Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Do You Mean No One Calls Anymore? Why We Need Young Betas...

My fifteen year-old babysitter must be saving up for something really good because she keeps coming back.  I say this with some surprise because her gig usually begins with me administering a pop quiz as I race around the house looking for matching shoes, appropriate outdoor gear and children to hug goodbye.

Usually our exchange goes something like this:
Me: So by any chance to do you know who Led Zeppelin is?
Babysitter: Um, I think a band?
Me (clasping heart): How about Nirvana?  Ever heard of them?
Babysitter: Oh, yeah, my boyfriend’s mom had them on in the car once.  They were kind of whiny.
Me (sending “I told you so” tweet to CP with results of unofficial teen poll): Hey, have you ever seen Pretty in Pink?
Babysitter: No.
Me: Ugh- how is that possible? It’s so good. You should definitely watch it! In fact, please promise me you’ll watch it this week.
Babysitter: O-kaayyy
Me: So, what is your favorite show?
Babysitter: Awkward.
Me (exhale, finally on common ground): What did you think of last week's episode?

I do have a point to this ramble.  I’m a product of the 80’s. In my first MS, I was crushed when my teen beta reader circled a Bobby Brady reference with a big “Who???” in the margin.  Same thing with a reference to Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.  Sigh.  I was recently re-reading a Meg Cabot novel and laughed when one of the characters (portrayed as a mean girl type) was driving a white Cabriolet convertible.  I’m willing to guess Meg watched Can’t Buy Me Love, which made that THE car of cheerleader-types everywhere.  No disrespect to the one and only Meg Cabot, but I’m not sure most teens today would even recognize a Cabriolet, much less associate it with cool.  Likewise, in my day (and in many YA novels I read) the cool guys always drove Jeeps, but is that still the case?  I don’t see a one in the parking lot of my town’s high school.  But if you asked ME to picture a car the cool guy would drive, I’m immediately picturing either a Jeep or the Trans Am Jake Ryan is leaning against at the end of Sixteen Candles.  But I’m not my target audience and what reads as “cool” to me, is not going to resonate with my readers. 

So, I’ve now taking to harassing my babysitter and taking swings through the high school parking lot and becoming generally stalkerish when teens are anywhere near me on the escalator in the mall. There's a Dunkin' Donuts right next to the high school in our town and at 2:20 every afternoon, it's like hitting the eavesdropping jackpot.

As much as I rely on my CP’s to point out plot gaps, bad dialogue tags and overuse of adverbs, I rely just as much on my teen beta readers to tell me things like “Uh, sorry, but NO ONE calls anyone on the phone.  You should change that whole phone call to a texting scene.” and "Twitter isn't really a thing for us.  We use Instagram." And they really don't care that I've just mastered Twitter.  And the really, really don't care that the mean girl in my high school was named Shannon and that's why my mean girl in my ms is Shannon, because no one under the age of 30 is named Shannon these days.  My adorable teen beta said "Try anything ending in the -ey sound instead: Lyndsay, Chelsea, Kelsey- you know.  Yeah, I pretty much love her. AND she always returns her printout of the manuscript with a one-of-a-kind hand-drawn cover.  

How do you find teen beta's?  In my instance, my own children are in a charter school that goes through high school. I was able to post a request on the PTA's Facebook page.  However, most states have community service requirements built into graduation requirements and you could try approaching a guidance counselor or English teacher at your local high school to see if reading for you could count towards that requirement.  Your local librarian may also be able to suggest avid teen readers who enjoy your genre.  

As far as connecting with your target audience beyond harassing the babysitter? Online sites like Teens Can Write and WriteOnTeen offer forums where you can politely ask questions of teen writers (What is a typical curfew? Where do you shop for clothes? How would you write "later" in text speak?). Just remember to pay it forward by helping them achieve their writing goals in any way you can. Beyond that: Read, read, read across a wide spectrum of YA and, when all else fails, there are always Awkward marathons!

Do you use YA-age beta’s?  What other ways do you make sure your work is resonating with teen readers?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How to Support Authors You Love Without Spending Another Penny

First, let me say this: Authors love readers. You're the reason why they do what they do and they'll continue doing it as long as you'll let them.
I know you can only spend so much money on books - no matter how much you love them, so below is a list of FREE things you can do to support the authors you love.

1) Tell your friends. There is absolutely nothing better for a book's reputation than word of mouth. If you love a book, post it on your facebook, text your friends, tweet about it, pin the cover to your Pinterest, recommend it to that stranger browsing the bookshelves. Thousands of dollars in advertising can't hold a candle to a single devoted fan.

2) Post reviews & ratings. Everywhere. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, Shelfari, anywhere that will let you. There are a lot of books out there. The more voices telling a potential reader "this one's worth it," the more likely they are to take a chance.

