Monday, March 19, 2018

FUN WITH VOICES [Laurie Boyle Crompton]

My new book PRETTY IN PUNXSUTAWNEY will be released in early 2019 and I found a fun way to introduce myself to my awesome team at Blink! Embrace the second-hand awkwardness and get ready for a cover reveal coming soon!!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Voice of Technology or How I Used an iPod Touch to Edit My Book (Alissa Grosso)

I feel like I need to preface this post with the caveat that I am not really a tech savvy person and am a far cry from an early adapter. This year I finally replaced my trusty iPhone 5, and that was only because the battery was about to explode, but did I splurge on a spiffy new iPhone X? Hell to the no. I got myself an iPhone SE which looks nearly indistinguishable from my 5, I even went with the basic white color because change is for other people.

Still, when those around you are more extreme in their refusal to embrace the latest and greatest, it's easy to feel like a techy. Last year my boyfriend finally replaced his flip phone with--wait for it--a new flip phone. My attitude is that I'm all for technology that can make my life easier, which is why in a few minutes I'm going to let my Roomba clean the floors for me. It's also why, when the rights to my second and third YA novels reverted back to me this year, I decided to use technology to prepare them for re-publication.

Tools of the trade: an iPod Touch, a paperback copy of Ferocity Summer and my not-completely-edited file.

First of all, a little bit of backstory. The reason I needed to work on these books to re-release them was that the files I had in my possession had only gone through the first round of copyedits. I did not have files that contained all the final edits.

I knew it would be tedious work. So I decided that technology could be used to make my job easier. It took some trial and error, but eventually I worked out a system that worked. I used an iPod Touch to help me in my task, but my iPhone SE would have worked just as well. I just decided to have a device devoted to the work at hand since there might still be calls and messages coming in on my phone.

Here's the system that worked for me, in case you find yourself in a similar situation:

1. Went through and chapter by chapter converted my document to HTML files. Why HTML? I don't know, but for some reason these files seemed to work better than using text files. Could you convert the whole book to one single big HTML file? Yes, but from my experience it was a LOT easier to work with those single chapter files.

2. One by one AirDrop an HTML chapter file from my Mac to my iPod. Again you could easily use a phone or tablet instead of an iPod, and you could also transfer the files over in other ways, too, email, text, etc.

3. Open the HTML file in Pages on my iPod. Once again, there might be other programs/file types that can be used. This is just what worked for someone who is not truly tech savvy, see above.

4. Highlight the whole text. This was actually one of the trickier steps for me. I couldn't find an easy way to "select all" on my iPod so I had to do a lot of dragging to get the whole file highlighted. This was extra tricky because there was a delay of a second or so, and if I didn't do things just right I could accidentally unhighlight everything and have to start over from scratch. Some profanity might have been used when this happened.

5. With my unedited file open on my computer, I would pick up my published paperback book and open to the corresponding chapter.

6. On the iPod a little box is popped up and I select the option for speaking. There was sometimes a slight delay after pressing the speak option.

7. As my iPod reads my unedited chapter, I follow along on the page of my printed book looking for discrepancies. When I find one I have to hit Pause, fix it on the computer file, and then keep going forward.

One problem that I ran into a few times was that at some points while in the midst of working on a chapter, the phone would ring or the handyman working on my bathroom would need to ask me a question and my iPod would fall asleep, and so I would have to go through the tedious chore of re-highlighting the text. I complained about this in one of my Awkward Author videos and viewer, online friend and beta-reader-extraordinaire NevadaG pointed out that I could set the options on my iPod so that it stayed awake. See, what I said above about me not being a tech savvy genius.

By the way, that handyman that I mentioned? He was here working on my bathroom pretty much the whole time that I was working on this project. So, if you really want a full picture of what things looked like imagine him in the next room installing tile, while I'm in my office with my dog angrily barking at the intruder and my iPod reading my books aloud to me. This was especially interesting when I was working on Ferocity Summer that has some, shall we say, colorful language in it. Probably should have used some headphones for that one.

I used the default iPod voice--you've likely heard her before. She's a bit monotone and robotic sounding, but not too bad. She does get a bit tripped up by homographs like read, live and tear and there were a few secondary characters whose name's she pronounced incorrectly, but mostly her reading was pretty impressive. I was able to hear where the commas were just fine, though italics didn't come through at all. (Note: that could have had something to do with the conversion to HTML files.)

I am happy to report that I finally got through the re-editing process for both books and am now hard at work getting those files shaped up for re-publication. With any luck, I will stop hearing that flat, robotic voice in my head one of these days.

