Monday, March 31, 2014

Books Can Teach...In More Ways Than One (by Margie Gelbwasser)

I used to have grand visions of my books being used in the classroom. It didn't have to be as a class lesson. I would have been fine with teachers suggesting them as independent reads.

But, shortly after my books came out, I realized not only would they not be used in the classroom, but that some people would use them to stop me from even SPEAKING to their classes. My first novel, INCONVENIENT, is about a Russian-Jewish girl whose mother is an alcoholic. My MC, Alyssa, deals with regular teenage stuff (e.g. distant best friend, on again, off again boyfriend) as well as the impact her culture has on her mother's alcoholism. INCONVENIENT received praise from SLJ, Booklist, and VOYA and was named a 2010 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens. And there were teachers who used it for a book club and wanted me to come and talk about creative writing, the writing process, etc. I am super thankful to these people for giving me the opportunity to connect with students and reach teens. However, others latched onto a heavy make-out scene, characters drinking, etc. The drinking was never portrayed in a positive light, but I felt it gave those who didn't really read the book an excuse to hail it as inappropriate. However, while these things bothered me, they were NOTHING compared to the lashings I received for my second novel, PIECES OF US.

Honestly, I was not prepared at all from what transpired after writing POU. I guess I was naïve. POU deals with cyberbullying, rape, dating violence, and physical and sexual abuse. There is cursing (a lot—but only by one character), and this was what those who hated the book (and yeah, that's the right word because there was hardly anyone in between—they either really got it and loved it or wanted to stone me) held onto. As if the use of bad words by a misogynistic character was proof the novel was trash. They also targeted the sexual violence, citing it was disgusting and completely inappropriate. These things may happen but no one needs to write about them, they said. Rape IS disgusting and totally inappropriate, and I'm sure those who are raped or abused agree. But by banning me from writing about it, that's like saying all the young men and women who go through this should keep silent. I read reviews that said I wasn't fit to be a parent if I wrote about things like this (I was told this to my face at a book club too). Hateful reviews also did a LOAD of victim blaming calling my abused character a whore. Another MC in the book, a teen boy, is forced into sexual situations with women. I was very disturbed to see that many readers did not see him as a victim. What guy would not want to touch a girl? these reviews asked. This kind of judgement is what many teens live with daily. This is what victims and survivors live with. So, while I never thought POU would be taught in a classroom, I also never expected the vitriol I received (and still do) for writing it.

Another thing I didn't expect? The letters and the reviews thanking me for writing POU. More than with INC, I received e-mails and read blogs where readers thanked me for telling their story and that of others like them. An e-mail I treasure the most is one a teen wrote me that said she wished she had read my book years ago because it would have given her the courage to leave an abusive relationship.

I'm not going to lie. I do wish one of my novels will one day be taught in a classroom. I recently wrote something that may have that possibility. But I am proud of my first two novels and the ability they have to help the voiceless break their silence.

Reconciling the Star Trek Timeline ... and Other Cool Ways to Learn (by Nancy Ohlin)

On long car rides, my teenage son Christopher and I typically discuss topics like these:

*How would you reconcile the contradictory timelines in the Star Trek universe that now exist because of J. J. Abram’s first Star Trek movie?

*If you had to create a prequel to the Buffy series, what would it be like?

*If you had to create a sequel to the Harry Potter series, what would it be like?

*What is your favorite Greek myth, and how would you retell it as a contemporary novel?

The ensuing conversations often sound like Hollywood pitch meetings or editorial phone calls, except not stressful.  Instead, they’re incredibly fun and interesting, and they challenge our creativity in the most unexpected ways. 

Likewise, when I talk to teens about being an author, whether in the schools or elsewhere, I tend to steer the conversation to the art of creating. I tell them about how I came up with the ideas for my novels Beauty and Always, Forever, which are both retellings (of the Snow White story and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, respectively).  I explain to them that with Beauty, I asked myself:  What if Snow White craved her mother’s love so much that she was willing to make herself ugly in order to appease her?  With Always, Forever, I asked myself:  What if the dead ex-girlfriend isn’t really dead, and she’s super not-happy that her boyfriend has moved on with someone else?

When I speak to teachers, I encourage them to employ retellings, prequels, sequels, alternate endings, and the like as educational tools.  And I don’t mean just reading my works or other people’s works—I mean, having the students brainstorm their own.   

Here are the kinds of prompts that teachers might use in the classroom:

*How would you set Frankenstein in modern-day New York City?

