Friday, February 26, 2010

Spotlight on Muscular Dystrophy & NY Times Bestseller poet and peacemaker, Mattie Stepanek

When most people hear the word Muscular Dystrophy, they might think of comedian Jerry Lewis and his Labor Day telethon, or an image might form of an emerald collection of shamrocks during the March donation drive. For me, MD has been a part of my life even before birth. You see both my mom and her sister were diagnosed with MD in their mid twenties. They weren’t your typical “Jerry’s kids” since they’d been cheerleaders in high school and were pursuing professional lives as a teacher and a nurse. However, the disease had been there all along, slowly gaining momentum and causing muscles to degenerate. I, myself, had a 50/50 chance of either having the disease or being a carrier. Fortunately, I tested negative for both, however, my aunt’s daughter wasn’t so fortunate, and at thirty-four, she is unable to work and has very limited mobility.

So what is Muscular Dystrophy?

It’s a group of genetic diseases that cause weakness and degeneration of both the skeletal and muscular system, including organs such as the heart. Some forms of MD are Myotonic, Duchenne, Becker, and limb girdle. It is caused by flaws in the muscle protein gene, and it is usually inherited–

And this deals with YA literature how?

One night many years ago, my grandmother, while watching one of her favorite shows, Larry King, saw poet Mattie Stepanek speak. She was immediately touched and called my mom and I to watch. What I saw in this brave young man was amazing. Here was a little boy who the outside world might pity because he was shackled to a wheelchair and relied on a trach to be able to breathe. But Mattie didn’t want people to see him that way–he wanted people to grasp his message and to view him as a peacemaker and someone who “always played after every storm”.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to read some of Mattie’s poetry, you are missing out on something truly divine. They are messages of peace, love, and hope, and a guiding light in which we should all direct our lives.

So who was Mattie?

He was born Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek on July 19th, 1990 in Washington, DC. By the time he was three, Mattie was writing poetry to cope with the death of his older brother from MD. Mattie would also lose another brother and his sister all to the disease, and his mom, Jenny, also suffers as well. What came of his grief and personal mantra were heartsongs– a person’s special gift to be shared with others… or a person’s ‘reason for being.

In his short thirteen years, Mattie wrote seven books and contributed to two audio cd’s. His Heartsong books became NY times best sellers. He counted Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, and President Jimmy Carter as friends, and his message of peace and hope reached across the globe. Sadly, he passed away in 2004 just three weeks from his fourteenth birthday.

Throughout the month of March, I will be posting about Heartsongs to celebrate Mattie’s life and legacy as well as bringing awareness to other children and adults struggling with this disease. We’ll also be doing a giveaway of 3 of Mattie’s books.

“The best time to make a wish is when you throw a penny in the fountain.
The best time to make a wish is when you see the first star.
The best time to make a wish is when you blow out the candles on your cake.
And the very best time to make a wish is when you have a special prayer in your heart.”
–Mattie Stepanek

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Querying 201

You’ve finished your novel and wrote a kick ass query letter—congratulations! Now you just have to find the right agent for it. Before you mass query and CC everyone in the publishing industry (and earn the shiny reputation of Mass Query Spammer Extraordinaire), here are a few things you should know.

Revise, Revise, Revise

Agent Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner on Twitter) tweeted the following yesterday: Often, “I just finished my 1st book” means the writer typed “The End” on their first draft LAST NIGHT. Don’t. Do. This. If you can, put your baby—um, novel—away for a few days then pull it out and read over it with fresh eyes. Find the method of editing that’s best for you and get to it. Your book not in the best shape you think it can be? Revise and edit again. Once you’re pleased with your work, send it to beta readers and prepare yourself for more edits based on their comments.

Research . . . Seriously

A cupcake shop doesn’t want several customers coming in daily looking for hot wings (yeah, I had to make a food reference) and the same thing goes with agents. There are so many resources online and even available for checkout or purchase at your local library or bookstore to help you with your agent hunt. Visit sites like Query Tracker and Agent Query to find agents who represent your genre. Go the extra mile by looking them up on Google and checking out any interviews they’ve had that list their preferences. It’s also important to only query agents who are open for submission.

