Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Trigger Warnings & The Teen Brain on Fear

Warning: the content of this blog post is more adult than teen.

We young adult authors put a whole lot of thinking (or we should) into what we put on the page. We feel a certain responsibility - as parents, teachers, librarians, former teens - to make sense of the world for our readers, not to make life more difficult for them. And certainly we don't want to throw anyone into PTSD hell.

So along come two new ideas/studies that have me churning about what I might write next and whether I will inadvertently light up a young reader's brain with a post-traumatic stress reflex.

Trigger warnings (see this article in The New Yorker) are flags that the material about to be read (or studied in the classroom or viewed on the screen) may trigger a post-traumatic response to memories that are evoked by the material. Huckleberry Finn would come with a trigger warning for those who have experienced racism; Taxi Driver would come with a trigger warning for those who have experienced sexual assault; Game of Thrones would come with a trigger warning for those who have experienced...just about any negative horror you can imagine, and some you don't want to.

My first thought upon hearing about trigger warnings was, "Oh, for pity's sake." How would a teacher teach anything, even things in the canon, without a trigger warning? Shakespeare alone would merit multiple warnings about violence, misogyny, anti-Semitism. And forget the bloody Greeks: certain bits of The Iliad might ruin anyone's day.

Now new studies have determined that brain development in teens is not steady-state (golly, what a surprise.) The amygdala, that part of the brain that processes fear, develops earlier than the prefrontal cortex, which regulates reason (i.e., processes overcoming fear.) If you've ever wondered why so many of us get stuck reliving the dreadful anxieties that were born in high school, now there's a scientific reason why. Our brains keep trying to process the fear and anxiety that were brought on by those teenage experiences, even well after we are able to process newer fears and anxieties.

I find this newest brain research raising a level of concern, for me, that the experiences of adolescence that adults dismiss as trivial or advise as character-building may in fact be setting up kids for years of adult therapy.

I am not advocating sheltering young people from the bumps and bruises of life. Indeed, to a certain degree, resiliency is born of the ability to weather downturns and is necessary to achieving success. Furthermore, I do firmly believe that when teens are coping with a stressful situations - and even situations that are filled with horror - one of the best coping mechanisms is reading about it in the safety of one's home, room, school, library. Just look at what Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak has accomplished in terms of raising awareness and giving voice to the victims of rape.

One of my works in progress is a contemporary YA novel and addresses a brutal attack on someone who has come out of the closet. Should it come with a trigger warning for those who've experienced abuse because of their sexual orientation?

I wonder whether you'd like to weigh in on this issue. What do you think about trigger warnings? What about this new brain research, and the vulnerability of teens to fear and anxiety? I'd really like to hear your opinions.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Announcing: E-Book Launch of FORGIVEN

I'm pleased to announce that my second novel and the companion to FAITHFUL, FORGIVEN, is now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.

If you haven't read FORGIVEN - and I hope you'll give it a try! - here's the synopsis: 

Kula Baker never expected to find herself on the streets of San Francisco in 1906. The daughter of an outlaw, Kula is soon swept up in a world of art and intrigue – a world she hardly dared dream of back in Montana. She meets handsome David Wong, whose smiling eyes and soft-spoken manner have an uncanny way of breaking through Kula’s carefully crafted reserve. Yet when a mighty earthquake strikes and the wreckage threatens all she holds dear, Kula realizes that only by unlocking her heart can she begin to carve a new future for herself.

This is the second launch for FORGIVEN. Unfortunately, it's been out of print for almost a year, but fortunately my options as an author with an out-of-print book are now greater than ever.

I'll share a bit of my journey in case you're curious or in the same position.

First and foremost, here's my new cover, designed by Elijah Toten:



I couldn't be happier with the design, which pulls together an image of San Francisco after the earthquake and fires of 1906 with the period flavor of the girl's clothing and the sense of searching that dominates the novel.

I found Elijah after scouring the web for cover designers and choosing him for the clarity of his designs. I also had advice on all matters including cover design from Chris Eboch and Dotti Enderle, who have much experience with e-book creation. And I should add that Elijah's price was extremely reasonable.

