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In today's New York Times, Alexander Alter writes of the increasing number of "adult" authors who are reconfiguring their history books for the younger, still-book-buying crowd (or for those who buy books for them). She writes:
Inspired by the booming market for young adult novels, a growing number of biographers and historians are retrofitting their works to make them palatable for younger readers. Prominent nonfiction writers like Ms. Hillenbrand, Jon Meacham and Rick Atkinson are now grappling with how to handle unsettling or controversial material in their books as they try to win over this impressionable new audience.
And these slimmed-down, simplified and sometimes sanitized editions of popular nonfiction titles are fast becoming a vibrant, growing and lucrative niche.
I wonder about the wisdom of this—about the felt need to take well-written and absorbing histories and make them less than (for sanitized and simplified sound like less than to me) for younger readers. Let's first acknowledge what many young readers are capable of, which is to say, books rich with moral dilemma and emboldened by ideas. Let's next acknowledge what young readers need, which is to say the facts of then and now.
You can already get that sort of thing in novels written for younger readers. Certainly Patricia McCormick is not writing down, making it easy, simplifying when she writes about the sex trade or the Cambodian war. Certainly Ruta Sepetys didn't make Siberia comfortable in Between Shades of Gray. Certainly M. T. Anderson didn't set out to make Octavian Nothing easy, simple, sterile. Certainly, Marilyn Nelson, publishing Carver, a life in verse for young adults, didn't think to herself, let me make this easy. She wrote each page smart, each page full of innuendo and terms to look up and mysteries, like this:
A Charmed Life
Here breathes a solitary pilgrim sustained by dew
and the kindness of strangers. An astonished Midas
surrounded by the exponentially multiplying miracles: my
Yucca and Cactus in the Chicago World Exposition;
friends of the spirit; teachers. Ah, the bleak horizons of joy.
Light every morning dawns through the trees. Surely
this is worth more than one life.
And certainly I, writing novels for young adults, am not setting history down in burnished, skip-over-it slices. Not when I write about the Spanish Civil War (Small Damages) or the shadowy blockade of the Berlin Wall (Going Over) or Centennial Philadelphia (Dangerous Neighbors) or 1871 Philadelphia (Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent) or Florence during the 1966 flood (One Thing Stolen). I am working to put a younger reader into the heart of it all. And sometimes that's not pretty. Sometimes that hurts. But that is history for you.
YA writers have been writing sophisticated historical novels for a long time now. Why, then, suggest that those same YA readers need to be written down to when it comes to pure nonfiction? To the big stories. The telling moments. The individual against the state, the home versus the political, the science versus the dream, the big stuff that shapes who we became. Nonfiction for young adults, like novels for young adults, should be alive and deep and somehow true. It should respect the capabilities of younger readers.
I stole upstairs with Clockhousein hand and read the conversation between my friend Rahna and the ever-interesting M.T. Anderson (Octavian Nothing, Feed, etc.). It's the sort of interview the whole world should read—two very smart people talking, unexpected tangents and revelations, deep questions, unvarnished (which is to say actively honest) responses.
I share just a snippet here, but oh my. The whole is New York Times quality stuff.
RRR: What is the biggest risk you ever took as a person and as a writer?
MTA: Every big work is a risk. One thing I found is easy enough to tell my students, but now I am having to tell myself is: every time you write a new book, you should try to write something that is impossible for you. You should try to write something at which you think you are going to fail. Because it's only then that you actually realize that you've succeeded in new ways you've never dreamed of before. Now that obviously a nice adage to tell students when they are facing trouble, to say, look, you just need to lean into this, and trust that you can do it and seek solutions because if you don't feel like it's impossible for you then you aren't re-envisioning yourself as much as you need to be. On the other hand, it's very difficult to do that for yourself....
The photo above is of too long ago—my husband, my son, Reiko's Ming and her boys, then Reiko herself at Hawk Mountain. Reiko sees things others don't. This interview (and her books) are proof of that.
Just back from Kauai, readergirlz! I was a bit reluctant to take my Kindle to the beach. How about you?
Now that I'm back home, the top of my to-read stack is Libba Bray's Beauty Queens and a celebration release of M.T. Anderson's Feed. Can't wait to get to both! What's on your stack this last month of summer?
