The Compulsive Reader: October 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Images That Inspired Atlantia by Ally Condie

Atlantia by Ally Condie is out now, and to celebrate here is the last post on the "Team Below" leg of the blog tour! Ally shares with us some images that inspired the book, as found on her Pinterest page!

Here's Ally!
 I’m a really visual person—I know where I’m going by landmarks rather than addresses, I have to see someone demonstrate something before I can figure out how to do it, and my strongest memories are all in images, not in words. So, as I began to create Rio’s world for her, I realized I needed to be able to see Atlantia in order to have her walking around and living in it. There were a few pictures that I found early on that helped in the process and it was so fun to have these images serve as inspiration.
The very first picture that inspired Atlantia was this one—I came across an article about an underwater city in China, an ancient city full of temples and buildings that is now underneath a lake (but still intact)! I found this idea absolutely haunting, and it influenced the way I created the gods and the buildings for Atlantia.

Later, as I was building the temple where Rio and Bay and their mother lived and studied, I knew I wanted a blue door on the temple since that was symbolic of the colors of Atlantia. I hunted around to find the perfect blue door for the temple, and this was it. 
In ATLANTIA, Bay and Rio’s mother has a special ring, one made of blue stone and of wood, that represents both the Above and Below. This was a case where an image came first, before the idea, and when a friend sent me a picture of this ring I knew exactly where I wanted to put it in Rio’s story and what purpose it would serve. (I am still a bit tempted to buy the actual ring!) ;)

I knew fairly early on in the process of writing ATLANTIA that I wanted a single animal from the Above to stowaway and survive in the Below, and as I was deciding which might be a likely candidate, I settled on bats. I wanted an animal that could fly because of the symbolism, but felt like a bird would be too heavy-handed. In the end, I decided that bats would be perfect because they are so resourceful and they don’t mind the dark. And I know all of this because there were bats that lived in my high school auditorium that periodically flew out into the hallway and BIT students, and the school authorities never seemed to be able to get rid of them, no matter how hard they tried.

When Rio meets True and notices the beautiful metal fish he’s created, I could imagine what they looked like fairly well, but I wanted to find a picture that was exactly what I had in mind so that I could show Rio’s reaction to them, and so that I could write them in a way that readers could understand. (Just because I can see something clearly in my mind doesn’t mean that I’m getting it right on the page!) So when I found this picture, I was thrilled. 
And, last of all, an image that is both a picture and a quote. This line stood out to me when I read Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and had the initial idea for ATLANTIA, and it served as a touchstone for the entire writing process. I felt that it applied to Rio and the way she’s had to contain her emotions, and that it applied to the sirens of ATLANTIA as a group as well. It’s a line that breaks your heart, because we’ve all had those moments where we wish with all our hearts we could cry, and we can’t, and it hurts beyond almost anything else.

Atlantia is out now!

About Atlantia:

Can you hear Atlantia breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamed of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all Rio’s hopes for the future are shattered when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected choice, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long silenced—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the corrupted system constructed to govern the Divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cover Talk: Two Girls Kissing

A few weeks ago, a blog post I wrote about how YA books with lesbian protagonists get some rather stereotypical (and LAME) cover treatments caused a bit of a stir. I called out all of the covers that portrayed characters holding hands--and there were a lot. Hand-holding covers are fine, but I wanted hot make-out covers for lesbian love stories too, like the covers of books with straight couples, or David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing. (David Levithan gets all of the cool things.)

But! The universe listens, my friends.

A few months ago (okay, a year ago), by friend Amy Rose handed me a book called All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarrt and told me to read it ASAP. I didn't. I am terrible and full of regret. It's still sitting on my shelf, although it's now at the top of my TBR stack. It's the first in a trilogy, and the third book, About a Girl, had its cover reveal over at MTV today.

All I can say is...


It's beyond thrilling to not only see greater LGBTQ representation in books and on covers, but look! Characters who aren't white! This cover wins on so many levels.

I trust that this will only be one of many diverse covers that we'll be seeing from now on. Also, want to support diversity and diverse authors? Give to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks indiegogo campaign!

About a Girl will be out in July. Which gives us pleeeeeenty of time read All Our Pretty Songs and Dirty Wings. Go get 'em.

