Thursday, February 28, 2008

Coming soon...

...well, not exactly soon. If you have any knowledge of publishing at all, you know that the timeline from the deal to the bookshelf can be a very long time. Publishing moves only slightly faster than plate tectonics.

So what's my point? My agent, the amazing Daphne Unfeasible, recently sold my book, Unbecoming, to Delacorte!

Which means it should be published sometime before Alaska collides with Russia. On the bright side, if it doesn't happen before then, distribution to Russia should be a piece of cake.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Review: Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale

I've been a loyal follower of Newbury Honor winner Shannon Hale ever since The Goose Girl, her first novel, came out in 2003. After all, she retells fairy tales, and does it beautifully. So when I found out about her newest book, Book of a Thousand Days, I read it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. As usual, I was totally wowed.

I guess I'm preconditioned to like her books, because she is a fellow reteller; The Goose Girl is based on the Grimm fairy tale of the same name and Book of a Thousand Days is based on the little-known Grimm tale "Maid Maleen". Hale's retelling takes place on the steppes of Mongolia, where the Lady Saren has been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for refusing a marriage offer, and she takes her maid, Dashti, with her. Dashti resolves to record their days to keep herself busy. When Lady Saren's suitors--both desired and not--show up at their prison, she refuses to see either of them and makes Dashti deal with them. Dashti's duty to obey her mistress clashes with what she's always learned about her low place in society. Not only does she have to live in a tower for seven years with a miserable mistress, but she also must reevaluate everything she's ever learned as she starts to fall in love with Saren's betrothed, the Khan of a neighboring kingdom.

Dashti's simple, honest voice makes the hundreds of days spent in a tower anything but dull. Although there are many times when she crosses the rules of her society, I never stopped rooting for her. She's very innocent and very sincere, and this combined with the delicate beauty of Hale's prose makes for a highly readable, highly involving story.

Ancient Mongolia doesn't bear much similarity to...well, most modern places. And most readers will never be imprisoned in a tower for seven years because they refused a suitor. But anyone can sympathize with Dashti's plight--her conflicting loyalties to class, her mistress, and her new love, even if it's tough to see redeeming qualities in Saren.

What most sets Book of a Thousand Days apart is that Dashti is emphatically not ahead of her times. She wants to adhere to the proper bounds of society--but her circumstances require that she acts outside of them, and this causes her appropriate stress. I'm a little sick of stories with everything of the period in place...except the nonconforming, rebellious main character who doesn't give a damn what People Think. Shannon Hale has created another beautiful story in Book of a Thousand Days, and one well worth reading.

Comics in the Classroom

There's been lots of discussion recently about the use of comic books in the classroom. I myself remember being handed a slim, brightly colored booklet in Sexual Education that demonstrated, in emphatically expressed panels, just what a condom is (as well as describing a colorful array of venereal diseases).

A recent video on discussed using comic books to teach German kids about the Holocaust, a subject kids there say is very dryly presented in their textbooks. History experts argue that the medium cannot possibly present the history in the seriousness and candor it deserves.

"Given that Art Spiegelman's Maus won the 1992 Pulitzer prize, and is a, oddly enough, comic book about the Holocaust, I think that argument was settled 16 years ago," writes Neil Gaiman, author of the award-winning and groundbreaking Sandman series of comic books, on his blog recently.

"I think any argument that states that comics (or radio or film or a musical or the novel or insert your favourite medium here...) by its nature trivialises its subject matter is foolish, shortsighted, dim, lazy and wrong. You can say 'This is a bad comic.' You can't say 'This is bad because it's a comic.'"

Which reminds me of the Sex Ed comic book. . . . not exactly high literature, if you ask me. We spent more time giggling over the likelihood the two deformed main characters would get it on after class.

With all the wealth of literature being adapted into the graphic form--classics in literature, historical texts, even the Bible--the question is raised: do comics have a place in the classroom alongside more traditional methods of education? Do they truly get kids to read, or do they stunt their mental growth and destroy good reading habits?

Over at Open Education the subject is being discussed in depth, including a lovely interview with Chris Wilson, author and editor of the site The Graphic Classroom. I urge you to check it out.

