Tag Archives: young adult

Interview with Tara Hudson, author of HEREAFTER

4 Jul

by Susan Dennard

You all may recall my gushing recommendation of Tara Hudson’s Hereafter a few weeks back. Well, I am now absolutely ecstatic to share my recent interview with her!

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Tara Hudson graduated with a degree in law, mostly because she believed all the horror stories about English majors and their careers in the food-service industry. Luckily, she soon remembered how much she loved telling ghost stories, particularly to her girlfriends who liked visiting abandoned cemeteries as much as she did. Tara currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband, son, and a menagerie of ill-behaved pets.

Let’s get started, shall we?

So, Tara, when did you first start writing HEREAFTER? Was there any sort of inspiring moment behind it (like dreams of sparkly vampires—ha!)?

I actually remember the exact date I started writing HEREAFTER – April 14, 2009 – because I still have the email that I sent my best girlfriends, asking them to read the first chapter. But my inspiring moment, or event, happened in 2000, when I drew “first straw” to present a short story in my college Fiction Writing Workshop. I always had a fascination with old cemeteries (their history, their eerie sense of watchfulness), so I wrote a story about the type of person who might wake up in one. That early story haunted me, and almost ten years later, it grew into HEREAFTER.

Wow! That’s…impressive–I love that it’s been an idea boiling in your mind for so long. And I gotta say, you pull of the cemetery-creep-factor really well! When you set out to actually write it, were you a plotter or pantster?

I was a plotter, especially for HEREAFTER. I wrote the entire original manuscript based off of an outline, that set out a chapter-by-chapter sequence of events. But with ARISE, the second book in the Hereafter Trilogy, I totally pants-ed it. And you know what? The spontaneity worked, because I think ARISE blows HEREAFTER out of the water!

GASP! Oh my gosh, Tara, now you’ve got me drooling for ARISE. If the author thinks it’s great, it must be fan-freaking-tab-ulous! Plus, how awesome is that title–ARISE!? Now, tell us about your agent. Who is she and how did you win her heart?

My agent is the fantastic Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. She was my dream agent – she represents Markus Zusak and Becca Fitzpatrick, for pete’s sake! – and I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance of landing representation with her. But she read my entire manuscript over the course of one weekend and liked it. She didn’t offer me representation right away because she wanted me to do some revising. Lucky for me, only two days after I started revisions, Catherine received a call from HarperCollins looking for something along the same lines as HEREAFTER. With my permission, Catherine pitched my manuscript and Harper loved it. Of course, I wasn’t surprised when my new editor – the equally legendary Barbara Lalicki – wanted the exact same revisions Catherine had suggested!

Wow. My jaw is kinda on the floor with that story… HEREAFTER is (as I have told everyone) amazing, but to hear the concept was so high that editors wanted it just like that… Well, go Tara! So now that you’re all published (wee!), what are you working on now?

Right now, I’m winding down revisions for ARISE and starting my outline for ELEGY, the final book in the Hereafter Trilogy. I’m also vacillating between two new projects – another YA paranormal and a YA fantasy – both of which I kind of love.

Awesome! I can’t lie that I’m really excited to hear you’re working on new projects–it’s my purely selfish desire to read them!! Finally, do you have any big words of writerly advice?

You can do this.

I get how that might sound trite, or like something your mother would say. But when I was writing HEREAFTER, I had a really demanding day job. Then, after I sold HEREAFTER and began revising it, I still had that day job as well as a brand new pregnancy. Then, after HEREAFTER was finished and I was under an intense deadline to write ARISE, I had the intense day job and a brand new baby.

And you know what? I did it. With all those life responsibilities, I wrote two books of which I’m extremely proud. So whatever you’re struggling with while trying to write or query or submit or revise, you CAN do this, mostly because you love it that much.

We can do it! I’ve been terrified of tackling my own book 2, and I gotta say: you’ve made me feel better, Tara. This is wonderful advice and so, so true.