About a Girl...definitely a hotter kiss than Two Boys Kissing*.

*Not that I'm like, biased or anything.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Creepy Short Stories to Get You in the Halloween Mood

I've spoken before of my love for all things spooky and creepy and decidedly eerie in fiction--but I cannot do horror movies. No, no, no. Horror movies put me in a weird, crazy headspace where I become convinced that someone is coming through my window in the middle of the night or that knives are going to fall from the ceiling and impale me, and I can't enjoy the story unfolding (the only exception being The Cabin the the Woods because Joss Whedon FTW.)

But stories and novels are completely different! I can go at my own pace and read and re-read creepy parts and I'm oftentimes creeped out even more by the written word than by axe murderers jumping on screen and crazy gore, but I can also appreciate the story. I've covered some thrillers perfect for Halloween on the blog before, and there are a ton of lists of YA horror out there, but here are two short stories that are perfect for some creepy before-bed reading, between class entertainment, or your next coffee break:

"The Game of Boys and Monsters" by Rachel Wilson
(Available as a digital download from the Apple store, Kobo via your indie bookstore, Google, BN, or that other place that sells e-books for $0.99.)

Lesley and Evy are best friends. They entertain each other by playing a game with every boy they meet--they must decide what sort of monster he is. When the Marsh brothers come to town, Evy begins to pull away from Lesley and their game, once harmless, is suddenly dangerous.

Wilson’s story is effortlessly eerie without any direct mentions of violence or danger. Instead, she uses the disintegration of the girls’ friendship to build mystery and suspense, to the point where the reader is unsure if anything weird is going on, or if Leslie is simply unsettled by the loss of her friend. The final scene is deliciously creepy and memorable--this story is more than worth it's price.

Want to play the game with some familiar faces? Check out this blog post.

"Resurrection Bay" by Neal Shusterman
(Available as a digital download from the Apple store, Kobo via your indie bookstore, Google, BN, or that other place that sells e-books for $0.99.)

Anika likes in a tiny Alaskan town, not far from a looming glacier. One day that glacier begins to advance towards the town, claiming roads and buildings before swallowing the local graveyard.

Anika is direct and reasonable, and her reluctance to believe that the ancient spirit of the glacier is up to no good helps build suspense, and also sets up the tragic climax that forces Anika to confront the glacier’s powers. Shusterman’s prose is very tight and efficient; world-building details reveal character, and also serve as crucial props in the climax. This is a fascinating short story that combines the ruthlessness of nature with a very popular trope in a unique way.

Let me know what you think of these stories! Do you have any short story recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Manage Your Crazy

I have a good friend. She’s a traditionally published YA author. Early on in our friendship, I made a remark about how I noticed that her book had a really nice Goodreads rating. She said, “Oh, that's nice, I guess. I don’t look at Goodreads.”

“Really?” I asked. (I was a bit na├»ve.)

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Not after the first one-star review.”

This one-star review had come in months before her debut YA novel published. It was one grammatically questionable sentence: “Not my thing, probably won’t read it.”

I could see how that would turn someone off of Goodreads.


I don’t like star ratings. Five stars, I think, should feel important. They should be saved for the best books. Three stars feels too “meh.” There are many three star books I think I would genuinely enjoy, but three stars also feel like a bit of an invitation to lower your expectations. Two stars, forget it—who would want to waste their time on a two-star book? One star reviews just feel vindictive.

Four stars are safe. They’re solid. They’re kind of like a promise—you might like this book, but you might not. That’s okay. It got four stars.


The first time I met a YA author in person, I was in high school. I loved the author’s previous books, but the new one didn’t seem to really click with me. I gave it a higher star rating than I probably would have had I not ever met the author, because the author had been really nice to me in person. I felt only a minimal amount of guilt about this.


One of my co-workers at the bookstore was my high school English teacher. Our reading habits intersect a lot. Once, I asked her, “Did you like that book?” She made a little face and said, “It’s not that simple.”

After that, I made it a point to ask people what they think of a book, not if they liked it or not.


As a blogger, I value my right to honestly review books. Honesty, I believe, is the best attribute in a reviewer.

The line between honesty and rudeness is pretty thin, and I think people cross over it quite a bit. I know I have. It’s sometimes hard finding my way back to honesty.


