Friday, August 31, 2018

The Three Investigators, by Brian Katcher

YA Book of the Year! (The Year Is 1964) 

When growing up, teenagers were not considered young adults, but older children. Books for teens and preteens were generally very preachy or puerile.  But there was on series that kept me reading all throughout elementary school.

   
Chubby genius Jupiter Jones, athletic everyman Pete Crenshaw, and studious researcher Bob Andrews run a detective agency along the California coast. Together, they team up to fight art smugglers, jewel smugglers, gold smugglers, and counterfeiters, who all seem to hide out in haunted mines and castles. Their investigations are secretly backed up by their mentor/publisher Alfred Hitchcock (yes, the director...though when he died in real life, his character was replaced by the fictional Hector Sebastian). When they're not solving crimes, they're thwarting the plans of their teenage nemesis "Skinny" Norris, or having a rumble with the Hardy Boys.

 

Not in the book, by the way.


The boys' ages are never explicitly stated, though a safe bet would place them around thirteen or fourteen. While their youth would seem to be a detriment to crime fighting, the series manages to avoid the Lord of the Flies syndrome. Hitchcock is always there with funds or information, and while they can't drive, the investigators have convenient access to unlimited use of an antique Rolls Royce sedan, complete with a British chauffeur (a gift from a grateful client, via Deus ex machina Rent a Car).

Still, they never rely on grown ups to solve the mysteries. It's always Jupiter's ingenuity, Pete's bull-headed muscle, and Bob's penchant for research that save the day. As a kid, I often found myself projecting onto Bob, wishing my friends were called upon to exorcise ghosts and prevent rebellions in Eastern Europe.

 



Jupiter's aunt and uncle own a salvage yard. The boys run their agency out of an abandoned RV which they buried in the junk, outfitted with everything from a telephone to a darkroom (two things which would sadly be unneeded today). They reach headquarters through a series of secret tunnels and passages. And, as I mentioned before, this takes place in a more sanitized time, so they're not down there drinking beer and reading Playboy.

And then I'd close the book and look at my sad little fort built out of sheet metal and a live thorn bush, and sigh.


  

According to the never erring Wikipedia, these adventures have been released all over the world. However, they are especially big in Germany. Not only have they been translated and re-released, but the German authors have added brand new adventures in Deutsch. This involved changing the characters somewhat. For instance, Hans and Konrad, the Bavarian brothers who work at the salvage yard, are now two Irishmen, Patrick and Kenneth. The boys also apparently have girlfriends in the European issues.

It's been thirty years, but I'm still waiting for that Rolls Royce to pull up, so we could all go off and bust up another ring of international jewel thieves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"It Is Only with the Heart" by Dean Gloster


            Truth will break your heart.
            That's one of the tragedies of being a storyteller.
            Because our job is to tell the truth, in the form of stories.
            Today I’ll tell you a story, about a book I gave my heart to, which ends in an actual death, caused by a man who regretted it.
            Out topic this month is the projects that hooked us as writers. The first book that hooked me as a future writer was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. 

            The Little Prince is a children’s book about a marooned flyer in the desert and the little prince—a visitor from far away—he encounters. It’s one of the 50 best-selling books of all time, and has been translated into 100 languages. That’s true even though it’s a book suffused with sadness. As is true of characters in good fiction, not all goes well for the little prince.


            I loved that book. I still do. And I saw myself in that book when I read it. Not only because my best drawing of a python that ate an elephant would also look to most grownups like a hat:

            I saw myself because the narrator of that book—and the extraordinary Prince he met—regarded the world of adults as deeply off-kilter and messed up. Which it was then, and still is.

            You don’t have to look much further to prove that, than to consider what happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry himself. He was a pilot as well as a writer, and he wrote so eloquently about the joy of flight that he inspired an entire generation to take up flying, including the German fighter pilot who killed him.

