Teen Writers Bloc

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

For Thesis Semester, Outlining Will Help Jane Get to the End

Posted by Jane Moon On January - 11 - 2012

index cards For Thesis Semester, Outlining Will Help Jane Get to the EndWhen the Fall semester finally ended, I was relieved. For some reason, I felt that it lasted longer than it should have, although I wasn’t sure why it seemed to feel that way. Maybe it was because I had to take a non-children’s lit seminar. Or I was submitting a story for workshop that I wasn’t completely into. While time was dragging, I felt like it was pulling my writing along. In other words, my story was going nowhere. I didn’t feel the drive to work on it and find out where it could go.

But towards the end of the term, things changed. I came up with another story idea that I was really excited about. As I mentioned in my last post, I met up with Dhonielle Clayton, who shared her wonderful methods on outlining and this fueled me even further. For part of a 14-hour plane ride to Asia over Thanksgiving break, I sat and outlined the first five chapters of my new book.

And it got even better. Another classmate, Kevin Joinville, had a fantastic system of using index cards to map out his stories that he shared with me as well. I recently sat with Amber Hyppolite, another TBWer, in Barnes and Noble while Kevin demonstrated how he used his index cards to revise and refine his writing.

My goal for the New Year is to finish a first draft of my latest story. I not only have the means and the motivation, but I also have a great peer group to support me through the process. I have a feeling that this new semester is going to fly by, but I also know it’s going to be a great year.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

Writers Conferences 2012: Where Will You Spend Your 2012 Marketing Dollars?

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 6 - 2012

nycview Writers Conferences 2012: Where Will You Spend Your 2012 Marketing Dollars?

Writer’s conferences are like a quick fix of creative adrenaline. A concentrated take on the craft and business of writing, they can really get the creative juices flowing, and get you right into the thick of things, whether or not you’re a natural-born networker, like our own Dhonielle.

But there is a right time to go — and not every conference is a great fit for everyone. That’s why, when you’re budgeting your networking dollars, it’s a smart idea to take a really close look at what your options are. Especially given that, these days, you could probably find a writers’ conference in your area any given weekend. But which are worth the investment? And when should you go?

It all depends on you and where you are with your writing. A few of us here at Teen Writers Bloc, for example, are gearing up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in New York City this month. But others among us know that, as much as we’d like to go, we’re nowhere near ready. Perhaps a summer conference would be a better bet for those folks.

What writers conference will give you the most bang for your buck? Only you can decide. But since it’s a new year (and hopefully, new budget!), we’ve rounded up a few of the best bets for your perusal — and we’ve tried to stick to conferences that would be fruitful for teen and middle grade writers. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Writers Digest Conference
New York, New York; January 20 – 22
Cost: $525 for the full conference, $375 for Saturday only — and there’s even a $275 student option
With lots of big picture overview, including keynotes on the where publishing is headed, e-publishing, author-entrepreneurship,  self-publishing and marketing yourself and your work online, this conference, sponsored by industry magazine Writer’s Digest, is taking writers’ straight into the future of the book business. There’s also an intensive three-hour pitch slam, a sort of speed dating with agents, including YA and kid lit champions Brandi Bowles (Foundry), Susan Hawk (The Bent Agency), Molly Jaffa (Folio Literary Management), Mary Kole (Andrea Brown Lit), Sarah LaPolla (Curtis Brown) and Holly McGhee (Pippin Properties), amongst many others.

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators
New York, New York; January 27 – 29
Cost: $385 for members, $485 for non-members
Highlights: The SCBWI annual winter conference is the scene and be seen event for children’s book writers. This year, teen favorites like Cassandra Clare, National Book Award winner Kathryn Erskine and Sophie Blackall are amongst the speakers, and there are plenty of big agent and editor names on the panels on craft and marketing, too. But conference vet Dhonielle says the best part of doing the SCBWI events is meeting like-minded writers. She’s found critique group members — and life-long friends — at these events. If you can’t make this one, SCBWI has mini-events across the country — and another biggie in L.A. this summer.

San Diego State University Writers’ Conference
San Diego, Ca.; January 27 – 29
Cost: $435; one-on-one consult appointments are $50 each
If you’re working it on the West coast (or trying to get out of the snow here on the East Coast), then you can’t beat the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference at the end of January. The event seems chock full of opportunities for teen fiction writers, including meet-n-greets with editors looking for YA at Harper, Tor Teen, and St. Martin’s, amongst others.