After returning my electronic rights to me, my publisher graciously supplied me with an epub version of the manuscript. This was great, because it allowed me to retain much of the interior design; but Amazon uses mobi files, not epub, and I'd decided to launch with KDP Select because the terms are better for me.

My web designer Lynn Kinnaman helped me by converting the epub first to Word and then to mobi, and then we set up the book to publish. We had to go through several corrections but Amazon makes that easy by allowing you to preview the text since sometimes glitchy little software errors do creep in. I looked through the text carefully because I find it no fun to read an ebook with quirky issues.

If you have a final, clean manuscript in Microsoft Word, it's much easier to go from there, but all interior design has to be removed. Frankly, I was thrilled to have Lynn's help, as my left-braininess doesn't extend to the tedious job of formatting.

It felt like it took forever, but really the process was very easy, thanks to all the advice and help. If you have questions, please fire away!



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stacy Nyikos and Sea Turtle TOBY

I'm delighted today to welcome Stacy Nyikos to the blog. Her newest picture book, Toby, is a delight, with a sweet story and charming illustrations. Stacy and I overlapped at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and during our shared workshop I was impressed by her talent and insights.

First a bit about Toby: "Birds, and crabs, and crocs - oh my! Can Toby outslip, outslide, out-double flip and dive them? Join this curious little sea turtle as he follows his heartsong from egg to ocean."

Hi Stacy! So great to have you here. What inspired you to write about sea turtles?

That’s easy. Countless, very excited, energetic young readers! I do a lot of author signings at aquariums, and the number one question I get from children is, "Will you write a story about a turtle?" This went on for almost five years, but I never had a story idea. Then one day, I was coming home from an aquarium signing, and I think all of that collective energy from those eager readers finally hatched its own idea and Toby was born. I didn’t even make it home. I had to pull over and write the story down. It was awesome.
  
Toby is not your first publication. How did you get your start?

Sea animals gave me my start. My girls were in the aquarium/zoo stage. We visited A LOT of them. The giftshop was, of course, one of the most exciting exhibits. The girls were repeatedly drawn to the plush animals, toys, rocks. I searched and searched for a couple of books to take home, something that would last longer than a week. It was a hard search. I finally decided to try to do something about it and started writing books featuring sea animals. I’ve since moved on to dragons, fantastical worlds, and dogs, but sea animals will always be closest to my heart. They inspired me to write for children.

I know you've written both picture books and longer work. Do you have a preference?

I don’t. I don’t have that much control! The story decides what kind of form it’s going to take. I’m just along for the ride. As fate would have it, it’s usually when I’m months into a longer novel that a rush of picture book ideas comes to me. I’ll take a day – sometimes a week – off from the novel to get the ideas down and hash out a few rough drafts, before getting back to the novel. The break usually gives me a second (or sixteenth) wind for the novel, which moves along faster again. It’s as if I need that break from the marathon of a novel for a few picture books sprints to finish any of it.
  
We were together at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA rocks!) How did that experience change you as a writer?

Vermont College helped me understand how better to wield the tools in my writer’s toolbox. It also trained me to write more consciously, to direct my story a little more effectively. I have to turn off the conscious writer sometimes to let my characters play, but I enjoy being a little more clued into what I’m doing now. I like to think it makes me more even-keeled, but the secret drawer of chocolate in my office still needs a lot of refilling.

Would you share your writing process? In particular, how do you write a rhyming picture book like Toby?

Oh man, sharing my writing process is like voluntarily showing my messy closet to my mom because my process is REALLY messy. I’m not much of a plotter. I like to let a story develop, to experience it – at least the first draft – the way my readers will. That’s half the fun of writing for me. But it’s really messy. My characters like to take off and do their own thing, leaving me hanging high and dry. I spend a lot of time herding them back, or following them if they just won’t come. Mondays are generally pretty cranky days because they do not want to get back on my storyline. The other days aren’t much better. I wake up thinking about plot lines, forget where I’m driving because a character will suddenly appear in the seat next to me and start chatting. Story dogs me even when I don’t want it to, and I never have a pen when I should, which makes my whole writing process messy, messy messy (but secretly, A LOT of fun :) ).