3) "Like" everything. Their Facebook page. Their Amazon Author page. "Become a fan" on Goodreads. Again, this is just another way for you to tell someone on the fence about trying out a new author, "Hey, this person doesn't suck. I like them; you will too."

4) Tell the author you enjoyed their book. Authors spend a lot of time in seclusion. They hear a lot of, "This isn't good enough." No, it won't help them sell copies, but your appreciation and encouragement may be just what they need to finish that scene they've been struggling with - which means that book you're waiting on is going to get done sooner.

5) If your library does not carry their book, suggest that they do. All libraries take reader's requests and most of them honor them. Check out the book, even if you've read it. Libraries keep statistics on how often a book is checked out - if it's enough, they may get extra copies.

6) If the author is having an event in your area, invite everyone who might be interested. Offer to distribute flyers and bookmarks before the event.

7) Read the book in public. On the bus, in the Dr's office, in line at the post office, in class (kidding... kinda). If anyone asks you about it or stares too long, tell them how good it is.

8) Like other readers' reviews. Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble allow you to vote on reviews and these often determine the placement of the reviews on the page. The more up-votes a review has, the more likely it's going to be read.

9) Fan art. This isn't for everyone, obviously, but if you're artistically inclined, create a drawing of your favorite character or scene and share it on Tumblr & other social media sites. Fan art says, "I loved this book so much I spent extra time just to honor it." And it literally makes authors cry with joy.

10) Bookstore employees, close your eyes for this one: Face the book out in bookstores, if it's not already. A reader is A LOT more likely to take a closer look at a book if they see the cover versus just the spine. Don't tell the booksellers I told you to do this.

As you can see, there are a lot of things you can do to make sure an author you love is going to continue to write books you'll love to read. Any other ideas? Leave them in the comments!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ways To Tap Into Your Creative Juice Reserves

Hey, fellow YAtopians!

So we all know this feeling:

You're plugging along with your work in progress, gleefully bobbing your head from side-to-side, a big ol' grin on your face, when suddenly something in your life rears its terribly distracting head. Maybe it's an extra workload at your job. Maybe it's exam time at school. Maybe it's something personal. Whatever it is, it completely pulls you out from doing your thing. You go from being in the zone to completely forgetting where that zone even is. When you finally get back to it, your mind is blank. Now you're stuck. And it's not just writers block. Your creative juices are entirely dried up. That giant Sunkist that is your brain is just sputtering pulp.

So, what do you do?

Well, one thing you don't do is quit juicing. You need to juice that sucker for all it's worth. You're a writer! You have creativity oozing from every pore. You just need some ways to tap those reserves. Here are a few--some conventional and some not-so-conventional.

Stare at the ceiling/wall/screen/stars

As writers, we're no strangers to being lost in our heads. Often doing absolutely nothing is how we get the juices flowing. Don't underestimate this tactic. Free your mind from distraction by blocking out everything around you, and just be one with your unfettered imagination. Don't worry about looking strange. Odds are everyone came to that conclusion long ago. If it's strange to be a creative genius at work, then so be it!

Take a really long shower

If you have trouble freeing yourself from distraction, go somewhere where no one else can go. There's a reason why many writers say that they came up with their best ideas in the shower. There you are, alone and totally liberated in all your naked glory. Well, there's where your imagination is liberated too. Just don't forget to wash behind your ears!

Enlist a partner in crime

Bouncing ideas off of someone else can not only get the ball rolling, but it can also give you a sense of whether or not you're headed in the right direction. Of course, you have to be able to play well with others for this one to work. A good partner in crime is an honest partner in crime, and a good writer is receptive to honest feedback.

Watch people, and if necessary, eavesdrop

The library, the park, a pub, it doesn't matter; just find a public place and observe everyone and everything around you. Pick out a couple people and start to think about their story. Who are they? Where are they going? Just don't stare too long or you might have to write yourself into a story about someone getting a mouthful of knuckles. Oh! For those who have never taken the bus before, especially in a mid-size or large city, I highly recommend it. You'll encounter the craziest kooks you can ever imagine. I guarantee you'll find at least one character every time. 

Write nonsense

This is the part where I tell you to force yourself to sit at the computer and just write. Easier said than done for a lot of people, right? This is especially true for perfectionists who have to constantly go back and fix every sentence until it's just right. This is why I say: just write nonsense! Set a timer for a certain amount of time, sit down, and just write whatever comes into your head. An idea just might find its way to the surface.

Watch films or read books

We often find inspiration from things we like and artists we admire.  Pick a couple movies or books that are similar to your work-in-progress in some way (voice, target audience, story, etc.) and tune your brain to find that inspiration.

