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 […]

three fingers Jean Pauls Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Better WriterHow to become a better writer in 3 easy steps (or, what I learned this semester):

1. Be open. Sometimes, the story just isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to start all over. Putting glitter and a bow on a turd makes it pretty, sure, but it’s still a turd. All of the editing, rewriting, and revising in the world isn’t going to make a story better if the core of it, meaning the characterizations, the plots, the dialogue, is all clichéd and uninspired. I had an idea and wrote pages and pages and pages on it; over three hundred pages, in fact! And I had to throw them all away. On the second attempt, I wrote about five chapters and I had to throw them away, too. It wasn’t until the third try did everything start coming together. I changed the location, the ages, and personalities of the characters. The main story stayed the same, but the events leading up to it changed. Instead of a rambling prologue, I inserted the most relevant parts into the story, allowing the information to unfold naturally. And now, finally, the story is becoming what I always imagined it could be. So, be open to letting things go. Be open to giving up on something if writing has become a punishment instead of something you enjoy. Be open to starting fresh if that’s what it will take to make the story a good one.

2. Try new things. A few months ago, I had never done an outline, or written chapter two before writing chapter one, or done any sort character development exercises, such as figuring out a character’s like and dislikes, what scares them and what excites them, etc. But after rewriting the same story three times (see No. 1), I knew I needed help. So I gave outlining a try. I found some different outlines that seemed to work for my story, cobbled them together into one perfect outline, and filled it in. Now I could see the bigger picture. I knew why each chapter, each sentence was important. Everything fell into place.

And when I got to the sections that I just didn’t feel like writing, I took some advice from my friends and skipped them so I could get to the parts that excited me. Forcing myself to write the sections I thought of as boring was only going to make those sections boring. So I decided to write them later and work on the parts I couldn’t wait to write. If I hadn’t skipped ahead, I’d probably still be working on that missing section, stuck in an endless loop of trying to turn lead into gold by editing, rewriting, and revising something that just wasn’t working.

As I was working on the third attempt, I noticed I was writing my characters in ways that worked for the plot but made them act out of character. So it was back to the drawing board because I didn’t know my characters well enough to keep them consistent. I had to try some exercises to get to know them better and it worked. Now their reactions are authentic and they don’t come across as weak when I want them to be strong. I needed to spend more time with them, get to know them, outside of the story so that I would know how they would act in the story.

3. Share. I cannot express how much sharing fuels creativity and makes you a better writer. Sharing what you’ve written or ideas and talking them through with someone lets you see the flaws in your story and come up with ways to fix them. In class, someone pointed out a clichéd scene and while we were discussing it, I came up with a brilliant new idea that was totally fresh and made the story exciting. If I hadn’t shared the scene so that we could discuss our thoughts, I would have never been able to see it from someone else’s perspective or had that epiphany. And sharing with another also gives you feedback on what you’re doing right, so that you can do it again and again and again, all the way to the end.


Jane Wants a Pony for Christmas

Posted by On December - 12 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

pony e1354835731318 300x225 Jane Wants a Pony for ChristmasDear Santa,

I’ve been very good this year. I didn’t tease the cat and I ate all of my vegetables (well, most of them). I asked for a pony last year, but you never brought one. Maybe you forgot? I understand, it’s not easy to fit a horse in to your bag, even if it is a small one.

This year, I want something different. If you check Amazon, you will see that I have 68 books on my wish list. Wait, you can’t see it because I made my list private. I’ll tell you which ones I would like to find under my Christmas tree:

Reached by Ally Condie. It’s the third book in the Matched trilogy and it’s about a girl who lives in a society where choice is taken away. Have you read it yet? If not, you really should. And then you can appreciate how I chose to ask for books that are simple to carry instead of a pony.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang. This one is about two souls, Eva and Addie, who share one body. As they get older, one soul is supposed to fade away and the remaining one has full control of her body. It’s common in their world. What’s not common is that Eva hasn’t gone away and she would do anything to be able to move again. I think it’s similar to how there’s a part of me that still really wants that pony.

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. A YA book filled with short stories about teens trying to survive World War 3, alien invasions, a new ice age and any other catastrophe you can think of. It would be really useful to have a pony in these types of situations. You know, for travelling or just for company when most of the population is wiped out and I need to look for survivors.

Santa, you can see I like reading about dystopian societies and fantasy. As long as we’re on the topic of fantasy, I think it would be really great if I found a pony under my tree this year.


