Browsing Tag

young adult

I’ll be at the London Film and Comic Con!

Just finishing my PhD and finally, finally moving on with my life… this year I managed to put out some fiction, which was a huge goal of mine, but now I’ll have the time to finish what I’ve started and start writing full-time. I have dozens and dozens of novels sketched out; first up will be finishing Shearwater this fall. I wasn’t really planning on doing live events until I had 10 finished books out, but since we’ll be flying into London and I wanted to go to the London Film and Comic Con July 29-31st, I just decided to book my own table.

I won’t be bringing books with me, but I will have some “I’m really a mermaid” stickers and some cool stuff. If you’re in London, come visit!

Mermaid books mermaid YA books

The Europe trip has three main goals: my book Orpheum is set in Sofia, Bulgaria but I haven’t actually been there yet… so we’ll stay there for about a month soaking up culture and visiting the ancient Thracian temples. I also REALLY want to stay at this amazing mountainous apartment and do some writing.

2016-07-06_1-01-20

After that we’ll head to Ireland to check out the places mentioned in Shearwater around Portballintrae, like Dunlace castle and Giant’s Causeway. I think I’m going to giveaway a free trip to join me, as part of my launch for Shearwater part 2, but I’ll announce that later.

dunluce castle 2

We’ll end up in Dublin for the Claddagh Author Event … there are a few authors I’d like to meet.

Finally, in November we’re meeting 10 bestselling authors and some of the top YA booktubers to spend a month in a castle and it’s going to be epic. We’ll be posting lots of fun stuff on social media, and do some contests and things. This is the place we rented (in France).

nanowrimocastle

I plan to do at least one major “writing retreat in a castle” per year from now on.

Mostly however, I need to focus on finishing more complete books and then building them up into series… I’m shooting for 100 books in the next 5 years.

Not everything is a freaking love triangle (AKA: why your presumptions about young adult literature prove your bias)

I’ve made it no secret that I’m writing YA literature based on a template. Yes, a lot of YA is formulaic. Yes, there are some tropes that get annoying when they’re repeated. And you don’t want to annoy readers.

However, I maintain that writers shouldn’t just try to avoid all cliches. Writing popular fiction, like crafting any powerful story, is based on fundamentals of story construction that go back thousands of years.

Books need conflict. And a lot of bestselling young adult fiction really aren’t that innovative. They’re the same old stories, but retold in a fresh way. I want to give young adult readers what they’ve come to expect of the genre, while delighting or surprising them by remixing common themes in a way they haven’t seen before.

So it’s a little annoying to have all my future works criticized (as I know they will be) for merely having a “love triangle.” It’s as if a love triangle is a superficial thing, incidental to the story, that can easily be removed.

Most of the time, it isn’t. Because stories are built on character, not just plot events. In just about every cop show, ever, there’s a girl and a guy in a platonic working relationship. That’s so each of them can have multiple other partners, which opens up more plot events. In young adult fiction, the number is usually three. In my estimation, it’s because you need a representative of two warring races/classes, and a hero who is the medium between them. It allows for maximal conflict.

Sometimes the heroine is a girl. In The 100, (if you’ve been watching season three) Clark is sort of split between Bellamy, who represents the SkyCrew, and Lexa, who represents the grounders. She needs to make peace between them.

In the Shannara Chronicles, Amberle is a princess elf, the last of her kind. Wil is a halfblood. He alone has the power to use a magic weapon. Eretria is a human orphan with a mysterious background. She has visions and “her blood is the key.”

In Shades of Blue, Jennifer xxx plays a dirty cop, pinned between an FBI agent who is trying to bring down her ring leader, and Wozniac. Neither, incidentally, is her love interest – she’s actually banging the lawyer who can keep her violent ex locked up for good. So sex isn’t necessarily part of the “love triangle” at all – although there’s something creepy and sexual brewing between her and the FBI agent, Wozniac is more like a father figure to her.

Yes there is some romance and dramatic tension happening between all the characters, which keeps things interesting, but they’re really not that important compared to the racial warfare happening around them.

So I find it a little flippant to discount any book since Twilight with the complaint that it has a “love triangle” anytime there are three main characters representing necessarily diverse points of view. The conflict shouldn’t just stem from petty jealousy, but the fear, distrust, hatred and desire should be structured around the more important stuff that has calamitous consequences for everyone else.

Twilight is an excellent book, because it did the love triangle well. Which is exactly why I think the phrase “love triangle” needs to be assigned a new definition. As is, it has come to represent amazing, well told stories that should not be discounted out of hand – where the alleged love triangle is really a necessary and interesting center of conflict between three major players.

