Three things this reader wouldn’t mind seeing in YA novels…
I write young adult books–and I love it. But I wouldn’t be so passionate about it if I still didn’t love reading young adult books. I consume the genre, and even though I take “adult” book breaks to get away from first kisses and teenage angst every once in a while (although, for what it’s worth, adults are angsty too), I will continue to read YA voraciously, just like many other people my age who are fascinated by the plotlines and characters linked to a “coming of age” tale (hey, I fell in love with my man at age 19, so I’m not so skeptical about teen love–we’ve been together for 15 years and counting!).
But I am missing a few things. Here, in no particular order, are three items I wouldn’t mind reading more of in YA fiction…
1. Food – I’m starting with this because I’m actually a little hungry. I tell people I run because I love to eat. LOVE it. I am
a terrible cook, which means I only appreciate good fare all the more. But food is something I don’t come across much of in YA books (or maybe most books). I think food tells us so much about the character (ethnicity, habits, control, sweet/salty, etc.), and it can relate the sense of taste to a reader (a hard one to capture in writing). I thought the burger scene in Divergent was great–we knew that Tris had pretty bland, boring food in her old faction by her reaction to the Dauntless cuisine. In my first Teen Mobster book, Accidental Mobster, Danny Higgins is served macaroni and cheese by the mom of his new family. It’s a signal that says, “This place is homey and warm.” I want you to feel safe before the plot twists. So…let’s eat, people!
2. Adult friendships – When I talk to students, I’m always amazed by how close they are to certain adults in their lives (usually parents, but it can vary). Sometimes, in YA books, I feel the parents or other adults are either stereotypical or shadow
people…meant to go in and out of a scene, but really having little effect on the plot. That’s not true for everything out there, but I do see a lot of buffoon-like or overly antagonizing adults and few role models. One of my favorite characters is Cinna in Hunger Games. I loved his impact on Katniss, while most of the other adults were way more troubled. That doesn’t mean I don’t like quirky adults; I’d just like to see more parents/teachers/etc. we can respect. I will applaud Sarah Dessen; I think she does a great job with parents in her books–we are not always the enemy, but we’re human too.
3. Humor! – If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it one hundred times. There’s not enough funny in young adult books. I’m not talking
about comedies…I’m talking about dialogue and action that let us lighten up a little. You know, a scene that helps you take a breath before the heavy stuff gets back in gear. An author who balances humor and drama so very well is Carrie Jones, who makes me laugh even as I’m devouring the story. Now that’s a win-win. Everyone needs to smile–even in the darkest times. I’m not sure many novelists have a natural funny bone, but boy am I loyal to the ones who try!
So, based on that list….any suggestions for me?
A note to readers…three rules for reading
I had such a great opportunity to hear a fellow young adult author speak at a recent conference. She had written a riveting book, one that had won several awards, and I ate up everything she said about character development. However, toward the end of her speech (and I can’t even remember exactly what she was talking about at that point), she said something about Amazon reviews sometimes being toxic.
Of course I was puzzled. Had people slammed her book, one that I had thought had a fantastic mix of intriguing plot and deep characters?
It seems that they had.
And I thought, what makes some people so small and petty that they must skewer a book that has been through all the best gates–an author with an agent with an established traditional press that hires first-rate editors? I understand when people rally against a book that has grammatical errors, poor plotting, and other things that are sometimes not addressed if a self-published author doesn’t take the necessary steps to make sure their book will stand up to the crowd. Your audience then becomes the gatekeeper for quality. No one wants to waste his or her money. But this was a good book, not only in my estimation, but in the estimation of expert panelists who had judged it worthy of awards, as well as many happy readers who had given it stellar reviews.
So here, in no particular order, are three things you might think about while you consume a novel. Whether you read for pleasure, are an established or aspiring writer, or function as a beta reader or editor helping someone get work ship-shape, think on this as you digest a writer’s work.
