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20 Mar

Why I Write YA

In Publishing,Questions Answered,Reading by MK England / March 20, 2017 / 0 Comments

Someone on my fandom tumblr just asked me why I write YA and what the primary characteristics are. I, of course, LOVE to nerd out about this very topic and yet have NEVER put into words what I love about YA. So, here:

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First, let’s define YA fiction as best we can. Terminology: YA is not a genre, it’s an age category. Genres are things like romance, mystery, sci-fi. Age categories are things like middle grade, young adult, easy reader, adult. So, any given book will have both a genre and an age category. Next, misconceptions: YA is not only for teenagers. YA is not dumbed down, shallow, or lacking complexity. You cannot make any assumptions about quality, and very few assumptions about content, based on the fact that a book is shelved as YA.

So, what is it? Most YA books feature a protagonist aged 14-15 for lower YA or 16-19 for upper YA. The book is written in a teen’s voice and through their point of view, which is influenced by where they’re at developmentally. This authentic teen voice is critical: Not all books with teen protagonists are YA books. YA fiction is published for and marketed to ages 12-18, but is very widely read by adults as well. There are a few limitations on content. YA fiction can absolutely tackle tough topics like rape, drugs, sex, lots of swearing, violence, etc. The only real limit is that torture and rape can’t be gratuitous (nor should they be in adult fiction, but that happens all the time, ugh), and there can’t be any really explicit on-page sex.

So, why do I write YA?

The simple answer is: I write YA because it’s what I love to read. Any writer needs to read extensively in their chosen age category and genre, so it really helps if you actually love it. My other job is being a YA librarian, which means both my careers are heavily teen-centric and YA fiction-centric. They jive.

But you’re looking for something deeper than that, and there’s plenty. WHY do I like to read and write YA? Oh, so many reasons. In no particular order:

1) There’s no shame. Read romance, read sci fi, read literary, read horror—the culture of judgment just doesn’t exist in the YA world to the same degree it does in the adult world. Oh, it’s definitely still there, especially among awards committees, but the perceived gap between a YA literary novel and a YA romance novel feels far less than that between a National Book Award winner and a bodice-ripping adult romance. NOT, let me clarify, because the YA literary novel is not of equally significant quality and value to the National Book Award-winning adult book, but because the YA world has much more of a read-and-let-read mentality.

2) Teenagers are at the greatest point of change in life, and that makes for fascinating characters to explore. Throw someone who is growing and changing and forming their identity into challenging circumstances and watch the magic happen. Many adults are quite set in their ways. Teens are more likely to be adaptable, fierce, open-minded.

3) Teens are (in general) less bogged down by “life stuff”. They haven’t had 30, 40, 50, 60 years of friends and family dying, failed relationships, lost jobs, destroyed homes, and all the other bad shit we accumulate in life. There’s a freshness that I find appealing in a character, and I enjoy being able to mold a character as I see fit without having to work around the giant elephant of their history and baggage. (That said, there are absolutely teens who have had extremely rough lives, and there are YA novels that tackle that, too.)

4) I think teen voices are vastly undervalued in our society (at least, in American society, can’t speak to elsewhere). I respect and value teens and by writing them I get to put a little power back into their hands.

5) The YA world is where the charge is being let for large-scale change in the publishing world. Check out the We Need Diverse Books movement, originated by YA authors. YA authors are making real change in the publishing world, working for authentic, sensitive, and equal representation of marginalized groups in fiction. While the rest of the world cries about lack of diversity in the media, YA authors are Getting Shit Done.

6) That energy permeates the entire YA fiction world. It’s an electric place to be.

7) LGBTQ+ content doesn’t preclude a book from being a major financial success in the YA world. LGBTQ+ rep is becoming increasingly common and welcome. YA agents are actively seeking it. YA editors are more and more open to it. It’s beautiful.

8) It’s fun and I love it.

