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Book Review: THIEF OF LIES by Brenda Drake

[This post is the fifth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Family Secrets Bite

Title: Thief of Lies
Author: Brenda Drake
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Copyright 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63375-221-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: YA Fantasy Fiction
Book I of a Library Jumpers series

 

Family secrets really come back and bite Gia Kearns hard in Thief of Lies by Brenda Drake. Gia and her two best friends, Afton and Nick, go to a library in Boston just like it is any other day of summer vacation, but everything they believe they know changes when Gia accidentally says an old Italian phrase over a book causing them to jump into the book and come out in a library in Paris, France.  The world really goes further upside down for the three friends when they see a hound/rhinoceros beast start to chase after them, but ends up being stopped by a group of teenagers dressed up in gladiators type gear, with swords on and everything, right before the hound beast tries to eat them. The three friends have no idea what the heck is going on.

They discover a world with dangerous creatures that want to kill all three friends for just being plain old human. Once all three of them are safely back home, they find out this isn’t the end of their exposure to this world. Gia must quickly figure out her place in this world that would label her as a danger and should be killed on site.

Arik went through the door. My heart sputtered as I scrambled up the last steps, ignoring the pain. I froze on the landing, stuck between two worlds, desperately clinging to one while called to embrace the other. If I went through the door, my mother’s stories would come true, and I could never go back.

She must become the Sentinel she was meant to be if she doesn’t want her family and friends to die at the hands of a crazy Master Wizard Conemar, who will do anything to rule both the magical and human world. Also on top of trying to save two worlds, Gia must decide whether or not to pursue a forbidden romance with another Sentinel or marry her betrothed. Both of whom she has feelings for and are ridiculously hot.

The novel’s pacing flows together really well. We get a bunch of action types scenes—different fights with different types of creatures—but in between the action scenes we get scenes where Gia starts to discover the history and the finer rules of how this world works. We get to discover these legends as Gia discovers them, which keeps readers on their toes because they only get part of a legend at a time; when it would actually be better to get the entire thing at the same time, because there is always that little detail that gets left out that affects everything.  Also the characters are so likeable. It is hard to choose which one to root for. And this doesn’t include all the relationships that are happening between everybody—secret ones or not. After all, you get a bunch of hormonal teenagers together in a life or death situation and something is bound to happen.

Fighting for what you believe in. This phrase could quickly wrap up what this story is about and help readers to connect with it, because is not this idea/concept something parents tell their children as they grow up. “Never give up your dreams,” “if you want something bad enough, then fight for it,” and “dare to dream for the impossible” are all things that I have heard from various coaches, teachers, professors, and friends in my life and this novel really brings this concept to the forefront of Gia’s life. She must take up a sword and fight for her right to live the life that she wants. She must decide when it is right to follow blindly and when it is better to forge her own path, which are life lessons every single person needs to someday learn for themselves. Thief of Lies allows readers to see that the fight might be hard and violent, but there is hope for a brighter outcome at the end of the fight.

By Abby Hoops

Book Review: THE BFF BUCKET LIST by Dee Romito

[This post is the fourth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Does Best Friends really mean FOREVER?

This novel takes you on an adventure following Ella and Skyler completing the tasks on their BFF Bucket List–facing a fear, fancy dinner party, random act of kindness, 12 in all. These tasks were supposed to bring the girls back together and strengthen their relationship, but it might just have the opposite effect on them. With the completion of each task, the girls are making decisions and going off without the other, something that until now hasn’t happened before.

Ella hates change while Skyler embraces it. Ella is terrified of going to high school and meeting new people, while Skyler is beyond excited about it. Ella is obsessed with lists and following them to the letter, while Skyler just goes with the flow of it all to make Ella happy. Both of the girls are learning who they are without the other and trying to find themselves for the first time.

As Skyler branches out and makes new friends in anticipation of high school, all Ella can see is that Skyler is slipping away, little by little. Each end up with a new group of friends, some that are friendlier than others, and every girl who has ever had a BFF knows that once other people are involved, things change. But is change always bad? Ella and Skyler start keeping life changing secrets from each other and start to lean on new friends. Will this be the end of it all? Canoe flips, cows, and a few hospital visits in between the tasks on the list are teaching the girls something new about themselves and each other. They are learning to stretch out of their comfort zones but can they survive it?

