Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Overdue farewell

All good things must come to an end, or so the saying goes.

After many years, Sarah and I made the decision to shut the blog down after it lost a bit of momentum. This farewell post is long overdue.

On behalf of Sarah and myself, thank you to the original YAtopian team and to those who joined our little band of merry bloggers here after. And thank you to everyone who were followers of the blog. We did have a great run.

May your TBR pile be large, and may your YA reads be awesome!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

GUESTOPIA: YA Debut Author, Kit Mallory

It’s Guestopia time again! Today, I am delighted to introduce you to an awfully talented young person whose words you should absolutely read. Immediately. Please meet...


Kit is a YA author living in Devon, UK. She writes speculative fiction about underdogs, kickass girls who love other girls, and mental health. Her first novel, BLACKOUT, was shortlisted for the 2016 Mslexia Children's Novel Competition and longlisted for the 2016 Bath Children's Novel Award. She has a secret alter ego who works as a mental health nurse, and was almost certainly a mermaid in a former life.

Awesome! Right, let’s get straight down to business... 

Is this your first published book?

Yes! Which is both incredibly exciting and kind of terrifying.

What’s it called?


Which genre?

It’s YA speculative fiction; technically dystopian, but in a very near future, close-to-home sort of way.

Which age group?

14 up, I’d say.

Is it a series or standalone?

At the moment it’s looking like a duology – I’m working on the sequel right now.

Are you an agented author?


Which publisher snapped up your book?

It’s indie published.

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

Very, since I’m an indie author (and my goodness has that been a massive learning curve!).

Do you have another job? 

Yes! I’m a mental health nurse who specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior? 

Yes, quite a few. I got a lot of really positive – even glowing – feedback from agents, as well as making it to the shortlist of the 2016 Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition, but ultimately got a lot of feedback about it not being right for where the market was at the time. I still believed in my characters and my writing, though – and in fact the feedback I was getting gave me the confidence to believe that Blackout was worth sticking with. I also believe very strongly that LGBTQ teens and teens with mental health problems really need to see themselves represented in more and better ways in YA fiction, and ultimately getting my story into the hands of those readers was the most important thing to me, so I decided to release it myself.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

It was 2012 and at the time I lived up in York (in the north of England, for those abroad!) – and what came into my head was a story about a girl who lived in a cellar and who was furious at the world and everything around her. That girl turned out to be Skyler, and I knew very early on that hers was a story I wanted to tell. The original inspiration for the setting and the concept of the Wall came from the Berlin Wall, which I’ve always been fascinated by, the concept of the UK’s north/south divide, and a long-held wondering about what might happen when fossil fuels start running out.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it? 

I didn’t! I’m very much a pantser, and I always start with the characters first – I think once you know your characters well enough to know how they’ll respond in any given situation, the story starts to unfold naturally. I prefer to work that way rather than trying to force the characters to behave in a way that fits the plot. It feels like going on an adventure with them, and I love that.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission? 

It flowed to a point, and then it got to a point plot-wise where I had to sit down and really think about the logistics of what was going to happen next. The point where I tend to get stuck is the point at which I realise I’ve written my characters into a predicament I might not be clever enough to get them out of…

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

When I was writing the first draft I shared snippets with a friend who was also drafting a novel. It took a good couple of years before I was brave enough to show another friend the whole thing!

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

I have been incredibly lucky in having a whole bunch of amazing critique partners and beta readers who gave me feedback on various drafts of the manuscript. I was also part of an author’s collective to whom I owe an awful lot of credit for helping me develop as a writer. Blackout wouldn’t be the book it is – and I wouldn’t be the writer I am today – without the help of my incredible friends and CPs.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

At a rough estimate, approximately twenty million.

How many drafts until it was published?

