This Is Real Life

The Hub is currently going through a great series about the “next big thing” in YA. One post I was especially glad to see was this one about contemporary/realistic fiction. As a writer of contemporary realistic YA, I know it doesn’t always seem as fun and flashy as some of the other genres–no monsters, no time travel, no awesome steampunk outfits. (Unless we’ve got a real-life steampunker on our hands, in which case I want to read that book.) But it’s a solid standby for the genre. As Kelly says:

“It is the bread and butter of YA fiction because it is the essence of what the teenage experience is. It’s happy. It’s dark. It’s tough. It’s romantic. It’s mysterious.”

Which is one part of what I love about contemporary YA. As much as I love to read about other worlds and heroic adventures, it’s also great to connect with characters who are dealing with very real issues and having very real adventures.

Kelly offers many suggestions for contemporary realistic YA reading that covers a breadth of topics like grief, sex, graduation, obesity, and secrets. There are so many topics and options because YA is ever-evolving and expanding. Kelly says it way better than I could:

“Nothing in contemporary YA fiction is sacred. There are no topics too light nor too dark to dig into, nor should there be. Even topics that emerge again and again — things like cancer or depression or first love or friendship — are still new and fresh upon each telling. Teens live a million different experiences, and even when faced with similar challenges, each individual tackles it in his or her own unique manner.

This is why there is and never will be a “next big thing” in contemporary fiction. The only trend and the only prediction that can be made for reality is that teens live it each and every day, and having a robust selection of stories about real experiences is crucial. But it’s not simply about having them that matters — reading them and knowing about them is just as critical.”

I want to put this on a big flag and wave it around. Contemporary YA may not get the buzz that some other genres do, but it’s filled with love and hope and truth and humor, and all of that matters.

Make sure to check out the full post because it’s so good.

Fight (and Write) Like a Girl

Last night I went to Boston GLOW’s Fight Like a Girl! author panel, and it was awesome!

The MG panel–Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Padma Venkatraman, Erin Dionne, Jennifer Carson, and Ellen Booraem

Techincally, there were two panels–one for middle grade authors and one for YA authors. Even though you could have just attended one or the other, I was glad to see both. Panelists tackled different issues, like how setting was used or how the line between weakness and strength is blurred or how reading allows for greater empathy. It was inspiring to hear so many fantastic MG/YA authors talk about their work, and to hear about an organization dedicated to helping women become active leaders in their communities and the world.

The conversation got me thinking about the different ways in which my characters are strong and weak, and how these qualities are manifested b their actions.

Other fun stuff:

  • Hearing about people’s inner nerdiness.
  • My new Fight Like a Girl t-shirt.
  • Meeting new writer friends, seeing old writer friends get to be friends.
  • Being prompted to ask my question in the YA Q&A session (since I tend to freak out about raising my hand).
  • Swag bags.
  • Hearing about Boston GLOW’s 2013 IGNITE Change Leadership Contest.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this event so inspiring and so much fun! I’m feeling stronger already.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

I find it strange to talk about September 11th because, unlike so many people in New York or Washington or Pennsylvania, my life wasn’t dramatically affected that day. Whenever this day comes up, or the anniversary of any other tragic event, I turn to this poem by Adam Zagajewski:

Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

—Adam Zagajewski

(Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh.)

It was published in the September 42, 2001 issue of The New Yorker. Click through for more poetry in response to that day.

Find Your Passion

Kind of in love with artist Lisa Congdon’s work. Her series of quotes is fantastic, too. I especially like this one:

Good advice for pretty much anyone. Work like writing can be hard, especially when there’s a lot of rejection involved. Staying tremendously interested in stories can help you move forward through those hard times in your writing career.

It doesn’t look like this image is up on her Etsy site (yet?) but I’d love to have a print and hang it above my desk. Great writing inspiration!

