Teen Writers Bloc

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

Jane’s Take on the Film Adaptation Issue

Posted by Jane Moon On November - 16 - 2012

cat in the hat Janes Take on the Film Adaptation IssueI used to hate when books are made into movies. I’m the kind of person who believes that the reader should use only their imagination and the author’s descriptions to know what a character should look like, how they sound and what kind of personalities they have.

Whenever I go to see a movie adaptation of a book, I prepare myself to be disappointed. I read Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher and I went to see it when it came out on the big screen. The movie ending made me wish I could get that hour and 30 minutes of my life back. I loved The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The film adaptation was decent but I still didn’t get that this-is-as-good-as-the-book feeling. And whoever came up with the idea to ruin Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat needs to stay out of the entertainment business. The closest I’ve come to liking the film version were both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Sorry, but I felt the first six could have been better.)

The only movie that came the closest to my expectations was The Hunger Games. After an *ahem* intense peer group session with classmates Mary and Kevin, we decided to go see a movie. I actually liked this one. In fact, I thought it was almost as good as the book. Even though the characters weren’t quite how I had imagined them to be, I felt they were still excellent representations of the ones in the book.

Even though The Hunger Games was well done, I still don’t believe there can be a movie adaptation than can equal the book itself. But maybe when Catching Fire comes out, it might change my mind.

Book cover image courtesy of Random House BFYR

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.

Mary Rants About Movies

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 12 - 2012

Crying 300x199 Mary Rants About MoviesSo … this month’s topic is YA books made into movies. How can this not turn into a rant? Folks, I seriously tried to come up with a movie based on a YA book that I loved. But the truth is, even though some of them are okay in that they don’t make me scream and cry and yell “Why, God, Why?” none of them live up to the books they’re based on. I know this is a true fact, and every time a movie comes out based on a book I liked, I say I’m not going to watch it, but then I do. Take, for example, The Golden Compass, based on the book by Phillip Pullman. The movie did a really good job of following the events and characters of the book, but had none of the life or the magic. Pullman’s world simply didn’t appear on screen. I wish this was 1910 and I could go to a warehouse and burn all existing film for doing such injustice to a great book. Take The City of Ember, based on the book by Jeanne DuPrau. This, too, followed the events of the book, but the main characters were too old and the movie showed the scariest part of the book, when the entire city goes dark for seven minutes—a bone chilling thrill in the book—in full lighting. Why, God, Why? Take the Harry Potter films. How could anyone possibly do justice to this series? How can a true book lover accept a watered down, extensively cut snippet of such a classic? Take The Hunger Games. How could a true fan accept the movie’s lack of emotional resonance? Take Twilight, which … oh, never mind, I didn’t like the book anyway.

I could probably go on for hours and hours, blog page after blog page, until we’re all old and white-haired and crazy. I just have one more movie to discuss, which wins the award for Worst Movie Adaptation Ever: The Wizard of Oz. What? You say. This movie is a classic! That’s true, and to be honest, I did watch and re-watch the movie as a kid just like everyone else. But I read the book before I saw the movie, and I eventually read all of the original L. Frank Baum Oz books, plus many many more written by his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson, and I love Oz. I love it just the way it is, as a real place and not a dream. Now, I bet L. Frank Baum, had he lived to see the movie, wouldn’t have had any problem with it, because shortly after the initial success of the book, it was turned into a traveling stage extravaganza that made him a lot of money, which he loved. He even put an army of knitting-needle-wielding girls in the second Oz book possibly for the sole purpose of becoming dancing girls during a future stage production. So I’m not defending the author’s honor here. I’m defending my honor as a reader, as the little girl who used to lie awake at night imagining walking down the yellow brick road and having adventures that would take her away from her boring life. That little girl was a firm believer in the world of the book and never took any stock with all that dream crap. How dare a bunch of filmmakers in Hollywood try to take away a little girl’s escape hatch and turn it into something smarmy and Technicolor and fake? Yes, movie adaptations of books I love make me angry. But dear Hollywood people, please buy my books and turn them into movies, because like L. Frank Baum, I need the money.

Jean-Paul Recommends The Hunger Games Because She Didn’t Hate It

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On August - 3 - 2012

Hunger Games Jean Paul Recommends The Hunger Games Because She Didnt Hate ItSometimes, I try to stay away from what’s popular because I just can’t believe the hype surrounding it. I waited until the second book came out in the Harry Potter series before reading the first one, and of course I was hooked by the opening line. I just couldn’t believe a book could be that good, that everyone who read it ended up loving it, and so I didn’t give in until I got tired of people disbelieving me when I said I hadn’t read the first book.