Join a writing group

What's better than one person telling you how great--or not-so-great--your work is? A whole group of people! Even critiquing other writers' works can be a very educational and inspirational experience. This is a great way to find out where you're at in terms of your development as a writer. There is always something new to learn! If you can't find a writing group in your hometown, you could even join one online.


Ehhh, no... nevermind. Not gonna happen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

In Stone Cover Reveal

I met the gorgeous Louise Gornall through Pitch Wars and I was so excited when her book IN STONE got picked up for publication by Entranced.

So check out this amazing cover:

The blurb:
Beau Bailey is suffering from a post break-up meltdown when she happens across a knife in her local park and takes it home. Less than a week later the new boy in school has her trapped in an alley; he’s sprouted horns and is going to kill Beau unless she hands over the knife.

Until Eighteenth century gargoyle, Jack, shows up and saves her.

Jack has woken from a century long slumber to tell Beau that she’s accidentally been drafted into a power struggle between two immortal races; Demons and Gargoyles. The knife she picked up is the only one in existence capable of killing immortals and they’ll tear the world apart to get it back. To draw the warring immortals away from her home, Beau decides to go with Jack to Bulgaria in search of the mind-bending realm known as the Underworld, a place where they’ll hopefully be able to destroy the knife and prevent all hell from breaking loose. That is providing they can outrun the demons that are chasing them.

THIS BOOK GIVES ME ALL THE FEELS! I can't wait until it's released and you can all share it's beauty. You can add it to your Goodreads shelf now!

So I think it's a kick-arse cover - what do you think makes a great cover?

Monday, March 18, 2013

MADE OF STARS Cover Reveal

We're honored to help reveal the cover of YAtopia Alum Kelley York's newest book, Made of Stars! 

When eighteen-year-old Hunter Jackson and his half sister, Ashlin, return to their dad’s for the first winter in years, they expect everything to be just like the warmer months they’d spent there as kids. And it is—at first. But Chance, the charismatic and adventurous boy who made their summers epic, is harboring deep secrets. Secrets that are quickly spiraling into something else entirely.

The reason they’ve never met Chance’s parents or seen his home is becoming clearer. And what the siblings used to think of as Chance's quirks—the outrageous stories, his clinginess, his dangerous impulsiveness—are now warning signs that something is seriously off.

Then Chance's mom turns up with a bullet to the head, and all eyes shift to Chance and his dad. Hunter and Ashlin know Chance is innocent...they just have to prove it. But how can they protect the boy they both love when they can’t trust a word Chance says?

Kelley's: Website -- Facebook -- Twitter  -- Goodreads -- Pinterest

You can pre-order Made of Stars at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or add it on Goodreads!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Different Type of YA Hero

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog article for a predominantly sci-fi blog run by Loup Dargent. The article I wrote, "QUILTBAG Protagonists in SF/F YA literature," quickly became one of Dargent's top 5 articles on a site covering a diverse range of topics, not specifically geared towards a QUILTBAG or YA audience. Since this article proved so popular there, I thought I'd post parts of it here and ask YAtopia readers for feedback.

For those unsure, QUILTBAG stands for queer, unisex, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual and gay.

From the original article:

Science fiction and fantasy, as both a literary and movie/TV genre, has been dominated by straight white males for decades. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in his roles from Terminator to Total Recall. Consider Christian Bale and Tom Cruise in their leading manly-man roles in science fiction films like Equilibrium, Minority Report, Batman and soon to be released Oblivion. Given that a good number of these films are based on the works by literary greats like Philip K Dick, Asimov and others, this straight white male syndrome seems prevalent in the genre, and is sadly true for YA fiction as well.

Let’s look at recent YA smashhits: Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. J.K Rowling’s series featured a straight white male protagonist, Stephenie Meyer’s series featured a straight white leading couple (I’ll get to Jacob in a minute) and Suzanne Collins’s dystopian series featured a straight white love triangle.

Only after the success of Harry Potter, both as a novel series and as a movie franchise, did it surface that Rowling had always thought of Dumbledore as gay, not that this was ever made apparent in either the novels or the movies. Why not?

There are numerous articles about Twilight and possible racism floating around the net. Regardless of how you interpret the fact that Native Americans were the ‘animals’ in the story, what surprised me even more than a centuries old vampire willingly repeating high school, was the lack of sexual fluidity so apparent in vampire characters from the works of progenitors like Anne Rice. Even the True Blood vampires explored same sex partnerships. But Twilight didn’t feature a single gay main character. And neither does another super popular vampire series: The Vampire Diaries. Meet Damon and Stefan Salvatore - white and straight despite being centuries old vampires who confound just about every social more. Meet Elena Gilbert and her brother - straight and white. Meet the sidekicks Caroline, Matt, and Tyler - straight and white. Bonnie is the only smudge of colour on the cast and she’s a witch (why is no one screaming racial stereotypes?). There is one gay character but his appearance is fleeting and has little bearing on the mostly white, all straight main cast.