This is simply good construction.

Love Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Three decisions.

Peace, War, or aligning with either team.

It’s not fair to say, “Oh look, there are three characters, that must be heading towards a love triangle because they’re there” and then discrediting the book for that reason. If a book has a romantic interest flippantly, for no reason at all, which isn’t connected to the larger circumstances, then yes, that should be criticized. But that’s bad writing. It has nothing to do with the love triangle.

And I hate comments like “the love triangle was well done” or “poorly done”. Not everything is a fucking love triangle. If a girl has a love interest and another friend who likes her, but she doesn’t like him back in that way, is it still a love triangle? If she finds out one is her brother? If he’s actually an assassin sent to kill her or a prince in disguise? The story matters, not how many main characters there or how they feel about each other or whether they’re male or female and might develop feelings for each other.

Readers, stop hunting for love triangles and enjoy the story. If it’s poorly told, say so. Don’t discount it out of hand because some other critic says there’s a love triangle in there.

Authors, don’t avoid love triangles just because you think readers are sick of them; and don’t write them just because you think readers want them. Write what’s necessary to tell a great story, fill it with as much conflict as possible, and do things that readers have never seen before.

My YA novel just went NA: how much darkness can teens handle?

I’m writing a YA mermaid romance. I’ve been reading up on the competition, and I’ve learned that most YA mermaid romances are pretty light.

They may be a little bit dark – there’s some death and violence – but mostly the protagonist is fighting against a few powerful antagonists. And maybe a slight bit of depressing real world stuff like a sick family member.

Now that my plotting is basically done, I’ve been going through and making my characters more likeable, by making them more real; giving them personality traits and habits, fears and hobbies, passions and beliefs. But I’ve also made them more human: more scared, weak and frail. At the same time, I’ve been adding in some tension and drama.

The first quarter of my book was setting up the conflict and drama. There’s a lot of mystery and intrigue, but not that much conflict, other than trifling high school shit. (How can a high school boy with a bat compare to an army of mermaid soldiers?)

So I went back and added some dead bodies.

On my first day of school, the dead girls started arriving. They were found left on the beach, arms neatly folded, like presents Mischief would sometimes leave outside our door: the odd bird or rat. The drowned. No papers or identification. Beautiful young women.

Which made my main protagonist, Clara, go really dark and emo today. How can she enjoy something like her birthday party when there are mysterious dead girls around?

The dead girls came to my birthday party. I didn’t want them to, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind. The pasta was delicious but sometimes, mid-chew, it would taste suddenly like ash and dirt. To cope, I drank. I thought leaving America behind, I’d somehow closed the door on loss and death, and gone through a reality portal; I’d thought somehow Ireland would be green hills and flowers and a fresh start, a chance to start over. But death had followed me.

But how else is she going to process all this death: her own parents just died in a car accident, leaving her orphaned, and she had to go live in Ireland with her grandfather. She’s raging with emotional trauma, and she was sensitive and anxious to begin with. Her therapy is pounding out her thoughts on the typewriter her father bought for her: it helps her process her emotions. She types with no paper, feeding her thoughts to the wind:

I spent months typing things out, eating up stacks of pristine white paper, starting dozens of stories, but by the time I was eleven I’d gotten into singing instead. For years it was just an expensive paperweight and decoration. Then it became a representation of my failure as a daughter: I’d promised him I’d use it, and I imagined the silence emitting from my room was heavy and meaningful. Maybe that’s when I’d developed the habit of writing nothing at all, just spending a little time each day hitting the keys. I stopped using the paper and just used it to clear my mind by typing out my thoughts.

It became a therapy of sorts. I’d purge all my musings, ideas, fears and regrets into the typewriter, and it would punctuate my confessions with the sharp clicking of the metal keys, it gave a very satisfying click, and I adored the subtle give of the keys against the persistent force of my downward stroke. I guess it would be similar to what some people call morning pages, or screaming into a soundproof room. It was a way to purge myself, so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. And I was hopelessly addicted: I’d formed the embarrassing habit of “thinking out loud”—my fingers twitch when I’m processing. The tension will build up until I can release it by working through my thoughts and emotions on the typewriter.

I feel like my world and characters are becoming more real, more unique, more memorable, but the whole thing is starting to feel so hopeless and tragic. They are up against crazy odds, 3 different ancient organizations want to kill them, and even though her feelings for Sebastian (main love interest) are overwhelming at times, she’s smart enough to know running away with him while the world burns isn’t really an option.

