Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are you there Judy? It’s me, Kathleen.

Margaret and I go way back; I’ve known her since the fifth grade. Margaret was cool and worldly—worldly compared to me, at any rate. I was just a Canadian kid in a town with a whopping population of 9,929. Margaret was from New York and her parents didn’t practice any religion. Her Dad was born Jewish and her Mom was born Christian but they said she could pick her own faith when she was older. How cool was that? She also knew all about periods—sorry, menstroo-ation. Thank God. My mother tried to explain it, once. It wasn’t the most effective talk. If Margaret hadn’t taken me under her wing, I would have fainted dead away at the first sight of red. She also helped convince me I wasn’t a total perv for sneaking my mom’s copy of The Art of Michelangelo up to my room to steal peeks at David.

Even though we drifted apart, I still think of her fondly. She was a friend when I needed one. When I saw her name on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books between 1990 and 1999, I was crushed. That’s right: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was one of the most challenged titles of the 90’s.

For almost forty years, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has been changing the lives of pre-teen girls. Judy Blume accomplished a feat that is both awe inspiring and, to the wrong people, terribly frightening. AYTG? supplemented the five minute reproduction talk we got from our parents, taught us that it was okay to grow and change, and hinted that we could make important choices for ourselves—even when it came to something as seemingly unquestionable as religion. If Stephen King’s Carrie had been given a copy at, say, thirteen, that whole traumatic shower scene could have been avoided and she might not have set the gym on fire at prom.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret empowered us, even if we didn’t know it at the time. I was a stronger, more confident girl because of Judy Blume. Because of Margaret.

Original post published on Old People Writing for Teens by GotYA contributor Kathleen. To view the original post and reader comments, please click here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Celebrating the Freedom to Read

September 26 through October 3 is Banned Books Week. Occurring the last September of each year, Banned Books Week is "celebrated" by hundreds of libraries and bookstores across the country in an attempt to draw attention to the problem of censorship. Sadly, many important YA and MG titles often find themselves on the list of most challenged books.

This week, some of us will share anecdotes and opinions about some of our favorite frequently challenged books. We hope you'll share yours as well.

Original post published on Old People Writing for Teens by GotYA contributor Kathleen. To view the original post and reader comments, please click here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Oh Toto! I don’t think we’re in Sweet Valley anymore!

When I was thirteen, I had three options when it came to YA: Sweet Valley High, The Outsiders, and Judy Blume (but not Forever because that was the naughty Blume book you couldn’t find in the school library).

How seventeen years have changed things. Compared to some of the issues faced by protagonists in today’s YA, Forever looks downright quaint. A quick look at my bookcase reveals a book about a boy who wants to break every bone in his body to become stronger, a girl coping with the rape and disappearance of her best friend, a native kid who attempts to leave the reservation before it kills him, and a boy who’s trying to figure out if the girl he loved died in an accident or if she killed herself. (Yes, alright? I admit it. Twilight is on there too.)

One of the challenges for adults over a certain age—adults wishing to write YA—is just how much the market has changed and expanded over the last few years. It’s not all edgy and it’s not all dark, but you do have much more wiggle room than Judy had with Forever in 1975.

Every few months, a new author with an idea centered around a teenage character will stumble onto Absolute Write and ask if swearing or sex or drinking is okay in YA. The answer is on the shelves of your local bookstore. Before (and while) writing, take time to do your homework. Check out Shady Lane’s wonderful post about edgy YA on AW. Visit your local bookstore and library. Ask the bookstore staff what kids are buying. Pick up anything that takes your fancy. Every writer should be a reader. If you haven’t read YA since the days of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, what are you waiting for?

*Bonus points to those who can guess what four books I refer to in the second paragraph. Bonus points are not redeemable for cash or prizes.

Original post published on Old People Writing for Teens by GotYa contributor Kathleen. To view the original post and reader comments, please click here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interview with E.D. Baker, author of The Frog Princess series

I recently had the opportunity to interview E.D. Baker, author of Wings and of the Frog Princess series. The Frog Princess was picked up by Disney and used for the movie The Princess and the Frog, which comes out this December.