Alissa Grosso is the author of the YA novels Popular, Ferocity Summer and Shallow Pond. You can pick up a free copy of Popular at her website, and she promises that soon copies of Ferocity Summer and Shallow Pond will be available for purchase once again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Elusive Concept of "Voice" (Jodi Moore)

As writers, we’re told that’s the one thing editors look for. It’s also the one thing they can’t fix. They can correct grammar and spelling. They can point out where characters need to be fleshed out. They can help us develop plot.

But voice? Voice is unique. Distinct. And in a very real sense, it’s what “speaks” to them, and to our readers.

We all have a voice. So why is the concept so mysterious? Why is it so hard to define with respect to writing? Why is it so hard to “find”?

The other night, my hubby was playing music for me. He played an album cut that I’d never heard before, yet I immediately connected with.  You see where I’m going with this? It was the voice. It was unique. Distinct. It spoke to me.

“I like this song,” I said. “It sounds like David Bowie.”

“That’s because it is,” he replied.


I think at that moment, I started to realize what voice truly is (at least to me!) It’s one we immediately recognize because of its unique sound or style. It’s no carbon copy; rather, it’s one others often try to emulate. 
For me, true voices are honest. They resonate, in every sense of the word. They not only provide a distinct tone, timber and character, but they also echo within our minds and hearts long after we’ve read or heard the last word.

In best case scenarios, like David Bowie, these voices can draw us in, transport us to new worlds and fill our souls. They assist in connecting us on a human, emotional level.

But here’s the thing. We don’t have to like a voice. There may be artists that I appreciate or respect for their talent, but I may not necessarily like their sound or what they have to say. In fact, there are voices I’d rather not hear.

That being said, when I do, I know exactly who they are…because they’ve developed something that’s distinctive to them. 

When we grow as writers, we are challenged to not only develop our own voice, but unique ones for each of our characters. It's not an easy task...but one well worth it.

Simply put, words matter. And when paired with the right voice, they can inspire. Empower. Transcend.

It’s time to find, hone and use yours. The world is waiting to hear it.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Difference Between Us (Maryanne Fantalis)

I struggled for a long time to come up with an idea for a post this month's topic: voice. Voice is one of those things that, as a writer, you understand but it can be hard to identify and describe. The most obvious examples of voice are in novels that are told in multiple first-person points of view. When you're reading a chapter and you can't tell which character is supposed to be narrating, that's when you know that the author doesn't have a strong sense of voice.

I write in first person, even though that isn't an obvious choice in historical or in romance. I do it because I've been told I have a powerful control of my characters' voices when I write in first person. When retelling the story of Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew, I wanted to tell it from the shrew's point of view, in her own words, since her words were the reason she'd been labeled a shrew in the first place. If she wasn't given a chance to speak her own truth, how would we ever know who she truly was?

The difficulty in this choice -- the difficulty any time you choose to write in the first person -- is separating your own voice (as the author) from the "I" in the book (the character). Although  many of my main character Kate's experiences and opinions are infused with my own, she is her own person. At our cores, Kate and I are very different. Kate loves to argue, to dispute, to wrangle. It's part of her self-definition. In contrast, I am a peace-keeper, a conflict-avoider. I want everyone to be happy.

This made Kate very hard for me to write sometimes. There was one scene in particular where I had to struggle to let Kate have her voice.

The scene takes place at Sir William's keep, and Kate is utterly miserable. She has run away with Sir William even though he didn't show up at the church for their wedding because she thought at least with him, she'd get away from her awful family. But life with Sir William is hardly any better. So she's sitting on a stone wall outside the keep, talking to the only soul who might commiserate with her: her horse. Sir William interrupts their (one-sided) conversation and tries to reason with Kate.

He asks why, if everyone is beneath her, why does care so much what other people think?

Here's a bit of the scene, starting with Sir William's query:

“Aye. All these people who scorn and revile you, you expend so much effort to scorn and revile them in turn. And yet it appears to me that you consider all of God’s creation, including [the horse] here and my humble self, to be entirely beneath you, and so I have been wondering why it matters at all what such lowly creatures think of you?” He took a bite of the apple. “My lady.”
“You are one to speak of scorn, sir!” I swung my legs over the wall and jumped down. “I have only to look at the way you treat your servants—nay! I need only look at the way you behave to me! You are high-handed as a king! You care nothing for my feelings, my comfort, my health…. You would starve me to death—”
“You will not starve, Kate,” he said calmly.
“—you will not let me sleep, you keep me in this awful, filthy dress—”
“Yes,” he agreed, “it is quite an awful dress.”
“—but you deny me a new one! You do not treat me as a proper wife!”
“Why should I? You do not act as one.”
“And why should I? You did not properly marry me! You left me there, waiting at the church for the whole village to mock!”
“And I ask again, why do you care what those folk think?”
I stopped, breathing hard. “You gave them what they wanted—a figure of fun. Kathryn abandoned. It was what they expected all along. No one would marry Kathryn the shrew, not for any price.” I had to be careful or I might cry, and I would not cry, not in front of him.

