Thursday, February 28, 2013

Breaking the law, breaking the law!

As writers we tend to spend a lot of time in our solitary writing caves, hunched over keyboards, grumbling about revisions.  So when you gather us together in public and add melt-in-your-mouth buttery crepes and book talk, we get a little giddy. 

And possibly loud.

This past weekend I met with four other kidlit writer friends for a semi-frequent get-together (semi-frequent, as in, whenever one of us thinks “Hey, it’s been a while” and sends off a flurry of emails to corral us.) Once we finished oohing and aahing over one of our groups shiny 2-book deal with Harper Collins (everyone add MONSTROUS to your TBR list now!), someone posed the question, “So, how established do you think you need to be before you can break all the ‘rules’?” 

“Rules? What rules?” we asked, slurping our cafĂ© au laits.

“Well, for instance, before you can get away with starting a book with a dialogue line.”

“Or a prelude,” someone added.

“Or on the first day of school!”


Oh, this was fun.  Rule talk turned to clichĂ© talk. Red haired characters (2% of the natural population, 98% of the literary population)!  Green-eyed characters! Ooh, better yet, emerald-eyed characters! Characters with symbolism-filled names of flowers, birds or variations of “the chosen one”.

And those oversold categories: dystopian, paranormal, dystopian paranormals.  

In honor of my over-caffeinated, weighed-down-with-butter writing friends, whom I truly love seeing outside of my computer, my new WIP is just for you. Everyone else, feel free to add on in the comment section- I'm sure I've forgotten some good ones (and please take it with a grain of salt and a healthy sense of humor if your ms happens to have one of these cliches- no offense is intended!)


It was a dark and stormy night when crazy, crazy action happened.  This action will not happen until page 776 of the book, whereas the first 775 pages will be extremely quiet and contain oodles of flowery, adjective-filled prose.  There will be frequent six-page descriptions of the barren landscape.  But hang in there, because you KNOW from this prelude that the action is coming…eventually.

Chapter One

Sigmund Freud: “Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.” (much like the characters in this book)
Elmer Fudd: “We’re hunting wild wabbit”

“Wake up, Chrysanthemum!”


My brother’s deep and authoritative voice cuts through my restful sleep and I finally realize my alarm clock has been ringing for some time. I gingerly sit up in bed and stretch, nerves already jangling as I remember what today is.

I shouldn’t be this nervous. With everything we’ve been through this last year: losing our parents to the uprising, discovering my superpowers, finding out I have to be the one to save the world, and Jake’s final transformation to full-on vampire, starting at a new school should be a piece of cake.

I sigh deeply, moving aside the ruffled, petal-pink duvet and placing my feet tenderly on the ground.  With a heavy heart I move to the mirror and examine myself carefully, noting that even at this early hour, my luxurious, wavy hair looks perfect and is the same luscious red as an old-time movie star’s lips.  My eyes are a brilliant emerald green.  They sparkle at me in the reflecting glass.

I’m so grateful that I still have my piece of mirror, a small reminder of what our world used to look like, before The Great Disaster struck, and took my parents, along with most of the world’s adults.  Mom and Dad would be proud of the way my younger brother Jake and I are handling this brave new world.

We’ll get through today just like we’ve gotten through the last 300 days.  One step at a time. I may be the chosen one, but today I’m just a normal sixteen year-old.  And my forever love could be waiting for me right now, in Geometry class.

I grab my lucky talisman and race downstairs.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New YAtopian: Fiona McLaren

It is with great excitement and happiness that I announce a new addition to our YAtopian family: Fiona McLaren! Fiona will be posting on the 10th of every month. Please give her a warm YAtopian welcome!


“Odd ball”, “the quirky one” or “black sheep” are all badges author Fiona McLaren wears with pride.  She is always looking for unique perspectives on common knowledge and loves to dig into history, myths, culture and science, or any mixture thereof.  A passionate horse woman, she owns two beautiful horses and a German Shepherd, all of whom are known as her misplaced children.

Throughout her formative years, Fiona could often be found scribbling away in notepads, reading Encyclopedias or inventing things from toilet roll tubes and macaroni.  Needless to say, her creative talents have now progressed into more literary endeavors.

She is a passionate writer, critique partner and animal lover.  She divides her time between the wind-torn hills of her Scottish home, and her love-affair with the sun-filled island of Cyprus.

