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?
I’m obsessed. Just like my two-year-old, I am giddy for dinosaurs. Specifically? Dinosaurs originating from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
It doesn’t hurt that I love dabbling in genetics in my own young adult SciFi work. Last week, when I first saw the new trailer for Jurassic World, I felt that old stab of excitement that would come as a teenager/young adult whenever a new Crichton novel made its way to the big screen. Here’s a rundown of my top five.
Jurassic Park – I was a nerdy seventh-grader when my family went to see the movie version in London. London, you say? Yes, London. My dad’s job nearly moved our family there, and we were in the UK house hunting (we ended up staying in Atlanta, which is cool, because I started competitive figure skating). While I was petrified during most of the movie (I have never been good with the idea of gore, my empathy for characters sometimes getting the better of me), I LOVED it, and when it came out on video–remember video?–I watched it until it ran scratchy. Oh right…and I read the book, you know, a million times–noting it was even better:)
Congo – Okay, its not that the lead actor was totally dreamy or Amy the gorilla was astonishing. It was the crazy suspense I discovered in the second Crichton book I read. He had me on the edge of my seat again…and again and again! I realized it wasn’t just the magic of Jurassic Park. This was my first introduction to an author’s style. Crichton combined science and thrilling plots that made me happy in my nerdy ways, and also craving so much more.
Sphere – The movie version almost ruined this one for me. Also, I had to hide the book so my mom wouldn’t pick it up and realize the “F” word had been used liberally. I felt so dangerous for reading such a novel in a rather conservative home. There’s so much mystery in this novel! Who is talking to them? What is going on? Is anyone at all going to make it out of this underwater tomb? My fear of being trapped under the surface of the water and caustrophia only added to the thrill of this novel. The worn version I inhaled still sits on my shelf (I’ve bought shinier, newer copies of most of the others, because most were from the library).
Timeline – Another MC novel where the movie tried to ruin the shockingly good plot and characters Crichton put together . (However, I miss you, Paul Walker – another person leaving us far too early.) Not only did Crichton take on quantum physics (I don’t know if he did it well; I make no claim to understanding physics), but he took on history in the form of time travel. It was like he opened a fan letter from my mind that read, “Dear Michael. You Rock. Science is awesome. But could you dabble in time travel?” With that mix, and hints of Wells’ Time Machine, this novel easily made me remember why Crichton’s work would always be a favorite of mine.
I miss you, MC. You rocked!
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…:)
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!)
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.
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:)