Teen Writers Bloc

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

Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdi’s MY LIFE AFTER NOW

Posted by Jessica Verdi On January - 15 - 2013

photo 224x300 Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdis MY LIFE AFTER NOWHi gang!

To celebrate the impending release of my contemporary YA novel MY LIFE AFTER NOW (Seriously, is it April yet? I’m tired of waiting!), I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway! The giveaway is open from now through March 1, and one winner (chosen at random by Goodreads) will get a signed advance reader copy of the book. Woot!

Here’s what the book’s about:

WHAT NOW?

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family? Now, every moment is a precious gift. She never thought being positive could be so negative. But now, everything’s different…because now she’s living with HIV.

And here’s the link to the giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

15752348 Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Jessica Verdis MY LIFE AFTER NOW

My Life After Now

by Jessica Verdi

Giveaway ends March 01, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Corey’s Picks for 2012

Posted by Corey Haydu On January - 8 - 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book cover image courtesy of Little, Brown

Jean-Paul’s Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On December - 13 - 2012

three fingers Jean Pauls Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Better WriterHow to become a better writer in 3 easy steps (or, what I learned this semester):

1. Be open. Sometimes, the story just isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to start all over. Putting glitter and a bow on a turd makes it pretty, sure, but it’s still a turd. All of the editing, rewriting, and revising in the world isn’t going to make a story better if the core of it, meaning the characterizations, the plots, the dialogue, is all clichéd and uninspired. I had an idea and wrote pages and pages and pages on it; over three hundred pages, in fact! And I had to throw them all away. On the second attempt, I wrote about five chapters and I had to throw them away, too. It wasn’t until the third try did everything start coming together. I changed the location, the ages, and personalities of the characters. The main story stayed the same, but the events leading up to it changed. Instead of a rambling prologue, I inserted the most relevant parts into the story, allowing the information to unfold naturally. And now, finally, the story is becoming what I always imagined it could be. So, be open to letting things go. Be open to giving up on something if writing has become a punishment instead of something you enjoy. Be open to starting fresh if that’s what it will take to make the story a good one.

2. Try new things. A few months ago, I had never done an outline, or written chapter two before writing chapter one, or done any sort character development exercises, such as figuring out a character’s like and dislikes, what scares them and what excites them, etc. But after rewriting the same story three times (see No. 1), I knew I needed help. So I gave outlining a try. I found some different outlines that seemed to work for my story, cobbled them together into one perfect outline, and filled it in. Now I could see the bigger picture. I knew why each chapter, each sentence was important. Everything fell into place.

And when I got to the sections that I just didn’t feel like writing, I took some advice from my friends and skipped them so I could get to the parts that excited me. Forcing myself to write the sections I thought of as boring was only going to make those sections boring. So I decided to write them later and work on the parts I couldn’t wait to write. If I hadn’t skipped ahead, I’d probably still be working on that missing section, stuck in an endless loop of trying to turn lead into gold by editing, rewriting, and revising something that just wasn’t working.

As I was working on the third attempt, I noticed I was writing my characters in ways that worked for the plot but made them act out of character. So it was back to the drawing board because I didn’t know my characters well enough to keep them consistent. I had to try some exercises to get to know them better and it worked. Now their reactions are authentic and they don’t come across as weak when I want them to be strong. I needed to spend more time with them, get to know them, outside of the story so that I would know how they would act in the story.

3. Share. I cannot express how much sharing fuels creativity and makes you a better writer. Sharing what you’ve written or ideas and talking them through with someone lets you see the flaws in your story and come up with ways to fix them. In class, someone pointed out a clichéd scene and while we were discussing it, I came up with a brilliant new idea that was totally fresh and made the story exciting. If I hadn’t shared the scene so that we could discuss our thoughts, I would have never been able to see it from someone else’s perspective or had that epiphany. And sharing with another also gives you feedback on what you’re doing right, so that you can do it again and again and again, all the way to the end.

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.

TV’s Best “YA” Girls (according to Caela)

Posted by Caela Carter On November - 9 - 2012

A lot of writers will tell you that the key to their productivity was when they got rid of their TV. Well, that ain’t me. I love television, especially well-written shows with either hilarious or heart-breaking characters.

…But not quite as much as I love reading well-written books.

And because the majority of books I read feature teen girls, I have a particular fondness for any show that manages to write a real, sympathetic teenaged girl.  I’m not talking about the Gossip Girls and the 90210s and the soap operas aimed at young women. In fact, it’s perplexing to me how many girl characters translate from three-dimensional on the pages to simply flat and self-serving on the screen. I’m not calling for an end to these dramas, but it would be great to see more sympathetic teenaged characters in those hit network prime times.

