Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Real Deal

I'm lucky to network with so many amazing writers of all different genres and styles. Being a kid lit writer myself, I tend to frequent those sites geared toward writing for kids, especially YA. A few months ago I found this uber awesome site:

Why do I love this blog? They not only post on all things YA, they actually get teens on the scene to answer reading and writing related questions. 'Cause, you know, if we're gonna be writing for teens... we should kinda know what they like and dislike. Right? Right.

This month they're hosting an Ask-A-Teen workshop where any blogger can participate. The mission? Ask any teen anything! How could I resist?

So I chose the very talented and very smart McKenzie McCann over at the Ubiquitous Perspective. I'm not exaggerating, McKenzie is one of the smartest and realest teens I've ever met. And fortunately for me, she is also beta reading my YA thriller right now and giving me such awesome feedback on how to make my characters more authentic. She calls me out on teen dialog and overuse of italics like a pro... this girl is keepin me in full check, and I love it. (italicized just for you, McKenzie) lol

'Cause, you know ... I'm not exactly a teen any more. (Thank, God! ) lol Teen years are tough.

I asked McKenzie a few questions and she has tons to share:

* First, tell us about yourself: age, grade, interests….
 Well, I’m sixteen years old and in my junior year of high school. My interests have become slightly limited in recent years, mostly because writing has been my reason for breathing since freshman year. Hence, what little time isn’t taken up by school work is endlessly devoted to blogging, revising, querying, writing, reading, etc. Outside of that, I spend my summers at Girl Scout camp, I’m a counselor for Outdoor School (which is basically an educational, district-funded, hands-on science camp for middle school students), and I watch Food Network and Cooking Channel religiously. To sum me up, I suck at being a teenager.

1.    *  How much do you read on average? 
Ooh, how much indeed? I’m going to say that in the past week, I’ve probably read three hours for my government class, two for AP Language, eight reading Madame Bovary (my current read), and four hours beta reading. That comes to…seventeen hours? I suppose that’s my average.

2.   *   Do you lean more toward YA or adult stories? 
Yeah, this is always difficult for me. What I’ve discovered is not that I like one genre more than the other, but that I care more about writing style, themes, characters, and concepts. I don’t read Kurt Vonnegut because he wrote adult novels; I read his books because he wrote about a guy who undergoes controlled near-death experiences to interview dead people, because he writes about the universe having an existential crisis, and because of Kilgore Trout’s hysterically quirky science fiction stories. These ideas could be written in either adult or YA genres, but they just happen to be adult. Likewise, I didn’t read I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak because it was YA; I read it in spite of that.

3.     * What is your preferred genre? Fantasy, classical, romance, contemporary? 
I like realistic fiction best. Honestly, I haven’t quite figured out why myself. I guess some part of my thinks that the real point of reading (and writing) is to better understand the world we live in, and reading about a different world can distract me from what I feel is the point. I don’t think all books set in alternate realities fall into this distracting setting-based style, but some do.

*  Do you have a fave author or book? Explain… 
Oh, yes. My favorite author and poetess on earth is Maggie Estep. I read to understand the world, and the way she writes, she never holds anything back. My favorite book of hers is called Diary of an Emotional Idiot. The title really does say it all. There’s a lot of telling in it, but the book isn’t written for us to draw our own conclusions. No. Zoe tells us everything about herself, and it allowed me to comprehend how truly fascinating life can be. That’s why it’s my favorite.

5.     * What character from any book do you most identify with, and why? 
       I don’t make attempts to identify with characters. If I wanted to read a book about someone who was just like me, there’d be no point. I’d know everything about the character and then I’d have nothing to learn. I read so that I can learn tough life lessons vicariously.

6.    *   What issues in YA books are overdone? Which would you like to see more of? 
       I am so sick of paranormal romance and dystopian novels that I’m about ready to poke my eyes out. What’s the big deal with them? I don’t get it. The Hunger Games? I’m sorry, but it’s just The Giver with child gladiators. There are so many better books to read.As for what I’d like more of, I want books that take people living alternative lifestyles and use those lifestyles as backdrops instead of putting it at the forefront. I feel like all types of media have gotten in a rut in assuming that anything outside of mainstream behavior or choices automatically generates serious problems for that person. It’s not always true. My parents are lesbians and their current life concerns are things like taking care of aging parents, losing weight for a vacation to Hawaii, paying bills, dealing with long work hours, a mouthy teenage daughter, and crazy graduate students. WOW. Look at how weird lesbian life is.…That last sentence was sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell. :) My point is I’d like to read a book about a polygamist family who has money problems, or a genderqueer college student whose parents get divorced. People who live like this should be thought of like everyone else, not put on display.

