Thursday, December 30, 2010

YA: Friends

What's more important to teens than their friends?  All their drama stems from the friends (slash family).  Being a teen is an interesting of life, and one full of pressures.  Peer pressure is the common term used.  It's not all bad peer pressure either.  In some groups, you are encouraged to be a good person, rather than a bad ass.  Then again, in other groups, you're encouraged to be a bad ass.  Greasers vs Squares.

As you're reading a YA novel, you'll notice that the main protagonist isn't the only one with a voice and problems.  Usually, there is a whole host of best friends, or friends becoming best friends, or best friends transitioning to new friends.  But rarely is the main character alone.  And, since the main character can't do everything, the best friends get to do the other stuff, and we can explore another way of life through them.  Rampant by Diana Peterfruend has a whole host of girls with different personalities, and through each of them, we get to see how being a unicorn hunter has affected them.  Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler shows how a whole family mourns the loss of a brother and son (and the effect it has on the main character's best friend).

Best friends can also provide one more crucial role (among many, including a sympathetic--or sometimes an unsympathetic--ear): comedic relief.  I'm sure we're all familiar with Harry Potter.  Take Ron, the best friend.  He is awkward, quirky, compassionate, and completely a boy.  He provides insights into the magical world Harry has never seen.  I could go into all the complexities of their relationship and how real it is, but just read the books and you'll realize what a fantastic character he is.  Without his brothers, Fred and George, in the scene, Ron provides the comedic relief everyone needs now and then.  As the books progressively gets more serious, Ron's blunders get more hilarious.  Simply with a word, look, act, he can relieve the building tension, give us a breather.  And, what I love about him, is he is actually a very complex, deep character, though on the surface he may be awkward and weird all the time.  Luna, Crookshanks, Hagrid, all the Weasleys, and Neville (among others) act in this capacity as well.

So, as you're writing your YA, don't forget the friends.  They provide subplots that give another layer to your story (like an onion) and deepen it, add another complexity.  Even Bella (though she forsook her friends) had the friend characters in Edward's family.

Based on best friends only, what are your favorite YA novels?

Happy writing!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Reads: The Duff

The Duff.  By Kody Keplinger.  Okay, here's what I love about this one: the author.  Keplinger is young, only nineteen, and she wrote this book while still in high school.  Is that perspective or what?  And, while there are obvious signs that this is a debut novel (plot and characters can be thin at times), Keplinger is an author I'm keeping my eye on.

Synopsis: (below the synopsis taken from Keplinger's website, are some observations taken from Amazon Editorial Reviews, just a few highlighted points that are probably more eloquent than I could achieve)

"Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone."
"Lots of language, plenty of sex (well, instances, if not images), and contemporary references make this feel of the moment. But the underlying worry about one’s place in the sun is eternal. Teens will relate, even though the problems, especially at home, seem a retread and the characterizations are on the thin side. What’s best here is Bianca’s brazen voice. Even when confused, she is truer to herself than most."
"This debut novel is a fun read and surprisingly feminist in a number of ways. Keplinger makes good points about female body image and female friendship, and discusses how both men and women use offensive terms about women as a means of social control. Bianca and the other female characters are more believable and realistic than Wesley, who is straight out of female romantic fantasyland. It is a little difficult to understand why Bianca would get involved with him after he insults her, but in their romantic scenes, there is some seriously hot chemistry. These teens are realistically and openly sexual, and there are frequent discussions of such matters as birth control as well as a few F-bombs. Older girls, including reluctant readers, will love this one."
 First Sentence:  "This was getting old."  We hear Bianca's tone and voice immediately.  You don't get the real sense unless you get past the first sentence of course, but Keplinger sets up the first scene to immediately get us into the story.  A few pages in and we meet Wesley, the guy who dubs her as the Duff (Designated, Ugly, Fat, Friend).

