11 Nov

YA Cafe: Why I Love Dark YA

Posted in Reading, Teen Lit, Writing, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.  Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.

November’s Theme: YA Appreciation Month!
…and book club topic:
What YA book are you most thankful for?  (Book Club is next week!)


Today’s Special: Why I Love Dark YA

These past few months, there has been a ton of buzz on twitter and the interwebs about dark YA.  It started with an article titled Darkness Too Visible which appeared in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in June.  Much discussion, disagreement, even outrage ensued, coming mostly from the teen lit community.  People took sides and a lot was said throughout the blogsphere about the various misconceptions presented in the article.

Here were some of the responses:
•  Janet Reid (AKA Query Shark) shared her straight-to-the-point response on her blog.
•  Misty from Nothing Cannot Happen Today raised an important point about the age-range for YA being much wider th an any other age group in children’s literature.
• Kate Hart from KateHart.net took a different approach and looked at the covers were for YA books published in 2010.  Her post is fascinating and shows that YA might not be as edgy (and definitely not as multicultural) as one would think.

Finally, the hashtag #YASaves, which started in response to the Wall Street Journal article, not only was the #3 trending topic on twitter the weekend it came out, but it’s continued as an active and vibrant community of YA writers and readers alike.  Many lovers of teen lit have posted links and responses with #YASaves, weighing in on why YA–but especially Dark YA–is important.

So what does this have to do with why I love Dark YA?

Dark YA makes us think.  It challenges us to reconsider our assumptions and view situations from alternative points of view.  Even YA books that aren’t necessarily “dark” per se, will often raise some sort of question or challenge that pushes readers outside of their comfort zone.

I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler

Right now I’m reading I’m Not Her by Janet Gurtler.  Looking at the cover, it doesn’t appear to be a particularly dark book.  But as we soon discover, the story has more darkness to it than first it seemed.  For me, in particular, this book has been a challenge because (full disclosure here) one of my greatest fears since I was a child was that of losing a limb.  And one of the characters in I’m Not Her grapples with this very issue, trying to come to terms with what will happen if she loses her leg to bone cancer.

For other readers, this book might be “sad” or “tragic” but for me it has been a challenge, and a good challenge at that.  This book pushed me outside my comfort zone and forced me to face something that in the past has been very difficult for me to approach.  And for that reason, I am loving this book.  (In fact, I’m loving it so much, I’m reading it really slooooowly because I don’t want it to end.)

And why is it so important that Dark YA exists?  That one’s easy to answer.  Teens (the intended audience for these books) are at an age where they’re learning to stand up for their own thoughts and beliefs.  They need books that will challenge them and push them beyond their comfort zones.  If all books in teen lit were happy-go-lucky-everything-is-perfect types of books not only would these books be unbelievably boring but these books wouldn’t add anything that teens are not already experiencing in their own lives.

These days, teens deal with a lot of very real and very difficult situations.  Problem parents, bullies, coming to terms with their sexuality, violence, discrimination (which isn’t just based on race or sexual orientation but can occur for just about any reason imaginable).  You name it, there are teens out there dealing with it.  If YA didn’t represent that experience–both the good and the bad–then it would be a lie.

And we all know the purpose of fiction: while the stories and characters may be made-up, at the heart of it fiction always tells the TRUTH.

Check out Ghenet’s post today on why she loves Dark YA!  And don’t forget to share your book club pick next week!


21 Oct

YA Cafe: Building Suspense

Posted in Reading, Teen Lit, Writing, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs. We’ve also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned! Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #YAcafe.

Today’s Special: Building Suspense

Suspense isn’t something reserved just for teen literature, but let’s face it teens and kids are much less forgiving as readers than most adults are.  When writing for adults you can get away with long flowery descriptions or entire chapters where nothing really happens but the language is pretty anyway.  In teen lit and kid lit… not so much.  If you don’t keep the pages turning, chances are your readers will put the book down altogether.

So how do you build suspense and keep it going throughout the book or story?  Here are a few tips I’ve learned from my reading and writing.

1)  Raise the stakes.  (WARNING: The Hunger Games spoilers in this section.)  Let’s look at that fabulous example of suspense-building: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  Notice how the stakes constantly go up throughout the book.  First Prim gets selected as a tribute, making the games suddenly very personal for protagonist Katniss.  Next, she takes her sister’s place as tribute making the life-and-death stakes even more personal.

