Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dear Teen Me

Dear Teen Me edited by Miranda Kenneally and E Kristin Anderson is a collection of advice written by over 70 YA authors to their teenage selves. Please check out the awesomeness here: In honor of the publication of their anthology, I’ve written my own ‘Dear Teen Me’ and I encourage you to do the same.
Dear Teen Me:
I bet you thought that after college, the perfect job would just appear. I’m sorry to break it to you that is not the case. You currently work at a bookstore where you’ve worked for four years. You did have a stint at a vanity publisher, but you left that to move to Indianapolis. Your perfect or near-perfect or survivable job is still out there. It’s just proving elusive to find at the moment.
Also, just so you know, everything isn’t black and white. There are about fifty shades of gray (you’ll get this reference in time, but please don’t jump on that bandwagon.) There is no perfect answer. Sometimes there isn’t even a right answer. More often than not, there are twenty answers and you have to dive into the ocean to find a suitable one. And you don’t get goggles.
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But it is better that you are realistic. I want you to know that life will be tough. Not near-starvation, life-threatening tough, but it won’t be easy.

There are so many things I wish I could tell you. Life-changing things, but somehow those are not easy to put into words. The experiences will have to speak for themselves, when the time comes.
Me at age 15
But here are a few  tips that might help you over the next ten years:
·       Always give the right-of-way when driving. If you let the other person go first, you might grumble a bit but you won’t feel guilty for hours about cutting someone off.
·       Stop rushing. Yes, you can walk fast and you can work fast. You might end up with more time in the end, but you could also end up with more work and more fatigue.
·       Exercise. I know you don’t want to. Do it anyway.
·       Wear a bikini. Wear flip-flops. Wear shorts. Don’t be self-conscious of your feet, legs or body. You’ve only gained a little weight since high school but you are still an average American (size wise). So wear what you want, without wearing too little.
·      Talk to people. Stop being afraid of being outgoing. Share something about yourself, and you’ll learn something in return. Maybe you’ll even make a new friend.
·      At one point, in third grade, you wanted to be a writer. (Hopefully you remember this. If not, think about Mrs. Decker’s class and the story about a unicorn.) There were so many dreams that you’ve had since then (architect, journalist, ambassador), but now you’re back to writer. So please write. Write now.
You might scoff at this. You’ve always been a little stubborn, and not great about taking advice. But at least promise me that you will keep these notions in the back of your fifteen year-old mind. Someday they might come in handy.

-- Jamie, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why I’m Struggling to Commit to NaNoWriMo

T Minus 10 Days to NaNoWriMo. I intend to participate this year, but I haven’t yet declared my commitment. Because I’m afraid.
Last year, I fell into NaNoWriMo when my manager/friend convinced me to go to a writing group. It turned out to be a NaNoWriMo writing group. In the two hours I was there, I convinced myself that I should give it a shot, even jotting down some ideas. However, I wasn’t driven, organized or prepared at all.
When I got a second job a week before November (and went from working 35 hours to 50 hours a week), the NaNoWriMo idea flew out the window into the chilly autumn air. Having two jobs was an excuse, and I took it.
Now October has come again and NaNoWriMo is approaching (again). I’m still hesitant to commit. Because I will likely fail. The fear of failure is using my writing soul as its squeeze toy. But my fear is based on an unsettling truth. My best week of writing has produced 3000 words. To be a NaNoWriMo winner, I have to average 12000 words per week (to meet the goal of 50000 words in 30 days.) That’s a 400% improvement. Can I do it?
Can I, for the first time, make a solid commitment to a month long writing lifestyle and meet a word count goal and end with a rough, unedited, probably horrendous draft?
In two weeks, I’ll know. Because if I can’t manage to write at least 10000 words in the first week, it’s hard to recover from (or so I hear). In the meantime, I’ll organize and outline and plan scenes and flesh out characters and imagine settings. I’ll try to prepare myself.
Ten days until November.
Ten days until NaNoWriMo.
Ten days until the writing blitz of my life.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Teen Books-to-Movies 2013 & Beyond

With the teen book-to-movie industry grossing billions of dollars over the past decade, film rights to a new teen book are a hot commodity. Think Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games. Even Princess Diaries, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Everyone is vying for the next Hunger Games-like phenomenon movie release, so a lot of the new and great teen books have been snagged up. A majority of these will not make it to the theaters due writing, casting or development issues. However, here are some movies based on amazing teen books that will be coming soon.

Beautiful CreaturesWrong?
Release date: February 13, 2013                                      Status: Post-Production

Beautiful Creatures takes place in a supernatural South and features Lena, a girl with a secret, and Ethan, whose desire to leave is replaced by a connection to Lena. Written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Shohl, the fourth book in the series, Beautiful Redemption, is coming October 23.