Beefs: While Keplinger talks openly about sex, her characters are wonderfully real like that, and the dangers of sex such as psychological issues, social repercussions, and pregnancy, she only jokes about STDs.  When will someone actually discuss it?  Okay, no, I probably don't want to read about something like that.  It's depressing after all.  But someone needs to bring the issue up, introduce it to teens in a way that it isn't just a joke.  And Beef #2: if one more book discusses Wurthering Heights, I might throw it out the window (though, to give this book credit, Bianca hated it).

Brownie Points: The drama.  Ya, ya, we all hate drama, get over it.  But Bianca hates drama too.  She doesn't believe in real love (at least not at their tender ages--I love her for it, by the way).  But the way she loses herself in her "relationship" with Wesley is so real, and her friends getting P.O.'ed at her (to borrow the language) is very real too.  Of course I'm going to mention Keplinger's open discussion of sex.  The book is pretty much all about sex.  Take it out and you don't have a plot.  And it doesn't preach.  We're trying to get teens to read, after all, not sit them down for a lecture.

Ending:  It was too perfect.  There are some serious issues in this book, including an alcoholic father (who stopped drinking 18 years ago for a reason), an abandoned son and daughter, pregnancy scares, and self esteem issues a la mode.  In the end, people hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  Sure, it left me with warm fuzzies and a smile (and a dangerous suspicion it might be chick-lit after all), but Bianca did stay true to herself in the end, and that's ultimately what matters.

Recommendation: Girls, especially teenage girls, should read this book.  It should be assigned in high school and openly discussed.  For the rest of you, you want a good read?  Read it.

Would I represent it?  It did leave me wanting (just a little).  I like books with slightly heavier plots.  But Bianca's voice was amazing and the topic edgy.  So ya, I'd probably represent something like it. But don't be edgy for the sake of being edgy. Be true to your characters.

Happy reading!

Monday, December 27, 2010

YA: Bad Guys

I love bad guys.  I'm not saying I'd rather be the villain than the hero.  Antagonists add a deep layer to any plot.  It's what the main character is struggling against at the very core of the story (besides themselves and obstacles along the way).

One of my favorite bad guys of all time is Voldemort from the Harry Potter series.  He's so deliciously evil, straight, pure evil.  He is the constant throughout the books.  His evilness knows no bounds.  A lot of evil characters aren't pure evil like Voldemort.  By the time we meet him, he is beyond repair, with no hope of being turned to the good side.  (Since I said it, I can't not mention it...)  Darth Vader is also a great bad guy, with more dynamics to him than all the other bad guys in the series.  He is what Luke must fight against, even though, in the end, he isn't the most ultimate evil.

What is so different about YA bad guys from Adult bad guys?  You know, I really don't know.  Perhaps they can be scarier, or more evil, because it's dealing with YA topics.  While battling ultimate evil and saving the world, the main character must also fight his inner demons (as Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter do), and, since the bad guy reveals these inner demons, it makes them seem more evil.

Not every book or story has to have the ultimate evil character, some show the story of a character battling the inner demons, or killer unicorns, or something of the sort.  But make sure you can point in your manuscript to whatever it is the main character must fight.  We like conflict.  Give us conflict.

Tell me, who is your favorite bad guy?  The more evil and complex, the better.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Stork

Stork by Wendy Delsol was a lovely surprise.  I thought it would be run of the mill average: new girl, new powers, new boy.  But with a fresh voice that is witty, engaging, insightful, and hilarious, you are immediate best friends with the new girl, the narrator, Katla.

Sixteen-year-old Katla LeBlanc has just moved from Los Angeles to Minnesota. As if it weren’t enough that her trendy fashion sense draws stares, Katla soon finds out that she’s a Stork, a member of a mysterious order of women tasked with a very unique duty. But Katla’s biggest challenge may be finding her flock at a new school. Between being ignored by Wade, the arrogant jock she stupidly fooled around with, and constantly arguing with gorgeous farm boy and editor-in-chief Jack, Katla is relieved when her assignment as the school paper’s fashion columnist brings with it some much-needed friendship. But as Homecoming approaches, Katla uncovers a shocking secret about her past — a secret that binds her fate to Jack’s in a way neither could have ever anticipated. 