Ah. Sweet screen capture. Only you could give me the chance to get just the right angle on this video of M.T. Anderson singing (YES, singing!) his Delaware song. And truth be told, the man does a lovely acapella rendition of the ode. The only thing that could make it even more complete would be to hear Hank Green set it to music. Of course, Hank is more of a tenor and could not do justice to Anderson’s lilting baritone.
Ahem. Very well. In lieu of a Hank adaptation, let’s just watch Anderson sing this again. Only instead of being at SCBWI in LA, it’s an even more recent video taken by Kathi Appelt at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Throws himself into it a bit more, does he not? I think he’s loosening up as he goes. By October I will insist upon the addition of props. Or at least a monk or two for back-up. Thanks to Kathi for the link!
My problem with this next video is not the content. I welcome the sexy librarian stereotype. Heck, I’m a fan. No, what shames me about this next clip is that I had no idea there was a Britcom out there called The Old Guys. What kind of a Britcom fanatic am I if I do not keep up with the times? There’s more out there than just The Good Neighbors (slash The Good Life) after all. Here then is a clip in a library.
Someone once asked me whether or not there is a single repository for all the videos out there of children’s authors and children’s illustrators talking about their life and art. There isn’t as far as I can tell, but that doesn’t mean we can’t just start collecting now. Here then is illustrator Oliver Jeffers giving a talk about his own art. I can understand the Ungerer and the Sendak influence, but I have to admit that The Giving Tree baffles me. Such a divisive book.
Maybe half a year ago I mentioned that Ms. Lucy Knisley had created a cartoon poster for the first four Harry Potter books. Now with the final Potter movie coming out, the posters are at long last complete. They follow the plots of the books, not the films, but the look of the characters can be amusingly cinematic at times. And for the record, if I were a tattoo-minded dame, I would adore getting this image of Luna Lovegood and her pop.
But that’s not really my top news story of the day. How could it be? No the top news story is that it is once again time for the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Twice a year a cadre of bloggers for child and teen books gather together to interview some of the luminaries in the field. Chasing Ray has the round-up, so seek ‘em out and read ‘em up. I know I will.
When I lived in London for a time (it was like a little Intro to New York) I would periodically buy the newest issue of Time Out London and find interesting places to visit. One day the mag highlighted a toy museum. It was called The Museum of Childhood and it was fascinating. I was too intimidated to take any pictures, though, so I sort of forgot that I even went. Years have passed and I see that author/illustrator David Lucas has also been to that same museum and he has written about it in the post What do TOYS Think of Us? Stick around for the moment when he starts talking about panpsychism. Looking at all those ragamuffin bits of much loved cloth and felt reminds me of my library’s own original Winnie-the-Pooh. He is, after all, of the British persuasion.
Yay, Sunday Brunch! Over at Collecting Children’s Books my partner in writing crime (we’re doing a Candlewick book with Jules from 7-Imp) has a delightful post that is well worth your time. My favorite parts include the childhood of a future Brat Packer, a reason why Erin E. Moulton’s Flutter is unique, and a vote for “The Year’s Creepiest YA Novel.” Hooked yet?
Marci, this is for you. Remember how we were trying to figure out how one would go about creating Quidditch croquet? Well . . .
You know we love steampunk at readergirlz. We had a blast with Scott Westerfeld, right? Well, how about a collection of steampunk short stories by some more of our favorite, favorite YA authors? You'll recognize many from our rgz Circle of Stars, past guests and contributors. Grab your goggles, because this collection by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant delivers!
So, what will you find in Steampunk: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories? How about mystery, murders, and machines? Worlds of gears and steam in amazing new locations from the minds of 14 writers: M. T. Anderson, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Shawn Cheng, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Dylan Horrocks, Kathleen Jennings, Elizabeth Knox, Kelly Link, Garth Nix, Christopher Rowe, Delia Sherman, and Ysabeau S. Wilce.
How fun to find new authors I hadn't discovered before among old friends, all writing speculative fiction which often left me with chills. This quote from Cory's short story "Clockwork Fagin" really captures the collective atmosphere of Steampunk!:
"For machines may be balky and they may destroy us with their terrible appetite for oil, blood, and flesh, but they behave according to fixed rules and can be understood by anyone with the cunning to look upon them and winkle out their secrets. Children are ever so much more complicated."
Perfect, right? With three starred reviews already, look for this release October 11th!
