Posts Tagged ‘young adult’

Creative Conversation: Reflections on Revision

Monday, March 6th, 2017

This month, I’m honored to be the guest of esteemed author Janet Lee Carey for a Creative Conversation about revision.

Author Portrait of Janet Lee Carey

Janet is the author of numerous YA/MG novels, including The Beast of Noor, Dragon’s Keep, and her latest, In the Time of Dragon Moon.

Check out our conversation here!

Diversity Dilemma

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

I’m afraid to write this post. Why? Because it’s about diversity in YA fiction, and writing about diversity is almost as scary as writing diverse characters. There’s a sense that you need to walk on eggshells, that at any moment you’re liable to say something offensive, un-PC, or just plain wrong.

The call to write diverse characters is everywhere, but when you’re not LBTQ, disabled, or a Person of Color, doing so is stepping into a minefield. No one sets out to create a character who is a stereotype. But when you’ve been fed those stereotypes all your life through the media and the institutionalized biases that run rampant in our culture, they can be hard to see beyond. Even worse, you may think you’re writing an authentic character, unaware that you’re reinforcing one of those very stereotypes.

A related problem occurs when you intentionally try to write against stereotype. The thinking goes like this: There is a stereotype out there of the young black man who is an unemployed, drug-dealing thug. Therefore the young black man in my book needs to aspire to a law degree from Harvard, speak the Queen’s English, and spend his spare hours doing volunteer work at the local hospital. Your character then becomes just as cardboard as the original stereotype, and what’s more, if your book’s setting is a crime-ridden inner city, downright unbelievable (is it okay that I said that??). This whitewashed, pardon the irony, version of your character is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction to the original stereotype, and therefore calls attention to that stereotype.

So how does a straight white woman like me go about creating characters who are very different from her? I don’t know, but I imagine that the answer lies in a combination of research, beta readers…and a bit of trust in our shared humanity. Through research, I can learn about the cultures of those different from myself, and once I’ve finished a draft, beta readers can reflect back to me any insensitive material I’ve unwittingly introduced into my work.

But the most important tool I have is empathy. Our skin colors and sexual orientations may be diverse, but my characters and I share primary human emotions and universal life experiences. If I can tap into the deep well of my feelings and experiences, I know I will find a connection with my characters whether they’re black or white, abled or disabled, straight or gay.

So I pledge to move forward boldly and do my best to bring diversity to my YA fiction. The danger of leaving deserving teens without books that reflect their backgrounds and experience trumps my personal fear of getting it wrong.

Writing Resolutions for 2014

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. I know from my experience as a Pilates instructor that promises to lose 10 pounds by January 31st or to, more vaguely, “get in shape” are all too easily derailed. This year, though, I came up with these writing resolutions, some specific, some global, that I hope will help make 2014 a productive and creative year.

1. I will stay positive, hopeful, and optimistic about my future work getting published. The fact that my agent, the fabulous Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary, left the business this spring made 2013 a tough year for me. But I’m determined to keep forging ahead and hoping for great things in the future.

2. I will continue to identify myself as an author. Since I haven’t published a book since 2011, I sometimes feel like I no longer belong in the “Published Authors’ Club.” But then I remind myself that I now have 8 published works out there, not including magazine stories and articles and website content. I think that earns me a lifetime membership!

3. l will remain open to alternative ways of bringing my work to readers. There’s no denying it: the publishing world is changing. What does that mean for me? I’m not sure, but I’m going to stay open to the new models that are being created.

4. I will be open to trying different genres of writing. For the past few years I’ve focused exclusively on writing YA novels. I want to continue with that, but I’ve also recently finished the first draft of a romance novella. Who knows what other kinds of works might surface this year?

5. I will be open to trying new writing processes. My modified NaNoWriMo experiment this November opened my eyes to the fact that maybe slow and methodical isn’t the only way to write. I plan to try lots of different writing methods and techniques in the coming year.

6. I will revise Novel #3 and resubmit to at least 12 agents. See Resolution #1 above.

7. I will revise my romance novella with the potential goal of self-publishing it as an e-book. See Resolutions #3 and #4 above.

8. I will read through my first draft of Novel #4 and decide whether it’s worth revising. This is the novel I completed at top speed during November. I think it’s a mess, but now that I’ve put it aside for a month, I’m willing to take a look and see if there are any gems hidden in the swamp.

9. I will be on the lookout for ideas for novel #5. I always like to stay a step ahead of myself. That way, if a prospective agent asks me, “What are you planning to write next?” I’ll have an answer.