First Sentence: "One moment I was fine, and the next it felt like an army of fire ants was marching across my head.  Seriously.  Fire ants wearing combat boots--heavy, cleated combat boots."  Okay, so that's three sentences.  The first one is great on it's own, I just really loved the third sentence and wanted to include it.  Delsol is a master at using long and short sentences together, but never too much to feel redundant or unoriginal.  And the voice evident in the first sentence carries the promise constantly throughout the entire book.

Beefs: In hindsight, perhaps Katla doesn't give enough weight to a lot of events in her life.  She accepts things as they are, and doesn't fight too hard against anything.  And through most of the novel you realize something very special about her love interest, which she doesn't understand until he has to show her, a few times, and tell her.  She is either slow or just that oblivious (which works for her).  While reading it though, that's what endears you to her.  She is very easy going, but with a spirit all her own, and doesn't get too closely tangled in run of the mill high school drama.

Brownie Points: Katla as a character.  Rather than a tomboy who is strong-willed and secretly feminine when forced to be, Katla is all fashion, all glitz, all glam, all designer labels.  Actually, she's a bit of a snob, the sort that in reality shows you want to punch.  But Katla wants to be a fashion designer, she wants to go to Paris for college, she has dreams and ambitions, and it's all part of her character.  She does grow throughout the novel with a lovely character arch, and she becomes not so snobbish in the end.  But the great characterization doesn't stop with Katla, it's consistently fantastic with each and every character, from her fashion backwards best friends to her Starbucks sipping father, from the eccentric ladies of the Stork society, to perfect, popular, stupid Wade. 

Ending: Everything gets wrapped up nicely.  There is a sense of unease in the magic land that Katla doesn't give enough weight to at the end.  I kept thinking, wait, what's this doom and gloom that could potentially destroy the entire world?  Oh, wait, you're happy with your family, friends, and boyfriend now?  Isn't that sweet.  Sarcasm aside, the ending leaves you with warm fuzzies and you won't be disappointed.

Recommendation: Here's a new twist to the mythology bug that seems to be going around.  Rather than the usual Greek Mythology, Delsol has dived right into Norse Mythology and brought up the old childhood tale of the Stork--and really, how cool is that?  Great characters, great voice, great writing, a great, sweet little story that will have you smiling.  It won't wow the pants off of you, but go ahead and pull your socks on a little tighter.

Would I represent it?  Or something like it?  Sure.  Definitely.  Voice, writing, plot, originality.  All my favorite things.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Queries: Credentials

A few of you have asked, so here's my answer.

How much do you need to tell an agent about yourself in your query letter?  The best parts.  We don't need a full bio in your query.  If you've been on the best seller list five times and are looking for a new agent, put that.  First.

But really, all the fluff, save that for your bio.  We'll probably ask for it.  The query is to get us interested.  Concentrate on that.

But the question is, how much of yourself to include?  I don't care if you've been writing since you could hold a pencil.  I don't care if you were on your high school newspaper.  BA in Creative Writing from Dartmouth?  Perhaps.  MFA?  Could be.  Leading historian on the subject your writing about?  Sure, why not.  You see the trend, these are relevant.

But honestly, I don't care.  Some agents might.  Unless you have a real solid platform, I gloss over the details.  I'm interested in your book.  If you can't sell your book, if you can't write it properly to get me interested, I won't care if you have won five Amazon awards.  It might tip me over the edge in your favor if I'm feeling generous--I do like to see something besides you've given up your entire life for your dream to be published.  Write a good query letter.

You wrote a good query letter?  Cool.  Then your credentials don't matter.  I take a chance on writers all the time.  If you can not only write a good query letter but also a full length novel without losing my interest, I don't care if English is your second language or you wrote it on napkins at a coffee house in your spare time.

