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Young Adult Novels Versus Adult Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Opinions range widely on this topic of young adult novels versus adult novels. Some believe that certain subjects are simply off limits in young adult literature. That may have been the case in years past, but more and more young adult literature is crossing into what some may consider to be adult and/or controversial material: four-letter words, drugs and drinking, sex and sexuality, religion… you name it. There aren’t many topics that you can’t find in young adult literature these days. So, then circling back to the question: What’s the difference between adult and young adult literature?

The easy answer to that question is that young adult literature has young adult characters. Teen characters are very present in teen books. Makes sense, right? Teens want to read about people their age.

The more complicated answer concerns the way in which “controversial” topics are covered. In young adult fiction, for example, the main character usually comes full circle as a result of overcoming obstacles and learning a lesson – one that often involves one or more “adult” issues. In adult literature, on the other hand, there isn’t as much of a need – if any need at all – for the main character to have learned such a lesson. The adult character does not necessarily need to have grown by the end, nor does he or she need to have solved his problem. The writer doesn’t have to address or even acknowledge the “controversial” issue. In other words, there isn’t as much of an overriding “moral to the story” as one might see in young adult material.

When I wrote my novel Bleed (Disney/Hyperion 2006), there was no doubt in my mind that I was writing it for adults. I’d just written a couple of books in the Blue Is For Nightmares series and I wanted to try something new, exploring edgier topics without censoring myself in any way, including the liberal use of the four-letter words and controversial topics. But by the time I went to sell it the young adult market had opened so much that Bleed was published for young adults.

Bleed is told from ten different points of view – all young adult characters. I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday, even the smaller ones, can affect others in ways we may never even consider. The decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone’s house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach - how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people’s lives… even the lives of people we may not even know. The book takes place over the course of a single day, and starts out with one girl grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend by going after her best friend’s boyfriend while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

As I was editing Bleed, I spent a great deal of time making sure that while some of the characters’ plights couldn’t possibly be solved in the course of one day, there was a glimmer of light, enabling the characters to see the way out of the holes in which they’d dug for themselves. Each character was able to learn something as a result of his or her decision, which I think is also customary of young adult literature.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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BleedBlue is for NightmaresDeadly Little LiesDeadly Little Games    GlowThe Night She DisappearedHold Me Closer, Necromancer

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone, by Paul Volponi

Over the last 14 years, I’ve written 10 Young Adult novels. I wrote the first one, Rikers High (originally entitled Rikers), without even knowing I could write a novel. Before that, I’d written mostly sports articles. I attempted the novel because HBO was pondering the idea of taking a newspaper article I’d penned on teens attending high school in jail and turning into a movie. I knew they’d change things plenty, running with it in any direction they wished. So I wanted a novel to reflect my actual experiences, with my name on it.

What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

That was probably the best writing advice I’ve ever received and my only real interaction with a writers’ group. Living in New York City, I casually know several accomplished Young Adult novelists. A few of them meet regularly in a writers’ group, bouncing ideas off of each other and showing pages of their new material. Do I think being part of a similar group could help a fledgling YA novelist? I absolutely do. It’s fantastic to get feedback on your plot-lines, characters, dialogue and key scenes.

How come I don’t do that? Lone wolf syndrome, I guess. I like to work early in the morning, then re-read and rewrite in the afternoon. I work every day without fail. At night, I spend time with my wife and daughter. I prefer not to go out to meet with other writers. I do, however, have several first-readers who look at my early versions of things – usually well before my editor ever sees it. It’s a small readership of people whose opinions I respect.

Obviously, every writer is different. It may be very hard to even find good advice or a supportive group, let alone make meaningful connections with other YA novelists, but I do believe that getting feedback from somewhere can help a writer immensely and should be sought.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

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Rikers HighResponseThe Final FourRooftop     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerThe Night She DisappearedAugust

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Does A Novelist Need An Agent? by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Beginning writers often ask me if they really need an agent, and my answer is this: “Unless you’re really great at promoting yourself, and you’re willing to spend hours learning contract law, and you’re very good at negotiating for more money… you definitely need an agent.” There are very few writers who represent themselves successfully. I’ve heard too many horror stories about writers who were willing to sign any contract thrown at them, with very little knowledge of the business, and ended up regretting it years later. Believe it: A bad contract can have financial implications for you that can last a lifetime. Unless a person has a lot of experience analyzing lots of publishing contracts they can, and probably will, miss the little things that can add up BIG TIME.