When I first met one of my good friends, I was terrified for the moment when we would read each other’s writing. What if I didn’t like her books? What if she didn’t like my writing? Would that matter? Would we still be friends?


Once, I asked a customer if I could help her find anything. She asked, “Where are the ratings?”

“Excuse me?”

“Like, star ratings? Why don’t they put those on book covers?” She held up a book I loved.

“They put blurbs on covers by other authors and reviewers,” I explained. “And if you want any recommendations, I’d be happy to give you some.”

“No thanks,” she said. She put the book down.


Once a month, my creative writing is critiqued professionally. It’s brutal. It’s fantastic. I love getting my feedback. Afterwards, I sometimes feel like crying. I’ve learned that there is a tiny, crazy part of me that comes out when my art is critiqued. The crazy me is sometimes very, very mean.

I work very hard to control the crazy.


I’ve been writing reviews for eight years. I don’t write them for authors. I don’t write them for publicists. I don’t write them for editors.

I write them for you, the reader.


I deleted my Goodreads account months ago. It felt good.


When I can’t tuck the crazy away, this is what I do: I get off the computer and I call my friend. (The one whose debut novel received the one-star Goodreads review before the book was even released.)

I say to her, “I’m having a bad writing day.”

And she says, “We all have them.”

And she talks me down.

Sometimes we talk it out. Sometimes we talk about something else. Sometimes we don’t talk, and we just eat good food.

This is how I control the crazy.


I think my friends’ books are fantastic. I think my friends are fantastic. What I’ve learned in the past two years is how hard it is to be an author in an environment where you have to be accessible and charming and witty and responsive, but also have to keep writing your next brilliant book.

No author should ever stalk a blogger. Ever.

The right to have an opinion does not give you permission to seek out any author and tell him/her how much you dislike their books.

The authors I know respect what bloggers do and what they say and their opinions.

Sadly, not enough bloggers I know respect authors’ inboxes and Twitter feeds and Facebook pages enough to leave the negative review at the blog post.

This is not a defense of anyone.

It’s just a reminder that we are all human, we all have feelings, and we all work hard at what we write, whether it’s a novel or a review.

Find your people. Make friends. Start good public conversations. Keep the negativity, snark, and rudeness offline or in private. Manage your crazy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Q&A with P.C. and Kristin Cast

I've got a Q&A with House of Night authors P.C. an Kristin Cast to celebrate the release of Redeemed, the final book in the House of Night series!

Q: REDEEMED, the final novel in the House of Night series just came out. How does it feel to reach the finale of the series?

PC: It’s bittersweet to come to the last HoN book. I’m excited about the new trilogy I’m working on, but I also miss Z and the Nerd Herd. I spent almost a decade with the HoN characters. I know I’m going to feel their absence as I’m at my writing desk – and at my brainstorming desk!

KC: It’s sad that the HoN series is ending. Like Mom, I’m going to miss Zoey and the Nerd Herd, but I’m going to miss our fans most of all. I hope that they’ll continue to follow us as we each begin our new projects.

Do you have a favorite book in House of Night?

PC: For a long time I loved CHOSEN because of the mistakes Zoey makes in that book and the lessons she learns. And my favorite novella is LENOBIA’S VOW. Since finishing REDEEMED, though, I have to say that I love it best!

KC: My favorite is LENOBIA’S VOW. I love the story, and that anyone can pick it up and read it without having to read any of the other books in the series.

Q: Is there a character that you feel closest to?

PC: Aphrodite is easiest to write, and I’ll always feel close to Zoey.

KC: I love me some Heath! I guess that also means that I love Aurox too!

Q: House of Night is an international phenomenon! How has the success of the series changed your life?

PC: HoN has enriched our lives on many levels. We love hearing from our fans about how they have grown up with Zoey and the group. Kristin and I get to take awesome road trips!

KC: I’ve gotten to meet so many people who have been inspired by HoN, which has made me a better person in a lot of ways.

Q: Neferet is such a tragically flawed character. Her backstory made her more sympathetic, even though her choices are horrid. How much of her actions in REDEEMED, and previous books, is a result of her trying to overcome her past?

PC: Sadly, Neferet’s life choices were a direct result of her inability to let go of her father’s brutal attack and rape. I think a big part of her reaction to his abuse was a direct result of “Emily’s” inability to forgive herself. I do understand Neferet, often too well. It saddens me that the HoN world lost what could have been such a great force for Light.