7.     * When reading YA, what really makes your eyes roll?
     When the female main character is so delicate I could just puke. That back and forth of ‘what if he likes me? What if he hates me? Did he mean to do that? Oh my gosh, I just don’t know what to think of it. I like him so much, but oh, what if he doesn’t like me back?’ Puh-lease. Like I want to read 300 pages of whining.

8.     * If you could give one piece of advice to YA authors when writing about teens, what would it be?
 Teenagers vary a lot more in the real world than people seem to think. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same character over and over again, even if they have different interests or different backgrounds or different anything. It’s almost like each of them processes information the exact same way and their view of the world is the same. In Paper Towns by John Green, Margo was a great example of someone with a very different way of thinking and perceiving.

9.     What is one of your greatest life lessons you’ve learned so far?
       That anyone is capable of anything. The idea was mentioned while I was going through the counselor-in-training program at camp last summer. They meant it more in terms of ‘any child who comes through here should be pushed to reach their goals as much as the next child, because they are capable of it.’ But the more I’ve noticed it, the more I’ve been surprised to see how true it is. I’ve learned underestimating people is the worst disservice you can do to them, because they’ll never achieve more than they’re told they can. My best friend is legally blind, and I really do think she can do anything…except properly steep her tea.

10. What kind of teen character would just rock your world? 
       Like I kind of mentioned earlier, I’d love a character who is so far off the beaten path that they’re almost intimidating, but as we get further into the story, the reader is still able to develop that connection. I want to read more Margos and fewer Katniss(s?).

11.  Do you prefer ebooks or print? 
       I prefer hardcopies because while reading a screen makes me feel technologically advanced, a book reminds me that things in life don’t need to be any more complicated that ink on a page. I have a lot of mixed feelings ebooks. You can imbedded videos? Pictures? Audio? That’s not what makes a good book, and I’m almost fearful we’re going to forget that. Think about music. For so many years, being a good musician was something you had to work tirelessly for. Now we have auto tune, synthesizers, and computers. Classical music might be art, but pop is what sells. I have a bad feeling that pretty soon, a good ‘book’ will be based on its technological achievements instead of artistry, like music is now.

12. * Do you visit YA author websites/blogs? If so, what do you like/dislike about them… or wish you’d see more of? 
       I don’t follow authors just because they write YA, no. I like blogs that give me some insight into who the blogger is. I have to care about who sits behind the computer screen, otherwise I won’t stick around for long. What would the point be? Tons of blogs have advice on writing and publishing, book reviews, blogfests, thoughts, etc. That kind of thing is cheap, but only one person can blog the way some of my favorites do.

13. * How important is a book’s cover, blurb, or review when considering on reading? 
       As a matter of fact, the two things that will get me to pick up a book is the title, and the spine. Think about it. If I’m walking in a bookstore, the first thing I’m going to see is the spine of the book. That’s my first impression. Every author should make sure they have a good spine.Anyway, after the spine and the title, I do read the blurb. It drives me kind of crazy when a book only has little quoted reviews on the back. I don’t care if Stephen King says this book is the coolest thing since sliced bread, because the title is Thundernuts and I want to know why. Reviews don’t mean as much as recommendations, and it has to be from someone who knows my taste in books.

14.  *How far in to a YA story do you read before determining if you’ll continue or not? 
      One page. I’m trying to juggle high school, teendom, and authorhood, plus I’m mean. :)I have a lot of things I’d rather do than read books I don’t like. When people say things like, ‘oh it gets better,’ the only thing I’m thinking is: why not just read a book that’s good all the way through?

15.  * What’s the biggest blunder, if any, you notice YA authors making?
       I don’t see a lot of intelligent protagonists. It’s usually a side character who has to provide all of the insights. Don’t be afraid readers can’t relate. Trust me, if they like to read, they’re plenty smart. 

There you have it, straight from the teen's mouth. Lots of things to consider when writing your next YA. And if you liked this post, there are plenty more interviews over at YA Confidential, so check them out.

Be sure to hop over to McKenzie's blog too and show her some blog love. She's a super star!

Tell me, if you write YA, what do find most interesting about this genre? If not YA, did any of McKenzie's answers strike a chord with you? We were all teens at one time, how would you answer any of these questions? 


McKenzie McCann said...

Thank you so much for interviewing me! I had tons of fun with it, even as I now go back and see I made a few typos. Oops. They get away from you sometimes, not unlike italics. Eh, Pk? ;3

Paul Tobin said...

Great blog, lots to think about.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Excellent blog, very thought provoking.


Christine Danek said...

Wow. What a great interview. Great insight. I will be checking out the link.

Old Kitty said...

Hi PK! Thanks for having the most fabulous McKenzie McCann here - love her honesty and passion and a big thumbs up from me for loving print books - and what a reason for doing so - if only I could be as articulate! Yay!! Take care

cleemckenzie said...

Thanks for leaning toward realistic YA fiction McKenzie. And thanks to the two of you for your super interview!

RachelMaryBean said...

