Friday, May 30, 2014

Leap - A Lesbian Coming Of Age Novel

Leap by Z Egloff

Summer 1979. Rowan Marks is done with high school. Next comes college. And in between there’s a yawning gulf—the last carefree summer vacation.
At least, it should be carefree. But Rowan’s older brother Ben is smoking way too much pot. Her best friend Danny is in love with her. And Catherine, the new girl in their small Ohio town, rubs her the wrong way. Well, that’s OK. Rowan can deal. She’s got it all worked out.
Then everything turns on its head. Catherine steals her heart, Danny falls out with her, and Ben crashes the family car, ripping the family secrets bare.
All of a sudden, Rowan has a stark choice—is she going to grow up or give up?

"Leap" was one of the ALA Rainbow List's top ten best LGBTQ titles from 2013. Add your review in comments!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gender 101 Episode #6 Redux: Being Gender Queer In Our World

Benji and I continue the conversation, delving into what's the experience of being gender non-conforming in our world.

And then, what are the things we can all do to make it better?

And of course, check out the lists at the left side of this blog to find some teen fiction with gender non-conforming and transgender characters!

* * *

And here's a comment from the original posting:

Erica Carlson Nicol said...
I just wanted to say thank you to you and Benji for this series of videos. It provides a great entry point for learning and thinking about gender in ways that move beyond male and female. I will probably be referring people here the next time I'm asked why I think it's important to include at least an "other" box in the demographics part of a survey!
May 13, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Monday, May 26, 2014

Editor Sara Sargent: The Exclusive Pre-#LA14SCBWI Conference Interview

Editor at Simon Pulse and #LA14SCBWI Conference Faculty Sara Sargent

Sara Sargent is an editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, where she edits Jennifer Echols and Deb Caletti as well as many exciting debut authors. Most recently she was at the Balzer & Bray imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she launched authors Rosamund Hodge, Sangu Mandanna, Marcy Paul, and Kiki Sullivan. Prior to her time at HarperCollins, Sara worked at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency, and interned with Miramax Books and Hyperion Books for Children. Sara has a Masters in Journalism. She can be found on Twitter @Sara_Sargent and on her website at

I connected with Sara to find out more about her workshops and intensive at the upcoming 2014 SCBWI Summer conference in Los Angeles, August 1-4.

* * *

Lee: Hi Sara! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Let's jump right in: As an editor, can you share what you see as the value for authors and illustrators in attending conferences like SCBWI's 2014 Summer Conference?

Sara: Those of us fortunate enough to be in publishing learn so much just by participating in the business day-to-day and talking to one another about our work. For aspiring writers, a weekend of workshops, panels, and networking is the best way to mirror that experience. The more you understand about books and the market, the better equipped you are to be a part of the industry too. It’s an intense few days, but an unparalleled education!

Lee: Simon Pulse has some huge authors (Like Scott Westerfeld and Jodi Picoult-- and I've got to add Team Blog's own Suzanne Young to that list!) and as an editor you speak of working with "many exciting debut authors." Do you look to find talent that's new to you when you attend a conference like #LA14SCBWI?

Sara: I know the next New York Times bestseller is out there. Lurking. Revising. Toiling away. I don’t know where, but somewhere. I try to expose myself to as many writers as possible in the hopes of discovering him or her, and SCBWI is absolutely a place to find that new talent. Also, the organizers are very targeted in pairing authors with editors and agents, so I am only reviewing projects in the genres I’m most likely to acquire. Which makes me all the more hopeful about finding folks for my list!

Lee: A lot of times authors come to realize that they have a theme that travels across their work. I'm wondering if there's a similar thing with editors, and the manuscripts you're drawn to work on. Is there a theme that travels across the books you've edited?

Sara: Romance. Kissing. Cute boys. On the basest level, that’s my common thread. I have always been a sucker for romantic comedies and books with strong romantic plotlines. I edit what I like to read, so my acquisitions mirror my personal reading selections. Romance makes books more fun and exciting, and romantic tension makes me want to turn the pages.

Lee:  Speaking of tension, you're leading a Saturday workshop "Building Tension," and giving an Monday morning intensive that goes deeper into the same subject, "The Tension Headache: Raising the Stakes in Your Manuscript." The intensive description explains that giving readers a reason to care and keeping turning the pages is the key to writing that "unputdownable" book. Is that true for every kind of novel - romance, contemporary, steampunk, dystopia... everything?

Sara: I like to tell authors that even if they’re not writing mysteries, they are writing mysteries. No matter what the genre, every book should have a component of mystery and suspense that makes readers want to keep going. Without that, I can easily put the book down: never acquire it for S&S, never finish it. We’ve all read those novels where we’re skimming paragraphs because we must learn what happens next. That’s a great novel.

