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What I Read When I Was A Teenager, by Elizabeth Wein

I was a reader as a teen – I’ll make no bones about that.  I was an ambitious reader, which may be why I’ve become an ambitious writer.  So I thought I’d share some of the books I read as a teen that weren’t traditional teen fiction, and maybe scrape the surface of why they appealed to me as a teen.

How Green Was My Valley by Robert Llewellyn.  I never did figure out just how autobiographical this was.  I loved the Welshness of it, the language rhythms which were so different from my own, and the grittiness of the landscape it described.  I was kind of in love with the narrator, Huw Morgan.  Maybe that’s what I was looking for as a teen: a character to fall in love with.

I was definitely, definitely in love with Claudius from Robert Graves’s I Claudius and Claudius the God.  I read these when I was thirteen.  I was inspired by the shocking BBC television series (1976), which yes, I was allowed to watch at 13.  I am pretty sure I struggled through the politics because I adored the character so much.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Watership Down by Richard Adams.  Okay, there’s no question about it, I was a literary lover.  I was enchanted by the tragic wastrel Sydney Carton.  He was my hero.  But you know what?  Ridiculously, I was equally enchanted by Hazel, the hero bunny of Watership Down.  No, seriously, I was in love with Hazel.  He was such a literary crush that I drew pictures of him (usually at some melodramatic plot point, like with his leg damaged, or getting attacked by the cat).  I drew pictures of Sydney Carton, too, standing at the guillotine, looking tragic.  I like my heroes to be somewhat damaged, I guess.

Ok, I will now skip over the obvious (Tolkien… I was in love with Frodo; TH White… in love with Arthur) and finish with something truly off the wall:  John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet.  John Brown’s Body is an epic poem (literally) about the American Civil War.  It was published in 1928 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929.  I first stumbled across it at 15 or so because my grandmother (my legal guardian) had a vinyl LP with an abridged, dramatic rendition of the book; it took me a couple more years until I actually read the entire work from start to finish, and then I fell in love all over again, this time with one of the several female leads.

                        Sally Dupré, Sally Dupré,
                        Eyes that are neither black nor gray,
                        Why do you haunt me, night and day?

John Brown’s Body follows the stories of a dozen different families and characters – characters with allegiances to both North and South, characters both black and white, rich and poor, slave and free, through the course of the war, describing the changing circumstances for each.  Rhyme, meter and verse style change accordingly throughout the book depending on the characters.  For the music of the poetry alone it’s worth reading, but it also does give you a general historic overview of the American Civil War.  Writing about it is making me want to read it again!

                        Jake Diefer, the barrel-chested Pennsylvanian,
                        Shippy, the little man with the sharp rat-eyes,
                        Luke Breckenridge, the gawky boy from the hills,
                        Clay Wingate, Melora Vilas, Sally Dupré,
                        The slaves in the cabins, ragged Spade in the woods,
                        We have lost these creatures under a falling hammer.
                        We must look for them now, again.

There’s plenty of hunting outside the enclosure for readers bold enough to sneak through the gaps in the ‘teen books’ boundary.  Vary your diet!

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

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Code Name VerityA Coalition of LionsThe Empty Kingdom     Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyAcross the UniverseThe Night She Disappeared

Writing Teen Novels

Month In Review (October 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its tenth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of novelists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for October 2013

On Creating A Distraction-Free Writing Environment by Bernard Beckett

Research For Writing Novels by April Henry

On ‘Killing Your Darlings’ When Revising A Novel Manuscript by Monika Schroder

Where My Ideas For Novels Come From by Beth Revis

Dealing With The Idea Of Writer’s Block by Paul Volponi

Maximizing The Potential Of Your Writing Group by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writing A Good First Sentence For A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson

Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Worldbuilding When Writing A Novel by Lish McBride

Plot Structure In Novels (Part 2) by Kate Forsyth

Talking About My Writing At Conferences by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing Description In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

On Creating Interesting Characters For Historical Teen Novels by Pauline Francis

Why I Write Teen Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

Developing Good Writing Habits by Kashmira Sheth

Challenging Your Protagonist (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

On Writing Self-Contained Novels In A Series by Andy Briggs

Inexpensive Ways To Market Your Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.