And then an interesting one focusing on Manga, with several recommendations.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Here is something floating around the internet that I thought would be fun. (Thanks Courtney)

How can you tell it's your book? Here's mine. :)

10 Signs you’re reading a SUZANNE YOUNG book:

10.) There is a cool parent
9.) The word “tool” is used at least once
8.) The MC is sassy
7.) Foul-mouthed funny is the only funny I do
6.) The book is mostly snappy dialogue
5.) At some point, the main character SNAPS!
4.) There are some serious trust issues
3.) The nice guys always wins
2.) The love interest is insanely hot and blond

But it’s romantic sex. :D

How can I tell it’s your book?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Poor, Lost Twenty-Something

Hi, this is my first blog post, so I should probably start by introducing myself. I'm Sage (points to pretty angel icon down the side of the page). As you can see, I am not teen, but I still love YA.

But I'm having a problem with YA and my own novels. And it's this:

Twenty-somethings. People in college or recently on their own. Where do their stories go? Are they too old for YA? Too young for adult lit? The only place I've seen twenty-somethings of late have been in chick lit.
Now I know that people say that teens like to read about people their own age or older, but also they say they don't want to read about adults. Now I'm 27, and I'm out of college and living on my own, but I still don't consider myself a real adult. I don't consider myself a teen either, for obvious reasons. I am a young adult, but I don't know that I am a Young Adult. That, of course, doesn't keep me from reading the genre.

But where's the cut off for the characters? 18? They're legally adults, but still teens. 19? The last age to be a teenager, but you're out of high school. 21? Now you can legally drink, but still are seen as immature by many adults. 23? No longer an undergrad, are you still young enough to be YA? 24? Now, we're getting too far, aren't we? When I was little I believed that 24 was when you became an adult. (Now I know better.)

I have main characters of various ages. They range from 14 to 2000-and-something. Maturity-wise, they range from 12 to 26. Does the 2000-going-on-26-year-old belong in YA? I have been told by one reader that pacing-wise and word count-wise, the novel fits YA, but that the MC did seem a little older than YA. When writing DownLoad, which I do consider YA, I had to think hard about the age of the MCs. The male had to be a few years older than the female MC. She had to be in college. So they became 18 and 21. Too old, especially for him? I don't know.

Now I'm writing a new YA novel. I want the characters to be on their own with no parents in the picture. I want the main, main character to depend on the money she gets from her full time job. I feel pressured to make the mains all 18, which seems like it should be a safe YA age. But will YAers relate to someone out of school and living on their own? Or four someones? I hope so.

So what do you guys think? Where do you cut off the acceptable age of a YA main character? At what point do you start to think, "This isn't YA"? And have you read any YA with older main characters and thought that it worked (point me to them please)?

The Difference Between 'Suck' and 'Style'.

There's stylistic repetition. And then there's stylistic repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition...

Ad nauseum.

We all know that style and voice are very fragile things, and at least I believe that they can make or break a story. I know that in some of my favorite books (Slaughterhouse-Five comes to mind), if they weren't written in the way they were written, I wouldn't have been interested in finishing the book at all.

And for the sake of style, sometimes you have to do something out of your comfort zone, and the story should be all the better for it. At the moment, I'm staring down the throat of the beast, wondering where the fine line would be to get rid of the extraneous lines that come with fast drafts -- it is Fast Draft February, after all -- and still preserve the sound of the narrator.

Eh. I'll figure it out later. Or, at least, my betas will for me.

Well, we all know that writing 'bad' can be turned into writing 'good' in particular situations, like "Flowers for Algernon" had the improper grammar and bad spelling, but that was specifically done to get a point across about characterization.

And now for the inflammatory point of the day: this is why I don't read a whole lot of YA. I remember picking up YA books in the bookstore and being annoyed by the style, usually because the author tried to capture a teenage voice. Whether they succeeded or not, I don't care, it's just that I'm not too fond of the sound of teenagers talking. The story may have been good, but if I had to listen to the average teenager tell it (as many of the main characters would like you to believe), I wouldn't stick around to let them finish.

That said, I don't really think there's an absolute line between 'suck' and 'style.' As Potter Stewart, Supreme Court Justice, said about hardcore pornography, I'll say about style: It's a tricky thing to define, but I'll know it when I see it.

So, let's talk. Where do you draw the line? Have you had any style failures? Seen anything audacious that actually worked?

Friday, February 15, 2008

How long does it take to write a book? How long to revise?

How long did it take you to write that book? If I had a quarter for everyone someone asked me that, I would have at least two dollars! Or, maybe even more….

