Friday, August 31, 2012

Lessons from the Storyman

Earlier this week, award-winning author Neal Shusterman visited the local Barnes & Noble for a reading, discussion and signing. Shusterman explained the story of Unwind and read three excerpts from his newest release, Unwholly, which I highly recommend. Throughout the discussion, I noted some important lessons for an aspiring author such as myself.



Be a Genre Breaker
Unwind and its sequel Unwholly can easily be classified as dystopian. When Shusterman was questioned about the genre and his opinion, he was visibly unfavorable. Not that he disapproves of the dystopian genre, but that he sees his books outside of a genre classification, and even outside of an age classification. Dystopian is currently a popular genre, but when it’s no longer on the forefront of public consciousness, the books within that genre might go by the wayside. Shusterman’s books are meant for not only those that enjoy dystopia but also those that enjoy adventure, science fiction, thrillers, teen and adult fiction. In essence, it’s a genre breaker. It’s not meant for just one classification, or just one set of people. So when writing, one shouldn’t strain to write within one genre, because sometimes the best books can’t be labeled.

Let the Character Lead
When Shusterman writes, he asks questions of his characters to discover their emotional paths. After formulating emotional arches for each character, then he begins putting words to paper. However, when writing, sometimes the character will react differently or more truthfully than they did in the original outline. If something no longer makes sense, if the character’s reaction is no longer genuine, then it’s time to adapt. Holding to the original outline can diminish your writing, as good ideas can fall to the page before the author realizes what’s happening. Don’t be afraid to adapt, and to let your characters lead.

Not taking sides can further your story
The concept of Unwind is based in the controversial issue of abortion. Years before the book takes place, the Second Civil War was fought between the pro-choice and pro-life camps. To end the war, a law was enacted which abolished abortion, but allowed parents to “unwind” children between 13 and 18 years of age. Since unwinding re-used nearly 100% of the body’s parts, it was not considered murder and therefore was legal. In Unwind, Shusterman does not take a stance on abortion, but merely tells a story of what happens in this futuristic fiction world. In not taking sides, he broadens the appeal and the reception of the book, and does not alienate readers. He shows the effects of such a law but does so through his characters stories. The author’s opinion is blissfully unknown, which makes the message—one concerning the fictional act of “unwinding” more so than abortion—resonate with readers.   

If you want to kill all your characters, it might be time to take a break
“And then everyone jumps off a cliff and falls to their death.” If you ever have the desire to write that on the next page of your story, then it’s likely that you are a little worn. And it’s probably time for you to take a break. When asked about his writing habits, Shusterman said that he can go back and forth to and from different projects, depending on what needs to be done and when he needs a break. Returning to a project a day, or week or even months later will bring a new perspective and renewed energy. So don’t be weary of setting a piece aside and return to it when the inspiration is flowing, or at least when you’re ready to make some (less homicidal) words appear on the screen again.


Thank you, Mr. Shusterman for visiting Indiana for the release of your outstanding sequel, Unwholly. Can’t wait for the third and final book in this trilogy!


DISCLAIMER: This post in an unofficial account of the event with Neal Shusterman on August 29, 2012 at the Barnes & Noble in Greenwood, IN. The views that I present in this article are my interpretations of the event. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of Neal Shusterman, Simon and Schuster or any affiliates.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Rise of Dystopia

-or- if you like the Hunger Games

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Hunger Games publication, the rise in popularity of the dystopian genre has never been more evident. The teen section has been overcome with dystopian-themed novels, such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Ally Condie’s Matched. These novels and more have been gobbled up by teens—once they set down the Hunger Games, they are ready for another dystopian teen novel. According to the Telegraph the week before the Hunger Games movie release, “with the arrival of the film of the first book of Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy the Hunger Games this month, dystopia for teenagers has hit an all-time high in public consciousness.” Publishers have been meeting these demands with the release of dozens of well-publicized dystopian teen novels over the past four years since the Hunger Games rocketed into popular culture.
                The authors that are following Collins in publication may not have been influenced in their writing of a dystopian novel. However, with the success of the Hunger Games, agents, editors and publishers have been more open to dystopian fiction as it is “the hottest genre in publishing and film on both sides of the Atlantic”. So it’s likely that the new teen dystopian releases were influenced by Collins’ Hunger Games in their publishing.  
History of Dystopia
The first novels that can be classified as dystopian were published over a century ago, but the genre has only enjoyed its rise in popularity since the release of the Hunger Games in 2008. This modern classic was preceded in the genre by such literary greats as Brave New World (1934), 1984 (1949) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
More recently, children’s authors have broadened the genre with such releases as the Newbury-award winning The Giver (1993) and Ender’s Game (1985), a science fiction yet dystopian classic takes the genre back to its original roots in science fiction.
In 2005, Scott Westerfeld published Uglies, the first of four in a dystopian teen series which became a turning point for the genre. Traditionally, dystopian novels were penned by men for men, but “Uglies was a strikingly new, dark tale which girls took to their hearts in droves.” Since that point, the teen dystopian genre has been driven by female characters and has seen an ever increasing number of female authors. 

