Tag Archives: ya

The Ultimate Wake-Up Call to Parents: Want to Go Private?

I’m going to be honest, I struggled with reading Want to Go Private.  Not because of the writing, but because of the content.  And because I’m a mom with a daughter, and the mother of three sons.  Also, because in my career as a child advocate I’ve seen first hand the impact that poor choices have on a teen’s life.

Want to Go Private?

Those very words strike fear into my heart, and have since my (much younger) brother and sister caught the first wave of internet chat rooms.  After reading Sarah Darer Littman’s YA novel, these words rip me apart.

If ever there is a call to challenge books, this would be it.  It’s graphic enough to make me queasy and personal enough to make people extremely upset.  Yet for all that, I applaud Ms. Littman for writing a book that needs to be available to a generation of children who live and die (sometimes literally) by the rulings of the internet.

What am I talking about?  Sexual predators who have easy access to our children’s innermost thoughts, fears and information.  But before you shake your head and say, “Impossible.  Not my children.  They know better,” hear me out.  Or rather, read Abby’s story yourself.

Starting highschool is difficult in the best of times.  For shy, fourteen-year-old Abby, being on the bottom rung of the social ladder is the catalyst for engaging in online chats with a “boy” named Luke.  As she struggles with a failing friendship, an unrequited crush, clueless parents and an annoying little sister, Abby retreats into a cyber friendship with the one person who actually listens to her.  Cares about her.  Accepts her.  And, eventually, loves her.

The first part of Want to Go Private? was frustrating to read.  Abby’s a smart girl.  She knows all the reasons to stay away from strangers.  She’s a good kid–just like yours and mine.  I wanted to shake her back to reality whenever she fell for Luke’s game.  I wanted to ground her for life when she began sharing far more than her thoughts.

At times, I felt like Ms. Littman rushed Abby’s physical responses.  Yet, the emotional ones were spot on.  In a few short months, Abby had believably become addicted to her relationship with Luke.  Ms. Littman’s execution of it will help parents and teens understand just how vulnerable kids are when it comes to their emotional attachments, how easily they are swayed by seemingly inconsequential events and how fiercely loyal they are to those they trust.

And so ends the first part of the book.

The second one had tears streaming down my face.  My heart literally ached for the anguish and uncertainty brought on by Abby’s careless behavior.  In this section Ms. Littman masterfully unravels the layers of a teen’s me-centric world in a way that should help teens understand their every action does, indeed, affect others.  It also proves just how easily we can lose control of our lives.

Logically, I feel like every teen and every parent should read this book.  Emotionally, I struggle.  I don’t want my daughter exposed to some of the content.  Particularly by my choosing.  And yet, it tells a tale of misplaced loyalty and betrayal far better than any lecture by any adult will ever be able to.

Kids tune parents out.  Kids listen to other kids.  My daughter will hear Abby’s words in a very different way than she will ever hear my own.

This book needs to be read.  It also needs to be discussed.  Before handing over my copy to my Dear Daughter, I told her that it was one of the most difficult books I had read.  I explained that it was graphic, though not gratuitous.  I told her parts of the book made me want to throw up.  I also told her I loved her and wanted her to remain safe.  She knows I’m here for her when she gets to the tough parts.  She knows, from past experience, that we’ll discuss the book when she’s done.

For the record, we have.  You can read our MAD Review of Want to Go Private? here and see just how much this novel affects teens.

Parents, if you have a child active in social networking, this is a must-read.  Before your child ever picks it up.  It is an amazing tool to open the door to the emotional side of our lectures.  It will help you remember what it was like to be a kid and how uncaring your parents sounded when they harped on you about things like grades and sports.  How you simply wanted somebody to see you, understand you, listen to you and love you.  Anybody.

Even a boy like Luke.

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Writing Across Age Groups: friend or foe?

“What do you write?”

The question is asked often and a confusing one to answer depending on the individual receiving the info. 

The short answer is that I write for kids.  The long answer is that I write for all ages of kids.  I have manuscripts floating around in my brain–and on paper–for cute board books, quiet picture books, whimsical chapter books, mysterious middle grades and dark young adult novels.   

The general feeling in writing circles is that what you first pub in is where you’ll continue pubbing.  This advice is fine for writers of adult fiction who write by genre.  “Love what you first pub, because that’s the genre you’ll stay in for a good long time.  An entire career, maybe.”

By professional standards, it typically takes about ten years to grow a writer.  While some writers blow the covers off this theory, the timeline holds true for the majority of authors.  Like all things, it takes time to build a brand–something that is hard to do if one genre-hops before being truly well-established.

My DH and I go through this every time we shop for bathroom supplies.  He grew up with one kind of toothpaste, I grew up with another.  We’re both loyal to our brands.  Yet I’m sure Crest didn’t come on the scene in one day and become the Chosen One.  Nor did Colgate. 

