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 […]

VD43ShotGarden2386re 2131320370192696794 600x449 More Proof That Jess Cant Stop Talking About the Vampire DiariesConfession: I love TV.

Confession #2: I’m not gonna apologize for it.

I know TV gets a bad rap, and I agree that most of what’s on nowadays is total crap. Reality shows about everything from fake boobs to the mafia to tattoos to cupcakes. Talk shows where all people do is scream at each other for no apparent reason. Cable “news” stations that somehow keep finding ways to fill 24 hours a day with rumor-mongering. Yeah, when you look at it that way, TV sucks. But there’s another way to look at it too.

Some of the scripted shows on the primetime lineup are excellent. They feature fantastic writing, gripping stories, compelling characters, stellar acting, and a sold hour’s (or half-hour’s) worth of quality entertainment (see: Dexter, Parenthood, The Walking Dead, Parks and Recreation, New Girl, The Newsroom, and so many more).

But there is one show that, for me, shines above the rest, that I’m so obsessed with that I’ll talk about it to pretty much anyone who will listen. Yeah, you all know where this is going: The Vampire Diaries.

And it’s based on a YA book series by L.J. Smith, so it totally fits in for this month’s question of the month on TV and film adaptations of YA and MG books!

The Vampire Diaries is, in a word, totally freaking awesome. (Okay, that was three words. Sorry.) And show creators Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson have done exactly what I believe is necessary when adapting a book series into a television series—they’ve used the book as a foundation for the story (the characters, the general plot, the setting), but then they’ve gone off on their own and, from that base jumping off point, created their own mythology. I think that’s what you need to do in cases like this, because:

A) Ideally, the TV series will last a long time and the writers will need to find ways to sustain the story even after they’ve run out of books to adapt.

B) Television is a much different medium than literature, so it’s important to work with what TV has to offer in the ways of visual images, CGI, special effects, 42-minute installments each with their own complete story arc, etc. In most books, we’re inside the characters’ heads much of the time—but just listening to a voiceover all throughout the show about what the character is thinking isn’t very entertaining.

Season 4 Poster elena gilbert 30909293 839 1079 466x600 More Proof That Jess Cant Stop Talking About the Vampire DiariesC) The world changes so fast (technology, how teenagers behave, etc.) so that books can become outdated pretty quickly. A television show is a much more “immediate” medium (most series film an episode between 4 and 8 weeks before the airdate), so they need to change certain things to keep up with the times (remember Bella’s ancient computer and slow-as-all-hell dialup connection in Twilight?).

D) Try as you might, you’re never going to find actors that fit the author’s description completely. In The Vampire Diaries book series, Elena (the heroine) is fair-skinned, blonde, and kind of a spoiled brat. The actor who plays Elena on the show, Nina Dobrev, is Bulgarian, has long dark hair, and plays Elena as far more kindhearted than she’s written in the books. Initially, the casting directors were looking for someone more like the Elena from the books to play the role, but they just couldn’t find anyone who was exactly right. Then they saw Nina, saw what she could do, and changed the role for her. Because they decided to go with the best actor they could find, rather than someone who simply fit the author’s physical description, the show became something different, yes, but also much more compelling than the book series.

So even though diehard fans of Smith’s Vampire Diaries series may still be bellyaching about the changes the show has made, I think the changes made for a better, more formidable story. And that’s what you need to do when adapting a book for the TV screen.

Photo credit: the CW

 

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cat in the hat Janes Take on the Film Adaptation IssueI used to hate when books are made into movies. I’m the kind of person who believes that the reader should use only their imagination and the author’s descriptions to know what a character should look like, how they sound and what kind of personalities they have.

Whenever I go to see a movie adaptation of a book, I prepare myself to be disappointed. I read Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher and I went to see it when it came out on the big screen. The movie ending made me wish I could get that hour and 30 minutes of my life back. I loved The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The film adaptation was decent but I still didn’t get that this-is-as-good-as-the-book feeling. And whoever came up with the idea to ruin Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat needs to stay out of the entertainment business. The closest I’ve come to liking the film version were both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Sorry, but I felt the first six could have been better.)

The only movie that came the closest to my expectations was The Hunger Games. After an *ahem* intense peer group session with classmates Mary and Kevin, we decided to go see a movie. I actually liked this one. In fact, I thought it was almost as good as the book. Even though the characters weren’t quite how I had imagined them to be, I felt they were still excellent representations of the ones in the book.

Even though The Hunger Games was well done, I still don’t believe there can be a movie adaptation than can equal the book itself. But maybe when Catching Fire comes out, it might change my mind.