Then came Twilight and I couldn’t understand how a book with such bad reviews could be so popular. I wanted to know why, what was it about Bella and Edward that captivated people? I wish I could lie and say I’ve never read Twilight, but I have. And I read the sequel. But I stopped with the third book. Out of pure curiosity, I had a friend tell me how everything ended and then did a finger puppet reenactment for some other friends who hadn’t read any of the books. The reenactment was basically my right index finger intensely asking my left index finger, “Why aren’t you scared of me?” and then brooding while my left index finger floated through the scene in a selfish haze.

So when The Hunger Games exploded on the scene, I was cautious. I heard the complaints about it being a weak Battle Royale ripoff, but then I saw it rising to the top of the bestseller lists. Friends and classmates recommended it, but I didn’t want another Twilight experience, and I knew nothing could ever live up to the hype like Harry Potter did, so I just said, “yeah, okay, I’ll check it out,” knowing full well I was planning on doing nothing of the sort. The only reason I ended up reading the book is because my sister bought movie tickets and I wanted to know how I was going to be wasting two hours of my life.

I went into the book expecting the worst and came out pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t that bad. Actually, it was pretty good. I had to give Suzanne Collins props because I was only hoping I’d be able to finish the book and she had me wanting more.

I’ve read quite a few books this summer, some good, some bad, one or two awesome ones, and it’s kinda funny that I consider The Hunger Games the best book I’ve read these past few months simply because I didn’t hate it. I know Public Enemy told everyone not to believe the hype, but in this case giving a hyper-popular book a try was totally worth it.

Image courtesy of Scholastic

Steven’s Lovechildren

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On July - 20 - 2012

Book 600x438 Stevens LovechildrenIf I had to describe my current projects as lovechildren of different YA titles, well, I’m not really sure that that would be fair to my work and the work of those poor, poor already established-and-published authors who would more-likely-than-not be offended by my comparisons. Alas, I love these types of games (and I secretly play this game all the time – not just with my work, but with other authors, musical artists and even movies), so I can’t resist.

My first second complete manuscript, How I Set Myself On Fire, is kind of a genre-crossing novel in the sense that it’s realistic, yet has certain cartoonish elements. It’s serious, yet fun and witty. It’s topical, specific, yet I think it relates to a broader concept. Vague, right? (I’m superstitious – and agent-less – so I like to keep details under wraps). Anyway, if I had to describe it as a combination of X, Y, and Z, I would have to say it has the wit, charm, and NYC flare of David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, the artistry and topical nature of Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary, with the lightest touch of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in my main character.

As for the project I’m working on now, without giving too much away, I would have to say it’s like Perry Moore’s Hero meet’s Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games meets your typical superhero graphic novel.

So there you have it. My literary lovechildren.

Note: David Levithan, Nick Burd, Suzanne Collins, and the legacies of JD Salinger and Perry Moore were not harmed in the writing of this TWB post.

Cover images courtesy of Ember and Speak

Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On May - 18 - 2012

Manuscript 600x450 Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

The Writing for Children MFA experience at The New School — gulp, I can’t believe it’s over — was one of the most enriching educational experiences of my life. Here’s my attempt at capturing it in an ABCDErium with pros, cons and random essentials.

Authors. Meet them, read them, learn from them, learn with them, learn how to be one.

Amazing classmates. I really lucked out with this batch. Cheers class of 2012, you rocked!

ABCDErium. (ABBA-SEE-DA-REE-YUM) An A to Z perspective on a topic that you write after you meditate on it for a while and then just let it free-flow as you unleash your thoughts. An assignment for class I taught was to write an ABCDErium on Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew. See Juggling.

Books. The MFA was a great way to learn things I never knew and needed to know about the business of books. I saw many of my classmates land book deals during the program. I also read more books in the last two years than I ever had—sometimes more than three books a week. At any point of the program my desk was covered in more than 15 books. Bliss!

Craft. Gathered immense respect for the craft of writing and the gazillion things that make it what it is: Thoughts. Plots. Words. Story arc. Character sketches. Voice. First person. Second person. Third person. Sub plots. Themes. Motifs. Summaries. Outlines. Revisions. Chapters. Buttons. Grammar. Edits. Rewrites. Writing is a beautiful complex organic stimulating scientific thing. As Andrea Davis Pinkney says: Writers Write.

