Teen Writers Bloc

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

For Sona, the Proof Is In the Proofing

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 30 - 2013

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

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

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

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

Sona Needs A Resolution, Right?

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 1 - 2013

january 1 2013 Sona Needs A Resolution, Right?So here I sit again on January 1. Another year, another resolution, right? You knew it was coming. It’s always inevitable — and then I inevitably break it. So this year, my resolution is not to resolve at all, but rather to evolve. It’s time to give up the gung ho race to the finish line and reassess what might actually work for me. After all, I’m in this writing thing for the long haul, right? Not just for the quick sale and the even quicker burn out.

I’ve often lamented here about my dilettante ways, how I’m always juggling three projects at once, rushing to get things done — and therefore not really moving forward at all.

So this year, I’ve decided to really focus. Focus on what my big picture goals are, focus on getting things done — but really, to focus on slowing down the pace, enjoying the process, and therefore actually managing to finish my projects, one at a time.

I’ve also decided to not jump into the querying process after I finish the first project, which is already quite near completion. Many of my fellow writers don’t understand the why behind this, but I just have to keep reminding myself of my long-term goals, rather than the short-term impatience — and believe me, I’m amongst the most impatient people I know. As a writer who works in two different genres, I’d like to be well-prepared, when seeking representation, to have a completed project in both areas, so that I can find an agent who really knows what she’s getting into, who really understands what my work is all about, who really sees the same big picture I’m seeing.

In the meantime, now that I have my lovely (if petite) desk and my awesome peacock blue velvet tufted chair to return to in a few short days, I do want to make one real, tangible plan-of-action and stick with it — and that is to put my butt in said gorgeous peacock blue velvet chair and spend some quality time with my WIPs at least five days a week. I won’t set unattainable word counts or ignorable deadlines. Instead, I’ll take my time, keep those eyes on the prize, and remember, for once, that the only person I’m racing is myself.

When It Comes to Adaptations, Sona’s Kicking It Old School

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On November - 27 - 2012

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.

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

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

Sona’s Summer Reads: Better Late Than Never

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On August - 30 - 2012

10335308 Sonas Summer Reads: Better Late Than NeverOkay, so yeah, I’m a little late. It’s August 30, which means, unless you’re one of those people who counts the first three weeks of September as summer — and c’mon, who really does? — this barely counts as a summer reads post.

But I’ll tell you this: August 30 is still technically summer. Anyway, so for most of this summer, I’ve been traveling a lot. We did a two-week stint in California, a few days in AC, another week in the lovely Provincetown, Mass., where my husband Navdeep earned a scholarship to a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center, an amazing program with some awesome online classes, too. In between work-work, hanging with the kid (who, yes, is still not back at daycare), occasional workshopping (yay for returning to that in September!) and trying to squeeze in some writing, well — I still managed to read! Caught you off guard there, huh? You thought I’d be one of those slackers who didn’t manage a single book all summer. Nuh uh, not me. That would have simply been sacrilege.

So in my signature long-windedness, that’s me saying, yes, I do have summer reads for you! Only one YA, but hey, you’ll cope.

Herewith, the list:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
For the longest time, my sister (and screenwriting partner) Meena and I claimed that one Kevin Williamson had stolen our “life.” You know, by creating hit teen shows like Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries, which we both read in high school (back in the day, when the books first came out) and thought would make a perfect teen TV drama. Anyway, it turns out we were wrong, because, in actuality, it was one Mindy Kaling who’d been living a parallel life all along — and now she’s documented said parallel life in her really funny, super-nostalgic and very YA memoir. It’s wry, insightful, embarrassing, and rings oh-so-true, especially if you’re a small, hippy brown girl from the Northeast who was pretty book-obsessed and un-athletic in high school, but then used all she learned there in her later work. (Yeah, I’d say that is a pretty accurate description.) Anyway, it’s got plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s a good warm up for Mindy’s upcoming sitcom, The Mindy Project, which premieres in September (which marks the beginning of the FALL).

