Teen Writers Bloc

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

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

Posted by On February - 19 - 2013

Dear 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 […]

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

Posted by On January - 15 - 2013

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

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

Posted by On September - 7 - 2012

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… […]

Jess’s Cover Reveal for MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by 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: MY LIFE AFTER NOW, my contemporary YA novel, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire on April 1, 2013. Yes, that’s April […]

Cover Reveal: Escape from the Pipe Men!

Posted by On August - 22 - 2012

Hello, Teen Writers Bloc Readers! I’m so excited to unveil the cover for my second novel, Escape from the Pipe Men! And yes, the exclamation point is part of the title. Take that, exclamation point haters!!! The book is about a couple of kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on […]

TheListBook Alyson Thinks Your Point of View Matters Most“Always remember that it is of no consequence to you what other people think of you. What matters is what you think of them. That is how you live your life.” – Gore Vidal

When I heard Gore Vidal give this advice on Charlie Rose, I didn’t just pause my DVR. I swear, I felt my life pause. He seemed to be talking directly to me—writer/secret seventh grader (posing as an adult) who worries and wonders way too much about what other people think. I know I am not alone in the self-doubt department, especially among authors. But the idea that my perspective matters the most and that the way I see things is how I live my life—that got me thinking—not just about my personal point of view, but also about the characters I write and their perspectives.

Why are some characters able to hold our attention? Is it the way they see other people? Themselves? Their world? Is it the choices they make? And when a story requires more than one perspective, how can all the points of view matter? Do they have to matter equally?

I’ve done my best to read most of the new releases in Middle Grade and YA, and from what I’ve learned, there is no formula to writing a believable, engaging perspective. There isn’t one way to tell a story. Anything goes, as long as it is done well. But the way your characters see things—regardless of the first, second, or third person—matters a lot. It’s like any magic potion—lots of love, a pinch of common sense, and a few funny, unexpected ingredients.

Before I read The List by Siobhan Vivian, I was skeptical about a book told from 8 points of view. Anyone else feel that way? I wasn’t sure I’d be able to connect with the characters or follow all of the story lines. I have trouble juggling so many details. But it works. I was surprised as I read along that I didn’t get lost or have to flip back and re-read. I liked having the chance to dip into different people’s minds, to see the story of The List their way, and experience how each of them viewed the world around them. I liked that the novel belonged to each of them for a moment. For me, it solidified Vidal’s point, that what matters most is the way you see things—your point of view.

Book cover image courtesy of PUSH

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Navigating Early 198x300 Characters We Love: Clare Vanderpool’s Early AudenThis month we’re talking about our favorite characters. I recently had the pleasure of reading Clare Vanderpool’s new historical middle grade Navigating Early. The book takes place at the end of WWII, and I loved that even though the book is set in a certain era, there were no hit-you-over-the-head era clichés. I’ve found obvious era markers to be a problem in some children’s historical books, and once I saw that this book wasn’t going that way, I knew it was going to be something special. But the real reason the book is special isn’t the setting or even the narrator and ostensible main character, Jack. Jack, who at the beginning of the book is dropped off at boarding school feeling lost and alone, is sympathetic but not particularly unique. It’s when Jack meets Early that the story really gains its heart.

If Early were growing up today, he’d probably be diagnosed with some form of autism, but in the world of the 1940s, he’s not a kid with a “disorder”—he’s just weird. He sits in the basement room he’s commandeered listening to music and doing whatever he feels like, since no one forces him to go to class. He has to listen to Billie Holiday when it’s raining, and he takes everything literally, and he’s always sure he’s right, but he’s also the most friendly and open person Jack meets. We soon learn that Early is obsessed with the number pi and a story he tells about it, and what happens to the numbers as they go on. I confess that I didn’t like the pi story or some of the parallels between it and the main story. I’m just not a fan of coincidences. But I loved Early’s insistence on his story, and how he knew exactly what he had to do, and how he was such a good friend and so earnest and likeable that Jack just had to go along with it. I love it when the weird kid is the hero, and I love seeing a character who could be seen as disabled portrayed as uniquely loveable and intelligent and strong-willed. I understood why Jack was willing to follow Early on his crazy quest into the wilderness because I probably would have done it too!

Cover image: Delacorte Press

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Gone Fishing Debut Author Interview: Tamera Wissinger talks GONE FISHINGIt’s release day for another of our author-friends here at Teen Writers Bloc and Tamera Wissinger was kind enough to stop by and chat with us about her debut children’s book, GONE FISHING, writing-in-verse, and the joys of being outside! 

 

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

From the time I was very young, I’ve loved rhythm and rhyme, stories and storytelling. After I studied English in college, I went into the most illogical field: Human Resource Management. During that time I did a great deal of business writing, and I wrote stories and poetry at nights and on weekends. Eventually, the call of poetry and story writing became stronger. I’m fortunate to now be able to pursue writing full time.