*Imagine a sequel to “Romeo and Juliet” in which Romeo and Juliet are still alive.

*How would you retell George Orwell’s 1984 as 2084?

*Can you come up with an alternate ending for The Great Gatsby?

And so on. 

All of which is to say:  I believe a big part of getting young people excited about reading is to get them excited about writing.  And this approach isn’t limited to teens. At a recent book signing in Houston for my early grade novels, I asked each child in my line if they were writers, too.  Almost all of them said “yes”; they absolutely lit up at the question, and some of them even suggested plot ideas for my characters.  Likewise, when I did a graphic novel writing workshop in my daughter Clara’s kindergarten class a couple of weeks ago, the children could not have been happier or prouder with the end result.  They especially loved the “written and illustrated by” list with their names.  At home, Clara has been producing graphic novels non-stop since then. 

By the way, if you’ve written (or know of) a retelling that teachers might add to their reading lists, please share them here!  Ditto any creative brainstorming prompts.  I promise to test-drive them on my next long car ride with Christopher.

P.S.  He and I did manage to reconcile the Star Trek timeline while driving through New Jersey recently.  Now, all we need is that meeting with J. J. Abrams. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Teaching Fantasy--complete with Lesson Plans! (Ellen Jensen Abbott)

Many of us have started out posts this month lamenting the absence of YA in high school classrooms or pointing out that our books are not really contenders for the Common Core curriculum. As a high school teacher myself, I understand the tension teachers feel between teaching the hot book that will engage the students and teaching the book students should read before going to college—not that these are mutually exclusive! Add in the fact that your average English teacher is teaching approximately 6-8 books per year of the thousands published through history and is further limited by what full class sets are available in the book closet. This reality means that the most current YA authors are hoping for is their books to make it onto the list of suggested summer/enrichment reading or onto the personal shelves of those English teachers who buy books and lend them to students. 

And yet, like most authors, I took the time to write a teachers’ guide for my first book, Watersmeet—a fantasy. (If you think it’s tough to get your contemporary YA taught in schools, try fantasy! Aside from The Giver, Animal Farm, and 1984, very little fantasy is taught, despite its enduring popularity.) Why did I bother? Because fantasy offers such a wealth of learning opportunities! I came up with a list of projects students could do that targeted a variety of learning styles, learning modalities, and cross curricular tie-ins. Below are a few sample projects built around my novel, but they are easily translatable to other fantasy/sci fi books, and even realistic fiction. 

Projects/Activities (cross-curricular tie-ins and specific intelligence* noted):
Ø  Build a model or draw a map of one of the novel’s settings: Vigar's garden, Vranille, Watersmeet, the battlefield, one of the homes in a Sylvyad, the Council chamber. How are the values of the community expressed in the way these communities are built/designed? (History/civics, Art; Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal)
Ø  Write a constitution or a set of laws for Vranille or Watersmeet. You will want to consider what kind of government each community has. Look at nations from history or current events to help you design your government. (History/Civics; Linguistic, Logical Mathematical, Interpersonal)
Ø  Reenact the Watersmeet Council meeting allowing students to imagine possible reasons for and against stopping the villain, Charach. Have some students play roles of characters in the book, trying to stay in character even if the debate changes from the book. Other students can imagine their own characters and their particular opinions given imagined histories, backgrounds. (History/civics; Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal)
Ø  Investigate herbal remedies—how they've been used in the past, how they are used today, and the controversy surrounding their use. (Science; Logical-Mathematical, Naturalist)
Ø  Many of the creatures from Watersmeet are familiar from other stories or mythology: fauns, centaurs, minotaurs, hags, dwarves, fairies, trolls, dragons, the Green Man, naiads, dryads. Design your own creature or adapt one you know from elsewhere in a new way. You might look at other novels, in books of folklore, or on the Web. Write about or draw this creature.  (Art; Linguistic, Spatial, Interpersonal, Naturalist)
Ø  Research the celebration of Midsummer as it's been used in other cultures and in other time periods. (History; Linguistic, Interpersonal)
Ø  Make a model of Abisina’s necklace using clay or wire or other appropriate materials (Art; Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic)
Ø  Design your own ritual to celebrate an important event in your community or in the natural world and have your class participate in it. (Linguistic, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Naturalist)
Ø  Create the music of the fairies or the fauns, or write one of the songs sung in the Midsummer festival. (Music; Musical, Linguistic)
Ø  Write a scene from Watersmeet from another point of view. How would Rueshlan look to some of the Vranian refugees? How would Haret describe finding Abisina at the bottom of the ravine outside Vranille? How would Corlin view Abisina? How would Lilas view Charach? (Linguistic, Interpersonal)
Ø  Write a legend from your own community—it may be a story your grandmother has told, a family story that has become "famous," a story from first grade that you and your classmates still remember vividly. (Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal)
Ø  Interview a member of your family or larger community about legends and stories they were told as children. (Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal)
Ø  Write one of the stories you might find in the Watersmeet library. (Linguistic)

