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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)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

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

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Coarse Language in Teen Novels, by Paul Volponi

Probably the first rule of being a novelist is to be truthful and honest in everything you produce. That means putting the right words into your characters’ mouths. For me, part of that truthfulness is occasionally having my characters use profanities. Now let me make this 100% clear. I never have my characters cursing to simply look cool or grab the reader’s attention. I only have them do so when the scene dictates a tense or angry mood in which real people might use these very emotional words.

Black and White, which centers on racial prejudice, has a fair number of racial slurs. So does Response, which is a about NYC hate crime, and Rooftop, which is about the shooting of an unarmed black teen by the police. The language is there because these are the real words I have heard people use in the real-life situations mirrored in these novels. The books just wouldn’t ring true if the language wasn’t correct. People committing a hate crime don’t say “please” and “thank you” when they’re beating some one over the head with an aluminum baseball bat.

Rikers High is about teens going to school while awaiting trial in the world’s largest jail. As you can imagine, the daily conversation of these teens, even in some less-than-dramatic situations, was froth with what some would deem offensive language. But that’s real. Should the writer change this reality and omit this language? If so, what would be the rational?

I have never had a publisher ask me to remove a curse word because they thought it would hurt sales. Many of my books are taught in high schools and even middle schools. It is true that I have encountered several teachers, from very conservative US states, who tell me that they are afraid some parents might complain about the language if they used my novels. But I’m very content to lose a few schools here and there, when so many reluctant readers gravitate to the novels, feeling the work relates to the lives they actually live.

Recently, I received a letter from a parent who was upset that a character of mine uttered a curse word as he was being robbed at gunpoint. The parent said that I was a bad influence on teens today because of the profanity. Sadly enough, the complaint did not reflect any concern over the fact that a gun was being pointed at someone in the scene. Most of the teens with whom I work pick up on that parent’s inconsistency almost immediately. As a writer, you will have to decide for yourself what language your characters will use during tense moments. My standing rule is: If it doesn’t feel and sound real, it probably won’t ring true to smart and street-wise teenage readers.

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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)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRooftopRikers HighResponse     Girl, StolenAugustThe Last of the Warrior Kings

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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