And now The Hunger Games. There was an uproar at the time of casting for the movie adaptation of the book when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue. Why is Rue black - fans protested. Why not? Is every character in a YA book white and straight until proven otherwise? Another character in The Hunger Games, played by Lenny Kravitz in the film, is referred to as ‘the gay guy.’ Kravitz is quoted to having said he didn’t want to play Cinna ‘too gay.’ In the novel, his sexuality is never expressly stated. He’s simply a stylist and designer, so once again stereotyping runs rampant.

YA protagonists are only gay, lesbian, bi or transgender when it’s a contemporary issue book like The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring the fabulous Patrick. I can’t name a single best-selling SF/F YA title featuring a gay, lesbian or bi - never mind transgendered - protagonist. Can you?

There is a huge gap, not only in the market, but in the mindset. Why can’t QUILTBAG individuals be the heroes? They can - just look at pansexual Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood fame, played by the openly gay and awesome John Barrowman. This is the type of heroic character I want to see in YA SF/F.

My question to you is, do you think YA is there yet, ready to treat a teen's sexual preference as just another aspect of character like eye colour or hair colour? Should a teen's sexual preference always be an 'issue'? Would a teen Capt. Jack Harkness even be believable or does being that comfortable with who you are and who you love come only with age?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Interview with Author Lauren Bjorkman by Guest Blogger Lorie Steed


This month I have asked a good friend of mind to guest blog for me, because one of the really cool things I get to do as an author (especially as a sci-fi/fantasy author, editor, and podcaster) is attend multigenre conventions. 

The bad part of it is when I have to do three of them in a row; they can really wear you down, especially when you also hold down a full-time job as I do as a YA/Tech librarian. Over the past three weeks I was at WTHCon where I met up with my publisher at Scaldcrow Games ( where we showed of the Worlds of Pulp RPG. Then I traveled to MystiCon where I got to interview Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor, from Doctor Who (interview) for Gallifrey Pirate Radio. And finally I was at StellarCon where I ran into my very good friend and incredible YA author Janine Spendlove (website), who has agreed to an interview; so be on the look out for an interview from her in the upcoming months from me. 

But I knew all of this was coming up and I asked Lorie Steed, a school librarian and incredible writer in her own right to see if she would be interested in guest blogging for me. So I could take a break after three weekends of cons and four weeks without a day off. And luckily enough she agreed and has written up an interview with Lauren Bjorkman. 

Until next month enjoy. 


Guest Post by Lorie Steed: An Interview with Author Lauren Bjorkman

About the Author: Lauren Bjorkman studied Mandarin in college. On her honeymoon to China, she learned to pick up a single grain of rice with chopsticks. She believes in ghosts and appreciates the color pink more than she admits, especially to her friends who wear tasteful earth tones. She lives in Taos, New Mexico with her husband, two sons, and cats Zorro and Zenobia. She likes the letter Z. You can find out more about Lauren at her website:, and you can listen to Lauren talking with her teen hosts about love and advice columns on World Talk Radio, right here.

Miss Fortune Cookie is the smart, funny, and suspenseful tale of secret advice blogger Erin, whose quirky sense of humor and helpful advice bring her alter ego Miss Fortune Cookie a small amount of fame, even though Erin isn't always sure of herself or her status with Chinese-American friends Linny and Mei. As "the lesser third" of the trio, Erin nevertheless acts as a confidante to each of them in turn—but what happens when she gives one of them some advice that has potentially damaging consequences?

Lauren Bjorkman's latest book is a fun, thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a daughter, a friend, and a high school senior applying to college. Will Mei choose to stay with her boyfriend in California or honor her mother's wishes and attend Harvard? Will Erin get into an Ivy League school or attend UC Berkeley with Linny? Will Miss Fortune Cookie take her own advice and follow her heart?

Read Miss Fortune Cookie to find out, and in the meantime, check out the interview below to get some insights on writing from author Lauren Bjorkman. Leave a comment with a fortune cookie saying or piece of advice and you'll be entered into a drawing to win this prize pack! Have fun and good luck!


This is Lorie, your guest blogger here, who forgot to mention you need to leave an e-mail address so we can contact you if you win. You can also tweet about the giveaway for an extra chance to win; just be sure to leave the link to the tweet as well. Good luck everyone!

If you are entering from outside the US, temporary tattoos will be substituted for nail polish, as nail polish cannot be sent via airmail. Also, you will receive a copy of the book from The Book Depository. A signed bookplate will be mailed to you by the author.

And here's our interview!

1—What YA books or authors have you read and enjoyed recently?

