Teen Writers Bloc

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

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

Posted by Caela Carter On April - 2 - 2013

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

 Its Release Day for Jessica Verdis My Life After Now!What now?

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

It’s Launch Day for Caela Carter’s ME, HIM, THEM AND IT!

Posted by Jessica Verdi On February - 26 - 2013

Screen Shot 2013 02 25 at 11.45.23 AM 199x300 Its Launch Day for Caela Carters ME, HIM, THEM AND IT!Today is a big day at Teen Writers Bloc — it’s the release of our very own Caela Carter‘s debut novel, Me, Him, Them and It!

When Evelyn decided to piss off her parents with a bad reputation, she wasn’t planning to ruin her valedictorian status. She also wasn’t planning to fall for Todd—the guy she was just using for sex. And she definitely wasn’t planning on getting pregnant. When Todd turns his back on her, Evelyn’s not sure where to go. Can a distant mother, a cheating father, an angry best friend, and a (thankfully) loving aunt with adopted daughters of her own help Evelyn make the heart-wrenching decisions that follow?

Caela began writing this incredible story during our first semester at The New School, so several of us at TWB were lucky enough to get to read early drafts of the book before anyone else. And now that it’s out there for all to read, we know it’s going to make quite the splash in the YA lit world.

I’ve held a finished copy of Me, Him, Them and It in my hands, and let me tell you — it’s beautiful. Definitely something I’d pick up off the shelf and Barnes and Noble. And we hope you will too!

If you’re in the New York area you can come celebrate the release of this book with us and with the author herself at the launch event on Thursday, February 28th at 6:30 PM at the Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue at 93rd Street.

What’s on Alyson’s 2013 Wish List?

Posted by Alyson Gerber On January - 1 - 2013

wish list Whats on Alysons 2013 Wish List?

You might remember that I am a New Year’s resolution failure. Well, that hasn’t changed. When it comes to creating a routine and sticking to it, I am awful. Absolutely incapable.

I envy people who order the same salad for lunch everyday, who consistently check the forecast and leave home (all responsible) with an umbrella and a weather-appropriate jacket, who do the same things over and over again (or at least more than once). I wish I could be that way. It looks so much better, especially when it rains. But I am not. I can’t help it. Maybe I need things to be a little chaotic. I am pretty sure no matter how hard I try, I will always be a little bit of a hot mess. Or at least, I will see myself that way. It is part of my charm. I hate routines, and I don’t thrive on them. So, why have I been pushing myself to write the same amount of words, at the same table, with the same cup of coffee everyday? It makes no sense, and I am done doing it.

There is only one thing on my 2013 Wish List—I am making a resolution that won’t fail. I am giving up trying to be someone I am not. I am going to be okay with the fact that I am someone who writes best on my phone, and on random post-its, and on paper table clothes, and on the subway, anywhere but on my computer. Except, of course, when I have finally given up on staring at my computer, given up on my 2,000 word goal for the day, when I have accepted that I can’t write anymore, that is exactly when I can’t stop typing. It makes no sense, but it is me. It’s what I do, and this year, I am going to be okay with it, because my chaotic way of doing things is actually working. I can feel it every time I work on my new book. Every time I send pages out to be critiqued. Just being me is working, and I’m not going to stop.

 

Alyson’s Ode To R.J. Palacio

Posted by Alyson Gerber On October - 1 - 2012

wonder Alysons Ode To R.J. PalacioWonder. I wish I’d written it. I’d like to cross out R.J. Palacio and write in Alyson Gerber. It’s everything I love about middle grade in one book.

For one thing, there’s no caramel coating. August — a 10-year-old boy with extreme facial abnormalities — tells it like it is. He isn’t afraid to speak the truth, as he sees it. I drink my coffee black — no sugar — so this makes me very happy.

August is real, likable, and at times hilarious, but the book is serious and the emotional core is deeply rooted in his painful experience and journey. Nine to fourteen-year-olds can handle tough topics. And whether we like it or not, I think they do. So they should be addressed in literature.

