Teen Writers Bloc

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

Corey’s Picks for 2012

Posted by Corey Haydu On January - 8 - 2013

10798418 Coreys Picks for 2012I was not going to write a “best of 2012″ list. Mostly because I did not read nearly enough in 2012. So even if I loosened the criteria of “best of 2012″ to simply mean books I happened to read in 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to put on there.

But. BUT. Then I read WHY WE BROKE UP.
I started read it on Christmas Eve Day, at my good friend’s family’s house in Virginia. In front of a fire. With a cup of peanut soup (yes you read that right! Peanut soup!) in hand.
I’m not going to say the fire and the peanut soup and the Christmas spirit and the quiet away from the city didn’t influence this read. I’m sure they did, as every experience of reading a book depends partly on circumstance and timing and mindset.
But I believe regardless of the fire and soup and intense calm of the not-city, I would have fallen in love with this book anyway.
Because I did. I fell in love with the book. HARD.
I fell in love with this book so hard I had to slow down my reading of it to five days instead of two, just to make it last longer.
I fell in love with this book so hard my own writing magically stopped sucking and started being fun again.
I fell in love with this book so hard it has officially (or, unofficially since I am not one for spreadsheets or remembering anything or lists) made my Top Ten Books of ALL TIME list.

Daniel Handler’s WHY WE BROKE UP is a series of letters (or, more accurately I think, vignettes) written from teenaged Min to her (now-ex) boyfriend. She plans on delivering this packet of lovely stories detailing their relationship to him along with a box of objects from their time together.
It is simple and complicated. We know how it ends, but we also totally have no idea why it ends. Every moment Min details has a shade of anger over it, but the romance and love are all there too. It’s a masterpiece.
Plus there are gorgeous illustrations, a great cover, and heavy, thick, glossy, unusual pages.
It’s not a book, it’s an experience.
I needed an experience.

I loved this book so much it reminded me that I loved some other books this year:

LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay. A novel in verse. Another to-die-for voice of a smart teenager. The kind of book that makes you stop every few pages so that you can admire the loveliness of the writing.

GONE, GONE, GONE by Hannah Moskowitz: A haunting, raw story of two teen boys who are trying to love each other despite how screwed up the world around them might be.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr: Maybe my favorite of Zarr’s books so far, this accomplishes the impossible: two narrators who are both flawed, brilliant, lovable, and different. I was blown away by the story, the writing, and the voices.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green: I mean, yeah. I don’t have to tell you what a triumph this book is. Also, it gives me a special thrill to see a contemporary YA captivate the whole world and be taken so seriously.

WONDER by R.J. Palacio: I blogged about this book already, I believe. But it is one of my favorite middle-grade novels of all time, and again, a book that inspired me to do better in my writing, to take more risks, to remember why it is we spend time writing.

USED TO BE by Eileen Cook: This is actually two books packaged as one, and they got me through a 24 hour layover in the Mexico City airport. I probably don’t have to say much more than that, but these two novels are crazy fun without losing their depth, power, and emotional sparkle. I’d call them page turners, even though they don’t have killers or zombies or any traditional cliff-hanger tropes. Cook is an expert storyteller, and I couldn’t have survived Mexico without these charming, moving, exciting, beautiful books.

I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR BAND by Julie Klausner: This is a great collection of personal essays (non-YA!) by a great comedian and podcaster who details her dating life in NYC with humor, honesty, and the kind of quirky, specific details that for me make a good book or essay or memoir great. This is a great memoir. And so much fun.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Cheryl Strayed: This is a collection from Strayed’s advice column (I shudder to call it that, since it is a literary triumph and an ocean of therapeutic knowledge) which was featured on The Rumpus, a great literary website. Strayed is such an excellent writer she will make your jaw drop, and these columns/essays/moment of pure genius got me through a dark spot in 2012. I have since gifted the book to three different girlfriends, who have all gifted it to their girlfriends. It’s unmissable.

So, I guess I did have a lot to say about the books of 2012. I cared most about great writing this year. Page-stopping, arresting, startling, inspiring, challenging, unforgettable, soaring writing.

I needed to be inspired this year. I needed to be carried through some tough times. And I needed to really, truly love a book in order to read it.

Book cover image courtesy of Little, Brown

Corey Loves Roald Dahl in Book or Movie Form

Posted by Corey Haydu On November - 15 - 2012

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.

