Teen Writers Bloc

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

bloom Writing Teen Romance: Corey’s Take on the Dark Side of Love — and Trying to Find the LightTeen romance is such a loaded topic for me, since my experience with it was really brutal. In my writing in general I tend towards the darker side of things, and I think that’s particularly true when it comes to adolescent love, first love, and sexual awakening. Where I think I can really dig in to the humiliations, hurt, abuses, loneliness suffered in your teenage years, I struggle to show the lighter side, the optimistic side, or even the side where love actually does win out.

It’s a struggle I have in general: finding the hope, finding the joy, writing happiness in spite of whatever obstacles my characters are coming up against. In reading parts of my new novel, classmates questioned the cruelty of some of my male characters (um, actually just one male character) and though I understood how he could still have appeal even though I had written exactly nothing appealing about him, I remembered that those feelings of attraction and love, no matter how misguided they are, come from somewhere. I had to re-address what it is that makes you fall in love with someone who is deeply flawed, and help the reader feel the desire too.

Because of my experiences dating in high school, I am not afraid to go for the unpleasant moments, and I think (hope!) I capture them in a way that resonates and also, maybe, gives perspective: the pain of love is not a pain that is felt alone. Most importantly, I think giving weight to those relationships is what’s most important. I hate the term “puppy love” as it denotes a kind of happy, panting ease that was never my experience in any relationship. Love at any age has substance, depth and weight. That’s what’s most important. Maybe there’s not much of a difference between the way I tackle relationships in my YA work and my adult work. And I think I feel good about that.

As for books that do teenage love well… I think Coe Booth really gets in there in her books and I admire the way she fearlessly tackles relationships. Elizabeth Scott’s Bloom really speaks to the pressure to feel for someone what they feel for you — something that I went through in my early teens. And John Green’s Looking for Alaska is not only one of my favorite YA books ever, I also think it really gets at both the loveliness and ugliness of teenage romance and sexuality.

It’s the balance that’s important. The light with the heavy, the pain with the unbelievable joy. The requited with the unrequited.

library shelves 150x112 Tales from the (School) Library: “Drama” Doesn’t Mean Shakespeare AnymoreI’m putting myself through my MFA by moonlighting as a school librarian in an excellent middle school in Harlem. The best thing about this school has to be the library — we have almost every book published for teenagers, which I meticulously separate by genre and alphabetize daily. The students are allowed to read whatever they want. They each come to the library once a week during reading class and take out piles of five or six books, which they pillage during school and at home. They put Mary’s 100-book reading challenge to shame!

And I’m lucky. I can think of no better part-time job while writing for teens than to be surrounded by so many teen readers. By far the best part of the job is when the older students ask for book recommendations. At least half the time the conversation goes like this:

Student X: Can you recommend me a book?
Me: I sure can. What genre should we look in?
Student X: I want a drraaaama.

It was pretty clear from the startthe student did not want to be pointed to the Shakespeare section.

I have taken to demonstrating the fact that there is no book completely devoid of drama by pointing a finger and spinning around until the student tells me to stop, then handing him/her whatever book is closest.

These are all actual answers I have received after this interaction:

“I mean a book with a kid on drugs.”
“I mean a book about a killer in a prep school.”
“I mean a book about a girlfriend and a boyfriend who are mad at each other.”
“I mean a book with vampires and lots of blood.”
“I mean a book about a girl who gets raped.”
“I mean a book about a boy who isn’t popular or is, like, fat, or something.”

Luckily, all of these books exist in our world, and in my library.

It is funny to me though: as writers we are always told to “know our genre.”Turns out, if you ask our readers, we are all writing drraaama.

delirium 397x600 ‘Delirium’ Author Lauren Oliver: Writing Can Be ‘Agonizingly Painful’

I was lucky enough to work for Lauren Oliver over the summer and through my first semester at the New School. Not only is she a crazy successful YA author and all around superstar, she also has the most eclectic, delicious sounding grocery lists I’ve ever seen. It’s quite the combo!

She also let me get sneak peeks at some of her upcoming work. I have read Delirium and its right up my alley — dark, edgy, dystopian, but also sweet and lyrical and suspenseful. Think Hunger Games page-turner intensity mixed with a Romeo And Juliet level of love story.

We asked Lauren to answer some questions for the blog about her new book, her journey in the publishing world and living the writing life. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

I went to University of Chicago and studied Philosophy and Literature. I knew I wanted to write — I finished my first “real” novel my senior year, and went through the process of querying and getting an agent — but I didn’t think of it as a feasible career. After college I floated around for a bit, bartended in a club, and then decided to get my MFA at NYU. I simultaneously found a job, somewhat arbitrarily, in children’s publishing, and that’s when I began to write young adult fiction and work on Before I Fall, my first book. I don’t exactly write full-time now because I have a literary development company as well, but since I’m either writing or reading or editing, I don’t really think of myself as working all that much!