Most recently, the delicious and romantic Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Her Paris setting totally slew me. Janet Gurtler’s Who I Kissed took me on an emotional roller coaster ride. I love to read contemporary YAs that are funny and full of heart. I recommend anything by K.L. Going, John Green, Carolyn Mackler, Sherman Alexie, Maureen Johnson, and David Levithan.

2—Could you talk a bit about your writing process? When/where do you write? How much planning do you do in advance, and what form does that planning take? Do you revise all along or wait until you have a complete draft? How many drafts do you go through from start to finish?

When I started writing, I lived in the tiniest house imaginable in Hawaii, and would take my laptop to café. Later, I wrote in bed. When my back rebelled getting scrunched, I switched to a more conventional table and computer in my bedroom. We moved last year. Now I have a mini-office. With a door!

Outlines generally make me nervous—PTSD from high school, I think. Over time my process has evolved, though. I still consider myself a pantser, but I do a lot of advance work—synopses, character inventories, conflict webs, settings, rudimentary plots points, scene weaves—before starting a novel. After fifty pages I re-evaluate the story from start to finish, and create an outline type thing then.

Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of my critique partners, I revise as I go. On the one hand, it seems silly to polish a scene that later gets cut, on the other, I believe that no time spent writing is wasted. Sometimes I’ll rescue jokes, snippets of witty dialog, and other little darlings to use in the future. From start to finish, I write anywhere from four to six drafts.

3—Most of us have faced writer's block. When does it hit you the most—when you're in between projects, or in the middle of one? When you get stuck, what do you do to get yourself unstuck?

I’ve never found myself just staring at a blank screen. Still, just like some people have bad hair days, I have bad writing days. If I force it, I feel like an untalented cockroach by the end of the day, or like I’ve eaten a bag of cockroaches. In any case, it’s disgusting.

To break out from a bad writing day, I have to spend time away from my computer thinking about my story. I might concentrate on a character’s arc. Or a scene that’s not working. Or what seems to be missing. Sometimes I pretend to be one of my characters for a while, and see the action through his or her eyes. My best thinking time happens in the car (no kids), in the shower, pacing, or while trying to fall asleep.

When things get really bad, I use a book about writing to guide the process, something like The Writer’s Journey or The Anatomy of Story. Reading other authors while stuck can help too. If I hold the problem in my mind, and see how another writer solved that same kind of problem, it gives me new ideas.

4—Which novel was harder to write, My Invented Life or Miss Fortune Cookie, and why?

Miss Fortune Cookie. When my editor offered on My Invented Life, she included a second untitled book in the deal. After finishing the last copy-edits on book 1, I developed a brief proposal for the yet unwritten Miss Fortune Cookie. My editor loved the concept, and off I went. Unfortunately, during the writing process the book changed from the original pitch. My editor didn’t like the new direction, so I had to do several major rewrites. On the plus side, she was right, and the book came out better because of all the hard work we did.

5—In Miss Fortune Cookie, each chapter begins with a different fortune. To what degree does each chapter's content relate to the content of the fortune? Did the fortune cookie sayings you collected give you ideas for particular scenes?

The original chapter headings were an eclectic mix of fortunes, sayings, and quotes by famous people—all of them funny. My editor suggested that people particularly enjoy fortunes that predict the future. I gave it some thought, and realized she was right. In the final draft, I changed two-thirds of the fortunes so they would consistently predict the future in a funny way.

6—Chinese culture and tradition is an integral part of Erin and Miss Fortune Cookie. How much of what's in the book comes from your own background, and how much had to be researched?

My great grandmother taught in an elementary school in China. Though I never met her, my grandmother told me stories of her life. Because of her, I studied Chinese history in high school. Then I met my husband to-be. He was born in Sweden, has a degree in Classical Chinese poetry and a Chinese soul. His passion for all things Chinese inspired me to take Mandarin in college and immerse myself in Chinese literature and philosophy.

Because of all that, I didn’t have to study much Chinese culture. Most of my research focused on teen blogging, advice columns, Lowell High School, the history of the fortune cookie, and the locations in the story—SF Chinatown, Muni, and The Elbo Room. Most of the Chinese phrases came from memory, but I had to look up how to say, “your lips are very beautiful.” I re-read Confucius and Lao Tze, as well as my favorite ghost stories, which was great fun.

7—You address LGBT issues in both My Invented Life and Miss Fortune Cookie, and Miss Fortune Cookie also works in themes of privilege versus poverty. Why do you think these are important topics for teens to read about, no matter what their personal experiences?

Until space travel becomes easy, everyone has to live together on this one planet and get along.

I lived on a sailboat during my Elementary school years, and about three years in foreign countries. My experiences led me to believe that people have much in common beneath the surface and that everyone deserves the same rights and respect. Yet differences cause such division and heartache.

