One Writer’s Journey

September 1, 2017

Multiple Points of View

If you are contemplating writing a young adult novel with multiple points of view, you need to study One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus.

If you don’t know this book, five students are given detention on the same day. They were all caught by a single phone-hating teacher with phones in their backpacks during his various classes.  But the phones aren’t theirs.  They are:

Bronwyn is the school brain.  She’s heading straight for an early acceptance from Yale.

Cooper is a jock with an amazing fast ball. He’s already being scouted by a variety of schools.

Addy dates the school quarterback. She’s sweet and pretty enough to be on the homecoming court.

Nate, a known drug dealer, who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  He’s focused on convincing his probation officer that he’s doing everything right.

In spite of the fact that Nate is there, Simon is the odd man out.  Why?  He has one friend in the whole school and everyone else hates him.  Hates.  Him.   Simon runs a gossip ap that used to “out” whoever did anything they wouldn’t want someone else to know about.  Cheating on a boyfriend, casual sex, drunken anarchy, pregnancy.  All could be and were punished by a post from Simon.

But not everyone makes it out of detention.  Note: I don’t consider this a plot spoiler because the vast majority of this book is spent trying to figure out how and why Simon died of an allergic reaction to peanut oil in the middle of detention.

Why is this a book you should study for POV?  Because you spend a great deal of time in each character’s head.  The moment you pick up the narrative through a particular set of eyes, you know who is in the driver’s seat.  There is never any question whether the POV character is Addy or Cooper.

Some authors would be able to pull off telling the boys from the girls and that’s about it but McManus gives us four distinct voices.  She does an amazing job.  Part of it is done by giving the characters distinct backgrounds.

Cooper is a good-ol’ Southern boy who moved to California to play baseball.  When he gets nervous, his accent gets mighty thick.

Nate is a drug dealer but he does it to pay the mortgage and put Chinese take out on the table.  He doesn’t love his life, but he doesn’t know how to fix it. He’s used to telling adults, especially his probation officer, what they want to hear.

Bronwyn is the insanely smart daughter of an immigrant father.  Can you say driven to succeed?

Home-coming princess Addy lives in a fatherless household with a mom who is addicted to plastic surgery and young husbands.  She’s not the prettiest or the smartest but her boyfriend is a catch and she knows she’s lucky to have him.

Each of these characters uses a different vocabulary and different sentence structure.  Once you learn the four points of view, you never wonder whose head you are in.  A masterful job and a book worth studying.





August 22, 2017

YA: Writing It Real

I remember reading YA novels while my son was in upper elementary and middle school and thinking, “Whoa!  These are teenagers?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”  Kids with their own cars taking lengthy road trips.  Teens with credits cards buying this and that and hotel rooms?  No worries.

Of course, now that I’m the mom of an eighteen year-old, I laugh.  You have to be 21 to rent a hotel room or lease a car.  I know this because my son and his friends wanted to take a road trip this summer.  Did I say, “no”?  Did I say, “Over my dead body”?  Nope

.  I didn’t have to say a word.

With two guys saving up for cars, they weren’t going to sink all of their money in a lengthy trip even if it would be great fun.  And my son discovered the problem with renting the hotel room or car rentals while he was doing the research.

So I had to laugh when I read Vivian Parkin DeRosa’s Huffington Post article, “I’m a Teenager and I Don’t Like Young Adult Novels. Here’s Why.”  As she put it, most of these characters aren’t high school students.  They’re twenty.  And I have to agree.

Not that we always want our characters to be 100% typical.  When I was a teen, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels as well as Anne McCaffrey’s Pern and Cherryh’s Chanur Saga.  At no point did I really believe that I was going to be stranded in deepest, darkest Africa and live among the apes, find myself on a dragon fighting thread, or traveling space with humanoid beings with cat-like faces.  Never.

But that was okay.  In fact, it was better than okay.  It was amazing.

I went to a public high school.  I didn’t want my fiction to reflect my reality, thank you.  Not that I loathed my life but fiction was something else altogether.

I’m not saying that you need to confine your flights of fancy to speculative fiction.  But if you want to write realistic characters?  Make ’em real, people.  Teen readers know the difference.


January 26, 2016

What Are You Writing?

Colorful books on shelfWhenever a new writer comes to critique group, I ask, “What do you write?”

Can I say, without giving offense, that it is off-putting if they can’t tell me?  Too often the answer is “children’s stories” or “books for children.”  That’s too broad and it makes me think that you don’t know the answer in contemporary publishing jargon.