            On July 31, 1944—during what was supposed to be his last flight of WWII even if he had survived—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flew a Free French reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean and was shot down and killed by a devoted fan of his, the German airman Horst Rippert, who didn't find out until after the war that he had personally killed his favorite author.
            You can consider that as an indictment that war is terrible. Or that it’s even worse if you let your country be run by Nazis. Or see it as a resonant coda to the book The Little Prince itself.
            The wonder—and tragedy—of good stories is that they do not provide simple answers. They expand the soul.
            The Little Prince taught me lessons, which I’m still exploring in my stories (and life), including:
o   Adults often don’t know what they’re doing.
o   Do not underestimate young people.
o   There are many wrongs in the world; try to right them.
o   Lots of people won’t understand your pictures, but some of them will. 
           So today, just over 74 years after his death, I’m thinking of the lessons Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had to teach, and how much we still have to learn. Good luck to us all. Be well.
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’s hobbies are downhill ski racing and Aikido. He’s currently at work on a novel about a 15-year-old boy who gets a sketchy summer internship and finds out it’s with Death herself.

Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster


Monday, August 27, 2018

Hooked on realism (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

The YA books I loved best as a teen definitely inspired the YA books I’ve written. They all fall under the umbrella of “contemporary realism.”

It was perhaps my misfortune to be writing contemporary realism during the era when popular YA fiction has been filled with vampires, faeries, witches, wizards, and superheroes, but that’s life. At least John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Courtney Summers, and Leila Sales, among others, have helped keep the subgenre alive.

I always wanted to read about realistic problems with realistic solutions. As a teen, I couldn’t stand it if characters were able to get out of sticky situations by flying or casting spells or using any other magical power I would never be able to wield in real life. I wasn’t nearly as interested in mythical dragons as in the real battles that people fight every day with life’s unexpected pitfalls--illness, loss, rejection, betrayal—presented not in the form of fantasies and allegories but with the hard edges and strict limits of realism. What do you do when the kids around you start taking drugs? When the guy you like turns out to be a jerk? When you’re bullied? When your friendships change? When your parents divorce? When serious illness hits your family? Even the problems that weren’t immediately relevant to me were problems that my friends faced, or that my neighbors faced, or that I could face one day. These stories reflected the world I saw around me; they reassured me that I wasn’t alone in finding the world a daunting and confusing and troubling place—and sometimes an absurd, ridiculous, laughable one, humor also being part of many realistic stories.

And so I read Judy Blume, Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger, Sandra Scoppettone, Paul Zindel, S. E. Hinton, Norma Klein, K. M. Peyton. Even though I also read Lois Duncan, whose stories often had a paranormal twist, I liked that she grounded her stories in realistic worlds. Her characters had ordinary problems, into which their more extraordinary problems were woven.

I know now that many of my contemporaries found necessary escape, or comfort, or power, in fantasy stories. That’s why we need so many different stories, because different readers need different things. What I needed, and what I wrote about, and what I still like best to read, are the “ordinary” stories, of this “ordinary” world that can be so challenging just as it is.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Another Love Letter to JOHNNY TREMAIN (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

Image result for lynd ward johnny tremain illustrations
I think this is the most recent one,
so I might get in trouble,
but is he drawing a sword here?

Like every writer, the books that have influenced me have been too many to count, but the book that has most influenced me as a writer is my favorite book, the book that is always there for me, the book that has something new to say every time I read it.

I know I shouldn't, but I always cringe a little when I tell people about my favorite book, because I know they're probably not going to get it because they probably haven't read it. If anything, they know it's a book that has suffered from a wide variety of terrible covers, despite the beautiful internal illustrations by the legendary Lynd Ward. Or they know the truly horrific and terribly unfaithful-to-the-book-in-the-most-egregious-of-ways 1957 Disney adaptation. Or they know it's about a boy who burned his hand. There was even a joke about this on Family Guy.

Image result for lynd ward johnny tremain illustrations
Goblin, the horse, reminds me of my dog.