I’m juggling three adult projects right now because I contractually can’t sell a third YA novel until late next year anyway and I’m having a great time with them. I’m not saying YA is BETTER than adult. But, I am saying the COMMUNITY around YA fiction is better, and that it’s a different experience that I really enjoy. I’m also unabashedly trying to convince all of you that YA is legitimate and is not in any way less than adult fiction, because every loser who writes an inflammatory column in the New York Times about YA lakjsdhflkashd okay this is a whole other thing that makes me really angry so I’ll stop now YA IS GREAT OKAY BYE.

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16 Jun

MK’s Top 25 Books

In Personal,Questions Answered,Reading,Recs,Short Stories by MK England / June 16, 2015 / 0 Comments

So, someone over on my fandom blog decided to take me up on my offer of personalized book recommendations for the summer. Except they are an omnivorous reader, so they just wanted my top five favorite books.

First of all, you should probably never ask that question of a librarian unless you have lots of time on your hands.

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But here’s the problem with asking me specifically for my Top X Books of All Time: I either adore what I read, or I put it down. There’s rarely an in-between. There are SOME books that I forced myself through for the sake of school, and some that I enjoyed in the way you enjoy cotton candy dissolving into nothing. But the books that stick with me are the ones that really engage me intellectually or emotionally, or inspire the writer part of me stylistically. I do have some favorites that I enjoyed purely for a fun story, interesting world, and great characters, but that’s a separate list. This is the list of favorite books that affected me in some way. Most links will take you to Amazon, except in the cases where the book or story is available for free online somewhere. In no order whatsoever:

  1. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (YA, realistic, Native American)
  2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (adult, sci-fi, literary)
  3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA, realistic, rape culture)
  4. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (adult, sci-fi classic, stylistic influence)
  5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (YA, LGBTQ+, romance, realistic)
  6. The Raven Cycle by maggie-stiefvater(YA, fantasy, realistic, stylistic influence, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  7. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (YA, sci-fi, LGBTQ+, screwed up/filthy/awesome)
  8. Little Brother by mostlysignssomeportents​/Cory Doctorow (read it for free on the author’s website! YA, tech, hacking, cyberpunk)
  9. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (adult, sci-fi, weird, graphic novel, parenthood, nsfw)
  10. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (YA, feminist, realistic, humor)
  11. Channel Zero by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan (gritty, dystopian, tech, awesome art)
  12. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (adult, military sci-fi, hilarious)
  13. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (YA, fantasy, feminist)
  14. His Majestey’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (one of the founders of the OTW!, adult, fantasy, alternate history, LGBTQ+ subtext)
  15. Local by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly (adulting, travel, setting as character, 20-somethings)
  16. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman (adult, literary, quick read)
  17. The Scorpio Races by maggie-stiefvater(YA, celtic mythology, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  18. Sold by Patricia McCormick (YA, human trafficking, novel in verse, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  19. Young Avengers (2013-2014) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (YA, Marvel universe, LGBTQ+, just…so good)
  20. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan & various artists (YA, Marvel universe, LGBTQ+)
  21. X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole (adult, sci-fi, Star Wars, fighter pilots)
  22. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona (YA, Marvel universe, Muslim hero)
  23. The Knife of Never Letting Go by patricknessbooks(YA, dystopia, hard to explain, just read it, audio version is HIGHLY recommended)
  24. The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg (YA, art, social change, nonviolent protest)
  25. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (J/YA, wizards, y’all know this one)

BONUS short stories:

Yet More Bonus Selections under the cut. Seriously, just stop me. What books have affected or inspired you? Tell me in the comments!