The Toronto Librarians are on strike. There is no need to panic… Ahhhhhhhh! Failing to reach a labour agreement over the weekend 2,400 librarians went on strike. All 98 library branches across Toronto are close as of Monday. The library is asking borrowers to hold on to all checked out books and materials. No overdue [...]
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another round of Jacket Knack's Face Off. This month, we've pitted two well known, award winning authors with mixed portfolios against each other. Both Libbra Bray and M. T. Anderson write historical and contemporary fiction for young adults, and short stories too. And they've both won distinguished literary awards and honors for their works.
Let's inspect their YA covers (first edition, hardcover publication) and see what faces show up.
By Libba Bray:
Published December 9th 2003 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published August 23rd 2005 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published December 26th 2007 by Random House Children's Books
Published September 22nd 2009 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
The first three paragraphs of this article about M.T. Anderson (who was previously unknown to me) really, really strike a chord with me. I touched on it a little with my very first entry about Twilight and how I think we should be giving youth a lot more credit for intelligence than adults tend to. I was not nearly as pointed as this:
“If we’re going to ask our kids at age 18 to go off to war and die for their country, I don’t see any problem with asking them at age 16 to think about what that might mean.”
The article goes on to discuss Anderson’s works, his philosophy on writing for young adults, and how he came to be a writer — typical things for an author profile. But what really caught me is that he’s an author writing for young adults, explicitly, who writes books that seem as though they might be a heck of a lot more challenging and complex than a lot of the supposed adult fiction I read.
I think part of what gets me is that we can see just how responsible and intelligent kids can be — for example, last week’s presentation about youth who are interested in social justice and activism — and yet many people still want to protect them and shield them and tell them they’re somehow “not ready” to be given responsibility. Including the responsibility of reading whatever they would like to read — be that Twilight or Octavian Nothing. Maybe I’m an idealist (okay, yes I am) but I tend to think that the more responsibility a teen is given, the more responsible they will turn out to be. I know this isn’t universally true. Heck, it’s not even true for some adults. But still.
Curious to know if anyone has read anything by Anderson, and what they thought?
Posted in Collection Development, Reading and Literacy, Representations of Youth, YA Literature Tagged: authors, M.T. Anderson, teen responsibility, washington post
While I was at SXSW Interactive, I was finishing the YA novel Feed by M.T. Anderson. I highly recommend this book and am embarrassed to just be reading it now. Still, I can't think of a better setting to be reading about teenagers having computer... Read the rest of this post
I've been waiting for this book to be published for what seems an awfully long time. As an enthusiastic fan of both Whales on Stilts and The Clue of the Linoleum Leiderhosen, knowing this book was in the works was sweet torture. Now that it's here, and I've read it, I sort of don't know what to make of it. For starters, what started as "M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales" has become "Pals in Perils,
Why should Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, M.T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, and Nikki Grimes have all the fun? In support of the rollicking story game being played by these and a crew of other award-winning, talented and versatile authors and illustrators, the Exquisite Prompt writing contest from Reading Rockets and AdLit.org uses writing prompts inspired by the “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure” authors and illustrators to get K-12 students to flex their own writing muscles.
From October through June, two new writing prompts will be available each month. Winners in four grade level categories will be selected for each prompt. Prizes include online publication at Reading Rockets and AdLit.org, autographed books, and classroom visits with authors and illustrators via Skype.
The first Exquisite Prompt, inspired by Jon Scieszka, asks students to share a family story. Based on the author’s recollections of family togetherness in his memoir Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing UpScieszka, the leveled prompt and online resources help students to think about their history and heritage and tell a family story.
Also for October, a prompt inspired by author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen and his book If I Built a Car that is sure to fuel imaginations and take creative and persuasive writing skills for a ride.
All Exquisite Prompts are accompanied by author/illustrator biographies, bibliographies, interviews and links to resources and primary sources related to the prompts. Resources for educators from Reading Rockets and AdLit include strategies for teaching writing and a writing basics toolkit.