In The Frog Princess, the classic cure for Eadric, the frog prince goes a bit awry. Princess Emma kisses him, and instead of finding a prince, she finds herself a frog. I could see this turning dark – it’s a dangerous life as a frog – but you went for a wonderfully funny adventure. Was that ever a conscious decision? Or more of a reflection on your natural voice?

I prefer writing funny stories rather than dark. I’ve always thought that it’s harder to write something that amuses people, considering how subjective “funny” can be, and I’m thrilled when readers tell me that my books are funny.

One of the things I like about the Frog Princess series is how clean it is. Everyone can enjoy the books without worrying about content issues. I heard about your books from my mother-in-law and recommended your books to a 10-year-old. Who do you think of as your target audience?

I’ve been told that my books are for ages eight and up, but the youngest reader who has written to me was six years old and I continually hear from teens and adults, including college students, parents and grandparents.

Counting Dragon Kiss, which comes out this month, you’ve got eight published books, one of which has been adapted into a movie. How did you go from unpublished writer to multi-published, author with Disney’s attention?

I received many rejection letters before Bloomsbury accepted my first book, The Frog Princess. Disney began the optioning procedure shortly after The Frog Princess came out, then renewed their option several times until they finally exercised the option and made their own version of the story. In the meantime, I had continued the series as well as written some unrelated books.

Wings, a half-fae, half-goblin, love adventure, begins a whole new trilogy. Any updates on the Wings front?

I am currently writing the eighth book in tales of the Frog Princess. When it is finished, I intend to start the sequel to Wings.

It seems like you have a new book out every year. What’s the big picture writing cycle like for you?

I am trying to write two books a year, but I’m not sure how long that will last. Writing the Frog Princess books is relatively easy for me now, because I know the world and the characters so well. Writing unrelated stories is harder because I have to create the world and the characters, then get to know the characters well enough that I know how they will act in a given situation. I generally know what the next five books will be and think about them for a few years before I actually begin writing them. Occasionally I switch around the order in which I write them, either because of fan demand or my publisher’s interest.

Now a couple quickies: Which of your characters is your favorite?

In the tales of the Frog Princess, I’d have to say Emma, Shelton and Li’l, although I had a lot of fun writing about the trolls and the water monsters living in the troll mountain in No Place For Magic. I also really like Lamia Lou in Wings.

I’ve written a book that is unrelated to any other and is due out next summer. I have just sent off my latest round of revisions and I have to say, this book may well be my best story yet. The main character, Annie, is another of my favorites.

What are you reading right now?

I like to read nonfiction when I’m working on a book. I get some of my best ideas from books on mythology, plants, and the Middle Ages, as well as British and European royalty throughout history. My daughters give me romances to read, which is probably why so much romance comes out in my stories. I just finished a book on weird plants, which you’ll see evidence of in the Frog Princess book I am working on now.

* If you have a question not here, you’ll likely find it on E.D. Baker’s FAQ page of her website or on her blog. Check it out!

Original interview published on Old People Writing for Teens by GotYa contributor Holen Matthews. To view the original post and reader comments, please click here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Interview with #1 NY Times Bestselling author of Wings, Aprilynne Pike

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with a fellow AbsoluteWriter turned #1 New York Times Bestselling author, Aprilynne Pike. First, here’s a bit about Aprilynne’s debut, Wings.

Wings, is the first of four books about a seemingly ordinary girl named Laurel who discovers she is a faerie sent among humans to guard the gateway to Avalon. When Laurel is thrust into the midst of a centuries-old battle between faeries and trolls, she’s torn between a human and a faerie love, as well as her loyalties to each world. In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever( HarperTeen)

From following your Twitter, I know you’re now working on copyedits for book two. I know you’re not allowed to divulge many secrets from the sequel, but can you give us some hints? Most importantly, will we see more of the yummy Tamani?