While this story is specific, there is a universal element. On the inside, August wants the same thing as every other fifth grader (and I would argue as every person, at any age) — he wants to belong somewhere. He wants to find friends and a place where he can be himself. He wants acceptance.

August is an ordinary ten-year-old boy on the inside, which by nature makes him a part-time tough guy. He’s just starting to reject his parents’ affection and fighting for a sense of independence, yet he still has moments that remind us he’s only ten (and they are so sweet). The intricate balance of extremely guarded, but also vulnerable is beautifully done here. It’s hard not to laugh and cry at the same time.

Here are a few additional things that make me think R.J. Palacio is a genius:

#1. August never describes his physical appearance and yet I can see him so clearly. It’s like I’m Summer and we’re eating lunch together right now.

#2. Wonder has eight parts. Parts one, six, and eight are told from August’s perspective and the other five are written from other points of view, all in first person. Oh, and did I mention that the story is seamless and each perspective adds another amazing emotional layer? I mean, come on. It’s too good.

Photo courtesy Knopf

Sona Wishes She’d Written a Book Already

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On September - 30 - 2012

290382 Sona Wishes Shed Written a Book AlreadySo my deadline is coming right on up — next Friday to be exact — and still more than 8,000 words to go. Minimum! Which means that I get to interpret this question as I will. Thankyouverymuch.

And so, I’ve decided, in pondering the countless astounding books that came before — tearjerking fiction like The Fault In Our Starsshockingly cathartic memoirs like Pretty Is What Changes, funny essay collections like Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? — that if I had to limit it to one book that someone else wrote, it would be Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffron, which is rich and expansive and sprawling as it travels from the U.S. to the U.K. to the heart of Pakistan, filled with startling lyricism, lines that stick with you. But the book — and its narrator — is still incredibly real in its light touch on those mundane, everyday moments, like the first time you meet someone whom you know will change your life forever.

But I digress. Because the real point I’d like to make here is that I still haven’t written an actual, complete draft of a book. I’m closer than I’ve ever been, and that deadline is looming large. But after two years in a grad program for fiction, I still have three works-in-progress, none of which are finished. This is unacceptable. So on Friday, when my deadline hits, I will report  back here. It will either be an epic celebration. Or I will once again hang my head in shame. Hold me to it, folks. I’m not kidding.

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury

Why Amy is a Self-Professed “Fantasy Nerd”

Posted by Amy Ewing On September - 25 - 2012

33 200x300 Why Amy is a Self Professed Fantasy NerdIf you’ve read any of my posts on TWB, you’ll know that I am a fantasy nerd, through and through. So it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the book I wish I had written is The Lord of the Rings.

And it’s not just about the incredible story lines, the way Tolkien weaves them together, the amazing action (Helms Deep! The Battle of Pelennor Fields!), the mythology, the characters (Gollum is probably one of my top 5 favorite characters ever), or the romance. Okay, actually scratch that last one — if there’s one area where Tolkien is lacking, it is romance. Arwen sort of just shows up at the end and marries Aragorn. I remember reading it for the first time and thinking, “Oh, that’s…nice.” Not really packing the same emotional punch as when Sam carries Frodo on his back up a fiery mountain of doom.

But I digress. One of my favorite things about The Lord of the Rings is the Appendices. There are about six of them, and each one contains so much information, it’s like reading a whole other story, a companion novella to LOTR. I do not understand how one brain can contain all of that information, the languages, the alphabets, the calendars, the maps. I also make maps when I create worlds, but since I am hopeless with directions, I am forever forgetting which way is east and which way is west, and often find myself giving directions that don’t make sense.

I would love to crawl inside Tolkien’s mind and see where he kept everything, how it was all organized. I imagine it like a vast library with tottering shelves, sheaths of parchments, and leather-bound tomes. And he knew his way around it expertly. My mind sometimes feels more like a small office with an overflowing inbox tray, where I can never find that thing that I thought of yesterday and meant to write down.