Forty million? I was still doing edits even after I got the first proof copy through! That might have been the biggest learning curve of all, actually – learning to let go once and for all.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Oh, God, yes. The main bones of the plot haven’t really changed, but the detail and nuance have changed a LOT. And I basically learned how to write as I was writing it, so in terms of the actual writing, it’s changed a bunch.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

I haven’t gone back and read it again since it was published because I know as soon as I do I’ll find something I want to change – honestly I suspect that will be the case with everything I ever write. Tolerating the knowledge that it’ll never be perfect – there’ll always be some way I can make it better, and the more I learn and develop my writing, the more I’ll notice those ways – has been one of the hardest parts of the whole process.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Getting to know the characters and their voices, I think. Emotion-driven scenes are my favourite ones to write.

What part do you find hardest?

Complicated plot stuff (you know, the bits where my characters have to be smarter than I am). Ignoring the voice of self-doubt. Knowing when to stop editing!

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

It depends what they are. If I’m avoiding something because it’s difficult or anxiety-provoking, I know that facing it head on is what’s going to get me through it and out the other side. When I’m stuck on a plot point, though, for example, I know that often the best thing to do is step away and do something totally different to give myself time to process things without forcing it. If I do that, I can generally trust that the answer will come to me at some point (it happened in the shower just the other day!).

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

Currently in the works I’ve got: the sequel to Blackout, the first in a YA contemporary fantasy series that needs revisions, a partially-written draft of another standalone work, and a short story that’s nagging me to be turned into a novel. So I should be all set for the next five years or so…

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned

I think it’s a bit of both – I definitely think the technical aspects can be learned, and no matter how naturally talented you are you can always learn more and improve your craft. That obsessive drive you need to not only actually finish a novel but to redraft it over and over until it’s what you want it to be – that I don’t think you can learn.

How many future novels do you have planned?

*counts on fingers* As of right now, at least five.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I’m not great at brevity, so short stories aren’t my natural forte, but I do write them sometimes. I also blog about book stuff, LGBTQ stuff, and mental health stuff at www.kitmallory.wordpress.com. I’ve just started a new blog post series over there on writing mental health representation (and I’m taking requests for post subjects!).

What’s the highlight of being published so far? 

Hands down, it’s been getting feedback from readers that Blackout has connected with them in some way. People have been really positive about the representation, which has been amazing because that was something I was really concerned about getting right. Somebody live-tweeted their reactions as they read the book on its release day, which was just absolutely delightful; someone else let me know they’d asked their local library to buy a copy. That feeling – that I created something that people have enjoyed, that’s made them feel seen, that they’ve taken the time to share that with me and let others know about it – it’s been absolutely magical, and without a doubt, it’s made the entire journey 100% worthwhile.

Give me one writing tip that works for you.

Find your people; the ones who can both lift you up and challenge you. Learn to love criticism – it’s the key to becoming a better writer – but don’t forget to embrace and celebrate your strengths and the positive feedback you get just as much.

And one that doesn't.

I’ve never been convinced about the whole “write every day” thing. Self-care is the most important thing. If that rule works for you, awesome; but don’t push yourself to stick to a rigid set of rules because you think that’s what you *should* be doing.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

Blackout’s sequel – I really need to come up with a damn title! – is my first ever multi-POV novel, with four viewpoint characters. You’ll get to see through both some familiar eyes and some new ones as the gang attempt to deal with the aftermath of the first book’s events.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

I’ve heard a lot from readers about who their favourite character in Blackout is (there’s definitely a common theme!) but I don’t think I’ve talked about who mine is! Although I love all three of the main characters in Blackout, Skyler definitely has a special place in my heart. She’s the very definition of an unlikeable heroine – she’s selfish and stubborn and a total pain in the ass sometimes - but those qualities, actually, have allowed her to survive in incredibly difficult circumstances and I love the fact that she knows full well how smart and talented she is and she never apologises for who she is. At the same time, I think she grows and changes a LOT throughout the book and that takes a lot of courage on her part.

Fantastic! What a great interview. Thank you so much for joining us today, Kit, and we wish you all the best with Blackout, its sequel, and all the rest that follow.