I'm getting ready to move in three weeks, and part of the task of packing is cleaning out my office. After 18 years of writing, I have drawers full of stories in folders, which I am going through and scaling down. One writer friend asked why I'd throw anything out, that I should save the multiple version of the stories and the rejection letters to donate to a university or someplace that documents writers' works. She has a point. I mean, what if I do become famous one day and students want to study how my brain works? (Good luck with that! My husband still doesn't know!). So with that in mind, I am only recycling some stuff, like stories that never really worked, or that I know I'll never revisit. I also am tossing out the form rejection letters, but keeping the personal ones, and ones from publisher that don't exist anymore. So I was going through my folders and in the The Night the Sheep Wouldn't Jump folder there's a rejection letter from my writer friend's agent, Andrea Cascardi, who in a past life was the Editorial Director of Hyperion Books in 1994. But here's the cool thing - there's a rejection from M.T. Anderson! He's the author of one of my favorite books, Feed. One of his comments was "While the subject has its charm (and I am an insomniac!), we felt that some of the particulars of the telling could have been fresher." Good advice indeed. So I looked up M.T.'s website and sent him an email thanking him for his rejection letter. (He's got a really cool website, by the way.) So, I can say I've been rejected by one of the best in my business! And I have proof... and his signature!
I've made no secret of my fan girl admiration of M.T. Anderson, nor my love of the w00t!-worthy Pals in Peril series. So let's all give a big 'Huzzah!' for the return of Lily, Katie, and Jasper Dash in a brand new adventure, due for release in October. Now that the Enola Holmes series is finished, and Larklight seems content to remain a trilogy, "Pals in Peril" has sole possession of the top spot
One of the great things about working at First Book is how wonderfully supportive our many partners and friends are of the work we do. In fact, we regularly hear from authors who say, “How can I support First Book’s efforts?” So regularly, in fact, that we will be rolling out some exciting opportunities for authors and illustrators to get involved with First Book on a wide variety of levels.
In addition, we realized that the fact that the American Library Association annual conference was being held in Washington, DC this year offered a rare opportunity to reach out to many of our author friends to provide an opportunity to support us that did not involve any hassles, expenses or travel (unless you could crossing a street). We created what we aptly named “The First Book Shameless Promotion Chamber” and we rolled out the red carpet. To our delight, over twenty five of our favorite authors and illustrators came to participate in the project and gave it their all. We were touched to hear a Newbery medal winner say, “I want to work with First Book!” We were also honored when our literacy statistics moved more than one author to tears and consternation. And we were rolling on the floor when two accomplished and well known authors turned on their considerable charm and humor simultaneously.
We’ll unveil the wonderful results of our video shoot soon, but here are a few candid shots to tide you over:
We are externally grateful to the talented and eloquent author and illustrators, as well as the kind and accommodating publicists who arranged their appearances. It may have been shame-LESS, but we all had a wonder-FUL time promoting First Book.
So as you take your plane, car, or unicycle to the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, here are some new exclusive interviews with the Conference faculty for you to enjoy. (Uh... don't read them while driving or riding your unicycle. But you know, for all those hurry-up-and-wait travel day moments, these will be great reading... and they even count as doing your homework for the conference!)
One of the Nine Experimental Techniques M.T. shared with his session attendees was the experimental technique of "hypertext." (That's any text you don't demand be read in a particular order) like those "Choose your own adventure" novels, or a narrative with footnotes. It's an experimental method that M.T. thinks will become more popular in the future of Children's Literature. (Think video games with branching narratives...)
He challenged the room of writers to consider hypertext, and the other techniques, as our resources to defamiliarize what we know too well. (Especially in light of how children today - and all of us adults as well - are so accustomed to the fragmentation of our attention.)
The question is: can you use it and still maintain the kind of intensity you can have in a long form narrative?
I'm so excited about this session on craft - M.T. Anderson is an incredible author whose work is amazing, remarkably different (in the best possible ways), and successful - both commerically and critically. (Oh yeah, he won that National Book Award!)
The room is PACKED (over 200 excited writers, people sitting on the floor, standing along the walls, in every seat, computers poised and pens in hand...)
M.T. argues that experimental writing for kids is actually easier for an audience of children than it is for adults, if done with a tone of having fun.
Here are some of the points he's making:
"experimental" isn't really experimental - they are techniques long in use
In children's lit, experimental techniques are taken for granted as some of the fun ways we tell stories to kids.
The text teaches readers how to read them as they read.
He reads us a poem (Poem 25) by Kurt Schwitters that does this - it teaches us how to read it as it's read. Wow. It's all numbers. And then he analyses the poem, numbers of form without content. He called it "gorgeously kaleidoscopic," then related it to how we writers use words in a narrative. Really fascinating!
M.T. explains that his point here is to sensitize us to the underlying form and patterns of words that we use to build our narratives.