What's coming up next for you?

I’m in the early stage of marketing for another picture book release in November, Waggers, which is about a newly adopted puppy who tries to be good – he tries really hard! – but his tail gets in the way. Writing-wise, I’m working on a picture book about a family of singers who can’t actually sing, The Four Tenners. I’m also working on a YA novel, Skin Deep, a retelling of Moses in a Blade Runner setting. I started it at Vermont College and am now revising. And finally, I’m laying the groundwork for a new YA, Legacy, about a high school senior whose parents are all over her to take the college, job, career fast track and her grandfather who helps her find a her path.

Find out more about Stacy at http://www.stacyanyikos.com/blog.html



Monday, June 2, 2014

Creating a Believable Tween Voice: A Guest Post by Anna Staniszewski

My new agency is a blessing in so many ways. I love, love, love my agent. But I also feel like I've joined a family - her co-agents, her staff, and all of their talented clients. The agency recently held a retreat - a fabulous experience - and it was like the best party of all time.

Some of these gifted writers I'd known for a long time and are old friends, and some are new friends. One of the latter is Anna Staniszewski. She writes for "tweens" and her voice is spot-on. Hilarious, charming, moving, wacky, smart. So I invited her here today to talk about that voice and give us a few insights. 

And I hope you'll check out her new release, The Prank List.

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

Here's Anna:

Don’t worry. I will not be writing this post in “tween speak.” Why? Because if I wrote it that way purely to make a point, the voice would feel fake and cliched. And that, I think, is the key to writing a believable tween voice--you can’t force it. But there are some things you can do to help the voice along.

First, it has to fit the story you’re trying to tell, and it has to fit the characters, as well. Not all young people sound the same, so if you’re writing what you think a thirteen-year-old sounds like instead of what your specific character sounds like, you probably won’t get very far. You might need to journal in your character’s voice or throw him/her into wacky situations and see what s/he does and says in order to get the voice just right.

This brings me to my second point: Avoid cliches. Just because you hear kids on TV saying certain things doesn’t mean that kids in real life and/or kids in your books would say them. If you’re going to use catch phrases and slang, it’s often better to make those up rather than rely on real ones that will probably feel tired in a matter of weeks.

And finally, focus on emotions. Honestly, that’s what I spend most of my time working on when I’m writing a story. I think about what the character is feeling, how the story is affecting him/her, and how the events are going to bring about the character’s emotional evolution. Once I have the character’s personality and emotional journey figured out, the voice often emerges naturally.

If you know what your characters want, what they're going through, and where they're headed, somewhere along the way, you’re bound to discover their unique voices.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Matt Faulkner On His Graphic Novel, GAIJIN: AMERICAN PRISONER OF WAR

This week I'm delighted to introduce my EMLA colleague Matt Faulkner, whose newest book is the graphic novel (yes, he's the artist, too) Gaijin: American Prisoner of War

Matt is an award-winning children's book author and illustrator who has illustrated twenty-nine books and written and illustrated seven since he began his career back in 1985. He enjoys working on projects of both historical and fantastical natures (and he concentrates very hard not to get them confused). His author/illustrated book A Taste of Colored Water (Simon and Schuster) was recently chosen by the School Library Journal as a significant book for sharing concepts of diversity with kids. And the San Francisco Chronicle calls his recently released graphic novel, Gaijin: American Prisoner of War (Disney/Hyperion) “superb”! Matt is married to author, national speaker on early literacy and librarian Kris Remenar and lives with their children in the lower right hand corner of Michigan.

Congratulations on the publication of your new graphic novel, Gaijin: American Prisoner of War. What a gorgeous cover. And, ahem, Trekkies (raises her hand) should check out your blurb from George Takei. How cool! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thanks, Janet, for the invitation onto your wonderful blog!