(image: Julia Congdon)(via A Beautiful Mess)

Quote of the Day

“Storytelling makes us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving. Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically. It is we humans who either help bring about, or hinder the coming of the kingdom. We look around us, and it is a complex world, full of incomprehensible greed…irrationality, brutality, war, terrorism–but also self-sacrifice, honor, dignity–and in all of this we look for, and usually find, pattern, structure, meaning. Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”–Madeleine L’Engle

From Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life. This idea of writing as a way of expressing hope for humanity and finding meaning in the chaos reminds me of Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

MG and YA Journeys

Awesome post at WriteOnCon about what differentiates middle grade and young adult. Author Claire Legrand talks about levels of swearing, language, violence–the movie rating approach. But she also talks about less quantifiable aspects of novels, like the character’s internal/external experiences and how they approach what happens in their lives. One part I especially liked, about journeys:

“At the end of a MG book, the main character has experienced something, in her own world, that has changed everything. She now sees her world in a different way. The MG protagonist has started the process of becoming who she will grow up to be. Anything could happen now; her journey has only just begun.

On the other hand, at the end of a YA book, the main character’s world has collided with the outside world, changing everything. He now sees his world as it relates to the outside world. For a long time, the YA protagonist has been trying to figure out who he will grow up to be. What he believes in, what he wants, who he is. This experience has helped start to answer these questions. He still has many other questions, of course, and who knows what life beyond high school will bring? But now, at last, he’s finally getting somewhere.”

I don’t tend to write middle grade, but I love this look at the difference in emotional core. MG characters are beginning to figure out their places in the world and how they can interact as individuals. YA characters are establishing themselves within the larger context and deciding who they want to be. This shift is subtle but vital to tween and teen characters.

And I think this is another reason I like MG and YA so much. It’s very easy to relate to characters who are learning about themselves and establishing themselves in the context of the larger world. Even if the action required to do so isn’t big, the emotional reprecussions are huge and, again, it’s easy to sympathize.

Claire shares lots of other excellent thoughts about the MG/YA divide, so make sure to check out the whole post.

Books and Their Readers

Love this print:

I think this is one of the awesome things about books (and art in general). They can affect you in such a deep, personal way. And it doesn’t even have to be as direct as “I read a book about skateboarders, and I’m a skateboarder, so I felt emotionally moved.” Books and other art can have such a deep resonance that it doesn’t have to be based on anything you can put into words. But you know that the book is part of you.

(image: Perpetual Thoughts)(via eff yeah nerdfighters)

Being Grateful: Notes to a Young Author Self

Love this post by YA author Ally Carter about all the things she wishes she could tell her younger, budding author self. It’s great advice for people at the beginning of their writing careers. One part I liked in particular:

“And the biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: take a sheet of paper and write down five things that would make you really, really happy in your career.  Then write down five things that would be “best case scenario” things.  And lastly write five “in your wildest dreams” things.

Keep that list.  Remember that list.  Because in this business the finish line is constantly moving.  One day you really just want an agent.  Then it’s a book deal.  Then it’s a bestseller.  Then it’s a movie.  Then it’s a castle next to JK Rowling’s.

In short, appreciate things as they’re happening, remember that once upon a time that thing was a dream of yours and that it’s still a dream for someone.  So be grateful every day.”

I think this is a great idea. Writing is full of disappointments and rejections, even for super-established authors. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the bestsellers and castles that seem just out of your reach. Until we all have castles next to Rowling’s, it’s good to remember all the awesome things happening now–even if it’s just that you finished a new draft or your critique partners said they loved the voice in your latest work.

Make sure to check out Ally’s full post for more great advice.

Mental Health and Care

An arresting and moving piece in the New York Times about mental illness and treatment in America. Jeneen Interlandi talks about her own family’s experiences with this issue, as her father has bipolar disorder. Anyone who’s been a caretaker for someone with mental health problems can relate to the stress and confusion felt by Interlandi and her family. Laws vary from state to state, and there are so few options available for mental health care, especially for those who haven’t displayed extreme violence. Interlandi writes:

“But extreme violence is not the only thing families like mine worry about. We worry that our loved ones will themselves fall victim to violent crimes, or accidental disasters, if they are left out in the streets while they are sick and delusional. We also worry that without involuntary treatment, they might not recover.”

It’s sad that so many people who could use serious mental health help aren’t getting the kind of resources they need, and are left vulnerable to the kind of threats Interlandi describes. I’m sure that part of the problem is that mental health issues and treatments can vary so much from person to person. It’s a problem that requires so much more support than it’s getting now.

Part of Queen of the Air deals with mental illness in the family and how hard it is to talk about that issue. I hope that more people get to talking about it and learning about it so we can demand more resources for those struggling with mental health problems and the people who care for them.

Make sure to read the whole article; it’s on the long side, but it’s really worth it.