That said, get as strong a platform as possible.  Work on your writing career.  Keep working on your writing.  Take classes.  Meet other authors, agents, editors.  Go to conferences.  It can only help you.  Plus, it gives us something to pad your bio with when we try selling it to the publishers.  And that's impressive.  It makes it easier on us.  And if you're super into marketing your own book, on or off line, that's even better.

That's my ramble for the day.  First and foremost, be a writer.  A good writer, if that's not asking too much.  Everything else should fall by the wayside.  (And note that these are my preferences.  Many agents do require experience.  And everyone, including myself, like to see that you are always working on your craft--it tips us off that you will be easy to work with, eager to learn, and probably won't need that much guidance.)

Happy writing.

Friday, December 17, 2010

YA: Sex

To include or not to include.  Is that really the question?

Well, it depends doesn't it?  A big reason books are banned is for sexual content.  But teens want to read about something relevant to their lives.  What is more relevant than sex?  Having it, not having it, it occupies a good space of brain time in your average teenager.  And if they aren't having it, don't want to have it, won't have it in their teen years, they are, at the very least, confronted with it every day by peers, ads, TV, magazines, etc.

Take Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (discount the fourth, though that can be a discussion all on its own), and Rampant by Diana Peterfreund.  In these books, the main character wants to have sex, and has to deal with the repercussions of having or not having sex.  In the first case, it means possibly getting attacked by her vampire lover in the moment of passion.  In the second, it means losing her powers as a unicorn slayer.

So these aren't necessarily real life situations.  If a teen has sex, she has to deal with the possibilities of STDs, pregnancy, or personal or social humiliation.  So what's the point of including sexual situations in fantasy novels?  A teen doesn't need a "How to Survive Having Sex with a Vampire" handbook.

What's the point?  It gets the teen thinking.  It gets the teen out of her own head for a moment.  It allows the teen to project.  And it allows the teen to sympathize with the main character in her own plight.  She will recognize in the main character her own emotions, confusion, and dilemmas.

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher are two contemporary YA that both deal, at least in part, with sex and the consequences.  I won't get into them much here, but know that I loved both of these books.  They handle the dilemma of teen sex so well, both in vastly different ways, that, had they landed on my desk, I would have scooped them up (not for the sex dilemma alone, but the incorporation was very well done).

So, the question isn't really to include of not to include.  It's more about the appropriateness to your story.  Don't include sex for the sake of having it in there.  If there is no point, no lesson, no conclusion to draw from the scene, then it isn't helping.  It might be harming your novel.

The following links talk more in depth about sex and romance in YA novels--probably better than I could.

Romance from Justine Dell.
Edgy YA from Query Tracker.

And the book I'm looking forward to reading with this topic in mind is The Duff by Kody Keplinger.  (Click for a great review.)

So the questions you might want to ask yourself are:
How much is too much?  How can the author gage what will be acceptable for teens to read?  How does the author decide what the teen can identify with?  When is it worth taking the risk of adding sexual material, and just leaving it out in favor of something else?  Is it allowable to be explicit in YA, or is it common courtesy to gloss over the details?

So, dear readers, your turn.  Enlighten me to your thoughts.  Happy writing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In The News

Curtis Brown UK Launches Paid Writing Classes for Fiction Writers
The latest news item driving online commentary is the launch of a three-month novel-writing course by Curtis Brown UK, "the first and only new writing school to be run by a literary agency."

They charge 1,600 pounds, and promise to "consider" students' for representation: "We don't guarantee that we'll offer representation but we do guarantee that every student's work will be read by a Curtis Brown book agent and every student will receive a detailed critique on their work at the end of the course." They also require that students give the agency an exclusive opportunity to consider their completed novel for representation: "I agree to submit my novel to Curtis Brown when it is ready for submission, and will give Curtis Brown an exclusive six week opportunity to read and consider before sending to any other agencies or publishers."

What think you, dear readers, of this sort of writing class?  Good?  Bad?  Great opportunity?  Waste of money (nearly $2,500 US)?

