructs the novel is really breathtaking. It begins zeroed in on Precious, and we’re really in the character’s mind, almost like a stream of consciousness. The prose is long, grammatically incorrect, almost incoherent in places. It used African American vernacular, ghetto slang, and dialects found traditionally in inner-city communities. As we see Precious grow, we slowly emerge from inside her head and become almost removed, especially when Precious’ own writing takes the place of her thoughts. At the end, the reader is completely out of Precious’ head, and into her writing. It’s almost as if the camera zooms out on Precious, having an opposite effect of most novels, which start out more broad and zoom in over the course of the book.

 Vernacular in Young Adult Fiction

There aren’t as many titles published under the young adult label that truly do what adult fiction does with vernacular. One book that does the vernacular extremely well is Coe Booth’s Tyrell. What Sapphire’s Push lacks in consistency with the construction and the individual vernaculars of each character, Booth’s Tyrell makes up for. There is fluidity there from cover to cover, and each character has his or her own set of rules.

Now, as a male writer, my goal is to bring some more testosterone to this wonderful blog. So, in keeping with that, I want to talk about MT Anderson’s Feed, which is one of the more recent novels I’ve read where the construction of a vernacular is completely new. What Anderson did was create his own slang and idiolect among Titus, the protagonist, and his friends. In doing so, Anderson was able to lure the reader into this world he created, where, in the future, it is completely believable to think that humans would have a computer or television feeding into their brains. It’s clear from the start that Titus is living in a consumerist society driven by advertisements, where, if you can’t think of a word, it’s fed into your brain (and usually it’s not what the reader would be expecting to see).  Using these ideas, combined with Titus’ inner monologues and the dialogue between him and other characters, Anderson has created a satire of our modern world, a book that examines our own more so than giving us a look at the fictional one in the text. Here, in Feed, teenagers are so connected to computers and technology that they hardly think for themselves, and their speech patterns are very indicative of Anderson’s views on teenage consumerist society.

 Vernacular in Young Adult FictionUsing a well-constructed vernacular, Anderson gives us his world through Titus, whose vocabulary parodies the worst speech patterns of the modern teenager. From the very start of the novel, Anderson thrusts the reader right into this world, and the vernacular is tightly wound around the feeds. The construction of the language shows a few different things. In the following quotation from the opening of the novel, Anderson shows us the vernacular he has created:

“We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like ‘I’m so null,’ and Marty was all, ‘I’m null too, unit,’ but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall.” (3).

The italicized words indicate slang that Anderson has created, which riffs on popular slang phrases in our modern society. “Shit-all” is a creation, an idiom, blending together very informal vocabulary usage that is reminiscent of the ephemeral quality of slang phrases language in our language. Anderson creates his slang in a very interesting way, using words in our modern dictionary, like “null” and “unit” and turning them into popular expressions. Here, “unit” is used as a term of endearment in place of “dude” or “guy” or “buddy.” Other words like “mal” for “malfunction” are other common slang terms used. The bolded words indicate an idiolect in Titus and his friends’ speech patterns. The text relies heavily on words like “like” and “all” and “thing.” These few words brilliantly construct the world of these teenagers better than any descriptor because it links the reader from our world to the one Anderson created seamlessly, and in a way that connects.

 Vernacular in Young Adult FictionAnderson utilizes words that are in our modern vocabulary, perhaps to ease the reader into the world he created. Words like “brag,” “big,” and phrases with obscenities (most popularly, the word “shit” in common slang phrases like “shit-stupid”), help to connect the reader to the text. In a world where fad slangs come and go, it was easy to buy into Anderson’s constructions, even though at times they seemed purely comical, purely satirical, commenting on the vapid trendsetting slang of our own ever-evolving vernacular. Even words like “fugue,” which, by definition means “a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect them,” were used as slang when describing when the feeds were overloaded with advertisements. It’s no coincidence when Anderson uses words and phrases like “fugue,” which pertain to psychological states and physiology, and turning it into modern slang for these characters. It gives humanistic qualities and a depth to the feed, like the feed has replaced their own personalities and mind-states.

One of the most interesting touches to Feed was the inclusion of made-up words. “Youch,” “meg,” “braggest,” “slurpy,” “bonesprocket,” “junktube,” “droptube” and “upcar” and variations of the like, are some of the words that kept repeating in the text throughout. “Meg” sounds like “mad” in our modern slang.