Read more →

03 Mar

Read All the Things: 6 Novels for Superhero Fans

In Reading,Recs by MK England / March 3, 2015 / 0 Comments

Superheroes are being found outside the pages of comic books more and more often lately. From what I hear, literary agents are being swamped by superhero manuscripts, thanks to the success of the Marvel Comics movie universe and the DC comics TV universe. It’s not totally new, though; superhero novels have been a thing for several years, though they’ve never quite acquired trend status. Regardless, there have been several good offerings that are certainly worth your time, whether you’re a comic book fan or not. Below are six superhero novels (YA and adult) published within the last six years that you may want to check out:

The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson
(2013-2015, Delacorte Press — Young Adult)
The author of the acclaimed Mistborn Trilogy has turned his worldbuilding prowess to the realm of superheroes. The Reckoners series begins with Steelheart, the story of the dark days following the rise of the Epics, humans with powerful abilities and intriguing weaknesses. The second entry in this series, Firefight, was just released on January 6th, 2015. The series has a tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating humor that really appeals to the man-creature, who rarely reads anything that isn’t a Redwall or World of Warcraft novel.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
(2013, Tor Books — Adult)
You won’t find any black-and-white heroes and villains here. This noir-style novel follows two brilliant college roommates who turn to archenemeses, each with their own twisted plan for revenge. Victoria Schwab has written several books for both teens and adults. Vicious was one of Publisher’s Weekly Best Fantasy Books of 2013.

Hero by Perry Moore
(2009, Disney-Hyperion — Young Adult)
Thom Creed has three secrets. He has superpowers. He’s gay. And the league of heroes that kicked his dad off the squad have invited him to join. He wants desperately to keep it all from his disgraced father, but heroes who want to do good can’t hide for long. Hero is the only original novel written by screenwriter and director Perry Moore before his death in 2011.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu
(2014, Putnam — Young Adult)
Shelf Awareness called it “Game of Thrones meets X-men”; a 14th-century historical fantasy take on the exile and persecution of super-powered mutants. Marie Lu is the powerhouse author behind the bestselling YA trilogy Legend.

Soon I Will be Invincible by Austin Grossman
(2008, Vintage Books — Adult)
A supervillain super genius and a rookie cyborg super hero co-narrate this story, populated with stand-ins you’ll quickly recognize. All the usual themes are here — power and responsibility, etc. — but with a healthy dose of realism and emotional honesty. Grossman is a game designer and comic connoisseur, and his love for the medium shows.

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld
(Forthcoming Sept. 2015, Simon Pulse — Young Adult)
This novel was co-written with Westerfeld’s two Australian author friends, Margo Lanagan and Deb Biancotti. They all met at a pub every Thursday to talk about how to make superpowers a fresh and interesting concept, and Zeroes is the result. Six teens, all born in the year 2000, possess a new kind of superpower that makes them anything but heroes. Pre-order it today!

In addition to the above, rumor has it that Marissa Meyer, famed author of the Lunar Chronicles (which I love), used NaNoWriMo 2014 to begin work on a new superhero trilogy with the working title The Gatlon School for Vigilantes. Everything about the project is subject to change, considering it hasn’t even been drafted yet, but you can read her initial announcement here.

Got any other superhero novels you want to share with the world? Post them in the comments, my dear creatures!

 

24 Feb

First Person, Present Tense Part 1: Background

In Reading,Writing Process by MK England / February 24, 2015 / 2 Comments

As a reader, writer, and peddler of YA fiction, I’m the last person in the world to get judgy about tense and point-of-view. YA has some of everything, even the POVs and tenses that are rare or looked down upon in other age categories. That said, I’ve always preferred third person, past tense–the standard tense for fiction. When I was a kid I read mostly adult science fiction and developed a pretty serious bias against first person POV. The book that started to crack my bias was I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole, a Star Wars Extended Universe novel.

(P.S. The Star Wars EU is now known as Star Wars Legends, as they’ve all been retconned due to the upcoming movies–but that’s a whole other rant. I digress.)

I’ll be the first to admit that I, Jedi is a severely flawed book by an author I typically adore. However, I love (lovelovelove) Corran Horn, an original character introduced in Stackpole’s X-Wing series of novels, which are literally my favorite thing about the Star Wars EU. Seriously, go read them right now. But I digress again–the point is, teenage MK picked up this book solely because it starred Corran Horn, and teenage MK was disgusted and heartbroken to discover it was in first person.