But I’m working on it. And practice makes perfect, right? After all, Tolkien didn’t create Middle Earth in a day.

the book thief 194x300 Jane Envies Markus Zusaks Depth in Character Construction in The Book ThiefI love stories that are told from a unique point of view. The main character could have Asperger’s, like Caitlin in Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, or could be autistic like Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. The narrator of the story doesn’t even have to be human. In Three Bags Full, by Leonie Swann, the story is told by a group of sheep who attempt to solve the murder of their shepherd. Or the narrator may not actually exist, like Budo in Matthew Dicks’s Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

When I was asked which book was the one I wish I had written, I immediately thought of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The story is narrated by Death, who tells the tale of Liesel, who is raised by a foster family in Munich, Germany during World War II. I absolutely loved how Zusak’s writing brought out so many emotions. I felt the apprehension when Liesel stole her first book. There were sections that were so hilarious that I actually laughed out loud and parts that made me cry.

The characters in The Book Thief were amazing. They all had multiple layers to their personalities, just like real people. Liesel’s foster mother appeared to be rough and unsophisticated, but you could tell she cared for Liesel. I could immediately tell that Rudy, the boy who constantly teased Liesel, had a crush on her. Even Death was more than just a collector of souls. It felt sympathy for the people who lost their lives and the ones who had to deal with what came afterward.

I would love to be able to write like Markus Zusak. I want to give my characters the same kind of depth and I want my readers to react to my stories the way I did towards The Book Thief. I have a long way to go before I can accomplish this, but the only route to getting there is to keep practicing.

Image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

Debut Author Interview: Erin Jade Lange Talks Butter

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On September - 5 - 2012

butter cmyk 395x600 Debut Author Interview: Erin Jade Lange Talks ButterThis week we’re chatting with first time author Erin Jade Lange, who parlayed her work in TV news into an edgy, unexpected YA read. Butter is the story of an obese, tortured high schooler who decides to eat himself to death — and share it with the world via the Internet. In the process, he earns fame and popularity, which makes him not want to do it anymore. But if he doesn’t do it, well, you see his dilemma. A gritty, disturbing and ultimately satisfying read, the character came to Lange in a flash of inspiration — and she worked feverishly to get his story told. We caught up with the journalist-turned-author to chat about her process, creating the universal in the specific, and why sometimes is better not to know what you’re getting yourself into.

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

Before I became a writer, I…um…wrote. Ha! That is to say, I am a journalist, so I write facts all day long. I’ve always loved working with words, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would find two careers that allow me to do what I love. I am still working in TV news, but since that involves as much writing as being an author, I guess it’s safe to say I write full-time.

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

Butter is about an obese teenager at the end of his rope. He creates a website and invites people to watch him eat himself to death live on the Internet. As the clock counts down to his last meal, he is suddenly popular at school, and he no longer wants to go through with it. But if he doesn’t, he could lose his new “friends.” The book is about his choice.

Butter’s story came to me in one of those flash-of-inspiration moments, but that flash was probably the culmination of years of writing news stories about childhood obesity, teen suicide and internet bullying. I see these stories weekly, if not daily, at work — and the reality is often so much worse than the fiction.

The character is obviously quite different from you. How did you approach this? Did it come naturally, or was there a heavy process to creating character here?

He’s different on the surface. I’m obviously not a 423-pound teenage boy. But I think his experience is universal. Substitute “too fat” with “too thin” or “too short” or “too poor” or just about any other quality that might make someone a target in their teen years, and I think Butter’s ride isn’t that different from anyone else’s.

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

My process is probably not typical. I do NOT write every day. If I get an idea, I work on it obsessively for weeks or months — putting off everything else, like chores or errands or time with friends — until it’s done. Then I give myself time off — again, weeks or months — before I start writing again.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but I think it’s safe to say my writing is influenced by working in TV news. My next book, for example, isn’t quite as “ripped-from-the-headlines” as Butter, but it does take place in a depressed economy, which I’m sure is due to how much economic news I’ve been writing in the last few years.