Community of writers. Perhaps the best part of the MFA (at least for me) was the opportunity to share and learn with many inspiring and talented writers and build life-long associations with them.

Deadlines. The four scariest words for a writer — “I have a deadline.” And the only ones that get the job done. I doubt I’d be able to churn out my writing without deadlines — a journalism that trait stuck on. But as the MFA progressed, I feel like I coped with managing deadlines better. (I confess, this post was turned in late, but hey, I’m working on getting better at TWB deadlines.)

David Levithan. Taught us a seminar on teen lit in the first semester. Knows the YA and teen lit genre like the back of his hand and teaches a mad inspiring class about it. He is also very funny.

Expensive. Unless you have benefits, be prepared to be over $60K in debt. A part scholarship doesn’t even begin to count.

Focus. A writing degree with a focus on Writing for Children. As of now, few universities around the world  (seven to be precise) offer such a niche master’s creative writing program.

Feed. A dystopian novel by MT Anderson, one of my favorites from the reading list in the first semester. I loved the fact that the books on our syllabus were contemporary and uber cool.

Go For It. If you can afford it and are even thinking about a creative writing MFA, Go For It. It’s a great way to get started on writing projects that you’ve imagined for years but never gotten around to completing. Who knows, you might finally write that winning manuscript—or at least get started on it.

Harry Potter was not on our syllabus. Nor The Hunger Games. A lot of books you’d expect to see on a syllabus for a Writing for Children program weren’t on ours. In fact, the reading list for the Writing for Children concentration, with David Levithan and Susan Van Metre’s class (the only two classes that focus on children’s literature and were both fantastic) put together didn’t go beyond 45 books in the genre. Sure, we studied a LOT of excellent books, and yes, I definitely read tons outside of the syllabus as my own self-study. But I do feel like the program could use a more comprehensive and extensive reading list, and certainly one with more cultural diversity. Besides Sherman Alexie, Coe Booth and Grace Lin, I found the reading list dominated by white American authors. I don’t recall reading anything by a single Indian author. Perhaps the only Indian character I encountered was Bibi, a Bengali nanny from Julie Sternberg’s Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

Immersed. I feel like someone drowned me in a bottomless, delicious tub of kidlit.

Juggling. You could choose to focus solely on your writing, like some of my classmates. Or you could be adventurous and juggle real life (a time-consuming job) and write when no one’s looking, like others. Either way, writing requires some serious juggling skills that an MFA is sure to hone. In the first year I juggled with adjusting to life in a new country, as well as coping with a new system of education. I’d never left home before, so that was all pretty overwhelming, along with learning how to write academic papers, something I hadn’t formally learnt during my schooling in India. In the second year I was offered a Teaching Assistant position with New School’s Riggio Honors Program in Writing & Democracy, which was a fantastic opportunity for personal growth and learning. In Fall 2011 I assisted the amazing Tom Healy with his class The Writer’s Playlist, a close-listening and reading seminar that explores links between music and literature, both of which I’m passionate about. (That’s also where I discovered what an ABCDErium is). In Spring 2012 I joined the editorial team at 12th Street, New School’s award-winning literary journal, where I had the opportunity to work with a dedicated team of student editors and contributors as we assembled the fifth issue of the magazine, from editing to production, publicity and beyond. Both my TA experiences invaluably broadened my reading range and literary network. Word.

Knowledge. It’s the foundation of the MFA, isn’t it?

Kevin Joinville. My buddy and the only boy in our class. The Writing for Children concentration usually has just the token male. This is not a pro or a con, just a mere observation.

Lang Café. Spent a lot of time inside it with peer group. Or by myself in the courtyard next to it staring into trees for inspiration and, yes, eavesdropping on conversations.

Manuscript. What a beautiful word! Say it with me: MAA-NUU-SCRIPT. By the time you graduate with an MFA, you might have one. Or two. Or three! Or you might have the semblance of a manuscript. Whatever the case, it’s a great feeling (I want to say accomplishment) to see a word document grow page by page into a large body of work. I wrote a little over ten pages of a story in the third semester that eventually became the major chunk of my creative thesis. And towards the end of thesis semester, my MAA-NUU-SCRIPT grew wild and unkempt, complete and uncontrollable.

New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made, yo.