1. It’s not your story. Maybe you like robots. Maybe you think robots should be in every book that ever was. With fiction, we sometimes judge the author more on what wasn’t in the book than on what was. Authors must be mindful of word counts (when was the last time you read an 800-page novel?), and sometimes actions and events must be streamlined. If the story makes sense and has appropriate tension, then quit your whining. You wouldn’t ask Maya Angelou to add robots to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so let an author of fiction tell you his or her best story too.
2. Style is an artistic choice. Maybe you like stories written in first person, maybe in third. Maybe you don’t like diary-type novels or books written as email entries. Before you decide to hate something, remember that authors can spend months considering their “voice” for a novel and even rewriting one that doesn’t work, because a story or character might demand to have the tale told a certain way. Enjoy the diversity. I love impressionist artwork, but I don’t want every piece on my wall to be a Monet.
3. Realize that writing a (great) novel is hard. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me he had the BEST idea for a bestseller but just couldn’t find time to write it, well, you know. It is easy to imagine a story in movie format, the high tension scenes and scintillating dialogue, but the challenge is not in the concept, but in stitching it together and getting thousands and thousands of words on paper while you avoid clichés, catch numerous typos, and make sure characters evoke the right emotion. That’s what we authors spend sleepless nights pondering, so remember, we’re working hard to give you the best story ever. If you doubt that, start your own novel, and it will grow an amazing amount of respect for your favorite writers.
Then read on…:)
Author Blog Hop! (boing, boing, boing)
I love hippity hopping for author blog hops, so imagine my excitement when author and friend L.M. Fry asked me to participate in one. Hooray! Besides, who doesn’t like answering questions about him or herself:) Hope my answers give you some insight into this crazy land known as my writer’s brain! And check out the author springboarding off my post…children’s book author Susan Meyers.
1. What am I working on right now?
I’m in what I call an “editing break.” I recently completed a young adult contemporary that covers hate speech, and I’m gearing up for a science fiction novel with series potential that will include some complex world-building, as well as a contemporary YA thriller collaboration with the aforementioned Fry. So, to relax, I edit older works of mine that haven’t been published yet. Yep. I know. Weird-o. Oh! Also, I’m working with my exceptionally awesome agent, Kaylee Davis, to edit one of my YA contemporary novels and prepare it for pitching.
2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I like to write conversationally. I want my characters to feel like someone you’d meet at a high school, so when the fantastic happens, it’s more believable. My style’s just a bit on the unconventional side, but I really believe in finding your own voice in this biz.
3. Why do I write what I do?
The young adult genre is like a big bag of awesome. Action? Check. Romance? Check. High stakes drama? Check. The need for humor? Check. Check. I may dabble in some adult fiction next year, but I’ll never leave those teen years behind (insert song from Peter Pan about not growing up here). My teen years defined so much of who I am now (I also fell in love with my husband of twelve years–and counting–at age nineteen), so I really enjoy exploring the decisions and situations that influence that time in our lives.
4. How does my writing process work?
Usually, an idea simmers for over a year before I take it on (because I’m writing ideas from the year before!). Then, when I’m on an “editing break,” I outline it–about five to six intense pages of plot and subplot points. Next, I write like a maniac for about eight weeks straight. Then it goes like this for another two months or so: Edit. Work on something else. Edit. Work on something else. Send to my personal editor (my mom, people!–she’s pretty tough) for any stealthy typos or plot holes. Read on my Kindle. Maybe run some pages by my critique group. Revise, revise. It’s never done until I send it to an industry professional and it’s out of my hands.
And you thought novel writing was easy peasy. (Pffft!)
But man, people. This is the life. And next week, hop on over to Susan Meyer’s post, as well as John Davidson’s, who is spring boarding off L.M. Fry’s post.
Science Fiction – Sensationalism, or social cautioning?
Recently, I reread Russ Hodge’s The Future of Genetics. I used the book to inform my newest contemporary sci-fi trilogy, which deals with the ethics and concerns about genetically engineering the human species to be stronger. Hodge qualifies as an exceptional writer, able to discuss complex science and make it comprehendible to the more artsy-fartsy folks, like myself.