Fiona is represented for her YA Contemporary and her YA Gothic Horror by Jamie Bodnar Drowley of Inklings Literary Agency.

Twitter * Blog * Facebook


Sarah: Which book do you wish you had written?  

Fiona: I wish I had written Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma.  It is just so evocative and looks at some tough issues in a touching way.

Sarah: Describe yourself in three words 

Fiona: Committed, stubborn, hard working.

Sarah: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Fiona: Being ignored!

Sarah: Team Edward or Team Jacob 

Fiona: Jacob all the way!  It's all about the heart!

Sarah: If you could be a Disney character, who would you be? 

Fiona: I think I'd be a boy character - most likely Aladdin!

Look out next month for Fiona's first official post as a YAtopian and make sure to welcome her in the comments below! All of us at YAtopia are so excited to have her on board!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guestopia: Meredith Towbin

Click here for more information about our monthly Guestopia feature! Today, we're proud to host Meredith Towbin.

Fright night, and day and night…
by Meredith Towbin

I’ve been stuck in an elevator, diagnosed with cancer (skin cancer, but still…), survived an accident in which my car flipped over on the highway, and birthed two kids. But none of these things were as terrifying as—wait for it—writing.

No joke. I was three seconds away from a nervous breakdown before I managed to get those first two sentences down.

Fear has tagged along on my writing journey from the very beginning.

First, there’s the blank page. Want to know pure terror? Stare at a stark white Microsoft Word document for long enough. That stupid cursor, so full of itself, each blink mocking me over and over. Every time I sit down to write something new, it’s the same. What if I can’t think of anything to write? Like, literally, ANYTHING? Or what if I can think of something and it’s so horrendous that it just proves I’m a total joke and I should just stop before I completely humiliate myself any further? Granted, I might get myself a little more worked up than the average person, but I dare you to find a writer who hasn’t felt this at SOME point in his or her career.

So by some miracle I write something. Maybe even a whole book. Now what? More paralyzing fear. Because if I ever want to get published, I actually have to show my writing to someone. What if whoever I show it to thinks it’s terrible? What if they think I’m a lunatic? What if they write a three-page email telling me point by point how absolutely dreadful it is? That last one actually happened. Yeah, I survived it, but I’m kind of emotionally scarred.

Yet somehow I force myself to put my book into the hands of a lucky few. They’ve come back with some honest and helpful criticism that doesn’t drive me off the deep end. I revise a bazillion times. Time to send my baby out into the world and try to get it published. But will literary agents ooh and aah over my cute little manuscript? Will they think everything about it is so freaking adorable, even all the gross stuff?

Umm, no, they will not. And they will tell me so. My fear of being rejected is realized! As in, it’s for real! I am being rejected! Dozens of times! A day!

But maybe, just maybe, there are a select few who don’t think I totally suck. They even think OTHER PEOPLE might not think I totally suck. Things happen, papers are signed, and before I know it I have an agent. Shortly, or not so shortly after, I get a book deal.

Success! I can kiss that crazy fear goodbye. I came, I saw, I conquered.

Except that now anyone on the planet can take a peek at my book with the click of a button. And with a second click, they can tell the rest of the world exactly what they think of my writing, for better or for worse.

I know what you’re thinking—this chick is going to blow her stack any second. But no, I’m not. And I’ll tell you why—if I’ve learned anything through this whole process, it’s that whether you freak out over every rejection (potential or actual) or not, what’s going to happen is going to happen. All you can do is put your best effort out there and be at peace with it.

So as I release my first book into the big, bad world, I’m going to try to remember that. Because a girl can stuff her feelings down with burritos for only so long before heartburn rears its ugly head.

Meredith Towbin grew up in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in English from Wellesley College. She’s worked as a high school English teacher, a freelance writer, and a magazine editor. She writes whenever she has a free minute, usually when her kids are at school or after they’ve passed out for the night. The rest of her time is spent driving her kids around, cooking, driving her kids around, listening to indie rock, watching movies and swooning over Cary Grant, and driving her kids around. She blogs about ridiculous things that happen to her at STRAIGHTJACKET is her first novel.

Twitter * Facebook

Eighteen-year-old Anna has lived her whole life in shame, losing herself in books to cope with crippling panic attacks triggered by her abusive parents. Forced into a psychiatric hospital, she can’t imagine a future that’s anything but bleak—until she meets Caleb, a gifted, 19-year-old artist who insists he’s an angel.