Algonkian NYC Pitch and Shop
New York, New York; March 22 – 25
Cost: $595 before March 1, $695 after
This quarterly, application-only conference, held in New York City every spring, summer, fall and winter, is focused on getting writers in strong shape to sell their novels, offering novel deconstruction and analysis from agents and editors from major houses (including ICM YA champion Tina Wexler). Writers refine their works via panels and intimate workshop groups, then have the opportunity to pitch up to four industry professionals, including editors from Grand Central, Random House, Broadway Books and others.

Backspace Writers Conference
New York, NY; May 24 – 26
Cost: Early Bird registration (pre-Feb 1) $595 for Conference and Agent-Author Day
The conference spin-off of the stellar online writers’ community BKSP.org, this three-day event is super-focused on making connections with agents, with panels on querying, crafting stellar opening pages, and what agents are looking for. So if that’s the stage you’re approaching, it might just be the perfect way to network yourself into a deal. YA and women’s fiction star Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the keynote this year, and given the NYC location, the publishing industry insiders will no doubt turn up in spades.

Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-On-One Plus Conference
Piscataway, New Jersey; October 2012
Cost: $195 for the one-day event, including breakfast and lunch
This application-only event pairs a small number of skilled writers one-on-one with a children’s writing professional — agent, editor, or writer. The plus? Each writer and mentor pair gets to network with several others at round-table discussions about writing, editing and publishing — a great, low-pressure way to network, and it’s very likely you’ll come out of the event with long-term relationships. As an attending at the 2011, I met editors and agents and authors — plus, many of my fellow aspiring writers, too.

What writer’s conferences will you be attending this year? What are your best tips for getting the most bang for your buck at these networking events?

For Thesis Semester, Sona’s Got a Head Start

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 21 - 2011

Blank page intentionally end of book 300x205 For Thesis Semester, Sonas Got a Head StartOkay, I’ll admit it. I’m not great at finishing books. This isn’t a universal thing — I’ve finished screenplays, I’ve finished short stories, I’ve finished countless articles for magazines and websites and blog posts by the hundreds. But a novel? I just can’t seem to finish one. (Yes, that means I still have about 5000 words to go on that work-in-progress I’ve been referencing for the last year-and-a-half.)

Here’s the thing, though: I’m great at starting novels. It’s the part of the process I love — like a new romance, all fresh and new and butterfly-inducing. I love brainstorming the characters and their dilemmas. I love working and reworking the plot until it makes sense. I love figuring out what my story is really about. And I’ll admit it, I even love outlining. All told, I probably have five solid ideas for novels in various stages of development right now.

That’s the problem. Every time I get into the thick of one of my works-in-progress — the sticky middle, where everything is vague and muddled and the word count isn’t rising the way I hoped and the character has written herself into a corner — I turn to something else instead. Because it’s so much easier to be at the beginning than work something out to the end, even with an outline.

That’s what happened this semester. I have two works-in-progress that were largely abandoned (and both more than half-way complete) in favor of the latest, the one I’ll work on for my thesis. This new project has long been stewing, so it’s coming out in short bursts — and not in my usual form of beginning, middle and end. This is weird for me. But it’s ambitious — following three first-person narrators over the course of two decades — so I think I’m just trying to work the characters out before diving in. In my head, I do have a structure in place. I just have yet to start following it. Still, I’m about 30 pages in, and I think the experimentation has been necessary. And so taking the time this semester to figure things out has been really helpful. It’s really given me a head start in making a good dent in this novel during my thesis semester.  Yay for that!

But next semester, I won’t be solely focused on that. I’ll work on it for my thesis group, and use the newly-revived Monday group to really finish those other languishing projects. Because my main goal during my time at the New School has been to show myself that yes, I do have a novel in me, from start to finish.

Photo by: Wilfrid J. Harrington

Amber’s Thesis Semester Plans: Take It One Day At A Time

Posted by Amber On December - 11 - 2011


birdbybird Ambers Thesis Semester Plans: Take It One Day At A TimeNext semester is what we’ve all been waiting for. A semester that’s 100 percent ours to do with what we will as far as our writing goes. No more classes. Just meetings with our peers and our advisors, with more time to either create something new or to finish something we’ve already started.

I plan on doing the latter. I’ve spent my time at the New School trying to figure out the best way to tell my protagonist’s story. I think I’ve finally got an authentic voice for her and I’m more certain than I was before about where her journey will take her. That said, while I’ve been invested in realistic fiction for a while, I’m also contemplating trying my hand at fantasy or magical realism. And it’s encouraging and very freeing to know that my peer group will understand that first drafts and first starts aren’t always going to be masterpieces. (If you are also working on a first draft, I recommend Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, where she basically admits that crappy first drafts are like a rite of passage, which is so unbelievably comforting to hear. Writing is revision after all.)

