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Posts tagged ‘US writer of teen novels’

Handling Disappointment To Be A Resilient Writer, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

If you want to be a writer, you have to be tough. The road to publication is full of soul crushing disappointment. Before you find an agent willing to take you on, you might have to endure rejection from several dozen. If you are lucky enough to land a representative, then you might be treated to an onslaught of rejection from dozens of editors before you find the right one. Once you get over the euphoria of your first publication, you might get slammed with a few bad reviews, or worse, you might not get reviewed at all. Then there are the blogs, and the reader reviews, which can get so mean spirited you’ll want to shut off your wi-fi forever.

For a writer, there are endless opportunities to have your tender heart crushed under the wheels of fortune’s dump truck. So how to cope? I’ve been in the business long enough that I’ve developed a few strategies that get me through the tough spots, and I freely share them with you:

Talk to your bestie. I have a wonderful husband who is very good at talking me off the ledge. I’ve also got a best friend who thinks my writing is top notch. Find the people in your life who believe in you and talk about your feelings. A lot of writers keep things bottled up, but that’s just going to make you difficult to live with. Talking it out with a supportive friend can really help you get over a hurt.

Read writers’ memoirs. It always helps to know that you’re not the only one. Every writer knows rejection, and a really honest memoir will talk about it. I remember reading Graham Greene’s A Sort of Autobiography, feeling comforted to know that he chose not to publish his first three books. Knowing that a brilliant writer like him has unpublished works makes me feel better about the dogs I’ve got hidden away. Another excellent memoir is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, in which she describes pacing her office in tears after receiving her umpteen millionth rejection for A Wrinkle in Time. What writer wouldn’t feel better after reading that?

Read some negative reader reviews for a writer you truly admire. In my opinion, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series deserves every bit of success it has seen. Not everyone agrees with me. If I ever need to feel cheered up about a really mean review of one of my books, I’ll check out the one star reader reviews for The Hunger Games, or another great book I’ve loved. Most of the time, really cruel reviews are written by silly people, but I’m only able to see that silliness when the review is about someone else’s book. It always helps me feel a lot better knowing the person who didn’t like my book might be just as silly.

Remember disappointment and rejection are part of the job. Every writer, from Charles Dickens to Charlaine Harris, has been rejected. Sometimes it’s about your work. If you’re sending your stuff out before it’s ready, the rejection is your fault and you need to take responsibility and fix it. But sometimes you just haven’t found the right agent or editor, and you need to keep trying. Either way, move on to the next book or representative or publishing house, and don’t feel too sorry for yourself because just like the brain surgeon sometimes loses a patient, sometimes your work will fail to impress. At least for writers, no lives are lost when we fall short.

Above all, keep writing. If you’re working on the next book, and you’re excited about it, a disappointment about your last book might not sting so badly. As far as my own writing goes, I think each of my books is better than the last, and that always makes me feel hopeful.

You can try your hardest and you still might fail, but you will definitely fail if you give up. You might as well give yourself a chance. In my experience, learning to get over the disappointment that goes along with being a writer is a greater determinant of success than talent. I’ve seen plenty of very gifted people give up when they shouldn’t have, and I can only imagine their regret. So keep your chin up! Keep writing!


Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website:

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Writing Teen Novels

Rewriting and its Strange Parallel to Project Runway, by Alane Ferguson

Okay, I admit it. I LOVE Project Runway, especially when they require their poor contestants to make an outfit out of some ungodly product, like lettuce or garbage or maybe chicken soup.  For the uninitiated, Project Runway showcases up-and-coming designers who have yet to break into the fashion world.  The show begins with a dozen or so designers/contestants, and week by week the judges whittle that number down to a lucky three.  The final trio goes on to compete in the very prestigious New York Fashion Week, after which the judges crown an ecstatic winner.  So how does this relate to me as a writer and the act of revision?  Believe it or not, the parallel is a strong one.  I’m thinking in particular of the infamous ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, which consists of the contestants removing their jeans, skirts, shirts, jackets – whatever they happened to have on when the challenge was announced – and then remake those materials into something new and amazing.  It’s hard, painful work, and yet, when they are finished and their models walk down the runway, the transformations are incredible!  The new creations are almost always better than the original.  And that reminds me an awful lot of something that is the backbone of what we writers do: revision.

Right now, I am deep into a revision for The Dead Giveaway, the fifth book in my forensic series.  With my editor’s notes at my side, I’ve spent day after day with the equivalent of a seam ripper, that small, pointed tool that cuts through a garment’s threads.  Like the Project Runway contestants, I take my metaphorical ‘ripper’ and unstitch scenes I’ve previously sewn together, line by line, word by word.  My chapters are like pieces of fabric scattered across the floor, just waiting to be re-stitched into something better.  Sometimes, scenes end up getting tossed completely.  As an example, I just (sob) cut an entire chapter out of my novel because I found it to be redundant. So far, in this revision, a new character has been introduced, forty-plus scenes have been rearranged, and a new ending has been sewn (I mean, written) in.  Do I like this part of the writing process?  Honestly, in a word, no.  But it is essential, because it is my job as an author to listen to my editor, who has a fresh eye, and then make my work the best that it can be.