However, I will say I take issue with his slight emphasis on the problems sci-fi writers have caused. He implies that writers sensationalize much too often, stripping scientific researchers of their morals and giving in to hubris to take science beyond acceptable ethical standards. I can see where this would be a problem–always vilifying scientists/researchers and creating fear of scientific discovery.
But I do take issue.
Science fiction serves an important role in our social discourse. Just as a scientist designs an experiment to observe outcomes, a writer models social settings and advancements in science to create ethical dilemmas affecting outcomes for humanity. As writers, we do need to consider whether we are condemning the advancements in science more than celebrating them. This is an important point.
I would argue that books such as Jurassic Park help us think about the outcome of certain variables–in a sense, not learning from history, but from the possible futures we can affect. That is, we should not be afraid of scientific advancement, but realize when the pursuit of knowledge and enhancement will create vast voids between members of our species or negatively affect our fragile eco-system.
Science moves us forward. That is not to be argued against. Strides forward in genetics have led to the treatment of deadly diseases, among other advancements. (However, these treatments are still inequitable – available only to those who have access). But we must weigh the issue carefully. Things like nuclear bombs and biochemical warfare are also products of science. Technology, an amazing piece of our social fabric, comes with its own set of issues (i.e., in the Matched trilogy, people no longer handwrite things, and since computers are monitored, there is no freedom outside the government eyes. In our current society, handwriting is already on the chopping block of school curriculum!).
Science fiction and the dystopian futures it suggests have social value. Writers create the fantastical, spurring the mind to consider and weigh future decisions we must make about our pursuit of advancements and any ethical concerns that accompany those decisions. Yes, writers have social responsibility to represent science (and scientists) in a truthful light and to create rich stories that don’t draw an arbitrary line between black and white. But novels have the power to evoke great emotion, which is why they have the power to make us think and reach beyond the normal everyday.
And that human capacity, I believe, is the reason we pursue science in the first place.
New book alert! The Recruit has arrived!
The Recruit will mark my fourth novel with independent press, Bluewood Publishing. But even though I’m no stranger to receiving that first proof copy, every time I see one of my stories in print, I can’t help the giddy rush that overtakes me. Each book represents so many hours of thinking, planning, writing, revising, editing, proofing, emailing, and coordinating. In fact, with my perfectionism, I’m lucky the publisher lets me review the final proof at all, as I’m always itching to make more changes. But once I have that proof copy, I breathe a sigh of relief and smile, fighting the urge to be a little sacrilegious and breathe, “It is finished.”
Each book of the Teen Mobster trilogy, my first series, represents so much inspiration and work, but I have to admit, I am exceptionally thrilled about what The Recruit–and it’s sequels, The Mark and The Condemned–has to offer. If you’re a fan of paranormal, this book will have everything you want…supernatural heroes and enemies, jaw dropping action, and forbidden romance (and, okay, some of the humor I can’ help but write into any story). In books two and three, I dive into the world of Nephilim, and these books also expose hidden layers in the first novel. So, as I said, I’m pretty excited to share it all with you.
Coming in at under 300 pages, The Recruit isn’t going to take you weeks to finish. So give it a try, and if you’re hankering for a little more of what I have to offer as you wait for the second and third installments, I promise the Teen Mobster Series offers quite a bit of fun (especially if you’ve ever found yourself enjoying an episode of the Sopranos).
And don’t forget, I’m now answering questions on Goodreads, so if you have any questions about my series or my writing process, give me a shout. I’m ready for anything you throw my way:)
A writer’s pick me up…
Every once in a while, you need to hear you’re doing a good job. Once upon a time, when I went to an office building every day, I could find fulfillment through working hard and gaining positive feedback from my bosses. Then I became a mom, and through an interesting turn of events and a move across country, I found myself given the opportunity of staying home while my children were little as I wrote part-time and worked on my novel career.