Yes, my favorite book is Johnny Tremain, the 1944 Newbery Medal winner by Esther Forbes, and if you haven't read it, you need to abandon everything you think you know about it and go read it right now because it is a freaking masterpiece. (Yes it won the Newbery, which is for children's literature, but like many of the early winners, it is a YA book. The main characters are teenagers. It was written for teenagers. YA just wasn't a category in 1944.)

Image result for lynd ward johnny tremain illustrations
This is the copy I had as a kid, complete with floating house, floating Redcoat, and dudes randomly in a field. At least the ship makes sense. Oh, and also, JT can't hold a gun because of his hand situation and that's actually a plot point, so read the book why don't you, cover artists. His hand looks totally fine in this picture, and the fact that it is not is kind of the inciting incident. Sheesh.

Image result for lynd ward johnny tremain illustrations
Johnny is either a zombie or a vampire in this one.
Does he not look like he's about to go drive a stake
through someone's heart?

Johnny Tremain is the story of the most gifted silversmith's apprentice in colonial Boston, who has to give up on that career after an accident with molten silver maims his right hand. His ensuing adventures with the revolutionary crowd provide a nuanced look at patriotism, family, friendship, and love (unlike that utterly horrifying Cold War Era Disney adaptation).

Esther Forbes called the book her "great war effort," and it was published at the height of World War II. But Forbes, already an accomplished historian, was not going to tell a one-sided story. The year before she won the Newbery, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her history of colonial Boston, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In.

In the research for that book, she uncovered a scrap of information that said the night Paul Revere started on his famous ride, a "horse boy" brought him the information he needed. As she reflected on her research she realized that the story of the apprentices of Boston had never been told. So in Johnny Tremain, she told it.


Image result for disneys johnny tremain
This might be the worst thing I've ever seen.
Again, people, dude cannot hold a gun.
The thing with his hand is kind of a big deal.
Esther Forbes also hated this movie,
which is unfaithful to the book in plot points
and in spirit.


I majored in history and wrote two literary history theses in grad school. When I write historical fiction, it's very important to me to get the historical world right. (It's never what anyone wants it to be, because people do love their completely unfounded stereotypes, but that's a different story.) And often, I find stories in the scraps, between the lines.

I always say that there are so many stories that have never been told that there's no need to ever write the same book twice.

This book has always had something to say to me.

When I first read it as a third-grader, it was about the double-edged sword of giftedness, about how that label makes people feel about you, and about how it makes you feel about other people.

When I returned to it after a break of fifteen years or so, as a young adult, it was about the ways giftedness fails us.

When I was writing my first novel (and every time I've gotten stuck), I read it and it shows me how to write again.

On November 8, 2016 and on all the days after, it became a book about how your country can break your heart and how political divides trickle into personal ones, no matter how hard you try to stop that from happening.

And in my most recent rereading, it has reminded me that toxic relationships are toxic relationships, even when they're with family members, and you don't have to be a part of them.

One of readers' frequent criticisms of Johnny Tremain (spoilers) is that the book changes focus. You think it's going to be one thing, and then it's not. It looks like a bildungsroman, like a family drama, like a romance, but as soon as one of those narratives revs up, the novel drops it. It has an unfinished quality which was completely intentional on Forbes' part. Writing for a generation of readers going to war against tyranny and fascism, she wanted the young people who read the novel to realize that the story of the United States is unfinished and that all of us have our part to play.

(Ultimately, the problem with the covers and the Disney adaptation is that they ignore a nuanced story in favor of trying to sell the book on rah-rah 'Merica nonsense, which might inspire the MAGA folks who haven't read it to give it to their grandchildren, but completely ignores the realities of the book. Then again, perhaps that is the goal, in which case, well played, publishers.)