Anyway, I’m going to try to finish a draft of something next semester but I’m not going to make any other big sweeping plans like I often tend to do. Instead, I’m just going to take it one day at a time. All I’m aiming for is a draft, something that I can fix up during revisions that will hopefully—someday—get published.

Photo Credit: Random House, Inc.

Corey’s Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

Posted by Corey Haydu On December - 8 - 2011
tea lounge Coreys Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

I have a feeling the next few months will be among the busiest of my life. I suppose, then, that it’s a good thing that classes will be coming to an end and our thesis semester is beginning, but, like Mary, I’m already missing Tuesday nights with the TWB crowd. Workshop can be frustrating and dramatic and exhausting, but it is also engaging and inspiring and downright FUN. I know I need the time off from classes and classwork to get things done, but I’ll be sad to be spending Tuesday nights at my favorite writing spot, Tea Lounge, instead of in the too-cold classrooms on 11th Street.

But I’ll be busy at Tea Lounge! I recently sold my debut YA novel, OCD Love Story, to my dream editor, Anica Rissi at Simon Pulse. And I will be deep in revisions over the next few months. I do love revising, but the mental and emotional work it takes can be quite overwhelming, as I learned this summer when I was working on revisions for my agent. I’m ready to tackle her exciting ideas, but anticipate a lot of late nights and early mornings and venti chai lattes.

In the spring I will also be working on my thesis project, a new YA novel that I’ve been writing a (VERY!) rough draft of since August. My advisor is the ridiculously inspiring Patricia McCormick, author of Cut! I have long been wanting to develop a relationship with an established YA author, so I couldn’t be more excited to work with Patricia. Her books are amazing and if our coffee date this fall was any indication, she is smart, funny, insightful and engaging. I’ll be sending her the first 100 or so pages of my new novel in a few weeks, and hopefully finishing a draft by the time we graduate in May. I have no doubt Patricia will push me and challenge me and encourage me to make this novel something special, and I’m honored to have her guidance.

I have no idea how I’ll balance the intense focus needed for revisions with the bravery needed to write a first draft, but with the help of Tea Lounge, Patricia McCormick, and my peer group of Alyson, Dhonielle, and Sona, I have faith I will find my way through!

Oh, and chai. Lots and lots of chai.

Photo: via Street Legal Play

To Beat the Mid-Semester Doldrums, Alyson’s Looking for a Little Magic

Posted by Alyson Gerber On November - 30 - 2011

44918614 To Beat the Mid Semester Doldrums, Alysons Looking for a Little MagicWhen it comes to the Literati, my literature professor, James Allen, is hooked up. I’m not just saying this to try and land an A in his class, although I wouldn’t be opposed. But he is actually friends with the entire literary world, and most of them have come to our class.

When John Edgar Wideman, whose many accolades include being the only writer to have been awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction twice as well as the American Book Award for Fiction, the Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction, and the MacArthur Award, came to speak to my literature class about his novel Cattle Crossing, I was intimidated. I hid in my little corner and tried not to make eye contact, especially when he started asking us what we were reading. He wanted US to tell HIM what was “good these days.”

Mostly people offered up obscure novels and collections of short stories that sounded very impressive, and well, depressing. When he pointed to me and asked, “What are you reading?” I almost died.

Bras and Broomsticks,” I blurted, wishing I was one of those good liars, who with a straight face could say, “Sebald. I just love reading about the Holocaust,” instead of someone with verbal diarrhea.

“Is it good?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Very good.” And I meant it.  I loved Sarah Mlynowski’s Magic in Manhattan series. It was the perfect distraction from a less than uplifting semester of sad, impressive literature. I mean really, what’s better than a little magic and a lot of teen drama?

Luckily, I managed to keep that last part to myself.

Photo courtesy Random House

6604794 198x300 Looking for a Distraction? Sona Suggests Jandy Nelsons The Sky Is EverywhereI’m a busy girl. Generally, between work and writing and family and more work, I can’t afford distractions.

So I steal away reading moments when I can — on the subway, at 4 a.m. when I can’t sleep and can’t write, for five minutes with my chai in the morning. Never for extended periods of time. These days, I don’t have the luxury of picking up a book and reading it from cover to cover without putting it down. And I miss that.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to resist. And there’s occasionally a book that’s just so riveting, so enrapturing, that it just keeps calling to you, distracting you from the everyday, the mundane, the necessary. And I spent bits and pieces of my Thanksgiving weekend devouring one such book, Jandy Nelson’s delicious, engrossing The Sky Is Everywhere.

