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Posts from the ‘Becoming a teen novelist’ Category

I Was A Teenage Artist, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’ll dive right in and start this series of articles on teen writing by introducing myself, some of my work, and give a little insight as to how I got here, seeing as I was once a teenager myself. So, my name is Stephen Emond, I live in Connecticut, and I am a Young Adult author. My first book, Happyface, came out in 2010, my second book Winter Town came out in late 2011, and right now I’m wondering how I managed to write two books in such quick succession, because this third one is not going so smoothly! Before Happyface, I’d written and drawn a series of comic books for SLG Publishing called Emo Boy, which are collected in two volumes. And before that…

Despite having been first published in my late twenties, I’ve always thought of myself as an artist and storyteller. When I was 5 years old and sleeping over my grandparents house, I needed to have paper and crayons with me. I was always “the artist,” even when my drawings were wobbly circles with L’s for legs. In high school I’d gotten into comic books – the early 90’s were all about Image comics and Marvel comics for me, and I very much wanted to draw my own. I filled sketchbooks with doodles of my own characters and on rare occasions tried writing up worlds for them to exist in, and stories of hitting the streets to take down punks. These were not great stories.

Stephen Emond comic book art

In my senior year, I was drawing cartoons for the school newspaper, still nothing great, but I was “THE ARTIST!” now, with exclamation point! Even when I wasn’t good I had some kind of aura that said, “This kid’s the artist,” and aside from the occasional comment on how I gave everyone duck feet, it was just accepted that I was the artist. I think it was less about how well I could draw (or not) but more for the fact that I was always doing it. By graduation, as a gift for my circle of friends, I made a twenty-page book of comic strips that featured the few of us as characters. The art in these was still awful, and the characters infuriated my friend Mike with their lack of mouths and noses.

Stephen Emond - Steverino comic book art

The take away from this is that even though the art wasn’t great, I got a great joy from doing these things. Despite the brevity of your average comic strip, it was a way for me to communicate in a way I wasn’t always comfortable with in person. For me, drawing, and, I’ll add writing as a way for me to have something to draw, was a way of escape – it was a fantasy world I could escape to. But more than that, it was a bridge, a way for me to communicate, to explain who I am, what I’m like, and what I think about.

When people write to sell a hit book or make a ton of money or get famous, I shake my head. I think, more than wanting to create, you should need to do it – you should get a great enjoyment from it. Because I loved making those comic strips, and when Mike suggested I keep doing them and send them to our friends in college, I leapt at the chance. And every month for years I’d send out a pamphlet of new cartoons, new storylines, new ideas, and slowly I began to get better. Each month I struggled to learn from the last batch of cartoons and improve. I began sending my comic strips to newspaper syndicates, and as the editors there got used to my submissions, they began to watch my growth and offer feedback. Within a year or two I had communications with editors at most of the 6 main syndicates, even though I wasn’t ready for publication yet. It was all about learning and growing still.

In 1999 I won a national cartooning award, and in 2004 I had the idea for Emo Boy. By then I’d written enough comics to pull off a 24-page story. And in 2008 when I met my editor at Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, I’d written enough comics that I was comfortable in tackling a book.

I’ll close with take away #2: you’re never too young to start. It happens that occasionally someone later in life randomly decides to write a novel and has a hit with it but, for me and for a lot of creators I know, getting published is just a step on the way – and it’s usually not the first step. It’s a culmination of experiences, observations, short stories, poems, notebooks of ideas. It was for me, at least.

In my next article I’ll talk a bit more about Happyface and how else my teenaged self inspired the story. Until then!


Stephen Emond’s author website:

Stephen Emond’s bio page


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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection    The RepossessionVirus AttackBoys without Names

Writing Teen Novels

How I Became a Young Adult Novelist, by Stewart Lewis (guest post)

I never set out to be a Young Adult author. Still, I am thankful for it, as it’s become my most successful venture in life so far. First I thought I was going to be an actor, but after a stint on a soap opera and a small part in a play that was so bad people were falling asleep in the audience, I knew it wasn’t my thing. So I started writing songs, and put out some records, and got to open for some of my heroes (Ani Difranco gave me a sip of her Latte, Sheryl Crow poured me some wine). All that time, I never wrote anything longer than a song. But I still had a book of short stories by Raymond Carver I always carried with me and, one day on a plane, I wrote my own short story. The people I showed it to loved it, so I decided to get my Masters in writing, as a back up plan in case I didn’t become a full blown rock star – good logic, right? Sure enough, two months after getting my degree, my first adult novel, Rockstarlet was sold. As I was writing my second adult novel, Relative Stranger, I desperately wanted an agent. A finally had the interest of a good one, from a great agency. He helped me with the book, but never signed me. I was crushed, but moved forward and sold the novel myself. But I remembered something the agent told me. He felt that I had really nailed the voice of the teenage girl in the novel. So it came to me after reading about the growth of teen literature in publishing in the Times. I should switch to Young Adult.

The idea for the character of Luna in You Have Seven Messages came from hanging out with the niece of a friend of mine, Emma, who was thirteen at the time. One day when we were all driving in the car, my friend noticed Emma’s cell phone had nail polish on it. She said to her niece, “I did that to my phone too!”

Emma said, “I was eleven, what’s your excuse?”

We all laughed and continued on our journey, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, she is a character in a book. Luna is not a carbon copy of Emma, but she was definitely the spark that ignited the flame.

Over the next year, I wrote You Have Seven Messages in my bed, on the couch, at the kitchen table, on the floor, on planes, by a pool, and mostly in a small cottage on the beach in the middle of winter. It was a lot of work, but I don’t really consider it work. Writing is just something I love to do.

I sent it to the same agent, and he was thrilled. He signed me right away. He wrote this amazing letter about it to send to publishers with the manuscript. It sold pretty quickly, and the next thing you know it was on the “tough stuff” table in Barnes & Noble stores nationwide, next to titles like The Fault In Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why. I had to pinch myself. You Have Seven Messages has since been translated into five languages. My next young adult novel, The Secret Ingredient, comes out in May 2013.

People always ask me, “How do you write a book?” The truth is I really don’t know, it’s something that just comes out of me. Sometimes I jokingly say there’s a teenage girl inside of every gay man, but it’s more than that. It’s about making connections. About remembering something an agent said as he rejected you, taking a comment from your friend’s niece and treating it as a small seed. It’s about living life to the fullest, traveling, reading, doing unexpected things, experiencing as much as possible. Being open. As I write, those connections are like a network of electric atoms in my subconscious, coming to life in something a character does, or how a scene unfolds. It sounds esoteric, but it’s the only way I can explain it. Connections.


Stewart Lewis author site:

You Have Seven MessagesThe Fault in Our StarsTh1rteen R3asons WhyWill You Please be Quiet, Please?: StoriesAmerican Short Story Masterpieces


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