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
Okay, I really like Jennifer Weiner. Yes, she writes in the much-demeaned chick lit category — which I’ll proudly place myself into — but her work is fun, fast-paced, and frequently insightful. Nothing wrong with that. Many of us could aspire to such success. Anyway, she’s also a very vocal, feisty, no-nonsense woman, and her blog, which frequently calls out the New York Times and other publications on their sexist take on publishing, is pretty awesome. The Next Best Thing, her latest, centers on an everygirl who ends up the head of her own show in Hollywood. Given what I’ve mentioned above, you can see why this was a fun read for me. But underneath the fun, fast-paced read is an examination of the way women struggle to gain and maintain their own power — in the workplace, in romance, in life. Weiner’s got a light touch, but her work isn’t as fluffy as the Times thinks it is.

An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns by John Green
Having read and enjoyed — despite the tears — The Fault In Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, I decided to go back to the classic John Green, perusing his other works, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns. If you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth revisiting these, which both bear his signature confused-yet-adorable male protagonist, quirky, fun, troubled girls, and twisted, crazy plots that veer off in unexpected directions. Plus, his omnipresent themes of loss, reality versus fantasy, and figuring out who you really are. You may need to keep the tissues handy for these, too, but you won’t use up like three boxes like you did for Stars. Smart, weird, and really fun reads, as expected, from this YA icon. And if you’re a fan like I am, check out this awesome, autographed box set of all four!

Photo courtesy Three Rivers Press

On the Shelf, Sona’s All Over the Place

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On July - 27 - 2012

cardboard bookshelves ddutv 300x243 On the Shelf, Sonas All Over the PlaceOh, there it is again. The dreaded what are you writing question. The problem? I’ve always got several works-in-progress, and they never fit neatly in one box. So I’ve frequently found myself discussing exactly where on the bookstore shelf my future works might sit. It’s a hard thing to pin-point for many reasons.

The first? Well, I’m sort of all over the place when it comes to genre. Not only do I write both YA and women’s fiction, even within those categories, my current works-in-progress would not really seem as if they’d be published by the same author. One is a younger-skewing YA that has a dash of fantasy to it. One is a chick lit-y high concept story with a definite ethnic flavor — though its angst is universal. And the third is an ambitious work of woman’s fiction that’s more far-reaching, but also universal. If you started pondering the stuff I wrote when I was working mostly on screenplays, things would get even more complicated.

One of the things that ends up defining me, whether I want it to or not, is my cultural background. I’m brown, so people expect my characters to be brown. And don’t get me wrong. Some of them are. A lot of them are. And I think those characters have important stories to tell. But some of them aren’t brown. And it wouldn’t make sense to their stories if they were. Because I have all different kinds of stories in my head. Don’t we all?

But working in media for the past decade, I’ve come to realize that it’s best to embrace your brand — and make it clear what readers can expect from you. To the point where, in discussing my broad range, I’ve had others suggest that I use a pseudonym for some of my work.

It’s route I’m reluctant to take. Each of my protagonists represent some aspect of me, big or small. But they’re not me. And their stories aren’t always my story. Still, I’m proud of them and who they are and the fact that I’m the one who gets to share them with the world. I’m proud to put my name on them. So I think I will.

Yeah, it’s all a bit messy. But I’m hoping that just means you’ll have to look for me all over the shelf.

Photo Courtesy Eric Guiomar

Post-MFA, Sona’s Busier Than Ever (And Writing!)

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On June - 26 - 2012

wordcount 285x300 Post MFA, Sonas Busier Than Ever (And Writing!)So many times before on this blog, as I posted, I sadly reported that I haven’t been writing at all. That work has just been too crazy (which it always has — and continues to be), that life with a toddler keeps me busy (yup, still happening), and that I’m actually a relatively social person (who has a hard time saying no to a fun invite).

But this time, as we do our post-MFA check-ins, I’m happy report that I have been writing. In fact, I wrote 4,000 words last week. Yes, of fiction. Which is not to say I’m writing 4,000 every week. But thanks to my awesome crit group — made up of my former classmates, although it sounds so weird to say that — I’ve still got deadlines to get me motivated.

And I’m really excited to continue working on my thesis project, which clocked in at about 80 pages when I turned it in. Granted, even with the regular bursts of additional pages, I’m only about a third of the way through. But the story is working for me, it’s something close to my heart, and I’m really interested in the characters, who keep taking new and fascinating turns when I least expect it. It’s actually fun to write.