The book is truly heart-wrenching. Lennie Walker, clarinet player and awkward kid sister, sees her world shatter when her star sibling, the feisty, fiery Bailey, dies suddenly. But instead of having the expected reaction — mourning in all black silence — the band geek goes boy crazy. She finds herself falling in love for the first time with the knee-melting Joe Fontaine. And oddly, she also finds herself randomly hooking up with her newly-dead-sister’s boyfriend, Toby. Apparently, mourning does strange things to people.

Nelson’s characters are startlingly real, and the language is beautiful — casually composed poems are scattered throughout the book, little missives Lennie scribbles and tosses away on the wind, revealing her inner turmoil to no one and everyone all at once.

This book is peopled with vivid, quirky, uber-memorable characters, and drenched in such realistic emotion, it’s occasionally exhausting. But that’s also what makes it so completely un-put-downable. If you’re a fan of sister stories, gorgeous language, tortured love triangles, sweet romance or quirky characters, this is definitely a must-read.

For Fun Reads, Amy Turns To the Jessica Verdi Lending Library

Posted by Amy Ewing On November - 17 - 2011

When it comes to finding a good book to read – especially in the midst of all the drudgery of adult novels we’ve been reading this semester – I have developed a system which almost always produces excellent results. I call it The Verdi System, otherwise known as “What Is Jess Reading Now?”

Crossed For Fun Reads, Amy Turns To the Jessica Verdi Lending LibraryMy very good friend, Jess Verdi, is always reading something new, either to review it for our site or because she’s got a very close relationship with Amazon. Luckily for me, we have very similar tastes. So every time I come to her apartment, I usually end up leaving with at least one new book to read. So far this semester, Jess’s outstanding library has provided me with:

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. Haunting and disturbing, with a great love story and even greater elements of suspense, Michelle Hodkin’s debut novel definitely had me up reading into the wee hours of the morning.

Delirium. The only one I’ve borrowed so far that I didn’t like. While Lauren Oliver’s prose is beautiful and evocative, it doesn’t work so well with the genre. I like my dystopian novels to run at breakneck speeds.

Glow. I loved this book so much I had to start reading it over again once I finished it. The writing is clunky in places, but boy does Amy Kathleen Ryan know how tell a good story with non stop action. It’s like Firefly or Battlestar Galactica for teens. And you never know who to trust.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Okay, technically this is not a YA book, but I highly recommend it. Fifteen year old Christopher is an autistic boy who tries to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. Outstanding writing, and a beautifully unique way to tell a story.

At the moment, I’m about halfway through Crossed, the sequel to Ally Condie’s Matched. I’m reserving judgment until I get to the end. And after that…well, I wonder what Jess’s library will have in store for me?

Jess’s (Reading) Cure for the November Blues

Posted by Jessica Verdi On November - 9 - 2011

Crossed Jesss (Reading) Cure for the November BluesSuper-obvious fact #1: School is hard.

Super-obvious fact #2: School is time-consuming.

Super-obvious fact #3: Distractions are a necessary factor in keeping one sane.

This semester, as I’ve delved into my adult literature seminar on “the Use of Setting,” which requires me to read lots of long, not-so-entertaining books about not-so-entertaining topics and write lots of not-so-exciting papers on them, I’ve found myself needing sanity-saving distractions more than ever.

This month, one such distraction has mercifully arrived in the form of Ally Condie’s Crossed, which came out last week. In this dark, action-packed, emotionally-fueled sequel to Matched (read my review here!), separated lovers Cassia and Ky are trying to find their way back to each other — and the Society sure isn’t making it easy.

I also have a few go-to books that never fail me when I’m feeling sad/exhausted/depressed/overwhelmed/in need of an escape. Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me?, about a girl who wakes up in the hospital with amnesia and doesn’t recognize anything about her life — including her gorgeous stranger of a husband — is one of my all-time favorites. They really need to make a movie out of it — and let’s hope it’s better than that god-awful film version of Kinsella’s Shopaholic series.

Also, Stephenie Meyer knows exactly how to yank me out of any mood-induced funk. I’ll go back to The Host, Breaking Dawn, and New Moon (beginning at the part where Alice comes back, of course) time and time again, and even though I could probably recite the words by heart at this point, reading about things so far from reality as vampires, body-snatching aliens, and ridiculously perfect boyfriends makes me happy.