He swears his mission is to help Anna break free from her parents’ control and fulfill a destiny that she can only dream of. The doctors, however, are convinced that Caleb is delusional.

Anna doesn’t want to be that girl who’s in love with the crazy guy, but when she sees his stunning portraits of her and the way he risks everything to keep her safe, she can’t help but imagine a new future for both of them, filled with hope. But just when it seems they’ve created heaven on earth, Caleb’s past emerges full force, threatening to destroy their tiny, blissful world. And Anna has to decide if she should follow her heart, or if Caleb’s really as troubled as his doctors say…

Amazon * B&N
Print book available March 15, 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

You didn’t “trend” … and other subtle Twitter confusions

If you google “Twitter mistakes,” you’ll find a whole slew of big-picture twitter snafus to avoid. While those are (usually) good, that’s not what this post is about. This is just an FYI on some of the smaller Twitter misunderstandings that tend to confuse people (and me when I try to explain them – so please ask questions in the comments if I didn’t explain something well enough).

1. You didn’t really “trend”

Have you lately noticed a lot more tweets like “Yay! We got #randomhashtag to trend!” than you used to see? There’s a reason for that.

 Twitter recently quietly changed the default trends you see on to “tailored” trends that are specific to both your geographical area and the people you follow. How can you tell if you’re seeing tailored trends or not? Click on the word “Change” at the top of your “Trends” list.

If you are seeing tailored trends, you’ll see something like this:

If you want to, you can click on “Change” to choose to see trends that are worldwide or for a specific country, including the US – or even to a specific city.

I prefer tailored trends because I have not seen the word “Bieber” in my side bar since they made the switch – but I do occasionally look at them just to see what the world is talking about. Note: If you follow a wide range of people (i.e., not just publishing industry people), your tailored and national trends are going to be similar.

There is good news, though! Assuming you follow people who are similar to (or influence) your target audience, you’re still reaching who you want to reach!

2. Limiting your tweet’s audience 

Here’s another thing a lot of twitter users don’t realize: If you start a tweet with the “@” character, only the people following both you and the user belonging to the “@” will see it in their stream. Meaning, people who follow you, but don’t follow the other user will not see your tweet. For example:
(Yes, we currently have the same avatar, sorry for any confusion this may cause!)

In this tweet, I’m probably trying to tell all my followers about Jenna’s awesome giveaway, right? (Seriously, go enter. And follow her. *ahem* back to the post…) But only those who follow both me and Jenna will see it in their stream. This means I am not reaching anybody she hasn’t already reached with her own tweets.

“But I can still see it.” When I try to explain this to Person 1, they sometimes go to Person 2’s page and point out they can see Person 2’s tweets to users Person 1 doesn’t follow. Yes, you can see it on their page, but not in your own stream.

So when you’re posting a tweet that you want all of your followers to see, you can either reword it so it doesn’t start with “@” or start your tweet with “.@”

I definitely didn’t intend for this to turn into “This is how you’re doing twitter wrong,” so how about we go in the positive direction with some little-known features of twitter.

3. Turn a user’s RT’s off

Do you know someone who you love to follow because you love their original content, but hate that they RT every single thing Justin Bieber (or whoever) tweets? I think we all know someone like that. It’s a tough decision: keep following them and put up with the ridiculous RTs or unfollow them and miss out on their awesome original content.

 You don’t have to make that decision.

Twitter allows you to turn off RTs from an individual user. Yes, a lot of clients allow you to do this too, but itself has a way. Go to that person’s page (I’m going to use Jenna again as an example but I know she won’t take offense… right?) and click on the little button to the left of the Follow/Following button:

Easy, peasy!

 4. Twitter’s Advanced Search 

Twitter has incredible search functionality – but so few people know about it! To use this, start by using the usual search function – however you access it. You will see results like those below for “#sunshinetour.” In the top right corner of the search results there is a gear symbol, click on that and then click on “advanced search.”

You can then use any of the options shown below to narrow your search. Again, I’ll use Jenna as an example:

You can also use this to narrow your search when you are searching for something that is part of a common phrase. For example you can enter “lady” in the “any of these words” field and put “gaga” in the “none of these words” field.

(Seriously, play with this one. It's fun!)

That’s all I have today – but please leave any questions you may have in the comments! Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while knows how much I adore social media so I’m always happy to answer general questions. I hope I’ve helped!