I can't think of a better book to read in 2018 than one that reminds us, in the words of Forbes' fictionalized James Otis, "the battle we win over the worst in England shall benefit the best in England," and that whether they are personal, familial, or national, the greatest struggles, with the highest stakes, are always with ourselves.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The stories that sucked me in—and still do (Brenda Hiatt)


As I’ve mentioned previously here at YA Outside the Lines, I didn’t start out writing young adult fiction. Well, okay, the very first thing I ever attempted to publish might qualify—a short story I titled “Cedric the Sedentary Centaur,” written more or less in the style of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, which I submitted to a few magazines. But my first 15 published books were all historical romance, not YA. Various books and authors inspired me in that genre (Jane Austen, Charlotte Brönte, Sylvia Thorpe) but to trace how I got hooked into YA writing, I need to look further back, then skip ahead a few years.

Like most authors, I was a voracious reader from childhood. In elementary school, I devoured the Black Stallion series, the Misty of Chincoteague series and pretty much every other animal-themed book my school library had on the shelves. In middle school (jr. high back then), I’m sure I contributed greatly to the Scholastic book club’s success with the number of books I ordered from them. A fair number of those books were teen romances, with a smattering of fantasy and science fiction. Then came my gothic phase, consuming every book I could find by Mary Stewart and Phyllis A. Whitney, among others.



Then, after high school, I discovered historical romance, where I lived as a reader, then a writer, for many years. Back in March, I blogged about how I burned out in that genre a decade or so ago, and how YA fiction resurrected me as a writer. During that burnout period, I simply wanted to read for fun, not as a writer. That prompted me to pick up the first Harry Potter book, then other recently-published middle-grade and teen fiction: the Percy Jackson books, the Twilight series, the Hunger Games series and more.  



As I’d hoped, those books brought back my temporarily-dormant love of words, story and (finally) writing. The world-building in some of those books blew me away and I was further energized by the intense emotions all those not-quite-adult characters experienced. (No one can yearn like than a teenager!) Somewhere along the way, my own inner teen woke up. She began whispering to me at odd moments, reminding me of a story idea I’d played with years before but set aside because it wasn’t historical romance. It was, however, a perfect “what if?” setup for a teen novel—the kind of book I’d been enjoying so much recently. Back when I taught writing classes, I constantly told students, “Write what you read, write what you love.” Time to take my own advice!

 
I reread the YA books I’d most enjoyed, this time analytically. I also rewatched a few longtime favorite movies and TV series, like Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Why did I love this particular book, movie or show so much? What story elements and character types resonated most with me? 

Those questions and their answers informed my own writing when I finally put pen to paper (okay, fingers to keyboard) again. Like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker, my main character in Starstruck is an orphan, raised by a family where she doesn’t fit in. Like Katniss and Buffy, she discovers inner resources and strengths no one suspected, including her. Like Harry, Luke, Frodo (in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), Mia (in The Princess Diaries), Buffy, and numerous others, she has a larger-than-life destiny she can’t ignore—at least, not without dire consequences for everyone she cares about. 

Life-altering secrets revealed, high stakes, losers who become winners against all odds—those story ingredients tend to push my personal buttons, so I wanted to incorporate them into my own writing. Toss in a romance written in the stars that transcends all obstacles and voila! Starstruck was born.



My original “what if?” became a four series (originally planned as a trilogy, but oh, well) that I wrote and published over the next two years. Then I used my renewed writing mojo to write and publish a historical romance my readers had been requesting for literally years. As my Starstruck series gathered steam, more and more readers started begging for more books in that world—and I was missing it, too. I wrote a “bridge” novella, Fractured Jewel, to tie up a few loose ends and to set up a spin-off series, incorporating both new and existing characters and their stories. The Girl From Mars released last summer and I’m currently finishing up revisions on The Handmaid’s Secret, set to release this October.   

I plan to write another historical before my next YA, and I’ll again make a point of reading both new books and rereading a few favorites in the genre I’m about to write. For me, part of what keeps my writing juices flowing is revisiting the stories—and themes—that sucked me into this reading/writing thing in the first place!  