Book cover image courtesy of Random House BFYR

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willy wonka and the chocolate factory 20091006005120611 640w Corey Loves Roald Dahl in Book or Movie FormI thought this was going to be a challenging question. As a recovering actress and current writer, I’m a fan of both media and literature, and often am thrilled when a piece of literature I love is turned into a film I could also potentially love. That said, it is incredibly painful when the rest of the world only falls in love with the movie, and doesn’t ever get to know the wonder of the book. There are some authors whose work I love that constantly get translated into films I hate (please see: John Irving, one of my favorite authors, who suffers from this fate). And there are lots of movies I think are pretty good adaptations of books which are far better (Hunger Games, anyone?) But there is only one author whose work consistently translates into films I love almost or occasionally as much as the source material.

Roald Dahl!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an obvious one (the old one! Not the new one! NOT THE NEW ONE!). But there’s also Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, and maybe my favorite film adaptation of a gorgeous book, Matilda. I mean, how charming is little Mara Wilson as the title character? And how perfectly sweet is Miss Honey? How terrifying is Agatha Trunchbull? The style of the movie perfectly matched the tone of the book, and the movie managed to both stand on its own and create some lovely nostalgia for the wonder of that beautiful novel.

Which is to say, it can be done. A book can be made into a good, great, even truly special movie.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

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The Theory of Everything 225x300 Book Review: The Theory of Everything by J.J. JohnsonI first discovered J.J. Johnson last year when her first book, This Girl is Different, came out. I loved it and reviewed it for the blog here, so I was really excited to get my Amazon pre-order of her follow up, The Theory of Everything. I was not, however, prepared for the totally completely overwhelming awesomeness that is The Theory of Everything. When I was finished with the book, pretty much all I could say was, Wow!

The Theory of Everything is about fifteen-year-old Sarah, whose best friend, Jamie, died about eight months before the book begins. The world has moved on, but Sarah’s life will never be the same. She’s pushed away her other friends and family and can’t even begin to go near Jamie’s twin brother, Emmett, or Jamie’s parents. She still has her sexy boyfriend, but she’s going through the motions. Sarah’s voice is humorous and realistic, never becoming depressing but never letting us forget what she’s going through. Sarah’s main comfort is her dog, Ruby, and even though personally I’m not a dog lover, I totally got it. I felt like I was inside a real person’s head, and all the external characters were painfully real. I don’t recommend reading the front cover copy, because it gives away plot stuff that I’m glad I didn’t know before reading.

There were several places where I cried yet no places where I felt manipulated. There were no brightly painted signs saying, “This is so sad! Cry here!” Just real, believable emotions naturally worked into a heartbreaking and heartwarming story. If I was on all those fancy awards committees, I’d have The Theory of Everything at the top of my list. Everyone go out and read this book now!

Cover image courtesy Peachtree Publishers

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Mary Rants About Movies

Posted by On November - 12 - 20121 COMMENT

Crying 300x199 Mary Rants About MoviesSo … this month’s topic is YA books made into movies. How can this not turn into a rant? Folks, I seriously tried to come up with a movie based on a YA book that I loved. But the truth is, even though some of them are okay in that they don’t make me scream and cry and yell “Why, God, Why?” none of them live up to the books they’re based on. I know this is a true fact, and every time a movie comes out based on a book I liked, I say I’m not going to watch it, but then I do. Take, for example, The Golden Compass, based on the book by Phillip Pullman. The movie did a really good job of following the events and characters of the book, but had none of the life or the magic. Pullman’s world simply didn’t appear on screen. I wish this was 1910 and I could go to a warehouse and burn all existing film for doing such injustice to a great book. Take The City of Ember, based on the book by Jeanne DuPrau. This, too, followed the events of the book, but the main characters were too old and the movie showed the scariest part of the book, when the entire city goes dark for seven minutes—a bone chilling thrill in the book—in full lighting. Why, God, Why? Take the Harry Potter films. How could anyone possibly do justice to this series? How can a true book lover accept a watered down, extensively cut snippet of such a classic? Take The Hunger Games. How could a true fan accept the movie’s lack of emotional resonance? Take Twilight, which … oh, never mind, I didn’t like the book anyway.

I could probably go on for hours and hours, blog page after blog page, until we’re all old and white-haired and crazy. I just have one more movie to discuss, which wins the award for Worst Movie Adaptation Ever: The Wizard of Oz. What? You say. This movie is a classic! That’s true, and to be honest, I did watch and re-watch the movie as a kid just like everyone else. But I read the book before I saw the movie, and I eventually read all of the original L. Frank Baum Oz books, plus many many more written by his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson, and I love Oz. I love it just the way it is, as a real place and not a dream. Now, I bet L. Frank Baum, had he lived to see the movie, wouldn’t have had any problem with it, because shortly after the initial success of the book, it was turned into a traveling stage extravaganza that made him a lot of money, which he loved. He even put an army of knitting-needle-wielding girls in the second Oz book possibly for the sole purpose of becoming dancing girls during a future stage production. So I’m not defending the author’s honor here. I’m defending my honor as a reader, as the little girl who used to lie awake at night imagining walking down the yellow brick road and having adventures that would take her away from her boring life. That little girl was a firm believer in the world of the book and never took any stock with all that dream crap. How dare a bunch of filmmakers in Hollywood try to take away a little girl’s escape hatch and turn it into something smarmy and Technicolor and fake? Yes, movie adaptations of books I love make me angry. But dear Hollywood people, please buy my books and turn them into movies, because like L. Frank Baum, I need the money.