Through the vernacular, Anderson is commenting on our society, and the vapidity of teenagers and their lack of education on what goes on around them. Even through the use of e-mail terminology, Anderson is commenting on our society and our problematic dependency on technology. Titus and his friends live in a world where, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to verbally communicate. Thoughts travel like e-mails, from mind to mind, through these feeds. Even through the trademarked schools, we see how the words and letters on the page come together to construct not only a novel, but a vivid world for the reader. Anderson perfectly encapsulates this satiric world and brings it to life – for me at least – through the constructed vernacular.

As a writer, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to incorporate a real sense of vernacular into my prose. Each one of my characters has a different ways of phrasing things. Each one of my characters has a unique inflection. Isn’t that the whole point of writing? The whole point of creating new characters in new environments is to give them a voice, a story that’s uniquely their own. Here’s hoping I can accomplish what I set out to with language.

What are you thoughts? I’d love to hear from all the TWB readers out there in the blogosphere: Do you enjoy reading vernacular? Does it detract from your reading? Does it add to it?

 Blood, Bones and Gore: Horror and the Modern Childrens Book  An Afternoon at The Childrens Literary SalonOn Saturday, I attended a panel discussion at the Children’s Literary Salon in New York City with Adam Gidwitz, author of  A Tale Dark and Grimm, Kate Milford, author of The Boneshaker (that’s my great and fabulous friend!) and Michael Teitelbaum, author of  The Scary States of America.

I had read about The Children’s Literary Salon in the current SCBWI bulletin and how they had free ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) available, which fellow Teen Writers Bloc member Mary and I plundered. I took this wonderful opportunity to see my pal Kate “in action” discussing the horror elements of her book, as well as getting the scoop on The Children’s Literary Salon.The panel addressed the horror genre elements of the authors’ novels.

Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker ” follows Natalie Minks, 13, who likes machines — the way they make sense, the way all the gears and cogs fit together to make something happen. When Dr. Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show stops in at her father’s bicycle repair shop because a wagon wheel has fallen off and disappeared, Natalie knows that the man is not meant to fit into the machinery of her life. Her ailing mother has told her stories of bargains made with the Devil, and of besting wickedness by looking it right in the face. Limberleg has a collection of clockwork figures that work without being wound up and never seem to run down. When Natalie begins to have inexplicable visions of the malevolent forces facing Arcane, MO, she isn’t convinced that she is equipped to fight the evil at hand. Soon almost everyone is taken in by Limberleg’s promises of miraculous healing and snake-oil cures, and it becomes clear to Natalie that she is their only hope of survival. Enhanced by full-page drawings, this intricate story, set in the early 20th century, unfolds with the almost audible click of puzzle pieces coming together. In the Gothic tradition of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (S & S, 1962), The Boneshaker will earn itself a place in the annals of stories about children and the struggle between good and evil” (from School Library Journal, plucked from Amazon.com. It does so well with summaries! I need not even worry myself with trying to synthesize).

 Blood, Bones and Gore: Horror and the Modern Childrens Book  An Afternoon at The Childrens Literary SalonAdam Gidwitz “reweaves some of the most shocking and bloody stories that the Brothers Grimm collected into a novel that’s almost addictively compelling, with a disarming delicacy and an unexpected good cheer. He gives fair warning that this is no prettified, animated version of the old stories. “Are there any small children in the room now?” he asks midway through the first tale. “If so, it would be best if we just…hurried them off to bed. Because this is where things start to get, well…awesome.” Many of humanity’s least attractive, most primal emotions are on display: greed, jealousy, lust, and cowardice. But mostly it’s the unspeakable betrayal by bad parents and their children’s journey to maturation and forgiveness that are at the heart of the book. Anyone who’s ever questioned why Hansel and Gretel’s father is so readily complicit in their probable deaths, and why the brother and sister nonetheless return home after their harrowing travails, will find satisfying explanations here. Gidwitz is terrifying and funny at the same time. His storytelling is so assured that it’s hard to believe this is his debut novel. And his treatment of the Grimms’ tales is a whole new thing. It’s equally easy to imagine parents keeping their kids up late so they can read just one more chapter aloud, kids finishing it off under the covers with a flashlight, and parents sneaking into their kids’ rooms to grab it off the nightstand and finish it themselves” . (from School Library Journal, another summary yanked from Amazon.com)