Watch for The Handmaid’s Secret in October 2018!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Ode to Jude Blume by Patty Blount

UPDATED ON 8/24/18:  I wrote the post below at the beginning of August. On August 7th, my latest teen novel dropped, SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW. Here is a photo of my latest book baby out in the world, snapped by my friend, author Jeannie Moon:

I'm so excited about this. Look who my book is next to!





Like most authors, I have a metric ton of favorite books and authors who've inspired me over the years, those I wanted to emulate or just hang out with.

I came to writing and publishing late in life -- I was 45 when I sold my first novel. But I've been a READER since I was 4. I treasure the memories of library visits with my mother. I can tell you exactly what day it was (second week of school, our first library period) when I "discovered" Nancy Drew novels. I read them out of sequence because I had a limited selection but soon, my mother ordered them for me... two novels arrived in the mail each month. That was Patty Heaven right there.

When I'd finished the Nancy Drew books, I looked for more novels. I read Trixie Belden, Hardy Boys, Bobsey Twins but after a while, they felt the same. I wanted something...more.

I stumbled onto Judy Blume in another library visit. A book called Deenie changed my life. To understand why, you need to know something more about me.

I'm chicken.

I'm shy, afraid of a few hundred different things, and had very few friends to share those fears with. That's why I loved stories so much. They were my escape and the characters inside them, my friends. Deenie was a teen diagnosed with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. I read her story, her horrifying back brace, the teasing, the humilation, and closed the book completely impressed with Deenie's decision at the party...(spoilers).

I was diagnosed with scoliosis later that same year. The doctor and my mother stared at me with dropped jaws when I calmly asked if I'd have to wear a brace, would it be metal or plastic, how long, and would I need surgery, too?

I wasn't scared.

This was a first for me -- I wasn't scared because a book, a novel, had shown me the way through this.

I read a few more Blume books -- learned all about sex from Forever and still blush when I hear the name "Ralph."

Flash forward a few decades. I'd been writing all my life for me... because I enjoy it. I read the entire Harry Potter series with my youngest child and when I learned that Jo Rowling never got her MFA and wrote that series in a coffee shop, it reignited that old dream in me. I finally got serious about selling my work -- which was SEND. To my shock, that novel got me an agent and then, an editor. When the time came to actually publish my book baby, I had to choose a name. Should I use a pen name?

It hit me like a brick to the head that Blume and Blount would share the same shelf space if I published under my real name.

August marks the release of books 8 and 9 for me. Every time... every single time... I head to my local bookstore and snap a picture of MY book on the same shelf as Judy Blume's.

It never gets old.

Thank you, Judy. You share not only shelf space with me.... you shared a dream.

Now it's your turn. What book CHANGED YOU when you were a child? Tell me in the comments. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

SENDING ME BACK TO THE YA SHELF (HOLLY SCHINDLER)

I’m not sure I was that big of a YA fan when I was younger. Like most other writers here at the blog, YA wasn’t much of a genre when I was myself a YA. I remember a few YA-ish titles here and there: in junior high, I LOVED Christopher Pike. Before that, I’d read Blume’s FOREVER and TIGER EYES. I still have fond memories of a book I snagged from my summertime library called BYE, BYE, MISS AMERICAN PIE--I was really drawn to the cover, which featured a guy ‘n girl on a motorcycle. (I just Googled, and found it on Goodreads!)

Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

But really, by the time I was 15+, I was pretty much over in the adult section.

When I got my Master’s, I took the face-first plunge into full-time writing. I was working on adult fiction, and amassing that really snazzy collection of rejection slips that everybody gets when they first start writing. In order to pay my bills, I started teaching music lessons out of the house. It was the perfect setup: I’d write all day, then, when the kids got out of school, I’d teach lessons until dinnertime.