New School. I’m proud to call it my writing Alma Mater. I had six other schools to pick from, and the New School was always numero uno on my list. I’m pretty convinced I made the right decision. Too many reasons. New School’s history of writers, which I was totally unaware of until recently, all the people I met during my time there, the fact that New York city is the helm of publishing and watering hole for aspiring writers, my amazing classmates. Let’s just say that the New School was an important and exciting chapter in the life of Riddhi Kamal Parekh.

Overwhelming. See New School.

Others. Writers of other genres. Like them Poets. Or writers of Fiction and NonFiction. Writers completely unlike those who Write for Children. There’s really minimal interaction amongst the WFC people and the other streams. My classmates may disagree, but I wish there was more mingling amongst the genres. Because, I mean, in real life, a writer is a writer is a writer, right? Also, how else would we have met the one and only Lenea Grace?

Peer group. In the fourth and final semester you suddenly find yourself rid of weekly classes and seminars. Instead, you meet with a peer group — a small group of classmates who read your work and give you feedback on it, and you do the same for theirs. My peer group felt balanced, committed and extremely inspiring, making the MFA worth every precious dollar. Amy Ewing, Caela Carter, Jess Verdi, Mary G. Thompson. You girls are my supportive upper lip.

Picture books. A largely ignored aspect of the Writing for Children program at The New School. Because of my interest in the genre, for some reason I had imagined there would be a larger focus on picture books. Perhaps the chance to collaborate with students from Parsons or something. But no such luck. My classmates even raised this issue with the faculty and tried to gain access to Children’s Book Illustration taught by Jacquie Hann, offered by The New School’s Continuing Education Program. This class might have been more beneficial than having to take a class outside of the Writing for children concentration (see Mary’s post for this month on this issue), but due to logistics or something, none of us were offered this class. We did, however, have a series of fantastic weekend workshops towards the end of each semester. One of them was in Picture Books, by the lovely Sarah Ketchersid, and I hope she continues conducting them at The New School. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s weekend workshop in Writing Cross-Culturally was also MUCH needed. Hats off to Dhonielle Clayton for arranging that. Like picture books, Cultural Diversity in Children’s and Teen Literature is another scarce aspect of the program. I’m sure everyone who attended these workshops will agree that they need to be further integrated into the overall curriculum of the Writing for Children program.

Questions. There are many swirling in my mind. Like was the MFA worth it? What happens next with my career? Will I find a job in publishing? Is it the MBA equivalent of Writing? What kind of jobs does one look for after an MFA im Creative Writing? Does it qualify you to teach? Will I ever sell my manuscript? Will I get an agent? Will I be the next JK Rowling? Who knows? Keep checking this blog for updates.

Quiet. There’s nothing as inspiring as a humorous ditty about writing a thesis or some ridiculous Hinglish Bollywood song  to get me recharged and get the words flowing again. But really, I do prefer silence when I’m writing—something I discovered through the course of this program. And yes, most people who are not writers, like roommates or friends who do ‘normal’ banking stuff or members of family may imagine that creative writing is a recreational and enjoyable activity where writers get high and turn on music and snap into the creative zone where writing page after page is just so easy. But really, no. Peace and quiet. Very essential to the process. (Oh bite me, you know Q is hard. But X is the hardest!).

Reading your work aloud. Yes, you have to do it in front of everyone at the end of your thesis semester. A few weeks ago, I read from my work at an MFA Student reading at Lang Center at The New School. It was the last student reading of our graduate program, where selected faculty and first and second year MFAers from all streams — Fiction, Poetry, NonFiction and Writing for Children — read from their work for about 3 to 4 minutes. Newly admitted students of Fall 2012 were invited to come and watch. Standing at the lectern, I zipped down nostalgia express to the first time I was in that very space at Lang Center. I was part of the audience — the sea of writers at the MFA orientation. I can still remember that feeling of being lost, as we called out our concentrations, and felt a little hope when I heard others call out the WFC concentration — although most said poetry or fiction. Back then, I never imagined I’d have anything to read to a room full of people, let alone be proud of it. If you chose to avail it, the monthly student readings at the New School great chance to the develop the confidence to read your work and to hear your peers and were a super supportive environment for me.

Submission. See Deadlines.

TWB. Teen Writers Bloc. This blog is a result of the MFA program class of 2012. And isn’t it the best thing ever? Three cheers to TWB! I’m proud to be a part of it.