I’ve never wanted to be a writer, exactly. Writing was always just something I did and I needed to do, like I need to sleep. It’s all just a way of staving off the craziness (with, arguably, only limited success).

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Delirium? How did you come up with the concept? Was it a very different process than from your first book, Before I Fall?

Delirium takes place in an alternate United States, where love has been declared a contagious disease. Every citizen must submit to the cure at around the age of eighteen, and the book tracks a girl, Lena, during her last few months as an uncured. And of course there are surprises and twists and romantic complications. The idea for Delirium came from an essay I read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which he wrote that all great books were about love or death. The next day I was thinking about that quote — particularly about how and in what form a modern love story could be told — while I was on the treadmill at the gym. I was simultaneously watching a news story about a flu outbreak that had everyone freaking out about the possibility of a pandemic, and I was kind of marvelling that people so easily go into panics about reports of these diseases, and at some point the two trains of thought — love, and disease — just sort of combined in my head. And in terms of whether it was harder or easier than Before I Fall…neither. The hardest part of writing, I find, is the doing it, the sitting down and getting into the words and that mental headspace. It’s the same difficulty for every project.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

For the record, I kind of hate the word “process.” My process is simply that I force myself to write every day, even though I sometimes (er, often) find it agonizingly painful. Some days I write at my computer. Some days, if I’m really busy, I write on my blackberry while I’m commuting between appointments. I’ve also been known to write on napkins, in notebooks, and at the dinner table, which isn’t very polite, of course. It sounds cheesy to say it, but inspiration is all around me. Every time I read the paper or watch the news, I see cool stories and think about how they might be books. Every time I read anything, I like to think I’m absorbing and learning.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I think the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process is that it simply doesn’t get any easier! I mean, I love writing and I need it, but it still feels every bit as agonizing and hard as it always has. I still feel consumed with anxieties about running out of ideas, or turning out schlock. I guess I thought that being published might somewhat assuage those fears, but it has probably just compounded them!

 ‘Delirium’ Author Lauren Oliver: Writing Can Be ‘Agonizingly Painful’What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best writing advice I’ve received — and can impart — is to write every day, period.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

When I was a kid I loved Roald Dahl, and the fairy tales of Grimm, and anything weird and wonderful. I’m actually still into weird and wonderful, which is I believe why I gravitate to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jeffrey Eugenides. I also love elegant prose, so I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Ian McEwan. Right now I’m reading a nonfiction science book. I actually read a lot of nonfiction — the real world has plenty to offer in terms of inspiration. And weirdness. And wonder.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

My first middle-grade book for young readers, Liesl & Po, comes out in Fall 2011. I’m currently working on the final book in the Delirium trilogy and tooling around with a middle-grade fantasy that may or may not ever become readable. I’m also working on growing my literary development company, Paper Lantern Lit, and our ever-expanding stable of authors. What’s next in life? Well, I’ll probably take a nap. And in a less immediate sense, I am heading out on tour next week and my first tour event is with none other than…David Levithan!

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I believe they’re helpful up to a point, yes. I loved my workshops at NYU because they taught me two critical skills: when to take criticism, and when to ignore it. You really need to know how to do both as an author. It’s totally possible to depend too much on other people’s opinion as a writer — you need to learn to trust your own instincts, and sometimes I think that depending on a group of writers can disable that. Like everything else, it’s a balance.

Steven’s Half-Cooked Thesis Semester

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On January - 25 - 2011

writing 300x200 Steven’s Half Cooked Thesis SemesterAs a new contributor to Teen Writers Bloc, I’d like to let all the wonderful readers out there in on my life as an MFA student at The New School. I’m the only second year Bloc member, and therefore the only one with a bit of insight into the thesis semester. For those of you out there considering The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program (which, if you aren’t, you should be), the thesis semester is an independent construction by each individual student. You acquire a thesis advisor – either a professor in our program, or an outsider – you form a peer group and create your own schedule of what and when you want to submit. You can send in pages as often or as little as you want, as long as you meet your goal. (New School requires a minimum of seventy five pages in order to graduate.) I opted to search outside of the program for my advisor, and ended up with a wonderful editor from Penguin Books. I wanted a new, fresh set of eyes on my work, and I couldn’t be happier with my advisor. Seriously.