Friday, February 22, 2013

What is an "authentic" voice and how do you write it?

I'll admit it. I couldn't write a teenage girl's voice to save my life. The idea of writing a YA novel with a female main character scares the bejeebers out of me. Why? I have no idea how to do it! My problem is that whenever I think about what an "authentic" girl's voice is, I can't help but go straight to the stereotypes--emotional, constantly ruminating, obsessed with appearance, boy-crazed, etc. In my mind, that is the authentic teenage girl. These are simply the default traits my mind comes up with. I don't even realize that they are just part of the stereotype, a stereotype that has been subconsciously ingrained in my poor, weary brain.

I'm not alone on this (at least, I hope not!). When we think about "authentic" teenage guy or girl voices, especially when writing about our opposite gender, we are so prone to falling into the trap of stereotypes. It's not something we consciously do; like I said, it has simply been ingrained in our minds that the authentic teenager acts a certain way. It's really difficult for us, as readers and writers, to break away from viewing things with stereotype-tinted glasses. 

So, unfortunately, what we think is "authentic" really isn't all that authentic at all. And boom, we are halfway into a story with a main character we think is authentic and complex but in reality is flat as a board and completely cliche.

This problem isn't exclusive to writing about the opposite gender either. Let's face it, most of us haven't been teenagers for a few years, so we are quite a ways removed from our teenaged selves--and the teens of today. Case in point: I wrote an upper-middle-grade novel about a 14-year-old boy, who served as the story's first person narrator. Try as I might to get his voice to be authentic, I too fell into the trap of the dreaded stereotypes--he was quick to anger, obsessed with the hottest girl, worried about status, etc. I was quickly called out on it by some of the agents I later queried. One even said it seemed like I was "trying too hard" to be authentic. It was a shock to me because all along I thought I had given him the perfect voice, when really I gave him the stereotype of the perfect voice.

As readers we are often prone to thinking in terms of stereotype too. This came up in a discussion I had with my writing group. We were talking about why women writers and their characters are more heavily scrutinized when writing a boy's point-of-view. They are quick to be criticized for not having an "authentic" male voice. While this may or may not be true, what is true is the tendency for readers and critics to criticize a book if the main character doesn't have the traits usually associated with that gender. Problem is, they aren't looking for an  authentic voice, but the stereotype of an authentic voice. The fact is that it's incredibly difficult for us to break away from this thinking, as writers and readers.

So how do we do it? How do we write truly authentic characters? The answer is more simple than you think.

There are no authentic characters!

Every teenager is different. And more importantly, times are changing--teenagers are even more different today than they were even five years ago. Gender norms are breaking down. Even the concept of gender is vastly different now. Teenage boys can be sensitive. Some might not even be interested in girls! Teenage girls play video games. Some might even play football!

Throw the stereotypes out of the window. Now that we realize that they are in our heads whether we mean them to be or not, we can think outside of them. We need to worry less about how the typical girl or boy might act and more about creating unique, complex, interesting characters. Bend those social norms. Dare to be controversial. Make the reader think less like, "Hey, that's not an authentic voice!" and more like, "Wow, what a unique character!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

There's no Faking It with Cora Carmack!

Today I'm talking to Cora Carmack about New Adult, self publishing and her best selling book LOSING IT.
Sharon: Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind Losing It?

Cora: There was no one thing that inspired LOSING IT, unfortunately. I love reading about awkward situations (because I’ve lived through plenty of them). I really wanted to read a book with a heroine like Bliss. We see girls like her in books, but she’s usually the funny best friend. I, personally, had never read a romance novel with a girl like her as the main character. Some of the things in the book are inspired by my own college experience. My friends read the book and recognized lines or events that really happened when we were in college (I promise… Garrick was not one of those real things).

Sharon: How did you feel about your decision to self publish?

Cora: At first, it scared me. There still is, unfortunately, a stigma associated with self-publishing. But I knew in my gut that it was right decision for this particular book. And by the time I hit publish, there were already so many bloggers and readers on Goodreads and twitter were excited about the book that I wouldn’t have changed my decision for anything. That being said, I am IMMENSELY happy that LOSING IT and two companion novels (one about Cade and one about Kelsey) have been picked up by Harper Collins in the U.S. and Ebury/Random House in the U.K./Australia. As nice as it to have complete creative control over a project when self-publishing,  prefer to spend my time writing, rather than the business side of things.

