Category Archives: YA literature

summer reading–let kids invent themselves

We interrupt our revision programming for this important blog entry.

I hate to give this article any more exposure, but I suppose you have to read the buttal before you read the rebuttal.

Claire Needell Hollander, a self-described “middle school reading enrichment teacher” has written an article for the New York Times saying that kids in middle school and high school should not be reading frivolous fiction during the summer.  Like The Hunger Games.

She urges children to be unfettered with the specter of essays and tests for their summer reading, that they be free to explore works which may be out of their comprehension comfort zone. On that point I agree whole-heartedly. When a grade is attached, students tend to play it safe.

But Ms. Hollander maintains “Reading literature should be intentional.” Her suggestions for summer reading include a first hand account of the aftermath of Hiroshima and books about kids who have been real child soldiers and a child sex worker. She feels these book choices  “increase world and verbal knowledge”.

Oh, baloney.

There is a reason we tell stories, and it is this: to make sense out of a senseless world.

Kids and teens especially must have the luxury to explore in a fictional setting the topics that frighten, anger and titillate them. They should be given the space to figure out how life works, how it should work.

Reading fiction with compelling characters gives kids and teens the chance to feel those characters’ dilemmas, to make moral choices along with them. They’re building their understanding of the world and their place in it, one book at a time.


ellen hopkins, the writer teens trust

I have seen a load of fantastic authors recently, so I best get a-bloggin’. First up:


Apologies for the iPhone instead of the Flip. But hey, it’s better than a court room rendering.

The room was full of KIDS SHE WRITES FOR, rather than adults. There were some of those too, but I’d never been to a book signing before where kids were the majority. IT RAWKED.

I was a few rows back, so in the videos you can see two kids from the audience. Let me tell you that was a mixed bunch–kids in Catholic uniforms, goths, preppies, gay…everything. And they were talking to each other about the books. Even kids who didn’t know each other. OH THE WONDERFULNESS OF IT ALL.

First clip, Ellen reads from Crank. It’s important to her that readers hear the rhythm of her voice, so they know how they should read her books:

Could have heard a pin drop, I tell you.

She talked a bit about writing, in which she told us:



She had this to say about her bouts with censorship:

She read again, this time from her new book, Perfect.

And then she told us the sad story of her daughter’s struggle with Meth, which many of her books are based on. Please note that when she presents at schools she shows before and after pictures of her daughter.

Does that sound like glorifying drug use to you?

She ended her talk with a plea to her readers to not touch drugs and to abstain from sex.

Gee. What a Danger to American Youth.

phoning it in


that cell phones and iPods and laptops are suspiciously absent from kidlit. Why? Well, because there are a lot of stories that would have ended with one phone call to the ol’  ‘rents.


Which goes back to kids aren’t nearly as self-reliant as they used to be, BUT I DIGRESS. (RANT AVOIDED)

I confess to acknowledging the existence of cell phones in only a limited fashion in my last manuscript. But by jimminiminny, I am going to step up to the challenge of making my characters normal cell-phone-toting-teens in this WIP, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY writing a whiz-bang knock-down story AND ALSO keeping all the plates spinning.

It’s going to be tricky. There are only so many ways you can let your characters NOT get help from the cell phone before it becomes peculiar. I suppose this opens up the possibilities of…they summon backup, but will it get there in time? Maybe they get reinforcements, but it’s not enough. Or, perhaps they get help, but actually, IT ISN’T REALLY HELP AT ALL! MWAHAHAHAHA!

Oh, sorry. Did I laugh that out loud?

james frey: still a piece of work

Oh, James Frey.

Who the bleep do you think you are.

Some wonderful insight on Frey’s shenanigans from Nova Ren Suma and Maureen Johnson.

IN A NUTSHELL: (Emphasis on NUT)

James Frey is raiding MFA programs. He entices destitute grad students to write YA books for him.

For slave wages.

To his specifications, to maximize movie-licensing tie-ins.

Also, these books are written under pseudonyms.

And various and sundry other unfair practices. (See Nova’s and Maureen’s sites.)

My God. The Hubris.

Please notice that he doesn’t go out into the wide, wide world to find his writers. He harvests kids desperate to pay off their tuition debt and too young to know what a crappy deal they’re getting.


He asks the student to submit an outline, and if Frey likes it, the student writes the book. Then the two of them are considered “co-authors”.