Corey Wants to Write One of Those Truthful, Timeless Books

Posted by Corey Haydu On September - 24 - 2012

 Corey Wants to Write One of Those Truthful, Timeless BooksIs there anything better than John Green? I mean really, is there? Reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska in David Levithan’s class at The New School our first semester of class was life changing for me. I hadn’t read much “literary” YA or middle-grade, and a door opened in my head when I realized there was room for experimentation, lyricism, and depth in every genre of fiction.
I wish I’d written Looking for Alaska because it is surprising and dark and funny and true. I love the characters, I believe in their journeys, and the writing itself is magical. Uh, yeah, I wish I’d written that.

Other books I wish I’d written? Elissa Schappell’s Use Me. I still hope to write some adult literature someday, whenever I feel re-inspried by that genre, and I seethed with jealousy (the good kind!) when I read it. She explores relationships and the kind of adult-coming-of-age that happens in your 20s and 30s, that kind that mirrors that other coming-of-age that I currently write about. Like Green, Schappell takes risks, experiments with structure, fills out characters with flaws and humor and beauty. She writes about discomfort and love and pain and bliss with the kind of articulation I always shoot for.

Lastly, for middle-grade, I would love to write a classic, like The Great Gilly Hopkins or The Giver. There’s something amazing about a book that everyone reads when they are children and then still talks about when they are grown. I would love to have written that kind of book. The timeless kind.

Book cover image courtesy of Speak

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward Is “That” Book For Dhonielle

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 17 - 2012

Ninth Ward 000 Jewell Parker Rhodes Ninth Ward Is That Book For DhonielleSometimes you come across a book at the precise moment in time that it changes you for awhile — makes you disregard anything and everything else, makes you wish the world within the pages was the world around you, makes you think about the characters long after you’re finished, makes you — if you’re a writer — wish you could create something like it. When I was in elementary school that book was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, when I was in middle school it was Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and in high school it was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

As an adult who reads exclusively children’s and young adult books (aside from the non-fiction books I must read for research), I hadn’t had that “AH” moment in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read books that I loved and could not put down (like Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s Burn for Burn), and especially ones written by my friends — Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story, Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, and The Kairos Mechanism, Jess Verdi’s My Life After Now, Amy Ewing’s The Jewel, Christine Johnson’s The Gathering Dark, Caela Carter’s Me, Him, Them, and It, Heidi Ayarbe’s newest novel, Mary G. Thompson’s Wuftoom and Lisa Amowitz’s Breaking Glass, and awesome works-in-progress from Alyson Gerber, Riddhi Parekh, Cynthia Kennedy Henzel, Pippa Bayliss, Trish Eklund, and many more. These are stories that only they could write, from their individual creativity and awesome imaginations.

But to stumble across the book that ‘I wish I had written’ is a huge feat. But then one day Corey Ann Haydu texted me and said that I had to read Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward. She had read it and promised that it would not disappoint. I looked it up and instantly fell in love with the hardcover image — a little girl floating above the water in a boat (see above). I didn’t buy it immediately, but wandered into Books of Wonder a few days later and spotted it. I read the first page and then the second. I sat on the floor of the store, blocking children from perusing the shelves, and read the whole first chapter. I was swept into it. The book is not a page turner as people like to use in the book publishing world when a book is full of action and adventure and suspense — instead this book sweeps you away, tugging at your heart. You have to know what happens next because you care about the people in this world.

Ninth Ward speaks to my inner child and it is weaved with a southern mysticism that makes me feel like I’m at home and around my grandparents who have passed on. The rhythm of the language brings back childhood memories and little details lost to me from time. If you haven’t heard of this book, check it out — here’s how our friends at Amazon describe it:

“Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family–as only love can define it.”

 

New Section on Teen Writers Bloc: Our Books!

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On August - 23 - 2012

 New Section on Teen Writers Bloc: Our Books!Hi everyone!

So much has changed in the two years since we started Teen Writers Bloc — the most exciting being that so many of us are publishing books of our own now! 2013 is going to be a big year for us, publishing-wise, so we decided to add a new page to the site where you can find up-to-date info on all of the upcoming YA and MG releases by Teen Writers Bloc members. Check it out here! And you can always find the page on the top bar of Teen Writers Bloc, right next to the “subscribe” button.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

wonder Corey Fell in Love With R.J. Palacios WONDER    and Reading for FunThis was supposed to be The Summer of the Pleasure Read. After a few years of working in publishing and having my primary job be reading and assessing manuscripts, I was really looking forward to reading whatever I wanted. And enjoying it in the way I used to, before words became my career.

I’m not sure I’ve accomplished that, exactly, but I’m working on it. In between beta-reads and re-reading my own books and reading pages for critique group, I’ve managed some actual, honest-to-goodness pleasure reads.