You can find my full teachers’ guide for Watersmeet and Book group guides for Watersmeet, The Centaur’s Daughter, and The Keeper at my website:

* I refer here to Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, described in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences [(1983) New York: Basic Books]. I particularly used Thomas Armstrong's book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 2nd Ed. [(2000) Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development]. The eight intelligences at that time were Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalist.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Joy of Classroom Visits (no, really)

I've had the privilege of visiting several dozen high schools as a visiting author. Ironically, since I'm also I teacher, I have to take a personal day to go teach at other schools. I'd like to go over the questions I'm asked most often:


"Did you always want to be an author?"
Nope. I never wrote a thing until I was 25.

"What advice can you give to an aspiring author?"
Start now, write what interests you, get peer feedback, don't get frustrated, and above all, have fun.

"How do you get your ideas?"
Memories, random stuff that piques my interest, and coffee. Lots of coffee.

"How do you deal with writer's block?"
Time. If you can come up with a better solution, let me know for the love of God.

"Would you look at something I've written?"
Yes (but they often never send it to me).

"Are any of your characters based on real people?"
Just about all of them.

"What's the best part about being a writer?"
Hearing from readers.

"What's the hardest part?"
Hearing from critics.

"Do you have any say over the cover art?"

"What's your favorite book?"

Do you outline? (usually asked by a teacher during a lull)
No. Pure chaos. It amazes me what my characters end up doing.

LGBT (Almost Perfect)

"Why did you write a book about a transgender girl?"
I just wanted to write a boy meets girl story that hadn't been done a thousand times.

"Did you have to do a lot of research?"
God, yes. And after interviewing all those real life Sages (the main character), I knew I had to at least try to tell their story.

"Have you ever gotten in trouble for writing a book like that?"
I've only ever received one piece of hate mail. And I seriously doubt it was really from baseball great Don Mattingly.

About Me

"Has anyone ever told you that you look like Zach Galifianakis?"
Many times.

"Will you sign my arm?"
I don't sign body parts.

"Why did you insult John Green when you signed my book?"
Because he's more successful than me. Duh.

From Elementary Students

"Do you write books?"

"What's your favorite book you wrote?"
Playing With Matches

"Are you a writer?"

"Do you write books?"


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Contemporary realism in the classroom (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I belong to a group of fellow writers in the mid-Atlantic region, the Kidlit Authors Club. We have put together a website for educators, showing how our books can be used in the classroom. All three of my YA novels (The Secret Year, Try Not to Breathe, and Until It Hurts to Stop) are listed on our YA page. Also linked from that page are the reader guides I’ve prepared for my books, which list the Common Core standards they are aligned with.

tsy pb frontcoverTNTB thumbnail2     untilithurtstostopcover

My books are contemporary, realistic YA. The first two are typically recommended for ages 14+; Until It Hurts to Stop, which deals with bullying, is typically listed for ages 12+.

I’ve done several different kinds of school visits. My favorite is visiting with student book clubs. I love to hear what readers think about the books. What do they see as the theme? If they didn’t like the ending, how would they have had it end? What do they think the main character’s choices mean? To me, that’s the great value of having book discussions. Readers don’t just passively absorb a book; they compare it to their own experience, they weigh the characters’ actions, they root for certain outcomes, they try to predict what will happen or understand why things went the way they did. They think about what they would have done in a similar situation. They argue with one another and, in doing so, use analytical and persuasive skills; they use evidence to support their conclusions.

Sometimes at book clubs, readers will start talking about the characters as if they are real people. That’s when I know I’ve reached them!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest Post: YA Fiction and the Classroom

by Tracy Barrett

Thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to hop over temporarily from Smack Dab in the Middle for this guest post about YA fiction in the classroom. Getting nonfiction into a classroom isn’t usually much of a problem—classroom and library use is what most nonfiction for young readers is intended for, after all. But fiction, even historical fiction, which is what I mostly write, is a tougher proposition.