Sharon: What did it take for you to make Losing It a success?

Cora: I started to answer this question by telling you about writing the book and making the cover and blog tours and all of that, but the truth is—everyone does those things and it doesn’t guarantee a book will be successful.

The number one thing that made my book a success was readers. They got excited about the book, and told their friends. They read the book, and told their friends. Those friends told other friends. They posted on blogs and Facebook and Twitter. You, as readers, wield so much power, more than any of you probably know. If you like a book, and want the author to succeed and to keep writing, the best thing you can do is tell another person about the book. Leave a review on Amazon or iBooks or wherever you bought it. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but reviews REALLY do sell books. So, if you want to read more New Adult books like LOSING IT, the best thing you can do is to show publishers with your money and with your mouths, that this is something you want, something you believe in. The power in publishing belongs to the readers as much as the big corporations.

Sharon: What would you say to others considering to self publish?

Cora: I would say it’s a very personal decision that must be made with the specifics of each novel in mind. It’s not for everyone. If you’re not willing to put in the money and time to make your book stand out and look professional, it’s not for you. You are quite literally doing the work of an entire publishing company alone when you decide to self-publish. And if you half-ass it, readers can tell. In particular, self-publishing is a good choice for people publishing books that fall into a very particular niche that publishing as a whole is not addressing—like New Adult books. Or, maybe you’ve written a YA paranormal about vampires. If that’s you, you’ve no doubt heard from dozens upon dozens of agents and publishers that the paranormal market is over-saturated, and publishers just aren’t buying. Yes, that may be true. But there are readers out there who would still buy vampire books. Those readers will look to self-publishing when publishers don’t provide the kind of book they want.

Sharon: Tell us a bit about your journey since your published your novel.

Cora: Oh, boy, it has been a journey. A whirlwind of one in fact. I self-published LOSING IT in mid-October 2012. By day two, it hit #1 on the Barnes and Noble Bestseller List. In that first full week on sale, it also hit the New York Times List and the USA Today Bestseller list. By day three, I was receiving emails from agents and publishers (both foreign and U.S.). I spoke to several agents, some of whom had contacted me, and others I had contacted. After a lot of stress-eating, I chose an agent, who then immediately went out on submission with the book to traditional publishers. Hurricane Sandy hit New York a few days later, which slowed things down, but eventually my agent came back to me with multiple offers. Each publisher that offered was AMAZING, and I would have been happy to work with any of them, but I quite happily chose William Morrow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins.
LOSING IT stayed on the New York Times list for four weeks in a row, during which time, we worked on getting the deal ironed out with Harper Collins. It went off the bestseller list for a week, but then jumped back on it the first week that Harper Collins took over control of the eBook. Around that time, we started getting offers from foreign publishers. So far we have signed deals with publishers in the U.K., Spain, Turkey, Greece, and Korea. It’s pretty mind-blowing to think that my little book that I wrote in three weeks time, was going to be read all over the world in multiple languages. I also can’t wait to hold a physical copy of the book in my hands. Harper Collins actually moved up the U.S. release, and now that dream will come true on February 26th! When we sold LOSING IT, we also sold two more books, so I’ve also been working non-stop to get those books written and off to my editor.

Sharon: I want to talk to you about New Adult for a little bit. A lot of publishers are starting to have NA imprints. Why do you think NA is starting to take off?

Cora: The simplest answer, as I addressed above, is that the readers have spoken. They’ve made quite clear that they’re interested in reading NA, so publishers are jumping on the bandwagon so to speak. I also think it has a great deal to do with a generation of readers that spawned the boom of the YA market, who are now growing up. It has never made sense to me that readers had to go from reading about sixteen and seventeen-year-old characters who are just figuring out who they are to reading about thirty-year-old characters who have steady jobs and their lives all figured out.

I hate to break it to you teens, but life is not that simple. It gets messy and complicated before all the pieces get put together. You might figure out who you are when you’re a teenager, but then it becomes a matter of finding where you fit, finding your place in this world. And that, to me, is at the heart of New Adult. Art is supposed to imitate life, and your early twenties are a time of excitement and turmoil and fear and newness that deserve to be immortalized in fiction.

Sharon: What do you have to say to knockers of NA?