I look at some of the stuff my agent does for me and I am amazed and incredibly humbled and grateful that I found her. She is a brilliant negotiator. She’s managed to get publishers to quadruple their initial offers mostly because, I say with humility, she believes in me as a writer. If she gets a whiff that my publisher is about to give my book short shrift as far as marketing goes, she’s on the phone with them straight away convincing them of why they need to rethink their strategy. Somehow, she almost always gets what she wants. She is my champion. Compared to her gladiatorial level arbitration, I’d be Oliver Twist holding out my bowl of porridge and saying in a meek little voice, “Please sir, can I have some more?” I know in my heart of hearts that I could never do what she does, on my own behalf or on the behalf of anyone else.  Few could.

Not only that but whenever I am out in the world hobnobbing with editors and they ask me who my agent is, I tell them and they often raise their eyebrows and say, “Oh! Well tell her to submit your work to me.” That’s because even if these editors don’t know who I am, they do know who my agent is. They know she has a reputation for excellent taste and they assume by association that they’re going to like my writing.

So yes, you need an agent – but you need a good one. My next article will be about how to find a good agent.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Zen and Xander UndoneVibesGlowSpark    The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))TorchedRise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Teenage Characters And Responsibility In Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

One feature that I feel is characteristic of teen fiction is the divide between young people and adults.  It can show up as a contrast – between the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles.  Or it can show up as a simple lack of understanding between the adults and the teens in the novel.  Where I find this divide most interesting, and probably most disturbing, is when it’s part of a power play.  This is the kind of conflict that I find myself most often describing in my own novels.

Teenagers don’t appear to have much power in Western society.  They can’t legally drink, drive, vote, fight in a war, marry, hold a job or live on their own until they reach a certain age that adults consider appropriate.  Basically, they are dependent on the adults around them to make sensible decisions for them. These can include life changing or even life saving decisions and, to the maturing mind, not being able to make one’s own decisions is often a source of deep conflict.

The kind of relationship that I explore in all my novels is that of the teen breaking free from the control of the adult world and learning to make decisions and accept responsibility for those decisions.  I don’t really have a moral message to deliver in my writing, but if I did it would simply be that I want people to accept responsibility for their own actions.  That’s what being a teen is all about.

In Code Name Verity, my most recent novel, the young heroines find themselves involved in assisting the British war effort during World War II.  Not only is the dire global situation created for them by adults, but the Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Maddie and Special Operations Executive agent ‘Verity’ find their lives almost entirely guided by the orders and restrictions of superior officers.  When Verity is captured by the Gestapo and Maddie is forced into hiding, the girls’ literal movements and freedom become restricted by the older people in charge of imprisoning or hiding them.  How the girls cope with these situations and win back their individual freedom, figuratively and literally, is the core of the book.

Even a reader with the most ordinary daily existence should be able to relate to this theme, because rebelling against authority or learning to work with it is what people do in their teenage years.

Fiction is good practise for real life.  Perhaps the teen/adult divide is one of the hallmarks of what makes a book a ‘teen novel’ rather than an ‘adult novel’.

***Write with New York Times bestselling novelist Elizabeth Wein in Hobart, Australia in November 2014

Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Project 17Victoria Rebels

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Research For My Teen Historical Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Writing historical fiction for teens begins with imagining a story that brings history to life, and research is key to creating compelling characters in an engrossing setting. Research: the very word has a musty sound to it. Once upon a time I spent hours wandering through the library stacks, searching through book after book in hopes of finding precious nuggets of information and glittering gems of detail that would lure teen readers into the story and keep them there. Now it’s all just a few keystrokes away.