Writing Teen Novels

On Creating Interesting Characters For Historical Teen Novels, by Pauline Francis

For me, an interesting character is somebody who has all the odds stacked against them and has to find a way out. They must have a strong, believable voice that sweeps the reader along.

Just as I was beginning to write historical fiction for teenagers, I went to a conference and wrote down a wonderful quotation from one of the speakers (unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the speaker’s name). It was: “Characters in history are just like the stars. It takes a long time for their light to reach us.”

The two narrators of my first novel, Raven Queen, were real: Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I. They are strong characters, fighting for their cause. In my second novel, A World Away, I made up my central character, Nadie, a Native American girl captured by English colonists. If I’m honest, she is the least interesting of all my characters because she didn’t really know her path in life (except to find the English boy she loved) and I think this weakened her voice. I’d love to go back and change her because it’s an interesting novel in all other ways. I have begun to move away from real characters to concentrate on fictional characters who find themselves in real-history situations. My new novel (Ice Girl, not published yet) is the story of a girl at the mercy of Spanish colonists who fights back with incredible courage and determination, as well as leading other conquered people to safety.

I’ve just read a novel with the most amazing character. It gripped from beginning to end because the narrative voice is so strong. It’s Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon, which has just won the children’s category of the UK annual Costa prize. The agonising story is told in the first person by a fifteen year old boy called Standish (an unusual name). It’s tear-jerking and harsh (there’s very strong language because it’s mainly his thoughts, so the outside world wouldn’t usually hear it).

If you’re having problem choosing a character, try turning a situation on its head. Many Kings from history had mistresses. Sometimes they bore sons who claimed the throne (the term pretender to the throne is from the French pretendre – to claim). What was it like to be a pretender? I decided to make the fictional Francis (in Traitor’s Kiss) a good person. He doesn’t actually stake his claim as Henry the VIII’s son, but he could have. So he’s still a threat. Princess Elizabeth knows this. Francis becomes one of her victims. She leaves him in a madhouse called Bedlam, just in case he decides to make trouble for her. My novel-in-progress (Blood) is set against the French Revolution. It was a time of great innovation medically and my fictional narrator wants to be an anatomy artist.

You don’t have to make a huge leap of imagination to make your characters interesting. Often a small one will be enough to bring your character alive. In Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick, the story of murder and revenge is made gripping because the action takes place in a small log cabin over a few days with the body of the narrator’s father on the kitchen table. It is that dead father who sends a chill down our spine. He is the interesting character. If the story had been narrated by his son in the future, away from that log cabin, it would have become another murder/revenge story.


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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)TracksTarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

Writing Teen Novels

10 Tips For Becoming A Good Novelist, by April Henry

1. Read, read, read. Try well-reviewed books in genres you wouldn’t normally read – fantasy, historical novels, even westerns. Don’t be afraid to put something aside if it’s not working for you – but first try to pinpoint why it’s not working.

2. You don’t have to write what you know. Write what interests you. Do I know much about kidnappings, murders, drug dealers, being blind or assuming a dead girl’s identity? No. But I’ve written books that have gotten starred reviews, awards and have hit the New York Times bestseller list.

3. You can write a book in as little as 20 minutes a day. I know because I’ve done it. Make writing a habit. Don’t wait for inspiration. Once you are published, you’ll need to make deadlines. Write every day or, at minimum, every weekend. If you don’t know what to write about, start by getting a book with writing prompts, like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg or What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

4. You can always edit crap. You can’t edit nothing. Sometimes you have to force yourself to write. Sometimes you’ll find your back against the wall when you need a solution or a resolution to the story. Make yourself write something. Anything. And often what you come up with turns out to be surprisingly good.

5. You don’t have to outline – but you can. If you don’t plot in advance, just keep raising the stakes for your characters. Set up initial goals, throw some obstacles in the way, and see if your characters sink or swim. If your characters do swim, send a few sharks after them!