It’s starting to feel like a really depressing read, which isn’t something I’m necessarily opposed to (after all, it’s a series: the first book is really just about her learning to trust herself, and having the courage to fight back for what she cares about). I want it to be tragic. I want it to be heartbreaking, in a way that extremely few pieces of literature are these days, and especially not YA literature (except the really, really good stuff).

I guess my main worry was that, if it gets too dark and depressing, if it doesn’t have a little bit of high school fun, humor and games, then teen readers won’t like it… but maybe I shouldn’t worry about that. After all, I don’t want to be another mediocre teen read, something light to pass the time. I want something that is going to strike a chord, something solid enough for adults to enjoy reading without feeling like it’s a guilty pleasure. I want it to be good. I want to take the most superficial, light, silly genre I can think of (mermaid romance) and claim it, redefine it, and tell a tragic mermaid romance in a way that’s never been done before.

Anyway, at this point, I feel like it’s kind of getting away from me. Since this is my first novel, I’ve heard of this happening but never really witnessed the process myself before. All I can do now is write the thing as best as I damn well can, and get it to some beta readers for some serious feedback.

(Want to be one and get an early draft of the book? Sign up on the email list!)

What YA romance books can teach us about teenage girls

I’ve been skimming through some YA paranormal romance titles. Some of them are decent. Some aren’t. I’m reading one now that’s good but also incredibly cliche. And that’s not a bad thing. I want my books to hit all the same buttons.

I need to recognize what elements are so ‘overused’ in paranormal YA romance writing, so that I can make sure I have them in mine as well.

So here goes: this is a list of character-based considerations you probably need to have in your YA romance book if you want it to be a bestseller.

1. Love Triangle

Usually there’s the good boy and the bad boy.

Both like her for strange reasons. The bad boy is a rebel, with leather pants and tattoos and a motorcycle. Probably with long hair. She’s really attracted to him but hates him too, for making her feel this way. And he probably is mean to her, or ignores her, or can’t stand her for some reason. She feels stupid and judged and angry. The bad guy is openly flirtatious and hostile at the same time. His sexual innuendos leave her red-faced and speechless. He has a “sardonic smirk” (almost always, even though I hate that phrase). And often, olive skin, black hair and green eyes (apparently the “perfect man”). She feels chemistry.

He has a grown up, muscular, man’s body. He’s confident and fearless.

The good boy is a nice guy. Well dressed, cute, charming and friendly – a gentleman and a supporter. He makes her feel good about herself… but she’s not into him the same way. But she wants to like him. Because he’s a smart, safe choice.

Of course she can’t stop thinking about the bad boy. “Why the hell does he hate me? He doesn’t even know me!” Which makes her subconsciously eager to prove herself to him.

She’s usually in a school or environment that forces her to work with or be close to the bad guy who she has so much tension with.

Sometimes these roles are reversed, and she ends up with the good guy anyway (after at least kissing the bad guy, then finding out what a jerk he is).

Either guy might have a super hot girlfriend, or at least a girl who likes him, but he quickly breaks it off, probably because of a fight about the heroine. “I’m not blind, I can see the way you look at her!”

2. Best Friends

She also has two best friends; a girl who’s indignant and supportive, and a guy who is empathetic and understanding (and either gay or secretly in love with her). These friends allow conversation, chatting, fleshing out ideas. If they are far away it can be through chat, email or phone calls.

3. Magic

That’s the hot, sexy romance stuff that needs to be there to get the right kind of mood and attention. But then there should probably also be the magic side (for YA, paranormal or dystopian romance sells better than straight romance).

This includes some of the “hero’s quest” journey. She has powers she can’t control. She doesn’t know who she is. She accidentally hurts someone, or flares out – she’s scared of herself and her abilities. But she meets other people, who do know what she is… and they tell her she’s special. Chosen. Powerful. Perfect in her own way. (Even if she’s a demon).

There’s probably some supernatural, eternal conflict coming to a head, and both sides wants to find her and claim her (or destroy her).

4. Identity Issues

She doesn’t know who she really is. Her mother or father or both are dead; missing or murdered, maybe mysteriously. One of them might turn out to be not really dead. If so, they’re probably on the other side. She has memories that don’t make sense. Things that can’t have really happened.

5. Satisfying conclusion

Eventually, she learns to harness her powers and protect herself and her loved ones. She gets the boy she wants or likes to fall in love with her (or she learns enough about herself to fall for the nice, safe guy who loves her… probably not though. It’s usually the bad boy). The villains are defeated in a big battle; probably temporarily (so we can write more books in the series).