If you would like to find out more about Kit and grab a copy of Blackout (which you should), these links should help:

Amazon US

Books 2 Read 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Such A Thing As Too Much Conflict

Conflict is one topic about YA (Young Adult) writing I’d like write about. Usually, with writing advice, the wisdom is to make the stakes/conflict clear. And that’s generally good advice. However, sometimes people don’t realize there’s such a thing as too much conflict. Not every area of plot needs to have conflict. And that’s particularly true with a romance. Sometimes conflict doesn’t’ have to come to from romance, and can come from other areas of plot. And to illustrate my example, I’m going to use a television show (Days of our Lives). TV and books are different mediums, but there are still overlapping elements about storytelling. Anyway, to illustrate my point, I’m going to discuss why WilSon (Will and Sonny) should be endgame on Days of our Lives, not Horita (Will and Paul):

1. Wilson Has A Child Together.
Yes. Having a child doesn’t always mean a couple should be together since a relationship or marriage could be toxic. That isn’t the case with WilSon, though. Whether it is with Chandler Massey’s version of Will Horton or Guy Wilson’s version of Will Horton, Will and Sonny have been through so much together ever since their daughter (Ari) was born. Like deaths, getting married, rough patches, good times, and other drama. So, if that doesn’t spell supercouple, then I don’t know what does.

2. Horita Is Forced.
If nobody else will say it, I will. Horita is happening with the majority of people not wanting it. The only reason Will is with Paul is because of his amnesia. So, if it takes amnesia to get a couple together, then perhaps it’s time to realize how the couple isn’t a good idea. Even the Horita sex scenes feel forced since one of their bedroom moments was clumsy with regards to a shirt being taken off.

3. Conflict Doesn’t Have To Come From Romance.
Yes. Days of our Lives would be boring without conflict. However, there is such a thing as too much conflict. Almost every character has been involved in a love triangle over the last few months, and that fact is boring. For example, Will and Sonny could start over as friends and slowly build romantic tension between them without Paul complicating things. Or maybe they could’ve easily dived into the romance, yet Will remains hesitant about having sex with Sonny. Those are just a couple of possibilities, but the point is the Horita versus WilSon love triangle isn’t offering viewers anything new, and feels stale.

4. Paul Wouldn’t Pursue Will If He Really Loved Sonny.
Days of our Livesviewers can’t forget about PaulSon (Paul and Sonny). They finally rekindled their relationship when Sonny returned to town a long time after Will died in October of 2015.  Therefore, Paul and Sonny really got time to explore their relationship (they were going to get married) before the news about Will being alive was revealed). And Paul was devastated when Sonny dumped him once everyone knew Will was alive. So, fans can’t help wondering if Paul is with Will because he’s mad at Sonny, and a secret part of him wants Sonny to suffer. Ultimately, the truth is in the subtext—not every fact is always spelled out for fans.

5. Will And Paul Have No Chemistry.
The idea might seem odd, yet it’s true. Will and Paul have a lot of sex scenes, but that’s almost all they do. It’s not like there’s a believable reason to ship them. Honestly, I’m tired of Days of our Livesusing sex to prop up Horita. Sure. Sex is a natural part of life, but if that’s the only thing keeping Horita together, then that’s toxic. Sex does not equal a relationship.

6. Will And Paul Hate Each Other.
Chandler Massey might’ve returned to playing Will, but Days of our Livesfans can’t forget about Guy Wilson’s portrayal of Will from January of 2014 to October of 2015. Guys Wilson’s version of Will eventually grew to hate Paul as a result of Will being jealousy that Paul would cost him his marriage to Sonny. And that kind of history can’t be forgotten—especially when it happened over months, as opposed to a fleeting moment. Ignoring history isn’t smart writing; it’s lazy writing. It pushes the issue of believability, which says something since Days of our Livesis a soap opera, and has more latitude with high-concept plots.

7. Paul Is Taking Advantage Of Will’s Amnesia.
Sure. Will’s amnesia is different than his cousin’s (Abigail’s) DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), but it still counts as a medical condition that impacts Will’s life. The reality is, Paul doesn’t have to gaslight Will for him to be taking advantage. As previously mentioned in this article, the amnesia is the only reason why Paul and Will are together.