I’ll say one thing. Performance reviews for a mom aren’t the same. There’s Mother’s Day, where the kids and hubby go all out, but most of the other days of the year, I’m just trekking along. Not unappreciated, but no one is checking any “outstanding” boxes either (not that I usually earn an “outstanding,” I realize, as my kids ate ice cream for dinner tonight;). Plenty of times though, the kids cry and whine at me, but it’s the little moments, the hugs and kisses and the “I missed you Mommy,” that are my best indication I’m doing a few things right.
Then there’s writing. My part-time work for various publications is pretty straightforward. I get the job done, and usually it needs to get done quickly. The novel writing? Well, that’s more complicated. Ever since pitching my novel to a small press three years ago, I’ve found that although I started with a good toolbox for writing fiction, I have a lifelong journey of improvement ahead.
But, two Saturdays ago, I got to enjoy one small moment of “Atta girl!” Accidental Mobster, my first published novel (and the second one I’d ever written–the first is floating around somewhere on my computer), won an award from a group of women educators, The Creative Women of Oklahoma Award for Young Adult Book. I had the opportunity to receive the award at a banquet and talk to a room full of women about my writing story. The way I was treated and the response to my books was an overwhelming lift to my spirits.
Awards push me forward. They make me want to get better, to prove I’m deserving of what’s been given. That’s always been how I’ve seen any achievement in my life–a mark that I’m headed the right direction but can always keep striving. I’m excited for the road ahead. I can’t wait to share the stories I have and let the audience into the souls of new characters.
But for just a few moments, I’m going to take a breath. Atta girl.
When reality meets fantasy…
On my way to the library every week or so, I pass a beautiful 1960-something red Ford Mustang that is in desperate need of some TLC. I always give it a longing look, thinking if I had the resources, I’d go up to the door and make the person an offer on that baby.
Only because I’ve got an apple red 1968 Mustang that stars in my Teen Mobster Series. Sigh.
I’ve been a pretty big Mustang fan since the moment I put a car in drive. In fact, at my wedding over a decade ago, my husband and I drove away from the church in a friend’s orange and black one. So when I started writing Accidental Mobster, I knew I wanted the main character’s car to be something near and dear to my heart.
Enter the 1968 red Mustang in book one of the series, and a second Mustang (same year) in book two. The trifecta is perfected in book three with an addition of a black one.
But my real-life experience with this particular year of classic Mustang was limited to vast Internet research until just last week. At the ice cream festival in my husband’s hometown, we stumbled upon the festival’s car show. The first time through, the only Mustang in the show was a souped-up version only a year or two old. Still cool, but not quite what this girl was looking for.
Well, in order to get to the parade, we took another trek through the show about an hour later. The result?
Okay, so not my dream color, but hey, any day I get an appointment up close and personal with a 1968 Ford Mustang is a good day, people! And if this car is getting your engine revved, pick up the Teen Mobster Series, because you’ll get to spend some quality time with this car!
Critique groups – Three rules for “keeping it real”
For a long time, I was adamantly opposed to having anyone but family members and prospective agents read my books. Eventually, when I signed a contract for two series with a small press publisher, I had to get used to having people (editors, in particular) go over my stuff with a fine-toothed comb. The process taught me two important things: stand up for my writing when absolutely necessary, and the rest of the time, practice humility. Because you know, I’ve learned that suggestions that frustrate me at first sometimes do make the book way, way better.
One thing I’ve learned through the process of gaining a literary agent is that my writing can always get better. I’ve also realized that what I think is good doesn’t always make sense, and a collection of opinions can be really helpful in appealing to a wider audience (science of statistics, really, although I won’t get into that.)
Enter my critique group. We don’t always agree. We don’t always get along. But what we do have are these necessary items: 1) Trust, 2) A willingness to listen and grow, and 3) Respect for one another’s work. And from reading the acknowledgments from many writers, I know how vital these groups can be to any author’s success.
How did my critique group get to a place of trust and respect? Well, maybe because we’re swell people, but even swell people get stinky sometimes, so let me tell you three things that have really helped.
