Thursday, July 7, 2016

What Matters in YA

So it's been a while since I've rambled on about anything here but I'm back and I want to talk about what matters in YA. There is a lot of talk about writing it real in YA and that needs to be talked about because it's the only way YA should be written. Real. Real characters who depict our real world, both in appearance and actions. Real situations that teens deal with including trauma, abuse, crime, violence, discrimination, poverty, bullying, addiction, drug and alcohol experimentation, sex, mental illness . . . all the big hard things in the world. But also the things that might not seem so hard in retrospect (because the hardness of it has been forgotten), but were damn hard as a teen nonetheless: romantic breakups, friendship breakups, feeling like no one hears you or no one sees you, fearing you will always be behind academically or socially, not wanting the things adults say you should want, feeling powerless, fearing consequences . . . gah, the lack of agency in so many areas coupled with the responsibility of making your own choices in other areas, it's hard stuff.

I hate to hear an adult say to a teen, "You think life is hard now? Just wait until you have real problems." Whatever problem a teen has, it is real. When something is the hardest thing you've dealt with so far, it's a hard thing. It's a big deal. It shouldn't be judged in comparison to anything else and minimized, especially not by someone with the advantage of far more life experience.

What matters in YA is everything. Everything teens face and struggle with. Everything they cherish and celebrate. Everything they know and everything they don't know. There is no checklist for what matters.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Upcoming Short Story Class

If you're looking to hone your short story writing skills in a workshop environment, Lindsey Lane and I would love to have you join us in our 6-week class at The Writing Barn

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Snippets of Career Advice from an Agent Panel at #LA15SCBWI

This is my first time back at the SCBWI summer national conference in Los Angeles since my first time attending in 2015 and I am so happy to be here.

The panels and presentations have all felt fresh and dynamic. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones is always a great part of any conference and the opportunity to do both here goes to eleven.

I sat in the audience of an amazing agent panel this morning and even though I'm taking very few notes this year because I'm trying to focus on being present and enjoying every minute, I did jot down the answers when Lin Oliver asked for a super brief bit of career advice from each of them and I'm happy to share them with you.

JODI REAMER, Writers House: Don't focus on the money. Focus on the passion and the money will follow. 

ALEXANDRA PENFOLD, Upstart Crow Literary: Be an avid reader. It's one of the very best ways to keep growing as a writer.

KRISTIN NELSON, Nelson Literary Agency, LLC: Make sure the comp titles in your query letter make sense -- no Anne of Green Gables meets The Hunt for Red October. 

BRENDA BOWEN, Greenburger Associates: Keep building on what you've got. Write the next book. Always be writing the next book.

JENNY BENT, The Bent Agency: Jenny shared what she refers to as BAM! "Be A Mensch." Always. Even on social media. 

BARRY GOLDBLATT, Barry Goldblatt Literary: Toughen up. This business is not always kind. Critics are everywhere. BUT STAY OFF GOODREADS! 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sounds Like Texas

It can be difficult to understand customs and traditions that you didn't grow up with. I once worked with a woman from Delaware and when I asked her about things she missed from home, she said she really missed Scrapple. I thought she'd said Scrabble and I couldn't imagine why she thought she couldn't play Scrabble in Texas. Did she think the only words we knew were y'all and fixin'?

Before I could offer to set up a game in the lunchroom she read my confused expression and went on to explain that Scrapple was food, pork to be exact, and that it was best described as "everything but the squeak." Wikipedia can explain it to you further. I was reminded of this exchange yesterday in a local grocery store when I saw Scrapple in the meat department. What can I say? Austin is now home to enough people from all over the country that we can find "everything but the squeak" next to our brisket.

I don't by any means think that everyone from Delaware enjoys Scrapple. She was one person I met from the great state of Delaware who did happen to enjoy it. And I think she was originally from another state anyway. As a native Texan who has lived in another state as an adult, I understand having to explain things and clear up incorrect assumptions. No, I didn't grow up on a ranch, or even own a horse. No, I didn't have a gun rack in my truck. In fact, hold on to your hat, but I didn't even drive a truck. As irritating as the assumptions were, I did understand why people thought them.

And I understand why reviewers and editors sometimes question or challenge things about stories set in Texas that just don't sound right to them.  Here are a few things that seem to trip up non-Texans. (And to be fair, some of these are probably also assumptions made about people from states other than Texas and people from those places probably get irritated about having to defend or explain them, too.)

1. No, it is not odd for a grown-ass woman, or even a grown-ass man, to still call their father "Daddy." In fact, they don't even have to have a particularly close relationship with him for that to be completely normal in their world. Likewise, not all Texans call their fathers Daddy.

2. No, there is no consensus on the correct spelling of mama vs. momma. The correct version is the one you like best. The end. And it is not unusual for a grown-ass man, or a grown-ass woman, to call their mother "Mama," which is, by the way, the correct version in anything I write. It should not be "corrected" to Momma. I wrote it the way I wrote it intentionally. Also, not every Texan calls their mother Mama.

3. Yes, the characters could have driven for nine hours and still be in Texas. It can take over 11 hours to drive from Beaumont to El Paso. No, I am not making that up and here is proof of the distance/time for said drive. And God help you if you hit Houston during rush hour. Texans don't always exaggerate but when we do, it's not about the size of our state.

4. Yes, there are vegetarians, and even vegans, in Texas. Yes, they could be native Texans. No, their mamas and daddies probably aren't okay with it. But they might be.

5. Yes, breakfast tacos are a thing. You can even get them in vegetarian and vegan varieties. Of course, you can also get them with bacon, sausage, and even smoked brisket. I've yet to see a Scrapple breakfast taco, but I wouldn't lay odds against such a thing existing somewhere in Texas. For the record, if I ever ask you to pick me up a breakfast taco, I do not want Scrapple in mine. Bacon, egg, potato, and cheese, please. And don't forget the hot sauce!
And yes, we really do have a road with an 85 mph speed limit --
but no, that is not the only road where you will encounter drivers going 85 mph.