If you had a BFF in middle school, this book will take you right back to that moment, that person. The perfect growing up and maturing story. Follow Ella and Skyler as they discover themselves and just how far you can stretch the bonds of friendship before they break.

Visit Dee Romito’s website for more information about this book and others.

By Amber Haynes

Welcome to the Simon-verse! Review of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

[This post is the third in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 9780062348678
Format: trade paperback
Genre: Young Adult
Page Count: 320
Find it on Goodreads
Get it on Amazon

“People really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.” (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)

Becky Albertalli’s debut novel (soon to be a Major Motion Picture) Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a riveting and fresh story of love, friendship, and identity. The book centers on the protagonist, Simon, who is being blackmailed by a classmate, Martin. The secret he’s trying to protect? He’s gay (and not out). If he can help his blackmailer get what he wants, he might be able to take back control of his secret.

Simon also has a crush — on the guy he’s been messaging from his school, the mysterious “Blue.” The two email each other, become more than friends, and share stories (as well as a love of Oreos). Simon finds himself liking Blue more and more — and he wants to know who he really is. Blue feels the same way, but something is holding him back from revealing his true identity.

The story moves quickly and beautifully. Simon’s life becomes more dramatic as the blackmail situation gets worse and worse. Will Blue reveal himself? Can Simon get Martin to stop blackmailing him? Does Simon want to come out? The answers are painted perfectly in Simon’s first person narration. Switching every other chapter between story narrative and Blue and Simon’s emails, the story keeps the reader turning the next page until the book is finished.

It’s easy to fall in love with Simon and his intelligent sarcasm and humor. Albertalli’s writing style through Simon’s point of view is funny, engaging, and honest. Simon is a kid who knows who he is but feels locked within himself, and Albertalli writes this well. His struggle to come to terms with his identity is raw and real, and will demonstrate to the reader just how hard it can be to come to terms with sexual identities. Late in the novel, Simon confesses, “And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out feeling like Simon.” He wants to tell his closest friends — he feels like he needs to, it is a part of himself, but he still wants to feel the same around them.

Though it’s not exactly considered dialogue, this reviewer’s favorite parts of the book were the emails sent between Simon and his mysterious crush “Blue.” The messages and the banter between the two of them makes readers fall in love with Simon even more and makes them root for him throughout the story. The couple emails about their identity struggles, their families, and so much more. It just shows how honest communication can happen through mostly any method nowadays, and that relationship are built on just that — communication. Albertalli paints a beautiful relationship through the emails two people sent to one another, and the craft is well-done.

True and honest LGBT+ representation is hard, almost impossible to find in today’s literature. Albertalli took this lack of representation into her own hands and did what she could to give what needed to be given. Simon’s story is important not just because of the riveting story and plotline, but because it normalizes literature that represents all people.

Overall, the book gives the reader a refreshing, progressive story that one reviewer described as “The love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.” This is pretty accurate, and some may even add that Simon’s voice is similar to Holden Caulfield from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s part love story, part comedy, and readers are sure to fall in love with Simon and his story. 

Go check out the book here: (x

Check out author Becky Albertalli here: @beckyalbertalli 

By Kristen Parks

Book Review: THE HATE U GIVE, and the Knowledge We Get

[This post is the first in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Over halfway through Angie Thomas‘s debut novel, these words – spoken by the main character’s mother – rip through readers as we witness her growth and the love of her family:
“‘Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr,’ she says.  ‘It means that you go on even though you’re scared.  And you’re doing that.'”

The Hate U Give is a haunting story that centers around sixteen-year-old black high school student Starr Carter.  Already struggling to balance a double life between a rich, primarily-white private school and a poor, gang-afflicted neighborhood, Starr’s life is only tougher after she witnesses the murder of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a white police officer.  Facing the trauma of Khalil’s death, the miles of red tape of the judicial system, the idiocy of privileged high school students, and the harsh realities of gang violence, Starr is an indisputably remarkable character.  And what’s more, she’s written honestly by a bold new author, who – excuse the cliché here – says exactly what needs to be said year after year in America.

What really pulls readers into The Hate U Give is Thomas’s memorable characters.  The entire novel is told through Starr’s perspective, so it’s easiest to witness her growth from a timid, quiet teen to a well-informed and well-spoken activist.  We get honest glimpses into her past, as well, witnessing both the pain and love of her past side-by-side.  Maybe some will say it’s “too real” for young audiences, but I think what Thomas understands is that, in YA, “too real” is exactly what we need.  It’s how we’re able to percieve Starr’s growth, which comes together in an older, wiser, and stronger character that we find ourselves extremely proud of.