His next example is Dr. Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," which he analyzes in it's experimental form. Did you notice the rhythm of definition through repetition and difference?
When he gets to Shaun Tan's "The Arrival," a stunning and wordless graphic novel, M.T. is ebuliant at how even the title page conveys to us that this is an alien world at once familiar and strange. Which is exactly the point M.T. made in his keynote about how all art is about seing the world anew so we can see it fresh!
I'm typing in the air conditioned comfort of an old, high-ceilinged, civil-war-style house in downtown Atlanta, GA -- have you ever seen Gone With the Wind? It's like that, only instead of Rhett Butler, it's just us inside. The house belongs to our friends Ayesha and Dave, but they're not here either--coincidentally, their already-planned vacation coincided with our visit (at least they told us it was coincidental…) so they're off in parts unknown. Still, they let us use their glorious pad in their absence. Thanks, guys!
Here’s a picture of us in Frisco, NC, before we left. Also, a picture with Leslie Ann Lanier of the wonderful bookstore Books To Be Red in Ocracoke, NC. A must-visit if you're a bibliophile on the Outer Banks. The 'Red' in the store's name comes from Ann's hair. Isn't that cool? :-)
Two days ago we left North Carolina's Outer Banks at 9:30 AM and drove all day, arriving here after midnight. Believe it or not, it wasn't too bad a trip. The kids were happily involved with the backseat DVD player (many thanks to my parents for providing that!), and Karen and I actually got a chance to talk. Weird, huh? We ended up stopping at South Of The Border (http://www.pedroland.com/), a Mecca for weary travelers of Interstate 95. There we had a fabulously fun 24-story elevator ride up into a giant Mexican sombrero. Que barbaro! :-)
I love Atlanta! Such nice people, such nice weather, good coffee--it's got it all. And Evan, Lucy, and Zoe are fascinated by the GIANT bugs we see everywhere here in the south. I need to take a photo. They really are somethin' to see!
Yesterday we were given the royal treatment by the Barnes and Noble in Alpharetta, GA. Before I spoke to readers, they had a 'dragon' -- a big ol' lizard -- as the opening act. I never opened up for a reptile before. :-) Here’s a picture with Cindy Rittenhouse, who runs the amazing children’s/young-adult section and Rachel, a high school junior and future star critic.
The Little Shop of Stories, a fantastic independent book store in Decatur, GA, did an absolutely amazing window display about our road trip. See the pictures below -- although they don't actually do justice to it. Still, can you believe this? In the last photo I’m also shown with store co-owner Dave Shallenberger, who did the artwork, and Terra McVoy, store manager. Thanks, guys!
Here are Elle Race and Regan Foster of Storyville, a lovely book shop for younger kids in Duluth, GA. They served lemonade for my visit--a very nice touch. They're a new bookstore in the northern suburbs of Atlanta -- Good luck to them! :-)
A Note added by Karen: A highlight of our stay in Atlanta was that we met up with one of my best friends from high school, Karen Sytsma and her family! I haven't seen Karen in 20 years, and we hit it off as if we see each other everyday! Karen and her sons Josiah and Caleb followed us to all the bookstores, and we got a chance to visit her husband Mike at work! Josiah showed the kids a dragon lizard called Beowolf...a relative of the giant iguana we saw earlier. All these lizards in Atlanta, is it a requirement to have one? What a great visit!!
Tomorrow we’re off to Jackson, MS, via Birmingham, AL. :-)
Seattle-based writer Liz Gallagher's debut novel The Opposite of Invisible, was released just days ago by Random House imprint Wendy Lamb Books. Below Gallagher tells us about her book and what inspired her to write it as well as the Class of 2k8, the Vermont College MFA program, how she found her publisher, promoting her debut, and why her city is the perfect backdrop for a YA novel.
I would say it’s a coming-of-age novel, yes. But it’s not on an epic scale; it’s not representative of all of the ways youth helps my character grow into herself. It’s about a particular moment in her growth. The book centers on Alice, a 15-year-old Seattle girl, who has always lived in what she thinks of as a comfortable cocoon with her best friend, a boy named Jewel. Their friendship is a real cornerstone of her life, but she starts to realize that it might not be enough, and when the boy she has a crush on starts to take notice of her, she emerges from that cocoon. She remains aware, however, that she might lose her most important friendship by expanding her circle. She’s also trying new directions in art.