Hey, wait!  Aren’t writers supposed to think outside of the box?

You are, but if you don’t know what the heck you’re writing, you don’t know what box to avoid. If you are just starting to write for children and teens, here are some categories to know.

Fiction vs nonfiction.  It’s basic but I understand some of the confusion.  If you are writing a story about growing a garden and framing it as the experience of fictional Adam, what is it?  Fiction or nonfiction?  Without reading it, my guess would be fact based fiction.

Picture book.  A picture book is an illustrated book in which the text and the art equally tell the story.  These books give readers the info they need to learn about the world in general. The recent Newbery Last Stop on Market Street is a picture book.   Adults read these books to young readers.
Audience: Toddler to early grade school.
Length: Up to 3 manuscript pages.

Beginning or early reader.  The purpose behind these books is for new readers to be able to read them independently.  That meanst that vocabulary and sentence structure are simple.  Illustrations don’t expand on the story but provide contextual clues for the reader.  Look at beginning readers and you’ll see lables like “level 1.” Levels vary from publisher to publisher.  Elephant and Piggy.
Audience: 1st and 2nd grade.
Length: Up to 20 manuscript pages.

Chapter books.  These books may contains some illustrations but they are for confident readers who aren’t intimidated by a lack of pictures.  That said, these are still newish readers and the books tend to have a main plot line and no subplots.  Often published in series. Magic Tree House.
Audience: 1st to 3rd grade.
Length: 40 – 60 manuscript pages.

Middle grade novels.  These readers can handle at least one subplot.  Characters are discovering their place in the world so stories are frequently about family, friends,  and school.  It is rare for these books to include extreme violence, drug use or sex. Some romance, very light, is okay. Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Audience: 3rd to 6th grade.
Length: 100 – 250 manuscript pages.

Young adult novels.  Middle schoolers read some of these books and these are the books with less extreme content.  Books for high schoolers can include, but don’t have to focus on sex, drugs, etc. These are kids who are challenging the world although they may still be looking for their place in it. Graceling.
Audience: 7th grade and up.
Length: 200 – 350 manuscript pages.


February 18, 2014

Call for Manuscripts

If you have written a young adult or new adult novel, then you might want to take a look at Clean Teen Publishing.  When I first saw the name of the publisher, I thought that they must limit what they publish.  No sex here!   But that’s not how the approach it.

This publisher acknowledges that some teens won’t read a book that isn’t at least a little sexy while others aren’t comfortable with much beyond a kiss.  That’s why each Clean Teen book receives a rating in four different areas:  substance, swearing, violence and sex.

Where many publishers want one book and, following a view of your sales, will decide if you have a series, Clean Teen wants more.  They want either the first two novels in a series or a novel and a prequel novella.

I don’t know much more than this about Clean Teen but I find their approach intriguing.  For more on their submissions guidelines, click here.

Good luck!


March 30, 2012

Saving the Economy, One Young Adult Novel at a Time

Yes, its a humorous video but check out this skit  on College Humor.  The topic?  How the young adult novel will save the US economy.  If you’re a writer, you will really love the novel writing kit as well as the group that is doing the cover design.

Humor aside, I love that the Hunger Games has been front page news.  Not only was there an article in my local paper, but it was also features online in Outdoor Life, a hunting/fishing magazine.

Maybe it is the fact that there are so many article out there, but some of the quotes just make me shake my head.  Where did they find this expert?  In one article, a librarian said something about hoping that, with the success of Hunger Games, publishers wouldn’t put out a stream of dystopian YA.  What book case has she been hiding behind?

Ah, well.

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the dystopian novel and perhaps not everyone would classify these books as dystopian, but here are some YA novels I really enjoyed:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  Set in the future but with something of a steam punk vibe.

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude.   A future in which a virus has wiped out much of the male population.

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner.  Creepy fabulous.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson.   Just how far is too far to save someone you love?

Not all fun and upbeat but they all leave you with something to think about.   And, isn’t that one of the best things about a really good book?



October 27, 2010

Sample various children’s books

Last week I found out about a blog called First Page Panda.  The site posts the first page of various middle grade and young adult novels as well as the summary and a bit about the author.  Last week they featured Kris Nitz’s Suspect.

The blog is maintained by Alisa Libby, author of The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose and Anna Staniszewski, author of the upcoming novel  My Un-Fairy Tale Life.

Stop on by and sample new and upcoming novels and maybe you’ll discover a new favorite author.  You can never have too many!




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