If you were given the same opportunity, in a city near you, would you jump on the chance?  Would you for $2,500?  Or would it have to be less than that?  Remember, it's for three months, a (very prestigious) Literary Agency is telling you what they like to see, what the publishers like to see, you are revising your manuscript to those standards, and getting an agent to look at your work for possible representation. 

Here is just another example of how the industry is changing.  Literary Agencies are changing the way they do business.  The question is, is it to your benefit?  Should we see more of this?  Would you like to see more of this?  I'm very interested in the perspective of a writer.

Happy writing! 

Monday, December 13, 2010

YA: Death

Here's a happy topic.  Death is one of the topics that I feel really separates YA from Adult genres.  Usually, from what I've read, Adult fiction that deals with death is very, well, mature.  A husband, parent, child is lost, and the adult must find ways to cope with the loss and carry on with his/her life.

YA is, essentially, the same.  But teens and young people are not equipped to deal with death the same way adults are; they haven't lived long enough, or seen enough, to be able to deal with it, or at least, not properly.  And that's why Death works so well as a theme in YA, because throwing a young character into a situation she was not prepared to handle, and watching her grow and find a way to cope with that situation, is the basis for any good story.

It may be morbid, but I love YA that deals with death.  Now, don't go killing off characters right and left to try to satisfy me.  Like everything in a novel, it must fit, it must be believable, and it must work with the story, subplots, and characters.  Hunger Games, for example, deals with a lot of death.  Okay, in that characters are dropping off left and right.  But it's the premise of the story, and, since Katniss grew up watching the Hunger Games and people dying, Death really doesn't affect Katniss until she watches a friend die (trying not to give anything away here, but I'm not, because like I said before, a lot of people die).  And the loss hits her hard, so she responds in the only way she knows how, she takes care of Rue's body and she sings--consequences come from that, both good and bad, and that makes that particular death beautiful, necessary, and helps us understand Katniss a little better.

While the Hunger Games is Dystopian and anything goes, YA contemporary fiction, or even paranormal or urban fantasy, must (mostly) operate within the confines of reality.  The government isn't going to come into a school and kill off a dozen students and just happen to also kill the main character's best friend.  Reasons we will believe?  War, car crash, cancer (and other health problems), suicide.  Happy topics right?  And of course, the main reason we read the books, is to see the aftermath, which can range from inappropriate sex to a search for answers, from withdrawing from friends and family, to going on the warpath for revenge (however the revenge might manifest itself).

Below are a list of my favorite books dealing with Death.  Follow the links to see my reviews.  I haven't reviewed Zusak and Green because I read them before I started to blog, but they've stuck with me that long; they are definitely worth a read (full box of tissues for the first, half a box for the second).  Zusak's quite literally deals with Death; it is narrated by Death.  And Green's is a part funny, part seeking-for-answers coming of age story.

Twenty Boy Summer - Sarah Ockler
Past Midnight - Mara Purnhagen
Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
The Body Finder - Kimberely Derting
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Looking For Alaska - John Green

And I'd like to know your favorite books dealing with Death, no limits on the genre.  But I am always looking for more morbid YA to add to my lists, so please, dig deep.

So, despite the topic...

Happy reading!

Friday, December 10, 2010

YA: Voice

Plot's all well, but probably the biggest reason I reject manuscripts is for the voice.  And I'm not just talking first person past tense (or third person limited past tense--it seems that the majority of recent novels are written in one of the two).  I'm talking getting in the character's head.  We are them for 200-400 pages.  Their thoughts become our thoughts.  We witness events through their eyes.  Their first kiss is our first kiss.

So, what does this entail?  You have probably all heard "show don't tell," well that comes into play with the voice.  Want to listen to a monotone robot reading you the news?  No?  Didn't think so.  It's quick and efficient and doesn't waste your time, but then you can't make fun of the newscaster's new haircut.  We want to be shown the news, through emotions and pictures and overly contrived one liners.