Now, as I was writing this, there was a war going on in my head. Peace-keeper me responded to Sir William's calm, soothing tone and allowed Kate to be soothed, so in my head, Kate kept reacting positively to him. Like, "Oh, yes, of course you're right, Sir William, I'm being very foolish, why didn't I see it that way sooner?" I had to keep deleting Kate's responses as I typed, because I allowed my voice to take over. But this wasn't me speaking. It had to be Kate. Kate wouldn't agree with him; Kate would keep fighting, and rightly so. Kate would not allow her voice to be stifled. Kate would refuse to yield. It was one of the reasons Will loved her, and one of the reasons he kept trying to help her see that she didn't have to fight every battle alone, that he could be her partner. So I had to keep fighting for her, to quiet my own voice and allow Kate's voice to be heard.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

WHAT WHO WANTS Revisited--by Kimberly Sabatini

This month on the YAOTL Blog we are talking about VOICE.
I've long since learned that my writers voice and my personal voice are inextricably intertwined. My struggle to write has always been tangled in my need to know what to say and who to say it to. 

I could write about this topic from a million different directions. But what always resonates the most is an entry from my Live Journal blog back in 2010--WHAT WHO WANTS.

I wrote this post before I had an agent or sold a book. 
Before I knew what I could be. 
And before I learned that publishing a book was only one small step in figuring out my relationship with voice.

When I think of voice, I hear my Dad...

Originally written on January 01, 2010, 02:24

Its become a bit of a tradition. I come home from celebrating the New Year and then, when the whole house is quiet, I sit down to write and think about my father. At 2am on New Years Day it will be five years since he died. I also think about how its been five years since I was born...

I'm not sure I would be a writer if my father hadn't died at the age of 57. He died of an inoperable brain tumor on his optic nerve. He also died of want. Most people don't expect someone like my dad to die of want, but its the sunny ones that are the trickiest. On the outside he was beloved by almost everyone who met him. He was a wonderful husband and father, he was a volunteer fire fighter, a coach, a counselor, a friend. He was an all-around good guy. In fact there was a two hour wait on line at his wake. The line was out the door and around the block in 20 degree weather. How does a man like that die of want and even if he had, how could I possibly know?

I know because when I watched him die, I was afraid that one day I might die of want too. I was afraid of what we both knew... that you could live your whole life being what you are without ever being who you are.

There is value in being good at what you are, but there is loneliness in never being good at who you are.

I lost so much the night my father died, but I found something too. I found the courage that he left behind. It wasn't enough courage to take him to the places that he wanted to go, but when combined with the bit that I'd been given for has become enough. Its let me find my voice. It has allowed me to write the things that are in my heart and soul. Through my writing I say things aloud that I'd barely allowed myself to think in the past. When I write, I am who I am. I picture him standing behind me, reading over my shoulder, knowing that I will never die of want because of who he is.

I love you Daddy...

And that is how I found my voice.
It's how I began to learn who I was--both in my writing and in my life.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Let's Ask the Right Questions About YA Voice (Joy Preble)

A frequent scenario when I teach writing: An aspiring YA writer will ask if a particular word or phrase is something a teen would say. On the surface this seems a solid question. Certainly we don't want our characters to sound stilted or inauthentic. And honestly, that happens a lot when I critique manuscripts for conferences. Some writers haven't honed their ear for voice -- teen or otherwise--and the result is characters who don't sound like real people. The sentence structure is off, the rhythms aren't there, the flow isn't working. Which brings up another question that I think is legitimate: If you aren't around people younger than you very often or you can't tap into the intense feelings you felt when you were sixteen or seventeen, if you're not keeping up with industry and what is being published and why it's garnering teen readers, then perhaps you aren't quite ready to write YA. Perhaps it's not the best fit.

All that said, I think the real question is not if a teen would say x, y, or z, but rather: What would this particular character I've created say? Who is she? What are her passions, her fears, her desires? What's in her closet? What was she like as a little girl? In middle school? How does she fit into her family, her community, her friend circle? What's in her pockets or bag or backpack? What does her room look like? What did she read when she was little?  And on like that.

Once you know who your character is, you'll know how she talks. You'll know what words she uses and her tone and her intention and her voice. You'll understand that behind everything she says is both a confidence and a fear that she's getting it wrong. You'll see what confuses her and overwhelms her and how she can go from happy to tears in two seconds flat. How her identity is forming even as she tells the world she knows exactly who she is.

And remember that dialogue in novels is like real life chat but not exactly. Everything has to move the plot forward.