I thought those lessons would be a means to a financial end. But then…

The kids were just so familiar. We’d had a bit of a technological revolution, and I kind of expected them to be savvier. But they could have been kids from my own pre-tech ‘80s and ‘90s classrooms.
And then, around the same time (in part because of that connection to my students), I drifted to the YA shelves in the library. I discovered Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK. And Sarah Dessen. And suddenly, I was drafting my own YA.

I never would have thought those music students of mine would have given me a new career direction. But I’ll forever be glad that they sent me back to that YA section…

That's my first book, A BLUE SO DARK, on the shelf of B&N back in 2010.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Doomed to Obscurity (Alissa Grosso)

Sometimes I find myself lamenting the fact that I've yet to make the New York Times Bestseller list or that Netflix has not yet called me to say they want to turn one of my books into a new series, which is when I realize that I only have myself and the books I read over and over again in my teens to blame.

While young adult books have existed for a long time, the genre was something of a publishing backwater prior to around the turn of the twenty-first century. Back in the day, there simply weren't all that many teen books published. This, coupled with the fact that the town were I lived in my teens had a fairly small public library, meant that my reading choices were limited.

My library didn't so much have a young adult section as it had a shelf. There were not many books on it, and I was a voracious reader. So, I read a lot of books more than once. There were a few that I read multiple times.

I would say that my library's YA shelf had a few books on it that if not exactly bestsellers, were at least books that people had heard of. Had these been the books that I chose to read again and again, I might be better off today. Alas, this was not the case. For some reason I was drawn to obscure, often somewhat weird books.



If you know Ellen Raskin at all, you know her as the author of The Westing Game. That's a great book, and I admit that I definitely read that one more than once, but on the teen shelf in my public library I discovered a book called The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. This book was published the year I was born. So, it was probably already dated by the time I was reading it in my teens. I didn't seem to care, because I read it more times than I can remember.

What's worth noting about The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues is that as books go it's fairly obscure. It certainly isn't as popular as The Westing Game, which was far and away Raskin's best selling book. It could be argued that The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues was maybe just a little too weird to ever be popular and mainstream.



Author Madeleine L'Engle's best-known work is A Wrinkle in Time. It's an excellent book that I enjoyed as a kid and which inspired me to track down L'Engle's other works. I think I read nearly all of them, but the one that I read the most? Well, it was one that ended up on the teen shelf at the library. A book called A House Like A Lotus, and chances are better than good that you haven't read it or even heard of it.



I believe that another book I read too many times in my teens, actually wasn't quite as obscure. While the Chocolate War was definitely Robert Cormier's best-known book, I think I Am The Cheese was pretty big as well. What I will say about I Am The Cheese is that it tended more towards the strange end of the spectrum, and unless I'm mistaken I think it's pretty much fallen into obscurity these days. Cormier wasn't exactly known for writing sunny, happy books, but my recollection is that this was a pretty dark book.

I was drawn to these slightly offbeat books and read them far more times than I read their popular counterparts. Undeniably the books that I was obsessed with as a teen have inspired and influenced the books that I write for teens. Had I read A Wrinkle in Time more times than I read A House Like A Lotus, maybe I would have one of those shiny award stickers on one of my books, but this is not the case.

When I think of I Am the Cheese I can see it's influence on my books Popular and Ferocity Summer. Certainly there are parts of my book Shallow Pond that owe their existence to A House Like A Lotus. I still haven't written a straight-up mystery, but I think the quirky characters aspect of The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues informed my own book Unnamed Roads.

Those books I couldn't get enough of in my teens may have doomed me to a life of literary obscurity, but I'm okay with that. Not everyone likes those popular, mainstream books, and if you're one of those people. I can say that I totally, one hundred percent get you.


You can find out more about Alissa Grosso and her obscure books at alissagrosso.com. You can even get a free copy of her novel Popular, which is really nothing at all like I Am the Cheese, except for the parts that are.