Q: Where do you see Zoey in 10 years?

PC: I see Z being a kick ass High Priestess!

Q: Does Zoey and Stark’s relationship continue?

PC: Absolutely! Stark will always be Zoey’s Warrior.

Q: Did writing the series together strengthen your relationship?

PC: Kristin and I have always been close, so that hasn’t changed. I am appreciative of her editorial eye, and love partnering with her!

KC: Mom and I have always had an amazing relationship! Working with her has made me appreciate and respect her even more.

Q: Do mothers and daughters read your books together?

PC: Yes! We hear from mothers and daughters a lot! We love that they read the HoN as a team.

KC: Hearing how our books have brought mothers and daughters closer is so amazing! I love that we’ve been able to inspire connection within so many families.

Q: How did you decide to write a series about vampires?

PC: My agent, Meredith Bernstein, asked me to write a series set at a vampyre finishing school, and my imagination took off from there.

Q: Who is your all-time favorite fictional vampire character?

PC: I love the vampire in Robin McKinley’s wonderful book, SUNSHINE.

KC: Spike! He’s totally my boyfriend.

Q: Spike or Angel?

PC: SPIKE! He’s been my boyfriend for years.

KC: No! He’s MY boyfriend, Phyllis.

Q: Some have speculated that the huge surge of interest over the past few years in the paranormal romance/vampire fiction genre won’t last. What do you think?

PC: I think it’s silly to worry about genres coming and going. A good book is a good book. Excellence in storytelling will never be out of fashion.

Q: What is on your nightstand now?

PC: The first book in Anne Bishop’s Jewel series, Neil Gaiman’s THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, and the latest copy of bitch Magazine.

KC: Benadryl, my dehumidifier, and stress relieving essential oils. (I have a bit of an allergy problem.)

Q: What was your favorite book as a young adult?

PC: Wow, there were so many of them! When I was a young girl I read every horse and dog book I could get my hands on (LOVE Walter Farley). As I became a teenager and a young adult, I didn’t read YA. I read lots and lots and lots of fantasy, science fiction, and romance. As a teenager my favorite series was probably Anne McCaffrey’s books about Pern. I still want to ride a golden queen dragon!

KC: I was obsessed with GOSSIP GIRLS and Lynn Ewing’s DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON series.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the philanthropic organizations that you support?

PC: I have an education foundation that helps kids through college. I’m also passionate about supporting the feminist bitch magazine and SageWoman.

PC & KC: We believe in supporting local charities like Tulsa Street Cats, the Oklahoma Equality Center, the Oklahoma Center for the Book, Philbrook and Gilcrease museums. We will also always support the Humane Society and SPCA.

Q: You are about to embark on book tour – what are you most looking forward to?

PC & KC: We haven’t toured in the US for several years (been too busy writing!), so we’re really looking forward to seeing our fans from all over the US!

Q: What has the response been like to the House of Night clothing line?

PC: I’ll let Kristin handle this one, as this is her baby, but I will say that I heart me some HoN merchandise!

KC: It’s been fantastic! It’s amazing when I see people out in public who are wearing one of the shirts, or have a bumper sticker on their car. I feel very honored and fortunate to have such support from our fans.

Q: Your fans can’t wait for the HON movies to come out! Where are you in the process right now?

PC: This summer I worked with our wonderful screenwriter, Marc Haimes, on the treatment (which is really just a long outline) of the first movie, and he has completed the first draft of the script. Yes, I do love it!

Q: What’s up next for you, PC?

PC: What’s next for me is a fantasy romance trilogy of epic proportions that I’m really excited about. I should have news for my fans in the next month or so!

Q: What’s up next for you, Kristin?

KC: Right now I’m working on the first book in a new adult paranormal suspense series. Meredith Bernstein, my fabulous agent, is finalizing the contract with my new publisher and I will have exciting news this November! You can sign up to receive info about my new series at www.KCastAuthor.com.