Thesis semester. See Manuscript, Peer group.

Urban dictionary. A great resource for writing-related research. No, seriously.

Uneconomical. Can you learn the things you learn in an MFA program outside it? Sure you can. But will you take the time out to commit to your writing? And then will it be worth it? It’s a call every aspiring MFA candidate must to take. See Expensive, Overwhelming.

Voice. Very important when writing for children, teens, young adults and first-person narratives. David Levithan’s reading list introduced us to some fantastic voices. See David Levithan.

Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a low-residency MFA Program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. MT Anderson is part of the faculty. I’d love to hear more about it and compare the two programs. See Focus.

Writing for children. Gah. Pretty much the subject of this ABCDErium, no? See Go For It.

Xenophile. A deadly word I discovered in a desperate attempt to complete this post. Like the remarkable Dhonielle Clayton and myself, a xenophile is an individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures. (Give me a break, you know X is the hardest!) See Quiet.

YA. I wasn’t as aware how extensive this literary genre was before I embarked to this program. Maybe it’s bigger in America? I’m not sure. Either way, YA rocks. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_adult_literature) See David Levithan.

Zipped by. Whooooosh. It really did. I wish it didn’t pause for three months during the summer.

Photo Credit: Riddhi Parekh

Guest Blogger Jean-Paul Bass Puts the ‘Hero’ Back in Heroine

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On April - 11 - 2012

4329812168 f65b2cf670 n Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Puts the Hero Back in Heroine

She sighs. She huffs. She mumbles. She does everything except depend on herself. In the background, there is always a knight on a white horse just waiting to come to her rescue. Even if she pushes him away (usually for his own good, or so she tells herself), in the end she can’t be saved without his help.

In recent years, books have relied on the damsel-in-distress as the main female protagonist. It made me wonder if today’s teens are so blinded by the hero’s stunning abs that they don’t realize the heroine could’ve saved herself if she was a bit more plucky and a lot less sucky. But the times, they are a changin’, and none too soon, if you ask me.

With blockbusters like The Hunger Games dominating screens, bestseller lists, and even news sites, books with strong female leads are popping up on reading lists all over the blogosphere. Everyone wants to root for the girl who can kick butt, and readers are demanding more books with strong females in lead roles, but does that mean that’s all she can do?  It seems that many people equate “strong female lead” with traits usually associated with masculinity, such as being a good fighter and ruthlessness.

Giving a female character mostly male characteristics simply reinforces the idea that the stereotypes associated with girls are undesirable.  There are a lot of traits girls can be proud of, such as our compassion, being fiercely protective of those in our care, and we should definitely be proud of our superior communicative abilities. That’s right — we may talk too much for some people’s tastes, but we know how to make a point and that is a good thing.

When I was growing up, I was enthralled by Anne Shirley, the heroine of Anne of Green Gables. She has spunk, she’s upbeat, clever, and she’s determined. Once she set her mind on something, she made it happen. When her friendship is forbidden by Diana Barry’s mother after she mistakenly gives Diana three glasses of wine instead of the raspberry cordial Diana was expecting, Anne becomes determined to win over Diana’s mother so that they may once again be friends. By the end of the book, Mrs. Barry and the entire town are enamored with Anne and the incident is forgotten.

Anne is a strong female lead and although she probably couldn’t punch her way out of a paper bag, she sure could talk you into letting her out. What makes Anne such a strong lead is not that she has masculine traits (because she doesn’t), but that she is written so vividly and convincingly as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer and who uses her guile and wits to her advantage. And really, that’s what being strong boils down to — deciding for yourself what happens next in your life and making it happen.

I’m glad to see warrior-like characters such as Katniss (The Hunger Games) get their due. It’s time for strong female leads to once again dominate the bookshelves and cinemas. But when writing our own badass female characters, let’s not forget that sometimes a feminine touch can go just as far as a punch.

Bio: Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all.  She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction at The New School and is writing a memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.   

Photo credit: Flickr – manan0410

215px HungerGamesPoster 195x300 Breaking YA News: Hunger Games Theme Park to Feature Actual Tributes from Thirteen StatesUniversal Studios has announced that it will begin work on a theme park that will let fans live the experience of Katniss Everdeen, star of the popular Hunger Games movie and book series. Thanks to an agreement between Universal, the film’s producers, and the country’s most cash-strapped states, the park will feature actual live tributes, whose families will be paid $1,000 for each day their tribute survives after beginning his or her shift.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” says Universal president Barney Rhodes. “The states get lump sum payments that will really help with their budget deficits, plus they’ll save the cash they would have spent on welfare and Medicaid. The families replace their mouths to feed with crisp green dollars. And Hunger Games fans get to live out their dream of killing other people for no reason. People love these books because of the senseless murder. We’re giving them what they want and making it even more fun!”