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

Gone Fishing is about a young boy, Sam, who is excited for a fun fishing day with his dad, but when Sam’s little sister Lucy wants to come along, he’s afraid she’ll ruin the fun. There is also a section of nonfiction end matter called The Poet’s Tackle Box, where I’ve included tips and information on poetry writing and poetic forms.

The story is told through a series of poems, and it came to me in pieces, first as a single poem that is the opening to the book, and then a few other poems that created a poetry collection. Sam and his dad were the two main characters. Once Lucy came into the picture, the conflict began to develop and the story started to take shape. Even though the characters are fictional, I did draw on my fun memories of fishing with my own family when I was young.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

I’m usually an early riser, and my preferred habit is to wake up, eat breakfast, workout, get ready, and be at work in my home office by 9 a.m. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s my ideal since my most creative energy is in the morning. If I’ve had a productive morning, and/or am not on a deadline, I’ll do something else in the afternoon, maybe research for submissions, market, or my favorite non-writing activity: read. If I’m on deadline, I’ll keep writing in the afternoon or after dinner, even, to try and push through to the end.

My inspiration comes from a combination of my imagination, my memories and experiences, and my surroundings. Wherever I am, being outside and feeling connected to nature helps spark my creativity. I’m lucky to live in south Florida where there is an abundance of flora and fauna to feed my artistic side.

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

I just came across notes from the first children’s writing workshop that I took and was surprised to see that it was ten years ago! After that I joined SCBWI, met a network of fellow authors, became brave enough to receive feedback on my work, took more classes, and eventually attended and became a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. All of those interactions helped prepare me for work on Gone Fishing.

As far as the book, the opening poem that I mentioned was published as a stand-alone in a magazine in 2007, so technically I began work on this story more than five years ago. Houghton Mifflin accepted the book in 2011, and my editor and I worked on it together from there.

The most surprising part of the process is really a confirmation of something that I believed: that there is a warm and welcoming community of publishing professionals, booksellers, librarians, teachers, and authors who all value placing quality stories into the hands of children.

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

Something that my husband told me: “If you want to write, then write.”

To that, I would add: give yourself what you need to be successful. Learn, connect, join a critique group, immerse yourself in reading and studying children’s literature, write and rewrite until you have a story that’s polished and then think about connecting with an agent or editor.

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

When I was a middle grade reader I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and I still love Pippi. While Pippi is comical as an independent, strong, rich, and often inappropriate girl, at the heart of the story she’s also lonely and vulnerable, which made me love her even more.

I just finished a wonderful novel by debut author Tim Federle called Better Nate Than Never. It’s about a boy who runs away to New York City to try out for the lead in E.T. The Musical. Tim writes with a striking balance of passion, wit, and tenderness.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Because much of my work is short, I go back and forth between several projects at a time. Right now I’m writing more poetry, a couple of quirky picture books, and a middle grade novel. I recently learned that my first picture book, a counting concept book, will be published by Sky Pony Press!

Aside from writing, I received a stand up paddleboard for Christmas and I’m learning how to maneuver that on the water. There is an art and science to doing it well.

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

I think that both critique groups and writing communities are helpful and essential to writers. Because writing is almost always a solitary act, we don’t have the usual social outlets, quality checks, and direction that come with a traditional work environment. Critique groups and writing communities help fill that void, both as a quality and directional check on our work, and as a way to simply be connected with others who understand the challenges and joys of being an author.

What made you decide to write a novel-in-verse? What challenges did you face that might be unique to writing in verse as opposed to traditional prose? 

When I originally submitted the story, there were about twenty poems – enough for a picture book length story. My editor had the brilliant idea of trying to expand the number of poems to tell a deeper, broader story, and move the book from a picture book format to a novel in verse format. That meant doubling the poetry to around forty poems, and also adding the end matter poetry descriptions. I was all for it and went to work.

The biggest challenges as the story evolved were to make sure that the new poems helped advance the story, and that those poems offered an additional variety of poetic forms. It was almost like putting together a puzzle, with every subsequent piece becoming more challenging to put into place.

It was great to learn about Gone Fishing! We’ll have to get our hands on it. Thanks for stopping by, Tamera! 

Thank you for hosting me at Teen Writer’s Bloc today, Caela!

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13496312 1 Debut Author Interview: Nicole McInnes discusses BRIANNA ON THE BRINKThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Nicole McInnes, whose conteporary YA novel, Brianna on the Brink, hits on March 15. The book explores the devastating effects of a steamy one-night stand. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Nicole to chat about the book, the writing process, and the long path to publication.