Then as Katniss prepares for the games, we see her avoid forming bonds with the other tributes.  After all, to survive, she will have to kill them.  Then she finds out Peeta is in love with her.  Stakes = even higher.  Skip ahead to the last third of the book where she starts falling for Peeta but learns that there’s a chance they can both survive… stakes go up but not so much.  Then she discovers the rules have changed and it’s either her or Peeta who can survive.  At that point, the stakes are as high as they can get (which is good because that scene happens to be the book’s climax.)

Notice how the stakes keep going up.  Every time we readers start getting comfortable with the stakes, the author ratchets up the tension by raising the stakes.

2)  Avoid red herrings.  Red herrings are when you “trick” the reader into thinking the stakes are really high but then *surprise* it’s not really the case.  The classic red herring is the “it was all a dream” trick, where we get all this suspense and then suddenly the character wakes up and we realize that none of it was real.  Why are red herrings so bad?  They make the reader lose trust in you and that can be a problem because when you really want to raise suspense, the reader might not believe you.

Suspense depends a lot on trust.  For the reader to truly buy into the situation you’re crafting you have to get the reader to trust you.  If the reader doesn’t trust you as the writer, then it will be all the more difficult to draw the reader into the suspenseful situation you’re creating.  Don’t break that trust by playing tricks on your reader.

3)  Play with pacing.  One great technique for increasing suspense is to either speed up the pacing to a breakneck pace or slow it down so we can feel every heartbeat, every breath.  We see the latter technique often in first-kiss scenes.  There we are, reading along, dying for the hero and the love interest to have that first kiss but dagnammit they just won’t kiss.  They inch closer and closer together.  Their eyes are locked in a steady gaze.  The sexual tension is through the roof, their lips are inches apart but the author keeps us waiting just a few more sentences before that kiss.  Talk about building suspense.  (Which brings me to the most important point about suspense.)

4)  Suspense does NOT mean “not knowing.”  Contrary to popular belief, suspense doesn’t mean that the author keeps you guessing.  In fact, a lot of the time you know exactly what’s going to happen, but you keep flipping page after page and can’t put the book down.  Suspense isn’t always about unexpected plot twists (though it can be).  Rather, suspense is about the author gripping you by the hand and pulling you into the story.

Suspense isn’t about what is going to happen in the story, but how it’s going to happen.  Take The Hunger Games.  We know from the minute that Katniss becomes a tribute that she will have to survive.  How do we know?  For starters, she’s narrating the story so if she dies, the series is over.  Secondly, from the very first scene where we see Katniss hunting in the woods, we know she’s a survivor.  The question isn’t whether or not Katniss will die because we’re already pretty sure of the answer.  So how does Collins keep us reading page after page?  She hooks us by making us want to find out how it will all unfold.

In the spirit of Halloween and all things creepy, what’s the most suspenseful book you’ve read lately?  I’ll share my pick next week when we have our Book Club discussion!

For more on Suspense in YA, check out Ghenet’s post!  And don’t forget the book club discussion next wee on October 28.  The topic is flexible: just choose a book that you think is scary, then your thoughts by joining the discussion!  (And just in time for Halloween… muhahaha!)

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21 Sep

Katrina Kittle Guest Post: Writing Tough Subjects for Young Readers

Posted in Literature, Reading, Writing

Reasons To Be Happy

Hello everyone!  Today, following our Body Image theme, I’ve got the fabulous Katrina Kittle here to tell us about what it was like to write her new book: Reasons To Be Happy.  This book–which literally had me in tears–deals with body image and eating disorders, and does so in a way that young readers can really relate.  What makes Reasons To Be Happy so unique is that it addresses these issues for such a young age group.  This is not the first book to deal with heavy subjects for middle grade readers–nor will it be the last, I’m sure–but given how rare it is to find books like this, I jumped at the chance to host Katrina here at iggi&gabi and learn about her experience writing the book.  Now without further ado, here’s Katrina!

Thanks so much for hosting me, Gabi!

I’ve always been drawn to tough subjects, I think, but I don’t really choose them based on how dark or tough they are. I’m fascinated by human resilience. One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway. He said, “The world breaks everyone. And, afterwards, some are

strong at the broken places.” I just love that. All of my stories are in some way or another about people becoming stronger at their broken places. Because, let’s face it, life kicks us all in the teeth at some point or another. Some people don’t just survive, but go on to thrive after their struggle. I think every novel I’ve ever written shares that theme. I’m far more interested in the “stronger at” part of that quote than the “broken” part. I don’t choose tough topics to drag readers to dark places. I choose them for the redemption and hope at the recovery and outcome.