Jane and Sprite (the name I chose for my future pony)

Drawing done by Jane Moon


frustration.gif 300x201 Amys Advice (Not) Looking Forward: Its Okay to Be BadI’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, and this year will be no different. “Resolution” is such a stressful word. But I’m going to need something to get me through 2013. So what I’ve come up with is this.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

Now, as a debut author with an outstanding agent and a superb editor, things are often sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and puppies. I have worked incredibly hard on my first book, which has undergone two major revisions and is hopefully nearing that wonderful moment when my editor will proclaim, “Yes! This is just how we want it. Send it to the copyeditor!” And I will dance around my apartment with joy.

And then the realization will slowly sink in. Book One is over. I have to write Book Two now. A first draft. Something entirely new.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written a first draft of anything, and to be honest, I am terrified. I’ve never written anything with so much expectation on it. Writing a first draft is like learning how to walk again, which is just about as much fun as it sounds. Lots of falling down, bumps and bruises, awkward movements. But I need to let myself off the hook. First drafts are supposed to be bad — they are where you fumble around and screw up and figure it out. I need to give myself permission to fail, to try things that may not work. I need to go into a little hole and pretend that I’m writing this book just for me, because at the end of the day, loving your story is the most important thing.

Of course, I say this now. I’m certain there will be dark times ahead, times where I think, “I can’t do this. I’m a failure. Why did anyone ever buy this series in the first place?? It’s terrrrrrible!” And hopefully, I’ll remember my 2012 words of encouragement.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.


Photo Credit: www.theelitemembership.com


 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)This fall, for the first time in 24 years, my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is ranked #1, has a 12 and 0 record, and is heading to the National Championship in  Miami in January to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in a fight for the crystal football.

(For you non-sporty people, that means they played twelve games, won them all, and get a chance to become this season’s champions.)

Twenty-four years ago, I admit I didn’t pay all that much attention to college football. I was a six-year-old girl. (Although, if you asked me, I would have told you I liked Notre Dame.) So, to me and everyone in my generation, this feels pretty remarkable.

But, this fall, other than the success of my football team, our recent graduation from The New School, and my new marriage, life was usual.

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)My husband (who is thankfully also an Irish alum) and I attended five football games — three at Notre Dame, one in Boston, and one in Dublin, Ireland, which we fit in on the way to our honeymoon. At the end of our honeymoon, after traveling for 24 straight hours home from Crete, we watched the Michigan State game on only a slight delay before getting some sleep. The next weekend, I was at a beautiful wedding and I spent the reception as one of four heads bent over the same iPhone to watch the Michigan game streaming live. (I felt slightly bad about this until the bride called out to me to ask about the score.) And suffice it to say, I lost my voice shouting at the TV in the Public House in New York City during the Oklahoma and USC games.

But my football commitment goes beyond simply watching and attending the Notre Dame games. My family spent hours of Thanksgiving Day talking about who would go to which bowls. My friends and I email/Facebook/Tweet constantly about this subject. My husband and I, along with our friends Linda and Nestor, wrote a musical tribute to our star defensive player, Manti Te’o, to the tune of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” And, in some ways, this year’s time commitment has barely taken its toll because the Fifth Annual Carter Bowl (in which the members of my family pick teams and then trash talk brutally for the entirety of bowl season, all in a fight for the Carter Bowl trophy, pictured above — and, yes, that is a toilet bowl…) has not yet begun!

And yet, somehow, this was fall-as-usual for me in one other way. This year, for the third year in a row, I wrote the bulk of an entire draft of a novel during football season. In fact, during fall of 2010, (I attended four football games, moved to New York from Chicago, and spent every other Saturday watching football non-stop) I managed to complete my first draft of Me, Him, Them and It, which will become my debut novel when Bloomsbury publishes it this winter.

The past two years I marveled at this productivity. I thought to myself, “Imagine what I will accomplish in the winter when my brain can be consumed entirely by writing.”

But not this year. This year, I peer nervously ahead toward the winter months. Because in the past years, winter, spring and summer have not been ripe with words and inspiration the way I have planned. In some trick-math equation, more time does not equal more pages. So instead, I have to wonder, “why am I most productive during football season?”

Perhaps it’s simply the fall. As someone used to being on a school-schedule, maybe I’m just most productive when the leaves change because that was always the symbol of fresh starts and a new year. But, I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s that football provides some sort of structure for me. I always work hardest when there is a reward in store: write five pages today, go out to dinner tonight. But anyone who has followed a team like Notre Dame knows that this doesn’t necessarily work the same way. Because you are going to watch the game whether or not you deserve it. And because you approach the game with trepidation, unsure of whether it will be reward or torture.