Then he and Spielberg add material to the novel which will translate well onto the screen and into the Happy Meals.


The whole undertaking from beginning to end reeks of disrespect–for the writer, for the publishing business, and most of all for the reader. James Frey thinks  all YA readers like the same bowl of gruel, and he’s got the recipe.


(Hey. That is a direct quote from a picture book. Don’t blame me!)

Please. Don’t support this insult. Don’t buy, or even read, these books.

I mean it.

5 points you better get about ya literature

I really don’t have anything against adult writers dipping their pens into the YA market.

Really, I don’t.

If they know what they’re doing.

Because YA Lit is not dumbed-down Adult Lit. In fact, I put to you that YA Lit is smarter than Adult Lit. Because teens have very sensitive bullshit-meters, and they won’t sit still for your condescending crap.

I am perpetually 16.

So baby, if you want to write YA, here’s


  • The Main Character Damn Well Better Be a Young Adult. Not his Amazing and Wise Parent. Nobody gives a rip about a kid who does whatever his mommy thinks is best. Who the hell wants to read about a shrinking violet who has to be saved by her smarmy father? And then we can all learn a lesson about how parents know best and have milk and cookies around the kitchen table and realize we are incompetent and should never leave the nest. The End. Ick.
  • The Author Can’t Lie. You aren’t going to be able to get away with a damn thing. Every thought, feeling and syllable of dialogue has to be authentic. Oh, adults are used to equivocation. They expect it. Heck, they can’t even tell the difference between fact and fiction any more. But teens? They still think life ought to be fair. They rage against the darkness.  So if you dash off some cliché, if you write  how you think sixteen should feel, if you don’t dig down to your guts for what it really felt like when you were sixteen…well, they’ve got you by the balls. Stuff feels big. Heck, stuff IS big. It’s time for your first kiss, first love, first break up…you get the picture.
  • Something Has to Happen. A lot. Teens will not hold still while you stroke your ego with soulful meanderings about the color of the sky and the wind upon his skin and woe and blah blah blah and the state of the world and lah dee dah. Now, they will remember a few well-chosen phrases that really get them somewhere, but blathering just because you can? Show off. Adult readers are such suckers.
  • The Characters Must Grow over the course of the novel. Sure, there’s a story arc, but in YA the character has to show change. Because that’s what’s happening to teens. They’re morphing every day. Think about the difference in maturity between a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old. You’ve got to change practically every day to make that journey. Remember, this is your audience. If you want to connect, keep in mind what is happening in their lives.
  • There’s a Got to Be a Tomorrow. The book has to end with some hope, or at least the idea that there’s a future. YA literature doesn’t end with the destruction of every living thing on Earth. Teens are our hope for tomorrow. Don’t take that away.

YA Literature is not Adult Literature lite. Edgy or quiet, lush or spare, fantasy or contemporary, romance or sports story–it’s written for a demanding readership.

By talented and savvy professionals.


Please. People. Chime in. Add your criteria for what makes a book YA Lit in the comments.


when adult lit writers go ya

I went to a book signing for a writer who is fairly well-known, but new to me. She’s primarily an adult author, but was in town to promote her second YA book.

Well, she gave an interesting talk. A little reserved, but perhaps that’s how adult authors are. Then it came time for questions.

There weren’t any.

A sure sign she hadn’t engaged the audience. Which consisted of a few dozen older adults, a trio of college-aged girls, and a homeschooler family with a tween and two teens.

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, some pity-questions popped up.

Where do you get your ideas?

What did you read when you were growing up?

How long did it take you to write this book?

What’s the difference between an adult book and a YA?

red alert*red alert*red alert*red alert*red alert

I certainly wanted to hear what she thought the difference was between adult and YA lit.

Here is my reconstituted and paraphrased but fairly accurate rendition of her answer:

“I can’t use such big words in YA. And I have to tone the sex way down.”

That would be a wrong answer.

To be fair, earlier she said the most creative stuff was happening in YA lit. She got THAT right.

But then she said she wanted to write YA because she had something to say to the youth out there.


I have heard of her editor. She is brilliant, and knows the difference between an adult and YA novel. I’m sure she guided the manuscript well. I went ahead and bought the book, told the author I enjoyed her talk, because I did. I bet I’ll enjoy her book too.