It’s a given that my writing makes sense to me, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into clarity for my reader.  All professional writers know and accept this.  So I weigh my editor’s words very carefully.  Most suggestions are incorporated, some are not, but a revision always takes place.  Like the Project Runway designers, I take the individual pieces of my novel and re-form them into something tighter, and, hopefully, something better.  It’s exactly like the ‘clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, except that mine consists of scenes instead of cloth, words instead of thread.  When I send my novel down the proverbial runway, I always hold my breath with the hope that the judges (in this case, my readers) will like the finished product.  The published novel represents a lot of work, lost sleep, and creative blood.  To all of you who would like to write your own novel someday, remember that this, too, will be part of your job.  When you face the daunting task of reworking your words, don’t despair.  Take a look at ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge and see the possibilities.  Then roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to work!


Alane Ferguson bio page

The Christopher KillerThe Circle of BloodThe Angel of DeathWolf Stalker: A Mystery in Yellowstone National ParkFear: 13 Stories of Suspense and HorrorThe Broken BladePandemonium (Delirium (Hardcover))

Mentor Characters in Teen Fiction, by Diane Lee Wilson

Heroes of all ages rely on mentors but teen protagonists, especially, can often benefit from an “older and wiser” point of view. Such elders are iconic in literature and film: Professor Dumbledore for Harry Potter, Gandalf for Frodo (okay, not truly a teen but young in character) or Mr. Miyagi for Daniel in The Karate Kid.

Utilizing an aged mentor in your cast of characters presents benefits but also some dangers, the riskiest being the creation of a cliché: the saccharine octogenarian who too readily dispenses wisdom in platitudes.

How can you avoid this pitfall?

The key, I think, lies in creating a mentor who is genuinely interested in helping the teen protagonist but does so mostly by encouraging the teen’s best. Rather than solving problems themselves or providing answers directly, they help the teen arrive at success through guidance, modeling, or when necessary, challenge.

I’ve used “old wise ones” in several of my books and they’ve become some of my favorite characters. To keep them interesting I make these elderly mentors a little “prickly” in character or a little “off” mentally. Their words and actions can then be unexpected, leading the teen to speculate on the reliability of the advice (and thus begin to trust his or her own instincts even more). Such unpredictability creates story tension as well because the reader must decide right along with the protagonist if the mentor can be trusted.

In my novel I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade, for example, the teen Oyuna is warned by her father to stay away from her shamaness grandmother, who has suddenly appeared in their nomad’s camp:

“Her mind is twisted,” he said, spitting into the cooking fire. “Too many years traveling alone.”

Of course Oyuna secretly visits her eccentric grandmother anyway and receives clues to her destiny; but they’re just that—clues, wrapped in convoluted language that’s close to gibberish. She’s not sure, in fact, if what she’s received is any sort of wisdom at all.

A similar relationship exists in Firehorse where Rachel and her maternal grandmother live cramped, unsatisfying lives beneath the overbearing rule of Rachel’s father. Rachel suspects her grandmother of approaching senility and is surprised one evening when the woman delivers a defiant speech directed at Rachel’s father. Via this bold action the grandmother symbolically separates herself from Rachel’s parents, creating a natural alliance with her rebellious granddaughter, and paving the way for Rachel to also stand up to her father.

Interestingly, in both of these novels the grandmother dies three quarters of the way through—quite to the author’s surprise, I might add. Upon reflection, though, I realize that Dumbledore and Gandalf also died before their stories ended. I think the death or disappearance of a mentor signals the teen’s arrival at maturity; the necessary wisdom has been imparted, the torch has been passed.

In another of my novels, Raven Speak, a Viking teen named Asa struggles throughout the story with the issue of trusting her decidedly unusual mentor, the mercurial Wenda. Near the end of a pivotal chapter the two have this exchange:

Asa shook her head. This was absurd. “No,” she replied. “I’m not traveling with you any further. I can’t trust you.”

“Of course you can’t.” Wenda made the statement seem obvious. “You can only trust yourself.”

This is the vote of confidence that every good mentor is trying to impart to a novel’s hero. And the mentor’s role really boils down to that: instilling confidence. It can be accomplished in many ways by inventive authors but remains a message that teens, real and fictional, long to hear.


Diane Lee Wilson bio page

I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeFirehorseRaven SpeakHarry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneThe Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Boxed SetKarate Kid CollectionHarry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey


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