And you know what the answer is? 6 weeks. I started writing Handcuffs around February 2006. I was revising a complete manuscript less than two months later. Now admittedly I did revisions with both my agent and editor, but still that was pretty fast. (ooh and only almost three years later that book will be on shelves).

Sometimes my fellow YaYa’s depress me. They write so fast. Their ideas are so cool. They are so enthusiastic. And here I'm just meandering along.

And I’ve been slogging along on book #2 for over a year. Yeah, same book 13 months so far. Granted during that year, I had my wisdom teeth out, switched jobs, did revisions and copyedits on Handcuffs, wrote content for the website, took care of two children (off and on), and um more interesting stuff. Granted we all have differing amounts of that precious resource, time.

So the question still stands. How long does it take you to write a novel (with or without revising it). Tell us your stories and your time management strategies, such as they are!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Um....more sex, please.

Even within the YAYA’s, there is a wide range of tastes. But the taste I’d like to ask about is the taste of Romance. (Hold for YA porn princess jokes)

Anyways, what I’m wondering is in your books, or the books you read, how much romance do you like? For me personally, I don’t like to read books without some sort of love interest, and as far as I’m concerned, the more the better. Lol. Now, that doesn’t mean, cheesy over the top stuff. I mean the excitement of first love, lust or sex. You know, the good stuff.

Who else likes Romance? Raise your hand. Tell me, how important is love in your YA books?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Young Writers - The Tumultuous Teenage Years

Ordinarily, I would handle this topic differently, but I had an experience about two days ago that put the whole teenaged writer conflict into new perspective for me.

What, you ask, is the teenaged writer conflict?

Publishing is a competitive business, and as we all know, everyone likes to think that their book will be good enough for publication. That's why we're all here, yes? For the most part, writers are wonderfully accommodating and supportive of all their writing collegues. But there's a rough patch when it comes to age.

People know writing takes experience and practice. I know writing takes experience and practice. The problem is, the fifteen year-old who has been writing for two years has just as much experience as the forty year-old who has been writing for two years.

And people can't grasp that.

"But," they cry, "surely the forty year-old has been alive for longer, and thusly has more experience in everything?"

Yes. Yes, they do. When I ask for advice on life, the universe, and everything, I'll probably ask my forty-ahem year-old mother instead of my sixteen year-old best friend. But what if I want writing advice? Do I ask the forty year-old who has been writing for two years, or, say, the eighteen year-old who has been writing for five? (Note: the forty year-old who has been writing for twenty years trumps both.)

When young writers (we'll say under 25-ers) seek publication, so many people tell them to wait. Wait ten years, until you're twenty-five, and then put yourself out there. Your prose will improve so much! You'll be stunned! The writer you are now is nothing compared to the writer you will be!

Yes, but doesn't that apply to the forty year-old, too? If she waits until she is fifty, then her prose will have improved exponentially. She'll be stunned. The writer she is now is nothing compared to the writer she will be.

I don't want to preach anti-ageism tripe because I doubt any of you lovely readers thinks this way. I mean, if you did, you wouldn't be reading a blog whose members are 80% under 25 (guesstimate, please don't check my math). I just want you to think:

Why would a teenage writer not want to be published? Why should she not seek publication with her first book, like many adult writers do? If she should approach this business differently, why should she do it, what should she do, and why shouldn't everyone approach it this way?

"But! What about the business aspect of publishing?"

Ah yes. This is where my happy little rant was sidetracked by recent events.

Kiddies. Publishing is a business.

This means that, while talking to your prospective agent, you do not conduct yourself like you're stuck in your God-awful Chemistry class and you just want to get out. You attempt to retain some maturity at all times. You do not insult people. Ever. Ever ever ever ever ever.

Because immaturity, inability to cooperate with others, and plain ol' obstinate stubbornality make you look bad. Just as bad as an adult who would act this way. Your age is no excuse to behave badly.

I shake my (index) finger at you, you son of a silly person.

Hm. I think this became a two-pronged rant aimed at both sides of the argument. My problem is that I've seen this debate played out multiple times and I always have the same thing to say:

Young people should conduct themselves just as well as older people, and they should expect the same amount of respect from their collegues that adults do.

My name is Sophie, and I am a sixteen year-old writer.

