X is for…eXams, AP Classes, and Geeks, Oh My!

Controversial Song of the Day:  “Tested and True” by Secondhand Serenade

For the entire month of April, we’ll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

Taken from elanorascorner.blogspot.com
First of all, yes–we totally copped out on the letter “X.”
With that said, let me tell you something about Quita and me. We both took honor and AP classes in high school; we were both in chorus in middle school; we’d almost cry when we got a “B” on an assignment; our ideas of fun was visiting the guidance office during lunch to look at the college brochures. Were we geeks?

But so are PLENTY of other people in high school. They study for the SATs to get a near perfect score. They play the tuba in band like its running out of style. They run for office in the Student Council Association with the same fervor as a prom queen/king campaign.


So where are all the novels about these students? My Project J features a very unconventional leading man. Jonah plays the trumpet, constantly speaks of his love for Harvard University, and tutors his classmates to prepare for the SATs.

I have heard plenty a debate about the lack of honor classes mentioned in YA novels, so I scoured the Internet to show some geek pride:

I’ll be honest…it took me a while to conjure up this list. Did I leave any novels out? Also, what are your thoughts on including “smart” or “different” characters in your writing?

*BTW, we by no means think that being smart makes you a “geek.” We just love the word. πŸ™‚


O is for…Outdated Pop Culture References

Controversial Song of the Day:  “You’re So Last Summer” by Taking Back Sunday

For the entire month of April, we’ll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

Taken from mariashriver.com

Dang! Sike! That’s the bomb! These are just a few of the gems that Quita and I would say when we were in middle and high school. I recently told one of my students that something they did was the bomb, and they just blinked at me. It was the same confused look I received when I mentioned Freddy Kruger and the Cabbage Patch Dolls to them. And that’s when I realized:

I’m old.

So slang and pop culture isn’t necessarily controversial–but it is something we have to be careful when writing our own YA novels. For example, I started writing Project J almost 2 summers ago, and my lead character mentioned the Wii Fit Board. When I started revising it again a few months ago, I paused at that reference. Um, don’t people use Kinect now? And don’t get me started with how often I mentioned Facebook in stories. Sure, it’s still “hot” now–but we all know what happened to MySpace (RIP).

I think what’s more frustrating is when I go through great details to remove these references from my own manuscripts, and then see them pop up in published books (albeit, GOOD books). What’s this? Teens REALLY still listen to Death Cab for Cutie and think that James McAvoy is hot?

Yet, there are some novels that stand the test of time by not mentioning any pop culture or creating their own slang. Here’s a few:

Can you all think of any other “timeless” YA novels? How do you all feel about pop culture references in your writing?

N is for…No Diversity

Controversial Song of the Day:  “Ordinary People” by John Legend

For the entire month of April, we’ll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

Taken from diversity.uno.edu
Over a year ago, Nicola K. Richardson wrote an aspiring guest post on YA Highway about Race in YA. So inspiring, in fact, that I had to write my own post about it here.
I won’t repeat myself but, simply put, if you look at the YA bestsellers list, there is a GREAT chance that those novels do not feature a minority protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I love those books. I’m counting down the days with the rest of you for Insurgent, and I’d read ANYTHING by John Green–even if he was just balancing his checkbook. But novels with minority leads usually release on a much quieter scale (and we’ll be talking about “quiet” novels later on in the week).

So, does the lack of fanfare for minority leads scare Quita and me? Quite frankly–sometimes. So much so that I used to be scared to have a major character that was just black–they always had to be mixed with some other race. However, Nicola’s post changed my mind about that, and I did change an important character in Project J to African-American–and the response to the novel has been pretty great so far. My readers don’t care if my character is black or not–they were just entertained.
Here’s a look at some awesome YA books with minority leads:

*Thankfully, a few of the novels listed above did receive the “hype” they deserved.

So what are some of your favorite racially diverse novels? Does writing characters outside of your race scare you?

L is for…LGBTQ

Controversial Song of the Day:  “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry

For the entire month of April, we’ll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

Taken from delireum.deviantart.com
So one day, Quita and I went to the movies (which could be ANY day because, well, we love movies). I was waiting for Quita to get some popcorn when in walked this lovely lesbian couple. They came in, holding hands and clearly in love (you could tell by the way they kept smiling at each other). After one of the employees took their tickets, he then proceeded to laugh loudly and call his co-workers. All of them laughed and pointed at the ladies, and then had the nerve to look at Quita and me to see if we, too, would join in with the taunting.

We never took another step in that theater.

LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Questioning) issues in YA have always been important to me. In fact, I wrote guest posts about this topic in detail on both YA Highway and Elizabeth Scott’s blog. The manuscript that landed me Sarah LaPolla as an agent was all about girls who find out their respective boyfriends are in love with each other. The contemporary YA I just finished revising is all about my male narrator developing feelings for his school’s most vocal lesbian. Quita even makes sure to include LGBTQ characters in her stories, as well.

Why do we do this? The same reason we write about black characters, and white characters, and biracial characters, and overweight characters, and characters with illnesses and disabilities.


Because they’re real.

We like to write about real people. So we’ll keep plotting “coming out” stories (which, I’m sorry, there’s NEVER enough of), or tales where we just happen to have a bisexual character because we’re being authentic. And here are a few novels that feature LGBTQ characters:

Do you all include LGBTQ characters in your own writing? What are some of your favorite novels that feature LGBTQ characters?

D is for…Drinking

Controversial Song of the Day: “Drank in my Cup” by Kirko Bangz

For the entire month of April, we’ll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

DRINKING. Something that most of us probably indulged in before we were 21–yet, we act surprised to hear that today’s teens are guzzling alcohol like it’s soda.