Author Suzanne Collins was less excited about the plan. “They’re doing thirteen states,” she said. “But in my books, only twelve districts send tributes. Unless they fix this inaccuracy, I might have to sue for breach of contract.” But Universal was sanguine about the threat. “She sold her rights to us fair and square,” said a spokesperson. “Plus, Mississipi needed the money. It’s a win-win.”

Teen Writers Bloc also spoke to some fans. “Omigod, I can’t wait!” said self-described “superfan” Angela Burbank, 18, whom we spoke to outside a midnight showing of the Hunger Games movie. “I hope we get to do some of the killing ourselves. It would suck if it was just, like, behind some glass or something.”

“I don’t know,” said 12-year-old Alyssa. “If the tributes are getting paid, it’s not really the same. If they start doing a lottery thing, I’ll think about it.”

We followed up with Universal to see if becoming a tribute would, in fact, be voluntary. “It’s up to the parent,” said the spokesperson. “We br … I mean convinced state legislators to change the laws to make children property of the parents until they turn eighteen. Republicans know our way is better than birth control. So the parents can sell them to us or not. But I can tell you, we’ve already got more offers than we can handle! One father even offered his son for free. He said the kid was a sissy for reading a ‘girl’ book like The Hunger Games and this would teach him.”

We then asked if Universal had any plans for a similar theme park centering around 1990s Japanese bestseller Battle Royale, which also features teenagers senselessly murdering each other at the behest of an evil government. “What? Never heard of it. Hunger Games is totally original,” said the spokesperson, who hung up on us.

Look for “The Hunger Games: Isn’t Senseless Slaughter Fun?” to open at Universal Studios Florida in summer 2015!

Photo courtesy Lionsgate 

Steven’s Writer’s Crush on JK Rowling

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On March - 30 - 2012

J.K. Rowling Steven’s Writer’s Crush on JK RowlingI have a writers crush on JK Rowling. If life was Hogwarts, JK Rowling would be the Cho Chang to my Harry Potter, (circa books 4 & 5), the Hermione to my Ron, the Harry Potter to my obsessed Rita Skeeter, the Fleur Delacuer to, well, every Hogwarts male with a pulse.

Sure, she’s old enough to be my mom, but if it wasn’t for her, I never would have had the incredible pleasure of tasting the intoxicating Butterbeer I had when I was at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Florida last month.

Okay, that’s not the only reason why I love JK Rowling. I will go on record, right here and now, and say that JK Rowling is one of the most prolific, skilled contemporary writers of our generation. Her prose is flawless; it has a flow to it that her contemporaries only dream of having in their writing.

Oh, and then there’s the world-building. The wizarding world, Hogwarts, and everything else about the Harry Potter series is so well thought out, so intricate, so tightly woven that it makes me curse the heavens that I wasn’t blessed with the idea (and the talent) to write the Harry Potter series (which means I would’ve been 12-years-old when Sorcerer’s Stone was released had I written it. Whatever, I’d be famous). To think that she is often mentioned in the same breath as Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins is laughable (don’t get me wrong, I also have a writer’s boner for The Hunger Games, but that’s for an entirely different reason). Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is one of the most poorly written book series I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying to read.

But I won’t be negative. Anymore. Starting … now!

Let’s get back to the world-building. She built that series with such care that each chapter in each book fits into each other, and in the end, it all comes together making sense as a whole piece. I can only dream of constructing such a world, a set of characters, a piece of writing. One of my favorite pieces by her is from The Tales of Beedle the Bard called “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” originally featured in the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. JK Rowling was able to construct her own fairytale in the vein of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, which is both entertaining and teaches its readers morals like humility and greed. It is prose poetry in the truest, most sincere form; simply breath-taking.

JK Rowling is an unending source of inspiration for me, not only within her actual writing, but as a writer in general. When Harry Potter was rejected by agents and editors (I bet you’re kicking yourselves now, eh?), she never gave up. She pressed on and became one of the best selling authors of all time. She’s a class act, a remarkable woman, and one helluva talented writer.