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A lot of writers will tell you that the key to their productivity was when they got rid of their TV. Well, that ain’t me. I love television, especially well-written shows with either hilarious or heart-breaking characters.

…But not quite as much as I love reading well-written books.

And because the majority of books I read feature teen girls, I have a particular fondness for any show that manages to write a real, sympathetic teenaged girl.  I’m not talking about the Gossip Girls and the 90210s and the soap operas aimed at young women. In fact, it’s perplexing to me how many girl characters translate from three-dimensional on the pages to simply flat and self-serving on the screen. I’m not calling for an end to these dramas, but it would be great to see more sympathetic teenaged characters in those hit network prime times.

Here are some of my favorite “YA” voices from modern television:

Big Love’s Sarah Henrickson

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Sarah’s struggle to love her mother while strongly disagreeing with her lifestyle is poingnant and relatable for any reader. Oops, I mean viewer. And the sacrifices she makes to take care of her expanding and confusing family make her a truly sypathetic character.

 

 

 

Modern Family’s Hayley Dunphy

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Hayley is proof that you can write a sympathetic and funny teenager even if she isn’t, um, smart.  Her revolving-door boyfriend (don’t we all love Dylan?) and arguments with sister (Alex) over clothing-rights remind us all of someone we knew (or know) in high school.

 

 

 

 

Parenthood’s Amber Braver man

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Isn’t tiny, quirky Amber everyone’s favorite on this show? She is clearly brilliant. Her reasoning is astounding. Her vocabulary is better than mine. But her mistakes are so frequent that she has no idea how smart she is. If that isn’t the definition of teenaged, I don’t know what is. (And yes, I know she’s 20 now, but she was a teenager though much of the show.)

 

 

 

 

Parks and Rec’s April Ludgate

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

What? She’s not a teenager. But, she was. When the show started, she was a spunky, sarcastic 18-year-old intern. And how fresh it is to see a teenager outside of the family-and-high-school setting! She’s such a real character, it almost doesn’t matter how young she is…or maybe that was the writers’ point…

 

 

 

So three cheers from this viewer for these very real fictional girls! And here’s hoping this list gets longer, and more diverse, in the near future!

Photo Credit: hbo.com, abc.com, nbc.com

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A Little Princess 600x340 Jean Paul Loves Alfonso CuarónA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of those books that I read as a child that didn’t really leave an impression on me. It’s the story of Sara Crewe, a rich girl who is sent to live in a boarding school and through a reversal of fortune, is forced to work as a servant to earn her keep. There are times of hardship and moments of despair but through another reversal of fortune, Sara regains her life of privilege and lives happily ever after. I was never into fairytales and Sara’s story wasn’t much different from Cinderella’s or Snow White’s tale.

Then, in 1995, Alfonso Cuarón directed the most beautifully shot children’s-book-to-film adaptations ever. Cuarón’s A Little Princess took the tired poor-little-rich-girl tale and turned it into something magical. He filled the story with warmth and heart and made Sara’s plight meaningful. The visuals were stunning and it is one of the few movies I will watch whenever it comes on TV.

Prisoner of Azkaban 300x213 Jean Paul Loves Alfonso CuarónCuarón also directed the most atmospheric film in the Harry Potter franchise, and my favorite film in the series. The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is also one of my favorite Harry Potter books, totally blew the previous movies out of the water and raised the bar stylistically for the remaining films. He made Harry Potter’s world magical, which sounds like a no-brainer but, to me, Hogwarts didn’t feel like a school full of witchcraft and wizardry until Cuarón got his hands on it.

A Little Princess is my favorite film adaptation of a children’s book ever. And, as someone who writes children’s books about magic and fantasy, I sometimes wonder what one of my stories would look like on film. After seeing Cuarón successfully bring two children’s books to life, there’s a teeny tiny part of me that can’t stop imagining him directing something of mine.

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2302950648 7399b32c8e Alysons Really into Fresh Starts

I’ve written a lot on TWB about how much I hate change. You might remember how excited I was for second semester last year. I only threw a few temper tantrums.