Your website bio says you’ve always wanted to be a writer. Had you written or submitted novels before The Opposite of Invisible? What inspired you to write the book that would become your published debut?
Opposite is the first novel I wrote. Falling in love with young adult novels was really the key for me in deciding to pursue a career as a novelist. When I first realized that I was passionate about writing for young people—and about reading the literature that other people write for young people—I was lucky enough to get a one-year editorial internship at the magazine Highlights for Children. My first short story for younger kids was published in Highlights. I thought at that point that I would continue on an editorial path, but finally decided to pursue writing after I fell in serious love with YA—which happened while I was working at All for Kids Books & Music in Seattle. I was inspired to write this particular story based on the scene of Alice buying the dress that she wears to the Halloween dance; that was the kernel of the beginning of the character starting to see herself in a different light, and I wanted to see where that new vision would take her. It was the first scene of Opposite that I wrote.
I knew that I wanted to study writing craft and, for a while, it seemed like every book I was reading and enjoying mentioned in the acknowledgments that the writer was either a graduate or a faculty member at Vermont! Most notably, I was obsessed with M. T. Anderson’s books Feed, Burger Wuss, and Thirsty, and he was, at the time, the faculty head at Vermont. Once I did a little bit of research, it was a no-brainer that Vermont was my choice for an MFA. Not many programs give the degree specifically in writing for children and young adults. I think that I owe Opposite to the program; without deadlines and careful feedback from my advisers, I don’t think I would’ve accomplished the goal of writing an entire novel. The experience is intense, and wonderful in every way. Above all, it’s a community of like-minded readers and writers. Eight other graduates and I have a blog where we discuss writing craft and interview other writers.
I love the name of your main character! Any particular reason you called her Alice?
Hmm—I wonder why you would love it? Cute! Honestly, I’ve always had brain strain when it comes to naming characters. Toward the beginning of the writing process, I did some journaling in the voice of my character, about names, and she told me, “My name’s Alice. Am I supposed to live in Wonderland?” It stuck.
Judging from your website, you’re quite enamored with your town. What makes Seattle the right backdrop for Alice and Jewel? How important is setting in a YA novel?
I think that setting is important in any novel, but what’s even more important is the writing element that Seattle was able to lend to Opposite: atmosphere. Because of the drizzle, Alice and Jewel practically live inside of sweatshirt/jacket hoods. It’s cozy, but it also highlights the completeness of their small cocoon. The rain also helps to amp up the discomfort in scenes that are…uncomfortable. I love the grayness of Seattle for exactly that reason: it fits both warm and fuzzy moments, because you get to bundle up, and it fits restless moments because it can be annoying. Seattle is also a good choice for Alice and Jewel because it’s a city where kids their age can be free to roam to cool and quirky places on their own, without cars or parental escorts. They take buses, or walk. When I look around Seattle, I see that I’m lucky to live in a place where you can go by foot or bus to the movies, to concerts, and to about a ga-jillion coffee shops! I do love Seattle.
How did you end up with Wendy Lamb Books and why is that a good place for you? Tell me about your path to publication—do you have an agent?
I do have an agent, Rosemary Stimola. I signed on with her right before I graduated from Vermont, and right after I graduated, she had three interested editors. One was Wendy, and she made a preemptive offer. My path was “easy” because I had done my homework: put myself in the right communities to meet mentors, researched which agents and editors would be a good fit for me and my story, and worked hard on a manuscript.
Your bio says your “inner voice is perpetually 15 years old.” Many YA authors say the same sort of thing. Why do you think so many writers are compelled to tap into their teen selves? Why are you so compelled?
That voice in your head only matures to a certain point, I think. For some of us, it stops in teen-hood. I know mine did. I just feel that teen awkwardness so strongly, and the almost-tangible importance of events that to some adults might seem like silly teen things. Almost nothing seems unimportant when you’re a teenager, questioning the world for the first time. The things on my mind fit well with the themes of adolescence – Who am I? What do I want? Where will I end up? What really makes me happy? Some adult writers of teen books say that they eavesdrop on teen conversations to pick up language and speech cadence. I don’t do that. Maybe some day I will, but for now it’s all in my brain. I think what a lot of us YA writers are trying to do is honor teen-hood. We want to say to teenagers: Yeah, this time of your life really does matter. And we even want to say to other adults: Remember how much that summer when you were fifteen changed you?