Thomas’s writing is, at its heart, powerful.  It gives us a close-up perspective of a world many teens and children live in now: its violence, cruelty, love, and eventually, its unity.  At the end of the novel, we fully understand alongside Starr that these things must exist together, and we must find a place within them.  It’s a novel I’m thankful to have experienced.

And remember, this is Thomas’s very first novel.  Keeping a title at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks is no small achievement, and with a premier novel?  I think I speak for all devoted YA readers when I say that we can’t wait for the next title she puts out.  As it continues to make huge ripples in the literary scene, The Hate U Give proves to be a novel every teen, parent, poor college student – every person needs to read immediately.  It’s an excellent catalyst for discussion, for mingling experiences and identities together, and for insight into the very real problems of police brutality, gang violence, and poverty.

Please read it.  You won’t regret it.

By M.S. Swain

NYT Bestselling coming to MWW17 | Angie Thomas

If you’ve ever wanted to meet a debut novelist who started on the bestseller lists right out of the gate, come to Midwest Writers Workshop in July!

Since The Hate U Give released in February, Angie Thomas has been super busy! It turns out an extensive book tour and giving tons of interviews will do that to a person’s schedule.

But recently, we caught up with her in London and she gave us a quick email interview.

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and was published on February 28, 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg attached to star. Follow Angie on social media:  Twitter: @acthomasbooks / Website:  AngieThomas.com

MWW: Your debut novel, The Hate U Give, was sold at auction with 13 publishers competing for the highest bid, and interest worldwide. Did that prepare you for the success you’ve had since its release? How are you feeling and what are you thinking after 6 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Bestselling list?

AT: I was totally not prepared for this. It’s surreal and a dream come true.

MWW: You’ve said that you thought about this story for a few years and I know you were in a creative writing program at college. What helped you the most in writing a compelling story?

AT: The thing that helped me the absolute most was to decide to write it for myself and no one else.

MWW: When you come to Midwest Writers Workshop this summer, you’ll talk about your debut and also about diversity in books. Do you have a few tips for writing a diverse book that resonates?

AT: (1) Remember that not every story is your story to tell, and that’s okay. (2)  Diversity is not a trend. Approaching it this way dehumanizes marginalized people. (3)  If you’re writing an identity outside of your own, sensitivity readers are a must.

MWW: Your agent, Brooks Sherman, is returning to MWW. What’s an insider secret on how to impress him? Or what is a no-no?

AT: He doesn’t like issue books, but great books with issues. Also, he’s the coolest Slytherin you will ever meet.

MWW: How do you know Becky Albertalli, who is also coming to MWW17?

AT: Becky and I consider ourselves soul mates – we share the same agent, same editor, same publishing house, same film producers, and sometimes the same thoughts despite our different opinions on Oreos.

How about some quick thoughts:

MAC or PC?

PC though a MAC may be in my future

Pantser or plotter?

A bit of both fortunately and unfortunately.

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl for sure

Scrivener or Word software?

Just got Scrivener and love it!

**** 

Speaking of Scrivener, MWW17 has you covered this summer. Dee Romito is returning to present “Getting to Know Scrivener” Part I Intensive Session – a full day’s instruction on the amazing writing software everyone’s talking about.

The Scrivener software is inexpensive (under $50), although there is a steep learning curve. Many people agree with Angie that the software is well worth the effort to learn. Let MWW help you speed up the process with our one day intensive session.

4 Ways to Love Scrivener, by Dee

Get organized.

Keep all your chapters, scenes, research, and links right at your fingertips. It’s all in one place!

Move around quickly.

With a simple click, go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 20 to plotting notes to research. No more scrolling or opening multiple files.

Multiple ways to work.

Write in the editor, or switch over to corkboard or outline view quickly and easily.

Go for your goals.

Set a word count goal for your manuscript and current session. You’ll see it keep track and change color as you get closer to your goal. 🙂
Come and meet Angie, Dee, and the rest of our fantastic faculty this summer!

Register now !

Book Review: Lose Yourself in “Wanderlost” and European Lust

[This post is the fifth in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

 

Join author Jen Malone on her first international journey filled with enticing experiences and an unexpected longing for a lustful romance in her newest novel,Wanderlost.