Thank you for taking the time out of your very busy life to answer my questions, and I can’t wait to see your other books in stores. (No seriously, if there’s anyway you can hook me up with an ARC for ARISE… ::nudge, nudge::)

Now, for those of you Americans out there, Happy Fourth of July! Go out and read Hereafter–you won’t regret it!

~~~

You can learn more about Tara Hudson on her website , blog, or twitter!

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.


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Writing YA Versus Adult Fiction: what’s the difference?

1 Jun

This is something I get asked a lot: what’s the difference between YA and adult fiction? So rather than continuing to reinvent this wheel, I’ll just write a blog and direct people to it from now on. Sneaky, eh?

To begin with it is important to have a protagonist firmly within the standard age–typically younger than 18, but simply making your protagonist 17 isn’t sufficient. Many adult books feature younger characters, but the way the story is told varies.

And, keep in mind, a story’s content will vary between YA and adult. Lots of graphic sex might fly in an adult book, but will usually be considered too much for YA. However, you can include a lot of mature situations in YA as long as you handle it well.

So that said, I think the biggest differences between YA and adult boil down to:

  1. the voice
  2. the length (though that is changing these days)
  3. how the MC views him/herself in the world and reacts to his/her surroundings
  4. the depth of the POV

First of all, voice is critical. My editor and agents both say the number one reason for rejecting YA is that the voice feels inauthentic. You aren’t talking down to teenagers, and you aren’t trying to imitate a teenager. You are simply telling your story as if you were a teenager. That said:

  • Don’t try to learn slang (it’ll be out of date by the time your book comes out anyway)
  • Don’t use “lower-grade” vocabulary
  • Just imagine you’re 16, and tell your story that way (see #3 for more explanation)

Secondly, the word count matters, especially if this is your debut novel. While “times are changing” and YA books are certainly getting longer, the standard rule is 50-90K. 50K would be a short contemporary, 90K would be a standard paranormal/fantasy. Something Strange and Deadly was originally 93K when I sold it, but I had to cut it down to 87K. Then again, the fabulous Sarah J. Maas has a YA fantasy (Queen of Glass, Bloomsbury 2012) that is >120K–but she is the exception, not the rule.

“Word count” is more than just the number of words, though. It’s the scope and complexity of the story. You simply cannot tell a story with twelve POVs and twenty interwoven subplots in a YA novel–at least not in a single book (note: you could pull it off in a series!). Basically, you can’t make George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones into a YA novel. However, in theory, you could expand and complicate a YA novel to transform it into an adult book.

Thirdly, think of how you viewed your life when you were a teen. Teenagers (and adults!) are uncertain, they’re starting to find their places in the world, and they are very wrapped up in their emotions (aren’t we all, though?). As such, YA often moves from a point of self-doubt to surety/autonomy, a point of selfish emotional concern to more selfless.

I’m not saying you need a character who cowers and “doesn’t fit in”, but someone who questions if he/she made the right choice and who sometimes hesitates before decisions. I can’t emphasize enough how a single line of self-doubt can really hype up the YA feel to your novel.

Also, I don’t think every emotion the MC feels should be a Big Deal, but little things ultimately matter more when you’re young. Heck, when I was 15, simply making eye contact with my crush was enough to induce a cyclone inside my chest. Romance matters when you’re a teen, and it is (whether or not you agree) an important part of modern YA storytelling.

These days, a lot of YA is considered “cross-over”, meaning it sells to adults as well. Thanks to Twilight and Harry Potter, a huge number of adults are into teen books. Maybe because, despite being older, we’re still uncertain and emotionally dramatic at heart? I think it actually has a lot to do with the POV, which leads me to the final YA requirement: the average modern YA novel will have a very close first or third person.

We live the story as if we’re in the MC’s head, so filter words are limited and introspection is tightly woven into the action. This is very different from the YA I grew up with (Tamora Pierce, Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey, Lois Duncan, Jane Yolen, etc.) which featured more omniscient POVs and distant thirds.

You certainly can write more distant POV, and it’s certainly around (an example that springs to mind is Lauren DeStefano’s Wither which is first person present, but very distant). Again: the usual YA will have a tight POV.

If you want to really get a handle on YA versus adult, grab some from the same genre–like take a popular YA fantasy and compare it to a popular adult fantasy. For example, compare Graceling by Kristen Cashore to Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Both feature strong female protagonists pitted against a world of political intrigue and danger, but both one is without-a-doubt YA and the other is without-a-doubt adult. Or take Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries and compare it to her Queen of Babble–same thing! (See my awesome Venn diagram.)

What have I missed–what else do you think defines a novel as YA? Do you agree or disagree with my own points?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Book Recommendation: Finnikin of the Rock

13 Mar

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.”

Before I begin, let me preface this by saying that I’m about to gush. A lot.

Melina Marchetta is a writing goddess; that is what I think now that I’ve finished this book. Her first foray into fantasy is not a light one; it is deep, and dark, and hauntingly beautiful. And I honestly think that the book I’ve just put down is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

You won’t often hear me saying that. The majority of books I read (and I tend to read one book a week) leave me feeling disappointed; they were either too light and airy and fluffy, or had characters I couldn’t connect with, or had a plot with too many inconsistencies, or was too predictable – really, the list goes on and on. And then I tend to find a book that surpasses my expectations, or completely surprises me – and I jump at the chance to let everyone know how much I loved it. But Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock has made even some of the books I love pale in comparison.

Simply put, it was pure brilliance.

I don’t even know where to start – but I guess the best place is with a summary from Goodreads:

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere.

