Monday, June 28, 2010

The Opposite of Blame

Long ago, before liability lawyers made it impossible to admit you made a mistake and news outlets learned that laying blame on people was good for ratings, there was a thing called “forgiveness.” Evidence of this is all over television. Heroes get revenge. Forgiveness is seen as weak. This may be because forgiveness is easy to understand but can be hard to exercise, particularly if the person who did the wronging was acting intentionally.

I set up a situation like this in my upcoming book Quads, when my narrator Sarah Conrad finds her roommate Marnie reading her diary and preparing to post parts of it on the internet. Sarah is furious, horrified and humiliated. But Marnie, having read Sarah’s true feelings about her, also feels wronged. They argue, then Marnie storms off into the night – very close to the dorm curfew.

Sarah struggles with two feelings. On one hand, she wouldn’t mind if Marnie, who is already in trouble at school, missed the curfew. But she also worries that Marnie might be expelled is she breaks curfew. Sarah asks a few friends what they think. They agree that Sarah should let Marnie hang herself. After an emotional struggle, Sarah decides to go against her friend’s recommendation and go out looking for Marnie.

Along the way Sarah realizes that she's going to have to learn to forgive Marnie and start over. At first, Sarah has no idea where to start. Marnie is snobby, impetuous, self-oriented, whiny and dishonest. But Sarah realizes that she has overlooked Marnie’s playfulness, talent with odd things like knitting and that Marnie genuinely wants to make friends. Sarah begins to change her mindset on Marnie and learns about a skill of her own. Sarah leans that she has a capacity for forgiveness.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Clean Teen

When I started to write my books, I wanted to stay away from steamy love scenes and characters with substance abuse problems for a few practical reasons. First, writing steamy love scenes embarrasses me. I don’t want to write about graphic details like genitals and condoms. Second, I'm tired of characters with substance abuse problems who drive the plots of books.

That's not to say that I'm writing a squeaky clean teen book with no sex or drugs. There is definitely kissing and there may be some sex in a later book. And, some characters will drink alcohol. They might even get drunk.

To exclude this from my books would be unrealistic. Girls today are more aware of sex at a younger age. Clearly, most teens don't live the extremes of the characters in Gossip Girl or the narrator of Pure. I’m writing about more moderate situations in which the characters have relationships, good or bad, and learn from them.

So there will be situations where Sarah (my main character) kisses boys. She may even have some beer. But this is not what my books are about. I am writing about what leads to the kiss or the drink and why it’s important to Sarah.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Stigma of Popular Fiction

In my senior year of college, I took a class called "Popular Fiction." My professor, George Stade, was an old-school Modernist who wore a tweed jacket and occasionally smoked a cigarette in class. His reading list included books like Dracula, The Godfather, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, The Necromancer and The Maltese Falcon.

I loved the class. After spending nearly four years reading most of the classic literature that an English major should read, I was ready for characters like Michael Corleone. I also learned that a number of commercially successful books have literary value.

I'm writing a series of books titled Living Little Women so it's obvious that my books fall on the literary side. But my main character, Sarah Conrad, is very much a girl in the modern world has to deal with the same kinds of things that her counterparts in commercially driven novels do. Sarah is invited to a party that serves alcohol and has to decide whether or not to go. She also deals with a tense and confusing romantic interest.

My sense is that much of the best of the YA books that are being published today are more literary than commercial. And, some of them have sold very well including Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series and her follow up, Going Bovine.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summer Book Giveaway #1

You love books, right? That means you really love free books. What's even better than free books? A book you won in a writing contest. This week I'm going to give away a copy of Simone Elkeles' new book, Perfect Chemistry, to the person who writes the best review of a book they've read recently. To get into the contest, follow me on Twitter (@LivingLilWomen) or join my group on Facebook. Then, post your review below. On Friday I'll announce the winner.

I scored copy of Perfect Chemistry when I went to see the Elkeles, a New York Times best-selling author, speak at the New York Teen Author Carnival. It's told partially from the view of Brittany, who is from a rich neighborhood, and partially from the point of view of Alex, who is from a poor one. Their teacher assigns them to be each others' lab partners. Tension and romance ensue.

Obviously, most of the book is focused on the relationship between Brittany and Alex. But I thought Brittany's relationship with some of the secondary characters, like her sister Shelley and Isabel, a girl on her pom-pom squad, told me more about what Brittany was really like early on in the book. She is kind and caring in her interactions with her sister and Isabel and this is a pleasant contrast to her self-oriented focus on upholding the idea that she's the perfect girl from the perfect family. One last thing: if you're the kind of girl who falls in love with boys in books, Alex is a good one to get to know. On the panel I went to, Elkeles said that Alex was probably hers.

Good luck!