Wanderlost bookPlace yourself in the beginning of the novel with quirky and angsty Aubree at a graduation celebration with her class accompanied by a slew of forbidden alcoholic refreshments. A cop soon approaches the house with the intention of addressing a noise complaint, Elizabeth, Aubree’s older sister, answers to the door to cover her sister and her friend, but then the cop leaves with Elizabeth in handcuffs. For the sake of saving her sister’s political career, Aubree is sent on a European tour with Elizabeth’s application, Elizabeth’s passport, and a bus of senior citizens.

While, at times, readers may wonder why Aubree seems unwilling to venture out of her comfort zone, her meal choices and honest unawareness of the world outside her realm of Midwestern living reminds the reader to take a trip back to life as a teenager. Even though teenagers may think they will remain protected by their parents, their realities are extremely different from the realities of adulthood.

While avoiding revealing numerous accounts of fraud, Aubree pretends to be Elizabeth during the trip, and the plan seems to unfold flawlessly until she meets the trip owner’s handsome son, Sam. While this plot seems a tad bizarre, it aids in creating a humorous experience for Aubree. After being overcome with guilt, she begins to slowly tell Sam the truth while also attempting to conceal her identity. Playing dress-up for Elizabeth becomes difficult though when she realizes she enjoys being independent and adventurous, which were definitely not qualities she possessed before this well-planned but also unintended trip. Her thoughts on her summer in Europe changed from “I like things predictable and familiar and safe and easy” to “This place is magical. All of it.”

Aubree’s growth brings a fresh insight to the reader about how harrowing circumstances might be the best way to realize your own strength and independence. The pacing of Aubree’s thought process encapsulates the thought process of a teenager nearing adulthood who wants to impress her family, but who also does not want to grow up quite yet. These conflicting thoughts keep the reader entertained as we gain insight on why she makes the decisions she does throughout the novel. It is through these scenarios in which we see Aubree’s remarkable growth.

Before she left for her trip, Aubree had never even had a job or been out of her hometown. Now, she is in Europe, handling deranged sets of chaos, and even finding a seemingly perfect guy. Will she be able to balance handling her independence, perfecting her duties worthy enough for a good review from her boss for Elizabeth, and falling for Sam? Readers will become entranced when reading Aubree’s international tale.

By  Lauren Cross

Dumplin’ Redefines the Word “Beautiful”

[This post is the third in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

 

Dumplin’ Redefines the Word “Beautiful”

Dumplin bookIn this real-world story about high school drama, love, weight issues, and loving yourself, Willowdean seeks to prove that she can be just as beautiful as the pageant girls her mother coordinates.

Following Willowdean through her awkward high school years brings forward a memory of that girl we all remember. She is the girl that longs to fit in with the crowd, but finds herself being picked out. In the beginning of Dumplin’, Julie Murphy writes Willowdean to be this open-to-imagination character where the readers only know she’s fat. This allows anyone, plus sized or not, to go through the trials that the main character goes through.

In the story, Willowdean is very open about her weight and it doesn’t seem to bother her until more and more people comment on it. She says, “But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least when I say it. So I always figure why not get it out of the way?”

Her hatred of the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant slowly begins to fade as she realizes that she has just as much of a right to be included and feel beautiful as the other girls. Through this entry of the pageant, she believes more in herself, finds confidence, and allows herself to be who she wants to be. Murphy does well in creating this character that most can relate to. The readers can place themselves into Willowdean’s shoes and relate to at least one of the many situations pushed upon the main character.

Though the situations may be many, they aren’t too much for Willowdean. She powers through each of them and shows the reader that being yourself is enough.

 By Amanda Byk

Coming to MWW16, YA author Natalie C. Parker

Natalie C. Parker is the author of the Southern Gothic duology Beware the Wild and Behold the Bones (HarperTeen), as well as the editor of the forthcoming young adult anthology, Triangles: The Points of Love (HarperTeen). She is the founder of Madcap Retreats, an organization offering a yearly calendar of writing retreats and workshops. In her not-so-spare time, she works as a grant coordinator for the University of Kansas, where she runs writing workshops for tribal college students in STEM disciplines. 

Natalie will team teach the Part I “Building the YA Novel” Intensive Session with Julie Murphy.

MWW committee member Shelly Gage recently interviewed Natalie about her sessions and her writing.

SG: What should we expect from your sessions at MWW and how will they be structured?