6. Tenacity is as important as talent. Many fine writers have given up after getting a few rejections from agents. I still think about Jane and Tom, people I took a writing class with about a decade ago. They were the stars of our class, far better writers than I was. I was just one of the drones. Both Jane and Tom gave up after getting a few rejections from agents. If they had persevered, I think they would have been published.

7. Show vs. tell is something most writers struggles with. In movies and on TV they can’t tell you anything – at least without on-screen text or voice over. Everything is audio-visual, which means they have to show you. How do you know someone is upset, angry, happy, sad, frustrated, etc.? Watch movies and TV and write down facial expressions, movements, actions, gestures, etc. Use these to describe your own characters when you’re writing. This is a good way to learn how to show emotion instead of telling it.

8. Revision has gotten a bad rap. It can actually be the most fun. Most of the hard work is done – so you just polish things up, cut things down to size, make characters a little larger than life, and reorder your ideas. The best way to start a revision is to let the book lie fallow for at least a week. A month is better. Six months would be ideal.

9. To really see what needs fixing, read it aloud. Yes, all of it. It’s even better if you can read it to someone, even if it’s a toddler or your cat. Or imagine an editor or agent is listening.

10. Go to readings at bookstores. You’ll learn something from every writer you hear. You’ll see that published writers aren’t some exotic species. And they’ll be glad to see you even if you don’t buy a book.


April Henry’s author website:

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The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieGirl, StolenThe Night She DisappearedShock Point    A World AwayThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)

Writing Teen Novels

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

Writing Teen Novels

Plotting My Teen Historical Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

One of the things I like about writing fiction based on historical people and events is that real history provides so many fictional possibilities. Deciding where to start is the first challenge in plotting a novel for teen readers.

The age of the main character is an important decision. Common wisdom has it that young teens want to read about older teens – but not too much older; older teens don’t want to read about younger ones, and they also don’t want to read about characters who are a lot older. The sweet spot seems to be about sixteen. But history doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes the actual story starts much earlier in the life of the historical person you want to write about.

Mary Stuart became Queen of Scots as an infant, upon the death of her father. I decided to begin The Wild Queen when Mary’s mother sends her off to France at age six to grow up in the King’s court. Would a thirteen-year-old reader decide in the early chapters that Mary is too young to be interesting? It was a risk, but I took it.

Marie-Antoinette is twelve when her story begins in The Bad Queen. Mary Tudor is ten in Mary, Bloody Mary. Her sister, Elizabeth, is thirteen in Beware, Princess Elizabeth, and Anne Boleyn is thirteen in Doomed Queen Anne. Less important than the age is the situation in which the main character finds herself in those opening pages. Sometimes it’s better not to state the age at first; just begin with a situation that grabs your teen reader’s interest.

Conflict drives the plot. The next big challenge is choosing which events provide the most compelling way to tell the story to a teen reader and which events to leave out if they don’t move the story forward.

Teenaged Princess Elizabeth is despised by her older half-sister, Mary. Marie-Antoinette must deal with the ladies of the French court who resent her and want her to fail. Victoria must contend with her demanding mother and her mother’s advisor, Sir John. Young Charles Darwin, in The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, has to confront a demanding father and his own lack of focus. Cleopatra’s jealous sisters, in Cleopatra Confesses, want her dead. Far from home, Mary, Queen of Scots, must adjust to a new environment and make decisions that change the course of her life. As the characters mature, the conflicts they face become even more complicated. The writer’s task is to keep teen readers turning pages.

I don’t try to figure out everything in advance. I simply start writing, trying different approaches until I find one that I think is most engaging. In my first draft of Victoria Rebels, the opening chapter recounted the circumstances leading to the marriage of Victoria’s parents. In a later revision, that material – historically interesting but not the way to launch a plot – was moved to Author’s Notes. The final draft of the story opens with preparations for the wedding of Victoria’s sister and her realization that with her sister gone Victoria will be alone.

Just as I experiment with different starting points, I try out various points at which to end. A satisfactory ending may depend on the age of my readers. The ending of Cleopatra Confesses tends to satisfy younger teens, while older readers want the story to go on.

Sequel, anyone?