See what I did there?  I made fun of newscasters, because that's part of my humor.  I could have told you "Show don't tell" but I felt that the situation warranted an example, and you never would have known my opinion of newscasters.  Does that matter in the overall scheme of things?  Probably not.  But I'm more likable now, right?

Using first or third person limited allows the narrator to get inside the main character's head and reveal the inner workings: emotions, logic, thoughts.  Thoughts, actions, and reactions are all different.  Your character can witness the death of her cat, can react by running in and grabbing her automatic rifle to kill the coyote, but what is she actually thinking?  What are her emotions?  We can assume she was out for revenge, but was she thinking "I'm out for revenge, where's my rifle?"  Or was she thinking, "Thank God I started keeping my rifle cleaned, loaded, and by the backdoor to ward off my creepy stalker ex-boyfriend otherwise I never would have been quick enough to avenge my cat.  That dog's pelt is mine, may he forever adorn my mantelpiece."  Wordy?  Perhaps, but I think you get the picture.  (This also goes hand in hand with "The Beat.")

Most of my favorite books won me over by the voice.  Yes they had great plot and development and everything else vital to a good read, but the voice managed to keep me engaged and invested.  If someone rewrote Moby Dick with an updated 21st century voice, I might actually succeed in reading it all the way through.

Invested...  That's what it's all about, right?  Get us invested in your character.  Make us care whether or not she gets the boy or survives the flood or solves the missing computer mouse mystery.  And get us invested early.  Unlike plot, voice isn't really something that unveils as the novel progresses.  Page one, line one, I want voice.

Favorite authors based on voice alone:  Diana Peterfreund, John Green, Jay Asher.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Past Midnight

I cannot for the life of me remember where I found this book or if someone suggested I read it.  It probably came up in one of my giant Amazon searches, though according to Amazon, the sales numbers aren't that high.  Not that I care; this was one fun read.  Past Midnight by Mara Purnhagen has two scheduled sequels to be released next year, and I'm interested enough to read them.

I thought ghosts had been done enough times.  A girl can see ghosts, she's being haunted, only she can help them find peace... yadda yadda yadda.  But this YA paranormal does what I like seeing, a very real YA situation that deals with grief, death, and loyalties combined with the paranormal.  Really, you could take out the paranormal and have a touching contemporary.  You could take out the contemporary and have a rather thrilling paranormal haunting.  Neither would be quite complete without the other; together, it makes a well rounded, balanced book.

Synopsis: Charlotte Silver's parents have their own ghost-hunting reality show, which makes high school awkward for shy Charlotte who switches schools more often than an Army Brat.  Finally settling down to one high school for her senior year, Charlotte gets the chance to make real friends.  Avery, popular cheerleader, befriends Charlotte immediately, but she's keeping secrets from her new friend.  In fact, the entire school is keeping a secret from Charlotte, and it might have to do with Avery's absent boyfriend and Jared, an attractive social outcast with a limp.  But Charlotte is keeping her own secret.  Her parents' work has followed her home, in the form of a potentially malevolent spirit intent on getting Charlotte to help it.  Between ghosts and secrets, Charlotte needs to get to the bottom of both mysteries before time runs out.

First Sentence: "I was never normal, but I liked to pretend that I was."  This one sentence embodies one of the main themes of the novel: acceptance.  Charlotte discovers how to accept herself, crazy parents included, just as the other characters learn to accept certain things in their lives.  It's a good first line that probably appeals to everyone, not just teens.  Who doesn't think they aren't normal?

Beefs: Don't go in thinking you're going to get a Twilight type of romance.  Charlotte gets her first serious crush and she becomes friends with moody, possibly dangerous, and totally hot Jared, but the push and pull of forbidden love is nowhere to be found.  It's refreshing actually.  And helps keep the focus where it counts: out of teenagers' pants and into their hearts.
Beef number two: I didn't completely buy Charlotte's past of being alienated because of what her parents do.  I let it go however, and substituted "total humiliation" with "Charlotte was embarrassed and wouldn't let people into her life".