Some authors who are doing a fabulous job of this? Well it's a long list.

David Arnold is one. Check out his MOSQUITOLAND and the forthcoming THE STRANGE FASCINATIONS OF NOAH HYPNOTIK.

Nic Stone's forthcoming ODD ONE OUT nails a specific teen's voice so hard that I want to hug that book!

Tiffany D. Jackson's ALLEGEDLY and her forthcoming MONDAY'S NOT COMING.

There are three to start with.

Which YA authors do you think get voice exactly right?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Like, This IS My Voice! Totally! (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is about the YA voice, including how to find it as a writer.

I write both adult and YA fiction, but right now I mostly write YA.  I love YA:  the voice, the feelings, everything.

Years ago, I took an online writers’ voice class, at a point when I’d written five adult novels and was struggling with my sixth.  In the class, we did writing exercises designed to help us discover and/or define our voice.  After several exercises, other students in the class asked if I wrote YA.  I was startled.  No, I wrote ADULT fiction.

The unanimous reaction:  “Mistake.  You talk like a teenager, you write like a teenager, and you act like a teenager.”

Way harsh.

Believe it or not, I’d never noticed, even though I startled people at my old law firm when I said “As if!” and even though the words totally, actually, definitely, like, and even DUDE! make frequent appearances in my speech.

One writing exercise called for us to type out the first few paragraphs of a book we loved, as originally written, then retype them in our own voice.  I grabbed Pride and Prejudice.  Those paragraphs ultimately turned into my first YA book, Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras, which begins almost exactly as I first wrote the words in that class:  “According to Jane Austen,  a guy who’s rich and single should definitely be looking.”

The reaction of my voice class: “Yep, that’s you.”

Some YA authors give talks on how to write in a YA voice.  Honestly?  I think it’s one of those things that comes naturally ... or doesn’t, much like humor writing or playing musical instruments or, actually, most things.  I write YA because it’s natural to me.  Yes, I practiced law for many years, and I wrote like a lawyer.  Yes, I wrote and still write adult fiction, and it sounds like adult fiction.  But when I started writing YA fiction, I felt as if I’d come home.

The second book in my Bennet Sisters YA series was Being Mary Bennet Blows.  Easiest and fastest book I ever wrote, because I simply channeled how it felt to be a loser: rejected, friendless, clueless.  On the surface, I wasn’t at all like Mary Bennet of Pride and Prejudice in high school:  I was brainy without being a geek, I lettered in two sports, and I had friends and dates and all the usual good stuff.  But it didn’t keep me from FEELING like Mary Bennet.  I think almost everyone felt that way from time to time in high school.  I may just remember it better than many.  It remains a vivid part of my soul.

I love teen movies, too, both old and new.  I’m still in love with Jake from Sixteen Candles.  (Who isn’t? Right?)  I wish I’d written Easy A, and Adult Me falls for its teen hero, Penn Badgley, even more than for the adorable Stanley Tucci.  Adult Me also falls for the young rocker, Ian, in What a Girl Wants as much as or more than I do for Colin Firth.  (Okay, close one. Colin plays air guitar in leather pants in the movie.)  I know exactly which character I’d be in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and anyone who knows me at ALL would know, too.  I particularly love movies in which an adult character gets a second chance at being a teen, like 17 Again or Never Been Kissed.
A blog without a pic of a cute guy? Ha! (Penn Badgley, with Emma Stone, from Easy A.)
Actually, that might be it: some part of me would love a second chance at being a teen, even though my first time as a teen was pretty decent.  In a significant way, writing YA books lets me be a teen again.  But in truth?  I never really stopped.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Monday, March 5, 2018

Rejection-Then and Now

by Fae Rowen

I don't know anyone who deals well with rejection—whether it's rejection from the family pet or rejection from an agent or editor. When was the last time you woke up and said, "Yes! Today I'm going to get a rejection letter from that query I sent last week. What a great day!"

I didn't want a file of rejection letters. In fact, even one rejection letter was not acceptable for this perfectionist. But after I finished my second book and published authors in my RWA chapter asked why it wasn't already published, I decided that maybe I should think about selling that book to one of the big New York publishers. Since a conference was coming up and I had an appointment to pitch to an editor from my "dream" publisher, I was set. After all, who wouldn't want my book?

You're smiling, thinking, "What a newbie mindset." And you're absolutely correct. But I was asked for "the full," and after a final revision, I sent it. Within a week, I received the manuscript in the mail with a letter detailing some cuts and revisions that, if I wanted to, I could make and return the book for a second read.