The top top top of my list for this summer was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s an absolutely fabulous middle-grade novel that blew my MIND. I started it over a glass of wine on Monday night, and finished it with some tacos Wednesday. About a boy who is entering the school system after years of homeschooling, Wonder is a kind of middle-grade Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian — HUGE praise, because that is one of my all-time favorite YA novels. The protagonist Augustus was born with a facial deformity that astounds even the kindest, least judgmental adults and children. When he enters an actual school for the first time, he has to combat bullying, complicated friendships, and his own fears. Told through multiple perspectives, Wonder is somehow both introspective and a page-turner. Augustus is that perfectly flawed kind of narrator, and those around him are nuanced, complicated, and trying their best as well.

It is gorgeous writing, and really showed me what great (contemporary! non-fantasy!) middle-grade can do. I was totally inspired and excited as I come back for my second attempt at writing a middle-grade novel, after a never-finished failed first try. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you liked Sherman Alexie’s well-loved novel, you’ll love this, too.

I also read and enjoyed Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han’s collaborative novel, Burn for Burn, which is also told though multiple narrators. (Is this a trend? Because attempting this a few years ago was one of the hardest things I ever did.) The three girls are really different, and their struggles feel particular and just heavy enough to carry the book forward in a can’t-put-it-down way. This passed the airplane test. (Which is: will I read more than half of the book on an airplane? If yes, It’s good.) And it made me love both these authors even more. I especially appreciated the world they built — a high school I understood but that also felt fresh and unique and specific. I don’t think enough about Place in my novels, so it was exciting to be reminded how big an impact it can make on the overall reading experience.

Lastly, since it’s me, I’ll mention one of my non-YA/MG reads, a really exciting non-fiction gender examination called Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Oh man, I loved this book. Orenstein plunges into the way Disney princesses, American Girl Dolls, and other girl-friendly toys have shaped young girls. I love nothing more than thinking about how gender influences the world we live in, and I especially love it when I get to think about how gender plays a roll in the lives of children and teens. Reading outside of our given genre, and especially really sinking our teeth into excellent non-fiction, is a great way to deepen our own novels, and I think this is an important read for children’s book writers, teachers, parents, women, men, you know, basically everyone.

So no, I haven’t read forty books or escaped the curse of Reading As Work, but I’ve had some great reads this summer, and have a big pile of books to tackle in August!

Corey Declares Her Love For the Simon Pulse Family

Posted by Corey Haydu On July - 23 - 2012

 Corey Declares Her Love For the Simon Pulse FamilyWhen my agent and I went out on submission with my upcoming debut, OCD Love Story (Simon Pulse, July 2013), we didn’t really focus on comp titles. I’m not one of those writers who’s opposed to them — but it simply wasn’t part of my submission or querying process. I’d like to think my book has a funny/quirky voice accompanying its dark story line. It’s definitely a straightforward, contemporary YA, and fits in well with other Simon Pulse titles. So in my case, I think the best comps are other books my editor and house have worked on, since I think my publisher has a strong point of view, a clear place in the market, and that my work fits in nicely.

Some Simon Pulse authors I adore? Amy Reed is a writer whose work I literally can’t put down. I have read all three of her books in one sitting each. I especially adore her debut, Beautiful, which reminded me deeply of the movie Thirteen (which I once had my work compared to, so there you go). She really captures the heartbreak, depth, and complexity of being a teenage girl in a fast-paced, addictive way.

Lauren Strasnick is another one of my favorite Pulse authors. Her prose is gorgeous, and her characters are complicated. She is a brave writer, and someone I aspire to be more like.

I’ve talked about Arlaina Tibensky’s Simon Pulse novel, And the Things Fall Apart about a million times, on the blog and other blogs and basically to anyone who will talk to me. The voice in that book is truly something to aspire to — funny, smart, quirky, thoughtful, fun. It’s one of my favorite YA novels ever.

I also am a huge fan of Hannah Moksowitz’s beautiful Pulse novel, Gone, Gone, Gone. Haunting, unique, and full of the kind of confusing romantic struggles I love to read and write about, it’s another book I would be proud to see my book next to.

I could go on and on about the wonderful authors over at Simon Pulse. They inspire me, excite me, make me laugh and cry, and I couldn’t be more proud to join their little family.

Photo courtesy Simon PULSE

Corey’s Cover Reveal for OCD LOVE STORY!

Posted by Corey Haydu On June - 15 - 2012

 

OCDlove1 Coreys Cover Reveal for OCD LOVE STORY!

Guys. My book has a cover.

And I couldn’t love it more.

I was worried my cover might be too somber, or too boring, or not unique enough. I got everything I could have hoped for. The cover is downright VIBRANT, it’s quirky, it’s intense, it’s surprising, it’s whimsical, it’s edgy, it’s everything my book is, and it feels decidedly MINE. The designer (and, as always, my editor) seemed to really get my voice, my book, and how something can be both painful and hilarious, quiet and massive, unusual and relatable, obsessive and beautiful.