And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.

Until the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne.

And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.

But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light…

~

This is a story about one young man’s quest to save his homeland; the story about a people – a country torn apart – coming together to unite once again; a love-story so dark and intense and confusing that it will, at times, leave you with an aching heart. Finnikin’s quest leads him on a road that will eventually take him back to the place he belongs in; the place taken away by invasion and dark magic. But his path isn’t easy – it is grim and dire, and yet he is able to find hope through Evanjalin – hope in the belief that Prince Balthazar is alive and that they will be able to return home. What is so brilliant about this novel is how it looks at humanity and suffering, and how Finnikin comes across people who have faced oppression and cruelty. Some of these people are broken already; but others still have hope, even though their world is crumbling at their feet. There is the belief that they will be led back to the place that belongs to them; that they will once again have a home, and be among those they unwillingly left behind. There is the belief that the false king will be dethroned, and that the true King of Lumatere will be crowned once again; that the curse will be lifted. But nothing is quite as it seems, and Evanjalin will test and manipulate Finnikin. And Finnikin, in return, will end up finding himself struggling to accept his destiny.

For an author who has never written in the fantasy genre before, she is great at it. Her world-building is fantastic – it is full of depth and history and culture and religion and political intrigue. And magic! This is a world with substance – a place that feels so extraordinarily real in its fantastical way. Coupled with her beautiful prose, you’ll find yourself relishing her every sentence.

But Marchetta’s greatest strength lies in her characters. This is a writer who understands the complexities of human nature and relationships; of heartache and doubt and uncertainty. She is able to make her characters live and breathe. Her characters are not easy to understand; and they are not always likable. There are times when they are so infuriating, when you find them lying and harming one another to the point of disgust; and yet somehow, their realness will creep into your hearts. They are some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. These are characters willing to risk everything for what they believe in, even if their beliefs are not always the same. And you will want to root for them; you will genuinely want them to prevail, to find happiness. And Evanjalin? She is brilliance. If there ever was a character whose motivations and actions are dubious, and whose thoughts are complex and confusing, she is it. She, like Finnikin, is not weak. While they both have moments of weakness and unease, they are not by any means powerless. She is strong-willed and capable, resourceful and manipulative, and very much determined; moreso than any other character. And it is her determination, and her strength, that propels everyone forward towards their destinies. She is the key to Prince Balthazar; the catalyst to Finnikin and the role he plays in bringing their people together.

There may not be huge epic battles or constant sword-fighting occurring throughout, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any great fight scenes: there are. And when they happen, they are satisfying. But the book focuses more on the internal battles the characters face, and the obstacles they find in their lack of trust in one another.

As for the romance, I adored every minute of it. The connection was real, as was their chemistry. But if you’re looking for a romance with lots kissing and love triangles and fluffy sweetness, you won’t find it here. This is a romance of the epic kind – a romance between two people meant to be together, and who struggle not only with themselves, but with each other.

So yes, I loved this book. There is so much more I could say, but I’m not sure it would actually be helpful, as it would only involve me gushing adoringly over all the other characters and plot twists in this book. But I do hope you decide to pick this up. In fact, I think you should definitely pick it up. Is this the type of book for someone who isn’t into dark fantasy? Maybe not. But if you like fantasy, this is a must-read. If you love beautiful prose, this is a must-read. If you love dark, complicated stories, this is a must-read. If you like characters who are the most complex, infuriating, flawed, brave, and interesting, then this book is a must-read. If you are looking for a love story full of passionate embraces and constant physical contact, you will not find that here; but what you will find is a romance that blossoms from more than just the physical; a romance that is deep and satisfying and true. If you are looking for an epic story that is thought-provoking, this is it. Marchetta’s book is up there for me with the works of Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Margaret Atwood, and William Nicholson – all favourite authors of mine.

So if you listen to me and decide to only pick up one book I recommended, this is the one. You will not be disappointed.

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also geeks out over at Something Geeky.

Book Recommendation: StarCrossed

24 Feb

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“I couldn’t think. My chest hurt from running, and I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place.”

Thieves are awesome. If you’ve read Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief (which you really should read), or loved Aladdin, or adored “Flynn Rider” from Disney’s Tangled (which you really should watch), or are charmed by the prince in The Prince of Persia games (which you really should play) or enjoyed books by Tamora Pierce (there are a few thieves in her worlds, like George Cooper from the Alanna series), then you probably know what I’m talking about.

I love thieves. Somehow, when they end up in a story (be it in a book, or a movie, or a video game), they end up stealing my heart (ahaha, sorry… I couldn’t help myself).

Elizabeth C. Bunce’s new YA novel, StarCrossed, doesn’t have a title that sounds like a story centered around a thief; it sounds more like a Romeo & Juliet type of story, with star-crossed lovers and tragic endings. But Bunce’s novel is full of courtly politics, intrigue, deception, rebellion, forbidden magic, and quite a bit of stealing and sneaking.

Want to know more? (Of course you want to know more!) Here’s the summary I swiped from Goodreads:

Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady’s maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold–as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren’t as apolitical as she thought… that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