 Blood, Bones and Gore: Horror and the Modern Childrens Book  An Afternoon at The Childrens Literary SalonMichael Teitelbaum weaves stories full of “aliens, ghosts, and monsters that haunt the pages of this eerie trip around the Scary States of America. With Jason Specter — the nation’s unofficial collector of all things paranormal — as your guide, you meet the girl in Illinois who can start fires with her mind, the Skunk Ape of Florida that knocks victims flat with its stench, the mischievous Shadow People of Arkansas, the Jersey Devil, the extraterrestrials who take human organs as a souvenir of their trip to Washington, and the wailing ghost of a teenage girl trapped forever in an Oregon lighthouse. Some of these visitors from other worlds don’t mean to hurt anyone . . . and some of them do.” (plucked from Amazon.com)

Each author came to writing children’s books in a different way. Kate Milford started out writing plays and then challenged her mother, a budding children’s book author, to finish book projects to enter into a contest. They both had to finish projects, which pushed her mother to get hers finished. Alas, Milford didn’t win the contest, but started the early text of what was to be The Boneshaker. Adam Gidwitz was teaching the 1st grade when he started telling stories. The tales were so good, his students followed him around in little huddles begging him for a story (even neglecting their lunches, which all of you elementary school teachers know is a HUGE deal). Michael Teitelbaum started out in comic books and worked in a building down the hall from a children’s book publisher. After the comic book imprint he worked for closed up shop, he headed down the hall and worked as an editor at that publisher.

The wonderfully quirky and sarcastic MC, Elizabeth Bird, a powerful force to be reckoned with in the children’s/teen book market with a fantastic blog, asked a slew of interesting, thought-provoking questions. Here are some of the highlights:

 Blood, Bones and Gore: Horror and the Modern Childrens Book  An Afternoon at The Childrens Literary SalonQuestion: Why did you write the books in the way you did?

Kate loves all things creepy and the strange instances in American history that she didn’t learn in middle school such as medicine shows and patent medicines. And she loves Ray Bradbury and his book Something Wicked This Way Comes. Adam implemented a curriculum on storytelling at his school and became interested in the goriness and darkness of the Grimm fairy tales. Michael was a huge Twilight Zone fan and started taking the nuggets of spooky legends and fleshing them out into stories.

Question: Are these books children’s horror? How does horror intersect with children’s books?

Kate revealed that in most of the feedback she’s gotten from kids and parents, that the parents think its horror, but not the kids themselves. Kids have told her they find the book creepy and were drawn to the oddities in her book. She believes horror enters the children’s book genre with the sense of the uncanny and when something that looks easily explainable takes on an element of the unexplainable.

Adam admits that he didn’t think of his book as horror. He revealed that he didn’t like horror until later in life and recently went through a flurry of re-watching horror films like Misery, The Shining, and The Exorcist and could see how they related to his book. He discovered the connection between fairy tales and how the horror genre takes a human anxiety that the reader or viewer has and then manifests it in the real world. He gave an example using Cinderella. The fairy tale takes the feeling of under-appreciation and gives it symbol, action, and character and realizes that fear within the structure of a story.

Michael discussed how the definition of a horror story has changed and evolved from Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula to a genre where horror is synonymous with bloody, in the new tradition of Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Kruger, etc…He prefers the term “scary” story rather than “horror” story because it captures the shift from the normal into the strange.

Dhonielle Boneshaker 300x208 Blood, Bones and Gore: Horror and the Modern Childrens Book  An Afternoon at The Childrens Literary SalonAll three authors expressed that they’ve gotten some criticism about the age-appropriateness of their books for the intended middle grade audience. Kate Milford describes the process of how they shopped her book around. First, it went around as a young adult novel, then morphed to 10 and older because adults felt 9 year-olds were too young. But Kate believes that everyone translates things differently, especially when it comes to scary stories. She also slide in that she feels parents are wimpier than their kids and she thinks there is a benefit for kids to experience fear. Adam Gidwitz put his email on the book jacket and receives great feedback from kids, but polarized adult responses. Many adults loved it and others didn’t like the intrusive narrator presence that serves as a story-telling device because his book is really full of oral stories that have been written. Michael Teitelbaum said he has been in children’s books for nearly 20 years and still doesn’t understand the age labels. He hasn’t received any criticism about the appropriateness of his book, but runs a blog where kids submit scary stories from their towns, and he says the age sweet spot is 11 and most of the kids ask: “Are these really true stories?”