Hit Send!

Send a few queries out. When I queried, I sent five to seven queries a week, sometimes even less. Be professional and polite. If you’ve met the agent at a conference or held a casual chat with them on Twitter, personalize your query letter and mention it. It’s a good idea to keep a list of the agents you’ve queried and their response. Being an Excel nerd, I kept a detailed list with comments, etc. Do what’s right for you.

Watch What You Write!

Agents are people, too, and your book may not be right for everyone. Avoid making negative comments on forums and social networking sites about agents who reject you or take a little more time responding because it’s not only a turn off for that particular agent but other agents. Plus, even though this novel wasn’t perfect for them, another book might be. If you query them again for a different project, they may be reluctant to request your work.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Movies From Your Past…Do They Inspire You Now?

As far back as I can remember, I have been obsessed with stories. Sure, when I was little, the normal desire to watch my favorite TV shows over and over was there, but I never knew that passion I felt for a story back then would help mold me into a writer. Here are just a few stories that influenced me early on:

The Parent Trap (The original—not the Lohan version): This movie nurtured my mischievous side.

Gidget Movies: This one nudged along my hopeless romantic side.

The Labyrinth: Fed my need for fantasy.

Dazed and Confused: Opened my eyes to teenage snark.

Now that I’ve shared some of my past movie loves with you, I want to hear from you. What movies are seared in your brain—ones you always revert back to when you need a little inspiration?

Happy Writing!

Original post published on Old People Writing for Teens by GotYA contributor Annie McElfresh. To vioew original post and reader comments, please click here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Five Facts Aspiring YA Authors Should Know (A Conference Experience)

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2010 San Francisco Writers Conference. I experienced a whirlwind of different emotions–anxiety from having to attend alone, fear of not being noticed or being rejected by all of the publishing professionals, relief when I met a handful of wonderful writers on the first day, and joy when I realized how confident I came off during my pitch sessions. These emotions made for a marvelous experience, one that I am very happy to share with the OPWFT readers.

YA Lit was a HUGE topic among conversations between writers, even though a lot of the writers at the conference didn’t write YA. YA was brought up in every single panel I attended, and here’s why:

NUMBER ONE: The amount of YA books on the shelves has increased 83% in the past two years.

You should have seen the faces of all the adult fiction writers when Regina Brooks (from Serendipity, LLC) spilled this little fact at a panel. Those were some numbers! Which leads me to number two…

NUMBER TWO: YA is the reason why a lot of publishing houses are still in business.

Daniela Rapp, editor at St. Martin’s Press, revealed this at a panel about turning your manuscript into a book.

If you’ve been into a Borders recently, you’ll know why. Recently, Borders has rearranged their shelves do display a “Borders Ink” section right at the front of the store. In the Borders in my town, this is the busiest section of the floor. There are always customers there, carrying around the newest Mortal Instruments or Vampire Academy book. Even in a recession, YA booms. Of course, the boom started a couple of years ago, but it took a while for editors to start admitting it was the main reason for the publishing world staying on its feet.

NUMBER THREE: The trend that you’re seeing now is two years old.

That’s right, folks. That’s how long it usually takes from Agent to Bookstore. Editors are no longer looking for Fallen Angels and Werewolves. This is ok though, because as a writer, you don’t want to follow a trend. You want to start one. So write the story that’s in your heart, not ones like those that are selling off the shelves.

Steampunk and Vampires are the exceptions though. The term “steampunk” became a running joke at the conference because either an agent was actively seeking it or had no idea WTH steampunk was. Every author decided on telling others that they wrote steampunk, even though they also knew nothing about the genre.

As for vampires… Well, as it was said many times over the weekend, “Vampires will never die”.

NUMBER FOUR: Publishers these days spend very little money building your platform.

Most editors, and even some agents will ask you this question before they take on your project: “What are you going to do to get the word out?”