10. I will remain joyfully committed to my writing practice. ‘Nuff said.

What are your writing resolutions for 2014?


Three important questions to ask your (unreliable) narrator

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

I recently finished the first draft of a novel. As I let it sit and percolate, I find myself wondering whether the story would be more interesting if I made my narrator, who is also my main character, a little less reliable.

I love books with unreliable narrators. Some of my favorites are INVISIBLE by Pete Hautman


LIAR by Justine Larbalestier


…and INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch.


Unreliable narrators add a layer of interest to the story because you, as a reader, are never sure that what they’re telling you is true. I even paid homage to my favorite books by making Stevie, the main character and narrator of my YA novel FLYAWAY, somewhat unreliable.

As I think about adding this narrative layer to my current WIP, I realize that there are three questions I need to ask my narrator/main character in every scene:

1. What do you believe about the situation at hand? A character’s unreliability can stem from several different causes. In some cases, the character may not be telling the truth because he or she is unaware of it. In my WIP, for example, my main character, Desiree, knows that something is different about her, but she has made a wrong assumption about what that difference is. So she is not really lying to the readers, the other characters, or herself; she simply is unaware of the truth. She believes that what she is conveying to the reader is true, even though it isn’t.

Other unreliable narrators, though, are actively hiding the truth. In these cases, it’s important that you, as a writer, know what the character actually believes and why they are obscuring that belief.

2. What do you want the other characters to believe? This question will help you decide how much your character will disclose to others in the world of the novel. In my WIP, Desiree desperately wants to hide the fact that she is different from her best friend, Emmy. So even though readers know that Desiree believes something is wrong with her, they will see her behaving as if everything is normal, especially when she’s around her friend.

Be aware that your narrator might answer this question differently for each character she interacts with in. In other words, there may be some characters that the narrator is willing to disclose her secrets to and others from which she wants or needs to hide it.

What do you want the reader to believe? This last question is the essential one in creating an unreliable narrator. Will your narrator share secrets with the reader, even ones that he doesn’t share with other characters, or will he tell the reader one thing and, by his actions in the story, show another?

In a few weeks, I’ll be diving in to revise my novel, using these three questions as my guide.

Do you like books with unreliable narrators? What are some of your favorites?

First person or third person? That is the question

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Now that I’ve returned from my trip to the Oregon Coast…

Sea Rocks


And the Redwoods…

Helen Tree Dance

…I’m back to work on my new novel.

I’ve run into a snag, though: I can’t decide whether to write it in first or third person. I’ve now written three YA novels in first person present tense, and I’m wondering whether it’s time for a change. I’ve tried the opening scene in both first and third person, and there are things I like – and don’t like – about each of them.

Things I Love about First Person:

It fits me like a comfortable old shoe. I connect immediately to my main character, and I enjoy being right in her head, experiencing the story along with her. And scenes between two females are easy to write, because I can just use “I” for my main character and “she” for the other character in the scene.

Things that are Challenging about First Person:

It can get a little claustrophobic spending all my time in my main character’s head. Not only am I limited to writing about the parts of the story that she experiences, I can only write with her vocabulary, from her point of view. Sometimes, for example, I’ll think of a great way to describe a setting, but then I’ll think, “No, my character would never see it that way.”

Things I Like about Third Person:

Notice that I used “like” instead of “love.” I seldom write in third person, but in experimenting with it this week, I can see that it does have its benefits. It allows me to be more of a narrator, using a wider language palette and describing things in my own way. Third person also makes it easier to dole out essential information. For example, if I want my readers to know that Emmy is my main character Desiree’s best friend, I can just say, “her best friend, Emmy.” If I’m writing in first person, I have to be a little sneakier about stuff like that.

Things that I Hate about Third Person:

I’m fine with reading novels written in third person, but I feel awkward writing them. I feel distant and disconnected from my characters, and I find my sensibility drifting into adult territory, rather than sticking with a teen point of view. Also, it really sucks writing a scene in third person between two or more people of the same sex. Because there’s no “I,” and just calling everyone “he” or “she” can get confusing, you have to keep writing characters’ names.

So my dilemma here is whether to go with what’s comfortable and has worked for me in the past or to challenge myself to learn a new skill. Who knows? If I give it a chance, maybe I’ll come to love writing in third person.

Which do you prefer as a reader, first person or third person? How about as a writer? Have you ever had trouble deciding which  POV to use? How did you resolve your dilemma?