Did you know…?

*Nearly 72% of students have consumed alcohol by the end of high school; 37% have done so by eighth grade

*56.2% of underage drinkers report that they drank in someone else’s home; 29.6% reported that it occurred in their own home.

*During the past month 26.4 % of teenagers drank alcohol and among them 17.4 % participated in binge drinking

Statistics taken from: http://www.sadd.org/stats.htm

As Pam mentioned in Sunday’s post about addiction, the bad rap that YA gets from critics is largely based on drug use and alcohol consumption. However, YA writers create worlds that teen readers will relate to. Contemporary writers have to produce material that is accurate and reflects the culture that we live in. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the statistics above, alcohol consumption among teens is normal.

We both work with pre-teens and teenagers and we hear rumors about parties where alcohol was the star. In schools across America, students are getting suspended from bringing alcohol TO the building! It’s happening, people!

So, as writers we keep it real. In our novels, there is drinking. In Pam’s novel Wants, a character’s band plays at a club with a bar where a friendly bartender gives him a break. In her second novel, Project J, her main character gets associated with beer through an awkward keg stand. It’s sad to say…these things happen!

There are several novels where drinking happens (probably most contemporary YA novels to be frank), but here are a few where drinking plays a central role:

*Recovery Road by Blake Nelson

*Party by Tom Leveen

*So, Save Me by Kim Mitchell

*Freaked by J.T. Dutton

What do you all think about drinking in YA? Is it necessary or is it something that can be left out? Speaking of being “left out”…got any books to add to our list?

Changing My Revision to a Re-Vision

Revising Song of the Day: “When Can I See You Again” by Babyface

So last June, Quita and I had the pleasure of attending a novel revision retreat with none other than editor extraordinaire, Cheryl Klein–which we blogged about here. You see, I was there to primarily focus on Wants, but Project J wouldn’t stop nagging me. Psst, it kept saying to me, remember how much awesome potential I had?
Remember I did–so now I’m taking a stab at another round of revisions to make it the humorous, yet heartfelt, novel that I know it can be. Not that these revisions are easy (but are ANY revisions?). Sure, I love revisiting the story and characters, but I’m putting WAY too much pressure on myself to make it awesome and shiny and perfect…so much so that I’ve cried out in despair to both Quita and my lovely agent just like this:
Okay, maybe I wasn’t that dramatic, but I was pretty close. So, when we’re this overwhelmed with revisions, what can we do to take the proverbial chill pill and just get ’em done? Well, I take to heart something the awesome Cheryl Klein said at the aforementioned retreat:
Try not to think of it as a revision, but a re-vision.
I may not remember the exact wording, but the message still resonates with me. Now I’m asking myself: How else do I see this story? What else can I do to help it reach its full potential?
1. Reread the story (duh). But this time while I was reading, I made notes of the scenes I HAD to keep, and the ones that I could probably do without. The same can be done for characters.
2. Write scenes out of order. I have been a tried and true plotter, starting from Point A to Point B. But for this revision, I’m starting to think of scenes that I would have liked to include in the previous drafts. You know how most DVDs have deleted scenes? And you know how sometimes you’re like: why didn’t they keep that scene? It kicks ass! Well, that’s what I’m doing for Project J–and hopefully these outtakes will find a home in the actual manuscript.
3. Just let the protagonist lead the way. A few weeks ago, I posted about taking personality tests for your characters. After doing so, I “found” Jonah again, and just started letting him speak to me. Sure, that may sound crazy to some, but I’m amongst my brethren here. Hopefully, you all understand what I mean. What he tells me to write may hit the cutting room floor, but get it down on paper first, weed it out later. That’s how a re-vision should be.
So, despite the initial panic, I think I’m slowly but surely finding my groove with this revision. I’ve come to terms that while the overall story may stay the same, the way I get there may be different. And I’m okay with that.
So, do you all have any revision tips you’d be willing to share?

A Writer’s Guide to A Day Off

Writing Song of the Day: “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars

Yesterday was MLK day and not only is it a day to celebrate the legacy of a wonderful man, but it was also time that we got to stay home from the day jobs. Which made us think: How SHOULD a writer spend an entire day off from their day job?

Notice the word “SHOULD“. We actually spent our day at the dentist, working on stuff for part time jobs, and driving around Virginia Beach/Norfolk, VA. If we had our way though, these are the top five things (in no particular order) that we would’ve done with our day off:

1.) Sleep: You can never get enough of this. And sometimes, writers get a lot of ideas from their dreams. *coughs* Wants *coughs*

2.) Play on Scrivener/Outline New WIP Ideas: Scrivener is full of amazing. And we’re getting a lot of outlining done on new WIPs with this program. All we need is the time to actually use it more.

3.) Revise previous manuscripts: The work doesn’t cease after getting an agent. We both have revisions to work on with In Limbo & Project J.

4.) Read: We’re pretty sure this doesn’t need an explanation.

5.) Watch TV/Listen to Music for Inspiration: Believe it or not, we get a lot of ideas from watching TV shows and movies. Also music helps us get into our characters’ heads and allows their voices to come out on the page. It may seem like we’re wasting time–but no matter what we’re doing, we’re always thinking like writers.

What do you think? Is there something else a writer should do when they have time off from the day job??

Psst…hey, you…yes, you. Make sure you stop by our blog Thursday January 19th. Susan Dennard is guest posting and you can enter for another chance to read her ARC of Something Strange and Deadly. Check out Holly’s post from yesterday for more details!