Well, over the past five months, I’ve changed almost everything about my life—my apartment, job, and book. Honestly, it was really scary. I mean, nothing was that wrong. My Village apartment was nice and big by New York standards. My job was—a good learning experience. The MG novel, I was working on could have been reworked (and I probably will go back to it eventually).

But it turns out, I was totally wrong about the whole not being open to change thing. Really—I’ve never been more wrong about anything, ever. Change is awesome. Exhibit A. My new apartment has two floors. That’s right. I am currently living my personal New York dream. I can officially say, “Hold on one second, I just need to run downstairs (or upstairs) to grab (insert anything awesome).” Exhibit B. My new job, where I’m in charge of digital assets (websites, blogs, social media, etc.) for a college, is so fulfilling and exciting. I love it! In case that enough, I work four-days-a-week, which leaves a lot more time for writing and running up and down stairs. Exhibit C. My new book—it’s all heart. Thinking about it and workshopping it with my amazing MFA-ers makes me smile.

So, I’m really into fresh starts. Bring on the change!

 

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 Whats Riddhi Been Up To? Well, It Depends On Which Way You Spin It...So, there’s two ways I could spin this:

I could rant endlessly about how busy and burdened I’ve been.

Malarkey but entirely factual stuff about moving house (which can be ridiculously time-consuming and delay many other things in your life, like turning in this blog post) and boatloads of book-reading for work that filled my entire summer. And how it was a great thing because I have a lovely new apartment and that this insatiable reading actually made me a better writer. I mean, if a phenomenally bestselling author like Stephen King says this, clearly, by finding a place where I enjoy reading and reading a lot, I’m just gathering my tools, right?

Or… I could admit that I may not have made as much to write as I should have?

But while I haven’t written anything fresh that I’m ready to workshop (yet), I can admit that a new project is spinning itself inside my head. And—more importantly—in a word document that is punctiliously updated and backed up, I have been carefully plotting and planning. Details. Research. A beginning. The main conflict. A possible end? Genre. Theme. Protagonists. Character sketches. I think I know the format I want it to be in. And I’m REALLY excited to dive into it… but only, I haven’t found the time to properly write it.

But I will. Soon. Like right about NOW.

Is this weird? Is this progress? Procrastination? A result of the creative writing MFA? Anything to do with reading for work? Probably yes to all. And still, I love that this process of knowing what could happen is completely new and EXCITING for me. In the past, I went into my stories blindfolded, tumbling down the rabbithole of a blank word document with no idea where I was going, knowing only that I’d have to turn something in at deadline—whatever I had spewed and spun into ten or fifteen pages.

For the first time ever, I feel like I’m in control of the castrophany that’s about to come. And I guess the only way to go is to set that deadline so I can twirl, whirl and yarn this darn thing together. And NO, it doesn’t have anything to do with these cool images I found from stock.xchng but they match my though processes and I tried to match my post around them and hope you enjoy!

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 Why Perla is Proud to Be a QuitterSo what’s new in my life?  I would say a whole lot!

Earlier this school year I decided to resign from all my jobs.  I resigned as an adjunct professor and I resigned from the position I had with the Board of Ed.  I must say however the decision was a scary one and I was in a state of shock for some time. I expected some distress and even some insomnia while I pondered my life and the fact that I was giving this writing thing my all.   Today, however, I feel overwhelmingly excited.  I made the best choice — I knew my writing and my last year in grad school would have been almost nonexistent if I would have gone back to teaching full time (while also being a mom of two).

And it has proven so worth it.  This semester has definitely been great thus far.  Now that our second year has started I think most of the inhibitions/insecurities one feels when first starting something new have greatly diminished.  Workshops go by a lot quicker and are pretty straightforward.  Everyone knows each other pretty well and for the most part know what everyone is working on and what they need to work on.

I also attended an awesomely awesome writing conference a few weeks ago– The Comadres and Compadres Writing Conference.  It was the first Latino writing conference organized by Las Comadres Para Las Americas.  In this one-day event amazing Latino writers such as Nicholosa Mohr, Sonia Manzano and Dahlma Llanos Figueroa shared their wisdom and teamed up with editors and agents all looking for Latino writers to represent.  The day was packed with inspiration and positivity.  It definitely made me feel better about recently quitting (especially after pitching my unfinished manuscript and getting great reviews). All the negativity surrounding Latinos getting into the publishing world that I had heard the previous year was dispelled after this wonderful event.

Lastly the one thing that has probably caused us second years some stress is the inevitable search for advisors for our anxiety-producing thesis semester.   But I recently received the incredible news that I will working with David Levithan next semester. I can’t even describe how freaking exciting I am.  David Levithan!! That is all.

Photo credit: robbieabed.com

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