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War (Disney/Hyperion, April 2014) is my first graphic novel and tells the tale of 13 year old Japanese/Irish American Koji and his Irish American mom, Adeline, as they are interned in a prison camp in California during WWII. As a result of hysteria, racism and economic exploitation, over 110,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned in these camps from 1942 to 1946- what is more, over half of those interned were children.  When Koji first receives a letter from the government informing him of his pending internment, Adeline marches down to the army office, irate at the insanity of imprisoning a 13 year old because of his race and demanding that he be exempt. She is told that because of his race Koji must go to the camp, but, because of her protests she is allowed to accompany him. For most of the book Adeline and Koji bunk together in a horse stall at the former racing track now prison camp- Alameda Downs. Being a teen, Koji expresses his angst and anger toward the situation by acting out. He soon gets involved with bunch of older kids- trouble makers. Only through the love of his mother and the help of friends is he able to free himself from their influence.

The book was inspired by the internment of my great aunt Adeline, her daughter Mary and Mary’s three babies. When I first considered writing a story about their experiences our two sides of the family had lost touch back in the 1970’s. I looked for them over the years but until very late in the process I wasn’t able to locate my “Adeline cousins”. Eventually, I decided to write the story and honor Adeline by using her name and as much as I knew of their experience. The night that I turned in the my first set of sketches to my editor I did one last online search and, believe it or not- I found a post at the Manzanar National Park research site that eventually lead to our reconnecting after 40 years! Boy, did we ever have a party!

How fabulous to connect your work with your family like that! How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

My first authored/illustrated picture book came out in 1985. It’s called The Amazing Voyage of Jackie Grace (Scholastic). It’s got pirates. And big waves with faces in ‘em. I still get emails about this one!

Since 1985 I’ve written/illustrated seven books for kids and illustrated another twenty-nine.

Can you describe your path to the publication of GAIJIN?


GAIJIN was first conjured back in the late 1990’s along with a picture book I wrote for Simon&Schuster called A Taste of Colored Water. It’s not that I thought of these two as a compendium pair. I just came up with the concepts around the same time. GAIJIN sat on a back burner for over ten years until I started playing with imagery for it in 2007. Originally I had thought the book would be executed in ink. Then I started messing around with pencil images and finally, when I came upon the idea that Koji’s daylight panels would be rendered in browns and blues and his dream imagery would be rendered in vibrant, full color, I decided to work in water color and gouache. My agent at the time, Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Lit.,  did a great job in negotiating the books contract with Disney/Hyperion in 2009. It took three years to render all 140 pages of panels.

Wow. That's such a commitment of time and energy. Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Sure. I’ve gone back and forth about how to structure my creative process and I find it an absolute necessity to have a set place and time in which I will create. Defining a specific space somewhere in my house (or out of it) and setting firm time frames in which I will create has gone a long way toward helping my creative self (or muse, if you will) develop a trusting relationship with me. Prior to working in this manner, I spent a lot of time indulging my muse's whims- working all night, sleeping all day, having to use a certain brush or pen or laptop, allowing all sorts of interruptions to separate me from the sometimes difficult process of creating.

A little discipline goes a long way.

It sounds like you have discipline in spades. Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.? 

I got married a few years back to my lovely wife, Kris Remenar- kid’s book author (Groundhog’s Dilemma, Charlesbridge, 2015), children’s librarian and national speaker on early literacy. Being with her, developing a partnership, supporting our family and our dreams- this has been tremendously inspiring to me. 

The future? I want to continue to develop the graphic novel format for children. For so long I’ve witnessed a disconnect in our education system in which nurturing our children’s creative process sat on the scale of importance. Of late, I’ve seen the tremendous exodus of arts programs from so many school systems and the development test taking mania I’ve become fairly frightened for our future “creatives”. And yet, with the recent emergence of the graphic novel and the way it has been embraced by librarians and media specialists, I’ve found some hope. I’d like to help continue this healthy development by adding some of my own titles to the graphic novel library.

I think you are well on your way with GAIJIN, especially in its appeal to boy readers. Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I am illustrating two books: Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar, Charlesbridge, 2015
and Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport, Disney/Hyperion, 2015

And I have two of my own projects on the drawing table- one tells the story of a mob of bunnies who venture into town one day annually in search of the perfect burrito and the other tells the story of Quin, a youngster who wakes to find that a large number of his dreams have missed their train back to where ever it is they come from and are stuck over here. He helps them build a bridge back to their world, utilizing a good deal of his parent’s prized possessions.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about GAIJIN? 

You bet!

You can also hear more from me at:



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Elizabeth Dulemba: Why I Write For Teens

My guest this week is Elizabeth Dulemba. She's a talented picture book author who has ventured into the middle-grade world with her debut novel A BIRD ON WATER STREET, already garnering great praise. Elizabeth is also my new "agency-sister" at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, so I'm doubly thrilled to have her here. And her question - why write for kids and not for adults - is one I encounter all the time, and I share her passion for the answer to that question. 

Elizabeth has graciously offered to host a giveaway of a signed copy of A BIRD ON WATER STREET, so please comment to enter, and if you've reposted let me know for more points!

Here's Elizabeth:

Most authors of mid-grade novels get the question at some point, "Why do you write for teens? Why not write for adults?" And within the kidlit community, "Why write mid-grade? Why not write Young Adult?”


As a picture book author/illustrator for thirteen years, I'd heard the stories of such conversations, but I thought it was a cliché, a myth of the writing community. That was until word got out about my debut historical fiction mid-grade, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, and I started getting the questions myself. Happily, I have an answer.

Adult novels seem to me to be about solving problems (mysteries!), or finding that perfect mate, or re-discovering oneself. The first two elements might be indicative of any good story (replace mate with friend/companion/whatever). But the third is where I like to dwell. But I skip all of the re-discovery nonsense and go straight to the source, in the beginning, when a main character isn't re-discovering anything - when they are discovering who they are and what the world is all about for the first time.

To me, it makes for unpredictable scenarios. Young teens arent yet set in their ways. They dont know if they are generally good or bad, if they tend to make smart decisions or not. It's all new territory and the pendulum could swing either way.

Like thirteen-year-old Jack in A BIRD ON WATER STREET… will he stand up for what he believes in, or follow the generation of miners in his family into a career that causes him anxiety and distress? When Jack’s uncle is killed in a mine collapse, will he stand by mining as a viable option for his future, or will he try to do something to improve the damage that has been done to the land after a century of poor copper mining practices and pollution? His family may love everything underground, but Jack loves everything above - or what is supposed to be above anyhow. His denuded home has no weeds, no trees, no bugs, no birds. How can Jack follow his heart and support his community at the same time?

In the hands of a young boy, these are enormous questions - how to be true to yourself, or who you think you might be, especially when it runs counter to who youve been taught to be.

It's all about firsts really, when the world is still a wonder. When a teen is trying to make sense of things. It’s an exciting and unpredictable time. There is such promise and possibility - the world is wide open! It's a powerful sensation, which is why I find it especially profound to explore those emotions when they're happening for the first time. It's why mid-grade may very well be a sweet spot for me. I hope for my readers too!

Awards for A BIRD ON WATER STREET:
·      Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance OKRA Book Pick
·      Gold Moms Choice Award
·      ABOWS has been chosen as THE 2014 title to represent the state of Georgia at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Website:          http://dulemba.com
                        http://ABirdOnWaterStreet.com
Twitter:           @dulemba
Sign up for my newsletter and get free coloring pages at: http://dulemba.com/index_ColoringPages.html

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children's book author/illustrator with two dozen titles to her credit. She is Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Southern Breeze region, a Board Member for the Georgia Center for the Book, and a Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program. She speaks regularly at schools, festivals, and events, and her "Coloring Page Tuesday" images (free to parents, teachers and librarians) garner around a million hits to her website annually with over 3,500 subscribers to her newsletter. A BIRD ON WATER STREET (Little Pickle Press) is her first novel and has already won three awards: it is a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Okra Pick; a Gold Moms Choice Award Winner; and is THE 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for the state of Georgia in Washington, D.C. Learn more at <http://ABirdOnWaterStreet.com>.