Brownie Points: Besides being well written, you get to know the characters really well.  Each character is real and whole.  Too bad the book couldn't have been another 50 or 100 pages longer so we could have seen more interactions.  But, short as it is, it's sweet.

Ending: Left me smiling.  Things were mostly resolved, as you'd expect them to be.  But what I liked most, was that the teen drama wasn't magically all better, it was left with the reader knowing their problems still needed to be worked on.  That's real life people.

Would I represent it?:  I can label this book as "quiet."  And that label is the reason for Amazon's low rating.  I wish more people would read stuff like this, then I could sell more of it.  But, swept up in the post-Twilight thrills of big bangs and bigger sexual tension, a book like this just can't fly up into the spotlight.  I would love to represent something like this, it's unique enough to stand apart from "Oh-my-gosh, I'm being haunted by a ghost" books, but familiar enough (the contemporary side) to appeal to teens (and me).

Happy reading!

Monday, December 6, 2010

YA: Beginning the Conversation

Since plunging into YA head first, about a year ago, I have greatly changed my definition of YA.  I used to think it was a fun story about kids on an adventure, ie Boxcar Children, Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time.  YA is so much more than that.  It's about the true emotions, problems, situations, and conflicts that teens face everyday: school, relationships, death.  Whether through humor, fantasy, paranormal, history, or contemporary, a YA novel is going to touch some cord of a teen's life.

I'm hardly a teen anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading YA (I'm representing it, aren't I?).  A lot of adults love reading YA. Does it make them feel younger?  Is it akin to an old man sitting on his porch drinking lemonade and reminiscing about the good old days in which he had to walk five miles to school up hill both ways?  Or is it just another way for adults to reflect on society?  Another perspective, if you will.

A year ago, I took a YA lit class, thinking it would be an easy A, easy reading.  I had taking a American Children's lit course the year before, so I thought I knew what I was getting into.  After we read Catcher in the Rye (shoot me please), The Outsiders (outdated, let's move on), Chocolate War (interesting, but not my type), we moved into the YA that made me sit up and pay attention.   

Looking for Alaska was my first brush with contemporary YA that didn't make me want to tear my hair out.  It was relevant, poignant, silly, serious and full of geeks, hot girls, bitches, and cliques.  So beautiful I don't even want to get into it here (read it, it's so good).  Learning more about John Green was when I first realized that not all great authors have to be dead, old, or boring.  His Vlogs with his brother were funny and educational.  Really, he's just a geek himself.

Next, I read The Book Thief.  Now, I don't cry at novels or movies (I'm a girl, but I'm broken apparently).  The closest I get to tears is throwing down the book and pacing to get rid of the built up emotions, maybe gaping at the wall, or talking out loud to myself (usually along the lines of ohmygodohmygodohmygod--eloquent, I know).  And I was definitely doing a lot of my not-crying-antics.  Beautiful novel.  Ok, I thought, historical YA, I can dig that.

What sealed the deal?  Dystopian YA.  Yup, you guessed it, I'm a die hard Hunger Games fan.  It had fantasy, technology, screwed up government, screwed up society, danger, adventure, family, love, tension, confusion, death... I can go on and on.  That's what I loved about the book: it had everything.

I've read a butt load of YA since (been reading my Wednesday Reads, haven't you?), and my favorites  have a mix of the above qualities.  Some are heavy in conflicted romance, some in death, others in humor.  It has to strike some sort of cord.  Teens are bombarded with an overload of information every day at school, on ads, on TV, from friends.  They have to sift through all of that information (ADD much?) to get to the stuff that they actually want to know about.  I'm much the same way.  I only left my teen years behind three years ago; I want to get the meat quickly.  Why should I care?  My favorite books make me care.

Ok, so the discussion has begun.  Over the next few weeks I'll take the above list and write a blog post on certain items.  Please chime in with your thoughts.  Want to argue with me?  Please do.  Conflict is how I learn (I do not want scars though please).