Even now, these nationally recognized brands vie for market share by adding new elements.  It’s the same brand, just in cinnamon or lemon.  It’s the same refreshing goodness, but this time with baking soda and whitener. 

Which leads me to my dilemma.  I don’t write Original Crest Paste.  I write all their off-shoots.  Combined, I’m a brand.  Just parceled out a bit to smaller pockets of users. 

Is this a good thing or bad thing?

I’m not sure.  In some ways, I think it’s awesome.  I get the freedom to write what strikes my fancy.  I get the freedom to explore all avenues of lit that I grew up loving.  But it can make branding a little more difficult. 

For instance, it will be a good fifteen years before my board book audience is ready to read my dark YA.  The loyalty will not carry over unless they literally go from cutting teeth on my first books to learning to read with my chapter books to hitting puberty with my older reads.  And this can happen.   Truth be told, I want it to.    

Yet, it also poses another question: should my middle grade audience (wherefore art thou, audience?) have access to my vastly different YA material? 

I’ll just go ahead and admit.  As a mom I would be mortified if my fourth-grader brought home a steamy YA.  But it can happen if authors build their brands right and kids want to read everything ever written by Author Awesome. 

I see this happening already as traditionally adult-pubbed authors cross over to the juvenile lit arena.  My Middle Son is enthralled by Patterson’s The Dangerous Days of Daniel X series.  When he reads through all of Patterson’s kid books, he’ll want to read some of his older material–stuff that’s totally inappropriate for a ten-year-old.  Wildly inappropriate. 

So, dear readers and parents of readers, what do you think about this?  How do you feel about authors who span age groups?  Are there certain lines that can be crossed, while other lines should be firmly drawn in the sand?

And writers, do you feel boxed in by the “pick a genre” adage or does it help you focus your creative energy?  Are you a genre/age group hopper?  If so, do you fear that this will limit your natural inclination and over-all success? 

Share your experiences, as curious minds want to know.

 

What comes first the MC’s age or the Genre?

Lately, I’ve been discussing age with a lot of my writing buddies.  Not theirs or mine.  Heaven knows we don’t want to start a wrinkle comparison or a gray hair contest.  Rather, the question of matching an MC’s age to his/her genre has been a hot topic with a huge question mark at the end.

Writers want to know who is reading what about whom.  It seems like the answer should be obvious, but it’s really convoluted and nuanced when you get right down to it.

One of my writer buddies wrote an entire ADULT novel only to learn that it really was middle grade.  Another penned a fun and spunky picture book–that really needed to be a chapter book. 

Stories like this are not isolated events.  When a beginning novelist sets out to writer their first major manuscript, we know NOTHING about the biz.  We simply write the story we hear in our heads with the characters who are clamoring to get out of our heads.  We pay little attention to how these masterpieces will actually fit on the bookshelf.

Yet, genre is one of the most important aspects of marketing our wares.  Agents want a neat little package they can sell to publishers who can then pimp our fiction to book stores across the country.  All this means is that our manuscripts must ultimately fit on the bookshelf in a place where our audience can find them.

When we try to pawn off our chapter book to adult only agents, the answer will invariably be the splosh of our manuscript hitting the bottom of the wastebasket.

Think middle graders want to read about bunnies having a fight with their mommies?  Think again.  Middle school students rarely read middle grade, let alone picture books.

Nope, these ‘tweens are more concerned about what’s happening in the hallways of your make believe world.  Their thoughts are to the future–jock talk and pep fests,  not warm squishy comforts of  yesterday.

How do you determine the age of your MC and the type of book you will write?  Have you ever written your MC into the wrong manuscript?  If so, how do you remedy the problem: by pumping up your MC’s age or by toning down your story line and language?

Have you ever written a book where the MC’s age cannot be changed without ruining the entire storyline?  Did you trash it or try to salvage something from the wreckage?

Age-muddled minds want to know!

Do you know who you write for?

Kids can teach us a lot about our writing.

In honor of National Poetry Month, my Dear Daughter is in the midst of her poetry unit for English.  She has to create a poetry book consisting of selected poems from different authors with different themes. 

I pointed her in the direction of Lewis Carroll.  She immediately loved the ease of copying The Crocodile’s eight sentences.  She waffled over the Jabberwocky, and in the end, refused to write it down. 

“It’s too long.” 

Instead, she flipped through Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and found the poems with the shortest lines.  Literally the least amount of words.  Yet she handwrote several monster sized poems with thirty plus lines each.  Those were on friendship.

The patriotic poems were each four sentences long (the shortest number of lines possible for this project).  She used up both  her short poems on these, with another four needing at least eight lines and the remaining having to be ten or more.

The moral of this project is actually pretty simple.  Know thy audience. 