And this is a shame, because while readers of historical fiction are usually passionate, even fanatical, about the genre, there aren’t that many of them, especially when compared with readers of contemporary problem novels,  science fiction, and fantasy, and subgenres such as dead-teenager stories and post-apocalyptic trilogies. Without educators to put my books into the hands of those few but passionate fans, some of them will miss what Ive written.

So the YA fiction writer’s challenge is twofold: we have to reach those educators, and we have to show them how our books can enhance the classroom experience. (I’ll use historical fiction in my examples, but the principles are the same for other kinds of fiction as well.)

The first part of the challenge (reaching the educators) means that I spend more time talking with adults than teenagers about my books. I’m a regular presenter at the annual conference of the Tennessee Association of School Librarians and the Southern Festival of Books, held in Nashville, where I live. I’ve also spoken at the Tennessee Reading Association, the Tennessee Writers Alliance, and library schools of nearby universities.

 As time and funds permit, I’ve gone farther afield and addressed NCTE, IRA, the National Council on the Teaching of Social Studies, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, the Classical Association of the Midwest and South, and the American Classical League. (There are specialized groups for every genre, and I’ve also presented at the world mystery convention, Bouchercon, in connection with my middle-grade mystery series.)

Once I convince my listeners of the benefit of encouraging their students to read a story that makes the long-dead figures theyre studying come alive, I’m most of the way there. But the job isn’t done if I want the kids in their care to read what I’ve written.

Teachers have very limited time, so I make it as easy as possible for them to use my books as part of a curriculum, either as outside reading or as extra reading. For example, I let them know that they don't have to come up with exercises, writing prompts, quizzes, paper topics, etc., since I've created those for most of my books. (See my For Teachers page.)

I always ask educators what I can do to make it easier for them to invite me to their school. A group of librarians had a great idea: They often have to get a grant to pay for an author visit, and their time is too tight for them to be able to do a good job, plus they might not know much about an author other than what it says on her web site. Why can’t the author write the grant proposal? We know our own work better than anyone else, after all. Nobody aside from you and the librarian has to know who wrote it, so even the most modest can toot her own horn all they want, and saving the librarian time and effort makes us a more attractive option.

If they dont have a grant and are strapped for funds, I point educators to sources for funding—SCBWI’s Amber Brown grant, for example.

A major difficulty in getting an author into a school is that out-of-class time and expense have to be justified to the principal, and most schools are under a mandate that every minute spent in school be demonstrably educational. So I’ve studied the Common Core and the state standards that delineate what needs to be learned in each grade, and I supply the educator with ammunition as to how my visit will enhance one or both of those. One good point to drive home, no matter what genre you write in, is that the Common Core stresses modeling of certain practices, and I can show students how I research, write, and revise.

I also offer free Skype visits to school groups, limiting these freebies to one per school. It can last no more than 15 minutes and consists of a simple Q&A so I don’t have to take time away from my writing to prepare a talk. If they want more, they have to pay—not much, since I can do it from home, but enough to make it worth my expenditure of time and mental energy.

Most of all, I’ve learned to listen to teachers and librarians. They love books and authors, and they can be our greatest allies.

Tracy Barrett’s twentieth book for young readers, The Stepsister’s Tale, is a YA retelling of Cinderella. It releases in June from HarlequinTEEN.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

let there be darkness...and light.

I couldn't sleep last night. I was thinking about something I read. It made me worried for my kids...the ones who stumble into my classroom every year.
"I hate reading," they tell me.


"Because it's boring."

They've already marched through the trenches of high-school. The Scantron, bubble-in-the-blank tests. The formula for "student success," as measured by a Rubric. Their brains are trained to ask, "How many paragraphs?" when I assign an essay. "Until it's done," is my usual response.

I teach at an art college. My kids are visual thinkers. They want to be fashion designers and graphic artists when they grow up. Many are already "grown up." They've returned to school to chase their dreams. Teaching often feels like picking up the pieces on a battlefield. My solution? We read. And write. A lot.

Every year, I've picked stories from YA anthologies. Here's what happened this time around.

The story: Halfway by Coe Booth

Student reaction: "This story is my life." Or: "Something like this happened to my friend." And when a reader connects to a story, they always pass it on. After class this week, a student told me, "I want my boyfriend to read this. His dad just got out jail...again."

My reaction: YA saves.