~~~

See? Rebellion! Spys! Dead lovers! How can you not want to read that? But as exciting as that is, there is so much more to this novel.

First, the world-building is phenomenal. Set in a land full of political intrigue and danger, Digger’s world is rife with numerous gods, multiple moons, religious wars, a frighteningly powerful Inquisition, and castles with secret passageways. And the magic! It adds to the secrecy surrounding Digger and the others.

Unfortunately, the story begins with a few too many characters (some of whom never make another appearance, though I imagine they might play a larger role in the sequel) and a few too many coincidences that just don’t feel right. The way Digger is able to escape the city with a group of nobs (nobles), or the way she easily becomes a lady’s maid – even though the nobles around her know nothing about her – comes off a bit heavy handed. But if you can look past the awkwardly contrived beginning, the story really fills out into an epic adventure with compelling characters. I, for one, am incredibly glad I was able to look past it and just get swept up in the rest of the story.

Bunce is wonderfully talented at creating multi-dimensional characters- and Digger is a wonderful protagonist. Though truth be told, there were times where I felt her character fell flat in comparison to other characters, but midway through the novel, Digger really starts to shine.  What I really enjoyed was how unreliable a narrator she is – how she keeps things from even us, the reader. It makes for some great twists and delightful surprises. She is talented, resourceful, and wonderfully independent. Her curiosity gets the better of her, as does her greed – which makes her a wonderfully flawed character. Digger is definitely not perfect. And though at times I felt frustrated and a bit confused by her wavering loyalties, by the end I was completely endeared to her. And her lack of loyalty is justified – being a thief, she knows firsthand just how devious people can be.