Here are the four things I am telling people about book two. First, in book two Laurel gets summoned to the Academy of Avalon to learn how to be a Fall faerie, so readers get to go with her right into Avalon for the first time! While there, you’ll see more of Tamani and get to know him as a person rather than just in his role as Laurel’s sentry. On the human side, you’ll get to see Laurel and David as a couple, since we really didn’t get to see that in the first book. Also, Chelsea is going to step forward and take a stronger role, and I’m really excited about that.
Wings is one of a four book series. How far are you into books three and four?

I am about 55k into book three and, as you mentioned, just turned in copy-edits for book two. Book four is still simmering away in my brain.:)

Writers often draw on their real life experiences. Is there a little of Aprilynne in Laurel? Or are there other people in your life who influenced David or Tamani?

There is a little bit of Laurel in me in that I moved schools twice during my freshman year of high school and was the new girl in both a huge school and a tiny school, and became very familiar with the challenges those both entailed. I really don’t have anyone who influenced either Tamani or David. I set out to make two different versions of the perfect man. Everyone always asks which guy is my husband, but I’m afraid my husband is yet a third version of the perfect man.:D

*Sighs. Aprilynne is a lucky woman…literary success and the perfect man!

You were a part of the Supernatural Summer book tour with Melissa Marr. Can you tell us a little about the tour?

The tour was awesome! I didn’t actually get to tour with Melissa as we were on different legs, but I did get to tour with and meet Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, and Claudia Gray. It was so cool to do a group signing; to be able to feed off of each other and combine fan bases. I hear we are doing another one next year (I don’t know who exactly is involved yet) and I am so excited to find out more!!

When I first started on AW, I stalked—er, followed, your blog religiously. What has blogging meant to you and to your writing career?

Blogging is a way to more intimately share my journey with readers. And not even always readers. A lot of my blog followers are aspiring authors who may or may not have read my book. I started out as a new writer with no credentials and one contact who recommended me to her agent who promptly lost my manuscript. Now I am a (it still feels weird to say this) bestselling author with a movie in the works and sales to 20 foreign countries! Holy s*&^!! I have blogged from the very beginning and I am hopeful that other aspiring authors will see that if I can do it, they can too. It takes work. Usually a lot of work, but it can be done–I’m living proof. And so are several of my blog readers now, which–although i know I did not contribute directly to them being published–makes me very proud!

There seems to be a booming population of Mormon’s in the YA Fantasy genre. As a spiritual person whose faith sometimes bleeds over into her work, does your faith influence your work, or do you keep it entirely separate?

I try to keep it entirely separate. I keep religion out of my novels because I don’t want my readership to be limited by their religion. Teen experiences are teen experiences, no matter what you faith or lack thereof dictates. I tend to make my main characters either non-religious or religiously-apathetic.

Wings wasn’t your first novel. You originally started out with adult novel, which sounded awesome by the way. Is that novel trunked, or do you plan on resurrecting it?

laugh* It has been ages since someone asked about my adult novel! My first two novels were a first book and sequel in a high fantasy that involved a system of magic where opposite magical people had to work together to use their gifts. But working with someone bound you to them for the rest of your lives, both in a physical sense as well as an emotional sense. And things get rather shaken up when a brother and sister accidentally bond and have to work together to fight and old family enemy who now threatens the entire world.

Wow . . . that off the cuff paragraph is way better than my query letter was. Ha!

Even in your wildest dreams, could you fathom the success that Wings has garnered?

Never. I knew that Harper had big plans for me–that was enough of a surprise. And since I really wanted writing to be my career, I knew i wanted to make a splash. But never, ever, even in my pipe dreams, did I think I would hit number one with my first book, or that I would sell movie rights so soon, and in such a star-studded way. I am meeting goals now that I did not even consider meeting until several books down the road. It has been one amazing surprise after another!

You are mom to three beautiful children. How do you balance your writing with your motherly duties?

I have a stay at home husband! At least for the next six months. Then he has to get on with his own life. Seriously though, he makes all the difference. He watches the kids when I travel and when I write for about six hours a day. But when I am done writing, I’m done writing, and then it is kid time. I have to devote the rest of the hours of the day because otherwise I become a part-time mom, and I am just not willing to do that.