Redeemed is out now!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King

Glory O’Brien is graduating from high school, and unlike her classmates, she has no idea what’s next. Both Glory and her father have been in a sort of stasis, unable to move on since the suicide of Glory’s mother fourteen years earlier. Glory’s feminist beliefs tend to ostracize her at school, and her only friend, Ellie, is self-centered heading in a different direction in life. When the girls drink the mummified remains of a bat one night, they start receiving transmissions from every person they look at, seeing their pasts and their terrifying futures.

While the premise is not the weirdest thing King has come up with, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future commands attention. The transmissions that Glory and Ellie receive are equally fascinating and chilling, and the future that Glory tells takes over the entire novel. Glory’s voice is funny, emotionally-charged, and insistent, but she’s a bit lost. Her exploration of a future where society is dismantled not by bombs or wars, but by refusing women equal rights, causes Glory to take a closer look at how she interacts with people in her life. King does a great job at showing connections between people across time and generations, a good reminder that every decision and action has a consequence that we can’t always see. King’s newest book is, as always, memorable and unique.

Cover Comments: A.S. King always wins the good cover lottery. I like the black and yellow, and I love the title font. This is a fantastic and attention-grabbing cover.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Bodies We Wear Giveaway

Jeyn Roberts is the author of Dark Inside and Rage Within, and her newest book, The Bodies We Wear, just released last month! To celebrate, I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader!

About The Bodies We Wear:

People say when you take Heam, your body momentarily dies and you catch a glimpse of heaven. Faye was only eleven when dealers forced Heam on her and her best friend, Christian. But Faye didn’t glimpse heaven—she saw hell. And Christian died.

Now Faye spends her days hiding her secret from the kids at school, and her nights training to take revenge on the men who destroyed her life and murdered her best friend. But life never goes the way we think it will. When a mysterious young man named Chael appears, Faye’s plan suddenly gets a lot more complicated. Chael seems to know everything about her, including her past. But too many secrets start tearing her world apart: trouble at school, with the police, and with the people she thought might be her friends. Even Gazer, her guardian, fears she’s become too obsessed with vengeance. Love and death. Will Faye overcome her desires, or will her quest for revenge consume her?

Roberts’s sophisticated plotting and strong authorial voice mark her as an emerging, and formidable, talent. THE BODIES WE WEAR is an action-driven revenge story that delivers on adrenaline and will hook and hold readers to the shocking end.

JEYN ROBERTS is the author of Dark Inside and Rage Within. Her first story was published in a middle-grade anthology called Let Me Tell You when she was sixteen. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in writing and psychology and received her MA from the prestigious creative-writing graduate course at Bath Spa University. Jeyn is a former singer, songwriter, actress, bicycle courier, and tree planter. Her favorite authors include Betty Smith, J. K. Rowling, Ernest Hemingway, Douglas Coupland, and Jonathan Stroud, and her five favorite books of all time are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Girlfriend in a Coma, Memoirs of a Geisha, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and Harry Potter. Jeyn lives in Canada. Visit her at www.jeynroberts.com or follow her on twitter at @JeynRoberts.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Win the BZRK Books by Michael Grant

Michael Grant (author of the Gone series) has a new trilogy out called BZRK. It's a futuristic, thriller of a trilogy about what happens when technology takes over the human mind, and I'm giving away all three books--BZRK, BZRK Reloaded, and BZRK Apocalypse! All you have to do it fill out the form below to win!

 About BZRK:

Love The Hunger Games? Action-adventure thrillers with a dystopian twist? BZRK (Berserk) by Michael Grant, New York Times best-selling author of the GONE series, ramps up the action and suspense to a whole new level of excitement.

Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind. Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal: to turn the world into their vision of utopia. No wars, no conflict, no hunger. And no free will. Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human. This is no ordinary war, though. Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain. And there are no stalemates here: It’s victory . . . or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose? How far would you go to win?

Writing Great Books for Young Adults Excerpt + Giveaway

Regina Brooks is the founder of Serendipity Literary Agency and the author of Writing Great Book for Young Adults. I know that a number of my readers are also writers, so I'm excited to offer an excerpt from Regina's book and a chance to win a copy!

First, about the book:
"Break into the young adult market with this indispensable guide!

With an 87 percent increase in the number of young adult titles published in the last two years, the young adult market is one of the healthiest segments in the industry. Despite this fact, surprisingly little has been written to help authors hone their craft and truly connect with the young adult audience.