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

I was born and raised just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, which meant I got to hang out in all sorts of cool places as a teenager — places like Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and The Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. I went to college at UC Santa Cruz for my undergraduate years and then moved to the mountains of northern Arizona for graduate school. I consider both states my home, though I still live in the mountains. As an undergraduate, I came to a crossroads where I had to choose between creative writing and theater arts as a major. I went with writing and haven’t looked back since. I think what most made me want to write were all the incredible books I’d read since childhood. I split my workday between writing my own books and teaching university writing and literature classes, which is a good fit for me.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Here’s the scoop: Sixteen-year-old Brianna Taylor finds herself lost, alone and with a major surprise in store after a one-night-stand. Just when she’s got nowhere left to turn, help arrives from the one person who is closest to her big mistake, but accepting that help will leave Brianna forced to choose between clinging to the ledge of fear and abandonment – or jumping into the unknown where a second chance at hope might just be waiting.

The concept came to me thematically, which is to say I was thinking in terms of the big “what if” questions — questions like, “What if a married woman was betrayed in a major way by a teen girl who ended up being more of a lost child than an easy-to-hate villain?” I initially thought of the story from the woman’s point of view, but it wasn’t long before Brianna’s voice was the one demanding to be heard.

My process started with a lengthy drafting process followed by bribing my best beta readers to have a look followed by sending it off to my agent. I’m lucky to have a highly editorial agent (Stacey Glick at DGLM), so she and I worked on the manuscript some more before it was ready to go out. Once it landed at Holiday House, I got to work with editor extraordinaire Sylvie Frank, who really helped me make the story shine. I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve getting to work with such amazing people, from Stacey and Sylvie to the art and publicity folks at Holiday House, but there you have it.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

What is this “typical writing day” of which you speak? Seriously, my process is a bit of a glorious mess, but so far it seems to work pretty well. I try to write in the mornings, since that’s my most productive time, but the ideas really start flowing at night after I’ve gone to bed, turned off the lights, and am drifting into Lullaby Land (which is why I’ve learned to always keep a pad of paper and a pen in the nightstand. I’m pretty good at writing in the dark, too). I almost always write at home, since the background noise of a café or other, no doubt more interesting, place would drive me batty. My initial inspiration for characters and plots comes from anywhere and everywhere — from news stories to snippets of conversation I’ve overheard to songs on the radio…you name it.

What has your path to publication been like? 

My path to publication has been a long (decade-plus), uphill battle that, at times, felt like I was tunneling through solid rock with a cereal spoon. I’m looking forward to finally being an overnight success. The most surprising part of the entire journey has been the fact that I honestly wouldn’t change anything about it. This may sound barf-able to writers still struggling to get an agent or a book deal (and my 2005 self would probably slap me upside the head if she could), but it’s the truth. For one thing, I’m glad I’m debuting now in this age of instant connection with readers and other writers via social media. Also, I have a nagging suspicion that I needed the toughening up all those years of discouragement, envy and existentialist woe provided.

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

The best writing advice is, hands down, this: Don’t ever give up. Never. Ever. Do you hear me? Well, I mean, give up if you decide you really don’t want/need to write, but if you’re intent on writing and selling books, you may well have to suffer through many levels of incredibly unpleasant, fire and brimstone badness to do so. Then again, you might be one of those perky 20-somethings who lands an agent and a book deal on the first try almost without thinking about it. In which case, good for you, Snowflake! (*grits teeth*)

 Debut Author Interview: Nicole McInnes discusses BRIANNA ON THE BRINKWhat was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I was a pretty active reader as a kid, so it’s hard to pick just one favorite book.

I loved Judy Blume’s Blubber and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (natch). Also, I *may* have snuck behind my elementary school with a bunch of other girls so we could quickly flip through to the naughty bit pages in Forever, but that’s most likely just a rumor. Various horse stories — like The Black Stallion and Black Beauty — were always a big hit with me as was Wilson Rawls’ classic Where the Red Fern Grows, which I read over and over (even though I’d end up doing the extended ugly cry every time I reached the end).

I am currently reading Ransom Riggs’ mind-scrambling (in a good way) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I have a completed manuscript draft in the hands of my agent and another that I’m just starting. Both are contemporary young adult, since I’ve fallen head-over-heels for the genre. One of these days, I plan to take a trip outside the house where I’ve heard there’s nature and something called “the sun.”

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

Yes to both! I’m a member of The Lucky 13s and The Class of 2K13, and I’ve learned so much/laughed so hard with debut writers from both groups. Writing is such a solitary act by its very nature, so connection in whatever form works is a good thing.

 Thanks for stopping by, Nicole! 
Photo Credit: Holiday House
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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.

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 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!

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Jean-Paul Loves a Good Jerk

Posted by On February - 18 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

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

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

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

Here are some of my favorite jerks in literature:

The Mysterious Jerk: Gentleman from Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your writing process? 

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

What has your path to publication been like? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Harlequin Teen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was appalled.

I was irritated.

I was disappointed.

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

Here’s my take:

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

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

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

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

The John Green Problem

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

Multiple Titles by the Same Author

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

What is the criterion for these lists?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

pixel For Sona, the Proof Is In the Proofing?>2 COMMENTS
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