Here are some of my favorite “YA” voices from modern television:

Big Love’s Sarah Henrickson

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Sarah’s struggle to love her mother while strongly disagreeing with her lifestyle is poingnant and relatable for any reader. Oops, I mean viewer. And the sacrifices she makes to take care of her expanding and confusing family make her a truly sypathetic character.

 

 

 

Modern Family’s Hayley Dunphy

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Hayley is proof that you can write a sympathetic and funny teenager even if she isn’t, um, smart.  Her revolving-door boyfriend (don’t we all love Dylan?) and arguments with sister (Alex) over clothing-rights remind us all of someone we knew (or know) in high school.

 

 

 

 

Parenthood’s Amber Braver man

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Isn’t tiny, quirky Amber everyone’s favorite on this show? She is clearly brilliant. Her reasoning is astounding. Her vocabulary is better than mine. But her mistakes are so frequent that she has no idea how smart she is. If that isn’t the definition of teenaged, I don’t know what is. (And yes, I know she’s 20 now, but she was a teenager though much of the show.)

 

 

 

 

Parks and Rec’s April Ludgate

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

What? She’s not a teenager. But, she was. When the show started, she was a spunky, sarcastic 18-year-old intern. And how fresh it is to see a teenager outside of the family-and-high-school setting! She’s such a real character, it almost doesn’t matter how young she is…or maybe that was the writers’ point…

 

 

 

So three cheers from this viewer for these very real fictional girls! And here’s hoping this list gets longer, and more diverse, in the near future!

Photo Credit: hbo.com, abc.com, nbc.com

Jean-Paul Loves Alfonso Cuarón

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On November - 5 - 2012

A Little Princess 600x340 Jean Paul Loves Alfonso CuarónA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of those books that I read as a child that didn’t really leave an impression on me. It’s the story of Sara Crewe, a rich girl who is sent to live in a boarding school and through a reversal of fortune, is forced to work as a servant to earn her keep. There are times of hardship and moments of despair but through another reversal of fortune, Sara regains her life of privilege and lives happily ever after. I was never into fairytales and Sara’s story wasn’t much different from Cinderella’s or Snow White’s tale.

Then, in 1995, Alfonso Cuarón directed the most beautifully shot children’s-book-to-film adaptations ever. Cuarón’s A Little Princess took the tired poor-little-rich-girl tale and turned it into something magical. He filled the story with warmth and heart and made Sara’s plight meaningful. The visuals were stunning and it is one of the few movies I will watch whenever it comes on TV.

Prisoner of Azkaban 300x213 Jean Paul Loves Alfonso CuarónCuarón also directed the most atmospheric film in the Harry Potter franchise, and my favorite film in the series. The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is also one of my favorite Harry Potter books, totally blew the previous movies out of the water and raised the bar stylistically for the remaining films. He made Harry Potter’s world magical, which sounds like a no-brainer but, to me, Hogwarts didn’t feel like a school full of witchcraft and wizardry until Cuarón got his hands on it.

A Little Princess is my favorite film adaptation of a children’s book ever. And, as someone who writes children’s books about magic and fantasy, I sometimes wonder what one of my stories would look like on film. After seeing Cuarón successfully bring two children’s books to life, there’s a teeny tiny part of me that can’t stop imagining him directing something of mine.

Why Perla is Proud to Be a Quitter

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On October - 22 - 2012

 Why Perla is Proud to Be a QuitterSo what’s new in my life?  I would say a whole lot!

Earlier this school year I decided to resign from all my jobs.  I resigned as an adjunct professor and I resigned from the position I had with the Board of Ed.  I must say however the decision was a scary one and I was in a state of shock for some time. I expected some distress and even some insomnia while I pondered my life and the fact that I was giving this writing thing my all.   Today, however, I feel overwhelmingly excited.  I made the best choice — I knew my writing and my last year in grad school would have been almost nonexistent if I would have gone back to teaching full time (while also being a mom of two).

And it has proven so worth it.  This semester has definitely been great thus far.  Now that our second year has started I think most of the inhibitions/insecurities one feels when first starting something new have greatly diminished.  Workshops go by a lot quicker and are pretty straightforward.  Everyone knows each other pretty well and for the most part know what everyone is working on and what they need to work on.

I also attended an awesomely awesome writing conference a few weeks ago– The Comadres and Compadres Writing Conference.  It was the first Latino writing conference organized by Las Comadres Para Las Americas.  In this one-day event amazing Latino writers such as Nicholosa Mohr, Sonia Manzano and Dahlma Llanos Figueroa shared their wisdom and teamed up with editors and agents all looking for Latino writers to represent.  The day was packed with inspiration and positivity.  It definitely made me feel better about recently quitting (especially after pitching my unfinished manuscript and getting great reviews). All the negativity surrounding Latinos getting into the publishing world that I had heard the previous year was dispelled after this wonderful event.