What does this tell us about teenage girls?

I’m not going to pretend I have any idea. As a guy, the realities of female emotion seem nonsensical, illogical to me. But I can recognize that certain situations and themes appeal to them, and I can satisfy those longings by including them in my YA paranormal fiction.

Edit: Ok actually, it’s not that hard to figure out. Teenage girls hate their boring lives, always feel conflicted about their emotions, aren’t sure what they really want, wish they were living a magical adventure and had more power and respect, and hot guys looking at them like nobody else ever existed. They want to be in control of their own destinies and they want their lives to have purpose and meaning.

How to write a bestselling YA dystopian novel

I’m in the process of writing 5 YA (young adult) novels. As young adult novels, the protagonist in all of these novels are teenage girls. There may or may not also be some teenage guys involved. Well – there definitely are some of course as romantic interest, but I haven’t decided if they will get their own voice or if I stay with only one narrator for each book.

But I’m also currently reading some dystopian/postapocalyptic novels, like Wayward Pines and Dust and The 5th Wave. And I’m making some notes about how elements I need to include in my novels. And I got a little confused, because while most of my novels play with Armageddon settings (the stakes are high enough that failure could mean the end of civilization), my novels all start from the Ordinary World. So they are actually more paranormal romance than they are dystopian.

And I’m almost bummed out, because it would be so much easier to start after the end of the world. Everybody died. The lead characters are already dead and broken and hopeless, just trying to survive. But they find hope and meaning in their love for each other. That’s a simple plot. And it’s exciting. Start with the action. The first scenes can be gore and violence.

In my books, the first scenes are boring high school stuff. A call to adventure, sure… but I’m showing the ordinary world as a foil; so that eventually the heroine will look back and see how far she’s come. She’ll have something to miss.

That means my books are going to be a little bit slower. I’ll have to work harder to add in some early intrigue. I’ll have to work harder to establish the narrator’s voice and personality. And also show her develop in a satisfying way. In dystopian/postapocalyptic, the character can start out broken. The author doesn’t need to show heartbreak. In my novels, I’ll have to introduce a current or past event that makes them afraid, distrustful, uncertain… afraid to love.

I’ll have to throw a lot of shit their way, to force them to become the strong characters I need them to be by the end. This might not all be able to happen in the first book. Maybe the first book is just about survival. They just have to not die.

There are also some elements of dystopian fiction, however, I’ll see if I can work into my stories. I’ve made a convenient list for you.

Tyrant

A dystopian needs a tyrant, an oppressive government/society without freedom. A place with no hope. Cruel and unjust. A secret conspiracy.

Complacency

Nobody is happy… but they don’t rebel. They walk the line. They don’t have a leader.

Violence

Probably involving teens and kids with guns, and death and gore.

Inciting Event

The protagonist gets forced onto a path of action that’s impossible for her to refuse. She does the best she can. It may involve sacrificing herself to save someone she loves (a family member).

Love interest (x2)
There’s usually at least 2 main love interests.

There’s a lost guy, she gives him meaning and purpose.
He wants to save/protect her.

She wants to be strong and pushes him away. They fight because she refuses to accept help. He can be controlling and overprotective. He’s dark and secretive.

The other guy is happy, confident, funny and friendly. She should like him. He likes her. But she doesn’t feel that way about him. This other guy may turn out to be the bad guy. She has mixed feelings; because she does like him a little. Maybe they kiss. Maybe she’s attracted to him.

A revolution

She becomes a revolutionary hero, and leads an uprising. Her role is more important than sorting out her relationships, so she stalls on that front and ignores her feelings. She won’t let herself be happy until her people are free.

She feels bad about killing, at first, but gets better at it.

YA paranormal romance/urban fantasy

If you took out the “dystopian” part, but kept the YA – you’d still get the love interests. Instead of a tyrant, you’d have an evil force or power – she has something he wants. She’s the only one who can stop him. She discovers she has powers; powers that are mysteriously and abnormally strong.

She has a best friend who’s ordinary (and might have a crush on her… but she doesn’t feel that way about him/her).

Daddy Issues

In any kind of YA, parentage is important. Usually one or both parents are missing – assumed dead. Later we may discover they aren’t really dead. They are in prison; or they are the enemy; or something else happened. The protagonist finds out that through her parents she is irrevocably tied to the core plot. Her father started this. Her mother is the villain. She inherited powers through one of them. Maybe we find out that her parents aren’t really her parents, and her new boyfriend is actually her brother.

Dealing with these revelations is part of the character coming to grips with her new self.

What else am I missing? Tell me in the comments!

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