– We all participate. Even if a member doesn’t submit work for the month, he or she is expected to read the submissions if he or she attends the meeting. From the onset, the other group administrator and I were very straightforward that everyone must contribute to the discussion. It’s non-negotiable. The benefit is that the author can sort through the feedback, and if a bunch of people are saying the same thing, then a certain point may be worth addressing. Everything else? A person can take it or leave it.
– We focus on the good first. Whenever we begin the discussion on an author’s work, we always, always start with what we loved. This helps ease the author into the water before voicing concerns, questions, or missed opportunities (we never, ever call it the “bad”). A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, right?
– We keep a time limit. And finally, this isn’t “talk about me and all my talent time.” Early on, we realized that to keep things fair and on schedule, we were going to need to set a time limit for each critique. Now, each work gets ten to fifteen minutes (depending on attendance), and when the clock stops, it stops. This means there is time at the end for writers to ask one another questions and discuss things, but at the end of the night, everyone is treated equally. And that makes our group a group worth coming to.
But, as always, I’d love to hear what type of things work or don’t work for other groups. So feel free to share. I’ll be fair-minded:)
School visits – Ten things every author should know
As an author who specializes in writing fiction for the younger generation, I know that a good portion of speaking engagements will be with that younger generation (more specifically, middle and high schoolers). Now, with a few of those (terrifying!) experiences under my belt, I’d like to help my fellow writers out with a brief checklist that will keep the word “boring” or “awkward” far from those teens’ thoughts!
1. Be yourself. When I was getting ready for a day at a high school recently, I put on a boring pendant in place of the quirky necklace I love. Five minutes later, I swapped out the pendant for my fave. I told you that to say this: Be yourself. Show your writing through your style and in your presentation. If you write quirky stories, don’t be afraid to be quirky. I’ve found in my visits that the “reading” students often have the funniest, biggest personalities. They’ll appreciate someone who isn’t afraid to be just what we are–crazy writers:) And you might get a compliment on that necklace!
2. Just say no to death by PowerPoint. Unless you have the funniest slides, like, ever, just don’t do it.
3. Talk about your book. It wasn’t until I was about ten minutes into several of my talks that some teenager would raise his or her hand and say, “So what is your book about?” Oops. As much as I want to inspire others to write and talk about getting into the biz, getting down to the nitty gritty, that is, the book, is an important part of why you’re there.
4. Know your–ahem–stuff. At one point, I was talking about the “big five” publishers, and a kid asked me who they were. I mixed two of them up, and even if those kids don’t fact check me, it’s a failing on my part not to know my business like the back of my hand.
5. Know the rules. Thankfully, I have successfully reminded myself each time to remember that this is a school. As a visitor, I need to keep my speech to the point, which includes my books, what it’s like to be a writer, and the publishing biz. Topics such as religion and politics are off the table. I have had some success discussing the purpose of foul language in writing and how the kids respond to it, but that’s about as far as I feel I should go. I’ll leave heavier debates for the people who know the parameters better than I do. That’s right–those hard working teachers!
6. Do some research – Part I: Know your audience. Are they an English class? Creative writing class? What’s the school’s mascot? If you have a chance to speak with the teacher, what are the kids working on or reading? All of this knowledge opens doors for you to connect with your audience.
7. Do some research – Part II: Use this opportunity to connect with the very people you’re writing for! I ask the audience plenty of questions about their favorite books, authors, and genres. What do they like or not like in a book? In the meantime, I’m also engaging them.
8. Which leads me to…don’t talk the whole time! Twenty minutes is about the max for anyone to sit and listen to a speech. It is. So, if you have a longer presentation, you’d better break it up if you don’t want students to use your talk as sleep catch-up time. Give them fun writing exercises, or even a book quiz where they can win a prize (your book maybe?). Or, make sure to keep most of the discussion Q&A, addressing their interests instead of just what you think is interesting.
9. No PowerPoint. Did I say this already? Anyway, you hate it, I hate it, they hate it. If you want graphics, use the Internet creatively or very visual PP slides, at the least.
10. Have fun. Kids are crazy smart. They’ll know if you are enjoying yourself, so make the experience as fun for you as you hope it will be for them, and everyone will win.