I made all the cuts and revisions except one. And that was a big one, a whole scene which I felt was too important to the ending of the book to cut. You guessed it. Three weeks later I got my first rejection letter—because I hadn't cut that scene. But the editor said if I had written anything else, he'd love to see it. I didn't send him my other book.

 I almost quite writing. Well, I did quit for a while, but thank goodness for fantastic critique partners. Even though I heard their condolences "It just wasn't a good fit for them," "Something better will come along," and "Maybe you should have cut that scene," feelings of not-good-enough and I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing sprouted like weeds after a storm. Why? Because I couldn't hear, let alone process, what those words meant since I had been so certain I had an incredible, bidding-war-possibility first book.

After many pitch sessions to both agents and editors, contest entries (and wins), and rejections to query letters, I understand that my speculative science fiction romance stories really may not be a good fit for an agent or a house. If they already have a contract with an author who writes the type of story I write, I can understand their allegiance to that author. If they don't have "a slot" for something with an admittedly narrow audience from a debut author, I understand their choice to lessen risking their investment.

That doesn't lessen the bite of each negative response, but I've taken the specific feedback as an opportunity to hone my skills and my stories. Unlike some unpublished authors, I didn't send my book out as soon as I finished it. I kept learning and revising the manuscript until multi-published authors I respected urged me to submit it.

The truth is that as authors, we don't know what the marketing trends will be in eighteen months. We don't know what agents and editors are looking for, what will spark their interest to take a chance on a new writer. The difference now is that I get it. I understand they have to go with their intuition to take that risk. One editor told me that she loved the premise, the voice and the writing of the book, but she didn't think she could get it through the marketing meeting, so she passed.

Rejection is such a harsh word for people choosing to offer a contract based on gut-instinct. If they're wrong, their reputation and income suffer. It certainly isn't like being back in junior high and asking a guy to the Sadie Hawkins Dance, when he looks at you deciding if he might get a better offer or if spending the evening in the school gym with you will be "worth it."

Rejection in the business world of publishing isn't personal, even though it feels very personal when you open that letter with all your hopes. The truth is, as long as you don't give up, as long as you keep writing and learning, you can keep pitching your projects. And one day you'll get the thumbs up letter.

Or you can self-publish. We as authors have lots of options now. Good options for those of us who like control over things like titles, book covers, release dates, and even editors.


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love, is available in trade paperback and e-book formats at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
When she’s not hanging out at YA Outside the Lines, you can visit Fae at  or

Saturday, March 3, 2018

How I Found My (Author's) Voice - by Janet Raye Stevens

This month, we’re talking about an author’s “voice,” that seemingly elusive quality or spark that makes an author’s work unique. Though many of my YAOTL blog brothers and sisters can, and probably will, describe and define voice better, I’ll take a crack at it too.
This snippet I read in Writer’s Digest a while back (apologies, I don’t remember the author) is the best, most succinct definition I’ve seen: “No two Author Voices are the same. It’s how you speak and think and then how you translate that to the page.”
Easy peasy, huh?
Here’s another, more convoluted way to look at voice. In a Steven Spielberg movie, there’s always a moment when the characters stand there, with a soft light brushing their faces and a wind machine ruffling their hair, gazing at Something Important in wonder (or maybe it’s awe), while the John Williams score reaches a crescendo. That’s Spielberg’s signature, his director’s voice in action. A moment like that in Quentin Tarantino’s film “voice” would be quite different and probably involve a lot of cursing and blood.
To show, not tell, about voice, let me humbly offer a line from one of my own works:
“Something at the door grabbed my attention. Correction, not something, someone. My heart stopped. Not literally, of course, since I'd be dead, but seeing him, it sure felt like that.”
I chose that snippet from my WWII-set time travel, BERYL BLUE, TIME COP, because it defines the title character (snarky, tough, but not quite as sure of herself as she thinks she is) and shows my voice (snarky, tough, but not quite as sure of myself as I think I am). It also provides a dandy segue into the meat of this blog post—how I was able to find my author voice through character.
My childhood nickname was “Lungs,” for two reasons, because I had a loud, loud voice, and because I had plenty of air (mostly hot) for that voice to be always, always talking. Things haven’t changed much over the *number redacted* years I’ve been walking this planet, blabbing away.
So, safe to say, I’ve never had trouble finding my voice, except when it came to writing. It took me a while to discover my author’s voice. 
When I sat down to write my first book, a paranormal about a reporter, a sexy cop, and an evil soul-sucking immortal, I had an idea, a concept of the characters, and a wow finish. It took me a couple years to write, and when I was finished, I read it over and thought, it’s great! No revision required! Instant bestseller! Send it off to New York and surely I’d get a book deal!
Well, no. Along with the usual newbie novelist mistakes—too much backstory, slow pacing, passive voice, run-on sentences—I made the big mistake of trying to emulate my favorite authors in my tone. The novel read like a paranormal Janet Evanovich meets Elizabeth Peters.
Where was I, the author, in the mix?
I was in a critique group at the time, and the takeaway I got from my sister critters was, “We love your characters, the story, not so much.” While I’d been busy trying to Evanovich-up the narrative, my characters, the hero and heroine in particular, began to speak and act in their own voice, or, rather, what I came to realize was my voice.
Took me a while to nail down what I’d done right, and that was to let my characters establish the “voice” of the story. I’ve honed my technique over the years and now I come up with a plot, a setting, and a wow finish, then turn the characters loose in my brain—mining my life experience, my wants and needs, doubts and fears—to discover who they are and their place in the story. And the results always surprise me.
I bet you’ll be surprised too, when you find your voice. And when you do, let the world know it in a loud, loud voice!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Find Voice Over by Jaimie Engle