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

I came up from the slush pile. Thanks to help from peers at AbsoluteWrite.com, I had a pretty decent query, so I got requests from agents right away. But the book wasn’t ready, and most agents responded with feedback and an invitation to revise and resubmit. At that point, I found a great crit partner who helped me polish the manuscript, and one of the agents who invited me to resubmit took me on! The most surprising part was how quickly she sold the book. I was very fortunate to have a short submission process. I can’t believe it’s been two YEARS since that moment, because it suddenly feels like time has just flown by.

BioPic 200x300 Debut Author Interview: Erin Jade Lange Talks ButterWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

One of the best bits of advice I’ve heard is the same one I would pass on to other writers: FORGET THE RULES.

When I wrote Butter, I hadn’t heard yet that contemporary boy books were a tough sell or that swearing could make your book harder to get into schools or that any form of a prologue would make people roll their eyes. I just wrote what I wanted to write, and it worked out. The rules are generally good guidelines, but don’t let them stifle your creativity. The best book you can write is the one you WANT to write — not the one you think will get you published.

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

Charlotte’s Web was my first “favorite” book as a kid. I grew up with the Sweet Valley Twins and R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, but if I had to pick one book that really stuck with me as a teenager, it would be Judy Blume’s Blubber.

I recently finished Push, by Sapphire — such a painful but important novel. And I just started Struck, by Jennifer Bosworth.

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

I just turned in my first round of revisions for the next book, and I suspect more edits are on the way. That novel comes out next year, and I’m also getting married in a year, so 2013 is shaping up to be as exciting as 2012!

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

I am a firm believer that writers need critique partners, but for me, too many opinions can muddy the waters. I prefer two or three solid crit partners to a big group. However, when it comes to support and advice, the more voices the better, so I encourage writers to get involved in online writing communities. I’ve met so many amazing people that way, and I feel very fortunate to be part of the vast internet tribe of writers.

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury

This Summer, Riddhi’s List Features Some Tasty Reads

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On August - 27 - 2012

TWB August Evertaster 393x600 This Summer, Riddhis List Features Some Tasty ReadsThis summer I read more than ever before, probably over 5,000 pages — at a rough estimation of about two novels a week, both middle-grade and YA. Amongst titles I thoroughly enjoyed were:

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Two aspiring filmmakers go through a riot of emotions as they make a film about a girl with leukemia. This was precious. Made me laugh and cry at the same time.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
I know it’s a little late in the day to be talking about this one, but has anyone tried reading the book while listening to the audiobook version narrated by Allan Corduner? Doubly worth it. Just lovely.

Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell by Crickett Rumley
An outspoken Jane is forced back to Alabama where she must learn manners in order to one of the Southern Magnolia Maids. I haven’t finished it, but find it pretty sharp and unique.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: With Artwork by Yayoi Kusama
Guilty as charged and off with my head, I’m a sucker for Alice reimaginings. If you collect art books, this one’s a mustmustmust have. Clothbound jacket. Kusama’s trademark style. It really pops. Here’s a great preview.

Evertaster by Adam Glendon Sidwell
In an attempt to save himself from starving, Guster, a picky eater, gets embroiled in a food quest in search of the One Recipe — the recipe to end all recipes. As Guster and his family travel around the world, running from the Gastronimatii (a deadly, perfectionist cult of processed food-hating superchefs) they must collect some rather ordinary ingredients from some extremely unusual places. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes to eat. I mean read. I mean eat. While they read. It contains the most amusing method of butter churning (joggling bovines) I’ve ever come across. This was delicious from start to finish.

Image courtesy: Future House Publishing

pixel This Summer, Riddhis List Features Some Tasty Reads
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