Merista is another well-written character. The daughter of the wealthy noble family who has taken Digger in at Bryn Shaer has one of the most gratifying coming-of-age arcs. Beginning as a girl who doesn’t even seem comfortable around herself let alone around her estranged (but loving) parents, Merista blossoms into a strong women capable of taking things into her own hands. From a meek little girl she becomes a proud young woman.

I could probably go on about all of Bunce’s characters. One of my favourites appears halfway through the novel – but to avoid spoilers, I won’t start naming names! Suffice it to say, he’s a character worth the wait. And he brings out a side of Digger that makes her even more compelling.

The plot is intricate and full of twists and turns. And while the first half of the book doesn’t have much action (and instead focuses on building the tension and suspense, and developing the characters), the second half truly delivers all the action you could want. The buildup is definitely worth the wait.

The first in a trilogy, StarCrossed is a wonderful read. From the wonderfully detailed settings and lush descriptions, to the bright characters and suspenseful plot, it is definitely a must-read. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Liar’s Moon! Fans of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner won’t be able to put this magical book down.

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also blogs about all things geeky at Something Geeky.

Why I Write for Young Adults

29 Dec

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Today is my birthday, *throws confetti* so I thought that, instead of a typical “Julie post” centering on a specific writing technique, I would post a more philosophical post (what I tend to think of as a “Savannah post” ;D) about why I write Young Adult fiction. My birthday seemed a proper occasion to discuss the reasons why a writer who has moved beyond her own “young adulthood” might continue to write about characters in their teens. Tucked in with my “reasons why” are a few “reasons why not.” In other words, YA isn’t for everyone. In explaining why I continue to write for young adults, maybe I can help other writers see why YA might be right – or wrong – for them.

Reason #1 – Teen Protagonists Rock

Why are teen protagonists so fabulous? I could list dozens of reasons, but here are my favorite characteristics of teens, in no particular order:

• They are still discovering who they are. They can do something incredible and not seem to be acting out of character, or be going against everything that has defined them for the past ten years.
• They aren’t jaded yet. They may think they are, but their ideas are still flexible. Compare your favorite teen hero to his or her parent to see what I mean. Katniss did things in THE HUNGER GAMES that her mother could never have done. Well, maybe her mother could have done those things, before she’d been broken by life. In other words, back when she, herself, was a teenager.
• Teenagers are resilient. Their young bodies bounce back. If Haymitch survived some of the physical challenges Katniss survived, the writer might lose some credibility. Imagine Dumbledore in Harry’s place and I’m sure you can see what I mean.
• One of the universal truths of humanity is that we all started out young and naïve. We all were children once. We all were teenagers. The experience of seeing the world through young eyes is universal.

Reason #2 – I LOVE teenagers

This is a pretty important reason to me, and should be considered carefully by any writer beyond their own young adulthood before deciding to write for young adults. If you don’t truly enjoy the company of teenagers, I think you should reconsider if this is the audience you should write for. There are a lot of adults who feel they have something to “teach” teenagers. Those adults should consider ways other than YA novels to reach out to young people. Teenagers are smart. They know if they are being preached to or if the book they are reading is meant to deliver a moral lesson. YA editors recognize these “lessons” disguised as “fiction” too, and reject them. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that a book shouldn’t have meaning. But there is a difference between a story with meaning and a sermon written as a story.

Personally, I know I love teenagers because I’ve been working as a mentor for teens for about twelve years now. My favorite hour of my week is the hour I spend with about fifteen teenagers. I also know that not everyone my age feels this way. That’s understandable. Young adults invigorate some people; others they drain. Keep this in mind if you want to write YA. If you can’t imagine yourself spending time with your characters and their friends, then maybe you should write for a different audience.

Reason #3 – I choose to read YA books

I don’t read YA exclusively. My favorite genre to read is YA, followed closely by literary fiction. However, I’ve noticed that many of my favorite non-YA books have teenaged protagonists. The action of ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan is set in motion by an event that involved young adult characters. LOLITA by Nabokov involves a young girl and her complex relationship with an adult man. CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE LOVELY BONES revolve around teenagers, even though they are not generally seen as YA novels. I count all of these books among my favorites.

