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Posts from the ‘American YA novelist’ Category

Using Your Memory To Write Better Teen Novels, by Shawn Goodman

On creating teen voice: There’s the usual stuff about listening to what kids talk about, the rhythms of their speech etc. It sounds good, but as often as not the results are corny dialogue, idioms that don’t work or make sense, outdated clichés and other missteps. It’s better to just tell a good story with a strong, unique voice.

How? I think it has something to do with anamnesis, science fiction writer Phil Dick’s word for the loss of amnesia. Applied to YA fiction it means that we adults have forgotten what it’s like to be an adolescent. Sure, we remember the snapshot moments or the intensely emotional ones but the truth or magic is in the small things, like Holden Caulfield’s ducks, or the kid in Spinelli’s Milkweed who hunts through the dead city to find a pickled egg for his sad mute friend (he finds just a pickle and an egg – but it’s good enough), or Vern Tessio, from Stand By Me, who says that cherry Pez is the perfect food. The point is that we too have these images and stories but we no longer have access to them. In the process of growing up and assuming jobs, kids and SUVs with third row seats, we’ve forgotten about our pickled eggs and cherry Pez memories. We’ve forgotten about the anarchy-shaped cigarette burns in the bucket seats of Jeff Riscioli’s ’73 Camaro. As a dedicated member of the punk scene, Jeff dotted the glowing end of an unfiltered Camel into the vinyl to form a crude, charred letter A. He later crashed the car into a dumpster in the Twin Fair parking lot.

So the trick is to lose our amnesia. How? I don’t know. Listen to a track from when you were in high school, like ‘Just One Kiss’ by the Violent Femmes. Say out loud the name of your partner in Biology lab (Jennifer Renkens, a pretty blonde who fainted at the sight of her own blood during the blood-typing unit).

Recall your first car (’59 VW Microbus, bought at Angelo Bomasuto’s father’s hot dog stand for $700). Remember your first knock-down fist-fight in which you got pummelled by Rob Radloff on the Washington Avenue train tracks. Remember how he was later killed by a train on those very tracks in your senior year.

Picture your prom date (the same Jennifer who fainted in Biology lab). Remember whatever you want, or whatever you can. Just get better at remembering the small things; the details and half-feelings. Close your eyes and hear the music. Feel the rhythm of how you and your friends talked. That rhythm – the flow, the cadence, the back and forth of whispers in class, and insults in the cafeteria, the laughing and shouting – is what it’s all about. That’s how you lose your amnesia.

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Shawn Goodman’s author website: www.shawngoodmanbooks.com

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Writing Novels For Teens… When You’re Not One, by Dandi Daley Mackall

I love writing for teens: mysteries, romance, horse novels, historicals, humor… Most of my readers are too polite to ask, but I’ll bet a number of them wonder how I can keep writing for teens when I’m not one and haven’t been one for a very long time.

Great question, right?

I have a great answer. My best and worst teen moments are frozen. When I need a power-packed, authentic teen emotion for a work-in-progress, I bring out my frozen moments, loaded with the same angst and intensity as any contemporary teen moment. I have a freezer full of them.

Frozen moments can give any writer an edge in developing powerful scenes and realistic characters. So, what exactly is a frozen moment? In Larger-Than-Life Lara (Dutton/Penguin), my narrator explains a moment she’ll never forget like this:

All of this happened in just a couple of seconds, I guess, but it felt like it was a frozen piece of time. . . Sometimes whole countries and even the whole world has stuff happen that people will remember for the rest of their lives. Like Mrs. Smith said she knows people who were alive when President John F. Kennedy got shot and killed dead. And every single one of them can tell you where they were and what they were wearing and who else and what else was in the room with them when that president got shot and killed.

And I believe her because I can tell you exactly where I was on the day of 9/11, when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. I was home sick from school, only I was faking sick. I was all by myself watching TV. Only I’m not supposed to let on I was by myself because the social worker will get after my daddy again. I was wearing the pajamas I hate because they have kites on them and I’ve never ever had a kite, even though I would really like one.

The room smelled like tobacco and bananas. There was a buzzing from the TV because Daddy hooked it up himself to cable so we didn’t have to pay, and sometimes it looked like it was snowing, even on shows like Jungle Animal Planet. Then I was changing channels and saw a plane stuck in a skyscraper, with smoke and fire and people screaming. So I thought it was a movie and I’d watch it. Only… well, you know the rest…

But the stuff about frozen moments is important because if you land into one, then you got some good material for your story. Because you can call it up in your head again and have everything you need right there. It doesn’t go away on you, like other memories. It’s frozen. And this can be a good thing or a bad thing.

My unscientific take on recent brain studies is this: When an emotion is strong enough, our brain is branded with the memory. That’s my secret as to why I can continue to write for teens. Every novel I’ve written contains a variety of frozen moments. Some series, like Winnie the Horse Gentler, Backyard Horses and Starlight Animal Rescue, use frozen moments to bring back the horses I rode bareback through my teen years.

