Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I am an adult who reads YA...

...and I'm not in the least bit ashamed.

True, I write in the genre but I read it as an adult long before I ever wrote it. In fact, I can remember very distinctly the first time I picked up a novel that was YA - and I had no idea it was for teens. It was Robert Cormier's "Fade," and it was a mass market paperback on a rack in the Glastonbury Public Library. I think I was 25 or so and I consumed huge amounts of fiction in my unhappy-at-the-time life.

I was working a 9-to-5 job in a field I had not studied and didn't really care about. I had my own apartment where I watched "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Star Trek" and painted giant abstracts on canvases that I built and stretched myself. I enjoyed teaching ballet to kids in the evenings and on weekends and was trying really hard to quit smoking.

And I read. A lot. I had a library within walking distance so I could come home from work, kick off my pantyhose and heels, throw on some sneakers and start walking so I wouldn't have think about the fact I was trying to quit smoking. In that library, I devoured all of the paperbacks I could find because they were easy to carry home to my apartment when I was walking with them. Hardcovers meant I could carry fewer books and that wasn't good at all.

From the looks of it, "Fade" was not a teen romance or an issue book. In my mind, a teen book was either something written by Judy Blume or one of those drug/suicide/mental illness books, like "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," "Sunshine," or "Go Ask Alice" - all of which I inhaled as a teenager.

"Fade" had a character who could become invisible (or fade) which was pretty cool but Cormier did not use the ability to create a superhero. His characters are seriously flawed, some evil, some cruel, some just plain amoral. When you read this book, you feel like you need to shower. Images stick with you for a very long time. "Fade" is one of the few books that I read in a library and later bought a copy of because I had to have it at home, had to have it to loan to others.

No one in their right mind would call this fluff. The writing is smart and sophisticated, the themes incredibly dark and complex. But there are no messages in the book, no voice of the author tut-tutting and saying, "Now, kiddos, don't do this kind of thing..." Nope. Cormier wrote it and let you sort it out your own damn self. That's what he did with "The Chocolate War" and "I Am the Cheese" - more rich, complex stories with compelling characters.

Many people have tried to figure out why adults read YA. Some insist it's a fantasy life they want to lead, some think it's escapist. Others think adults want simple answers to complex questions. For me, YA books help me figure out who I was which helps me understand who I am now, who I might become in the future. When I read books about bullying and mean girls, I see myself as a teenager doing some of those terrible things, saying some of those terrible things - and it makes me want to be a kinder person now. When I read about girls who dump guys without a care in the world, I remember I had done that a time or two - and it gives me pause when I need to politely turn down someone's request. And as a teacher dealing with all sorts of personalities, these books give me insight into the many types of people I didn't know in high school, the varied cultures and races and genders I never experienced. In other words...

Reading YA novels makes me a better adult.

Could I get the same insight from adult novels? Sure. I can and I do. I don't read YA exclusively, nor do I read contemporary novels exclusively or only watch science fiction TV and movies. My literary diet is varied and complex and I like to feed it whatever it needs whenever it needs it. If someone wants to shame me for including YA (or middle grade if we include the early Harry Potter novels, which were also awesome), then it's their great loss. They probably should check out one of those mean girl books and see if they recognize themselves.

Read on.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

#WeNeedDiversityinBooks & #BeingGenuine

Recently, everyone connected to publishing, it seemed, posted and tweeted photos of books and handwritten signs for the campaign to make people aware of the lack of diversity in children's books. If you're a writer or reader of books for teens and children, you already know this sad truth.

I didn't do much for #WeNeedDiversityinBooks because I assumed you had to be a writer with a current book to flog, money to buy books, and/or influence to talk to kids and parents and the general public, of which I have none. Besides, I'm a middle-aged white woman - who wants to hear what I have to say about diversity? I'm about as average as they come.