But the truth is, when I walk into a bookstore, I head straight for the Young Adult section. My favorite books of 2010 were THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. I absolutely devoured them, and I know that they will forever remain near the top of my “favorite books of all time” list. Though it sometimes may be unpopular to admit this, I truly enjoyed the TWILIGHT saga. I recently read THE POISON DIARIES by Maryrose Wood (a book that really deserved more attention than it received) and wondered, as I closed the last page, how I would endure the wait for the next installment. Add the realistic worlds of books by writers like Laurie Halse Anderson to the sci-fi/fantasy worlds of writers like Suzanne Collins, and there is nothing my literary appetite craves that can’t be found in the YA section of the bookstore.

So these are my personal reasons for writing YA. My husband says the true reason is that I have never stopped being a teenager. Sadly, I know that isn’t true. But it is true that I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a teenager. And I hope that by reading and writing YA, I never will forget.

Long live my teenaged self! Because “young Julie” was flexible, unafraid, resilient, and unjaded. Somehow, I’ve managed to keep young Julie’s spirit alive inside “not-so-young Julie.” If reading and writing Young Adult fiction have contributed to that, may I NEVER EVER stop!

Do you write for young adults? Are you still in that age group yourself? Do you know that the adult market is the only market for you? What about middle grade or children’s? Please share your opinions with me in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Book Recommendation: The Goose Girl

12 Dec

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days.”

I am a huge fan of fairytales; and an even bigger fan of fairytale retellings. And though I know I’m late to the party with Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (which was originally published in 2003), I’m only sad that it took me so long to finally pick up this book. I absolutely adored this book; I loved every page of it! And I’ve already picked up the other books in The Books of Bayern series.

Based on the German fairytale of the same name, the story follows a young princess who is sent off by her mother to be married to a prince in another land, with her talking horse Falada and a waiting-maid accompanying her. The waiting-maid steals the identity of the Princess when they arrive in the new kingdom, and the real Princess is forced to become a Goose girl.

For those who aren’t familiar with the fairytale and don’t want the rest of the story spoiled, I’ll stop there. I actually started reading this book without knowing the actual fairytale it was based off of, and so I read it not knowing exactly how it would play out (which, of course, made certain key elements shocking and exciting). But even if you do know the fairytale, you’ll still be wonderfully surprised.

Want to know more about Shannon Hale’s retelling? Here’s a summary from Goodreads:

She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste.