 Blood, Bones and Gore: Horror and the Modern Childrens Book  An Afternoon at The Childrens Literary SalonOf course, I couldn’t resist and I had to ask the last question of the panel: Are you concerned about using the devil in your books and having the religious nuts after you?

(Full disclosure: This was a self-serving question since the devil makes an appearance in my book!) Each author has the devil in their respective books.

Kate emphasized that she extricated her devil from his religious constraints and uses him in the same way he shows up in American folklore as the ultimate trickster figure. She believes his presence is weaved into the fabric of America in a way that is separate than his role in religion and the Bible. Adam also agreed and his use of the devil was as a manifestation of humans’ greatest fears. A Jersey Devil shows up in Michael’s text and he concurred that the devil is part of America.

Question: So, what’s next for these authors? Will they continue to ride the train of blood, bones and gore?

Kate Milford says it’s, “Where I’m stuck for awhile.” She loves all things creepy and weird and has a prequel to The Boneshaker called Broken Lands coming out next year. Adam Gidwitz says he’s stuck in fairy tales and thinks the form is fun and loves “translating anxieties into blood.” Next up for him is another collection of retellings featuring the grandchildren of Hansel and Gretel, from A Tale Dark and Grimm, named Jack and Jill. Michael Teitelbaum will be hopping around a bit, he’s got a sports book coming out as well as other projects, but assures all that more creepy stories will be coming our way.

2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 28 - 2010
best of 2010 300x300 2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten
Using your holiday break to catch up on the 2010 reads that you missed this year? Well then, our year-end best-of comes just in time! From vampires to automatons and even New York City teens, we’ve got something for everyone on the Teen Writers Bloc hot list. Check it out!

Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Sona Says: Told in a muted, almost deadpan voice, this controversial novel centers on a date rape on a private boarding school campus. As the protagonist Alex unwinds what really happened to her that night, the Mockingbirds, an underground campus justice system, decides on its own version of the truth. In ways a modern-day take on the Chocolate War, journalist-turned-debut author takes on big themes like rape, violence, justice, shame and punishment in this taut, suspenseful and eventually cathartic novel.

Sell-Out by Ebony Joy Wilkins
Amber Says: I just started reading this – thank you Dhonielle, for the recommendation! — and it is already a book that I wish I had had access to when i was a teen. It talks about what it can be like growing up Black American in a predominantly White American, suburban setting, which is an issue that is not discussed nearly as much as other aspects of the Black experience. There are multiple layers to the black teen experience and Sell-Out seems to capture this well, given that ideally all variations of black teen identity should be depicted in literature. Not to mention, she’s also a New School Writing for Children alum!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Jessica Says: I loved every single second of this book. Two authors, two narrators, two teenage boy points-of-view. It’s funny and sad, realistic and whimsical, all at the same time. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine


Jane Says: I heard winner Kathryn Erskine read from this riveting middle grade narrative at the National Book Awards ceremony at the New School and the book definitely caught my interest. The story is told from the perspective of a fifth grade girl with Aspergers Syndrome. I thought this was a great book because it gives the reader a chance to see the world from a different point of view.


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Sona Says: A bullying story told from the mean girl’s perspective, Lauren Oliver’s deft debut touches on a hot-button issue without being preachy or pedantic. Instead, Oliver will have you hooked with her clever Groundhog’s Day meets Mean Girls premise as she slowly but surely unravels the final version of the tale while building an increasingly relatable protagonist.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
Jessica Says: This is a novella-length companion piece to The Twilight Saga, and it’s a fun, quick read. The story is all about Bree Tanner, the newborn vampire who is almost adopted by the Cullens in Eclipse but who is killed by The Volturi before she even gets a chance. While this new story doesn’t add much to the story of Edward, Bella, and Jacob, it is interesting to read from the point of view of one of Meyer’s ”bad” vampires — one who mercilessly kills people for their blood. Something else interesting about this novella: Stephenie Meyer and Little, Brown donated $1.5M from the sales of the book to The American Red Cross.

