Tag Archives: young adult

Book Abandonment, and Why It’s Okay

Readers often feel a sense of guilt when abandoning a book. It could be simply that we’re not quitters, determined to finish a project or task no matter how unenjoyable. We’ve committed to this book, checked it out at the library or paid good money for it at the bookstore, and we are damn well going to finish it. Even if it’s the last thing we do.

Maybe we’re also competitive or, if you will, gluttonous. We want to read as many books as we can get our hands on. We’ve told ourselves we were going to read X amount of books this year (I’m currently behind on my personal 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge). If we can simply push through this book, it’s one more toward that goal, but in doing so, we end up slowing ourselves down.

The reasons we choose to give up on a book vary. It’s naive to assume that because you like a book everyone else you know will too. Reading is subjective. Sometimes your favorite blogger or Goodreads reviewer will fail you.

Here are a few reasons it might be time to let a book go.

Throwback Thursday: YA Novels: What’s the Point?

Last Friday, a few students and professors from my graduate program got together at a local bar on campus and began drunkenly discussing trips taken over the summer, upcoming classes, and books over a glass of beer.

“Technically that’s mead,” a classmate corrected me.

“Even better,” I told her. “I feel like a hobbit.”

My mention of the hobbit, of course, began a rousing talk about Young Adult literature–pieces like Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Rowling’s Harry Potter.

“I took a YA class last quarter,” a MFA student named Hannah tells us. “After we read Harry Potter, another student tells the teacher, I don’t get what the point is.

Which gained a lot of outrage, a lot of “And this from our children’s future teachers?!” and “What’s the point?!”. In the midst of our mutual outrage, I never heard one person say what the point of books like Harry Potter actually was, however. The answer to that question depends on who you ask.

Roald Dahl once said:

“The prime function of the children’s book writer is to write a book that is so absorbing, exciting, funny, fast and beautiful that the child will fall in love with it. And that first love affair between the young child and the young book will lead hopefully to other loves for other books and when that happens the battle is probably won. The child will have found a crock of gold. He will also have gained something that will help to carry him most marvelously through the tangles of his later years.”

R.L. Stine’s view is a bit more simple:

“Many adults feel that every children’s book has to teach them something. My theory is a children’s book can be just for fun.”

I think both authors are correct. On the most basic level, the point of Young Adult books is that they get children reading. Yet personally, I think the greatest point of a YA novel is that they generally tackle large issues, like war, racism, death, or even rape, in a way that is accessible to young readers. The Hunger Games, for instance, causes its readers to think about war, poverty, death, and power, and according to author Suzanne Collins, this is important:

Repost: A Post-Holiday Book Shopping List

The new year is around the corner, and the holidays are coming to an end. If you’re anything like me, I’ll bet you have a few gift cards to spend. My post-holiday shopping list consists mainly of books, as well as some more warm clothes to get me through the rest of winter.

During my time interning for Dark Discoveries Magazine, I read a lot of dark, short stories. Aside from that experience, however, I haven’t read much in the horror genre. My father’s a pretty big Stephen King buff. When I visited him on Christmas, the shelves in his living room were filled with many of King’s books. I left with a stack of them, along with a few old collections of poetry.

First Edition Cover (Credit: Doubleday)
First Edition Cover (Credit: Doubleday)

1. The Shining by Stephen King

Even if you haven’t heard of Stephen King or read The Shining, the title should sound familiar, as Jack Nicholson starred in the 1980 film version. Or maybe a friend screamed “Here’s Johnny” while pretending to chase you with an ax, and that’s all you know about the film/book. You had no idea why they kept calling themselves Johnny, because your parents wouldn’t let you watch a movie about a man who gets more than a tad stir crazy and, well, I won’t give it away. But now you know. You’re welcome.

2. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining and was just released earlier this year in September. The book follows a now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the young boy protagonist in the first novel) as he attempts to save a young twelve-year-old girl in a fight between good and evil. Judging by what i’ve heard from others, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to read The Shining before starting Doctor Sleep. Even if you’ve watched the movie, give the book a read. Movies often leave parts of the novel out, and in the case of a psychological thriller like The Shining some things are difficult to transfer to the big screen.

(Credit: NorthJersey.com)
(Credit: NorthJersey.com)

3. Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez

Tim Z. Hernandez is an award-winning poet and author. His writing is beautiful. You can read an excerpt of Mañana Means Heaven here to check it out for yourself. A big draw to Hernandez’s book for me is that it features a little writer some of you may have heard of: Jack Kerouac. If you’ve read On The Road, you may remember the “Mexican girl” that Kerouac has an affair with in California. Her part in the novel only spans fifteen pages, but Hernandez spent years searching for Bea Franco, the real-life “Mexican girl” from Kerouac’s novel. Mañana Means Heaven is the result of that search and Hernandez’s conversations with the elderly Franco.

Writing YA

YA literature isn’t just for young adults anymore. With its straightforward story and fast moving plot, adults and young adults alike are enjoying the genre. Need proof of that statement? Just look at the success of book franchises like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent.

I see adults and teens alike tote these books or emblems of these books around and are proud of their association and admiration of YA literature.

But this is not the case for all YA literature. Recently, The New Yorker ran a story called The Percy Jackson Problem.

What is the problem? In a nutshell, it’s that Percy Jackson’s tale isn’t as appealing to adults as it is to young adults. As YA literature, the young adult audience loves the stories. But the book series lacks the mass appeal of other YA novels to adults.

It’s fairly easy to see why, however, and if you’re writing YA and want to have more than just a YA audience appeal, there are three tips you can glean from YA that successfully appeals to adults versus YA like the Percy Jackson books that only appeal to the YA audience.

Why YA?

Recent literary blockbusters have one thing in common: their genre. Yep, I’m talking about Young Adult. Series like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent and standalones like Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska dominate bestseller lists. We all make fun of YA literature, but its enormous success is proof that it’s doing something right—and chances are we’ve all shelled out cash to support the enterprise (don’t lie).

Last week, the writers of The Poetics Project chatted about why YA books are so damn popular. Some talked about universal themes, about characters “finding themselves,” about guiding elements to surviving even adult life. For me, it was simple: YA literature is always about being “the one.” It appeals to the human ego, i.e. yes, I am unique, damnit. The genre especially capitalizes on its young adult audience. After all, young adults are still mercifully illusioned by pep talks: You can be whatever you want to be (insert no statistics here).

Harry Potter? The one who lived, destined to vanquish You Know Who. Katniss from The Hunger Games? The one who conquered the games and launched a rebellion. Tris from Divergent? The one who didn’t fit the system and thwarted genocide. Even the YA classic The Giver is about the one who snagged an elite position and abandoned it in favor of original thought.

These books let us experience remarkable talent or pluck or destiny—but NEVER the everyday existence of cogs in a machine. In fact, literary heroes have already won because they have their own damn books. We even call them “heroes” whether they do anything heroic or not. Their world revolves around them, just like we think ours revolves around us. There’s nothing like realizing, uh, the earth revolves around the sun, and our planet is barely a speck of cosmic goo in the scale of things.

Author Spotlight: Philip Siegel

philipsiegel

Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, which he insists is much nicer than certain TV shows would have you believe. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC Page (proof below). He likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he lives in Chicago and does his best writing sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

Philip Siegel: Girl runs a business breaking up couples at her school.

101713-The-Break-Up-Artist-9780373211159_FC
Buy the book here:
Amazon
IndieBound

TPP: What inspired you to write The Break-Up Artist?

PS: A few things. I’d also been interested in a character who breaks up couples, since I was very much a cynic growing up. One of my favorite movies is My Best Friend’s Wedding, and I love the Julia Roberts character – the self-proclaimed “bad guy” who seeks to break up the titular ceremony. The movie had interesting things to say about love and friendship and romance, and it always stuck with me. So all that had been percolating in my mind, and then we come to the final thing. I had a few friends in terrible relationships, but in those situations, it’s hard to say anything. You have to bite your tongue or risk ruining that friendship. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to hire someone to end that relationship?