Lastly the one thing that has probably caused us second years some stress is the inevitable search for advisors for our anxiety-producing thesis semester.   But I recently received the incredible news that I will working with David Levithan next semester. I can’t even describe how freaking exciting I am.  David Levithan!! That is all.

Photo credit: robbieabed.com

Nothing Is Really New for Caela

Posted by Caela Carter On October - 16 - 2012

 Nothing Is Really New for Caela“So, what’s new?”

That’s been the question of the month for me in more ways than one.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel across the country for the wedding of one of my oldest friends. I was excited to attend a wedding with my own new husband, to visit Las Vegas for the first time, and to see the bride and groom smiling from ear to ear. I was also excited for the chance to catch up with old friends.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, one of them asked me, “So your book comes out in a few months? How are you feeling?”

I answered briefly but honestly: “Freaked out.”

Here was yet another group of people I hadn’t quite thought about reading all of the steamy and emotional and angry and confusing scenes that I had written in the privacy of my own bedroom. Here was another group of people who might choose to read my book and decide it’s too girly or too mature for teens or, my biggest fear, too political.

And if I’m completely honest, all of this worry about who is going to read my book is effecting my writing hours every day. The truth is that I’m nervous. It’s hard to reconcile that such a private life — one that involves only me and my computer — will be on shelves for the entire world to see. It’s hard to juggle how much time I should spend preparing for my February release date for Book 1 (Me, Him, Them and It), versus putting new words on paper for Book 2. It’s hard to figure out all of the steps I will need to take to turn one book into a lifetime career as an author. It can be overwhelming.

I thought my friend would ask me why I’m freaked out, but he didn’t. Instead, he shrugged and said, “Still, lifelong dream coming true, right?”

 Nothing Is Really New for CaelaAnd suddenly I realized I was one of those jaded baseball players from the big emotional scene in Rookie of the Year. “Don’t you realize you get to have fun for a living? You get to do what you want to do for your job?” The kid has to yell this at the players to get them to smile, to enjoy themselves.

I had known this friend since elementary school and with that one simple question he reminded me that I’m still the little girl I used to be. The one who filled notebooks with pencil-scribbled half-novels. The one who wrote stories when she was bored in class instead of notes to her friends. The one who knew the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” for as long as she could remember.

“So, what’s new?” Well, not a whole lot. I’m still writing stories. I’m still living entire lives that exist only between my brain and the words that pop out on the page. I’m still the same girl I was when I met the bride in fourth grade.

But it can be difficult to transition your dream into your job. And, sometimes, you need a kid (or someone who still knows you primarily as a kid) to put you in your place.

Photo credit: vegasmaxicourse, ew.com

Which Book Does Jess Wish She’d Written?

Posted by Jessica Verdi On September - 19 - 2012

 Which Book Does Jess Wish Shed Written?What’s the one book you’ve read that you wish you’d written?

With all the books I hold dear to my heart, you’d think this would be a tough question for me. But it’s not. There is, hands down, one book out there that I wish I’d written. And that one book is Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

Now, this question is not: what is your favorite book? It’s Kind of a Funny Story is, in fact, one of my favorite books, but that’s not the point.

The reason I chose this book as the one that I wish I’d written is because Vizzini does so brilliantly what I try to do in my own work – he tackles a very serious issue, but puts a positive spin on it.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about Craig Gilner, a fifteen-year-old with depression so severe he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital without his parents’ knowledge – but only after spending a very long night planning out every detail of his suicide. When Craig gets to the hospital he is faced with two surprises: 1) He can’t just stay for the day, get some medication, and go on his merry way. He must stay for a minimum of five days. 2) The teen wing is undergoing renovations, so he’s admitted into the adult psych wing, where he meets some very colorful characters.

Read the first line, and you’ll be hooked: It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is simultaneously one of the most depressing, heartbreaking, inspiring, and hilarious books I have ever read, and Vizzini writes with absolute authenticity. At the end of the book, there’s a note that reads as follows: Ned Vizzini spent five days in adult psychiatric in Methodist Hospital, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 11/29/04 – 12/3/04. Ned wrote this 12/10/04 – 1/6/05.

I mean, it doesn’t get more real than that. And I, for one, am incredibly glad that Vizzini was brave enough to write his story.

And bonus – the novel was turned into a movie that came out in 2010 and starred the brilliant Keir Gilchrist as Craig, as well as delivered spectacular performances from Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, and Lauren Graham.

Read it. Watch it. Love it.

Book cover image courtesy of Disney Hyperion.

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