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Posts tagged ‘American writer of teen fiction’

Novel Titles And Covers, by Carolyn Meyer

You’ve written a terrific book for teen readers. The idea is wonderful, you’ve done your homework and your facts are in order. The characters are fully developed, the plot is tight, the voice is original, the descriptions vivid, and the dialogue revealing and realistic.

So what else is there to do before your book goes out into the world?

The title and the cover are designed to hook all readers, but especially teens. You can’t do much about the cover, but it’s important to get the title right. Sometimes it needs tweaking.

Cleopatra Confesses was initially called Cleopatra’s Spell. Victoria Rebels was Victoria Rules for about ten minutes before I discarded that idea.

Mary, Bloody Mary came to me before I wrote the first sentence, having no idea it would be the beginning of a series. I wanted to call the next book, about Elizabeth, My Sister, My Enemy, but marketing wanted her name in the title. It became Beware, Princess Elizabeth. Doomed Queen Anne and Patience, Princess Catherine followed, although neither pleased me as much as the first one. When I began work on a book about Mozart’s sister, I called it Playing with Mozart. Marketing changed that to In Mozart’s Shadow: His Sister’s Story. I’m still not sure why.

Everyone agreed on The Bad Queen, and when we decided to add a provocative subtitle, Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette, we used that idea to add chapter heads based on those rules. Great title, but not all readers have liked those chapter heads.

It made sense to title my next book in the series The Wild Queen with another provocative subtitle: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots. Teens like it. Some older readers grumble that the title promises a racier story than the one I’ve delivered.

When I wrote the story of Shakespeare, with his sweetheart, Anne Hathaway, as the narrator, the title arrived with the idea for the book: Loving Will Shakespeare. There was a debate about shortening it to Loving Will, but I argued against it and won.

I’m happy with The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, but I’m puzzled to hear it called a “fictional autobiography”. Does that mean that every historical novel with a first-person narrator is a “fictional autobiography”? The label has not been applied to the Young Royals, in which Catherine, Mary, Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn all tell their own stories.

The cover is the most important tool for attracting a reader’s eye. In the course of writing more than fifty published books, I’ve learned that I have very little input. Usually the finished design arrives with a note, “Don’t you love this jacket?” and often I do. But sometimes I do not.

I love the jackets for Cleopatra Confesses, both the original and the paperback, and Victoria Rebels is gorgeous. I got to choose Mary’s gown for The Wild Queen. I love the look in the eye of Marie-Antoinette as she peers over her lacy blue fan, but the fan is Victorian, not 18th century. The fan remains and her look beguiles.

At the time of writing this I anxiously wait to see what the art department will do with Beauty’s Daughter, about the daughter of that famous seductress, Helen of Troy. I’ve just learned that marketing doesn’t much like the title. By the time you read this, it may have changed completely.


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Carolyn Meyer’s bio page


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In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryMary, Bloody MaryThe Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-AntoinetteCleopatra Confesses     The Traitor's KissA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

Writing Teen Novels

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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