But that answer about the difference between adult and YA is stuck in my craw, dames and dudes.

Next week I’ll give you a good answer to that question.

i was so excited to post this i forgot to title it


Gave an amazing talk about writing, and her new book, Forge. You people know I am a Flippin’ Fiend. But you don’t put a writer’s standard talk on your blog so she can’t give it again.

What I CAN post, are a few answers to some questions…

First, hold on to your underpants. You know that thing about reading in your genre?

But remember, newbies: SHE IS NOW AN ACCOMPLISHED WRITER. I’m sure she read plenty of YA before she was published.

Now. For all you folks who want to ban people like Laurie from book festivals–notice how she handles this question about Speak.

Laurie has been such a voice for teen girls, why did she write Twisted?

Which led her to find out the difference between male and female fans.

And last of all, every writer’s dream and/or nightmare–the movie adaptation.

And who hosted this intimate and fabulous affair? Why, Reading Reptile, of course. The best kids’ bookstore on the PLANET.




speak? banned? again? are you kidding me?

A quote from Wesley Scroggins, in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader:

“In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.”

One of the books he wishes to ban? Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Here’s some “pornography” he quotes:

‘NO!—I’m not really here, I’m definitely back at Rachel’s, crimping my hair
and gluing on fake nails, and he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me…”

Well, Mr. Scroggins, I think we learned a whole lot more about you than you meant to tell us, you poor sap.

These people may win battles, but they never win the war.

Banned Books Week starts Saturday.

crossing the tracks–barb stuber’s launch party

Barbara Stuber’s book, Crossing the Tracks launched in June. So pretend I’m not two and a half months behind in my blogging and come along with me for a run-down.

She had a fabu party at the Faultless Starch Company Headquarters,

replete with food, her trailer playing on a big-screen TV

and snippets of her novel scattered about in calligraphied centerpieces.

Barb gave a gracious speech, full of inspiration and gratitude:

I brought Freckles of course, star of Barb’s bookmarks:

And we had the requisite nuts in attendance…Sheila Berenson, Ann Ingalls, Laura Manivong, Elizabeth Bunce, Sarah Clark, Judy Hyde…

…and a whole lot more people who my Flip didn’t get to. I was too busy having fun.

I am a lousy chronicler, but a really good book launch party-goer-toer.

Go buy this book, dammit. If you need convincing, come back Monday for a review.

steamed punks

Steampunk: the new old genre.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are the fathers of Steampunk, what with Captain Nemo’s Nautilus:

and the Time Traveller and his machine:

The word “Steampunk” conjures thoughts of gears, goggles, parasols and petticoats.  Ingenious technology paired with Victorian sensibilities.  It’s often easier to show someone a picture than try to explain the Steampunk genre in words.

Sure, the trappings are cool–the computer with the fine oak cabinetry, the steam-powered bomb factory, the button-up leather coat.  But isn’t it interesting that Steampunk stories are generally set around the Victorian Era–and not past around 1930?

Why?  You ask.  Why? Why? Why?

Well, you’ve come to the right place, my dears.  I have all your answers.

Steampunklandia is a safe place to play.  To challenge ideas.  Like who should be considered strong or weak, who is appealing and who is repugnant.  Even who is right or wrong.

Once upon a time authors wrote about any human being they wanted to, in any fashion they wished,  with impunity.  The Pinhead.  Jo Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.  The Snake Girl.  But now, it’s no longer popular to write about characters as OUTLANDERS.  Our society has come to understand that we are all human beings, even the most seemingly different among us have the same fundamental desires and needs, and the right to respect and dignity.

Now, take the gal on the right:

You are not going to get away with writing about this little lady in a straight novel.

If an author wants to write about a gypsy in a modern-day novel, she will have to shed light on the historical context of gypsies: how they’ve been persecuted, their culture, lifestyle, migration patterns.  Heck.  She won’t even get to call them gypsies.

But in a Steampunk  book, there is an alternate universe she can populate with all kinds of clichés and politically incorrect characters, because it is OTHER.  Steampunklandia may feel familiar, but it is not our world.  We have permission to enjoy any character the author cares to dream up.

I think it’s a good thing that we demand gypsies aren’t just silly, two-dimensional characters in our literature any more.  That we want to know their real story.

But come on.  Somewhere deep in a guilty little corner of your soul…don’t you miss stuff like this?

%d bloggers like this: