Exciting News for Fans in the UK & Australia!

Guys! I’m thrilled to announce that two of my YA novels, Bittersweet and The Book of Broken Hearts, are now available in eBook format — for the very first time — in the UK, Australia, and lots of other places through Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo!

So many people have emailed me about this over the years, and I’m over the moon that it’s finally official. #scandal and The Summer of Chasing Mermaids will follow in mid-April.

New Covers

Even more exciting? The books have brand new, special edition covers, and I’ve been dying to show them off. What do you think?

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

I’m pretty much in love with them, truth be told. 🙂

Where to Buy

* Amazon US links are only available to customers who are located outside North America but who purchase books through the Amazon US site.

Spread the Word

Since this is the first time the eBooks will be available in the UK and Australia (and many other countries), it’s almost like a new release! I would be so grateful if you’d help spread the word, especially if you’ve got any YA-book-lovin’ friends across the pond(s). Just hit the share button below if you’re in a sharing mood… easy peasy!

And if you’re a YA book blogger or booktuber in the UK or Australia, and you’d like to review either or both titles, please let me know!

So that’s the big news! Thank you guys so much for your ongoing enthusiasm and support, no matter where in the world you’re reading. It means so much to me, and I’m so happy that I can finally share these eBooks with you! ❤


Dispelling Traditional Publication Myths: Advice for Aspiring Authors

Good morning, writers of tall tales, rattlers of cages, sowers of chaos!

It’s been ages since I’ve seen you and/or the sun, but recent conversations with aspiring authors have lured me out of the Cave of Perpetual Caviness to dispel some common myths and set right some bad advice I’ve encountered for YA authors seeking traditional publication.

Don’t let the fact that I’ve been wearing the same uniform (bird pants, Rochester Teen Book Fair 2010 shirt, fleece pullover, none of it remotely matching) since basically last month detract from my otherwise totally professional professionalism. Just be grateful this is a blog post and not a video, and then we are moving on to the myths!

But first, a friendly neighborhood disclaimer: There are many paths to publication, and what works for one author may not work for another, or may not work in exactly the same way. The following is based on my personal experience as a traditionally published author of young adult novels and my correspondence with other traditionally published YA authors, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians, bloggers, and related bookworms. It’s not intended to address self-publishing, small press publishing, write-for-hire work, book packaging, nonfiction, or other non-YA categories or shorter forms of fiction (though some of the information may still apply). Also, it totally may cause drowsiness, and it’s not recommended for writers without immediate access to wine and/or chocolate and/or elastic-waist pajamas, which are basically universal requirements for YA authors, and that is not a myth.

Still with me? Okay, then. In the words of Aragorn as played by Viggo Mortensen in The Fellowship of the Ring, movie edition, “Let’s hunt some orc.” By which I obviously mean, “Let’s bust some myths,” but what self-respecting YA author can pass up an opportunity to recall Aragorn in his orc-hunting finery? “Leave all that can be spared behind.” Onward!

MYTH #1: Always have a few different books in the works, because you never know what a publisher may be looking for.

Depending on how your muse works, and how much track-hopping your brain can handle, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to have multiple projects in the pipeline, but…

Most traditional publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Until you’re published and have a working relationship with an editor(s), you don’t generally have an opportunity to interact with or pitch editors directly (unless you do so at a conference where pitching is part of the deal, but even then, you’d be pitching one book).

Your book gets into an editor’s hands through your literary agent. To secure an agent, you must first query that agent, and you do so with one complete manuscript — a manuscript that’s been spit-shined until it gleams. So, if that one book is to land you an agent that will eventually land you a book deal, and eventually open up the door to future book deals, it makes sense to devote your creative energy and time into making that one book truly amazing before worrying about the other books.

Further, most editors and agents will tell authors not to write what you think they’re looking for, but to write the book that you’re looking for. Your passion for the story will shine through in a way it never could if you were writing simply to match an editor’s presumed wishlist — something that may change by the time your book is ready for submission, anyway.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t have multiple ideas in progress, because if you don’t land an agent with one book, you can start the query process again with the next complete book. Also, sometimes an agent will love your writing style but the book you’re querying isn’t a good match for whatever reason (maybe she already has something similar on her client list), and that agent might ask if you’re working on anything else, in which case you can let her know about your other projects. But until (and unless) that happens, your priority should be to finish that first book — the one you love and believe in the most. Pour your heart and soul into making it shine, and then query agents for that book. Once you’ve secured an agent, you can let him know about your other projects, and together you can decide which project should take priority next.