But then I realized I do have 2 published novels with prominent Latino characters. In LOVE, MEG, the main character's love interest is Puerto Rican; in ALL ABOUT VEE, the main character's best friend is Mexican (and for those of you who know about that novel, I had intended to write 3 books in that series, one of which would have told Val's story). The diversity came from the circumstances: New York City in the first and an Arizona border town in the second. The backgrounds of the characters just seemed natural to me, much as in my own life, and their Latino heritage influences their actions, dialogue, etc. In stories that I have not published, my characters are routinely Latino, African American, gay, as well as straight and white. Some characters are rich, some poor, some solidly middle class, some working class.

I didn't set out to "create" diversity, only to reflect life. Forcing diversity will never come off as genuine or sincere. So while I think it's a great idea to promote diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation, I think it has to arise naturally from the story. As writers we must not be afraid to populate our stories with characters who might appear to be different from ourselves. We are, for the most part, adults writing in the voices of children and teens. If we are trying to tap into those psyches for a commonality, why wouldn't we seek out similarities between ourselves and characters of different races or religions or gender?

You can't force a reader to choose a book that includes diverse characters but if you create stories that naturally include them, they won't marginalize the books in their minds ("that's a gay book," "that's a black story," etc.). They will simply all be stories - good stories, please, exciting stories, ones without stereotypes and boring parts. Make them fun and silly and poignant and touching; make those characters angry and sweet and conflicted and jealous and able to grow and change - just like your readers. Then we will truly have diversity in books.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Idea(l) Pudding: A recipe for storytelling

Back in the olden days, writers might say their ideas were "percolating," referring to the old-fashioned method of making coffee, i.e. in a percolator. But that metaphor disappeared when Mister Coffee came to town. Then writers said their ideas were "brewing," but in this modern world of ours, many people don't even use a machine that brews their coffee. They use K-cups or pour-overs so they have no clue what that means either.

So, let's skip coffee altogether and go straight to pudding. That's right, dessert! 

To me, ideas must develop in much the same way that pudding cooks on a stove. We writers all start with the same basic ingredients: pudding mix and milk. Yours could be butterscotch or chocolate (neither of which I like very much so we'll pretend they don't exist) and you could use skim milk or whole, soy or almond, whatever makes you happy. But we pretty much all do it the same way. We take the ingredients and put them in a saucepan, stir them up with a wooden spoon, and wait for it to cook.

You could walk away from the pan and trust that it will bubble up and cook on its own but you run the risk it will burn like the Dickens and you'll have wasted the batch.

You could stand there and stare at it instead, stirring constantly, worrying constantly that it won't cook right, wondering if it's done yet, and it will feel like forever.

Or, ideally, you keep the flame low, stir it occasionally when it's first cooking and continue doing what you're doing.

That's your idea pudding. You have a basic idea but it's not ready to eat yet, not ready to write yet. If you obsess over it, think and talk about it constantly, you can run out of excitement for it by the time it is ready.  Better to store that nugget in your brain, think about it occasionally, but let it lay dormant, waiting to bubble.

And after a while, it does start to bubble! A little blip here, a blip there, and the new writer thinks, "It's ready! My pudding is ready! I can't wait to eat it!" But it's not ready yet. It's barely begun. If you put that in a pudding cup, it will never set. It will remain runny and soupy. So yeah, go ahead and eat it, but it's not going to be very good.

Let it bubble some more...it's starting to get thicker so you stir it up.  It kind of looks like pudding and you could put it in bowls but it still won't be the best it can be. An impatient writer might start eating it then but it's not a boil yet, only a rumbling thickening burbling.

Wait. Trust me.

In a very short time, that pudding will be bubbling like mad, a mini-volcano in your saucepan, just screaming for your attention: "I'm ready now! Take me off the burner and put me in cups!"  Now you can shut the gas off and pour it into bowls.

And yet...it's still not ready for the page. Put those cups in the fridge and let them set until they're cool and not cold. In a little while, they'll get a luscious skin over them, chewy and full of intense flavor, and beneath will be a slightly warm, creamy pudding. Delicious.

The trick when you're making an idea pudding is trust. The initial germ of the idea is a good one and it will develop. You have to accept that it will take a bit of time to solidify into the best story that it can be. And when it's ready, it can't be anything other than pudding. When it's really ready to write, you won't be wondering if it's soup or dessert, if it's hot or cold. It will be what it is supposed to be.

Just wait. Trust in the pudding. Trust in the process. Or buy yourself a Jello cup.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jessica Brody's UNFORGOTTEN releases today~

I love it when people I like have new books coming out - not simply authors I enjoy but people whom I have a genuine fondness for.  Jessica Brody is one of those writers.  She is insanely hard-working, the very definition of "tireless" but she is also a kind person and a sincerely nice one. That's why I'm happy to help her promote her new book, UNFORGOTTEN, the second book of her sci-fi trilogy that began with UNREMEMBERED.

About the book:

Some memories are better left forgotten…
After a daring escape from the scientists at Diotech who created her, Seraphina believes she is finally safe from the horrors of her past. But new threats await Sera and her boyfriend, Zen, at every turn as Zen falls prey to a mysterious illness and Sera’s extraordinary abilities make it more and more difficult to stay hidden.

Meanwhile, Diotech has developed a dangerous new weapon designed to apprehend her. A weapon that even Sera will be powerless to stop. Her only hope of saving Zen’s life and defeating the company that made her is a secret buried deep within her mind. A secret that Diotech will kill to protect. And it won’t stay forgotten for long.

Packed with mystery, suspense, and romance, this riveting second installment of Jessica Brody’s Unremembered trilogy delivers more heart-pounding action as loyalties are tested, love becomes a weapon, and no one’s memories are safe.


To help you out, here is a link to her site where you can get the first 5 chapters of the new book for free:

Free sample!

And she is hosting a contest that anyone can win:


Congrats, Jessica!  And good luck with the series!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Is 2014 the Year of the Reasonable Resolution?

Let's be honest: 2013 was a terrible year! We should have known it would be since there was a 13 staring us in the face every single day. How could that possibly be a good thing for anyone?

I won't go into details about all the obstacles and challenges of my year. You have your own. And if you don't, then you probably know someone who does. Around me were divorces, job losses, deaths, and health problems. Friends, neighbors, and students all went through many trials of the spirit and body. It was hard to be sympathetic when you had your own problems to deal with.

Which is not to say there weren't a few bright spots and this is where I'm going to start with my "reasonable" resolutions:

 - in 2013 I got a dog whom the shelter named Peaches. She's a chihuahua-terrier-something mix, perhaps 8 years old, with an utterly unknown history. I love her so much and am so happy she's in my life, even if she does hate other dogs. In 2014, we'll work on that, one pup at a time.

 - in 2013, I got a new literary agent and finished a couple of books. In 2014, I'll have product and a means to get it out there into the world (that's far more reasonable than resolving to sell a book!).

 - in 2013, I discovered kale, my new favorite vegetable, and I rediscovered my love of Brussels sprouts. In 2014, I want to try quinoa.

For 2014, I've got plans - big ones like moving and shooting a short film and starting a new business - but those are hardly "reasonable" and nothing that can be "resolved" to be done. Taking steps to accomplish them will be my next challenge.

Happy 2014~

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Must, Want To, and Should

As the holiday season approaches and I receive requests for more and more things (shopping, parties, extra work, and so on), I begin to get overwhelmed by it all. At first I toss another ball into the air, fill up another blank spot on the calendar, and make a note to myself.  But very soon, the air is thick with balls, the calendar has no more empty squares, and I've run out of note paper.

You have to say no sometimes. But when? And what to say no to?  Well, it occurred to me that there are really 3 categories of things: those we MUST do, those we WANT TO do, and those we SHOULD do.

The MUST do's: attending work parties, buying gifts for Mom and Dad, making a visit to the grandparents.

The WANT TO do's: attending a new movie, buying gifts for friends, arranging a trip to Disneyland.

The SHOULD do's: attending a relative's party way out in the Valley, buying a gift for the boss, visiting a friend's new baby.

Sometimes they overlap - you may want to do the same thing you should do, like visiting that friend's new baby, for example - and sometimes they are at utter odds with each other, like when that relative's party is at the exact same time as the only day the museum is holding its free exhibits that you really want to go to.