Cora: Not much. I think the sales numbers speak for themselves. Some people don’t like the name; others don’t like the narrowing down of books to such a specific age or category. The truth is—I’m a fan of whatever helps sell books. I will support whatever method gets and keeps people reading.

My first year in college (back in 2005-2006), I remember searching avidly for books about college-aged protagonists, and they were nearly impossible to find. There certainly weren’t enough of them to satisfy an avid reader like me. So, I went back to reading YA, and I got a lot of crap for reading “teen” books when I was no longer a teen. If my college-self could time travel to today and take a look at the burgeoning genre, she would be in heaven.

Sharon: What's next for Cora Cormack?

Cora: Next up is a companion novel called FAKING IT that follows Cade Winston (a secondary character in LOSING IT). It’s due to release this summer in the U.S. and in the fall in UK/Australia. It will be followed by a companion novel about Kelsey (another secondary character from LOSING IT).

Rapid Fire Questions:

Favourite Food: Baked Potato. Bring on the carbs!

Favourite Animal: I have to say Cat or my kitty named Katniss would be sad/murderous.

Favourite Colour: At the moment, teal.

Favourite Drink: Dr. Pepper. Otherwise known as… heaven in a can. 

Favourite Book: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Favourite Place to Write: While traveling—planes, trains, buses, whatever the mode of transport may be.
You can find Cora on Twitter! Check her out, her tweets are cool.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Revelations Cover Reveal (Plus Giveaway)

If you've read Renegade by J.A. Souders, you've probably been not-so-patiently waiting for the sequel. Unfortunately you still have to wait until November 5, 2013 but today we're helping reveal the cover for Revelations!

Without further ado...

Want more information? Check out Goodreads, Amazon, or The Book Depository.

About Renegade:

Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie.

Her memories have been altered.

Her mind and body aren’t under her own control.

And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb... and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

And if you really can't wait, you're in luck! Learn more about Gavin in the novella, A Dark Grave.

An Elysium Chronicles short story: the beginning.

There is only one place forbidden to the people of Gavin's village; the island just off the shore, rumored to be haunted. Cursed.

All who venture to the island disappear.

But Gavin doesn't believe in such things. He is a hunter; since his father's death, he is the only one who can provide for the family. Silly rumors of ghosts aren't going to stop him from crossing the dark waters to the island in search of fresh game ...

J.A. Souders was born in the heartland with an overactive imagination and an overabundance of curiosity that was always getting her into trouble. She first began writing at the age of 13, when she moved to Florida and not only befriended the monsters under the bed, but created worlds for them to play together.

Because she never grew up, she decided she’d put her imaginary friends to work and started writing. She still lives in the land of sunshine and palm trees with her husband and their two children.


J.A. is hosting a giveaway of a signed hard copy of Renegade, an e-copy of A Dark Grave (for those that don't have it, of course.) and signed copies of Article 5 and Breaking Point by Kristen Simmons.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Teen Angst: Much Ado About Nothing

In my experience, many adult readers who turn their noses up at YA novels tend to think that these books for teens comprise entirely of angst driven melodrama. What's wrong with that? Thinking back to my teen years, I experienced a lot of angst, so what's wrong with writing that into a novel about teens for teens?

First of all let's define angst.

The word comes from existentialist Kierkegaard, used to describe an emotional state including unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Today, this concept is dubbed teen angst, indicating the emotional turmoil teens tend to experience as a result of changing brain chemistry.

Angst is real and it's fine to have angsty characters in YA - it wouldn't be realistic without all that emotional turbulence - but angst as a plot device, as a substitute for drama, isn't going to go down well with YA readers, considering 55% of those readers are actually adults.

Here's an example of angst as plot device:

The teen girl MC is in love with the dreamy boy and their romance is in the infant stages. Our MC sees the boy after school with his arm around another girl. Our MC assumes the worst. She goes up to the boy, maybe even slaps his face, calls him a dirty lying cheater and storms off in tears before giving him a chance to explain that the girl is his sister/cousin and therefore not a threat. Our MC now ignores the boy's phone calls, refuses to talk to him, continues to think the worst and makes a string of bad decisions based on a non-existent issue, which the author calls plot.

This is not drama, this is not conflict. This is a silly girl creating problems when none exist and the story can quickly spiral into melodrama where melodrama is sensational dramatic conflict that fails to observe the laws of cause and effect and generally blows things out of proportion.