Happy writing... or reading... whichever you feel like doing.  In any case, Happy Living!

Friday, December 3, 2010

NaNo Round Up

So, my month of being a writer is officially over (whew).  I completed my objective of finished my novel by the end of November.  Approximately 70,000 words (didn't get an official count because it's divided in chapters, I got mad at it, see below, and didn't feel like compiling them), which, starting with 10,000 already, means I wrote about 60,000 words in 30 days.  And I don't think I ever want to do that again.

So, a few things I've learned:

  • Back up all your files.  Even if they tell you to back up your files and you scoff and think, "I don't need to back up my files, I won't lose them."  Back them up anyway.  (My files got corrupted, I managed to save them, but now they have no punctuation, quotation marks, or paragraph breaks.)
  • Outlining actually helps.  A lot.
  • When you have an inability to name characters and you suddenly find yourself with a character that needs a name, use a celebrity's name (Richard Gere made an appearance) or a ridiculous name that you may or may not choose to keep later (Dorcas got a lot of screen time simply because I liked typing it).
  • If you're writing historical fiction, research the time period first.
  • If your story is set in a particular part of the world you don't know anything about, get a map.  I still don't know where my characters were, they jumped from Maryland, to Virginia, to New York, to Pennsylvania, all within one scene.  (Or maybe they found a machine... nope, not writing Sci Fi, dang)
  • Be prepared to eat, dream, talk, think nothing but your story for 30 days.  It becomes an obsession.  I am to plot as Zombies are to brains.
  • Tying up loose ends from four or five or six subplots is actually harder than one might think.  I might have forgotten about one.  No wonder Herman Melville just started killing people off in Moby Dick.
  • Since NaNo is in November, allow wiggle room to accommodate Thanksgiving, a week of family in town, and a weekend long turkey comma.
  • Also allow wiggle room so you can take a week break from writing because you nearly tore your hair out when you almost lost all your files, without falling too far behind in your goal.
As much as I love having accomplished this ginormous task, I'll leave it to the professionals from now on.  You guys and gals have my deepest respect.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Percy Jackson

Why did it take me this long to read Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan?  Probably because it's actually middle grade, not YA (won't be representing middle grade, sorry).  However, it's excellent.  A great read from beginning to end.  The characters, the plot, the wit.

First Chapter Title: "I Accidentally Vaporize my Pre-Algebra Teacher."  Before you even get to the first sentence, you are hooked.  Yes, it does give away what happens in the chapter, but it's funny enough not to really matter.  It also acts as a hook to keep you reading through a few pages of set up (slash brief back story).

First Sentence: "Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood."  You're thinking, what now?  You don't learn what that is exactly for a few chapters (unless you've read anything about the book, ie back cover blurbs), but you're intrigued enough to keep reading to find out.  It's a teaser.  And it works.

"Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school...again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus's stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves."
Beefs: I wonder what would have happened had Riordan decided to make this a YA.  Would it have worked?  But Percy is a mature enough 12 year old to appeal to the older audience (me!) as well.

Brownie Points: Riordan has a gift at being able to incorporate Greek Mythology into present day.  Hopefully, a few kids who have read this wanted to know more about the gods and myths mentioned.  I have a college Greek Myth course under my belt, so I understood all of the references (go me!), and had a few laughs along the way.  Brownie Point #2: main character is a boy.  I've heard people say how books are never written for boys, well this is.  Not only that, but ADD, dyslexic, trouble making boys.

Recommendation: Much like how I tell everyone to read the popular stuff in their genre, you should read this if you A: like YA or middle grade, B: read fantasy (or urban fantasy, which I think this classifies as), C: like witty, smart humor, D: like Greek Myths, or E: like a good read.

Would I represent it? I won't be representing Middle Grade, so no.  But this is exactly the type of thing (grown up a few years) that I'm looking for.  Witty, smart, unique, etc.  And I love things that incorporate mythologies into them.

Happy reading!