TPP: Your novel is filled with humor. How do you go about balancing that with the other themes that run throughout the story?

PS: I’m terrible at being serious. I can’t help injecting humor. (Never invite me to a funeral.) When writing, I make sure that humor comes out naturally in the situation, rather than engineering a situation to be funny. If you write a scene or a line just to be funny without moving the story along, your reader won’t be laughing. So while I LOVED coming up with all the witty one-liners these characters say, I never let that take over the plot or characters arcs.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from you book?

PS: That love does exist, but it’s not meant to be some fairytale. Any meaningful friendship or relationship will be frustrating and boring and confusing at times, but ultimately rewarding. As Becca tells someone, it can’t always be first kisses and warm gooey centers. And that’s okay.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

PS: I’m going to answer both of your questions with 3 words: Writing is work. Many aspiring writers think of writing as fun, as a hobby. But it’s not fun. It’s hard. Writing first drafts can be a slog, and revising can be worse. Collecting coins is a hobby; writing is work. Think of writing like exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at it. I hate exercising, but I love having exercised. I had always believed writing should be fun, so the moment it got difficult, I would get discouraged and throw it in a drawer. The brilliant ideas in my head never came out right on the page. Now I’ve realized that that’s normal.

TPP: If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast to play Becca?

PS: If I had a time machine, I would go back five or so years and cast Emma Stone. She would kill it as Becca. But looking at teen stars today, I would go with Morgan Saylor. She played Brody’s daughter on Homeland. Even though I couldn’t stand her character on the show, I think Morgan has the look and attitude to make a great Becca.

To learn more about Philip Siegel, visit his website!

AWP 2014: Writing for Young Adults and The Author-Editor Relationship

In addition to the panel on unsympathetic characters, I attended several other panels while at AWP 2014. A few of these panels focused on writing Young Adult books, while most of the others dealt with the relationship between an author and editor. I learned different things from each panel.

The YA panels I went to focused a lot on how it’s okay to write about serious topics in YA literature—topics like politics, loss, abuse. These things are no less real for young adults than they are for the rest of us. As one panelist said, “Dying is the end of all of our stories.”

The authors discussed the “absent adults” in many YA novels. It’s a genre trope, but one that allows the author to get the parents out of the way so the young adult protagonist can live their life. At one point, the moderator asked the panelists why they write YA that is arguably dark. If you’re a writer who also tends to write darker pieces, this may be something you even ask yourself. Why are we attracted to sadness? The panelists agreed that young adults are looking for solace in the midst of chaos—to recognize that we are not in control. According to one panelist, they are looking to answer the question, “How do you walk around as if every thing’s normal?”

The New Adult Genre: Is it Necessary?

In the publishing world, there’s a new genre called New Adult that is beginning to generate discussion. If you ask someone who’s been in publishing for years, they might tell you that there’s nothing new about New Adult. The term has been used in house for quite some time, but it’s only recently that it’s beginning to be used by readers and book sellers.

So what does New Adult actually mean? Typically, New Adult books are aimed at an audience between the ages 18-23. More often than not, the genre is also associated with female readers. For publishers, the term has been used generically to refer to anything that doesn’t quite fit into the other categories–for something that is too sexual or grown up for a Young Adult audience but too young (or as the cool kids say, hip) for Adults. There is no real definition for the genre. Ask someone else and they may give you a different answer.

There are some booksellers and librarians who think the term is unnecessary, which is why you won’t find a New Adult section at your local bookstore or library. Kenny Brechner, who owns Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Maine, has this to say about the genre:

“If there was a great category name that I thought would attract customer interest and generate sales, I would take it on. I’m not going to try and market something I’m reasonably sure will be perceived as lame.”