The story: The Alumni Interview by David Levithan

Student reaction: "Thank you." That's what I hear, every single time. "I didn't know that anybody wrote about gay teenagers," someone usually tells me. Then they ask for more. And I'll never forget: during one class, a girl stood up from her desk and clapped.

My reaction: YA saves.

The story: The Wrath of Dawn by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith

Student reaction: "I used to hate reading. This story was fun and now I want to read again." And: "I could totally relate to this story. It reminds me of my crazy family." A student recently told me: "I took this home and read it with my daughter."

My reaction: YA saves.

The story: Filthadelphia by Brian James

Student reaction: first. The class was totally engrossed in the story. At the end of class, the last student turned in an essay that blew my mind. It compared the main character to a slew of heroes from comic books and mythology. I told him, "You have a talent for literary analysis."

He blinked. "Well, you achieved the impossible. You got me to write an essay."

This brilliant student also mentioned that he "hated English class" in high-school. Here's why. A teacher told the class to write an autobiographical event. The brilliant student wrote about an adventure in his dream. The teacher gave him an F on the assignment and told him to do it over...the right way.

My reaction: There is no "right way" to connect students with words on paper. But there's more than one way. Reading can save your life. What happens if the gatekeepers take these "dark" books away? Who are they protecting from the darkness? If they read the essays in my classes, they would know the truth. Kids are facing the darkness every day.

During a memory exercise in creative writing, a student told me, "I have trouble remembering things." Why? Because he is a soldier dealing with post traumatic stress disorder.

 I said, "You don't have to write about it."

He said, "I want to. It's really helping me."

I knew exactly what he meant.

In composition class, a student wrote an essay about her abusive stepfather. When I read her work (anonymously) to the class, I wondered how they would respond. Several girls raised their hands and said, "I've been through the same thing. I know where she's coming from."

"I'm glad that I wrote about it," the student told me after class. "It's like...I've been carrying it around for so long. Writing was like a release, you know?"

I do know.

After writing my first book, Total Constant Order , I received lots of emails from readers, telling me about their struggles with OCD. I visited high schools and talked to kids and listened to their stories.

"There are certain books," a librarian told me. "They get stolen and I have to keep replacing them. I think it's because kids relate to them. You know the books I'm talking about."

Let there be a light in the darkness. We need it now, more than ever. Because there are so many living in the dark.

Don't take those books away.

This post was originally composed on my blog. Updated for YA Outside The Lines.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Using SEND, TMI, or SOME BOYS to Have Hard Conversations (by Patty Blount)

I wear a lot of hats. In addition to my career as an author, I'm also the mother of two incredible sons -- one who loves to read and the other who hates it. I've always done my best to encourage my sons' varied interests -- whatever they are.

Several years ago, my book club read a book that's now famous -- 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The book amazed me and I asked my son if he'd be interested in reading it. He was and when he finished, we had a long and amazing discussion about Jay's novel, which you can read here.

I shared that blog post with Jay Asher himself and he thanked me for it. I learned so much from this single discussion with my son that I've tried to continue it. We have our own private book club and have read everything from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones. What's grown from these book discussions is a mutual respect for each other's opinions. This boy is nineteen years old now and starting his own life, separate from mine. *pauses for tears* Okay. I'm back. Sorry about that. 

My point is that even though he's now an adult and has his own interests, we were able to carve this little niche for us -- it began with a love of books and has grown over time to include movies and even TV shows, like Breaking Bad, to which he introduced me a few months ago. We binge-watched the entire series in a few weeks, digging deep into main character Walter White's motivation for turning bad. And every time my son offers an opinion, it's like that first one after reading 13RW -- he just staggers me with the depth of his insight. 

When I first had the idea for the book that would become SEND, I was always aware I'd have two audiences. Young Adult books may be written for teen readers, but their parents, their teachers, and their librarians are the ones buying our books for them. I not only wanted to write a story that appealed to both age groups, I wanted to write stories that would bring them together and forge those bonds that will grow as the child grows, becoming the foundation for a strong relationship similar to the one I have with my son thanks to Jay Asher. I wrote the Discussion Guide with this goal in mind. 

SEND is a story I hope will encourage readers to think outside of their own spheres. Getting teens to express empathy is no small feat. By writing a character who so desperately wants forgiveness, I hope readers will use Dan's ordeal to have conversations about empathy, which in turn leads to conversations about bullying without beating kids over the head with it. In TMI, the conversation to have is the risks about sharing too many private details online and about what being a good friend is all about. 