When I learned about the experiences of some of my LGBT classmates at a high school reunion, hearing what they went through devastated me. Though, I’m not a lesbian or even bi, I relate powerfully to the underdog. The subject haunted me, and I knew I had to write a book about it. A little research on the topic strengthened by resolve—LGBT teens have the highest rates of dropping out and suicide. Still, my orientation is happy and funny, so I ended up writing a happy and funny LGBT novel that touches lightly on the more serious aspects.

On the subject of poverty and privilege—I grew up without money. Most of my possessions were gifts or came from garage sales, thrift stores, and flea markets. By my 13th birthday, I paid for own movie tickets and clothes. So writing Erin’s money woes was easy for me.

Also, it bothers me that so many movies and novels glamorize the lifestyles of the very wealthy. Even when the “message” is money doesn’t buy happiness, I think those images plant the unhealthy desire for more stuff. I don’t want any part of that.

8—The shifting dynamics between Erin, Linny, and Mei was, to me, one of the most interesting aspects of the book. Erin thinking of herself as "the lesser friend" and "not Chinese enough" especially resonated, even though ironically, both Linny and Mei ask her to keep secrets from the other at some point. What messages about friendship and identity did you want to leave your readers with?

The word “message” makes me cringe. I do everything in my power to AVOID leaving messages. Instead, I hope my readers will relate to the struggles my characters go through while being entertained. If my readers use my story to reflect on their own lives, that’s icing on the cake. Miss Fortune Cookie is a love letter to anyone who feels inadequate—not thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, Chinese enough. You fill in the blank. A friend told me she got Erin perfectly because she grew up non-Greek in a Greek neighborhood.

I grew up feeling outside, other, fringe. Because of that, I try to make others feel included.

9—I loved reading about the girls' relationships with their mothers, in particular Mei's complex relationship with Shufang. Is there a reason you chose to make all the girls fatherless in some way?

My mother died when I was young. In my teen years, several of my friends had lost their mothers, too, and this became an important bond between us. I wanted to capture that feeling in the novel.

10—Good novels pay attention not just to the main cast, but also take time to include well-rounded secondary characters. I absolutely loved Cigarette Willie, Lincoln, and Shanice. Were these characters planned from the beginning? Did any of them surprise you?

The whole lot of them came out of nowhere. Cigarette Willie was supposed to be a cameo. In my original “outline,” I planned for Erin to offer a homeless man a sandwich. Until I wrote the scene, I had no idea he’d follow her home, or that he knew Erin’s mom in the past. I borrowed his name and history from a man I knew in Key West.

Lincoln had a minor role in my first draft—a motorcycle crashes into his apartment through the front window. Erin and Weyland witnessed the accident and went to rescue the rider. Long after the accident disappeared from the manuscript, Lincoln persisted. In a late draft, he became Erin’s advice column consultant, the perfect role for him.

These characters sprang from an idea that Erin needed to survive a few adventures to see that the big, bad world isn’t so big and bad, after all—The Odyssey for the fearful.

11—What scene did you have the most fun writing?

The kissing scene in the hotel. I had a blast writing the scene in the Elbo Room. The virgin martini cracks me up. And when Erin and Weyland get to know each other during the chase scene. The whole book, really.

12—Is there a personal experience or story you can share that might offer encouragement to writers who worry that their work will never be published?

My first novel still languishes on my hard drive next to a half-finished second novel. I began writing My Invented Life in 2003, completing a draft in 2004. After receiving some feedback from editors at writers’ conferences, I revised it completely. In 2005, I started hunting for agents. When an agent requested a partial, then a full, my hopes soared. In the end, he turned it down with feedback. Though disappointed, I knew by then the professional approach. I asked him if he’d take a second look after I revised. He agreed, and gave me more suggestions. The rewrite took me ten months. After all that, he rejected the book a second time. It felt like the end.

Luckily or unluckily, depending how you see it, I love writing too much to quit. A few weeks later, I started a new novel. Around that time, I signed up for a novel writing workshop that required a twenty-page sample. In class, we critiqued each other’s work. When the workshop ended, my instructor took me aside. He’d enjoyed my piece and heard from another student that I had a finished novel, as well. Would I mind if he recommended me to his agent? Not long after, his agent offered to represent me, and found a publisher for My Invented Life.

The writing emo-coaster raised me from the pit to the top in just a few months. It may not happen the same way for you—but if you love writing and you’re persistent, I believe that your day will come.

13—As a writer, what is the best and/or worst advice you’ve ever received?

Worst advice—write for the market.

It’s important to know the market, of course. If you’ve been dying to write about demons, and demons suddenly become hot, go for it. If you have to write about vampires, you can study the market to make sure your take is unique.