Peace to the world. :)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Adult means "dirty" and mature means "dirty, therefore teen means "not dirty" unless you're actually a real live teen or a writer who writes for teens

So, since John Green is the hero of many of us at YAYA, and since he kindly agreed to do an interview with us, and since he has recently been accused of writing porn. I would like to pose some questions about teenagers and sexuality and what is appropriate. I’m not going to go into the John Green debacle since I think he’s handling it marvelously on his own. I will ask if anyone knows if this is the first time the book has been under fire or if there have been other occasions? It just seems like these things come out of nowhere. I read awhile back about a school official who received death threats because a class was reading Fat Kid Rules the World. It just makes you wonder. Do these same people let their kids watch television? Do they buy them copies of Grand Theft Auto (and no I am not here to argue about video games or televison ruining the youth of America) the youth of America are no more or less screwed up than they've ever been, if you ask me. I'm here to look at the things some people think should be hidden from teens.

Okay, so I recently wrote a description for a high school course called YA literature. If I had been smart and creative I might have called it survey of YA literature, but you know…I only have so much smart and so much creative. I put a warning in the description about mature language and topics. And then I stared at it for a long time. Because it seemed such a juxtaposition. I was wanting to introduce a class for fiction written for teens. And I was calling the subject matter “mature”.

Here’s the description

In this class students will read a selection of modern books written specifically for teenagers. They will compare the common themes of young adult literature, coming of age and dealing with issues (these are commonly called problem novels). They will analyze the ways that writers combine these themes while writing in various genres (mystery, romance, fantasy, science fiction). By the end of this course students should have a strong understanding of voice and plot. They will evaluate and compare novels, and will write analytical responses to the books that they have read. Students will read some books as an entire class, and will have the opportunity to select some books on their own. Be aware that young adult literature tries to look at teenage life in a realistic manner and that language and issues may be somewhat mature.

So where’s the disconnect? Is it that we write about mature topics for people that are immature? That, I think is what the people who are attacking John Green think. Or is it that we are pretending that these are issues that are only of interest to adults. And dirty ones at that. (please add an lol here, kthanx). Also note that was me pretending not to be over thirty. Okay. So I’m an adult. If I read an adult book does that mean it’s a dirty porn/erotica book? Does it mean it’s not a YA or children’s book? Does it mean ANYTHING.

And maybe we’re coming back to semantics here, but by saying that certain things are mature, are we saying that only adults can talk about them? What about the kids who are surviving negative things? Abuse, addiction, prostitution, self mutilation, incest, suicide, violence. Are these not things that teenagers have to DEAL with. Are these not things that are REAL?

And sexual issues go in another category for me. Because all the stuff above is non-categorically bad. And sex in itself is not. Of course as a society we know that young people often make bad choices due to having less life experience. Okay, well I’m not really sure that I know this. I know that I became a better drive with experience. I know some people who haven’t. Same with life. You can do really f***ed up stuff at any time in your life. I might be willing to say at the age 14, 15, 16, that you have less experience based wisdom than you will have later. But how much you will have is a very subjective question.

Do teenagers have sex? Yes. Do teenagers regret having sex? Sure, I’m sure some of them do. Maybe many of them. How can you measure regret? There were things I did that I regretted because of the outcome. Or that I regretted in certain company. Or that I regretted not at all. Overall I don’t really believe in having regrets unless you hurt someone, but maybe that’s just me living a hedonistic life and not wanting to beat myself up for not paying my credit card bill on time that once (what did you THINK I was talking about?) Yeah, get your mind out of the adult zone. Be mature. Or um, not mature. Oh, hell. See what I mean?

I am a parent. I am not looking forward to the days when my children begin dating. I am also in touch with reality. It’s scary. And if I can impart one thing to them, it will be, if you do something regrettable, do it because You want to, not because you were pressured into it. If I can raise children with self esteem, I will be happy.

So, I am coming back to the disclaimer that I really worked and reworked in my course description. I used mature as the best word that all people would recognize. I stand by my assertion that YA lit tries to show teen lives in the most realistic way. I don’t want to argue realism and the word real. I mean that it shows what teens do, not what we the establishment, want them to do.

Young Adult does not mean fully mature. It means becoming an adult. That means breaking away from parents and you know, experimenting with life. Very often the protags in literature (of all sorts) are more daring, in different situations, make mistakes, that are not as common in real life, that we can sit in comfort and feel the thrill of. Or experience the horror of. That's the joy of literature. It's complex and wonderful, and it reflects and goes beyond our experiences. I love YA literature. Mature or not.

So I leave you with the question, what is too mature for teens and who should decide?