I’ve written four novels for adults, but Reasons to Be Happy is my very first venture into writing for a younger audience. I tried not to change my approach or process too much. All of my stories have begun with a social issue I care deeply about (and because I’m such a sucker for comeback stories, second chance stories, and phoenix stories, those issues tend to be tough ones). I’ve written about AIDS, addiction, divorce, child abuse, and now, with Reasons, body image and eating disorders. Although the issue is always my seed for a story, I then work to create a cast who would populate a story about that issue, because a novel must be a story above all else—it can’t just be a public service announcement! This felt even more crucial for a tween audience than for my adult audiences. No one wants to be lectured, after all, and because I was a middle school teacher for several years, I know that middle schoolers in particular have a built-in resistance to stories “with a lesson” for them. If you’re patronizing them, they can smell it a mile away.

It’s more satisfying for the reader if any discoveries and revelations come through the character, not from me. I hoped readers, young women especially, would identify with Hannah’s doubts, fears and struggles, and maybe think about Hannah’s mistakes (and then, a writer’s dream—to apply that knowledge to their own lives). My goal is always to invite the reader to think about the issue, but not necessarily tell them what to think about the issue. One of the greatest joys, for readers of any age, is to  have something to discuss at the end of a book. Discussion isn’t possible if everything is too black-and-white with no room interpretations and perspectives.

In early drafts, I made the mistake of “watering down” and playing it too safe. A wonderful editor encouraged me to “forget your audience.” That sounds crazy,

right? But she said, “I picture you picturing this room full of middle school girls. Forget them. Just write the novel you’d always write. The only difference is that all the protagonists happen to be in middle school.” This advice really spoke to me and allowed me stop trying to “filter” for the tween audience. Those attempts to filter will always show and will inevitably be insulting.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course there is a difference in presenting tough subject matter for a tween audience and an adult audience. But for me the key was my protagonist. Especially since Hannah tells the story in first-person, the only “filter” I needed was her. She tells the story with her perspective and understanding of events, not mine. That became important in revision: I would comb through looking for lines or passages that were colored by my own, more experienced viewpoint. When I found them, they had to go. Hannah could only know what she would know as an eighth grader with her own life experience so far.

The overall hope for any story, though, is the same no matter what age you’re writing for. Above all else, I sincerely hope readers are entertained by the journey. Another quote I love (I heard it in a writing lecture once, but have no idea who to attribute it to!): “A novel is not a message clamped to a passenger pigeon’s leg. It should be the experience of watching that pigeon fly from A to B.”

Katrina Kittle


Thank you so much Katrina for being here today!
For anyone who would like to learn more about Katrina check out her website:
You can also follow her on Twitter:
Or visit her facebook page: www.facebook.com/KatrinaKittleFanClub

For more information on Reasons To Be Happy (and to find a list of reasons to be happy for every day), visit the blog: http://katrinakittle.blogspot.com
Also, you can follow the Twitter hash tag: #reasonstobehappy




24 Aug

Platform-Building Opportunities for Writers!

Posted in Platform, Writing

I just learned about the most awesome project yesterday called the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign.  It’s hosted by Rachael Harrie over at Rach Writes and it sounds like it’s going to be a really great project for me.  I recently took the Build Your Author Platform class with Dan Blank over at We Grow Media and the class ended this week.  After eight weeks of platform-building awesome, I was starting to feel some withdrawal.  Talk about perfect timing to jump from that straight into this Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign!

My plan is to participate both with my iggi&gabi platform and also with my DIY MFA platform.  Speaking of DIY MFA, I just announced on twitter and Facebook some exciting news today: the new DIY MFA blog and website will launch on Sept. 12!  That’s just a few weeks away and right smack-dab in the middle of the Campaign.  Woot!

I know a number of you are writers and have blogs of your own.  You might be even thinking about building your own author platform.  If that’s the case, definitely check out the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign.  If you’re looking for more in-depth guidance on your platform, I highly recommend Dan Blank’s Author Platform class (a new session starts now in September).  I learned so much in that class and cannot recommend it enough.

Most importantly, keep writing and keep being awesome!


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