I didn’t read that book for months. I picked it up, then put it straight back down. Then picked it up again. One day, I actually read it and–lo and behold–I actually got over the POV issue within a few pages once the character and plot had a chance to grab me. I believe The Hunger Games was my first book that combined both first person and present tense. I read it and liked the combination in that particular instance, but I never thought I’d find myself writing a book with that combination.

judgy eyes

It is admittedly weird to be having tense and POV issues with my own book. Each time I come back to my latest novel (Space Academy Rejects) after taking time away from the manuscript, the tense throws me off for a few pages. At this point, I don’t know if it’s because of my writing, or because it takes me a bit to settle in. I suspect its the latter, though, because if I go back to the beginning after a full read-through, it doesn’t bother me. I suppose my critique partners and beta readers will give me the definitive answer!

All that said, writing in this POV and tense combination definitely comes with its own unique set of pitfalls. I found lots of little bad habits during my first readthrough and markup–and trust me, there’s a whooooole post dedicated to those bad habits coming soon. Hopefully that post will help you avoid making my same mistakes!

In the meantime, practice being non-judgey about POV and tense, dear creatures. Great stories are told in many ways.

 

12 Jan

Guilty Pleasures, Minus the Guilt

In Gaming,Personal,Reading by MK England / January 12, 2015 / 0 Comments

I recently came across the following blog prompt: What are your 5 guilty pleasures? And I immediately had Opinions, because I have no guilty pleasures. Why should I feel guilty about the things that make me happy, so long as they cause no harm? Instead, I will share with you five completely un-guilty pleasures. I love these things, and you can judge me all you want. Because while you’re over there being all negative and judgy about Taylor Swift, I’ll be rocking out to “Shake it Off” and having a blast.

In no particular order:

1. Video Games. Society yells at me for this all the time. Girls aren’t supposed to love video games. Adults who play video games are unproductive losers. FALSE. Video games are active engagement. They are a storytelling medium. They are puzzles. They are – WAIT I don’t have to justify anything. They are awesome and I love them in all their many forms. The end. Game over.

2. Tabletop RPGs (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons). Same as above. How am I a mouthbreathing loser for playing a game that involves storytelling, critical thinking, social interaction, and tons of FUN? You’re just jealous of my dice collection.

3. Fanfiction. Why should I be ashamed of READING? Who cares if the characters are from a TV show or book? If it’s well-written and engaging, I’ll read it, no matter what it is. So long as the author isn’t making any money from their transformative works, I see no issue with fanfiction. And I’ve loved it since my family got their first computer when I was in seventh grade, so I’m not about to stop 15+ years later. It’s no longer a hobby, it’s a habit. I’ve never been brave enough to write any, but I have immense respect for the Big Name Fans who gift their talents to fandom.

4. Young Adult Books. I can’t even stop rage-screaming long enough to say something pithy and scathing here. If you want to know what drivel people say about YA fiction, just google the name of any major newspaper and “young adult literature”. When you’re done clawing your eyes out, I’ll be here.

5. Comics and Graphic Novels. See item three. My mom recently bought me this shirt as a gift, which might tell you something about my Feelings. And you won’t see me being judgy about which graphic novels and comics count, because I read some of everything. Edgy, literary, indy graphic novels are no more inherently valuable or important than a well-written superhero comic.

*deep, calming breath*

So the lesson here, boys, girls, and non-binary folks, is that no one should make you feel ashamed of loving the things you love. Enjoy your hobbies. Don’t let the judgy opinions of others tarnish your love for ketchup on ice cream, sasquatch erotica, or sparkly vampires. If it makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else, more power to you.

And now I have a horrible mental image of a sparkly vampiric sasquatch who drinks ketchup instead of blood.

I regret this post already.