In The Silence of Murder (Knopf/Random House), which won the Edgar Award for Best YA Mystery, a mother delivers a slap to her son in chapter one. I witnessed such a slap when I was a teen, and I never forgot it. My first sentence in The Secrets of Tree Taylor (Knopf/Random House) is my frozen moment from an early morning in my little Missouri town:

The morning the gun went off, I was thinking about Tolstoy and the Beatles, and maybe, if I’m being honest here, a little about Ray Miller and how his eyes were perfect little pieces of sky.

So, fellow aging authors, the good news is that we don’t have to stop writing for teens, not even when our teens grow up and have teens of their own. Just keep that literary freezer filled with frozen moments. Slang changes and clothing styles morph, but teen angst is teen angst.

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Dandi Daley Mackall’s author website: www.dandibooks.com

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Month In Review (December 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the final month of articles for 2013 from this year’s multi-national line-up of novelists. 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 December 2013

What I Read When I Was A Teenager by Elizabeth Wein

Examining Philosophical Beliefs Through Teen Novels by Bernard Beckett

Bad Habits To Avoid While Writing by Andy Briggs

Handling Feedback About My Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Writing Honest Depictions In Your Novels by Paul Volponi

Writing Good Dialogue For Your Novel by Lish McBride

Creating Characters With Flaws by Kashmira Sheth

Writing What You Know by Beth Revis

The Young Adult Fiction Industry by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Writing The Opening Lines Of A Novel by Kate Forsyth

How I Became A Writer by Monika Schroder

On Being Nice As A Writer by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Medium Sized Budget by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Working With An Editor On A Teen Novel by Diane Lee Wilson

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

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

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On Being Nice As A Writer, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Writers suffer a strange duality. We work in private but the product of our work is very public. Must of us are shy people but we’re often asked to speak in front of large crowds.  We can be rather arrogant at times (what’s more arrogant than thinking your thoughts ought to be interesting to the throngs?). As creative types, we can be terribly insecure. This tension between the public and private in a writer’s life can lay traps for us that can lead to some embarrassing missteps.

For example, you might be giving a speech some day and you might be extremely tempted to call the work of another author overrated. I suggest that you refrain. Saying nasty tidbits about other writers can come back to haunt you in a big way. The hack you malign one year could come out with a major best seller the next and you’ll find yourself in the position of having slighted a powerful person who has the ear of the media. Even if said writer remains obscure, speaking ill of him casts an unfavorable light on you and can make you seem as though you were sucking on a bunch of sour grapes. When speaking in public, I have found it best not to suck at all.

Just as speaking ill of another writer is not advisable, writing reviews, even in respected journals or newspapers, can be fraught with peril. Plenty of aspiring novelists begin their career reviewing fiction in trade publications, but I humbly submit a caveat to this practice: a mean review can be a veritable boomerang, especially if the author finagles a way to review your next book. (This has happened. For real. I won’t name names.) Even worse, a nasty review can offend a potential editor, who might have poured her heart and soul into a book only to have it maligned by you. Editors have long memories and might not consider a piece of fiction by a writer who has offended them.

If reviewing fiction is something you feel called to do, or if it helps you pay your bills, keep your reviews honest but civil, and read any book very carefully if you plan on giving it a negative review. You especially don’t want to be in the position of excoriating a book while revealing through poor fact checking that you weren’t paying attention. Just know, I have never, ever heard of an editor or agent reading a review and thinking to herself, “This review is delightfully pithy… I wonder if this reviewer has a novel?”  If your true passion is writing fiction, it might be best for you to concentrate on your own writing and leave the criticism to the critics.

That said, once you’re published, you’re likely to have an online presence on sites like Goodreads where book reviews are the name of the game. I am not particularly active online, and I should be, but I have always made it a policy to only write a review of books that I think are truly excellent. About the books I don’t love, I am silent. I am a believer in the power of good vibes. I try to keep my public persona positive and sunny, because life, and careers, are too short to waste them spreading bad vibes.

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

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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How I Became A Writer, by Monika Schroder

As a former school librarian I have seen many visiting authors talk to our students about their work. Many of them brought journals from their elementary school years, showed stories they had written when they were ten years old and emphasized how they had always wanted to be a writer. That was never the case with me. I have always been a passionate reader but had no desire or ambition to become a writer or a published author myself. In fact, during my school years writing used to intimidate me.

It wasn’t until, as an elementary-school teacher, I took a class on teaching writing in the summer of 2005 that I first thought about the possibility of becoming a writer. The instructor asked participants to compose a narrative inspired by a family memoir and I chose to write a short story about a boy named Fritz based on my father’s experiences at the end of World War II.