In fact, I submitted the first ninety seven pages of my YA novel to my advisor last week, and we had our first meeting this week. All I can say: the ideas are a-flowing! My creative juices are pumping, and I know exactly what my next step is.

However, my task at hand isn’t exactly a picnic in Central Park (by the way, planning a picnic in Central Park is actually harder then one would think). My advisor told me that my characters are really strong and wonderful and that she loved getting to view the world through their eyes. She said I have a very strong storyline and great themes, but I that basically have to change the ground they walk on and the backdrop around them.

There are two major problems:

1) They are too old. College is a tricky time for YA, and generally treads adult fiction territory.

2) There is too much time from start to end; I need to compress the time-span.

What totally sucks is that in the back of my mind I knew all of this before I even sent her the pages. Okay, well, maybe I didn’t explicitly know what needed to be changed. I just knew that something was off. Something major. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then I get my changes in an e-mail, and I knew right off the bat. Like the cliched old light bulb above my head, she had pulled the chain and suddenly it all made sense.

What’s even worse? That what she told me was what I had originally envisioned when I planned my preliminary notes on the novel and what I wanted it to be. Of course, when I started writing, my fingers and heart got the best of my brain and my notes, and set the whole thing in the winter, a whole year and a half from where I envisioned it.

It might seem like an easy enough task to switch from winter to summer, or to change a character’s age from 19 to 18, but let me tell you: it’s NOT. One might think it’s as effortless as changing “the slushy streets of New York” to “the glittering, sun-kissed streets of New York” or “piles of mountainous snow” to “piles of mountainous garbage,” but it’s not that simple. You have to think of clothing and catch every reference to a scarf or hat-and-gloves. You have to think of the temperature degree in the air and how it effects word choice. You have to think of the thematic schematics behind winter and summer and how it effects the overall arc of your story and its characters. In summation, it’s a bitch.

So what do I do?

I’ve already committed to making this the best thing I’ve ever written. So that means I have to get down to business, put my nose to the grindstone, get my hands dirty, employ every other clichéd sentiment to express hard work and get to work!

The good thing about all of this is that I have a clear vision of what needs to be done. I just know that it’s going to take my novel to the next level. And it doesn’t exactly hurt when an editor at a major publishing house tells you that she fell in love with your characters, especially the protagonist and his struggles. That’s just validation on top of a sort-of-half-cooked cake.

What’s next? I have to switch gears and change the setting from college to the summer between high school and college, picking up directly after graduation. That, and making sure I melt all the snow and heat up my pages. Hopefully the sticky, summer sun will spice things up and take them to that next level.

I have until February 11th to completely alter my characters’ world, make them a year younger, and finish the first (totally reworked) third of my novel. Excuse me while I wipe the sweat from my brow — and get to work.

The 100 Book Challenge: Start Reading Now!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 18 - 2011

2011 so far e1295322741293 224x300 The 100 Book Challenge: Start Reading Now!Recently, all of us here at Teen Writers Bloc posted our New Year’s Writing Resolutions. With our goals published for anyone to read, hopefully we’ll all be shamed into making 2011 our most productive year yet. But something important was missing from all of our lists—something almost as important to our writing as actually writing. I’m talking about reading, of course. Without reading, our language skills would wither and shrink like fresh, ripe, grapes turning into leathery, wrinkled raisins. Just as importantly, we’d lose hours of entertainment and priceless opportunities to learn more about the world around us.

If anyone thinks the following confession is hopelessly nerdy, I dare you to force your insults through the thick insulation of hardcovers that shelter me from the outside world: I keep track of the books I read—title, publication date, where I got the book, and the date I finished it. I’m ashamed to say that in 2010, I came in at a paltry 81 books. Now, this includes everything from graphic novels and 8 parts of the Gossip Girl series to lengthy nonfiction tomes. Maybe I should give myself credit for the kind of books that take weeks to read. And don’t I get any credit for magazines? Nope, it’s the raw number of books that I want to see, and my number last year wasn’t high enough. My goal this year: 100 books.

Average it out, and 100 books comes out to a paltry 8 and 1/3 books per month, or 1.92 books per week. With not only physical bookstores and ebooks, but also the public library and book-nerd friends to supply us, we should have no trouble getting all the reading material we want. The question is whether we’re going to let our jobs, school, friends, or reality TV get in the way.

So here’s my challenge to all the book lovers out there: read 100 books with me! At the end of the year, we’ll really have something to talk about.

2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 28 - 2010
best of 2010 300x300 2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten
Using your holiday break to catch up on the 2010 reads that you missed this year? Well then, our year-end best-of comes just in time! From vampires to automatons and even New York City teens, we’ve got something for everyone on the Teen Writers Bloc hot list. Check it out!

Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Sona Says: Told in a muted, almost deadpan voice, this controversial novel centers on a date rape on a private boarding school campus. As the protagonist Alex unwinds what really happened to her that night, the Mockingbirds, an underground campus justice system, decides on its own version of the truth. In ways a modern-day take on the Chocolate War, journalist-turned-debut author takes on big themes like rape, violence, justice, shame and punishment in this taut, suspenseful and eventually cathartic novel.

Sell-Out by Ebony Joy Wilkins
Amber Says: I just started reading this – thank you Dhonielle, for the recommendation! — and it is already a book that I wish I had had access to when i was a teen. It talks about what it can be like growing up Black American in a predominantly White American, suburban setting, which is an issue that is not discussed nearly as much as other aspects of the Black experience. There are multiple layers to the black teen experience and Sell-Out seems to capture this well, given that ideally all variations of black teen identity should be depicted in literature. Not to mention, she’s also a New School Writing for Children alum!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Jessica Says: I loved every single second of this book. Two authors, two narrators, two teenage boy points-of-view. It’s funny and sad, realistic and whimsical, all at the same time. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine


Jane Says: I heard winner Kathryn Erskine read from this riveting middle grade narrative at the National Book Awards ceremony at the New School and the book definitely caught my interest. The story is told from the perspective of a fifth grade girl with Aspergers Syndrome. I thought this was a great book because it gives the reader a chance to see the world from a different point of view.


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Sona Says: A bullying story told from the mean girl’s perspective, Lauren Oliver’s deft debut touches on a hot-button issue without being preachy or pedantic. Instead, Oliver will have you hooked with her clever Groundhog’s Day meets Mean Girls premise as she slowly but surely unravels the final version of the tale while building an increasingly relatable protagonist.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
Jessica Says: This is a novella-length companion piece to The Twilight Saga, and it’s a fun, quick read. The story is all about Bree Tanner, the newborn vampire who is almost adopted by the Cullens in Eclipse but who is killed by The Volturi before she even gets a chance. While this new story doesn’t add much to the story of Edward, Bella, and Jacob, it is interesting to read from the point of view of one of Meyer’s ”bad” vampires — one who mercilessly kills people for their blood. Something else interesting about this novella: Stephenie Meyer and Little, Brown donated $1.5M from the sales of the book to The American Red Cross.

Incarceron by Catherine Fischer
Dhonielle Says: After exhausting myself with paranormal fiction, this dystopian book was a breath of fresh air in the teen market. Fischer creates a place so real, I thought it was somewhere on this earth. The darkness in the book was drawn so deftly.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Steven Says: When Dash finds a red moleskin notebook at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan littered with clues to various books throughout the store left by Lily, so begins the back and forth passing of dares between the two protagonists. Just when you think the narrative is going one way, it takes a completely different direction. Dash, written by David Levithan, is a typical Levithan male character, not unlike Nick from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Rachel Cohn’s Lily, however, is Norah’s antithesis: a shy girl who never thought anybody would find and play along with the clues in the moleskin. It’s the refreshing and unique voices that keeps readers on their toes. Not to mention the amazing collaborative efforts between Levithan and Cohn. Definitely check it out!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Corey Says: I love The Hunger Games in a way that is detrimental to my relationship. This long-awaited final installment offers a satisfying end to teen fiction’s most riveting trilogy.

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Dhonielle Says: I loved everything about this book: small town, medicine show, the devil, automatons, and a red bicycle. The writing is stellar and can be enjoyed on multiple levels. The atmosphere of the book is spooky, intelligent, and haunting from the very first page. Milford creates a fabulous tomboy heroine, a multi-faceted villain, and weaves a tale of good vs. evil that is fresh and engaging.

Holiday Gift Guide: This Season, Let Love Be The Higher Law

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On December - 22 - 2010

love Holiday Gift Guide: This Season, Let Love Be The Higher LawWracking my brain for the perfect holiday gift this year, I had to look no further than the expansive collection of books on my own shelves (but no re-gifting, I promise). I’ve been telling anybody that would listen to me in the last year and change to read Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan.

Law tells the story of three teens in New York during the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Peter, Jasper and Claire don’t all know each other, but their lives intertwine and they all become a part of each other because of the after-effects 9/11. Written from three perspectives, the book is a triumph of superb and heartfelt writing as well as story. As a writer, this is something that I covet and wish I could accomplish. As a reader, how could I not completely fall in love with a book that had me reaching for the Kleenex, laughing out loud, sighing from its immense beauty, and rapidly turning each page. For me, the mark of a good book is how fast I read. I often find myself slowing down when I reach the last thirty or so pages because, while finishing a good book is fulfilling, it’s sad because the end of exploring something new is just around the corner. I had to force myself to NOT slow down, simply because I couldn’t stop reading.