Why I’m excited:

Because Beautiful Creatures is the best of paranormal romance (ghosts, witchcraft and love attractions) with a Southern flare, à la True Blood. The movie stars Viola Davis and Emma Thompson while introducing some fresh faces as the lead characters Lena (Alice Englert) and Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich).

How I Live Now
Release date: 2013                                                          Status: Post- Production

Daisy, a native New Yorker, moves to the English countryside to live with her cousins. They are alone when WWIII breaks out, and love blossoms as war bears down. 

Why I’m excited:

Because the dystopian yet timeless feel of the book will likely translate great on screen. I’m curious to see the movie depiction as it stars Saoirse Ronan (of Lovely Bones and City of Ember) and was filmed in England. Also, the author Meg Rosoff tweeted about visiting the set, which made me even more excited. However, I am fearful that the American release will be small or even nonexistent as it currently only lists a UK release date of 2013.

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Release date: August 23, 2013                                    Status: Filming

When Clary encounters Shadowhunters at a club in downtown Manhattan, she witnesses a murder and is thrust into an unknown supernatural world. This action-packed story has five sequels, with the last coming in March 2014.

Why I’m excited:

Because this is one of the first teen series that I loved. It made an impression on me, and helped me (along with many other books) fall in love with the genre. Plus, I love the buzz about the movie. The filming is followed closely by the fan girls, and the author Cassandra Clare will often provide updates through blog, tweet or tumble. The release will be one of those with a large, excited fan base who will show up to the theater in droves.           

Ender’s Game
Release Date: November 1, 2013                              Status: Post- Production
This science fiction novel is about Ender Wiggin, a boy who has been trained in Battle School to take on the Formics. Two previous attacks by these ant-like beings have left humankind devastated. This classic, written by Orson Scott Card, has many sequels and a companion series.

Why I’m excited:

Because this movie is a long-time coming. Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin star in this classic come-to-life. Also, Asa Butterield (Hugo in Hugo Cabret) will star as Ender, so an experienced young actor has taken on the role. This movie is bound to be one of the most anticipated releases of 2013.

Release date: March 21, 2014                                     Status: Pre-Production
Living in a dystopian Chicago, Beatrice has to choose which faction of society she will join at 16. Her surprising choice leads her down an adventurous and dangerous path. Divergent is the first in a trilogy written by Veronica Roth, and the yet-to-be-named finale is set to be released next fall.

Why I’m excited:

Because it’s dystopian, and it takes place in a futuristic Chicago (a nearby city for me). Plus, I feel as though Divergent has the potential to be close to Hunger Games on the phenomenon scale. However, we will have to wait and see, as the release is a year and a half out. Hopefully our patience will pay off!  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sex, Language & Violence in YA

Exploration of a Potential Rating System

Sometimes when I’m reading a YA book, I think: “Is this really appropriate for 13 year olds?” Most of the novels I read are appropriate for the older teen crowd, but sometimes I wonder about those just-out-of-middle-school kids who pick up the same book, and how they will respond to its content.   

It’s important to be true to the teenage experience. In today’s society, this experience can mean a variety of cuss words, sexual experiences and underage drinking.  Teens can make bad, controversial and even dangerous decisions because well, they’re teens. They are testing out the world, and the people they want to be.

Authors should be true to the teenage experience. But, some readers may not be ready to read all those experiences. So, how should parents and teens know what’s appropriate for them to read? Well, there’s been talk of a rating system, which would not be dissimilar to the MPAA (movie) ratings system. 

Although I believe that the idea of a rating system has good intentions in terms of informing parents what is appropriate for their teenage children, I fear the effects for the actual teens. A ratings system can be stark and inflexible. Instead of reviewing the book description to see if the book has potential educational purposes or a positive message, parents and teens might rely on the ratings system, and automatically discount anything that doesn’t meet their standards. I believe that reading the description, spoiler-free reviews and even skimming the first chapter are important qualifiers for if a book goes home with me.

Also, what would the perimeters of this rating system be? Is sex more offensive than language? Would the rating jump with each base (first, second, all the way) the character travels? And not all drug/alcohol references are the same (think marijuana vs. heroin or beer vs. absinthe). Can you rate violence in the written word? The MPAA Ratings board has been in place for decades, and has seen its share of controversy. It would take years to establish a similar system for use in the publishing industry, and it would be considerably more difficult.

I prefer to leave the selection of YA books to the teens that read them. However I understand that some parents like to have a hand in the selection. If a parent needs to provide approval to their young teen (or the occasional older teen) then I would advocate a parent touching the book, reading the book description or even reading the whole thing before their teen. No time or interest? Then at least check out Common Sense Media, a website that gives ratings but also descriptions, reasons and rating categories to help parents and teen select age-appropriate books.

In the end, I defer to personal experience. I read Judy Blume, Harry Potter, books with language and the occasional sex scene during my adolescent years. And I turned out just fine, if I do say so myself.