Incarceron by Catherine Fischer
Dhonielle Says: After exhausting myself with paranormal fiction, this dystopian book was a breath of fresh air in the teen market. Fischer creates a place so real, I thought it was somewhere on this earth. The darkness in the book was drawn so deftly.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Steven Says: When Dash finds a red moleskin notebook at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan littered with clues to various books throughout the store left by Lily, so begins the back and forth passing of dares between the two protagonists. Just when you think the narrative is going one way, it takes a completely different direction. Dash, written by David Levithan, is a typical Levithan male character, not unlike Nick from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Rachel Cohn’s Lily, however, is Norah’s antithesis: a shy girl who never thought anybody would find and play along with the clues in the moleskin. It’s the refreshing and unique voices that keeps readers on their toes. Not to mention the amazing collaborative efforts between Levithan and Cohn. Definitely check it out!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Corey Says: I love The Hunger Games in a way that is detrimental to my relationship. This long-awaited final installment offers a satisfying end to teen fiction’s most riveting trilogy.

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Dhonielle Says: I loved everything about this book: small town, medicine show, the devil, automatons, and a red bicycle. The writing is stellar and can be enjoyed on multiple levels. The atmosphere of the book is spooky, intelligent, and haunting from the very first page. Milford creates a fabulous tomboy heroine, a multi-faceted villain, and weaves a tale of good vs. evil that is fresh and engaging.

Holiday Gift Guide: This Season, Let Love Be The Higher Law

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On December - 22 - 2010

love Holiday Gift Guide: This Season, Let Love Be The Higher LawWracking my brain for the perfect holiday gift this year, I had to look no further than the expansive collection of books on my own shelves (but no re-gifting, I promise). I’ve been telling anybody that would listen to me in the last year and change to read Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan.

Law tells the story of three teens in New York during the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Peter, Jasper and Claire don’t all know each other, but their lives intertwine and they all become a part of each other because of the after-effects 9/11. Written from three perspectives, the book is a triumph of superb and heartfelt writing as well as story. As a writer, this is something that I covet and wish I could accomplish. As a reader, how could I not completely fall in love with a book that had me reaching for the Kleenex, laughing out loud, sighing from its immense beauty, and rapidly turning each page. For me, the mark of a good book is how fast I read. I often find myself slowing down when I reach the last thirty or so pages because, while finishing a good book is fulfilling, it’s sad because the end of exploring something new is just around the corner. I had to force myself to NOT slow down, simply because I couldn’t stop reading.

I never thought a novel about such a tragic event could be so inspiring, and carry such a strong message of hope. David Levithan’s exploration of Jasper, Claire and Peter will definitely leave your holiday season feeling that love, indeed, is the higher law.

Holiday Gift Guide: Sona Suggests “The Secret Circle”

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 21 - 2010

secretcircle Holiday Gift Guide: Sona Suggests “The Secret Circle”If the teen in your life is addicted to the Vampire Diaries, and the best-selling L.J. Smith series the CW hit is based on, then have I got the book for you!

It’s L.J. Smith’s first series, The Secret Circle, published back in the day when I was in high school. And for those who like to be in the know, it’s also about to become a hit (no doubt) CW series.

The original trilogy (recently re-issued in a two-book set) follows the travails of Cassandra, an all-American California girl who finds herself stuck in New Salem, Mass., when her mom heads back to her hometown to take care of her ailing grandmother. There, she runs afoul of the powerful popular crowd, a bunch of kids all born within 24 hours of each other. Naturally, they’re a coven of witches who rule the school — and the town. But factions within the group threaten to hit the boiling point any second.

When the girl who’s supposed to become the final member of the coven dies in a freak accident, half-breed Cassie is inducted in her place. She’s befriended by coven leader Diana, who’s all about fairness and light. But a sordid secret keeps Cassie in the clutches of villainous Faye, who uses the information to try to take Diana down. Will Cassie be a good witch or a bad witch? What secrets does the old town of New Salem hold? And will she ever hook up with the mysterious and beautiful young man she met when she first got to New Salem? The Secret Circle is a juicy, fun fantasy that will leave you wanting more.

But what really elevates it above the typical teen fantasy is Smith’s careful world-building. She bases each of the 12 witches on an ancient Greek god, incorporating the mythology into their magic. Given the richness of the text, I can’t wait to check out what they do with the CW series. And if your favorite teen (or adult, for that matter) loves fantasy, they’ll be all about The Secret Circle too.

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