MYTH #2: In a query letter, it’s best to tell a prospective agent about all of the projects you’re working on. That way he can pick which project sounds the most interesting.

An agent doesn’t want to play bobbing-for-manuscripts from a list of random titles and topics. She wants to hear about the best, most awesome book you’ve written, and she wants to fall in love with it from your clever, confident, intriguing pitch. After you’ve secured agent representation, you can tell her about the other projects you’re working on.

MYTH #3: Once you land an agent and sell your first book, selling subsequent books is easy.

While it’s true that certain obstacles are removed once you’ve gotten your foot in the door with an agent and editor, past success is no guarantee of future success. You won’t have to search for a new agent again (provided you and your current agent are happy together), and the editor who published your last book will likely consider your next one for publication, but she’s under no obligation to do so. While being published may grant you the privilege of having an editor eagerly awaiting your next book, that book will be evaluated on its own merit. Further, if sales of your last book didn’t meet expectations, you may have more trouble selling the next one, or you may be forced to sell it for less money than you anticipated, because in the eyes of the publisher, you’re more of a financial risk. And editors change houses all the time — the editor who bought and adored your first book may be leaving for greener pastures, and her replacement may not have the same tastes (the bright side in this scenario is that if your current publisher passes on buying your next book, your agent may be able to submit it to your former editor at her new publisher for consideration).

Another challenge to selling subsequent books that authors must consider is whether to sell on complete manuscript or to sell on proposal. Selling on proposal means that your agent sends the publisher a proposal — generally, a synopsis (an outline or summary of the book which can range anywhere from 2-50 pages), along with the first 30-100 pages of the actual manuscript, depending on how much the publisher wants to see — instead of a finished novel. Selling a complete manuscript means it may take longer — you may not be ready to submit it until long after your last book hits the shelves. Selling on proposal presents its own challenges — some authors don’t like to plot books in advance, and sometimes the finished product is different than the initial outline implied, which can cause conflict on both sides if an editor isn’t happy with the outcome. Also, it may be difficult to properly estimate how long it will take you to complete a proposed manuscript, creating stress if a deadline creeps up too quickly.

So, once you sell your first book, you do have certain advantages over a yet-to-be-published author, but it’s not necessarily easier. No matter how many times you’ve been published, and no matter what your level of success on previous books, writing and selling that next book is hard work, period.

MYTH #4: In the traditional publishing industry, it’s unethical for any editor or publishing professional to charge money for critiques, proofreading, coaching, or other editorial services. Aspiring authors should never pay for such services.

Ahh, tricksy Hobbitses! This is one of those myths masquerading as legitimate advice.

It is, in fact, unethical for a literary agent to charge prospective authors money for the privilege of reading their work, or for an agent to require an author to use a paid editorial consultant or book doctor prior to considering that author’s manuscript. Agents make money on the sale of an author’s work and future royalties — agents receive a standard 15% commission (slightly higher for foreign and subrights sales) from an author’s earnings on the books he’s sold.

It is, in fact, also unethical for an editor at a traditional publishing house where he is a paid employee to charge money for the promise of publishing an author’s work (remember, in the traditional publishing model, the publisher pays the author — not the other way around). An author isn’t charged for in-house marketing services, cover design, editorial services, book distribution services, catalog listings, or other standard services that go along with publishing and marketing a book.

However — here’s where the myth part comes in — there are perfectly legitimate, fee-based service providers available to authors to help with everything from learning an aspect of the craft to goal-setting and motivational coaching, developmental editing (critique of big picture elements like plot, character development, pacing, etc.), proofing/copyediting, and more. Often an author will hire this type of service provider to help polish up the manuscript before starting the agent query process. These individuals may be published authors who offer editorial consulting services, college or community writing instructors, people who work or have worked in the publishing industry, freelance writers and editors, and other trusted individuals with the knowledge and experience to help authors write better, stronger fiction. They may be called independent editors, manuscript consultants, writing coaches, editorial consultants, writing mentors, and just about anything else you can imagine.

There is nothing unethical about charging fees for services rendered. Just watch out for anyone promising agent representation or traditional publication in exchange for a fee, or anyone “referring” you to fee-based services as a precondition of representing or publishing your work.

The best way to protect yourself from unethical individuals and publishing-related scams is to do your research. Always ask for references from anyone you’re considering doing business with, and be wary of anyone who refuses to provide references or who makes you feel uncomfortable for asking questions. Always get service and payment terms in writing before agreeing to said terms to ensure that both parties are clear on expectations. If you know people who’ve happily used such services in the past, ask for recommendations. Don’t let your dream of getting published blind you to anyone who may be trying to take advantage.

MYTH #5: Once you’ve gotten the stamp of approval from your mom and your best friend and that nice lady from the community potluck, you’re ready to start querying agents with your manuscript.

Do not — I repeat, do not — query a book that’s only been reviewed by your friends and family (even if those friends are part of your target audience, like teen readers). Before querying your work, it’s important to get objective feedback through a trusted critique partner or group (particularly from writers who are either already published, who work / have worked in the industry, or who are more experienced and better writers than you), and possibly even through a paid service like the ones discussed above, if that’s a possibility for you. You can find critique groups through local writing schools or meetups in your area, through group events like NaNoWriMo meetups, through professional associations like SCBWI and RWA, and through hundreds of online groups and classes.

If you’re in the market for a critique group, you may want to check out these oldies from the archives:

Evaluating Critique Groups: 6 Crucial Questions
Are You An Ideal Critique Partner?

MYTH #6: Finding an agent can take months or even years, so it’s a good idea to get a head start and query agents before finishing your manuscript. By the time you get a response, your manuscript will be complete.

Unless you’re doing so as part of a conference where pitching agents is part of the deal, do not cold-query agents until the book is 100% complete, polished, and submission-ready. Lots of writers make the mistake of querying too soon, only to get a quicker-than-anticipated response from an interested agent requesting the manuscript. It’s pretty embarrassing for a writer to respond to a manuscript request with, “Well, uh, it’s not actually done. I didn’t think I’d get interest so quickly.” It’s even worse to rush through the completion of a manuscript just because you queried too soon and don’t want to leave the agent hanging.

This doesn’t mean you can’t do some advanced preparation before your manuscript is complete. While most of your energy should be devoted to getting your book submission-ready, you can (and should) start researching potential agents for your query wishlist. You might also start following agent blogs and Twitter feeds or participating in online discussions with other writers and industry professionals to learn as much as possible about the business.

Here’s some additional advice and info about the agent search, when you’re ready:

How to Query Lit Agents: 6 Overlooked Steps
Literary Agent Offers: Don’t Settle

But remember, keep your primary focus on writing and finishing that book!

MYTH #7: If you share your work with an agent, editor, or writing coach prior to publication or copyright, that person will steal your idea and give it to one of her existing author clients to write.

This sounds suspiciously like the whole razors-in-the-Halloween-candy urban legend thing. I mean, anything is possible, but how long do you think those agents or editors would stay in business if they made a habit of burning new writers just to help their current authors?

It’s natural to be cautious about sending your work out into the world, but it’s a necessary part of the path to traditional publication. Agents won’t offer representation on something they haven’t read, nor will editors offer to publish it. If you’re truly worried about someone stealing your work, the best way to ensure peace of mind is to do your research. As with hiring editorial service providers, it’s important to know who you’re doing business (or critique partnerships) with. For editors and agents, Google names, ask for references, check them out. For critique partners, begin slowly by sharing smaller pieces of work until you’ve built up enough mutual trust to share a full manuscript.

Finally, if you’re really serious about protecting your work, don’t post it online where anyone can see and potentially copy it and don’t leave your laptop in your car where anyone can see and potentially smash your window to get it.

MYTH #8: Before you start querying, buy an ISBN and have your manuscript copyrighted.

This is a common reaction to the fear-of-idea-stealing, but it’s unnecessary and possibly confusing and expensive. If you’re seeking traditional publication, once you sell your book to a publisher, that publisher will assign the completed manuscript an ISBN and will submit it through the proper channels to have it copyrighted in your name.

MYTH #9: Agents only want to work with published authors, or with authors who have publishing or celebrity connections.

While some agents are closed to new client submissions, many (we’re talking tons of) agents are open to — and actively seeking — queries from debut authors. When I signed on with my agent, I’d never been published, and the only celebrity connection I had was my imaginary domestic partnership with Aragorn, as played by Viggo Mortensen, who never returns my calls. Agents want to work with authors who write good books. Period. So if you write a good book, you have a good chance at landing an agent, no prior publication or celeb-besties required.

MYTH #10: If you know someone who has an agent, ask her to recommend you to that agent, or just tell that agent in your query letter that your friend suggested you query him.

If you do this, well… Welcome to Awkwardsville. Population: You. And probably your friend. Because no one wants to be put on the spot like this. If your friend has an agent, and her agent is accepting new clients, and she thinks her agent would love your manuscript and that you two would be a good professional fit, your friend will approach you first. She will encourage you to query her agent and she’ll offer to make the introduction. And don’t try to be sneaky by name-dropping your friend in the query letter if she hasn’t given you permission to do so. Agents follow up with their authors if someone claims that the author has referred him, and lying about this — or assuming it’s okay without getting permission — will burn your bridges with both the agent and the friend.

MYTH #11: The best way to secure an agent is to first seek out blurbs (personal recommendations or favorable quotes) for your unpublished manuscript from published authors.

Blurbs are placed on book jackets and marketing materials to help sell books to bookstores, librarians, and readers. They are not typically used to attract agents. That said, if your spouse or best friend is, say, J.K. Rowling, and she promised to blurb anything you ever write, you should probably mention this in your query letter.

But for 99% of aspiring authors, this isn’t the case. And unless the published author in question is a close personal friend of yours — and even then, I’d tread lightly here — do not ask him to read your unpublished manuscript for a potential blurb. Published authors are asked to blurb books all the time, but not until those books have been agented, sold, revised, and copyedited — essentially, ready to hit the shelves. Many authors won’t read unsolicited, unpublished manuscripts for legal reasons — they don’t want to be accused of stealing an idea in the future if the author happens to be writing about a similar subject. Further, securing a blurb on a manuscript that will ultimately go through significant revisions after it’s sold is pointless. The final product might look nothing like the original manuscript, which is why authors don’t generally read books for blurbs until all of the revisions and changes have been made. Otherwise the author might be all, “This is the best book about vampires I’ve ever read.” And by the time the book hits the shelves, it’s actually called “Goblins: A Love Story.”

So, hold off on the blurb requests until your editor asks you to seek them out.

MYTH #12: Agents and editors require authors to have a strong social media presence. So if you haven’t already, better start blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, tumblring, YouTubing, Instagraming, and other socially-networked-networking right away.

Agents, like anyone in the business of getting books into the hands of readers, love when authors have built-in followings and fans prior to publication. An aspiring author with a strong web presence? Awesome. But it’s not awesome enough to land you an agent if your book sucks, and it’s certainly not something you need to rush out and do just to snag an agent’s attention. Your book should be your top priority, because that’s the thing the agent is looking for first and foremost — a great story, great writing, great hook. If you happen to have tens of thousands of active, engaged followers in your target audience across your social media platforms? Cool. Can’t hurt to mention it. But your webbyness isn’t going to make or break your chances of getting an agent. The quality of your book is what counts.

MYTH #13: If you you receive a book offer from an editor that you’ve pitched at a conference, you don’t need an agent.

Unless you’re a lawyer with a literary or entertainment background, or you’re the spouse or child or other relation of such a person, you need an agent to negotiate your contract, to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible, to go to bat for you over any issues with your publisher, to sell your foreign and sub-rights, to help you understand the marketplace and how your work fits into it, and — of course — to lunch with you in New York. AmIRight? 😉

Some agents are also very involved editorially, helping you revise your work or even helping you generate new ideas. My agent also talks me down off the ledge whenever I get too angsty about the business, which is pretty often, and really, you can’t put a price on that. He also likes cupcakes. Point is, a good agent is worth his 15% commission a hundred times over. Don’t shortcut it.

MYTH #14: Books with intense language or “edgy” content — sex and sexuality, substance abuse, incest, violence, bullying, suicide, to name a few — are not appropriate for young adult literature. YA agents and editors will force you to tone down edgy content or publish it as an adult novel.

This shows a serious lack of research and exposure to contemporary YA literature. If you honestly believe this malarkey, get thee to a bookstore or library STAT, and read everything on the YA shelves. Lather, rinse, repeat.

MYTH #15: If you’re successful with one book, you might get pigeonholed. Agents and publishers will force you to continue writing in that style or genre in hopes of duplicating that success, even if you want to try something new.

Following a successful debut, publishers might encourage you to continue writing in a similar genre or style in hopes of building on that success and growing a loyal following. That only makes sense, right? But this certainly doesn’t mean you’ll be pigeonholed, forced to write something you’re not interested in writing, or forbidden from writing something completely different.

Now, if you’ve sold a multi-book contract — say, for your current book and then another to-be-determined book — you may have to work a little more closely within the publisher’s expectations. For example, I sold my first book, Twenty Boy Summer, in a two-book deal. When it came time to start working on the second book, I put together a proposal to share with my editor, and eventually we came to an agreement on what I’d write next — Fixing Delilah, which was another contemporary realistic romance. Since I’d accepted the two-book deal with Twenty Boy Summer as the first book, the assumption was that the second book would be written in a similar style. If I’d wanted to write an urban fantasy, that may or may not have worked.

However, once you’ve fulfilled your contract obligations, you’re free to write anything you’d like. Your publisher is free to pass on publishing it, and she may ask if you’d consider writing something like your last book, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to write something new. That’s totally up to you, and if you’re interested in writing different genres or types of novels, you can discuss the best plan of action with your agent before you start the next new book (yet another reason to have an agent).

MYTH #16: Since witches are popular on the shelves and on TV right now, you should write a book about witches to increase your chances of getting an agent and a book deal.

For the record? I love witches, and I’ll never discourage an author from writing a book about them. But… only if you love witches too. Remember, traditional publication is a long process. From the time you accept a book deal, it may be two years before your book hits the shelves. So the books you’re seeing as trends on the store shelves today were actually written and sold two years ago. If you write a book about witches just to cash in on the trend, you’ll lose — witches will be replaced with a new trend two years from now. As a matter of fact, I just read a post from a YA agent stating that she won’t consider any witch stories now — that trend has passed.

However, like I said, if you love witches, you should totally write a witch book. There is always room for a well-written, passionately told story. But only if the author means it. No trend-chasing!

That’s it. Myths busted. Eyes glazed. Pajamas… worn. My work here is done.

I think I’ve covered just about every question and myth I’ve come across in my inbox of late. If I missed anything, or if there’s anything you’d like to know more about, or if you’d like to disagree or share your own experiences or otherwise add to the discussion, please leave your comments and questions below.

As always, happy reading and happy writing!

All This Darkness! What to Buy The Grownup Reader? (A Parody)

Note: this article is a parody of the stupidness going on over here: Darkness Too Visible, by Meghan Cox Gurdon

Contemporary fiction for grownups is exploding with explicit abuse, violence, depravity, scandal, lies, casual sex, crime, conspiracy, oneupmanship, financial ruin, loose morals, overt glorification of generally bad ideas, and boobs.

Why is no one talking about this?

I recently stood slack-jawed in the adult fiction section of my local big box book store, having decided that supporting my community while getting personalized recommendations by professionals who generally adore books and make it their business to know exactly what sorts of things a reader will love was just not on my to-do list this year, feeling stupefied and helpless.

I was searching for a gift for a grownup friend (at the risk of sounding tokenistic, some of my best friends are grownups and I have a great relationship with “the grownups” as a whole), but at every turn, my poor and tired eyes were met with red-and-black covers with proclamations in huge typeface that screamed IMPENDING DOOM. The titles alone gave me instant nightmares: BURIED PREY? SIXKILL? THE FINAL STORM? THOSE IN PERIL? It was all, like, conspiracy and apocalypse and vampires, murder and incest, thinly veiled racism that seriously undercuts our upstanding moral code as a nation — especially when it comes to the impressionable sensibilities of our country’s adult population.

I was astonished and more than a little appalled, frankly, that adult fiction had gotten so dark. How dark, you ask? Well, as a person who doesn’t actually read adult fiction, and doesn’t remember what it was like to be an adult, and in fact categorically looks down on adults as out of touch and unable to think a single original thought without their mass media drip feed, I’m obviously very highly qualified to answer this question: adult fic is so dark, why, just writing this blog post about the darkness requires a sun lamp, a clove ciggie, and a bottle of chilled Bombay Sapphire, lest I become apathetic and socially disengaged by all the dark-mongering and partake in some totally grownup coping mechanism like, IDK… spawning an illegitimate child with my housekeeper, tweeting pictures of my crotch and lying about it and then not lying about it, sexually assaulting a hotel staff person, shooting at people with an AK-47, deciding that forced sexual intercourse isn’t actually rape if the woman said no but didn’t physically fight back, taking away health benefits for the really old people, causing the collapse of the free market economy, or any of the other “that’s sooo grownup” activities I’ve read about in today’s news. It’s so dark that in a single book, let’s call it Martin’s GAME OF THRONES, the first few chapters alone cover the alarmingly black topics of incest, rape, slavery, beheading, something with magic wolves, dragon eggs, forced marriage, poisoning, and native women dressed in all-too-revealing animal skins, every curve described in such excruciatingly vivid detail that the book may as well be called GAME OF BOOBS.

If books are a lens unto the world, the adult section at my local big box bookstore is a magnifying glass unto the ass of the ant of decency, people. Obviously not every book aimed at tender-minded grownups is pure evil, but for the careless old reader, or one who actively seeks out licentiousness and vice (yes, those rare tainted souls certainly exist in the world of grownups, much as we’d like to stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise!), the path to the wicked world of horrendous literary indecency and exalted iniquity is a mere swipe of the overextended debit card away.

I mean, look at Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. Total effing downer, man! Books like that are why people like Harold Camping ring the doomsday bells every few years. He probably picked up that story looking for a fun armchair travel read, or perhaps hoping for a movie-still of Viggo Mortensen’s naked ass (who hasn’t! That movie was called Eastern Promises, though, FYI), getting instead a bleak tale of violence and cannibalism, roving gangs of rapists and murderers, death and mayhem and utter hopelessness on every page. Rapture? Don’t bother. Might as well just off yourself after reading something like that, bud.

Speaking of gratuitously morally bankrupt books made into movies, have you read Dan Brown’s bestselling THE DAVINCI CODE? He practically accuses Holy Mother Mary of cashing in her V-card. Talk about blasphemy! And what’s up with this Sookie Stackhouse person, anyway? Come on, Charlaine Harris! Don’t you know that grownups are feeble-minded, easily spooked, and downright impressionable? You think you can just write about vampires and sex and sex with vampires and not impact — dare I say, shatter — the entirely too delicate worldview of adults?

I realize these authors believe they’re validating the grownup experience, giving comfort and succor and a real voice to an otherwise subverted, subjugated, sublevel subgroup. But hasn’t anyone considered the obvious fact that such stories, rather than validating a terrible yet ultimately rare experience, in fact normalize a collective thirst for blood, no pun intended? Feed the flames of sickness and immorality? Infect the weak-minded with negativity and self-loathing? Give otherwise good, well-meaning grownups some really bad ideas, the consequences of which the soft folds of their brains simply can’t comprehend?

Honestly, folks, let’s call this complete lack of censorship and mind control what it is: lazy, lackadaisical, inexcusable buck-passing in an era where none of us wants to claim any responsibility for ensuring that our adult population survives this difficult transition. You’ve all heard the rhetoric: it’s not our job to raise other people’s parents — their own kids should do it! Their bosses and teachers should do it! CNN should do it!

No, friends. I’m afraid it’s down to us. For if not we — the wise and knowing and all-presumptuous — who will take a stand against authors and publishers and booksellers who insist on filling the heads of old people with filth, flarn, and smut? Who will save the lives of those endearing yet ultimately etiolated adults who learn how to commit rape in books like BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA or how to fake a nervous breakdown after devouring THE BELL JAR? What if they read the original, unedited version of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN and learn the dreaded n-word? What if Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD inspires them on a road-tripping, poetry-writing, substance-abusing bender?

If it’s true what the experts at the Wall Street Journal (that bastion of journalistic integrity and forward-thinking) say, “Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it,” then frankly, I’m concerned for our future as a people. Because if authors and publishers and booksellers don’t stop shoving misery and depravity down grownups’ tender pink gullets — if they can’t come up with more appealing, relevant, and appropriately non-dark works of substance for the adult reader — if they can’t write and sell stories that stop encouraging rampant extramarital fornication, brutal criminal acts, the rape of our natural resources by corporate giants run by hapless adults, and the near-complete and utter effing-over of society by a bunch of grownups in suits who obviously learned the how-tos and justifications of bad behavior from novels glorifying such debauchery and turpitude — the adult reader, and those slack-jawed gift-givers like myself, will be forced to make the most immoral, appalling, and dangerous choice of all: to shop in the YA section.

Let’s all pour a little out for the collective loss of innocence, shall we?

*Takes another swig of Sapphire.*
*Spits on the floor*

Holly Schindler on Censorship, Missouri, & Stereotypes

Holly Schindler is the author of novels A BLUE SO DARK and the soon-to-be released PLAYING HURT. As a lifelong resident of Springfield, Missouri (she’s totally legit because she pronounces it like “Ma-zur-ah” instead of “Misery”), she had quite a lot to say during that whole Wesley Crazypants Filthy Book Banning thing last fall (considering Mr. Crazypants was sooo inaccurately representing the good people of her homeland) (which crazypants people often do) (because they are crazy).

I’m not sure whatever happened to Mr. Scroggins, but Holly’s gearing up for the launch of her second YA novel, PLAYING HURT, which hits the shelves on March 8 (and is definitely not something Mr. Scroggins will enjoy, because there’s smoochin’ in it and stuff!). She stopped by on her virtual tour this week to share her thoughts on book banning in the Show-Me State and to tell us a bit about her latest book.

She’s also giving away a signed copy of PLAYING HURT — read on to find out how!

Barefoot in the Bible Belt
By Holly Schindler

Holly SchindlerWull, gaaaw-lee, shore is a might cold ‘round these here parts. It’s Feb’rary, after all. Where’m I gon’ get a little heat? Think I’ll jes’ burn these here books. Ain’t nothin’ but a bunch ‘a smut in ‘em, anyhowse.

Come on—that’s the picture you get, isn’t it? All I have to say is “Midwest” or “Ozarks,” and you get that image: a barefoot hillbilly who’s never used a be-verb correctly in his entire life.

And as soon as I think of that stereotype, I get a full-body cringe.

I’m a lifer myself—born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. And when the Scroggins debacle ensued in the fall of 2010, and the works of Sarah Ockler and Laurie Halse Anderson were unfairly targeted in one man’s narrow-minded banning attempt, all I could think was, “Here we go again.”

But I’m not talking about banning—not entirely. I’m also talking about that ridiculous, awful, barefoot hillbilly stereotype. Because in addition to attacking the work of two incredible young adult authors, I feared Scroggins’s complaint was also about to add to the unfair stereotyping of Missouri .

In the months since the story broke, the headline continues to pop up here and there in the blogosphere. And just as I feared, instead of identifying Scroggins as the source of the banning attempt… Yep, you guessed it—the headlines or quotes or discussions that pop up indicate MISSOURI wants to ban books. MISSOURI stands for censorship.

Actually, the majority of us don’t.

I could go blue in the face pointing to a myriad of dry facts proving my point. I could talk about the slew of local bloggers who put up posts expressing disdain for Scroggins’ attempt. I could talk about the fact that MSU students convened to protest book banning.

But more important than these overt, published examples of fellow Ozarkers’ disgust over book banning is that which can’t be quoted or measured or recorded. It’s the open-mindedness that has lived in the blood of so many Ozarkers for generations. A traits that stands in direct opposition to the goals of Wesley Scroggins.

Just as much as I feel the work of my fellow YA authors was completely miscategorized, I also feel that much of my own Missouri’s opinions have been unfairly categorized. And just as an author’s work can’t be judged by lifting a stray line out of context, neither should an entire region be judged by one man—or even one school district—that attempts to pull a book from library shelves.

To me, Missouri has always been a place of strength—and, yes, of open-mindedness. A place that I’m proud to call my home—and to showcase in my writing.

–Holly Schindler

About Playing Hurt

Playing HurtStar basketball player Chelsea “Nitro” Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone’s admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.

As a graduation present, Chelsea ’s dad springs for a three-week summer “boot camp” program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she’s immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who’s haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?

Holly’s giving away a signed copy of PLAYING HURT to one lucky reader! Check out all the details here!

Holly Schindler dove headfirst into her writing pursuits after obtaining her MA from Missouri (“Ma-zur-AH”) State University in 2001. Having penned a pile of drafts that literally stretches to the ceiling of her office, she was thrilled to release her debut novel, A Blue So Dark, with Flux in 2010. A Blue So Dark received a starred review in Booklist, and was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth. Her second novel, Playing Hurt, will be released March 8, 2011. Visit her online at www.HollySchindler.com.

The REAL Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit

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In her April 1 New York Times essay, The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit, Julie Just argues that today’s YA literature is rife with bad or ineffective parents. She writes:

…the bad parent is now enjoying something of a heyday… some of the most sharply written and critically praised works reliably feature a mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab parent, suggesting that this has become a particularly resonant figure.


Afflicted by anomie, sitting down to another dismal meal or rushing out the door to a meeting, the hapless parents of Y.A. fiction are slightly ridiculous. They put in an appearance at the stove and behind the wheel of the car, but you can see right through them.