Crossed cover image courtesy of Dutton Books.

gravestone Now That Weve Got the Parents Out of the Way the Children Can Play: Guest Blogger K.L. Gore Investigates Absent Parents in Teen and Kid LitIn The Outsiders, Darryl, Soda Pop, and Ponyboy’s parents are dead. In The Chocolate War, Jerry’s mother is dead. In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s father is dead. Harry Potter’s parents? Dead. Dorothy Gale’s parents? Dead. Bambi’s mother? Dies right in front of our eyes. Yikes!

Either authors have bones to pick with their families, or they have excellent reasons for getting their character’s parents out of the way before a psychological journey commences.

What purpose does an absent parent serve?

If we look at middle grade books like The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, the Dinosaur Cove series by Rex Stone, or even at television shows such as the new Cat in the Hat cartoon, the parents are alive and well, but out of the picture. In fact, the parents have be absent, because the children are about to embark on a magical adventure. Face it, would you let your children face ninja warriors? Or walk amongst carnivorous dinosaurs? Or let a talking, mischievous cat drive off with them in a flying thing-a-ma-jigger?

If your answer is yes, you need to consider therapy. Otherwise, you can see why the parents in these stories are left out. Instead of hauling their children inside the house and warning them about stranger danger, these clueless adults chuckle in the background, sure their children are playing pretend and would never actually embark on a journey that included swimming with a Plesiosaur.

In other middle grade books, there’s an entire different reason for being parentless. Think Orphan Annie, for example, where the plot centers on Annie finding someone to love who will love her back unconditionally. Or A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, where the three Baudelaire children not only have to deal with their parents’ deaths (in a fire, mind you), but now are forced to live with Count Olaf, who does not appear to have their well-being in his best interest. In other words, if the parents were still alive, there would be no plot. At least, not the one the author intended.

And then we have middle grade books that are similar to young adult books: Coming of age stories. A child is forced to work through his or her problems without parental aid because…well…there aren’t any parents available to them. It doesn’t even need to be a dead parent. Mom could be strung out on wacky tobacky. Daddy might be too busy getting it on with his hot secretary. It’s all the same, really. The parent isn’t around to be the voice of reason. To stop the young ‘un from making the disastrous choice we know they’re seconds away from making.

In Julie Just’s essay in the New York Times “The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit”, she mentions other examples of books with absentee parents, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. “In the move to independence, the parent is all but forgotten, or occasionally pictured in a fond glow of love and regret,” she writes.

I can’t help but consider how easily pre-teens and teens accept a character with one or both parents dead, missing, or absent and neglectful. Come to think of it, growing up reading books with missing parents, I never found it odd or annoying. And if I think about it further, I realize that pretty much every story I wrote as a child or teen had at least one dead parent, if not two. Completely realistic. Never once questioned it.


Because if there weren’t any parents pestering a kid to do his homework or standing around making sure the dishes got done, then it made the story interesting. Because what did one do when there was no one to tell him or her what to do?

Author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford also wrote a post on his blog about absent parents. He sums it up perfectly: “I’m not a psychologist or an anthropologist or even a cultural historian (though I play one on a blog), but I am a former twelve-year-old, and I can remember how thrilling it was to read books where the kids were off on their own, fighting and outsmarting adults, dealing with harsh landscapes, facing their deepest fears, making unforgettable friendships, and, while I didn’t know it at the time, learning how to be adults.”

On the other hand, could sticking a dead or absent parent into your book seem like a plot device? Leila Sales, author and editor at Penguin Young Readers Books, writes: “It is not believable that so many kids are missing one, if not both parents. Slews of them! Hundreds! To quote Oscar Wilde, sort of: ‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose a parent in nearly every children’s book looks like lazy writing.’” She goes on to explain how it’s easier for authors to leave out the parents, how it gives the writer one less character to have to write about. Plus, she adds, adults often come off as boring. (Especially when they really, truly are.)

If you’re considering going parentless in your novel, ask yourself this: what purpose is it serving? Is it vital to the plot? Do the parents have to be dead? Can they be unaware instead? Or would it be best for the character that they remain nearby, in case they’re needed?

After all, not every character wants to ride in a thing-a-ma-jigger with a crazy cat at the wheel. And not every parent would let them.

Guest Blogger K.L. Gore resides in upstate New York with her husband and two children. A part-time writing instructor, she gives writing advice on her blog: www.klgore.com. Her stage play Something Blue (not to be confused with the novel of the same title) was performed on the theater stage, and she’s written and performed puppet shows for local schools and libraries. She loves to read just about anything. Represented by Regal Literary, she is now focusing her efforts on YA contemporary novels (although she is sneaking a little MG fantasy on the side).

pixel Now That Weve Got the Parents Out of the Way the Children Can Play: Guest Blogger K.L. Gore Investigates Absent Parents in Teen and Kid Lit

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