Write what lights your fire. There’s always a market for a really good book in any genre. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's okay for YA?

I had a book release last week. A book that is heavy on profanity, violence and sexual situations. It is upper-YA, but I'm kind of amazed that it made it through all the hoops it had to with my publisher. That it is out now, not much different than it was when I drafted it. Some of you know I had some issues with my debut novel, Pretty Amy being passed-over for review by a national teen magazine because it mentioned drug use. You can read about that here.

The fact that Dear Cassie is out and people ARE NOT mentioning the language or violence or sexual situations in reviews of the book made me start to think about, what is okay in YA.
There are over 200 "Fucks" in DEAR CASSIE, A LOT, but it makes sense because it is Cassie's favorite word. Cassie has trouble expressing herself. She uses swear words and anger because she does not know what else to do. She's also in a terrible situation, a wilderness rehab program trying to deal with something that has happened to her that she can't bring herself to deal with.

Over 200 fucks, that is down from almost 400 or 500 in the original draft. I would say my editor and publisher had a pretty strong stomach for letting me keep as many as they did.

All those fucks were okay, but the one that made my editor reconsider was the one that sat at the top of the first page.

Folks who read PRETTY AMY would not be surprised that the first real word in Cassie's book was: fucking. It was in every chapter heading. My editor loved it and I loved it, but on page one, the page people read when they are glancing at your book and deciding to buy it or read it, it had the potential to turn people off.

Now, these people probably would be turned off eventually anyway, but there is something to be said for not having it happen before they even read the first line of the book.

I got this. This being my second novel, I got this in a way I didn't with my first. This book is the book where people will either say, she did it again. Or, she was a fluke.

And so, I removed it from page one. If this were an adult book could I have gotten away with having that extra fuck? How would agents/publishers have responded to queries of this book if I had to sell it to a publisher other than Entangled? I wonder.

YA is changing, but as writers/readers of YA we are always asking ourselves is this too much? The thing is when you're in high school there is no censor there making sure everything you deal with is sweetness and light.

I for one don't think there should be just sweetness & light in YA books either.

I applaud my publisher for being brave enough to publish Dear Cassie as I wrote it for the most part.

For them and for me, real life is what is okay in YA.

What are your thoughts on what crosses the line in YA?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why Retellings Are Popular

Well, am I a lucky girl or what?  My first posting on YATopia and I have the great honor of inviting Nazarea Andrews to do a guest post on Why Retellings Are Popular.  So take it away, Nazarea...
Why Retellings Are Popular

I'm supposed to actually talk about this so 'Because they're freakin' awesome' won't cut it.

But, seriously? It's because they're freaking awesome.




Right. More talking. Ok, so I have a long standing love affair with fairy tales. Devoured every book of them I could--when I moved two weeks ago, the only book that I didn't pack was my copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

But my first real experience with retellings was my freshman year of college when my hall-mate gave me Daughter of the Forest. It's a gorgeous retelling of The Seven Swans and in a semester that included a full course load, a job, a social life and several 12-hour drives home, I devoured it.

Since then, retellings have become a staple in my library. Fairy tale retellings hold a special place, of course, but I love Greek mythology and classics and biblical retellings too--I'm not picky.

To be super honest, I love these stories because they're familiar. They're the same ones I grew up on, the ones that were my bedtime stories and littered my Sunday mornings and what I studied in high school. They are intimately familiar.

To me, a retelling is meeting an old friend after a few years--there is so much new, so much change, for the good and bad, and yet--under the dystopian setting, or the sci-fi, or even the modern high school, it's familiar. It's something I know I love. It's a story that touched me, years ago, slipping back into my life with all it's changes.

We don't ever really outgrow fairy tales and the stories of our childhood. Retellings are just an adult (or YA) way of reconnecting with the stories we loved.

One of my favorite quotes says it best: "One day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." C.S. Lewis.

NazareaAndrews is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. She loves chocolate and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids. She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, and overgrown dog. Her first book, Edge of the Falls, is available March 12.

Edge of the Falls synopsis:

Sabah always knew where she belonged—with Berg—and what was expected of her—to care for the other children the Mistress took in.

But when a ban-wolf saves her life, things begin to change.

Arjun isn’t like the other ban-wolves, the savage creatures that are barely human. He’s gentle and furious and as Sabah spends time with him, she can’t seem to get him out of her mind. But in a world of darkness, control, and danger, is there a place for two outcasts?

A romantic retelling of Beauty and the Beast in a dark dystopia.

Thank you very much, Nazarea!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Conversation with Sci-Fi/Adventure Writer Shima Carter

Most of you have never heard of Shima Carter. Yet. Do not despair. I’m here to remedy that!