But the upcoming SOME BOYS (August, 2014) is the one that will be the toughest to talk about. This is a story about rape and rape culture. Main character Grace Collier is not a sweet innocent girl attacked by a masked stranger, but a tough girl who dresses inappropriately (according to her parents) and behaves even worse, and is attacked by a nice boy (according to pretty much everyone).

So that means she deserves to be raped, right? 

Everybody always answers that question with "Of course not, BUT...." and the but is typically followed up with a statement about how she shouldn't have been out drinking with her friends, or wearing that particular outfit, and so on. 

This is an important story and because it is, I added not only a discussion guide, but I'm also working on conversation cards that will tackle the myths so often associated with rape and rape culture. I want readers -- teen readers and the adults in their lives -- to read this book together and understand how both boys and girls are affected by those myths. Most of all, I want parents to look at their teens with pride when they share an insightful conclusion reached from reading the story, the way I did when my son read 13RW. 

Use my novels in your classrooms, your teen reading rooms, and your living rooms, with not only my blessing but my enthusiastic encouragement and feel free to contact me if the discussion guides aren't enough.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gay Straight Alliance visit (Bjorkman)

Next month I’ll be Skyping with members of a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at a high school in San Francisco. I’ve wanted to do this ever since reading Geography Club by Brent Hartinger. Yep. GSAs are cool.

The teacher mentoring the GSA, Steve Taka, is a friend of mine from middle school that I reconnected with at our HS reunion. He’d just given up his corporate job to study psychology, and had taken a job counseling kids at risk.

He thought my first novel, My Invented Life, would generate a lively discussion in his GSA. The characters are gay, lesbian, bi, questioning, AND straight. It is a light and funny story that touches on many issues.

Since his students will read the book ahead of time, I won’t waste time giving them a synopsis. Instead I can tell them interesting tid-bits about the “making of.” Like who inspired my main character and how she reacted when she found out. 

Or what my seemingly hetero friends said to me when told what the novel was about:

I had a lesbian phase in college
I’m bi
I like women, too, but it’s easier to be with a man

Or some of the darker reactions from other friends, and why.

I’m also looking forward to learning about the students, and why they joined the GSA, and answering their questions. I just sent them each a personalized signed bookplate.

Can’t wait for April!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A High School Visit

This Saturday I traveled to a local arts magnet high school to talk with some teens who loved writing about writing. I was supposed to have inspired them and I think I did, but more so meeting them and discussing why they loved writing and reading inspired me.

I haven't written YA in a while. I'd been focusing more on my NA and Adult books and seeing them reminded me why I wrote YA in the first place. Why it's important to share my work with teens.

Their response to my books cemented that they need people who understand them, they need books that speak to them, they need authors who write like they are listening.

My two YA books Pretty Amy and Dear Cassie came from this place. I wrote them because I wanted to give that feeling to teens, because I wanted to explore the issues I had as a teen. I'll admit that before spending time with the students on Saturday, I had forgotten that.

I had become caught up in selling books. Those two things don't have to be mutually exclusive, but for me they felt that way. See my YA books tend to be hard reads. Not really the kind of book you pick up on a whim, or to read at the beach, or on a lazy Saturday. My YA books make you feel like your heart has been ripped out, they are emotional and dark and unflinchingly truthful and for some people that can be a tough sell.

I guess I was tired of being a tough sell.

I see now that my essence is these books. They are my heart. The work I was meant to share.

I have one more book to write in the Pretty Amy series and I only hope I can continue to write books worthy of the teens I visited with on Saturday.

I only hope I can continue to write with my heart first.

Monday, March 17, 2014


I didn’t think about my first couple of novels, A BLUE SO DARK or PLAYING HURT, being used in a classroom.  At all.  And it probably shows—in A BLUE SO DARK, there’s plenty of swearing and a few passing drug references, and in PLAYING HURT, we’ve got quite a few titillating scenes—one of which culminates in the protagonist losing her virginity.

My first MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, released last month, and I’m learning just how valuable teachers are.  The book has been read aloud in several classrooms; I’ve got Skype visits lined up to talk to the students who devoted class time to Auggie’s story.  

It’s made me think differently about a YA’s place in the classroom.  FERAL, my next YA, was actually written before this revelation.  But I can’t wait to see how it’ll shape future YA work.  

It’s amazing, really, how writing in one genre can help hone your skills in another genre.  Anyone else out there grow as a YA writer by writing non-YA work?