Writing Great Books for Young Adults gives writers all the advice they need to tap into this incredible and innovative market. Literary agent Regina L. Brooks shows writers how listening to young adults will help them create characters their audience can identify with.

Topics covered include meeting your protagonist, engaging your readers,, trying on points of view, and many more."

Chapter One

Five Rules for Engaging Readers of Young Adult Fiction

Before you even start putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), there are some issues that need to be addressed. A lot of writers out there think writing YA fiction is easy. It’s not. Some mistakes you might make will condemn your book to languish on the slush pile forever. So before we even talk about the nitty--gritty of how to shape your book—-character, plot, setting, point of view—-we need to talk about the five key elements that can make or break you as a YA writer.

The Holden Caulfield Rule—-Don’t Be a Phony!

Imagine traveling to a planet where your survival depends on hiding out among the inhabitants, where being recognized as a phony would mean instant annihilation. In that situation, you’d want to study the locals until you knew just how to look and sound and respond like them. It is the same in YA fiction. In this case, sudden death occurs when the reader, stumbling upon a false image, loses interest. The book closes with the splintering sound of a fatal bullet.

It’s no exaggeration.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, was always railing against the phoniness of other people, particularly adults. The enduring popularity of Catcher in the Rye demonstrates that teens today are the same way—-they despise fakes.

YA Fiction Rule #1: The life of the story depends on the writer’s ability to convince READERS that the protagonist is one of them.

The key to writing a successful YA novel means knowing kids well enough to channel their voices, thoughts, and emotions. (“Kids” is used as an operative word here. The official YA audience encompasses twelve-- to eighteen--year--olds, but it is expanding as children’s book publishers work to attract readers as young as ten and eleven, and adult publishers reach to capitalize on the growing market.) While some of your readers may be a little younger than the twelve--to--eighteen target—-children aged ten to twelve tend to read above their age—-and some may be a little older, keep in mind that you have to convince all segments of your audience that you know what it feels like to be a young person today. If you can’t convince your audience that you know how they feel about the world today and express yourself the same way, you will never reach them.

Avoid the Preach ‘n’ Teach

Whether YA readers attend elementary or secondary school isn’t an issue when it comes to the importance of YA Fiction Rule #2.

YA Fiction Rule #2: Don’t be condescending to your readers.

Young people won’t abide stories that suggest that their turmoil or idealism will pass when they “grow up.” Brent Hartinger, author of Geography Club, says, “I’m a big believer that kids are smarter than we think they are.…I think kids can handle complexity and nuances, and the advantage to writing that way is that the book appeals to both teenagers and adults.”

Many adults read fiction as an escape—-teens are no different. Imagine spending a long day in school, learning boring lessons ’cause you’re supposed to, having everyone from parents to teachers to employers telling you what to do, how to think, what to wear, then picking up a novel—-and having someone else trying to shove another lesson down your throat! I can’t imagine a bigger letdown.

Don’t deal with young people by trying to push them in one direction or another. Deal with them where they’re at now.

Soak It Up!

A word of caution: don’t emulate your favorite authors, but learn from them. You’ll want to create work that is truly your own. In the resource guide at the back of this book, along with details such as schools that offer writing degrees with a YA focus, you’ll find listings for websites that recommend great YA fiction.

YA Fiction Rule #3: Read, read, read today’s YA fiction.

The benefits to reading what’s already on the market are phenomenal. It will familiarize you with what’s selling, how kids today talk, what they wear, what issues concern them, and so on. If you don’t have easy access to a teen, reading books meant for teens is probably the next best thing to having a teen personally tell you what he or she would like to read.

Ideals First, Meals Later

Writing a successful book that aims to attract the widest possible audience should be every writer’s goal, shouldn’t it? The answer is yes and no. It helps to have a general audience age in mind, but you don’t want to be consumed with thoughts about how and whether you’ll sell your work.

YA Fiction Rule #4: Silence your worries about commercial considerations.

This allows you to concentrate on your primary objective, which is to tell your story. If a nagging inner voice surfaces or someone discourages you, rather than pulling on earphones and listening to music as a teenager might, transform the voices through the power of your imagination into “white noise.” This is the all--frequency sound emitted from machines that imparts a feeling of privacy, calming you and allowing you to focus on that world you’re creating. Keep your artistic integrity—-your ideals—-ahead of how commercially successful—-your meals—-you want your book to be. If you focus on writing the best possible book, commercial success will follow later.