Carolyn Meyer’s author website:

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Beware, Princess ElizabethThe Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Cleopatra ConfessesThe True Adventures of Charley Darwin     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Code Name VerityTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels

Editing A Novel: The Necessary Evil, by Lish McBride

If you have ever read any interview I’ve done or any blog post I’ve written before, then I’m positive that you’ve heard me whine about editing.

I hate it.

I hate it so much that I want to stab things.

With spoons.

Then I want to rub salt into the wounds and deny them antibiotics when the wounds become infected.

Last time I complained on Twitter about editing my friend, and author, John Connolly (we’re friends, John, whether you like it or not) said, “What I admire most is your stoicism.” (Or something like that.) John’s little way of telling me to stop whining, because really I was being a big baby. Editing is part of my job and I need to suck it up.

But that’s what editing does – it reduces me to a tantrum-throwing child. Why does it do this, you ask? Is it because I disagree with my editor or think my novel is perfect? Absolutely not. I have been blessed with amazing editors. Not only have they been kind and gentle folk but they have also been really good at their job.

My current editor, Noa Wheeler, has always been great about reminding me that I can always argue with her, but the thing is I generally never want to. Sometimes I’ll come up with a different solution to a narrative problem that’s been voiced, but that’s about it. Every draft that my editor touches gets better. She’s good at her job and she’s amazing at seeing what I want to do. If she doesn’t immediately get what I’m going for, she asks me questions until she does. So no, I have no beef with my editor. I’m also lucky enough to have a hands on agent who does revisions with me as well.  (And I’m sure the idea of my producing a perfect and clean manuscript has him howling. He likes to point out all my typos and errors.)

And I most certainly pretty much never think my books are perfect. I work on them until none of us can look at them anymore and then we send them out into the world. Most writers would continue to fiddle with their books until the end of time if given the option, and publishers just can’t wait that long.

Editing is totally necessary. My books would be bad without it. So why do I hate it so much, then? I think it’s mostly because editing frustrates me. I don’t get the same sort of emotional exercise or whatever I get when I’m writing. For whatever reason, writing acts as a mood stabilizer for me. If I don’t write for a few weeks my family is basically shoving me back to my laptop. I become a huge, high-strung jerk. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

When I edit, that stabilizing effect doesn’t happen and it adds to my frustration of working on the same page over and over again and knowing that I’m not getting it quite right. I write another project while I’m editing, if I can, but that isn’t always an option.

There are some writers who love editing. They reserve the joy I have for first drafts for the editing process. They all seem like nice, well-adjusted people, so I feel like I shouldn’t tell them that they’re wrong, even if I think deep down that they are. When I tell them that editing, to me, feels like running in wet sand – a whole lot of energy expended and very little movement – they look at me funny. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

No matter what kind of writer you are, though, editing is always necessary. No one writes a perfect first draft. No one. So buck up, little camper, because you’re in for the long haul. I’ll give you a little example of how things work for me when writing and editing a novel:

  • Write draft.
  • Send to agent. He sends me edits. I rewrite draft. (Repeat process 3-5 times)
  • Cry. (Not really. Usually I just growl and complain, but most people cry, I think.)
  • Both of you throw up your hands and send it to your editor.
  • Editor calls you and you discuss the changes necessary and come up with a plan of action. (This stage is also generally repeated several times.)
  • Finally, you can move on to the next stage—hard copy of your book with notes from editor and copy editor. This stage is also repeated.
  • Manuscript is accepted for copyediting! Do a dance of happiness! Try not to think about the fact that you’ll have a few rounds of copyediting to do. Just dance instead.
  • Book has been formatted and looks great. Now copyedit it.  Again. And possibly, again.
  • Suppress urge to burn your novel.
  • The book is done! And if you’re like me, you’ll probably never want to read it again. You’ll just want to look at the shiny cover.

The stage where I edit with my agent might just be your own editing or editing with a group of beta readers. Also, my last book got kicked out of copyediting by marketing, which I didn’t know could happen, and so I had to repeat a few steps. All in all, I usually do 8-10 drafts of a novel. I’m a sloppy writer, though. You might take less. You might need more. It takes as many as it takes. I suggest getting one of those little stress balls. And maybe you should start jogging or something. You’re going to need it.