So where do you begin? Do you start with the MUST's? Or the WANT TO's? Are you a SHOULD do person?  I know plenty of people who start and end with what they WANT TO do and have no care for anything society or family/friends may tell them they SHOULD or MUST do.  That takes courage to disregard others' opinions as well as a healthy ego that says "My WANTS come first."

Me? I start with the MUST do items and then go to the WANT TO. I am independent enough to ignore what I SHOULD do but let's be honest, I often run out of time and money just completing the MUST items on my calendar/list/inbox. I rarely get to the WANT TO's!

This is the way I plan to approach my gift-giving, party-attending, subbing requests, and so on this month. If it's not a MUST, then it ain't getting done.

But what about writing? Well, I think you can apply these categories to writing as well.  As writers, we all feel we MUST write, that is not in doubt, but whenever I feel like I SHOULD write - whether it's on a particular day or at a particular time or about a specific subject or theme - then my writing ends up terrible. That's happened when I tried following a trend I wasn't crazy about or chasing an editor who kind of liked a book I submitted but wanted to go in a different direction, or even when I wasn't finding anything to write about at all. Each time I did the SHOULD rather than the WANT TO, my work suffered.

I have to find the WANT TO in every SHOULD in order to do it. Otherwise I will resent every ounce of energy I am spending on it.  Life is too short for SHOULD.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The joy of receiving a 1-star review

"Leigh, you're crazy!"
"You're sleep-deprived!"
"I do not think that word means what you think it means."

On a Goodreads scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the worst and 5 being the best, it certainly is preferable to receive a 5-star review.  And when it's accompanied by lots of lovely words like "Wonderful!" and "Entertaining!" and "Best Book Ever in the History of Books!", well, that definitely is nice.

A lot nicer than the 1-star review spewing vitriol toward you, your characters, and your dog, right?

Yes and no.

The yes is obvious.  Every writer on the planet, except for someone like Jonathan Franzen, wants to be loved and appreciated and to have his work revered and praised by critics and readers alike. Isn't that why we publish in the first place - to bring joy to other people?  Of course! So yes, I do want those 5-star reviews.  Keep 'em coming!

Now, the no.

Someone gives your book a 1-star. She writes how she hated your main character.  She hated the story, the plot twists she saw coming a hundred million miles away because that's how obvious your writing is.  She also detested the love interest who was boring, the best friend who was also boring or possibly boreing since she was so angry that she couldn't bother with spell check.  She had to write three paragraphs of how much she hated your book so that she could spare others the pain she experienced.  Oh and yes, she was very glad she got the book as a gift so she didn't have to pay for it.

Is that enough to give you heart palpitations?  Sensitive Author!  Do not fret. If you feel really terrible, go back and re-read some of the 5-star reviews you got.  They're just as accurate.  No, seriously, they are.

Okay, done? Breathe easy. Now, embrace the 1-star review.  Why?  Why? Let me explain:

That reader felt so much after reading your book, she had to tell the world. She had to locate her iPad or laptop, sign in to Goodreads, find your book, go to "review," compose it, and put it up.  Those are many, many steps to take.  Believe me, I know.  I'm a Goodreads member and that's the number one reason I don't write a lot of reviews!  It's time-consuming and for a book I didn't care about too much, meh, I'm not going to bother writing anything.

But this reader did!  She cared enough to go through all that in order to write and publish her review.  Was it nice?  No.  Was it well-written?  Of course not. But she did it anyway!  Let's be honest.  Today's readers don't have a lot of patience.  They are insta-buyers, insta-readers, insta-lovers, insta-haters.  They don't have time to give your book a chance.  They don't have time to waste. Does anyone?  I know I don't.  So look at the 1-star review this way: someone took the time to write something about your book. He or she easily could have deleted it from their Kindle and shrugged, meh. And moved on.

So you touched someone. They got annoyed, so don't do it again, but hey, they were touched. Now move on.  That's it.  Move along and linger no more.