Since March is Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a moment to honor JK Rowling because, for this man, JK Rowling is a woman to aspire to.

The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On March - 27 - 2012

 The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!The Hunger Games made a dynamic showing this past weekend and most fans seem to be generally pleased with the adaptation of the book to the big screen. They’ve praised the director and those involved with the film for its adherence to many pivotal elements of the book. But in the midst of excitement and great press for YA books, a nasty cloud looms.

A friend sent me an article from Jezebel about all of the racist posts and tweets about the characters of Rue and Thresh from District 11 (Read about these idiot racists more here). The tweets aren’t for the faint of heart and sound like they are snippets taken from some backwoods, Jim Crow bar before a Klan rally. I am horrified and disgusted and, frankly, PISSED!

These particular fans claim that neither Rue nor Thresh were written as black characters. They hated the movie because of it. They don’t believe black actors and actresses should have these dynamic, pivotal, and heart-breaking roles (especially Rue). Maybe they can use this argument with the character of Cinna, who isn’t completely racialized by Collins. But if these fans paid attention to Suzanne Collins’ text, they would discover that she did, indeed, write them as black characters. She was even quoted as saying that Rue and Thresh were African-American.

But I have to admit that even some of my like-minded, YA-savvy friends emailed me after the casting for The Hunger Games came out and said, “Was Rue really BLACK?” And then I had to re-think the plot and characters and remember this fact. I, myself, had forgotten. This is a huge problem that I will return to.

In my copy of the book, Rue is first mentioned when Katniss is watching recaps of The Reapings in other Districts. Rue is described as, “… a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor” (45). And the other tribute is described as “the boy from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and a half feet tall …” (126).

Gale and Rue from THE HUNGER GAMES movie The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!Perhaps this line is missing from the racists’ books. Perhaps I am wrong and can’t read very well. Perhaps the millions of fans who’ve come to defense of Rue and Thresh and the actor and actress who play them are somehow delusional.

I was so happy that Suzanne Collins created characters that looked like me with hair just like mine. I was so happy that Suzanne Collins populated her world with all types of human beings so that each teen reader could find their “future” self on the page. She could’ve made them all-white and no one would’ve blinked.

But I can’t help thinking: Did Suzanne Collins drop the ball with her minority characters by not reminding readers that they were minorities or non-white?

Should writers remind readers of what characters look like, even if it’s not pertinent to the narrative?

Crazy questions, right?

Rue doesn’t really come back “on-stage” in the narrative until page 184, when she saves Katniss while she’s in the tree by pointing the the nasty wasp nest. She isn’t described physically anymore for the entire book. We are supposed to remember the sweet, little brown girl who was mentioned as looking similar to Prim during The Reaping. We are supposed to remember that she is brown. Even when Rue chomps on leaves to make a paste for Katniss’s knee and they help each other survive for a little while, there isn’t another mention of her color. Not even when she died.

Did Suzanne Collins stumble?

Should she have continued to remind us through slight-of-hand ways that Rue was a little brown kid? Would these reminders have kept Rue as an “outsider”?

Did Katniss’ relationship with Rue progress as most human relationships do — beyond race?

Did we forget Rue was brown because Katniss forgot and it became irrelevant?

Did Rue’s race become obsolete as they were both trying to survive?

 The Hunger Games Brings Out All the Bigots (and Many Are Teens)!After subjecting myself to reading through the racist tweets and vile rhetoric lodged at the two characters, I found myself wondering more deeply why do “we” (people living in a Eurocentric culture) assume that if a character is not described in detail and/or racialized as an “other” that he or she is white? Last year, Teen Writers Bloc surveyed a smorgasbord of black writers about this very question. But I still can’t figure it out.

I have no answers.

I just know that I don’t want anyone to forget the color of my characters. I don’t want their color to be overlooked. I just want their particular color to not be held against them.

As a writer, this whole uproar scares me about the potential of non-white YA characters to soar on the big screen or on the page in a big, splashy way. Can brown and yellow and red and black kids go to outer space or through the wardrobe or to a magical school or any other cool place and bring in money to the box office like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter? Or move books off the shelves in such quantities?

Do my characters stand a chance? Or will there always be racial epitaphs lodged at them?

What do you think? Did Suzanne Collins drop the ball? Should she address the controversy?

Get educated on the characters of the Hunger Games. Check out this article!

Photo Credit: Lionsgate

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