Stephenie Meyer is a friend of yours. Although there is a rabid and vocal fan base of Twilight, there are also those who are very critical. How do you handle critical reviews? Is it hard for you to hear criticism of fellow writer friends?

I am a firm believer that a certain percent of readers in this world, are going to be haters. I have lots of haters. But I turn that around and say that I have lots of haters because I have lots of readers. I also get a lot of really wonderful fan mail and that helps to balance out the two.

Critical reviews–those, in my opinion, are not hard to handle. Truly critical reviews are smart and well-thought. They point out flaws in your book and–if you are honest with yourself–make you think, hmmm, they are probably right. I have tweaked issues in book two because of smart reviewers who saw somethign that I didn’t. And I am grateful to them for pointing it out! Then there are reviews where the book simply didn’t speak to the reader, it wasn’t their thing. Those are okay too. Different strokes for different folks as they say. I certainly don’t expect everyone to like my book. I don’t like every book that I read either. The ones that tend to bother me are the ones where the reviewer clearly either wants to hate your success (usually these reviewers who are aspiring authors and you can just see them going, “But, but, but MY book is better than THIS!”) or have a friend who is “in competition” with you (I have several of those too.) Those reviews are not fair, and they tend to be louder and more publicized. But even when I run into something like that, I just have to shrug and move on and remember that they fit into the haters percentage too. They are just more verbal.:)

It probably harder for me to see people hating on books that are writen by friends than my own because I have discovered that I am, for some reason, better at shrugging off haters than most of my friends (and waaaay better than my husband; he is my knight in shining armor.:)). So when I read a really hateful review of a friend’s book, I know that it hurts them and it makes me want to lash out. I don’t . . . usually, but it’s the Mama Bear instinct in me.:)

What can you not live without when you’re writing?

Diet soda. Well, some kind of snacks in general. I have this hand to mouth thing and tend to chomp rather voraciously when I am writing a difficult scene.:)

And for fun: Peanut or plain m and m’s?

Plain. I am all about plain chocolate.

Myself, Krista, along with all of us here at OPWFT want to thank Aprilynne for her generosity in taking the time out of her VERY, VERY busy schedule to chat with us. Can’t wait to the sequel!!!

Originally published on Old People Writing for Teens. To view the original post and reader comments, please click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Interview with Jo Knowles, Author of Lessons From A Dead Girl and Jumping Off Swings

In the age of edgy YA, Jo Knowles has given us two books to devour. Each has characters who remain etched in your mind long after the last page.


Lessons from a Dead Girl
Candlewick Press, Fall 2007

FF=Friends Forever. That’s what Leah tells Laine when she writes the letters on her hand in the fifth grade. But theirs is a complex and abusive friendship, and it’s only after Leah is killed in an accident that Laine begins to make sense of their complicated past.

How long does a childhood promise written on the palm of a hand last? Is there really such as thing as friends forever? Only Laine can answer. To do so, she must explore a troubled friendship, find its core, and decide whether she can forgive Leah—and ultimately, forgive herself.

Jumping Off Swings

Candlewick Press, Summer 2009

ISBN-10: 0763639494; ISBN-13: 978-0763639495

From the publisher: One pregnancy. Four friends. It all adds up to a profound time of change in this poignant, sensitively written YA novel.

Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For a while anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their “one-time thing” is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with OPWFT, Jo. We’ll start with questions about the book for the fans.

Q: What inspired you to write JUMPING OFF SWINGS and LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL?

A: Thanks for having me! For both books, I wanted to write about topics that were important to me. In the case of Lessons From A Dead Girl, I wasn’t aware of any other stories that explored abuse among children. But I’d read articles and knew of enough instances to know that it happened probably a lot more than we think. With Jumping Off Swings, I wanted to explore how a single event affects more than just one person, sometimes in profound and unexpected ways.

Q: Is there a part of the teenage Jo in your teen characters? How do we see your teenage experience reflected in your story?

A: That’s a tough one! I guess the simple answer is of course she’s there, how could she not be? Whenever I’m writing, I feel the familiar nervousness and uncertainty I often felt (and still feel) as I navigated the waters of growing up. So I think it’s just natural that any time I’m writing about a particular emotion I draw from my own experience feeling those things. But when I’m writing from a character’s point of view, I always feel like I am that person and not me. I guess that’s the best way I can describe it.