My first stop is usually Wikipedia for a broad overview of characters and setting; then I follow the links and wander down unfamiliar paths, making note of the books referenced at the end of the most useful articles. I check the online catalog of my public and university library to locate library copies of promising resources, then order those I want to own. Researching Cleopatra Confesses, I acquired a half-dozen biographies and reference books. Nine online sites are listed in the bibliography, but in fact, I browsed through many more sites, chasing down details about food, markets, architecture, furniture, boats, music, dance, dress. For The True Adventures of Charley Darwin I read Darwin’s autobiography and made extensive use of an online collection of his many letters to and from family and friends, especially during his Beagle voyages.

Whenever I can, I travel. I’ve visited Marie-Antoinette’s rustic farm and opulent Versailles, cruised down Cleopatra’s Nile, listened to a concert in the Viennese church where Wolfgang performed before I started In Mozart’s Shadow. I’ve poked around Darwin’s childhood home in Shrewsbury, England, toured the school he despised as a boarding student, visited the home of the girl he loved. I wish I had visited the Galapagos Islands, but that was more than I could manage. Of course, it’s possible to make historical fiction real and exciting for teens without leaving home. A virtual online tour of Versailles can be very helpful and helped to job my memory, but for me nothing takes the place of an actual visit.

Research is so much easier than writing, and it’s tempting just to keep on doing it, postponing the time when you simply have to start telling the story.

A much more dangerous temptation is to use all those marvelous bits of information you’ve gathered, stuffing the novel with the details you’ve grown to love. When you’ve gone to so much trouble to find out what the queen was wearing or what the king was eating and what kind of dance step they were executing, it is painful indeed to cut, cut, cut.

Painful, but necessary. Good research makes your story authentic. The right details help to draw teen readers into the story, take them out of the here-and-now and transport them to another time and place. But loading the story with too many details is like throwing too many herbs and spices into a stew. Over-season your fictional stew, and young readers will yawn – and then they’re gone.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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Cleopatra ConfessesThe True Adventures of Charley DarwinIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryMarie, Dancing     My Brother's ShadowSektion 20Across the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Plot, Character And Hooptedoodle In Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

I think that one of the strong characteristics of teen fiction, as opposed to adult fiction, is that it is plot-driven.  Middle grade fiction is too, but teen fiction offers the author the opportunity to bring in all kinds of adventure and excitement and angst that isn’t appropriate for a younger readership.  I feel like Young Adult fiction offers me the best of both worlds as a writer – I can write about mature themes and at the same time I can tell a good story.

But I don’t come up with a plot idea out of the blue.  I find that my plot-driven fiction is really character-driven.  What starts me off is a good character.  Once I get the idea for the hero (or sometimes the anti-hero) of the book, that person usually sets the plot going.  In The Sunbird, Telemakos’s aptitude for sneakiness gets him recruited as a child spy.  In Code Name Verity, Maddie’s interest in mechanics leads her into aviation, and her level-headed reliability and discretion draws the interest of the Special Operations Executive.

Being plot-driven, there’s not a lot of room for what John Steinbeck calls ‘Hooptedoodle’ in YA fiction.  Hooptedoodle is a foray into purple prose.  It can be a linking passage between action scenes, or a description of landscape to set the scene, or maybe just the author waxing lyrical and enjoying the sound of his or her own voice.  I am a very literary writer and I like writing hooptedoodle.  I have to be tricky about working it in, because the general assumption is:  1) it does nothing for plot, and 2) teens get bored quickly if your writing is too flowery.

I think that both these assumptions are incorrect.  I think that YA readers, who are still forming their own literary tastes and styles, can be just as hungry for mature and beautiful writing as they are for action.  Certainly it was during my own teenage years that I read and wrote the most poetry.  If anything, my ‘juvenilia’ was more florid than anything I’ve written since.  Obviously I am a sample population of One, but that also means that in an ideal world I’m writing for myself – I’m writing what I would have liked to read as a teen – and indeed, what I still like to read.

As for furthering the plot, well, that’s just a matter of your skill as a writer.  The first half of Code Name Verity is really one lengthy coded message, all of which comes clear in the second half of the book, and a lot of the ‘hooptedoodle’ in Part 1 is there on purpose to disguise the message.  There are other important things Verity’s lyrical passages do: they are an outlet for her despair (she is a prisoner of the Gestapo as she tells her story), they describe her past, they help to show her commitment and loyalty, and they help her survive – so when Verity (or me, as the author) describes the landscape of her childhood, the passage is doing any number of things to help define the characters and to set up the plot.