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt’s guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original, and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can lead the people she has made her own.

~~~

Hale’s prose is wonderfully lyrical, which is hinted at in the summary from Goodreads above. Reading The Goose Girl, I couldn’t help but notice just how beautiful the words flowed together; and how smooth her dialogue and prose were. This is Hale’s greatest display of her craft – the easy way in which it seems she has placed perfectly-chosen words for the page. She is brilliant at it.

But that isn’t the only thing Hale does remarkably well. The story in The Goose Girl is also well-crafted, and thoroughly captivating. I didn’t want to put this book down – and every time I did, I couldn’t help but think of the world and the characters Hale had created. The world building in the first of the Books of Bayern series is fully realized. Full of lushly detailed settings, wonderfully different cultures, and a touch of magic, Shannon Hale has created a world that has quickly become one of my favourites.

Princess Ani is one of the most likeable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The meek young woman you meet at the beginning of the story (though a Crown Princess by title) doesn’t have the strength of one. But once a goose girl, Ani grows by leaps and bounds into a strong heroine. And it isn’t only Ani who is compelling – Geric is loveable, Selia is incredibly devious, and even Falada, Ani’s horse, will find a way to your heart.

And the magic! Absolutely wonderful; it is woven into the story perfectly. Hale has crafted a world of magical speech; of people-speaking, animal-speaking, and nature-speaking. And though she doesn’t posses the persuasive gift of people-speaking that her mother the Queen does, Ani’s own gifts will truly shine through in their own right.

If you love fantastic adventures in Medieval worlds with a strong heroine, you’ll love this book. Full of deception, intrigue, treason, and redemption (and a little bit of romance), this book was a wonderful read in so many ways. So pick it up; it’s definitely found its way to my favourites shelf, and I’m sure it’ll find it’s way onto yours.

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

My Issue with YA Romance

1 Jul

by Kat Zhang

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I’m that person in the back of the theater who bursts out laughing when the hero and heroine kiss after making long, flowery declarations of their unending adoration for each other.

Just want to put that out there.

So…maybe I’m not the best person to write an article on YA romance. But what I’d like to say is that I’m kind of sick of all the Love At First Sight going on recently.

I’m not arguing whether or not it’s realistic. But for me, it’s just a whole lot less satisfying. I’m talking about when our main characters go from complete and utter strangers to Oh-my-heavens-I-can’t-live-without-you-darling-baby within a chapter. Sometimes a few pages.

And often, we aren’t given any reason for their sudden love other than how awesome his chest looks or how alluringly she smiles. I know people can’t always list the reasons why they love somebody—they just do. But for us to care about what happens to a relationship, we’re going to have to care about the relationship to begin with.

And to do that, we need to love seeing the characters together—we need to feel the chemistry—we need to know what’s on the line. To make things simple, we need build-up.

So maybe what I’m trying to say is that I’m not so much against the whole Love At First Sight thing as I am against the idea of that being all there is to the relationship. If you want to make your characters fall in love from the moment they first meet eyes, that’s fine. But don’t assume that just because you tell us they’re in love (and can’t live without each other) means we care. Show us!

1. Have one help the other out.

In the most traditional sense, this would be when the prince comes on his white horse and slays the fire-breathing dragon, saving his fair maiden. In the more feminist sense, this would be when the opposite happens.

But neither need occur in your story! (Dragons might raise a few eyebrows in YA contemporary, after all…) It can be as little as a kind word when the other is feeling down. Maybe she pulls some strings for him so he can get that job he really needs, or he smooths things over after she causes a bit of a ruckus at school.

2. Have one allow him or herself to be vulnerable

Most people walk around all their lives with a shield up. It’s human nature—we don’t want to get hurt, and so we hide our more tender parts. Part of being in a close relationship with someone is knowing what hurts them.

Even if your character isn’t a hard, tough cowboy or warrior woman or whatever, having him or her reveal a tender spot to the Love Interest might help strengthen their relationship in the readership’s eyes.

3. Heck, have one reveal a different side of him or herself—any kind of side

I think one symptom of love (yes, symptom) is acting differently around that person. I’m not just talking about being all giggly and blushing and other common traits of the infatuated.

Maybe he brings out her protective side. Maybe she inspires him to be more adventurous. Perhaps neither of them liked art before, but being together suddenly gets the creative juices flowing.

The above are just three examples. How do you like to show a growing relationship?

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Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She spends most of her free time either querying HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Question of the Week: Swearing

2 Apr

This week’s Question of the Week comes from Spira, who asks:

“When writing a close to realistic fiction, how much swearing should be incorporated? I know it’s kind of annoying to read a story that has so much but when you think about it, a lot of teens and adults nowadays swear like a banshee screeching. But when wanting to write a publish work, how much should be there be and how much should be screened? Or should writers just use alternatives altogether?”