Lee: There's lots of discussion in craft books and workshops about there being two plot lines - external (the story's action) and internal (the character's arc) - is this raising up of tension something you suggest authors do for both plot lines?

Sara: With tension, too much is almost never enough. But it’s a weapon to wield deftly. It’s important to build tension within your plot and between your characters, and characters themselves must encounter situations that test them. Getting too caught up in external and internal plots, though, will have you going cross-eyed. We try to make these workshops about getting back to basics and making you less confused about the way forward. In all my sessions it’s about you realizing something new about your book and zeroing in on it with a clear vision and a strong sense of purpose.

Lee: You'll also be leading a breakout workshop on Sunday called "Developing YA Characters." Tell us more...

Sara: Improving character development is one of the most common revision notes I give to authors. And underdeveloped characters is a common reason I reject projects. Whether it’s making characters more likeable, more relatable, or just more interesting, it’s an area that often needs deepening. Because characters are people, they have many sides to them—and sometimes authors neglect certain sides because they think they don’t matter. My workshop will help you look at your characters in a new light and identify potential deficiencies. It’s a way of communing with your own characters like you never have before.

Lee: What's your current favorite piece of advice you'd like to share for those of us writing and illustrating for kids and teens?

Sara: Writing and illustrating is like dating. You’re great. Your work is great. It’s worthy of a future. You just have to be patient and find the perfect person to be your champion.

* * *

Thanks, Sara!

If you want to meet and learn from Sara in person, join us at the SCBWI Summer Conference. Registration and information here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Missing Juliet - A Teen Lesbian Turns Detective To Try And Save Her Kidnapped Hollywood Starlet Crush

The Missing Juliet: A Fisher Key Adventure by Sam Cameron

Summer’s sizzling in the Florida Keys and Robin McGee should be planning for college. Instead, she’s passionately in love with beautiful movie starlet Juliet Francine. Too bad it’s a one-way crush shared by millions of others. Robin’s better off sticking to her summer job and fighting for the equal treatment of GLTBQ teens everywhere. But when Juliet is kidnapped from a film set in Key West, Robin turns amateur sleuth and recruits her friends to help in the search. Soon the FBI, police, and paparazzi are hot on the case as well. As time ticks down and the ransom notes grow dire, Robin will get just one chance to pull off a Hollywood happy ending—and maybe a shot at true love after all.

Add your review of "The Missing Juliet" in comments!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gender 101 Episode #5 Redux: "Bisexual" and "Pansexual" - what's the difference?

Today I ask our gender queer friend Lucy more about language. I heard some people use the term "pansexual" recently, and I wasn't exactly sure what it meant - and how (or if) - it was different from "bisexual."

And now Lucy explains the distinction between those attractions and sexual orientations for me, and for you!

* * *
When it originally ran, this post got a lot of discussion going!

Here are those comments:

Tess said...
Thanks for the informative video series Lee! I'd really like to hear Lucy, or you, or anyone, explain why they think bisexuality isn't "taken seriously" among the GLBT community. I'm assuming that's not true across the board, but I'd be curious to know how common it is that someone who identifies as "bi" is looked down upon by a community they hoped would accept them?
May 4, 2011 at 4:37 AM

Pam Harris said...
Great interview! Thanks for clearing these two terms up for us. :)
May 4, 2011 at 6:20 AM

Lee Wind said...
Thanks, Pam and Tess, for your kind words!
And Tess, yes, it's a great idea, and I will think about how to best tackle the topic of bi-phobia within the GLBTQ community. Thanks for the suggestion!
May 4, 2011 at 6:55 AM

Lucy said...
Good question, Tess. For starters, here's a video explaining biphobia from the viewpoint of a bi person:
May 4, 2011 at 10:30 PM

Anonymous said...
OMG where did you find this hater and why are you giving it any play?

just because i’m bisexual doesn’t mean i’m binarist.

the “two” in “bisexual” refers to attraction to genders alike to our own (≈homosexuality) + attraction to genders different from our own (≈heterosexuality)

The Gender Identity Police DO NOT get to define us out of existence.
May 5, 2011 at 9:14 PM

Benji said...
To Anonymous,
My intention was not to misrepresent the bi community & apologize if you feel slighted. I used the term "tends to" to indicate the common & most visible usage, but followed up with a counterexample to help show that this trend is not comprehensive. If you were made to feel invisible by the fact that the first counterexample that came to mind did not encompass your experience, I apologize. I think in a later video I touch upon something similar over the struggle for transgender as an umbrella term and how common usage (example: media coverage over Thomas Beatty) is almost synonymous with transsexual. I would not argue that the battle over language is futile, or that certain words are so entrenched in their traditional ties that the fight to expand or change them is insurmountable, so thank you for bringing up a counter example of your own.
May 6, 2011 at 12:56 AM

NYABN said...
While always respecting everyone's right to self-identify as they see fit, we must ask that you please also give bisexual people the same courtesy to define ourselves. It is extremely inappropriate to invent new definitions of bisexual people that not only disparages an entire community but also invalidate and erase the lives of many of the founders and leaders of the modern bisexual movement just to keep up with some fad or fashion.