Shel’s whimsy was no longer important enough for her to copy more than a handful of his words.  Patriotism (which I used to think she had in abundance) was relegated the lowliest of positions. 

The monster poems?  Friendship and love. 

Those were the themes that had her scouring poem after poem and book after book in search of the perfect stanza. 

Know thy audience (and their tastes). 

Without me paying attention, she somehow moved past the middle grade novels with bullies and mysteries and wry humor, and is firmly entrenched in relationships.  She is the quintessential YA reader, regardless of my perception that she’s still waaaay to young to fall in that category. 

Writer, know thy audience. 

It is a deadly trap to assume that what we started writing about–and who we started writing for–are still one and the same.  Trends change.  Tastes change.  Certainly, novel writing as a whole has changed. 

Manuscript length, content and stye are not constants in the publishing arena.  Even genres are fluid and reflect the nuances of society.

If we are to survive in this new environment, we must embrace these changes as readily as a mother watching her kids grow. 

We may not like it.  We may wish to slow time down for our own ease and comfort.  But in the end, we simply cannot continue to write statically.  If we try, we may find ourselves relegated to the lowliest category possible.  The place that garners no more than four lines’ worth of a reader’s time.

I used to think of myself as being an astute writer in terms of audience.  In light of DD’s project I may have to revisit the idea.  Because, like it or not, the element that changes the most in the publishing industry is readership. 

Do you feel like you have a handle on your intended audience?  How do you keep up with their changing tastes/maturity/interests and the fluctuating lines that define the genre you write in?  Do you have any stellar tips to share to help the rest of stay ahead of the game?

As always, your input and commentary are as much a part of my blog as my own posts.  I appreciate hearing from each of you and learning from your experiences.

New Beginnings

There’s been enough blog talk about great beginnings that we writers should instinctively know how to create a gripping beginning.  One that lets us connect with our MC.  Doesn’t introduce too many characters too quickly.  Keeps us grounded in the moment.  Has no mention of weather.  Lacks boring dialogue.  Doesn’t start with the single most exciting event of the book which will make the remainder dry in comparison.

Sheesh, the rules are endless and concise.  And yet as I weeded my garden, pulling out the debris from last year and letting my spring sprouts poke through to the light, I couldn’t help but give my new manuscript the wrong opening sentence.  Over and over and over again.

My professor told us the sun always rose in the east.  Always. 

Ugh.  I didn’t need the opening line of a YA to start with an old geezer pontificating about science.  Kids hate that.  They get lectured enough in school.  I tugged a dead stem and mulled the sentence over in my head. 

The sun always rose in the east.  Until today.

Ach, I didn’t want my readers to really think the sun didn’t rise.  I just wanted them to question that the foundation of our lives may not be as predictable and true as it seems.  I kept pulling the winter-dry leaves of my iris, searching for a hint of new growth underneath.  I did the same with my idea, carefully shearing away the brittle wording so as not to disrupt a new sprout.

When my boyfriend told me he loved me, I believed him.  But that was yesterday.  Today…

Lame-o.  That could be a thousand different storylines, and I hated the whiney feel of this sentence.  My MC is ego-centric.  Not a whiner.  She’s a fighter whose whole life changes in the blink of a night.

I needed to put my MC in the forefront.  Let her tell her story, not hint around to the rest of the world.  She’s ego-centric.  And she has every right to be, because until today, she’s been treated that way.  As if she’s special.

But I didn’t want all that back story.  I just needed a simplistic way to let the reader know life is no longer the same, all the while letting my MC ‘s inner spirit shine through.  Back to tugging more leaves, praying for green and tapping my mental keyboard.

Yesterday I believed the sun would always rise in the east.  I believed Cassidy when she twined her pinky around mine and promised we would be besties forever.  I believed Mom when she buttered my toast and told me I was the most important thing in the world to her, that she would lay down her life for me.  I believed the words as they spilled from Jackson’s mouth.  He loved me and would never leave me.

But that was yesterday.

Today the sun doesn’t rise at all and I feel like Jesus being denied by Peter.  Today, I don’t believe anything.

Knowing me, I’ll tweak this beginning to death, but for now, I think I cleared away enough debris and found the new growth underneath.  Of course, it could just be me.  I do that often enough with my writing.  Seeing a glimmer of goodness and declaring it the most beautiful thing in the world. 

Like my iris, I will continue to nurture the spring sprouts of this new idea, pampering them and believing in them until the leaves give way to stems, stems to buds and buds to stunning blooms. 

I love new beginnings!  Now if only I remember to water this one…

Is it easy for you to write new beginnings, or do you start with a well mapped idea and struggle to put down the opening lines that will lead you to the meat of your story?

Do you have a first line or two you’ like to share?