8. Paul Lied About Will Being Dead.
It might’ve only been for 24 hours during an episode this past November, but the lie still counts. It wasn’t like Paul lied to Sonny, Sami, Marlena, and John to spare their feelings. Nope. This was a big lie, and reinforces how Paul can’t be trusted.

9. Will Has Been Isolated Ever Since He Started “Dating” Paul.
Yup. Will hasn’t been spending much time with his friends or family members because of Paul—it always comes back to Horita always being in bed. And that’s not healthy. Will was never isolated from his family members and friends when he dated and subsequently married Sonny.

10. Will Can’t Even Call Paul His Boyfriend.
In a rare recent scene with his friend, Gabi (and mother of their child, Ari), Will couldn’t even call Paul his boyfriend. And that is kind of strange considering all the sex Horita has had over the last few months because fans can’t help thinking about the subtext of Paul not fulfilling Will if he can’t define their “relationship.”

Anyway, the point of my article is to show how there’s such a thing as too much conflict. Sometimes, there’s enough conflict without adding drama to the romance, and romance can just be a steady forward trajectory, and the stakes can arise from other plot areas.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

What Writers Need to Make Danger Interesting

I'm a mom, so my spectrum of TV and movie pleasures range from Moana with my kiddo (and hey, even without my him) to The Handmaid's Tale (definitely without my kiddo). Both of these are full of danger appropriate for their target audience, but I noticed a big difference in my response to those dangers.

Let's talk about that Moana scene where Moanna and Maui fight the coconut pirates. (Don't worry, I won't spoil anything major in this post.) Moana is one of my favorite Disney movies, but I have to be honest with you...I barely know what happens in this scene. Every time this scene plays, my eyes glaze over and my mind wanders to anything else. That's because in my first time watching, I already knew they'd make it out of this jumble okay. Even though Moana and Maui were wildly outnumbered, the unfair fight didn't feel impossible. I didn't feel their fear, which is fair (tongue twister!) because this movie is for kids. But still, the writers could have upped Moana and Maui's disadvantage to increase the tension and conflict. Otherwise, an action scene can have as many explosions as it wants, but the danger still feels shallow.

Now let's shift gears and talk about The Handmaid's Tale. In the premier of season two, June faces a danger that had me completely enraptured. A fire in my own apartment couldn't have ripped me away from this scene. Like, I knew she would make it out okay because the rest of the show needs her, but I couldn't rationalize the fear and tension away because THERE WAS NO FREAKING WAY OUT. June didn't just have odds; she had impossible odds. I could feel that she knew there was no way out of this one, that this was the end for her because I was up close and could see the staunch fear in her eyes and the tremble in her lips.

Play appropriately to your audience, of course, but never give your characters a way out. Make us doubt our instinct that they'll make it. Get us up close and personal with the character's own fear. And then just when we think it's all over, throw a curve ball and wow us with a plot twist or a character that uses their mind, strength, and resourcefulness to overcome impossible odds.

Follow Jessie Mullins on Facebook and Twitter for more bookish things. 

Monday, March 26, 2018


Hey lovely YAtopians! Welcome back to Guestopia. I have some super special guests for March, so you’ll notice that the format is a wee different than usual. I am a bit excited about today’s guests. I have interviewed them before and never get tired of their enthusiasm for life, not to mention books! So, let’s get started. Please welcome the crew of…


This group of fabulously talented YA writers were all selected in Round 3 of Author Mentor Match and became fast friends during that time. Books make them happy and sharing that love makes them happier! 

They are:

Gracie Goldhart

Louisa Onomé

Julie Abe

Kate Havas

Dakota Shain Byrd

Erika L. Cruz

Heidi Christopher

Emily Beck

Lorna Riley

Michelle Fohlin

Katherine Pisana

Susan Lee

Find out more about each of them right here… www.loveatfirstchapter.com

Right, introductions done, let's get going with the interview! 

Thanks for joining me today, Love at First Chapter! I’m thrilled to host you. So, for the new readers who haven’t heard of your fabulousness, tell me first up what exactly is Love at First Chapter. 

