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thesaurus surfing

I wrote today.

Well, I write just about every day. Doesn’t everybody? Show of hands.

I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now: blogs, articles, flash fiction, and of course, my YA novel WIP.

This time around, I’ve been trying to mostly disgorge my YA novel in a fell swoop. You know. Get that puppy down in a first draft and and then go from there, rather than the method of polishing as you go.

That’s a lot harder for me. I’m mostly doing it, and I think it’s paying off in a more complicated plot. But I’m still a panster. If you force me to outline everything beforehand, I am going to be very, very bored when I actually write the thing. And that, my little ones, will show up in the final product, won’t it?

But my last two chapters were SUCH a jumbled mess I gave in and rewrote today, and allowed myself the luxury of polishing.

What a relief!

Even though I write for guys, or maybe ESPECIALLY because I write for guys, I pick every frickin’ word I use carefully. I am a spare writer, kids. Look here.

And I got to wondering today if anyone else Thesaurus Surfs.

It goes like this:

I want to replace GUT WRENCHING.

So I look up “wrench”. Some of the words:

contort, bend, screw, twist

Lets look at “twist”:

corkscrew, warp, twirl, spin

Not quite what I’m looking for. Trying “spin”:

pivot, gyrate, whirlwind, torque.


“…my guts torque.”

That’s a teen guy talking, if you ask me.


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.

in the path of falling objects: the sandwich book

There’s no prison worse than “I promise.”

A promise can carry you through tough times.

Or cause them.

Jonah and Simon, two abandoned brothers, set out to rendezvous with a third brother coming back from Vietnam. The only guarantee they have of meeting up with him is in his letters.

The boys hitch a ride on the highway with Mitch and Lilly. As the story unspools they figure out that Mitch is a psychopath. Lilly’s a flirt. She likes to push Mitch’s buttons.

Jonah tries to keep the promise he made to his older brother, to keep Simon safe. Like all little brothers, Simon doesn’t like getting bossed around. Mitch encourages Simon’s minor rebellions, coaxes them into bitter hatred for Jonah. Who would blame Jonah if he just walked away?

Well, there’s that promise.


Andrew Smith’s second book is gut-punching good. Each chapter is labeled with the character whose point of view it’s written in. Not necessary. Because every character’s voice is so distinct you can tell them apart without a scorecard.  The attention to setting puts you right in the desert southwest without getting artsy-fartsy. And the Vietnam letters have heart-breaking historically accurate touches.

Andrew writes really fast. His third book came out last November: The Marbury Lens. It has been named one of the Best Children’s Fiction Books of 2010 by Publisher’s Weekly, and is on the ALA Best Books for Young Adults list 2010, just like his other two books. And he’s got more in the pipeline.

I’m kind of afraid Andrew’s second book, In the Path of Falling Objects might have been overlooked because it was sandwiched between book one and three, way close to The Marbury Lens release date.


That is an order.

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?

master writer #6–barbara stuber, crossing the tracks

It’s been some time since I’ve posted a Master Writer blog entry. (See previous entries.) I’m pretty picky about my list of kidlit book authors who’ve mastered some aspect of their writing in a particularly stupendous way.

I think you’ll be impressed with Barbara Stuber’s Crossing the Tracks:

A literary Young Adult novel in the finest and most engrossing sense, Crossing the Tracks is the story of Iris Baldwin, a 15-year-old-girl who lost her mother at a young age, and her father’s attention as well. When Iris’ father hires her out–without consulting Iris–to a rural doctor and his invalid mother, she has to use her grit and heart to find her way home.


She recreates her novel’s historic period with immediacy, as now time, not the past.

Crossing the Tracks is set in the mid-1920s, but you’re not going to find tired references to mobsters, flappers and bathtub gin. Barbara Stuber has done incredible research and uses multiple techniques to put us smack-dab in Iris’ life.

1. Barbara PLACES PERIOD PRODUCT NAMES throughout her novel:

“After a sprinkle of Pompeian Beauty Powder, I step into my favorite cotton dress that’s white with yellow flowers and lacy sleeves.”

Pompeian Beauty Powder was a real toiletry that ladies used during the time period Crossing the Tracks takes place. Barb shows us the lack of deodorants and antiperspirants at the time, but also finds a powder name that complements the art deco goddess wallpaper in Iris’ room. Every choice the author makes builds atmosphere.



“…my hat and pocketbook thump on the floor.”

“…she fusses, giving her cane a snappy hurry up tap.”

“…Poorly isn’t all she’s going to feel when Cecil finds out…”

While the highlighted words are still in the dictionary today, they are contemporary to the 1920s. (There’s a reason your Grandma uses them.) The trick is to insert just the right amount of dated and/or unfamiliar words. Too much, and you risk producing a parody. Too little, and your characters might as well be living next door to you today.

3. Iris Baldwin grows into a brave young lady–yet she is a creature of THE SENSIBILITIES OF THE TIME. It’s reasonable for her to find the strength to–get to the place where she ends up. (I will not spoil this book for you. It’s too good!) But women were not as open about their bodily functions then as they are now:

“Outside our shoe store window I used to watch ladies, some of them mothers of girls in my class, go into Lowen’s Pharmacy and come out with a bulky sack–their ‘silent purchase’. The store had a system–you put money in a box and took a package of Kotex pads off the counter without saying anything to anybody.”

Nothing screams “fraud” louder than putting millennial ideology in your main character’s head. It’s a disservice to people of the past, who were hamstrung by the mores of the day.

Barbara Stuber’s Crossing the Tracks is on the Kirkus 2010 Best for Teens List and the short list for the ALA’s William Morris Award. It’s an emotionally true story, packed with stunning detail that puts us inside every scene.

And so I declare Barbara Stuber Master of Recreating Her Novel’s Historic Period With Immediacy: As Now Time, Not The Past.

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.

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