Teen Writers Bloc

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

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.

 

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

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.

Jane Wants to See More Diversity on the Shelves

Posted by Jane Moon On September - 28 - 2011

Magnified book 300x198 Jane Wants to See More Diversity on the ShelvesEarlier this year, I went to visit family in Alabama. During my stay, we went to a bookstore which was part of one of the largest chains in the area. (I’ll call it Store X.) The first thing I like to do is go directly to the YA section and look for certain authors, such as ones that I’ve heard at readings or whose books we read in our seminar classes.

So I searched the shelves and found most of the writers I was looking for. Libba Bray, Judy Blundell, M.T Anderson, Laurie Halse Anderson… they were all there. But some were missing. Julie Anne Peters wasn’t there. Nancy Garden wasn’t under “G.” The books that David Levithan co-wrote with other authors were on the shelves, but I couldn’t find any that he had written on his own. In short, there were no teen books about gay and lesbian characters.

Interestingly enough, there was a bookcase containing the Twilight series and other vampire themed books. Harry Potter and his wizard adventures were prominently displayed underneath a sign proclaiming “Reader Favorites.” And an entire section of the bookstore was dedicated to Bibles and Bible accessories. But I still couldn’t find Boy Meets Boy or Luna.

To be fair, I went to Store X’s website as soon as I got home and I found that they sell these books online. But my guess is that readers who come to this bookseller’s site aren’t aware these books are available, since they have significantly fewer reviews in comparison to other book selling websites.

My concern is that they chose not to put these books on the shelves. Young readers who come into the store would never know about great stories that could expand their points of view, like Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect or Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez. I know this isn’t outright censorship, but this particular store appears to be controlling what they want people to read. If a teen happens to come across Annie on My Mind while browsing the shelves, let that person decide if they want to read it or not.

Of course, being a private establishment, Store X has every right to put what books they want on their shelves. As much as I loved J.K. Rowling, maybe Store X can remove some copies of the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince from the ten that are on display and make room for some Julie Ann Peters titles. If Store X could open up its shelves a little, I’m sure they could open so many minds.

Photo credit ntwowe at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2043

22628 Alysons Summer Reading List Begs the Question: Is Rocky Horror Old Or Retro? My mother and I went to Barnes & Nobles a few weeks ago to buy my 15-year-old brother a “free reading book,” for after his final exams. We bought two copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one for my brother and one for me. When I called to ask what he thought of the book, he said, “It’s kind of old, Alyson. I mean, Rocky Horror Picture Show is dated.”

“Really?” I asked. “I thought it was retro?”

“And no offense, but it says MTV on the back.”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.

“Alyson.” He said my name like our 11-year-age gap made me elderly.

I expected him to have criticisms of the book, but it surprised me that he couldn’t get beyond the cover. When I was a freshman in high school (and my brother was 4), MTV was banned in our house. It didn’t stop me from sneaking downstairs to watch hours of forbidden music videos and marathons of The Real World, which at the time were “the shit.” And admittedly I went to Coolidge Corner for the midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show and left dancing to Meatloaf more than once.

So when I went to make my own summer reading list, I consulted an expert. My brother and I both agree that The Hunger Games is a must. And with the movie coming out, I say, read it now. Plus, I love starting a series over the summer, because it doesn’t have to end in the middle of your perfect beach day, which is why I’m also adding Harry Potter and Uglies to the list.

But as I told my brother, if you want a summer read that’s classic and contemporary (and epistolary), The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great pick, regardless of how you feel about MTV.

49628 hi ThisIsTeen postcard 214x300 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensYesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the This is Teen Live event in New York City, featuring the amazing YA authors Libba Bray, Meg Cabot and Maggie Stiefvater. I also had the distinct pleasure of taking several of the students from the school where I am a librarian to meet the authors. These students are readers — they are required to finish at least 50 books a year, and many of them have doubled that — and to them meeting the authors whose names adorn the books in their library was akin to meeting movie stars.

The event was very successful. The Scholastic Store was full to the brim with avid teen and adult readers. The authors were entertaining and honest in their answers and the Q and A was brief and to-the-point.

The highlight of the experience for me was when one of our students was called on to ask a question, not merely because it was fun to see him with a microphone in front of these authors, but because of their honest and powerful answers. He asked, “What do you hope teens will learn from your books?”

beauty queens 98x150 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensLibba Bray, author of the newly published Beauty Queens and many other books for young adults, fielded this question first with an answer that I thought was truly inspire. In short, she said: “Whatever they want.” She pointed out that she is writing to tell a story, not to teach teens about the world. She wants all of her readers — teens and adults alike — to feel that they own the book at the end.

I was so blown away but the honesty and respect in her answer that I was unsure if the other two panelists could possibly have anything to add. But they did.

Meg Cabot said she agreed fully with Ms. Bray, but with the one caveat that she wants her readers to understand they aren’t alone. abandon meg cabot book cover 103x150 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensShe wants her readers to recognize the truth behind the emotions in her fiction and realize that other people have been though the same trials they go through. For example, in her new book, Abandon, the main character dates someone her mother does not like — the God of the Underworld.

While Ms. Cabot — and presumably all of her readers — have never faced the trial of dating someone literally out of Hades, the emotions there are ones to which almost all humanity can relate. But Ms. Cabot also pointed out that writing for adults, young adults, or middle-grade children — all of which she has done in her long career — is essentially the same thing.

Forever 100x150 This is Teen Live: Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot on Why They Write for TeensFinally, Maggie Stiefvater reminded us that reading is a form of entertainment. The message she has been putting subliminally on each page is simple — “buy the next book.” And, it’s working. That’s why so many people will be flocking to book stores the minute Forever hits shelves in July.

I was thrilled that the young readers who attended this event with me were able to hear such honesty from the authors of the books they devour. They were spoken to like people instead of like little people. After meeting the three authors and getting signed copies of the books for our library, all of them were leaving feeling special and respected. And, of course, looking forward to the next This is Teen Live event!

The First Year: Alyson Says ‘Go Ahead, Bring on the Applause’

Posted by Alyson Gerber On May - 9 - 2011

IMG 1377 300x225 The First Year: Alyson Says Go Ahead, Bring on the Applause“I can’t believe I’m almost 17. That is so old. I’ve accomplished nothing I thought I would,” I wrote in all capital letters inside of my pink diary during the summer before my senior year at The Governor’s Academy. Growing up, the sunny season marked another year gone by and another journal, with that same tone, self-imposed pressure and disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, I love summer, always have — burgers on the grill, lemonade and lobster rolls, weekends on the beach in Maine and camp. But something about the time of year, the change in weather and the end of school, instigated an irrational feeling that I was running out of time.

So when I woke up this morning and realized it was spring in Union Square, all I could think was, “No, I’m not ready.”

It felt like the puffy winter jackets and tall leather boots had disappeared over night. The farmer’s market was packed with Mother’s Day shoppers buying fresh bouquets, planters and pansies. At 26-years-old, as I looked out my window, trying to assess what 54 with a high of 72 actually meant in terms of clothing, I started to panic. I only had one more week left of school. What if I hadn’t done everything I’d set out to?

I sat at the kitchen table (my wet hair still wrapped in a towel) and made a list of my accomplishments since starting graduate school: I finished a Young Adult novel, signed with an incredible literary agent, started two new projects, read so many books I lost count, and finished two semesters.

I put the list in my blazer pocket before I walked outside. For the first time ever, it occurred to me that I was actually in a great place. This is not to say that nothing good had ever happened to me before, I had a lot to be thankful for, but to feel proud of myself for five crowded New York City blocks was a substantial accomplishment.

So when I got to 15th Street, I threw the list away in one of those green metal trashcans.

I’m not one of those people who can’t take a compliment (go ahead, bring on the applause), but I am my own worst nightmare, my biggest critic, and I knew if I ever re-read what I wrote, I would only see the holes, the list of things I hadn’t done. And rather than punish myself for all the goals left hanging in the balance, I wanted to enjoy the temporary feeling of success.

I knew the panic would eventually come again. It was reliable, something I could count on to push me off the next cliff. But this year, the most important thing I learned was that sometimes it’s OK to build yourself up, for a few blocks anyway.