Love At First Chapter is a biweekly young adult fiction newsletter that introduces the first chapter of an upcoming or new release to subscribers. With each newsletter, subscribers can “fall in love” with the book and either purchase or preorder it at the end of the email. It’s a fun reader resource that allows a wider audience to sample new, diverse releases -- and introduces authors to more engaged readers who are likely to be interested in their book. A win-win for everyone involved!

You guys are all YA writers and met during Author Mentor Match. But how did you go from not knowing each other to setting up this amazing new service for YA book lovers?

Amidst talk of revisions and drafts, Graci Goldhart, our founder, introduced the idea as a fun way to promote upcoming YA releases we’re excited for. The rest happened pretty quickly after that. We set up the website, assigned roles, came up with a list of our most anticipated releases, and prepared for our Valentine’s Day launch.

What’s different about the reader service you’re providing?

All the books selected for Love At First Chapter have been recommended by one of our curators. That means we’ve read and can vouch for the book, have enjoyed it, and want to share it with others. We like to think of it as an unconventional book club of sorts: recommending books and building a community based on readership.
Why should readers sign up?

We’re unlike any other YA newsletter or book service -- it’s 100% free to sign up (and will remain that way!) and you get a surprise first chapter of a new or upcoming YA release straight to your inbox. Like the chapter? Purchase or preorder through links in the newsletter. Don’t like the chapter? Feel free to delete the email. It’s pressure-free and only aims to spread our love of books.

Why YA books?

Young adult fiction centers around, and is catered to, young people, who arguably are going through one of the most dynamic times in their lives. They are forming opinions about their environment and themselves, and using those opinions to create their world. We believe a greater sense of diversity in YA fiction is necessary -- to allow young people to dream bigger, to create a greater sense of acceptance amongst YA readers, to create the kind of world that doesn’t just tolerate, but accepts every kind of person. YA is such a transformative readership because of its reach. As YA (and MG) writers ourselves, we want to see more diverse works and debuts, and wanted the chance to introduce reads we feel can make a difference. 

Will you offer other services on the site in the future?

Though our focus currently lies with curating YA releases, we’d love to eventually create a community where readers can connect with one another. Watch this space! 

Will you share only standalone novels, or do you intend to share books within a series too?

We are open to sharing both. If the first book in a series is highly anticipated and we’re also really excited for it, then we’d love to feature it!
Will it be only novels, or will you share anthologies or perhaps novellas as well?

As of now, we’re focused on sharing YA novels, but may open to anthologies in the future. There are so many good ones coming out lately!

Will you share only traditionally published books or indie and self published as well?

We focus on traditionally published books.

Will you only share already published books or forthcoming titles too?

Some books we share are new releases that may have just come out within the past six months to a year, but our goal is to share more forthcoming titles to help authors build hype -- and hopefully boost preorders!

Will you only share diverse books? What if you accidentally get a chapter for a book that turns out to be problematic, like THE CONTINENT?

We aim to boost diverse voices, so a majority of the books we share will be diverse or #ownvoices. We read ARCs for each book we recommend in hopes we never end up recommending a book like THE CONTINENT. As writers, our names are on this project and we want to maintain a level of integrity when curating.

Why diverse books?

Why not diverse books? We live in a diverse world. Media should always reflect that. Seeing yourself in a book for the very first time is a life-changing moment because you realize you can be the hero too.

Michelle: As a history and geography nerd, I have always been drawn to the diversity of cultures in our world. I have always sought out books with rich worlds and characters that don’t necessarily reflect my own identity. And there are millions of kids who deserve to see their experiences in their words they read. It’s life-changing when you realize that someone who looks, sounds, loves, acts like you is a hero too.
Do you have any diversity that you identify with?

Shain: Yes. To start with, I’m queer as all get out. Physically only into guys, but I’m Bi-romantic, and gender-fluid. Beyond that I’m epileptic, and live with clinical depression, severe anxiety, and ADHD.

Louisa: Nigerian-Canadian, first gen! Also being from Montreal and not speaking any French (this is a Canadian joke, sorry!) 

Graci: I’m a proud Kowi (Korean-Kiwi), 1.5 gen, and visually impaired. Oh, and I live in Middle Earth (only partially kidding - New Zealand is basically Hobbitland)

What are your day jobs? If you’re in school, what’re you studying? Anybody doing an internship or other program like that?