Decade of Dystopia (2002-2012)
Here is a look back at the past decade of teen dystopian releases. It’s difficult to include every teen novel with a dystopian theme published in the past decade, but this collection includes those of note, influence and those believed to stand the test of time.

Feed: M.T. Anderson, 2002

House of the Scorpion: Nancy Farmer, September 2002 

How I Live Now: Meg Rosoff, August 2004

Uglies: Scott Westerfeld, February 2005
Sequels: Pretties, Specials, Extras

Life as We Knew It: Susan Beth Pfeffer, October 2006
Sequels: The Dead and Gone, This World We Live In

Unwind: Neal Shusterman, 2007
Sequel: Unwholly

The Declaration: Gemma Malley, October 2007
Sequels: The Resistance, The Legacy

Gone: Michael Grant, June 2008
Sequels: Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Patrick Ness, May 2008
Sequels: The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men

Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins, September 2008
Sequels: Catching Fire, Mockingjay

Forest of Hands and Teeth: Carrie Ryan, July 2009
Sequels: The Dead-Tossed Waves, The Dark and Hollow Places
Maze Runner: James Dashner, October 2009
Sequels: The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure, The Kill Order

Incarceron: Catherine Fisher, January 2010 (UK May 2007)
Sequel: Sapphique

Worldshaker: Richard Harland, May 2010

Shipbreaker: Paolo Bacigalupi, May 2010 

Matched: Ally Condie,  November 2010
Sequels: Crossed, Reached

Wither: Lauren DeStefano, March 2011
Sequels: Fever, Sever

Divergent: Veronica Roth, May 2011
Sequel: Insurgent

Blood Red Road: Moira Young, June 2011
Sequel: Rebel Heart

Possession: Elana Johnson, June 2011
Sequel: Surrender

Across the Universe: Beth Revis, January 2011
Sequels: A Million Suns, Shades of Earth

Delirium: Lauren Oliver, January 2011
Sequel: Pandemonium

Enclave: Ann Aguirre, April 2011

Dark Parties: Sara Grant, August 2011

Eve: Anna Carey, October 2011
Sequel: Once

Legend: Marie Lu, November 2011
Sequel: Prodigy

Shatter Me: Tahereh Mafi, November 2011
Sequel: Unravel Me

Cinder: Marissa Meyer, January 2012
Sequel: Scarlet

Under the Never Sky: Veronica Rossi, January 2012
Sequel: Through the Ever Night

Partials: Dan Wells, February 2012
Sequel: Fragments

The Drowned Cities: Paolo Bacigalupi, May 2012 

Monument 14: Emmy Laybourne, June 2012



“50+ Fantastic Young Adult Dystopian Novels” Bart’s Bookshelf (blog).

Belanger, Ashley. “Defining Moments in Young Adult Dystopia: a Timeline.” Orlando Weekly (2012).

Craig, Amanda. “The Hunger Games and the teenage craze for dystopian fiction.” The Telegraph (2012):

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Short Note about Leaving

Leaving always brings mixed emotions.

It’s like the end of a book. You’re happy (usually) with the ending, but you’re sad there’s no more excitement left to read. A sense of satisfaction hopefully prevails.

Except for me leaving is just the end of a chapter. That chapter was called Bloomington, and was 4 years of college and 3 years of work. It was a rollercoaster of personal events.
For a week and a half, I’ve been living in a new city that I’ve only ever visited. It’s been a change of scenery, and change of habits. It’s not an exotic city by any means, and it’s not even a change of state. But Indianapolis is the capitol, and a sprawling Midwestern metropolis. And I’m excited to be here.

Writing has taken a back seat as I’ve settled into my new home, explored my surroundings and started the same job at a new store. But I plan to dive back into writing my story and this blog again soon.

I’m happy with this change, and the hopefully new opportunities life here will bring. And I’ll see you again soon!