NCP: Each of my sessions with be co-taught with the illustrious Julie Murphy. As we considered what we were best equipped to offer, we knew our focus would be on Young Adult genres and we settled on the intimate places where prose becomes power — single pages. We are both very interested in writing that takes the reader forward by leaps and bounds in the course of a single paragraph, page, or chapter.

Our sessions will be a blend of close analysis and practical application. We’ll study passages that represent voice and world building and character, and then we’ll challenge each other with prompts and exercises.

There will also be an abundance of Magic Mike references and possibly candy because what’s a writing workshop without a double dose of sugar?

SG: What achievement are you most proud of and why?

NCP: Madcap Retreats. Last year, I started a small business focused on creating writing retreats for aspiring and established writers. Almost a full year later, we’ve hosted five incredible events and have twice as many on the horizon.

The venture grew out of the first retreat I ever attended as an unagented, star-in-my-eyes writer. Having access to authors who were established in their careers and willing to talk about it was invaluable to me. I came away from that experience determined to recreate it for as many writers as possible. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with Madcap.

SG: How have conferences influenced your life and career (assuming that they have)? What writing tip or two has had the most positive impact on your career?

NCP: I didn’t attend my first writing conference until after I found my agent, but I was immediately taken by the possibilities for creative, constructive community. If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be to find a local writers’ conference and be brave!

The writing tip that continues to comfort and challenge me is this: break the rules. I have always bristled at the notion that there are do’s and don’ts when it comes to creating fiction. Do use dialogue tags, don’t use adverbs, do start close to the action, don’t open with a dream sequence. Hearing those things repeated again and again has always inspired me to find the exceptions. At some point, I realized that’s what I wanted out of my own writing — to create something that operates under its own set of rules.

SG: I really enjoyed the way you handled the supernatural elements in your books. My husband and I are real-life ghost hunters and the Clary stories reminded me of urban legends we’ve run into in our research, but they were also very grounded in Sticks. How much research did you do into the supernatural, or did you have personal experiences to draw upon?
NCP: As a kid, I was desperately in love with ghost stories and collected as many as I could get my hands on. But I also lived in a neighborhood with one house that was said to be haunted. It was a large house that pre-dated our Virginia subdivision with a wilting barn and a huge lawn that backed up to the Elizabeth River. And since I am a sagittarindor, I took (take?) every excuse to drag my friends on adventures. Especially adventures that might end up with ghosts. Double especially adventures that might result in a story about ghosts.
I can’t say that I ever successfully tracked down a real ghost, but I certainly crafted dozens of scenarios in my head. Many of my ghost stories come from the moments when I crouched in a dark surrounded by my friends and the destroyed walls of a barn, waiting for the noise that would send us running in terrified delight.
To be very honest, I’ve always felt a little like Candy in Behold the Bones–willing but maddeningly unable to see the ghosts that might be around me.

 

SG: Sterling’s voice was one of my favorite elements of Beware the Wild, and I loved the dynamic between Sterling and her friends, especially her relationship with Candace. I was delighted to find that you’d put out a sequel, and excited to see that the new story was from Candace’s perspective. She was such a forceful personality from the start. Did you know from the start that you would write a second book from her POV or did the character step up and demand her own book?  That seems like something Candy would do. 🙂
NCP: I wrote Beware the Wild as a stand alone and didn’t know that I was going to be able to write another story in Sticks until the time came to pitch my second book. But as soon as that possibility opened up, I knew it would be Candy’s voice at the helm. As a girl who was raised in Virginia by Mississippi parents, I love digging into tales about southern girls. Candy was equally a pill and a treat to write (and that’s just the way she likes it).
SG: Speaking of characters who may demand a book of their own, is there any possibility of a third story from Abigail’s POV?  Is there more to explore related to the Shine and the Swamp?
NCP: If there is ever an opportunity for me to return to Sticks, Abigail’s story is ready and waiting!
SG: If not a return to the Swamp, what is next for you?
NCP: I’m currently in the midst of editing my very first anthology filled to the brim with all sorts of love triangles! It’s been an incredible project to work on with 15 other Young Adult authors contributing in every genre imaginable. We’re working on the title now. It’s set to come out in fall 2017, and it’s going to break/ mend/ explode your heart.
Thank you so much for this incredible interview! I’m so excited to be joining MWW this year!