As your manuscript develops while you work through the guidelines provided in the ensuing chapters, your audience will become as clear to you as if you were speaking on a stage and looking into an auditorium full of people. If you subsequently work with an agent, the two of you can determine whether the manuscript should be pitched to editors specializing in YA, adult fiction, or both. But the fate of your manuscript will still be up in the air. Editors, who are invested with the power to buy or decline a manuscript, will ultimately determine to whom the book will be marketed.
The significant rise in the success of YA novels has opened the way for a multiplicity of categories, and just to give you an idea, I’ve listed some alphabetically: adventure, chick lit, comical, fantasy, fantasy epics, futuristic, gay--themed, historical, multicultural, mystery, religious, romantic, science fiction, sports, and urban. If your story idea doesn’t fit into any of these categories, you may have to invent one. Consider it an opportunity.

The Undiscovered Country

From this point on, let your creative spirit be guided by YA Rule #5.

YA Rule #5: In your new world of YA fiction, erect no concrete barriers, wire fences, or one--way signs. Instead, forge new paths.

The YA field welcomes innovators. Encapsulating the newness of the time, YA novels are being published in nontraditional formats. Three YA authors banded together to compose a novel. Another entry is an interactive book with websites that combines reading with the world of Internet gaming. What will your contribution be? Think fresh.

Remember that young people are trendsetters—-they’re always looking to differentiate themselves from others. It’s how teens forge their own identities. Don’t be afraid to push the boat out as well. Coming up with a fresh idea will set you apart from the pack and might be the thing that sparks an editor’s interest in your work.

Okay, consider yourself warned. Now that you know what not to do, it’s time to learn how to craft the next YA bestseller. Step by step, this book will walk you through the mechanics of what makes a great YA novel.

Chapter 2 is about generating an idea, your story. It will talk about different ways to uncover stories that YA readers will want to read about. It will also help you discover new possibilities for stories within yourself that you may not have known you had.

Chapter 3 will discuss characters—-the heart of any manuscript. How to breathe life into interesting characters your reader will connect with is the main lesson of this chapter, but we’ll also discuss how to find the best characters for the story you want to tell.

Chapter 4 is all about plot, story, and how to tell the difference. Plot is like a machine that propels your manuscript forward, while story is the overall impression you want the plot to create in the reader’s mind.

Chapter 5 is about how to put together a believable plot. It’s all about action—-establishing the main conflict of your manuscript and putting it in motion. Of special concern will be integrating the events of the manuscript with the characters’ personalities, making sure that the characters react to events in believable ways.

Chapter 6 is about setting and timeline. Setting is the background of your story—-the when and where. This chapter is about understanding the atmosphere of your story and effectively manipulating the details of that atmosphere to influence your manuscript’s tone.

Chapter 7 is about point of view—-the perspective from which you tell your story. Point of view can be an extremely effective tool for connecting with character and clarifying or confusing the reader about events—-provided you use it correctly.

Chapter 8 is about the meat of your manuscript—-dialogue. Dialogue provides an opportunity for your characters to interact and opens up another way to build your characters.

Chapter 9 is about the theme of your manuscript. Theme is the overall impression you want your readers to take away. It’s a subtle but effective way for the author to express himself through the story.

Chapter 10 is about wrapping it all up, bringing your plot to a successful resolution. Endings can be very tricky, so there will be detailed discussion about what sorts of conclusions to avoid.

Chapter 11 is about how to find constructive feedback and incorporate it into your revisions. All authors need to edit and revise their manuscript, and this chapter will explain why the editing process is so necessary.

Chapter 12 is about getting published—what agents and editors do and how to get your work into their hands. This is the business chapter-—the one that details exactly how the publishing industry works.

Chapter 13 is about YA nonfiction and the emerging genre of New Adult. The YA market is constantly in flux, and this chapter will expose you to two recent developments in the market.

I hope all of these tools will be helpful to you as you begin the process of writing the next YA bestseller. Let’s begin exploring that magical new world.

Connect with Regina Brooks on Twitter at @serendipitylit, and fill out the form below for a chance to win a copy of her book!