I’m a Cell-Out: Texting in Text

I know someone who is in the habit of randomly picking up unattended cell phones and reading through the texts found therein.  I don’t know about you, but I feel this is a serious invasion of privacy and more unethical than the nosy phone operators from the sixties who listened in on the party line.

However, this technological eaves-dropping has become quite common in YA books of late.  The key piece of info is texted to the wrong person, or a Facebook Folly creates irrepairable damage to relationships.  Cyber snoopers wreak havoc for the innocent PMer.  The wrong party pic ends up in the wrong hands.  The list is endless and limited only to our imaginations experiences.

Yet I can’t help but wonder about this trend.  Is it a cliche?  An easy out for info gathering?  Reality?  Necessary to engage our readers? 

The thing I like about writing Middle Grade is that the pressure to add these elements isn’t quite there yet.  Though I am under no illusions that, as more kids get phones younger, MG won’t fall victim to the trend/reality sooner rather than later. 

To date, I have only used texting in one of my novels.  My NaNo09.  It actually plays a key role in the suspense and over all story.  I’m not sure how I feel about it, except to say I don’t know if I could have pulled off my plot without it. 

I hate texting in real life.  I dislike it even more in my manuscript.  I think this makes me a hypocrit–being old fashioned and reluctant to integrate, yet needing the ease of texting to create a more plausible plot development.  It makes me feel like a sell-out.  And yet I can’t help but wonder…

Is social networking a necessary component in contemporary fiction?  Have you used these devices in your writing?  If so, how?  If not, how do you feel about the idea in general? 

As a reader, do passages of texting, emails or chats distract from the story at hand or enhance it? 

Am I the last cell-out?

Books In Review

I haven’t done much writing lately–okay, virtually none at all–but I have been reading.  I’m in between manuscripts and have a heavy edit to do on one.  This is the time I like to read.  And read I have.  I’ll highlight a few of my recent favorites.  Please check out the links for in-depth summaries or more info.

Currently, I am reading Jodi Picoult’s The Pact.   I started yesterday and could barely put it down last night before bed.  When I finally fell asleep, the characters haunted my dreams.  If you haven’t read Miss Picoult, I highly recommend you do.  Her books are amazing.  As I am not finished yet, I can’t give you a full run-down, but I will say this: the characters are fully fleshed out, each with their own gripping story, voice and reactions to the devestating events.  In a nutshell, it is a story of two families twined together over eighteen years and how the unresolved death of one of the children blows them apart. 

Beautiful Creatures is a YA paranormal romance that differs from many of the other books on the shelf in this genre.  It is a love story like no other, with a male protagonist, a grisly future and an impossible mystery that needs to be solved and resolved.  I really enjoyed the social aspect of this book regarding the repurcussions of stepping outside the box in high school.  Small towns, small minds, ancient history and a plethora of paranormal characters combine to create a satisfying read.

If you’re in the mood for some light reading, turn to Never After, a Kindle anthology of fractured fairy tales.  I read this book between some of my others, savoring each new story and delighting in the lyrical romps found within.  Like all fairy tales, love is the central theme.  What’s different?  The non-traditional telling of them.  The only drawback of this book: there weren’t enough stories.  I could have read a dozen more.

Michael Crichton’s posthumous Pirate Latitudes: A Novel delivered everything you would expect and more.  I love how Mr. Crichton weaves fact and fiction together.  Whenever I finish one of his novels, I am always left wondering just how much is real.  Especially neat for me was that this book took place in the Caribbean, my newest vacation spot, so I could really feel the setting.  It also made me want to go back and dig for the treasure I am sure is still there…

Another YA that caught my attention and held it to the very end was The Maze RunnerLike many of the newer books in this genre, it encompassed a dystopian world, children fighting for their survival and their race against time and authority.  The setting of this novel was unique, the premise unsettling.  If you choose to read this book by James Dashner, strap on your tennies: you’re in for a fast paced adventure.

Serial is an ebook I don’t outright recommend to just anyone.  It is gritty and dirty in the classic sense of a horror novel.  Written by two experienced authors in the horror genre, this collaboration between Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch was the buzz in the writing community for a while.  This three part novella is unique in every way.  For the first two sections, each author wrote from the POV of their character.  The final section was a tit for tat–writing that took place over the net with each author responding to the other and no insight into how they were thinking–as if the drama was unfolding in real time.  If you can stomach some murder and mayhem, it is well worth the read. 

And lastly, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a MG/YA tells the story of an orphan living with the dead.  Raised from toddlerhood to adulthood by ghostly creatures, the MC struggles to make sense of his life in regard to the real world.  Unique, satisfying and provacative (as in thought provoking, not sexual), this PG novel is a great book to share with boys.  Particularly upper middle graders reluctant to read. 

What books do you think should grace the night stands of your fellow readers?  Tell us about your recent reads and why they should be ours.