***

Natalie’s (and Julie’s) Part II sessions include:

Agent/Author Relationships Panel Julie Murphy/Natalie Parker & Molly Jaffa, Amy Reichert & Rachel Ekstrom, Uwe Stender/Brent Taylor & Summer Heacock

Voice/Dialogue – Julie Murphy & Natalie C. Parker. Voice is the lifeblood of every story. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Some would even say it can’t even be taught. Join Natalie C. Parker and Julie Murphy as they unlock key secrets and tricks to finding and nailing your narrator’s voice.

Word by Word: What Your First Line Says About Your Book – Julie Murphy and Natalie C. Parker. We know a good first line when we hear one, but we don’t always stop to consider what makes it good. In this session, we will evaluate a series of first lines for the promises they make about the novel to follow.

 

Q&A with Christa Desir

C DesirChrista Desir writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her novels include Fault Line and Bleed Like Me and the forthcoming Other Broken Things. She lives with her husband, three small children, and overly enthusiastic dog outside of Chicago. She has volunteered as a rape victim activist for more than ten years, including providing direct service as an advocate in hospital ERs. She also works as an editor at Samhain Publishing.

MWW Planning Committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Christa about the sessions she will present at MWW15.

*   *   *

MWW: Please tell us your background and something about your path to getting published in YA.

CD: Well, I wrote a terrible book. It was awful. I revised it 57 times, but it was still terrible. The idea was good, but I didn’t have the first clue what I was doing. Then I started to connect with lots of people who did know. I had writing mentors and critique partners and I went to workshops and I learned how NOT TO SUCK. (Pro tip: part of this is knowing you’ll suck the first several times around and you have to keep going and practicing until you don’t suck anymore.) So, one of the workshops I went to was a writing workshop for rape survivors, and I wrote a scene in that workshop that was told from a seventeen-year-old boy’s point of view, and somehow, that voice crawled inside me and took up residence. Six months later, Fault Line was ready to go. Except it wasn’t, of course. More revision with my agent, more revision with my editor, more fixing, more trying to inch further away from sucking. And two years later, I had my first published book. Still imperfect (because there is no perfect in writing), but closer.

MWW: At MWW, you’ll be discussing how writers can use their life experiences as fodder for writing YA. You’ve written about date rape and others write about difficult topics as well, like cancer and death. Any tips for writers looking to write edgy who are without personal experience on difficult topics?

CD: Everyone has difficult personal experiences because life is messy. You don’t have to write about the world’s worst experiences to make a book meaningful and connect with readers. I took a writing class once that had us do an assignment: write about the worst thing you’ve ever done. Then we read a short story about a woman whose best friend was sick in the hospital and she couldn’t get up the courage to visit her. It wasn’t edgy, but rather soft and lovely and spoke about some very real and painful human truths. So “writing edgy” isn’t the point as much as writing something authentic that will connect you with readers. One of the books I absolutely love is The Chocolate War, which from the outside seems to be about a boy who doesn’t want to sell chocolate bars for his school. Hardly edgy. But there are so many layers to that story, so many ways that Cormier connects to readers, you realize that what may seem simple is actually quite complex. Every character is in a different kind of struggle in that book, grieving and pushing and pulling for power, and it doesn’t really have to do with chocolate at all. That authenticity is what I want writers to search for in themselves.

MWW:  What would you say is the top one, or three mistakes, people make with the genre?

CD: That’s a very BROAD question, but mostly I think people’s mistakes in writing (and life) come from trying to follow too many rules. Yes, rules exist for good reasons and there are how-to’s for everything, but each person’s journey, how they learn, how they find their voice, how they engage, that’s different, and rules are very confining. I’m one of those people who finds the line someone has drawn in the sand and will do just about anything to figure out if I can cross it. That makes for authentic writing, and authentic human-ing. To me the purpose of rules in writing is to figure out what you really care about and why things matter. Everything else is just personal preference.

MWW: In general, tell us a little about what to expect from your intensive session, and the Part II sessions. What stage should a YA writer be in to benefit most from your classes? Specifically, who is your ideal attendee for these sessions?

CD: What’s fun about my intensive is that it’s for all levels of writers, because we’re talking more about the human side of us vs. the nitty-gritty of craft. And that has a lot to do with finding your voice, figuring out what you believe and what you want to include on the page and what you don’t. I think new writers will benefit from it if they are worried about what to write, and I think seasoned writers will benefit from it if they’re wanting to push themselves a little out of their comfort zone.