Photo Credit: Blushing and Sweet

Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the Holocaust

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 3 - 2011

 Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the HolocaustStarting Sunday evening at sundown, people around the world will light candles and say prayers in memory of those lost in the Holocaust this week.

As a child, I learned about the Holocaust in the 4th grade through the wonderful books The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (as well as a little known book Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier, which I still have my tattered copy of). These books were instrumental in helping me conceptualize the horrors of what happened to Jewish men, women, and children, but also how a group of people persevered with hope and strength. These books were placed in my hands at the perfect time developmentally, and even as an adult, I still have vivid memories of Annemarie and the casket in Lowry’s Number the Stars and the tension I felt when Hannah opened the door to welcome the prophet Elijah.

 Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the HolocaustLike all kids learning about the world, I remember being horrified that something like this could’ve happened, and can recall pummeling my mother and father with questions that had no real answers. I remember the awkward expressions that donned the faces of my Jewish classmates as every non-Jewish kid stared at them, waiting for their reactions to the things our teacher told us about the Holocaust. I remember walking home from school with my Jewish friend Stephanie, wanting to ask if her grandparents survived the camps, but felt too ashamed to do so. Well-written books about the Holocaust helped me find avenues into the complexities of  this horrific event. I do wonder if these books help Jewish children grapple with this inherited burden? Or do the books have more of a profound impact on non-Jewish people who are “witnessing” the horrors of another group? (I’ll have to pose the question to my fellow TWB Alyson Gerber .)

Number the Stars Yom Hashoah: A Brown Girl Remembers the HolocaustBeing exposed to the tragedy of the Holocaust helped me wrestle with past atrocities related to the Black American community. Fifth grade was the year we learned about American Slavery and the Middle Passage. Now I was in the hot seat the same way my Jewish counterparts had been the year before. Faces turned to look at me and the three other black kids in class (Kara, Brett, and Whitney). I knew vaguely about slavery, as I grew up with southern parents and grandparents who had left the south for a reason. But my parents didn’t prepare me for what I was going to learn in school.

Our teacher showed us clips from the movie Roots and we read excerpts from slave narratives and folktales, as there were no books for us to read about this experience at that time. It was horrific coming face to face with the painful reality of how your people came to America. But my teacher connected it back to the Holocaust and the values of strength, perseverance, and overcoming adversity. I think learning about the Holocaust helped prepare me for the details about American slavery and the Black slave experience. Being able to read about the terrible things that happened to Jewish people helped me confront the horrible things that happened Black people, and start to grapple with the inherited burden in my past.

Coming full circle, as a former third/fourth grade teacher, I taught Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, and was able to use the horrific event of the Holocaust as a way to explore other human atrocities, and help students from diverse backgrounds start to think about how they can relate to this terrible event in human history. I am thankful for top-notch children’s literature on the Holocaust as a vehicle to explore what happened and ensure that it will never happen again.

In the words of President Obama, “We must heed the urgency to listen to and care for the last living survivors, camp liberators and the witnesses to the Shoah. And we must meet our sacred responsibility to honor all those who perished by recalling their courage and dignity in the face of unspeakable atrocities, by insisting that the world never forget them, and by always standing up against intolerance and injustice.”

Never forget…

Photo Credit: Sandpiper, Puffin, ArmyMWR, Yisi.org

IMG 0049 84x150 For Amber, Its Not Where You Are, But What Youre Listening ToCurrently, I’m working on two realistic narratives. Both are in the beginning stages and won’t get fleshed out until summer. My stories tend to be about friendship and love. They are also about how teens react to being given once in a lifetime opportunities — do they squander the chance or take full advantage of what’s in front of them? One day, I can only hope to see my books in the amazing company of such wonderful authors as Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

When I write, I usually sit at my desk or on my bed, but I’ve been known to bring notebooks to various Starbucks around the city, too. No matter where I end up though, I need to listen to music in order to block out any background noise that could potentially distract me.  That’s not the only purpose music serves though. We all know that music has the power to inspire. For me, a certain song can spark an idea or trigger a memory that leads to a possible scene or plot point or description. Music influences my emotions in other ways as well. When I’m stressed it relaxes me and refocuses my energy. There’s no way I could write, let alone live well, without it.

pixel For Amber, Its Not Where You Are, But What Youre Listening To
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