It is true that some people in some areas of popular culture use a kind of (inaccurate) short-hand to describe bisexual people in common cisgendered terms such as "people who have sex with men and women". But people also frequently use the same sort of careless short-hand to describe all sorts of things, such as describing the range and variation of humans as "red, yellow, black and white." However just as a quick check of a box of crayons will immediately show that this is just an inaccurate descriptor, the same goes for many of the erroneous statements made about bisexual people too.

Instead may we bring your attention to some more accurate self-descriptions such as the quite formal one from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission report on Bisexual Invisibility, "Bisexuality is the capacity for emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to more than one sex or gender. A bisexual orientation speaks to the potential for, but not requirement of, involvement with more than one sex/gender."

Or this longer if more informal definition:

Bisexuals are people with the (inborn/innate) capacity to form enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional/spiritual attractions to (1) those of the same gender/gender expression or to (2) those of some other genders/gender expression. There may be an individual attraction for one gender over others which can also be fluid and changeable over time.

Bisexuality is not synonymous with being polyamorous. Individual bisexual people may be celibate, monogamous or non-monogamous just as individual straight, lesbian or gay people can be.

No matter what the gender of the person they are partnered with, bisexual people remain bisexual. They do not suddenly switch orientation as if by magic when they enter into a serious relationship.

Q: How do I know if I am bisexual?
A: Think about all the people you have had a genuine attraction to over your lifetime. If they are of more than one gender/gender expression then Congratulations! You too are bisexual.

And for yet a third example (among many) of how bisexual people self-define there is also the UK's excellent website Bisexual Index. In particular the piece "What is Bisexuality?" that clearly addresses a great many myths might be useful and instructive before setting up any more straw-men to be knocked down.
May 6, 2011 at 5:45 PM

Lee Wind said...
So glad for this discussion - but now I'm curious - for anonymous May 5, 2011 9:14 PM and NYABN, if we define bisexual as attraction to the same AND attraction to those who are not the same (including the vast variety of gender expressions), then would the distinction between the terms bisexual and pansexual not really exist? Would they become synonyms?
May 6, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Tess said...
Thank you all so much for your comments! This has been a truly eye-opening (and affirming) discussion. (And thank you Lee for having such an awesome blog that has become a home for such discussions.)
May 11, 2011 at 5:05 AM

Monday, May 19, 2014

Associate Publisher & Editor Bonnie Bader: The Exclusive Pre-#LA14SCBWI Conference Interview

Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne, Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers and #LA14SCBWI Conference Faculty Member Bonnie Bader 

Bonnie Bader is the Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne, where she oversees the Peter Rabbit and Spot publishing programs, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers, where she heads up the leveled reader and 8×8 programs. The leveled reader program, Penguin Young Readers, houses fiction and nonfiction readers from every imprint in the Young Readers division, including books from David Adler, Betsy Byars, Eric Carle, Ginjer Clarke, Paula Danziger, Jean Fritz, Joan Holub, Kate McMullan, Ethan Long, and Loren Long. The 8×8 picture book program, Penguin Core Concepts, includes both fiction and nonfiction titles. She continues to edit several bestselling series including George Brown, Class Clown and Magic Bone by Nancy Krulik, and Here’s Hank by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler. A member of the SCBWI Board of Advisors, Bonnie will be on faculty at the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, August 1-4.

I connected with Bonnie to find out more...

* * *

Lee: Hi Bonnie, thanks so much for taking the time!  Can you share what you see as the value for authors and illustrators in attending conferences like SCBWI's 2014 Summer Conference?

Bonnie: Attending a SCBWI conference is the best way to connect with experts in the field from editors, to art directors, to agents, to published authors and illustrators. You can hear their stories, learn from their mistakes, and get inspiration to buckle down and finish (or start) that project that is sitting on your desk at home. I particularly like the annual summer conference, because it is a terrific opportunity to network. All the aforementioned professionals (and this year there is an amazing lineup!) are under one roof for 3-4 days!

Bonnie's right - click here to see the full list of conference faculty

Lee: As Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne and Editor-in-Chief at Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers/Grosset & Dunlap, you get to make the call when it comes to acquisitions. With the work on the page, P&Ls (projected profit and loss reports), passion of the editor, and platform of the author all in play, is there a single element that tips the scales for you to say "yes?"

Bonnie: The manuscript really has to speak to me – does it have an original hook? Are the characters engaging? Is there a voice that won’t let me put it down? If these elements are there, then I will jump over any hurdle to make the financials work so I can publish the book!