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Write as many swear words as is apropriate for your story. For middle grade audiences (12 and under) or younger, cussing tends to be a no-no, but for YA (12+) the possibilities are wide open. Go read NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAY LIST if you think you can’t swear in YA.

That said, remember that a written cuss-word is more powerful than as spoken one. They land on the page like rocks and draw the eye in. So while your character might cuss every other sentence in real life, it comes across really excessive on the page.

Also, remember that you can use cusswords to your advantage. Mindi Scott’s debut, FREEFALL (Simon & Schuster) features a boy protagonist who does indeed cuss. But she saved that first F*$&# for a moment when she wanted maximum impact. The resulting dialogue is much more powerful than if she’d been cussing from the first paragraph.

The Literary Agent and Writer Who Just Sold Another Book!

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It depends on your audience. I haven’t read or written much YA so I can’t say what’s typical there. If you’re writing regular adult fiction you can get away with practically anything and the amount you use is entirely at your discretion. I’m thinking of Kurt Vonnegut here. That being said I don’t think it’s necessary to completely match reality as writers don’t do that with dialogue. Otherwise there’d be far more um’s and conversations that go nowhere and nobody wants to read those.

It’s all about individual taste and judgment at this point but I think swearing works best as emphasis. If you’re trying to convey just how affected someone is by a situation it can help to let them slip a few curses in. It can also be useful to distinguish classes or show rougher characters because people often associate coarser language with lower classes.

The Writer Querying Agents

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I think you should do your best to give a realistic portrayal, but keep in mind your market. If you’re writing YA, there isn’t a rule that says you CAN’T swear, but if your book is YA and marketed at a more conservative or religious audience, then dropping F-bombs every other page probably isn’t going to work. Also, if you’re writing general fantasy, sometimes using our real-world vulgarities can be jarring.
There’s one scene in a later QUEEN OF GLASS book, where two of my characters get into a massive argument, and the only curse that worked well enough to encompass this character’s anger was an F-bomb (AKA “Funk you.”). However, I grappled with whether or not I should put it in there, not because it’s an offensive word, but because it seemed like SUCH a word from our world that it kinda threw off the scene. However, “Go to Hell” didn’t quite do the same job as “Funk you.” I still don’t know if it should be in there or not…Odds are, I’ll eventually remove it, just to avoid the possibility of it being too “modern” for QOG.
But yeah–don’t worry too much about the swearing, as long as it’s done in a realistic way, and as long as it fits with the world you’re building. But don’t insert swearing just to make your novel “edgy.”

The Writer With Her First Book Deal!

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I strongly believe that swears can be an insight to character. It would all depend on what situation your character’s in, and what they’re like; do they lose hope easily, do they get angry easily, are they just about to be told they’re going to live/die. Using alternatives might be a good idea for a book geared towards younger YA audiences, but I think that if somebody’s meant to say the f-word, they should just say the f-word. At times a character not swearing can be what sounds unnatural.

The thing is, people swear a lot in real life, but they also say a lot of other things. If you listen to someone speak, (unless they’re trained in rhetoric, or something,) you’ll probably hear them repeat things often. In writing, especially in books, that’s not quite how it’s done because it can get boring. In script or screenplay though it’s a whole different area because you have people acting it out, so they can make it sound realistic without sounding repetitive. It really depends.

Just keep it at a level where it still adds to the story. It’s when swearing takes away from flow that it becomes obnoxious.
~The Writer Revising Her First Novel

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Trying to make your book realistic… Sometimes a writer needs to know that reality needs to be edited. It’s one thing to listen to a friend who says the word “like” a hundred times per sentence. But to imitate that in a book would get annoying to the readers. Likewise, with swear words, it becomes redundant when used constantly.

The Writer Who Got a Full Request

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I think you’ve answered your own question when you say ‘close to realistic fiction.’ The amount of swearing you use should be ‘realistic.’ Okay, so what defines realistic? Essentially it’s whatever you think your characters would use. However, as the other ladies have pointed out, you need to consider not only the natural tendency to curse of your character, but also your potential audience. Additionally, just because your character likes to curse doesn’t necessarily mean you should let them. Be careful of cursing too much, or your book might appear to be trying to make itself ‘edgy.’ Ways to get around this yet still show the frustration of characters is to use ‘Mary Sue swore. “This isn’t working!” ‘ That way you know she swears, you know she’s frustrated, but you don’t know explicitly which swear words she used. That’s pretty much the only alternative I can think of that you could use without looking corny. You would never want to use ‘gosh darn it’ or ‘ham dingus’ as substitutes for actual swear words, unless your character is just like that.

The Writer Waiting on Submissions

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What’s your take on swearing in fiction, especially in the YA category?

Remember, if you want to ask us a Question of the Week, click on QOTW at the top on our links. We mostly answer questions in order, unless there’s something really pressing at hand.