No, after much thought, I’ve concluded that it’s pretty simple. I’m most productive during football season because I’m happiest. I mean, I’m a pretty darn happy woman in general, but during football season, even when we’re losing, I always know what my plans are on Saturday. In the moments that I’m being driven crazy by the world falling into the torrents of political upheaval and violence, I can always distract myself with a somewhat more trivial article on ESPN.com. And most importantly, my geographically disparate friends and family somehow feel a little closer when I know exactly what they’re all doing for at least four-hours of each week. (But it’s better when we’re winning.)

And, for me, happiness, more than time, leads to pages.

So now I just need to figure out something to create this much happiness in the winter. And don’t say basketball. I don’t have time for that!

Photo (and trophy) credit: Rich Carter


Pig with Money 300x297 Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t WorkSo lately I’ve been trying to come up with some new ideas. Chickens. Pot roast. Time travel three minutes. Ice dancing. What? Oh yeah, I’m writing a blog post. I’ve been trying to come up with ideas. Six documents open, three pages of notes, eighteen prom scenes, three aliens. Ten more documents open. Let me look at all of last year’s files. Wait, I wrote 20,000 words of that? Hmm. Mary, that is some weird s***. I have no idea what is going on here. Nineteen worlds, three hundred alternate universes, thirty-three more prom scenes. Why are you so depressing, Mary? Why do you think that joke is so funny? How much fake science will people read?

“Write 20,000 more words, Mary,” says the pink pig. As he speaks, he carefully picks my Canadian money out of my wallet.

“But it makes no sense!”

“It will make sense if there’s MORE! Heh heh heh.” He laughs like a donkey.

Sometimes I wonder why I start changing titles on stuff and create new folders and move part of it into a miscellaneous folder and then decide to redo the concept and write 18,000 words and then forget I did it. And then I always like the first version better anyway but WHICH FOLDER DID I SAVE IT IN?

Sometimes the prom happens over and over and over again.

There is an opening chapter of something somewhere that involved mysterious entities that have something to do with traffic. And possibly time travel. And several fairy tale characters. And an alien is always useful. And I promised someone a book about Space Marines. And somehow there is terraforming. Invisible people are pulling my hair out.

I have 973,823 million pages of notes.



546909x480 Alyson Is Always Holding Out Hope for the Next To Kill A Mockingbird

Despite the endless list of disappointments — The Indian in the CupboardHarriet The SpyTuck Everlasting — where the film adaptation just did not live up to what went on inside of my big, crazy imagination when I read the book, I cannot stop myself from going to see the movie version almost as soon as it comes out. 

The worst part is that when I walk into the theater, I really believe it is going to be magical, especially when the cast is amazing or when I love the director. I am already so excited for the new version of The Great Gatsby that I am re-reading the novel right now. More often than not, I leave feeling sad and defensive when the picture I had invented in my mind does not show up on the big screen. But I am always holding out hope that the film adaptation will do the book justice or better yet add another layer to the story. For this, I blame To Kill A Mockingbird. 

When I read Harper Lee’s novel for the first time in seventh grade, I could see Atticus, Scout, Calpurnia, and everyone in Maycomb, Alabama so clearly. They felt more important than characters. They become real people to me. After falling in love with the book, I watched the black-and-white version of the movie at home with my dad. I am sure I rolled my eyes and huffed, when he told me it was his favorite movie. But to Dad’s credit, nothing about the film adaptation disappointed me. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch, just as I had imagined him. It challenged me to think about the story through a different lens, and it made reading the book better when I went back to it again and again.

So, when I shell out $13.50 to see a novel-turned-movie in theaters, I am always holding out hope that it will be the next To Kill A Mockingbird. 



 Teen Adaptation That Works    TV Shows Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game!My dirty little secret: I watch more teen TV than adult TV (just like my reading tastes). Eek! I am especially invested in the ABC Family series — Pretty Little Liars and A Lying Game. Both of these shows are based off of bestselling books by Sara Shepard and Alloy Entertainment. They smashed a lot of the earlier books into the first two seasons, but I loved seeing how they took book events and interpreted them on the small screen.

I think book adapters are most successful when they keep the characters the same. I can forgive fudging of the plot and switching things around, but I want to watch a show with a character I really loved from the books. I want that to be honored; their individual characterizations. Pretty Little Liars and A Lying Game both do that — keep the characters pretty much the same, give or take, and the stakes for each of them. They moved some of the details around, shifted plot points, but the essence of each girl was just how I had imagined it from reading the books.

Another element of the show that I enjoy is it’s reflection of current teen culture. My only criticism of the books was the pop culture references and clothing references, which could become outdated quickly. But in the show, it works so well. The references have been updated as the series progresses both in print and on TV, and reflect current teen obsessions with fashion, etc.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the return of A Lying Game to ABC Family. I feel in love with the characters, the drama, and the multicultural thread weaved through the narrative from the Arizona setting. Check it out. It’s back on ABC FAMILY starting January 8th. Get caught up!