MWW: Do you have any advice or general thought for those who want to break into YA?

CD: Write more, read more, listen to people’s stories, have a rich and full life, make friends with other writers, stay out of Twitter drama, fail boldly, repeat.

MWW: In trying to get to know you a bit better, what is a surprising or unique aspect of who you are, either personal- or business-wise, something that would serve as an icebreaker if we were to meet?

CD: I’m made up of many flavors. I do roller derby, and work with rape survivors, and edit erotic romance, and teach Sunday school, and am ragingly awkward and inappropriate in social situations. I’ve had a hundred jobs and am incredibly forgiving of people’s screw-ups because I mess up so frequently in my life. I do a podcast about sex and YA books with my friend Carrie Mesrobian, and the two of us have such strong Midwestern accents when we talk to each other that it sounds like a dirty girl version of “Prairie Home Companion.”

MWW: Would you like to add anything else?  Please let us know some places to connect online. Twitter handle? FB address? Website? Other?

Website: www.christadesir.com

Twitter: @ChristaDesir

FB: https://www.facebook.com/ChristaDesirAuthor

Interview with Daniel José Older

Older PhotoDaniel José Older is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and composer. Following the release of his ghost noir collection, Salsa Nocturna,  Publisher’s Weekly declared Daniel a rising star of the genre. He facilitates workshops on storytelling, music, and anti-oppression organizing at schools, community organizations and universities. His short stories and essays have appeared in Gawker, BuzzFeed Books,Salon, The Chicago Sun Times, The New Haven Review,Tor, PANK, Strange Horizons, and Crossed Genres among other publications. He’s co-editing the anthology,  Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, and his forthcoming urban fantasy novel The Half Resurrection Blues, the first of a trilogy, will be released by Penguin’s Roc imprint. His first YA novel, Shadowshaper, comes out in 2015. You can find his thoughts on writing, read his ridiculous ambulance adventures, and hear his music at ghoststar.net/ and@djolder.

MWW intern and agent assistant Sarah Hollowell interviewed Daniel José Older:

MWW: You’re running an intensive session in Part I of the workshop called “Young Adult Literature and the Mechanics of Plot.” Are there any themes that you consider to be unique to YA, or more commonly found in the genre?

DJO: In YA, we’re looking at very specific kinds of crises–the turning point is so often that complicated moment when a young person takes the first step toward adulthood. It’s ripe for literature because it’s always such a truly intense, emotional time and the struggle to take that step, whether dramatized by dragons, cancer, or a breakup, is truly a momentous one.

MWW: Your first session of Part II is about writing the “Other,” an important topic that has been getting more attention with the rising cry from the literary world that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What do you think is the biggest mistake writers make when trying to write outside their experience?

DJO: Both in these discussions and in our story-craft, we too often ignore power. Power is a fascinating, dynamic, and complex topic that really can only strengthen our writing, but folks dip and dodge around the nitty gritty of it. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable, it’s hard to talk about. It’s messy. And we’re not taught to analyze power with much depth, rarely in high school and college, almost never in MFA programs and writing workshops. But power is what makes conflict great, and conflict lays the backbone of story. To really get real about writing about the “other” requires us to get uncomfortable.

MWW: On a similar vein, you have a session on using worldbuilding as a vehicle for addressing social justice themes without being preachy. How do you combat criticism that says books shouldn’t be used for social justice, preachy or not?

DJO: Oh! I ignore it.

MWW: Your last session is on the ever-changing world of speculative fiction. Are there any types of speculative fiction stories that you are just tired of seeing and reading right now?

DJOTired of seeing white men save the world. Tired of seeing the One Special Chosen One narratives. Tired of same-ol’ stereotypes of folks of color. Tired of the idea that a single, simple move will solve all the world’s problems. Tired of heteronormativity. Tired of women only being written as passive, quirky, or hyper-sexual. Tired of lazy worldbuilding. Instead, I’m excited for all the counternarratives and new motifs the world has in store as we open up new spaces for unheard voices.

During Part I of the workshop, Daniel will be teaching Young Adult Literature and the Mechanics of Plot.

<ONLY A HANDFUL OF OPENINGS REMAIN! REGISTER SOON!>

During Part II, he’ll be teaching: Fundamentals of Writing “the Other”; Context The Changemaker: Using Worldbuilding To Address Social Justice Themes; and Writing Speculative Fiction.