Young Adult Perspective in Story

“Mom, is that you?”

Ever notice how when your mom calls or your best friend or your spouse, you instantly know it’s them by their voice? Or how about the way you can tell if they are sad, happy, frustrated, even lying to you by their tone? This is the difficulty of writing in general: VOICE.

What is Voice?

Voice can be complicated. It isn’t cookie-cutter and there are many per author:

1.      Author voice – the flow or flavor that is distinct to you in the same way that a song can start and you know who is singing it
2.      Narrator voice – will always carry a bit of the author voice, no matter how hard we try not to, much in the way that an animal in the wild will always have a degree of bias in research because someone is watching
3.      Character voice – Many different authentic voices must be present to have a book that reflects reality, particularly a compelling main character

Now add to this that you’re a middle-aged woman writing as a teenage boy or girl and the party really gets started. Find voice? Over!

What is Voice in YA?

In order to write like a young adult, you have to think like one and this is not easy. Our adult lives are overburdened with:

·         life lessons
·         expectations
·         responsibilities
·         wisdom

These thwart our YA voice and cause our author voice to take precedent, crafting a story that sounds unauthentic and forced. Should we hang out with teens? Show up at the mall or stalk on Snapchat to grab authentic voice for our YA books? I wouldn’t recommend either in this day and age.

I have an advantage…

I am living with two young adults, one nearing adulthood and the other just teetering on puberty. Even still, my relationship to them is as a parent, so I’m not readily seeing life through their eyes. And in all truth, this is how you find voice over saturating voice with your own prejudices, life experiences, and judgments. Remember what it was like to be a teenager? You should if you’re writing from the POV of one. Things like:

·         Life was fragile
·         Delicate
·         Easily turned upside-down
·         Just as quick to peak on cloud nine
·         Relationships were the most important things in the world
·         If one broke, so did you

Close your eyes and imagine the first boy who gave you butterflies in your stomach. The first time you held hands with someone you liked or heard that they liked you back. Remember that moment when he crushed your heart and found someone else so fast it was like you didn’t exist. Now get away from the opposite sex and remember how uncomfortable you were in you own skin. Did you ever burp or fart in the middle of class? Say the wrong answer? Forget to wear underwear on a gym day? Life could be humiliating, and everything was a huge ordeal.

To find voice in YA, you must remember

Everything is anything and nothing at the same time. Life is music and laughter, tears and experiences. It’s a place where you aren’t a child anymore, but you still lack the skills to be an adult. It’s hugging a stuffed animal one day and having sex the next. It’s dizzying, beautiful, and awful. In a word, the young adult life is VIRAL. When something goes viral, it moves from commonplace to an elevated status in an expedited timeframe that can’t possibly support itself and eventually to becoming obsolete. That is the day and sometimes the hour in a life of a teenager. Couple that with hormones and insecurities, and you’ve found your YA voice all over again.

What a YA Voice Is NOT

I think what too many authors get wrapped up in are the trends in society and the technology that today’s teenager is exposed to. They spend more focusing on what society says is acceptable in today’s world and making that the focal point of their novel instead of showing teens as fragile, inconsistent, and somewhat predictable. They work hard to include new trending tech and jargon, without paying as much attention to the attitude and reason behind their choices. I recommend as an author that you and I stop trying to write YA and begin instead to start remembering our life as a YA.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

My Mother, Loved and So, So Lost by Dean Gloster

(Trigger warnings: Death, alcoholism, and a school shooting.)

When I was twenty, my mother finally finished her decade-long quest to drink herself to death. I’m not completely over it.
Somehow, in the weird unspoken way that tasks are handed out in dysfunctional families, I’d decided in adolescence that it was my job, as a parentified child, to keep Mom from dying. That was my first big failure.