It’s up to us, the writers, to advertise our projects and books. This was a HUGE topic at the conference this year. Don’t have a Twitter account? Get one. Don’t have a website? SERIOUSLY think about investing some money into buying a domain and getting a nice, clean layout. Don’t have a blog? Not only do you need one, but you also need to post every other day.

Some agents don’t care about whether or not you have already established some internet presence, but it was said by more than one agent that they do some research on a writer before signing them and see what they’ve already done to build a readership. Yes, if you are querying, agents are researching you. This means that it is VITAL for you to be polite and courteous while you are networking and actively working to get your name out there.


With the dawning realization that YA is such a popular market, a lot of writers with projects that had young protagonists started contemplating pitching their book as YA. This is fine and all, but I KNEW that many of these people had never picked up a YA book in their life, or at least hadn’t since the days of S.E. Hinton or Lois Lowry. The YA market has changed so drastically in recent years, and will continue to change. It is important for you, as a writer, to get your hands on as many YA books from all different genres as you possibly can. See what others are writing about. Take note of their styles. It will help you develop your own voice.

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

Friday, February 12, 2010

My writing journey – personal and abriged

A year ago I had a dream that stuck with me when I woke up, so I typed it up the next day. Then the characters started telling me their stories and I continued writing. I gave it to a couple of people who came back and told me that there was nothing out there in ya like it, it was good and I should look at getting it published. I had never considered getting published, I was writing for my kids. So I continued writing and started searching the net to see what I needed to do to be published.

I had my finished, polished story and a list of agents to send it to, then I was put in bed with sun-poisoning and nothing to do but surf the web. I found Absolute Write, where I was able to get a better query letter, and figure out how to write a synopsis. As I was making friends and beginning to beta other’s works, I sent out my first query letter thinking, “This is it. The perfect agent for me.” I received my first rejection e-mail and was devastated – totally. Oh, the rejection came less than three hours after I sent it out.

I sent out seven more queries, which were all rejected, but what I found by the third rejection was that it didn’t bother me anymore. I had reached a Zen-state as far as querying was concerned. After seven rejections I found a MAJOR flaw in my work: it began with my main character waking up…Big, huge, ginormous mistake. No wonder everyone was rejecting it, I would’ve too.

I was already writing an edgy contemporary as I was querying so I focused on it, and sent my first manuscript to some betas and decided to wait. As I waited, I wrote. One of those betas said that the entire first chapter needed to be cut – the chapter those agents saw. Kinda ironically funny, when you really think about it.

Fast forward to present. I have a shiny, polished new manuscript ready to query. It has been ready to query for three weeks but I’m dragging my feet on it. Why? I have no idea. Things have been really crazy in my life for the past few months and for the past two weeks, I’ve been teetering on the edge of depression – standing at the chasm, walking a tight rope and trying not to fall in. I’ve kinda hit a mid-life crisis at thirty-three but there are several constants in my life, things I know I want: my husband, my kids, my pets and my writing.

That all brings me to the purpose of this post: writing. It took me over a third of my life to figure out what I wanted to do with it. I played in college before I dropped out and got married, because I had no purpose. Last year, I found a purpose. I love to write. I have stories in my head that want to get out and I want them out. Do I believe I will find an agent and get published one day? Yes. Am I in a hurry? Not right now.

This is what it all comes down to: what I can do for myself to take care of myself. I’m back in that Zen-state I was in after the third rejection. When my time comes, I will have the perfect agent for me and my work will be published. And if it isn’t? I will still write for me and my kids, but most of all I will write for my characters, who need to be heard. That is my purpose, at this moment, in my life.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Snapshot Of What Kids Are Reading: 25 Top Books of the Month

Our media specialist ran a data snapshot to show what were the most popular checkouts for the past month. Hands down it looks like Ellen Hopkins is kicking butt and taking names with several titles represented. With Dear John opening last Friday, Nicholas Sparks still is endearing himself to young audiences with several titles on the list. Most of the big names in YA and even in adult literature are represented. So, without further adieu, here’s the list!