I’ve also been reading a lot — about a book a week, which is huge, given my schedule. I’m trying to make more time for it, because a) I love to read and b) it’s so important to get out of your own head and learn about storytelling from the work of others. Besides books like The Fault In Our Stars and Allison Winn’s The Song Remains the Same (yes, I actually read adult fiction, too), I’ve been enjoying my said former classmates’ latest, as many of them are on to new projects as well. And I’ll get to enjoy a lot of their own works as actual, fully bound books in the near future as you see a rash of TeenWritersBloc.com contributors books on bookstore shelves near you in the coming year. I’m super-excited for that.

So here’s to bigger and better, but staying a close knit community with my fellow recent MFA grads. As much as that chapter may be over, a new one begins — and hopefully, the cast of characters will remain much the same.

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

Sona’s Take On Whether the New School MFA Was Worth It

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On May - 28 - 2012


536522 10150786574146595 93096991594 9664384 893761954 n 600x451 Sonas Take On Whether the New School MFA Was Worth It

A few weeks ago, on my personal site, I wrote a post about this article published in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that pretty much laid bare the facts: the majority of writing MFA graduates will never even work on anything related to writing, let alone publish a book in the traditional manner.

According to the article, the odds are pretty bleak: University of Iowa — the reputed cream of the crop — sees only about three-quarters of their MFA grads published. Other schools place the figure at as low as ten percent up to maybe 50 percent. Geez, doesn’t make a girl feel great about paying off all that apparently crippling student loan debt.

So having just incurred said mountains of debt to complete an MFA — and yet still not having a completed novel to show for myself — I could dismiss this here and now and say, ‘Nah, the New School MFA program is not worth the money.’

But I can’t actually say that, because, like many of my peers here on TeenWritersBloc.com, I don’t believe that’s true. Sure, I wouldn’t necessarily do this program again if I could. (Although, as my sister frequently points out, I have an astounding liking for being in school, at least when it’s for something I love studying.) That’s because you couldn’t come close to guaranteeing me a class as ambitious, as intelligent or as diverse and as driven as the one I lucked into.

Others have said it here before, but there’s just something about the mix we got — the chemistry between us all — that clicked from week one. It didn’t happen with the class that came before us, and dare I say it, it doesn’t seem to be repeating itself in the class that came after. That makes me think that maybe we just got really lucky, that maybe this chemistry was once in a lifetime. (Or perhaps — the class that may have captured something similar was the one that inspired this blog — the one that yielded the Longstockings.)

I didn’t nearly reach my lofty goals for my time at the New School. I didn’t finish a single novel. I didn’t land a book deal, nor an agent. But here’s the thing: I’m confident I will do all those things. As of this writing, nearly half of my class will have books on the shelves by the end of next year. I’m expecting that number to rise significantly in the coming year, as we all continue to write and push through. Because we’ve built such a strong community, a safety net in these frequently treacherous waters, and to belabor this metaphor a bit further, we’re helping each other navigate here. We’re anchors, so to speak. Okay, enough of that metaphor. What I’m trying to say is, really, we were the loudest cheering section at the student readings, even though we’re outnumbered by a hundred fiction students and bigger non-fiction and poetry classes, too.

We’ve learned loads during our two years at the New School. Some of these have been hard lessons. The whole picture book debacle, for starters. Professors who may not have published in quite a while. And diversity in the publishing world is still a gaping hole, and it’s up to us to step and make that change happen. We had to do that even here, insisting that the powers-that-be let us plan a diversity in teen lit workshop and recruiting the awesome Andrea Davis Pinkney to teach it. But there’s still not a member of the faculty that reflects that range in the literature — and alum Coe Booth teaches at Vermont.

But I wouldn’t trade the community we’ve built here for anything. Moving forward, we’re sticking together, continuing with our crit groups, showing up at book parties and other events, hanging out on holidays. For as much as the MFA may still be called a worthless degree, to me it was worth a hell of a lot. And I’m not even talking about money. (Yet.)

Photo courtesy NSD Photography

pixel Sonas Take On Whether the New School MFA Was Worth It

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