When she drank, my bright and broken mother, Carol Elizabeth Gloster, did it with even more intensity than she brought to everything else. She drank as if she were bleeding out through multiple wounds that only bourbon could plug, only to find that it sloshed through those holes too, leaving her desperately pouring in more.
Mom had a wicked dark sense of humor, and she was creative, lurching from oil painting to magazine writing to fiction. But she was doomed by her own upbringing. My grandmother Bea, Mom’s mother, essentially lived vicariously through Mom and had raised her to believe she was the most brilliant, beautiful, and gifted woman on earth. That’s heavy baggage to drag on creative endeavors, because anything interesting has a steep learning curve. You have to accept a certain amount of, well, sucking for a while before you get good. For my mother, not being the best at something was an agony that she couldn’t stand for long.
In turn, my mother raised three scary-smart boys, and told us that we could do anything and that we were expected to excel at everything. It’s an amazing gift, in our society, to grow up believing you can do anything. It’s also, of course, a lie—to be a world-class sprinter you should be born with a predominance of fast-twitch muscle fibers, and to star in the NBA you should probably have at least some genes for tall.
But as a teen I believed it. If I could do anything, I thought, I could even save my mom.
 That’s not, unfortunately, how addiction works. You don’t have control over someone else’s addiction. She has to decide to quit. Many don’t. My mother didn’t. Not even when her son desperately wanted her to choose life, partly for his sake.
Mom was fierce and—at least until she pickled her brain into a confused fog—political. She had been the state PTA chair of Nevada; and a letter she wrote, published in the Reno Evening Gazette, resulted in the local John Birch Society chapter denouncing her as a “Communist dupe,” which in turn resulted in a brick thrown through our living room window. (This was long before online rants, but even back then, right-wing threat notes were incorrectly spelled and punctuated.)
Like other children, on Mother’s Day my brothers and I gave my mother a mug that said “World’s Greatest Mom.” But that, of course, was also a lie.
 Mom drove blind drunk with me in the car. She was dangerous and—as a sometimes mean drunk—occasionally shockingly cruel. She had narcissistic personality disorder, back when that was still a recognized diagnosis, not the defining characteristic of the U.S. presidency. Eventually, she had episodes of full-blown alcohol psychosis, hallucinating that burglars were climbing up the outside of our house using clamps. Which was alarming, to 14-year-old me, when Mom was the sole adult in charge.
But you can love your mother even if she is broken and complicated and even dangerous. (If that seems hard to believe, consider that in the United States, millions of people love having readily-purchased assault rifles more than they love having safer school children.)
I know now that a teenager shouldn’t be expected—even if it’s only himself who expects it—to save a mother determined to drink herself to death. But I didn’t know that then.
Life is like a novel in that you learn more—and grow more—from difficulties than from easy circumstances. I know something about how the adult world fails young people and how sometimes teens carry unfair burdens. My teenage years, and having lost my mother, inform the YA novels I write: I write about death and about whether it’s possible to save someone. They’re hard stories to tell, but I have my mother’s dark wit and I have a background doing stand-up comedy; using humor helps.
You can use terrible past experiences to create. We don’t always have control over what happens to us, but we do have some control over how we respond.
I’ve thought about that in the last two weeks, in connection with the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. This one—like so many others—was perpetrated by a young angry white man with a history of violence in a prior relationship, who brought a military-grade AR-15 assault rifle with multiple high-capacity magazines to turn a school into a killing zone.
But this time, after the gunshot echoes died away, something different happened. Teenagers in the school—the classmates and students of the dead—refused to accept the usual cycle: thoughts and prayers…too soon to talk about gun control…you can’t prevent…the national gaze moves on.
They’re angry, as they should be. The adult world failed to keep them safe. They’re also passionate, they’re skilled at social media, and they carry the moral mantle of survivors of the horrific.
And they’re not willing to sit down and shut up in the face of hypocrisy and indifference or even pervasive attacks from their elders meant to silence them. They are spending the hard coin of their anger and loss to try to change the world for the better, so that what happened to them and their friends doesn’t happen again.
 They’re awesome and brilliant and I applaud them even as my eyes blur. Because it isn’t fair that they have to carry this burden.
But they’ve taken it up, so the least the rest of us can do is help them, including standing up for them when the paid shills for the NRA and their paid-for politicians try to shush them.
They loved. They lost. And they’re doing something about it.
You go, Parkland students. Be well. Good luck to us all.
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

But is it love? (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

My first book, The Secret Year, was definitely about loss, but was it about love? This was the question I put to the classes and book groups I visited. The relationship in question was thrilling and intense, but it was also secretive, deceptive. The two people involved didn’t always trust each other, and at times they said incredibly hurtful things. They loved many of the same things, they were on the same wavelength in many ways—and yet, they always kept a certain distance between them. They embraced their external obstacles as an excuse not to risk more, not to be more honest.