I never thought a novel about such a tragic event could be so inspiring, and carry such a strong message of hope. David Levithan’s exploration of Jasper, Claire and Peter will definitely leave your holiday season feeling that love, indeed, is the higher law.

Holiday Gift Guide: Sona Suggests “The Secret Circle”

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 21 - 2010

secretcircle Holiday Gift Guide: Sona Suggests “The Secret Circle”If the teen in your life is addicted to the Vampire Diaries, and the best-selling L.J. Smith series the CW hit is based on, then have I got the book for you!

It’s L.J. Smith’s first series, The Secret Circle, published back in the day when I was in high school. And for those who like to be in the know, it’s also about to become a hit (no doubt) CW series.

The original trilogy (recently re-issued in a two-book set) follows the travails of Cassandra, an all-American California girl who finds herself stuck in New Salem, Mass., when her mom heads back to her hometown to take care of her ailing grandmother. There, she runs afoul of the powerful popular crowd, a bunch of kids all born within 24 hours of each other. Naturally, they’re a coven of witches who rule the school — and the town. But factions within the group threaten to hit the boiling point any second.

When the girl who’s supposed to become the final member of the coven dies in a freak accident, half-breed Cassie is inducted in her place. She’s befriended by coven leader Diana, who’s all about fairness and light. But a sordid secret keeps Cassie in the clutches of villainous Faye, who uses the information to try to take Diana down. Will Cassie be a good witch or a bad witch? What secrets does the old town of New Salem hold? And will she ever hook up with the mysterious and beautiful young man she met when she first got to New Salem? The Secret Circle is a juicy, fun fantasy that will leave you wanting more.

But what really elevates it above the typical teen fantasy is Smith’s careful world-building. She bases each of the 12 witches on an ancient Greek god, incorporating the mythology into their magic. Given the richness of the text, I can’t wait to check out what they do with the CW series. And if your favorite teen (or adult, for that matter) loves fantasy, they’ll be all about The Secret Circle too.

Holiday Gift Guide: Amy Feels “The Hunger Games”

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 20 - 2010

 Holiday Gift Guide: Amy Feels “The Hunger Games”This season, there’s one book I’d definitely recommend for a teen. (Or anyone, really.)

The Hunger Games. For three reasons.

First: My boyfriend read it in three days and can’t wait to get his hands on the second installment. This probably doesn’t seem like a good reason, but this is a guy who never reads. And when he does, if the book doesn’t involve the South African rugby team, he’s not interested. So to watch him devour a teen fantasy book and then ask for more? I think a 16-year-old girl could probably enjoy the story just as much, if not more, than that.

Second: Katniss. She is a kick-ass heroine. In a story in which the protagonist is thrown into an arena with twenty-three other kids in a literal fight to the death, it’s imperative that we believe she actually has a shot. And Suzanne Collins does a great job in creating a girl who was forced to learn survival skills, thereby making her a believable opponent. She’s also clueless when it comes to romance, which I love. Shoot a squirrel through the eyes with a bow and arrow? No problem. Decipher the hidden meanings behind Peeta and Gale’s words? Not a chance.

Third: This is a fantasy book for people who don’t like fantasy. There are no magical creatures, there’s no magic at all, in fact, and no fantasy-sounding names like “Quidditch” or “hobbit” for people to roll their eyes at and snub without giving the book a chance. It’s packed with action — once Katniss gets into the arena, the book is nearly impossible to put down. And the best part? There are two more outstanding books to read after it!

 Holiday Gift Guide: Amber Suggests The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time IndianIf I could give any teen a holiday gift this year, it would have to be The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

This is a book for:

Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.

Anyone who has ever wanted something more.

For those of us with friends that we are afraid to leave behind.

Or those of us who are afraid to branch out and meet new people.

Or anyone who has ever gone through a rough time, like losing a loved one.

It is a book that sheds light on poverty and racism, but also gives hope that understanding and love are more powerful than judgment. Alexie gives us a balanced world, where there is plenty of good to make up for whatever bad is in protagonist Junior’s life. Junior is thrust into a whole new environment, and while he tries to hold onto his old life, he makes new friends, gets the girl, loses old insecurities, and becomes a better version of himself.

It’s a book you won’t be able to put down. Everyone, young or old, will be entertained and enlightened by this New York Times Bestseller. Guaranteed.

pixel Holiday Gift Guide: Amber Suggests The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
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