Shima and I first met a few years ago, when we were both grad students at the University of South Florida’s MFA program in Creative Writing. We were in several fiction and creative nonfiction workshops together, and we also worked as editors of USF’s literary magazine, Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art. We’re also in a writing group together (a group that has been incredibly helpful for me personally, since they’ve held me accountable and kept me sane).

Last summer I had the pleasure to read from (and fall in love with!) the first draft of Shima’s novel. She’s continued to work on it since then, and should be querying agents soon. And when that happens, she will SET THE UNIVERSE ON FIRE—mark my words, world wide web: Not only is the story gripping, smart, and fun, but the writing is fantastic!

But before the world is crispy-fried*, we get to talk to her about writing, her Sci-Fi/adventure novel, and sandwiches! What could be better than that?    

Shima Carter


*Yes. Crispy-fried. This is a thing.

Jaquira: Where do you write?  What does your writing space look like?  Is there anything you can’t write without?

Shima: I almost always write in my home office.  It’s convenient when I only have a few minutes and it’s quiet (a definite must for me).  Besides my laptop, my desk often has on it an embarrassing number of stacks of things to-do, an assortment of dessert-smelling candles, and a large glass of water.

I could write without Gator, my son’s black lab, but I wouldn’t want to.  When he rests his warm, slobbery face on my foot, I feel like he’s silently cheering me on.

Jaquira: What is the title of your book or work in progress?

Shima: I’m currently working on a book titled ARCHIMEDES AND THE DARK ENERGY.  

Jaquira: What is your book about?

Shima: ARCHIMEDES AND THE DARK ENERGY is an adventure novel about a 13-year-old boy named Archie who is sent on a quest to save his sister from a mysterious kidnapper. He and the kidnapper are linked through a set of devices, developed by his scientist father, that hurl him through space to different historic sites around the world. Along the way, Archie discovers that his father may not always have been the man he’s known. And, if Archie is to succeed and save his sister, he will have to decipher the clues his father’s been leaving him his entire life.

Jaquira: I’ve come across some online chatter that suggests agents/editors are looking for “boy books,” and while this is definitely a book that boys will LOVE, I think it will appeal to any gender. Also, it sounds like a major blockbuster! Who would you cast to play your characters in the movie?

Shima: Although he’s too old now, I think Logan Lerman would have been an ideal choice to play Archie in a film version of the book. 

Lerman in Percy Jackson and the Olympians

In Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Lerman effectively embodies a bewilderment and heroism that Archie’s character might feel when he finds himself being teleported to mystical places and as he tries to unravel a mystery steeped in modern science and ancient history.

I also thought Lerman did an outstanding job in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, portraying a level of vulnerability and sensitivity that would be consistent with Archie’s character as he yearns to save his sister while grappling with who he is, who his father was, and how they did and didn’t connect with one another.        

Jaquira: Yes! The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my all-time favorite YA books. I love the movie (though I prefer the book).  Which books were the most influential to you as a young reader?

Shima: As a pre-teen, I was NEVER caught without a book.  Some of my favorites were and still are A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Eight Cousins, The Dragonriders of Pern, Black Beauty, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lady of Avalon.

Jaquira: To Kill a Mockingbird! That is still one of my favorites. Can you talk about how you got the idea for your book?

Shima: I’m intrigued by creation myths, and how science, religion, and cultural beliefs intersect, so I think that influenced my writing quite a bit. Similarly, I love to travel and experience new cultures and communities, which I hope came through in Archimedes and the Dark Energy as well. 

For me as a child, the cartoon Where is Carmen Sandiego? was second only to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which, I believe, explains a lot about where the idea for the book came from. Ultimately, though, the impetus to write the book came from my desire to tell a story my twelve-year-old son, Zion, would read while he was still young enough to be interested in something his mom had written. 

Jaquira: Which one of your characters has the most of you in him/her?

Shima: Deja’s character is definitely the one most like me. She’s competitive, athletic, respectably intelligent, and more than a little hot-tempered and snarky. 

Jaquira: That definitely sounds like you! (Although, I’ll admit, I’m glad I never had to come across hot-tempered Shima.) So here’s an unrelated—though totally relevant—question that’s not really a question: A famous New York City deli wants you to create and name a sandwich. Go!

Shima: Try The Amazing Mumford: Crunchy peanut butter, banana slices, and maple syrup wedged between two thick wheat pancakes cut like slices of bread. (Side of milk recommended).

Not sure if it qualifies as a sandwich, but I’m more of a breakfast person.  As for the sandwich’s name, it’s a shout-out to an old friend from Sesame Street

Jaquira: That sounds delicious! (And I will be making that at home.) Here’s the one I came up with: Chocolate-hazelnut spread (hold the palm oil and the deforestation) and creamy peanut butter on Puerto Rican pan sobao from a little bakery called El Burrito in Aguas Buenas.