When I was 16, the slightest issues felt like the end of the world so melodrama can be the teenage norm. However, reading a book where the plot is driven by imagined circumstances constantly blown out of proportion will sooner have me flinging the book across the room than sympathising with the teen MC who has fallen victim to her underdeveloped parietal lobe.

So what do you think about angst in YA? Were/are you an angsty teen?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Amazing Advice from Some Amazing Authors

Sorry I am a day late posting this, but Valentines Day sort of caught up with me. But a friend of mine Bev Kodak post a question to all of her author friends for advice to give to young writers. For those of you who don't know Bev she is a teacher and track director of the YA Lit Track at Dragon*Con. I asked her if I can post the advice she had been give and she said yes. So here is some incredible advice from some amazingly talented authors.


Bev Kodak - Author pals, if you could teach sixth graders about writing, what would that lesson be.
Jana Oliver Writing is the coolest thing ever. All those stories in your head are important and need to be told. At first what you write might not be any good, but the more you write the better you'll become. Someday you'll look back and say "Wow, I wrote that!"

Allison Giddens That writers live tax-free in Ireland. Oh, nevermind. You said "author pals." I thought you said "other pals."

Davey Beauchamp Be creative and have fun.

Adam Selzer Well, my best "practical" advice is "follow the trends and stick to the formula or you'll never get off the mid-list, where life sucks." Beyond that, though, it's that if you're not having fun with what you're writing, it probably won't be fun to read, either.

Steve Berman Hmm, that you don't need to write what you know - you can think of writing like trying on costumes. If you just try on a cowboy hat you won't make a convincing cowboy, but if you add all the other elements, horse, spurs, pistols, etc. Same with writing. If you want to tell the story of someone different from you, you can, just add details so it seems more real.

Carol White I'm nonfiction, but that still counts, right? I'm not sure if this is applicable to six graders, but it is the one thing I wish all my college students understood. There is no such thing as perfect writing. You can approach but never reach perfection. ...See More

Sharyn November Reading a lot is important -- it teaches you how a good story works. And that means both fiction and nonfiction. Someone can tell you a very boring made-up story; someone else can tell you a really, really interesting true one. "Writing" doesn't mean o...See More

Kathleen O'Shea David Don't stop writing. Outlining the story can be helpful so you can see where you are going with it. Read a lot because you can learn about writing by reading. Think about what the author did that you liked and what you didn't like. Also figure out how you would have done it differently if you don't like something.

Heather Brewer Writing is rewriting. Editing is so crucial to creating a good story.

Kathleen Duey As you start writing, start noticing things. Watch people's faces, feel the wind. Wonder what the check-out guy at the market is thinking about that makes him look so happy. Listen to people talking, Let the world pour in.

Robin Ryan Carroll From the technical/business side of writing, but equally valid for all types of writing: Proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax and usage are not optional, no matter how creative you are. The goal of writing is to communicate, and communication is impaired every time the reader spots a typo or a grammar mistake, or has to puzzle out your meaning because of a misplaced modifier or an improper antecedent.

Janine Spendlove Start writing & don't stop.

Bev Kodak I love all of these answers! I may get the opportunity to teach a class of my choice next year. I'm thinking fiction writing for kids.

Alma Alexander Read a lot. Write a lot. Read some more. Keep writing. THis is not the sort of thing you can ever get a shiny diploma for - a good writer is made through diving in head first into words, wherever they may be, and living adn breathing them until it becomes second nature. So - read. Write. Rinse and repeat. (and yes, if you need any more Skypers, I'm game).

Cynthia Leitich Smith It doesn't have to be a big time commitment. Write for a couple of minutes a day. And everything counts, even text messages.

Diana Tixier Herald Sorry to be chiming in so late. So much good advice already posted. All I would add is write about what you love or what you find totally fascinating.

Michelle Brundage Weston Sorry I'm so late in commenting on this. I would teach them about the importance of using strong sensory details in their writing. For instance, in the Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, CS Lewis adds details like Lucy feeling the fur coats which changes to the prickle of pine needles when she enters Narnia. Those sensory details help make Narnia feel real and come alive...

Kathryn Fernquist Hinds Sorry that I'm so late, too, but here are my thoughts: Read as much as you can--all kinds of things, fiction and nonfiction alike. Be curious; ask questions; imagine answers; pay attention. Have writing materials handy at all times. Do not believe in w...See More