Homework: Look up your favorite authors and see what they have to say about editing. (Holly Black has a great blog post where she shows you a page diary of a book that she’s working on and it shows you how many times she deleted her work. It’s strangely comforting.) Many of them will talk about the drafting process and how hard it can be – and how necessary. Hearing other people’s stories can give you hope when facing your own editing woes. You’re not alone, friend. They might offer great tips as well. They might also tell you when you need to say no to an editor. I have a sweet deal with mine – we’re in sync, but that isn’t always the case. A poorly matched editor can do more damage than good on a manuscript, so keep that in mind. That being said, just because you don’t agree with an editing note it doesn’t mean it isn’t right. My agent likes to point this out to me all the time when I finally realize that he’s right about something. He’s nice about it, though.


Lish McBride’s author website:

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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)Across the UniverseBoys without NamesTracksShock Point

Writing Teen Novels

Cheer Up, Emo Kid: Humour in Young Adult Fiction, by Nansi Kunze

When I was sixteen, I grew my fringe to cover one eye, slouched around in a black jumper and eyeliner and listened to The Cure.

Now, before you begin to imagine that I was in any way cool, let me point out that I wasn’t a proper goth. The fringe idea was partly just to cover my terrible acne. The eyeliner was the only goth makeup I owned, since I lived hours away from any shop that would stock a lipstick darker than Saucy Plum. And if I’d thought I might be able to dress in an impressively subcultural way, I was soon disabused of that notion; the first time I went out in public in ripped jeans I got told off for ‘lowering the tone of the district’. In my own dorky way, however, I was an angst-ridden teenager, complete with existential thoughts, a penchant for depressing music and a tendency to have Anna Karenina recommended to me by librarians.

What the librarians didn’t realise, though, was that what I really liked to read wasn’t dark and gloomy at all. Oh, I read Anna Karenina – after all, who wouldn’t be impressed by half a kilo of confusing Russian names in small print and a cover plastered with dudes in fur hats? But I didn’t enjoy it. I much preferred books by Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. Books that were funny. Yes, you read that right. I liked humour … and what’s more, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one. In fact, moody, black-lipstick-wearing teenagers the world over love fiction that incorporates humorous elements.

‘Nonsense!’ I hear someone say (hopefully a reader who’s about 102 years old and has stumbled on this blog by mistake). ‘Everyone knows YA fiction is all about the angst. Look at Twilight! Look at all those dark, creepy book covers! Teenagers don’t want funny stuff – they want vampires and werewolves, gore and tragedy!’ Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, Pops, but you’re wrong on a couple of counts there.

Teenagers don’t just want paranormal fiction … but even if they did, that wouldn’t preclude the use of humour in YA writing. Ever hear of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Some of the very best and most beloved paranormal paradigms are peppered with humour. There are good reasons for this – the most obvious being that nothing throws a dark situation into sharp relief like a light-hearted moment. A self-deprecating quip or a little banter can add dimension to any character, alive or undead. And it’s worth remembering, too, that even those readers who seek out the bleakest dystopias to immerse themselves in need to come up for air every so often. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the presence of humour somehow belittles any serious themes you’re trying to address in your writing; anyone who tells you that wouldn’t know a good novel if it came up and bit them in the neck.

So how do you go about using this wonderful technique called comedy? Well, like any other writing skill, it’s partly practice and partly learning from the masters: write lots and read lots. Another method I find helpful, however, is to examine the way humour is used in other forms of storytelling. TV shows are especially good at illustrating how dialogue can be used to great effect; you can totally justify sitting in front of an entire season of Buffy or Angel for this purpose. Want to know how humour can enliven your mystery writing? Watch a little Sherlock. Feel your sci-fi needs more funny business? Get out your Dr Who collection! And remember that, hidden behind their fringes, even emo kids laugh sometimes.


Nansi Kunze bio page

MishapsDangerously PlacedThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe Bromeliad: The Dead Days OmnibusBuffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7 Angel: Season 5


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