So there’s my recipe for a great teen read – tight plot, engaging characters and a dash of hooptedoodle!

***Write with New York Times bestselling novelist Elizabeth Wein in Hobart, Australia in November 2014

Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com

Elizabeth Wein’s bio page

***

 

United States (and beyond)

    

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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     Sektion 20Tarzan: The Savage LandsGirl, Stolen

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

How Reading Berlin Newspapers From The Fall Of 1918 Helped Me Write ‘My Brother’s Shadow’, by Monika Schroder

My Brother’s Shadow is set in Berlin 1918 during the last months of World War One. The book explores how war and the political transition following WW1 affected regular people and children in particular. From reading secondary sources I had gained basic information about the situation among German civilians but I needed to find more details of daily life in Berlin. A few excerpts of the Berliner Tageblatt and Morgenpost were available online but most of those consisted of the front pages announcing important events such as the Kaiser’s abdication or the armistice.  I didn’t find any searchable database that would give me access to the original Berlin newspapers of the year 1918. When I contacted the German Newspaper Archive in Berlin I learned that the digitization of most of the papers I was interested in had not been completed. The nice lady at the front desk invited me to visit the archive, explained which subway stop to get off and how much it would cost to make copies. I told her that I lived in New Delhi and wouldn’t be able to come personally to the archive until the following summer. But I needed those papers right away. I must have sounded desperate as she connected me to the director of the archive to whom I explained my predicament. I expected a tart ‘no’; instead he told me that the archive had finished digitizing through the end of 1919 the Vossische Zeitung, an important liberal paper, published in Berlin.  That was good news!

But when I asked how I could get to access the Vossische Zeitung from October 1918 to January 1919 he told me that they were not available online yet.

Now so close to my goal I was not ready to give up. “If you have them in digital format,” I said. “Could you burn them onto a CD and send them to me?”

After a pause, he said, “That would be very expensive.”

“How much?” I asked.

I won’t disclose the sum. Let’s just say he was right in his cost estimation, but I ordered them right away and three weeks later I was delighted to receive a package in the mail with the digitized editions of the Vossische Zeitung October 14, 1918 to January 20, 1919.

I loved reading the newspaper. The official war report was printed daily on the front page, usually under an upbeat headline. But by the middle of October a discerning reader could see that the army leadership slowly began to disclose more and more of the German Army’s dismal situation. The paper also printed obituaries. Every day numerous black framed notices informed the reader of the death of a young Karl or Friedrich who died “in honor of the fatherland” in France, Russia or Belgium.

I also studied the advertisements, which were very interesting and revealing. Due to the British blockade of the German harbors Germany experienced severe food shortages. By 1918 many raw materials like coffee or cocoa were not available and the lack of these products forced Germans to be inventive. Many “ersatz” (replacement) products were advertised. For example, I found an ad offering a class for housewives who wanted to learn how to make coffee from chicory and other ingredients. There were also numerous official calls for the collection of raw materials, such as metal, rubber, and cardboard. Others asked children to bring cherry and plum pits for a “Make Oil from Fruit Pits” campaign.

Commercial ads also illustrated the changing role of women in the war economy following the shortage of men. Traditionally considered the “weaker gender” women now were drafted to work in ammunition factories and conducted streetcars, and delivered milk and mail or moved heavy equipment as the woman in the following advertisement.

I was so fascinated by what I had read that the newspaper became an important part in the story. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper, Moritz, the main character, reads the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby informs the readers of the state of affairs in Germany, October 1918. On the first page of the novel Moritz studies an official war report, knowing that the government is not allowing the truth to come out. He then meets Herr Goldman, a journalist who works for the paper and who takes a liking to Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfill his dream to become a reporter like himself. When Moritz is sent out to report on an illegal demonstration he sees his mother among the speakers. He witnesses the police disturb the meeting, disperse the crowd and arrest the leaders. What happened to Moritz’s mother? Read My Brother’s Shadow to find out.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

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The Dog in the WoodMy Brother's ShadowSaraswati's Way     AuslanderCode Name VerityWhite LilacsTracks

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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