(1). Tricks /Ellen Hopkins

(2). Tempted: House of Night/PC Cast

(3). Identical/Ellen Hopkins

(4). Impulse/Ellen Hopkins

(5). Marked/PC Cast

(6). Breaking Dawn/Stephanie Meyer

7). Art Geeks and Prom Queens/Alyson Noel

8). Cranked/Ellen Hopkins

9). A Walk to Remember/Nicholas Sparks

10). Wicked/Nancy Holder

11). The Battle of the Labyrinth/Rick Riordan

12). The Beast of Noor/Janet Carey

13). Bloody Jack/LA Meyer

14). Burned/Ellen Hopkins

15). Catching Fire/Susan Collins

16). City of Ashes/Cassandra Clare

17). Ultimate X Men/Mark Millar

18). Curse of the Blue Tattoo/LA Meyer

19). Dear John/Nicholas Sparks

20). Maggie’s Mistake/Carolyn Brown

21). Message in a Bottle/Nicholas Sparks

22). Pants on Fire/Meg Cabot

23). The Shining/Stephen King

24). Splendor/Anna Godbersen

25) The Time-Traveler’s Wife/Audrey Niffenegga

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Don’t Drown Your Food…Er…Words

This was one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon PSA’s. I never really agreed with it. I mean, who doesn’t like to pile on the sour cream or ranch dressing. But the fact is, it’s FAT.

FAT. What does that have to do with your YA manuscript? A lot.

Young Adult as a genre has a lower word count because the pace is extremely important. Bog down your manuscript with needless description, or endless flowery prose, and you’ll lose your reader.

I like to use Dean Koontz as an example, although he’s not writing YA. Not too long ago, I was listening to Odd Hours on CD while driving to and from work. I found my mind wandering during parts that rambled about the fog creeping over the fence like a cat in the night. <– Don’t quote this – it’s from memory and serves as an example of one of my take aways from the book.

It bored me.

A lot.

I don’t care to hear a ten minute, simile filled diatribe about fog. I don’t care to read it either. It’s especially bothersome in YA.

Yes, you need details. Yes, similes are nice–I use them! Just find the balance.

Don’t drown your words, or you’ll lose your readers.

Happy writing!

Got examples? What book had great pace, or dragged on and lost your interest? Let us know in the comments.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Love the books; don’t lick the books

When asked about the benefits of corresponding with fans via email, Douglas Adams once replied, “It’s quicker, easier, and involves less licking.” While I can’t say I’ve ever licked another writer (which is good since OPWFT is a PG-13 rated blog), I will say that Nick Hornby is on my short list of author crushes.

When did he make the transition from an author whose books I really enjoyed to full scale author crush? It was last summer when I picked up a secondhand copy of Housekeeping vs the Dirt ( a collection of columns he had written for the Believer) and read what he had to say on, well, reading.

In the preface, Hornby talks about a culture war which divides books into two categories: trashy and worthwhile and the effect this has on reading rates and the public at large. He reminds us that there’s nothing wrong with reading for enjoyment and, equally, that it’s not a cardinal sin to set aside a book when you’re not enjoying it. His columns reassured me that it’s okay to have read Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason eighteen times and only made it through four chapters of Pride and Prejudice.

–Right about now I’ll bet you’re wondering how I’ll tie this back into YA. Patience, young grasshopper.–

With more and more young adult titles gaining crossover popularity, I’ll wager there are a fair few adults who have felt twinges about being seen reading “kid’s” books (after all, someone buys those Harry Potter and His Dark Materials paperbacks with the sleek, grownup covers).

My thoughts? Put away the guilt and embrace the original editions. Don’t be afraid to get caught reading Twilight on the bus. Don’t be ashamed of heading to the counter with a stack of John Green and Courtney Summers. The fact that you’re taking time out of your day to read should be celebrated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

5-Minute Book Club: City of Bones

Introducing the 5-Minute Book Club. On the first Thursday of every month, we’ll pick a YA or MG book and share our quick, five-minute thoughts. And we want you to play along. Read that month’s book? Leave a comment or send a tweet letting us know what you thought.