My father grew up on his grandparents’ farm north-east of Berlin where he witnessed the arrival of the Russian army in his village at the end of April 1945. At the time he was only six years old, but he remembered his grandfather’s frantic attempts to defend the village, how they rode together on a horse cart while the old man yelled at other farmers to help build trenches to slow down the Russians’ advance. Then, only days before the Red Army arrived in their village, my great-grandparents hanged themselves in their barn. My father told me that he found them. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for a boy after feeling the adults’ anxiety around him during those turbulent last days of the war, to experience his great-grandparents suicide just before a foreign army occupied his village. A four-page narrative about this event became my submission to the writing class. My fellow students and the instructor liked my story and wanted to hear more about Fritz. And, of course, there was much more. My father also recalled that due to a shortage in caskets, his grandmother had to be buried in the wooden dowry chest that was kept in the attic. He also told me about the Russian officers who stayed in their house and the Soviet tank that was stuck on the slope by the pond near the garden. So I continued to write more stories about Fritz based on the anecdotes I heard from my dad. Out of these anecdotes, with the instructor’s encouragement and that of my husband, grew a manuscript with the working title, After the Russians Came. It was rejected when I first submitted it. My husband called the letter I received from the editor, “The best possible rejection letter in the world.” It had two paragraphs. The first paragraph praised the original and gripping story idea I presented in my draft and the second paragraph said that the story wasn’t told well enough. In my disappointment I only saw the second paragraph and felt my hopes crushed. Then I began the long process of revision. I took the draft to a writing workshop where I received good advice from two published authors. Subsequently, I cut the second half and came up with a new arc. After many, many revisions The Dog in the Wood was finally accepted.

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

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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The Young Adult Fiction Industry, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Working in Young Adult fiction sometimes feels like I’ve been let into a secret awesome club. It really is a community, a warm and welcoming little village of YA, comprised of authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, bloggers and readers. It’s a small world and everyone knows and loves everyone else. It’s such a great place and I don’t think any industry has quite what we have here in the YA world.

Positivity is the word that really springs to mind when I think of YA. Since I started writing it, I’ve become friends with other authors, and with editors, people from other publishing houses and divisions, bloggers who talk about my books and fans who send me emails. There’s no real divide, no “I’m an author, and you’re a (fill in the blank),” everyone is equal and friendly and we all have something in common – books.

The people who read Young Adult fiction are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Teens that read YA have SO much competition for their attention – television, video games, school (why did I make school third?), friends, family, jobs, chores. They make time to read. It’s something they seek out and pursue. Librarians and teachers love our industry because we get kids reading. There’s so much talk and debate, so much passion and deep enjoyment.

The one complaint I see pop up is about the opposite of positivity – the idea that somehow YA authors aren’t writing simple positive values-ridden books, that we write swears, and sex, and violence, and corrupt children and teens. I’d argue even the worst of these books are doing a positive thing by getting teens to read, by showing them they aren’t alone in their feelings, opening communication, promoting or even prompting discussion, and being a realistic window into the world.

Being a teen is difficult, it’s a lengthy process of challenging and changing everything you know about the world, closing a very long chapter of your life and opening a new one. These are weighty subjects. These aren’t just books to read and forget on an airplane ride, these books and characters bond with readers in ways few other books do. I see it in the emails I get, sometimes they’re a nice simple “thank you,” or “I really connected with that story”. Other times I get very heartfelt confessionals. These books matter.

That’s why I love writing YA, and why working in this industry is constantly surprising, moving, and magical. Because it’s not just an industry, it’s a living, breathing community. We all connect.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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Writing What You Know, by Beth Revis

Probably the most clichéd and oft-used phrase for any writer is the old adage, “write what you know”.

So how did I end up writing a novel that takes place hundreds of years in the future, on a spaceship populated by genetically modified people heading to a planet that might not really exist? It’s definitely not something I “know”.

Typically, we don’t really “know” our stories. Or, at least, I don’t. I’ve never been the youngest person on a spaceship, but I do know what it’s like to not fit in. I’ve never had my parents cryogenically frozen, but I still remember that moment when I realized that I’d grown up and was no longer under their safe protection.

Many times, it seems that people who aspire to write teen fiction are more focused on writing teenagers than on writing characters who behave realistically. They will often do research on the outward appearances: clothing, slang, mannerisms. Very often, this is where they trip up, because that’s not the important stuff. Focus on the stuff you know – the stuff everyone knows. We have all experienced the same things every teen has experienced: first love, first heartbreak, betrayal and fear, joy, sorrow. This is what the writer must know – and if the writer knows this, then everything else: the characters, the plot, the world – will fall in place.

Find the beating heart of the story. Invention is a wonderful thing – a necessary thing when it comes to writing. You need to have invention but, somewhere beneath everything that you create, you also have to write what you know.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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