If you have a chance to read the article, check it out. In the mean time, I have a few issues with Just’s broad categorizations and ultimately contradictory essay:

1. Some — maybe even lots of — parents are hapless, ridiculous, and hardly present. Sometimes it’s just who they are. Other times there may be an external explanation. In TWENTY BOY SUMMER, for example, Frankie’s parents are totally ineffective, but it’s not because “YA parents are bad.” It’s because they’re grieving the death of their teen son.

2. The best YA lit — arguably, any literature — is not that which paints the most accurate reflection of reality, but that which resonates most authentically with the intended reader. It’s the whole “perception is reality” thing. Regardless of the reality, lots of teens perceive their parents as inept, mopey, or even downright bad — I know I did. In my thirteen- to nineteen-year-old mind, Mom and Dad were clueless, ineffective, and, you know, stupid. (Not anymore, though! *cough* movingrightalong…)

3. The purpose of contemporary YA lit is not to teach lessons or set moral codes (though in some cases, this may be an unintended outcome, and that’s okay, too), and “good” versus “evil” in character traits, choices, actions, words, and values is a vast area of fuzzy grayness. Just because a parent isn’t smacking a kid Mommy Dearest style or abandoning him in the woods la Hansel and Gretel doesn’t mean she’s not abusing him, and this abuse can be so subtle as to seem like simple lameness or lack of presence. Remember when you were a teen? How many times could a simple look or shrug from your mother make you want to scream, “just listen to me!!?”

4. Like Janet Burroway says in WRITING FICTION, “…in literature, only trouble is interesting.” The epicenter of most contemporary YA novels (or, again, most novels in general) is a problem, issue, or incident from which the story-length internal and external conflicts grow, ultimately changing the main character(s). So if we have a teen main character with model parents who are effective but not helicopter-y, encouraging but not stifling, cool and laid back but firm and strong, in love but not mushy, trusting but not naive, not dead, not sick, not divorced, financially sound, all around awesome people… um, yawn. Where’s the story there? Where’s the conflict? What’s driving the main character to want something, and what’s preventing him from getting it? Where are the challenges that force him to grow over the course of the novel? If the parents aren’t the issue, than it’s happening at school, with friends and significant others, at work, or internally, in which case the role of the parents in the story absolutely takes a back seat.

Just cites Bella’s mother in the TWILIGHT series as an example of this “clownish, curiously diminished” parent, but honestly, when you discover your hottie emo boyfriend is really a vampire who finds it nearly impossible not to kill you, and your BFF is a werewolf who wants to kill your vampire boyfriend, your “loving, erratic hare-brained mother” kind of pales (no pun intended) in comparison.

Just also mentions Sara Zarr’s ONCE WAS LOST, a beautiful story that explores a teen’s struggle with faith and family in the wake of her mother’s DUI and subsequent rehab admission and the parallel story of a local kidnapping that sucks up what’s left of her pastor father’s attention. Just says:

…the father in “Once Was Lost” becomes somehow peripheral, his problems more muted and less interesting than his teenage daughter’s.

Well, duh! ONCE WAS LOST is Samara’s story, not her father’s. We’re in Sam’s head the entire time, seeing things through her eyes, perceiving things through her senses. If Zarr decided to revisit the story from Dad’s perspective, his problems would likely become very interesting, while Sam’s would rightly fade.

5. Contrasting contemporary YA literature with titles from the 1960s and 1970s — while making for an interesting cultural and artistic discussion — is not a way to effectively argue that today’s YA parents are lame. YA literature has exploded over the last decade. Not only did pioneering authors and passionate librarians pave the way for a broader range of stories and topics, but look at the social and economic landscape: Teens today have more direct purchasing power online and off, can more easily connect with friends and other peers for recommendations and sharing, and can even download content without ever having to interact with an adult. This means that there are fewer adult gatekeepers “screening” YA literature, allowing and even forcing contemporary YA authors to explore issues and characters in ways that were previously uncharted or censored. YA lit today is just different from YA lit 40 years ago, just as parents and kids are different, relationships at home are different, television and movies are different… everything is. And 40 years from now, everything will have changed again.

The real parent problem?

In my opinion, the real parent problem in YA lit is not that parents in contemporary YA stories are ineffective, mopey, and bad. It’s that some parents (and other adults) in real life continue to stereotype and generalize YA as ghetto sub-genre that doesn’t teach the “right” lessons… or they just plain forgot what it was like to be a teen.

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler”]I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit, readers and authors. So hop on over and read the article while I work on conjuring up some more bad parents for book three!