Your book is just coming out and you’ve planned a number of events. What did you do to promote these events? Are you nervous? Excited? Psyched?
I think that e-vites are a good way to go, and I plan to use them in the future, but for my main two events—a release party at Chester County Book & Music Company in West Chester, PA, and another at All for Kids Books & Music in Seattle, WA—I had postcard invitations made and sent them to everyone in my address book! People have been so supportive over the two years since I signed my contract, and I want to celebrate that support by having as many friends around as possible. I’m lucky that I know a world-class poster designer, Jeff Kleinsmith, whose main gig is making rock show posters (and doing other graphic design) for Sub Pop Records. He created a truly beautiful image based on my book, and I used that for my Seattle postcards and for posters to have as keepsakes and to put up in the coffee shops I frequent. I’m really excited for those two parties! I’m a bit more nervous for other events—school visits, radio interview, smaller signings. Luckily, I’ve spent a few years working in schools, and that’s a great way to gain confidence in public speaking. I also just love talking YA books, so I’m excited to meet more YA readers! I truly feel like Cinderella at the ball, only better because there’s no midnight looming.
How and why did you get involved in the Class of 2k8? How has it been helpful to you?
I was originally scheduled for publication in 2007, and knew about the Class of 2k7. At ALA Annual in Washington, DC, I ran into Jody Feldman. She’s the co-leader of the Class of 2k8, and when I mentioned that I was interested, she put me on the waiting list and I ended up in the class. It’s definitely been helpful to have another community of support and advice; we’re all learning the steps after the writing and selling together, and it’s definitely helpful to have the experience of 27 other writers to learn from and commiserate over. Some of us have learned how to create a MySpace page; some have bounced publicity plans off of everyone; all have celebrated together.
In addition to being in the 2k8 collective, you have a website and a blog. Any other promotional tools you would recommend?
I think that having a web presence—be it a site, blog, MySpace, Facebook, or other—is key. So many readers, booksellers, teachers, and librarians are online, and my hunch is that teen readers are especially likely to seek out writers online. I also think it’s so cool that you can become friends with someone based on a true shared interest, regardless of geography, age, or any of the other roadblocks to “real life” friendship. For the record, I’m loving Facebook and if anyone wants to feed my pet penguin over there, Snowflake, he could use the strength! I also have a new Shelfari membership, to keep track of what I’m reading, and I like BookTour.com to post my own events and to keep track of others. I think contests are great. The other day, I rushed to do Cynthia Lord’s name-the-author photo contest so that I could win some books. And of course you can’t talk about Internet publicity and networking in the YA world without mentioning John Green and the phenomenon that is Brotherhood 2.0. Video blogs are certainly on the upswing. With all of that Internet stuff said, I know lots of writers who simply don’t want to get involved in blogging and web sites. The real secret to promotion? Write a great book.
What’s your advice for unpublished YA authors? Have you gotten any particularly useful advice from publishing industry types or authors you’ve met?
It goes back to what I said up there about writing a great book. The most important part to becoming a published YA author is to write, write, write and read, read, read. Know what books are out there—which you probably do anyway; if you love writing ’em, you probably love reading ’em. Have a discerning eye. Study craft; read a few craft books, but don’t take them as gospel. (There is no instruction book, but I love Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream.) Once you’ve got a manuscript that you believe in, do some research online and in the writers’ guides to find out which agents/editors might be interested. Be professional. Learn the process. Write an appropriate query letter. For me, mentorship was key. My friend Lara Zeises was leaps ahead of me in the publishing game (still is!) and she helped me narrow down the field of agent possibilities, was a very helpful eye on my query letter, and a generally peppy cheerleader. Overall, the YA world is a very friendly place! Scour the Internet for industry news, communities, places to commiserate. SCBWI is a good organization to join if you’re just starting out. The process of earning an MFA was essential to my personal journey in that it allowed me to give myself permission to prioritize writing, but the degree in itself is certainly not a must. Write away!
Can you give us a teaser for your second novel (also under contract with Wendy Lamb Books)? When will it be published? Did you sign a multi-book deal?
I did sign a two-book deal, and am working on a companion piece to Opposite, set the summer before Opposite and exploring the character of Vanessa. I’m still only mid-way in the writing process, and don’t know when it will be published. I have a third novel mostly written that I hope to see in print someday. I’d like to do this forever!