YA for NJ 300x300 YA for NJ: Bid on YA Swag for a Great Cause!Hello Teen Writers Bloc readers! Why are you reading this blog? Is it because you love YA books as much as we do? Well, if that’s the case, then you’re in luck, because you can buy books and swag from some of your favorite authors and support a great cause at the same time. The seven-day auction will begin this Friday, November 30, at 8:00 p.m., and here are just a few of the 170 fantastic authors who are participating:

Holly Black
Coe Booth
Libba Bray
Gitty Daneshvari
Matt De La Pena
Lisa Greenwald
Jenny Han
Ellen Hopkins
David Levithan
E. Lockhart
Megan McCafferty
Kate Milford
Kate Messner
Michael Northrop
Lauren Oliver
Kenneth Oppel
Rebecca Serle
Kieran Scott
Natalie Standiford
Cecily Von Ziegesar
John Corey Whaley
Jerry Spinelli

And this list is just the beginning! The 170 authors (including me!) will be offering a ton of great stuff. You can bid on signed copies of the authors’ books and collections of books. Some authors are offering Hollywood swag from their filmed projects. Some authors are even offering dedications or character names in future books. If you are a teacher, a parent, or just a friend of a school, you can bid on individual author visits, author panel visits, and Skype visits for your favorite school. One hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to aid in their efforts to feed the people most affected by hurricane Sandy. Yes, that’s one hundred percent of the proceeds, not profits. Every single item has been donated by the authors, so the entire amount raised will go to those who need it.

We know you love all things YA! Wouldn’t now be a great time to get something you always wanted and also support a great cause?

Follow this link to check out the YA for NJ auction now!


look 600x450 When It Comes to Adaptations, Sonas Kicking It Old School

Okay, so I couldn’t agree more with my pal Jess Verdi about how uber-awesome the TV version of The Vampire Diaries. In fact, some — myself included — would venture to say that the TV take is even better than the books (which, if you check them out, did get a bit nutty as the series continued). And there are plenty of other awesome examples of books  turned TV shows — like “True Blood” and “Pretty Little Liars.” There are also plenty of film adaptations of books — in fact, I recently did a gallery on them for Mom.Me, if you care to learn what’s hitting a theater near you sometime soon.

But my favorite adaptation to this day is an old school one. It’s a world I used to wish I could live in when I was a little girl, one dominated by feisty redheaded orphan (no, not Annie) who took a staid old town by storm. To this day, I love me some Anne of Green Gables. The 1985 TV movie adaptation of the Lucy Maud Montegomery series was flawless in its execution, following the travails of young Anne (played by the impeccable Megan Fellows), was thrilling to watch — the world I read in the books coming to life right there in front of my eyes. Sullivan Entertainment produced the books into a satisfying, uplifting and occasionally heartbreaking series, bringing to to life those moments where Anne got drunk on currant wine, warred with her grade school crush Gilbert Blythe, and eventually fell in love and experienced her first loss. You can relive all those moments in this awesome collectors’ box set of DVDS, which I will buy for my daughter Kavya when she’s old enough to enjoy them — but not until after we’ve read the books together, of course. I can’t wait.


Fellowship of the Ring One of These Days Amy Will Stop Talking About Tolkien... Or NotOkay, it’s not my intention to sound like a broken record, and I swear there are other books out there that I love, but the Lord of the Rings movies are my favorite book-to-film adaptations EVER. For one very simple reason: they were written, directed, and produced by a nerd. Like, a mega-nerd. There is so much heart in the way Peter Jackson translates the story to the screen, and you can tell how hard he worked to get every detail exactly right, things a lot of the audience would never even notice. The movies have a universal appeal for those who haven’t read the books, but provide many geek-out opportunities for those of us who have read them a billion times (The elven brooches! Elevensies! Every single freaking emblem on every flag!).

This is my problem with the Harry Potter movies—they are so busy trying to squeeze in every plot point from the books that they completely lose the love, the warm glowy feeling that reading Harry Potter brings with it. Jackson uses humor to highlight aspects of Middle Earth that don’t necessarily figure in to the main action of the story, but that make the world real and specific. Like the drinking contest between Legolas and Gimli, or the fact that Merry and Pippin eat a whole bunch of lembas bread without knowing that one small bite will fill you up. Do we need to know that elves pretty much can’t get drunk? No. But it’s fun to watch.

All right, I’m done with Tolkien for a while, I promise. Oh, wait. The Hobbit comes out in a month…

Photo credit: New Line Cinema

pixel One of These Days Amy Will Stop Talking About Tolkien... Or Not?>ADD COMMENTS

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