I didn’t want this to be an ideal relationship. I wanted it to be messy, complicated—like life. I wanted readers to think about the questions of what love is, what a good relationship is. I wanted them to know you can survive a relationship’s end, rough as it may be.

For me, the most interesting stories are about open-ended questions. They're about the imperfections, the trial and error, the heartbreak and healing.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Not loving February -- Jen Doktorski

I struggled to come up with something to write about this month. So much so, that this post is very late. I’m sorry about that. I really am. It’s just that me and February don’t exactly get along. If February and I ever dated, we would have broken up long ago.
The funny thing is I owe a lot to February in terms of my own origin story. My mom and grandfather were born on the same day, which also happens to be my grandparents’ anniversary. (I admire my grandfather’s optimism is choosing to marry on his birthday!)

But more so than not February has always been a month of loss for me. A month I just want to get through. Those same grandparents both passed away in February. I lost my childhood dog, MacDuff in February, and when I was nine, a girl in my neighborhood was struck and killed by a car in February on one of those unseasonably warm days that lured us all outdoors. It was the first time I’d ever experienced a loss of any kind and I remember being so confused by how deeply I was affected by the tragedy. I cried every day and asked my mom for frequent updates while my neighbor remained on life support in the hospital. She wasn’t a good friend. I barely knew her despite the proximity of her house to ours. But she was two years older and that’s a world away when you’re nine. And so I felt guilty about my grief. I felt I had absolutely no right to feel sad when her parents, siblings, and everyone she was close to was suffering so much more. My pain was transient, theirs was permanent, and I felt horrible and hypocritical, though I had no way to articulate or express those feelings then except with more tears.
It’s the same way I felt on Valentine’s Day when 17 people lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida at the hands of a crazed gunman in possession of a weapon, a human killing machine, that shouldn’t be sold to anyone under any circumstances in a civilized society. Those teachers, students, and staff showed up for what they thought was an ordinary day of school and wound up in a war instead.

We watched again as politicians did nothing and those who were elected by some people to lead this great nation of ours, had the audacity (or perhaps lack of intelligence) to propose that armed teachers could have prevented this massacre. If that was the best they could do it was time for me to get my passport updated.

But then something remarkable happened. A strong, determined, articulate group of teens stood up and shouted the words our so-called leaders were too afraid and corrupt to utter – Never. Again.

They give me hope for February. They give me hope for the future. I will follow those kids wherever they want to lead me. Their parents should be very proud. We all should be.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Love, Loss, and Semi-Automatic Rifles (By Brian Katcher)

                This month, someone commented on a post I made about how mass shootings were now so ubiquitous in America that we take it as a given that it’s only a matter of time until the next one. And then I realized that this was an old post I’d written about the Las Vegas shooting. Sucks to be right.
                Since the Florida incident, there have been a lot of suggestions as to how to prevent this: the regulation of bump stocks and assault rifles, an increase in available mental health care, more police presence at schools, etc. All plans have both merits and drawbacks.
                The most ridiculous plan, however, is the one advocated by the President of the United States, who actually said this tragedy could have been prevented had there been school teachers with guns who could have shot the assassin.
                Speaking as a teacher with twenty-one years of experience, I have to say that this plain would not work. I wouldn’t mind a full time SRO, but I am certainly not the one to fill that role. In the decades I’ve taught, I’ve seen the role of the teacher greatly increase. When I was in school, the district provided students with lunch. Now we provide them with breakfast , and sometimes meals on the weekends as well. We’re responsible for character education, life skills, and most noticeably, how to survive a gun fight. While we did have intruder drills when I started teaching in 1997, that was more what to do if a non-custodial parent entered the school and demanded their kid.
                So now I’m supposed to pull out a gun and execute a madman. While I do like to fantasize that I’m John McClane, life is not a movie. The president says the government will pay for my training and weapon. Personally, I’d rather see that money go to more teachers, but whatever.
                The thing is, I have thirteen years to retirement and I pray that I’ll never been in that Florida situation. In the mean time, I’m supposed to be responsible for a loaded handgun while I’m chasing kids around and misplacing my keys. I’d either neglect my teaching so I could be more cognizant of the weapon I’m carrying, or I’ll have it on me so often that I’d dangerously forget that I’m carrying a deadly tool.
                And should the worst happen, would I be able to take out an assassin with deadly accuracy in a classroom full of children? Or would I be hit while scrambling for my holster? Or shoot myself in the kneecap? Would I have the ability to kill a person, even in the defense of others? Could I kill a former student?
                There are obviously no easy answers here, but I know a lot of teachers and not one of them has expressed a desire to pack heat at work.