Thanks for posting this, very helpful!

McKenzie McCann said...

Old Kitty - You prefer print to? Now you're the one getting a thumbs up from me! ^-^

Clee - Thanks for following me! I saw the TV interview on your blog. I could tell just how good your book was from those five minutes. Fabulous.

Johanna Garth said...

Sounds like McKenzie is capable of providing you with some amazing feedback!

Lynda R Young said...

fantastic interview. Yay, McKenzie!

I do write YA and it's because I love the teen mind and teen issues. I love 'coming of age' type stories.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A teenager who is sick of paranormal romances - that's actually quite refreshing!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading McKenzie's answers. They're quite insightful. And I also prefer realistic fiction.

Kelly Hashway said...

I think McKenzie's answers reflect what I like about YA. Teen are honest and say what they think without filtering their thoughts.

fOIS In The City said...

This was a great post PK. I am pleased you introduced us to McKensie. I worked with kids and YA from 5-21 for almost twenty years. I don't write YA and sorry to say, I don't get the hipe most of the time. I read like a fool when I was a teen, so did my son. I never selected books because I could "relate" to the character as an equal. I never selected YA only for my son. He was determined to devour my entire library by sixth grade, including all the poetry. I still love some of my old books and I still don't care that some of them are now considered "children's" classics.

I have a HUGE issue with music being so hacked that I want to cry. It makes me crazy angry that even Broadway seems hell bent on delivering every message like Rogers & Hart. Honestly, music is more of a pet gripe than lazy or hacked (category) writing! Thanks for at least "hearing" McKensie.

If you did this interview and neglected to tell anyone McKensie's age, it would not be possible to guess from her answers. I raised a kid who had a major problem with adults because he challenged them to think. For this he was labeled a trouble maker. He still excelled and still does. STill reads three or four books a week, gives my grandchildren the option of reading what they love and making up interesting reading lists for them.

You've got to figure the kid has been here before :) Thanks for a great read McKensie ... you are not an interesting "kid" but rather an interesting person. Good luck with your writing.

Catherine Stine said...

Very refreshing POV. I'm glad she doesn't like all of the cliched characters that abound, but prefers smart, quirky leads. And I also agree that the lines between YA and adult fiction should be more fluid, and that one should read for the story, not the category. McKenzie, you go, girl!

E.J. Wesley said...

Love reading the teen interviews, PK! Favorite blogger of mine interviewed her daughter the other day and it was awesome.

McKenzie sounds like a tough cookie! In all seriousness, people forget how busy teens can be. There's a tendency to think they spend their non-school time playing games or hanging about, but most wear a ton of hats. In that way we slow down as adults.. thankfully!

The point: the writing as to engage and be sharp at the point, if you get my meaning.

I'll check out both blogs for sure!


Barbara Kloss said...

Wow, THANK YOU for sharing this!!! So interesting and she had tons of insight.

L.G.Smith said...

That was a fantastic interview. What smart answers! And yes to more intelligent protagonists. :)

kmckendry said...

Wow that was a great interview. A lot of stuff to think about. Thanks for having McKenzie, I'll head on over and check out her blog.

Christina Lee said...

Hey you, this was THE BOMB!!! I also follow YA Confidential and love their teen interviews! So this was right up my alley and really GREAT!!!

Thanks McKenzie (who happens to share a name with my newest YA MC--so great)!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks to both of you for giving us a great interview! I wish I knew this much stuff when I was in high school:) Kuddos to McKenzie & I'll check out her blog for sure:)

Nick Hight said...

Fantastic interview! McKenzie had some great point, there. As a teen, also, I can definitely agree with the point that many teen characters seem the same in novels, so stock, almost predictable.

I'm now following you, and about to go and check out McKenzie's blog and YA Confedential! :)

Elizabeth Prats said...

Nice job! I really enjoyed this post :)

Jess said...

I totally agree! Although, I love dystopian novels and the Hunger Games, I get it. There are too many female characters that are only into what a guy thinks about them.

William Kendall said...

Thanks for introducing us to McKenzie!

Sara McClung said...

"I prefer hardcopies because while reading a screen makes me feel technologically advanced, a book reminds me that things in life don’t need to be any more complicated that ink on a page."

Quote. of. the. day. :)

We Heart YA said...

FAAAABULOUS interview! What a smart, spunky teen.

We love her take on what she wants to see more of in books (YA or otherwise). Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

What an awesome interview and McKenzie sure is a savvy young girl - I love her approach and she seems very wise. I like her... says it as it is:)

Gracie said...

Whoa this interview was amazing... Mckenzie had so many great things to say!!

I especially loved this: "Teenagers vary a lot more in the real world than people seem to think. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same character over and over again, even if they have different interests or different backgrounds or different anything." As a teen, I completely agree... I see way too many characters in YA that all seem to be clones of each other...

Great interview. :)

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