Q: What is your favorite scene in each of your books?

A: My favorite scene to write in Jumping Off Swings was probably “the kiss” scene at the playground. I wasn’t actually expecting it to happen and it made me so happy when it did because it felt like a surprise gift to the two characters, who’d been through so much and really deserved that moment. In Lessons From A Dead Girl, it’s the final scene, which I don’t want to give away. But I remember as I wrote it the first time, I felt a tremendous weight lifted off me. I wasn’t worried about Laine any more, knowing who was waiting for her with open arms.

Q: What is the message you would like your readers to take from your books?

A: I don’t actually write with a message in mind, but I guess what I hope most is what I’d hope would happen when people read any book, which is that they walk away with a little more compassion for others.

Q: What do you have up your sleeve next for our reading pleasure?

A: My next book is called PEARL, and it’s set to come out in Spring 2011. It’s another realistic YA novel about a girl who lives with her mom and grandfather and what happens when her grandfather dies and family secrets are exposed.

For fellow writers, I’d like to ask about your journey to publication and writing style.

Q: How long have you been writing? Tell us about your non-fiction work.

A: I took my first writing for children class in 1994, and began writing my first novel for my master’s thesis at Simmons College in 1995. For many years my main source of income was writing about health and social issues for a publishing company in Massachusetts. I still do freelance work in that area, including my two non-fiction books. But more and more I’ve been focusing on my fiction and teaching writing for children.

Q: Do you outline or wing it?

A: I wing it and create a big mess. Then I outline to clean it up.

Q: Do you prefer to write in first person or third? Present or past tense? Why?

A: I don’t really have a preference, but for some reason every time I’ve tried to write in past tense I’ve wound up rewriting the entire thing in present. I’ve done this with three novels so you’d think I’d learn my lesson. And I’ve always written in first person, because that’s usually how the voice comes to me.

Q: Did you or do you have a critique group? Do you see a benefit in having one?

A: Yes, I’ve always been a part of some sort of critique group. I used to belong to face-to-face groups, but as life got too busy, I’ve come to rely on just a few people whom I share work with via e-mail. However, we try to organize writing retreats about once a year to get some face-to-face time as well.

Q: Writers sometimes struggle with bad habits, like using too many adverbs, or passive verbs. Do you catch yourself having a writing habit that you try to break?

A: I tend to use the same word too many times. Like, recently I noticed every time any of my characters laughed they “cracked up.” I’m not sure what that was about.

Q: Do you edit while writing, or leave editing until after the first draft?

A: A little of both. Sometimes if I know something isn’t quite right but I can’t figure out how to fix it, I’ll put a note in brackets and just keep plugging along so I don’t let one small problem slow my progress. I find that if I spend too much time trying to get everything “right” the first time, I take way too long to produce a first draft. Besides, half the time what I thought was right ends up wrong in the next revision, so why spend time polishing something that is likely to end up on the cutting room floor?

Q: What advice do you offer writers journeying into edgy YA fiction?

A: As with any project, I think your biggest responsibility to yourself and to your readers is to be honest and true to the subject and characters you’re writing about. I think if you’re going to write about a tough topic then you have to be tough, too, and tell it true.

Q: What professional organizations are you a member of?


Q: What kind of networking do you do, and how do you interact with your readers?

A: I have a blog and I’m on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. I’ve met tons of other writers through LiveJournal, which has a fantastic writing community. My readers usually reach me via Facebook and MySpace.

Just for the fun of it…

Q: What is your favorite color?

A: All the shades of green I can see from my window right now.

Q: Favorite flavor of ice cream?

A: Almost anything Ben & Jerry come up with.

Q: Mexican, Italian or something else?

A: Love it all! Thanks for the interview!!

Thanks again for talking with us! Congrats on the success of your books.


Original interview published on Old People Writing for Teens by GotYA contributor Jamie Blair. To read the original post and reader comments, please click here.