Ready? On to February's pick: City of Bones.

From the Publisher

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

What OPWFT Thought


Never having read any of C. Clare’s HP fanfic, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I’ve got one word for you: snarkalicious. While many might love the lush descriptions Clire uses, or the twisty turny plot with a big side of WTFery, I enjoyed this book mostly for it’s scrumptious snark between all the characters, especially Clary and Jace.

For some reason, I just can’t resist lines like:

Jace: “I said his poetry was terrible. It sounds like he ate a dictionary and started vomiting up words at random.”


“That might be handy, an extra pair of arms,” Jace said. “Handy in a fight.”
“Not if they’re growing out of your…” Dorothea paused and smiled at him, not without malice. “Neck.”
“Yikes,” said Jace mildly.

Plus, tons of imagination and world-building in this one (made all the better by the quick-witted dialogue. Have I mentioned that I like snark?)


With it’s non-stop action, a twist readers never see coming and humorous dialogue, City of Bones left me rushing out to find City of Ashes. The Mortal Instruments Series is fast paced and enjoyable reading. Simon is one of the sweetest characters I’ve read in a while and I couldn’t help but root for his place in the love triangle, or should I say square, and at the same time not want him to succeed.


Ah Cassandra Clare. Who else could have had legions of geeks using the phrase “leather pants” as one bizarre adjective and muttering “Still not King” when the coffee machine refuses to work? And she accomplished it before City of Bones was even whispered about in internet circles. Fans of Clare’s wit and snark will find much to enjoy and amuse (look for a sly fashion nod to The Very Secret Diaries). On the character front, Alec was brilliant and refreshing (and his love for Jace was completely heartbreaking) while Luke Garroway was completely crush-worthy (at least for this non-teen).


For me, I really enjoyed the twists and turns. Just when you thought one issue was solved, you started down another twisty plot turn. Another part I enjoyed was how she incorporated all types of fantasy creatures. You had werewolves, vampires, angels, demons, etc. It was great having all those different types featured in one story and seeing how they interacted with one another. The “glamour” aspect was also very interesting that you could have a really dilapidated building that was actually some beautiful architecture just in disguise. I did enjoy the different type of love triangle with Alec’s feeling for Jace, and that how even in their world, he wasn’t free to be open about his sexuality.

So that’s what we though. Now it’s your turn. What did you think of City of Bones?

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

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pondering “New Adult”

Nature abhors a vacuum. Cliché but, like the best clichés, it’s undeniably true. For the past few years, the young adult market has been expanding at a prodigious rate. The shelves at your local bookstore are crammed with stories dealing with everything from misunderstood vampire boyfriends to drug abuse.

There’s just one catch: young adult books seem to top out at age eighteen. Write a character out of high school and you find yourself in a strange no-man’s land. Your themes, pacing and general “feel” might be similar to those found in YA but no one seems to know how or where to place your book. With Twilight readers getting older and more adults reading YA, it’s logical that there should be a demand for slightly older characters. It’s just that no one seems to be filling it.

Those of us with characters in their late teens and early twenties have been left with an awful question: Do we try change the age of our characters (changing college settings to high school if need be) or do we simply cross our fingers and hope for the best?

The latest endeavor from St. Martin’s Press—the notion of a new category called “New Adult” * has had some of us anxiously watching and waiting over the past few months. (Actually, we held hands and skipped in circles crying “POSSIBLE SALVATION”; we’re not exactly a subtle bunch.)

The road ahead for those of us with 18+ year-old protagonists is still long (and still seems to be slopping slightly uphill) but it is a much more exciting journey than it was just a few months ago. Why? Because people are actually paying attention to the gap in a way that they weren’t a year ago.

We’re still veering off the map but if the endeavor for SMP pays off, it may serve as a reminder that taking the road less traveled isn’t always a bad thing.

* Please note that there isn’t currently a “New Adult” category (outside of SMP). If you query, you’re better off sticking to established categories.

Disclaimer: A version of this post appeared on Kathleen’s blog on November 11, 2009.

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