Shain: I’m an American Sign Language Interpretation student in Fort Worth. Regarding internships, I have one with Entangled Teen. When I’m not studying or doing things for my internship or AMM mentorship, I also work as a freelance editor. Be sure to check out my website if you’re interested in learning more about all this!

Lisa: I work for the school district in the High school Library. I manage the circulation desk for both books and computers. I love it. I get to talk about books with students and it’s so great to connect with them over stories we’ve both read. I’ve also run into some fellow writers as well.

Julie Abe: During the day, I work in digital marketing for a healthcare company. At night, I write middle grade and young adult stories.

Louisa: I’m a SEO consultant during the day.

Heidi: I’m an editor with a small publishing house and when I’m not working on client material, i’m writing YA. 

Graci: I’m a diplomat for the New Zealand foreign service by day. 

Michelle: I currently make my unpaid living caring for my two precocious, adorable littles. But I’ve put in years as a history teacher, which is where I draw my ideas for my books from.

OMG. Aren’t they the best? And, obviously, if you haven’t already signed up to their newsletter (the next one is coming out THIS WEEK!) then I have no doubt you’re rushing off to do that right now. J If you need me to make this even easier for you...  

Thank you, gang, it’s been a pleasure!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Emotional Battlegrounds

The topic for blog posts this month is battlegrounds. But I’d like to focus on emotional battlegrounds. Don’t get me wrong. Actual battles are important for YA writing. Conflict needs to come to fruition since stakes can’t be hypothetical, meaning there needs to be a payoff. An emotional battleground informs YA writing, though, because characters need stakes and goals, as emotional layering is ultimately the last aspect of writing that authors need to master. For example, a writer can improve with imagery, voice, and dialogue, but might not understand the emotional aspect of YA fiction.

To help give an example of emotional battlegrounds, I’d like to mention my YA Fantasy novel IN THE NAME OF MAGIC (which is forthcoming from NineStar Press with a tentative release date of June 11, 2018). I don’t just have intense action, there’s also a lot at stake emotionally, and not just for my main character. One example is my main character, Maximillian, who hides his non-magical best friend, Katherine, when Queen Vivian wages a campaign against non-magical people. The obvious implication is Maximillian and his parents risk life or death by giving Katherine shelter. And while that fact is true, there’s more. The emotional layer is that Maximillian is always in a heightened state. The concrete detail (hiding Katherine) informs how he feels in any given moment since he needs to navigate life carefully. Stefan and Anastasia are another example of illustrating emotional battlegrounds. They have their own reasons for hating Queen Vivian (their older sister), and that fact informs their choices and feelings throughout the novel.

Depth is also important for emotional battlegrounds, and I’m not just talking about what is at stake for one character. I’m also referring to when an issue pops in YA fiction. With IN THE NAME OF MAGIC, said issue is oppression against non-magical people. Obviously, oppression and bigotry is wrong. However, I don’t want the issue to be cartoon-like, which means I need a character to take Queen Vivian’s side. And that character is Taylor. Just like in real life when people are on the wrong sides of issues, Taylor is also on the wrong side of oppression against non-magical despite how he’s dating Katherine (a non-magical person). Furthermore, I give Taylor a real reason why he would be on the wrong side of oppression, i.e. he’s not a flat character since his family has been having financial trouble, and that’s why he supports Queen Vivian—she’s offering the snake oil of fixing Magnifico’s economic problems.  

Another way to look at emotional battlegrounds is banter. A scene doesn’t always have to be life or death to provide stakes. The former ABC television show Revenge might be TV as opposed to YA Fiction, but still illustrates the importance of emotional battlegrounds. The main character, Emily, always has intense banter with her enemy, Victoria, even when weapons aren’t present. The banter between Emily and Victoria goes beyond melodrama. There intense verbal confrontations are always rooted in concrete facts as opposed to only trading insults.

Anyway, I hope the above discussion about emotional battlegrounds helps, and informs your writing!!!