And, as icing on the cake, here’s a short description of the book:

When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.

But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic…and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed.

Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control, but this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down…and she might end up breaking her own heart.

I’m thrilled, and would love to hear your thoughts!

Photo courtesy Simon Pulse

Corey Is Either Amazing or Horrible. She Can’t Decide.

Posted by Corey Haydu On June - 14 - 2012

inconsistency Corey Is Either Amazing or Horrible. She Cant Decide.With school over, and my job over, and revisions on my first book turned in, I’m suddenly a girl with a lot of time to write, but without a lot of structure. It’s a strange feeling, trying to get back into working on my Work In Progress after months of revising my novel, revising my collaboration with Sona and Dhonielle, and revising my New School thesis.

Turns out, I use a whole different part of my brain for revising than I do for writing new stuff. And it’s hard to transition from one to the other. Really, really hard.

My bare minimum requirement for myself is always 1,000 words a day, and I’m doing my best to stick to that, and occasionally blow it out of the water.

The conclusion? INCONSISTENCY. Some days I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write. I am so close to finishing the first draft of the new novel, but I can’t seem to connect the dots. All my sentences sound awkward. I stare at the page for hours, I write pages of notes in my falling-apart purple notebook, but none of it feels right. I eek out 1,003 words and take a two hour nap because it was so exhausting. I decide the book is terrible. I wish I’d never started it. I wonder if it even makes sense. And then I nap some more.
Other days I am on FIRE. I write two, three thousand words. They are all exquisite words and gorgeous sentences. I have epiphanies about my characters. I down mochas and eat cheese sandwiches and don’t even sign on to gchat. I write my agent emails telling her she will receive my first draft ANY DAY NOW. I carry around my binder of notes for the middle-grade book I want to start working on. I decide I am a rock star. When people ask how the writing’s going, I smile and brag and sit up straight with pride.
So yeah. It’s an adjustment. I am not stable. I am not a machine, churning out the perfect amount of words every day. Life without work and school isn’t exactly the easy, artsy, perfect time I had in my head.

But I promise, next time you hear from me, that draft will be done. It WILL.

Photo Credit: Mental Floss

As School Ends, Corey Starts Plotting

Posted by Corey Haydu On May - 17 - 2012

6writing As School Ends, Corey Starts PlottingWhat better way to assess my time at The New School than to take a look at what I worked on, and try to determine whether or not I evolved as a writer, based on the work I created.

My first semester, I worked on an ill-fated YA novel told from four different narrators. It was a quiet, literary, plot-less pretty thing. It was exactly what I was used to writing. It had its challenges, sure, but mostly I was comfortable. There was atmosphere! Voice! Research! Complicated relationships!

The only thing missing? Plot.

My nemesis.

Second semester, I worked on a (still unfinished and unformed) middle-grade novel. I wrote in short little vignettes. Again there was a cute, snarky voice. An interesting set of family dysfunctions. Some keen observations.
And again, there was no plot.

While workshopping the middle-grade novel in class, I was also working on another project. A new YA. And though the piece I was writing for workshop wasn’t getting any stronger, my side project was benefiting from the criticism. I realized I needed structure. I needed plot. I needed a clear arc. I needed (god forbid!) a beginning, middle and end.

So although my teachers and classmates (with the exception of my Monday group classmates — Sona, Caela, Dhonielle, and Amy) never saw this new YA novel, it grew stronger from their feedback. I was listening. I was hearing them. I was accepting that it was high time to address the plot issue.

And that novel? That is the novel. The one coming out in Summer 2013.

This semester I’m pushing myself even further. I’m working on my next YA novel, and this time I’m working on a very plot-heavy book. There’s some mystery! There’s rising action! There’s a CLIMAX, guys! A real-live climactic scene. A true beginning, middle, and end. It hasn’t been easy. I have a lot of holes in my plot. I have classmates asking questions I don’t know the answers to. And sometimes I just want to write a nice interior monologue or some disconnected scenes that have no impact on the actual plot. I want some voice-heavy vignettes or to write one scene from eight different points of view for no actual reason.

But I am accountable, now, for the things I’m not so great at. I’m challenging myself to get better, and to accept that just because plotting isn’t my FAVORITE part doesn’t mean I can just never do it.

And maybe I didn’t learn that exact thing in any one class or from any one person, but it’s definitely a lesson learned during my time getting my MFA.

photo credit: http://navywifeadventures.blogspot.com

pixel As School Ends, Corey Starts Plotting
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