Lee: Is it like the lesson from Derek Siver's "Anything You Want:" Never say yes. Only say "Hell, Yes!" Or say no. That way you have the time, passion and other resources available to really make your "Hell, Yes!-es" succeed?

Bonnie: Absolutely. I have to be 100% sold; otherwise it’s a definite no for me. I don’t have the time to be wishy-washy.

Lee: On Friday you'll be leading a breakout workshop about "Creative Nonfiction: Dazzling Your Readers." With the growing nation-wide adoption of the Common Core curriculum standards, do you see us entering a new 'golden age' for nonfiction?

Bonnie: Nonfiction is hot! For years, authors have asked me, “Why can’t I get my nonfiction manuscript published?” Well, now the doors have opened up. Yes, it has a lot to do with common core, but I think teachers have always seen the value in nonfiction books. Nonfiction introduces students to a myriad of things, from historical periods, to biographies, to science, and more! Kids have to learn how to read, understand, and enjoy nonfiction. Nonfiction has always been published, but now I think we’ll see a lot more of it and a spotlight will be on these books, making them more visible to consumers.

Lee: Tell us more about what you'll cover in the workshop...

Bonnie: I am particularly interested in narrative nonfiction – nonfiction that tells a story, albeit a true one! I will talk about how good nonfiction has a voice, and how to make your “characters” come alive. There will even be some hands-on writing activities! And I will talk about the nonfiction programs I am developing at Penguin and the opportunities available to write for them.

Lee: You're also leading a Sunday breakout workshop on "Levelled Readers and Transitional Chapter Books." What do you aim for attendees to come away from that session with?

Bonnie: During this session, I will talk about two programs I am heading up at Penguin – Penguin Young Readers, which is a levelled reader line, and a new, unnamed (at the time of this interview) transitional reader program. I want attendees to come away with the understanding of how important these two areas are for young readers. Although levelled readers sometimes have the stigma of being formulaic because they use controlled vocabulary, I will show how our program has fun, smart, and engaging stories. The transitional chapter book program is a bridge for those who are done with levelled readers, but not yet ready for traditional chapter books. I will talk about storylines, characters, and the interaction of text and art. For both programs, I am actively acquiring manuscripts, and I will talk about author guidelines and how to submit.

Lee: You're the ambitious outlier whose Monday intensive runs all day - both in the AM and PM time slots. It's called "START: How to hook readers from the beginning of your book so they'll never let go." One of the questions you aim to have attendees address is "Are you really starting your book in the right place?"

It puts me in mind of all those movies that start with action near the climax for the opening scene, and then flashback to the beginning for a huge chunk of the movie until they catch up to the opening moment of action. I pretty much always think that's lazy storytelling. What's your take?

Bonnie: Exactly! So many times, an author feels that he/she has to set up the story by giving pages and pages of backstory in the very first chapter. Not only is this lazy, but it’s boring! Let your details come out organically through the story; don’t let your first chapter get bogged down with backstory and flashbacks.

Lee: The other questions your Monday intensive attendees will "dig in" to answer is "Does your first line grab your reader? After reading the first page, will the reader want to read on?" I see you've asked for attendees to submit the first chapter of their novels (chapter book through YA) by June 30th. Will you be letting participants know if you'd read on and why?

Bonnie: I gave the same workshop last year, and I have to admit that I was daunted by the fact that it was a full day, but it ended up being fantastic! I will be reading all of the first chapters before the conference, and the attendees will be split into groups (of 5-6 people) and they will read their fellow group members’ works as well. Throughout the day, we will delve into everyone’s first chapter looking at things like: opening lines, how you introduce your main character, do you want to read on, what are…oops! I don’t want to give too much away! Through group exercises, discussions, and small group work we will see if the start to your book provides key information, but doesn’t give away too much too quickly, and more! I have to say that last summer, the 7 hours just flew by, and I wish I had more time!

Lee: It sounds like an amazing opportunity! What's your current favorite piece of advice you'd like to share for those of us writing and illustrating for kids and teens?

Bonnie: That’s a hard one; I have so much advice! I think that anyone who wants to write and/or illustrate for kids and teens has to know them. You have to know what they like, and don’t like, how they speak, etc. You really have to get inside their heads and make sure you are not talking down to them. The best way to do this? Become a spy! Spy on your children, your nieces and nephews, your neighbors (but not in a creepy way, of course!)

Lee: Thanks, Bonnie! I really look forward to seeing you at the conference.

* * *

And if YOU want to see (and learn from) Bonnie, join us at the SCBWI Summer Conference, August 1-4 in Los Angeles. Information and registration here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Two Boys Kissing - Two Teen Guys Aim To Set a New Guinness World Record

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

A based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing (former) couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

Add your review of "Two Boys Kissing" in comments!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gender 101 Episode #4 Redux: "cis," "trans," and "queer": Words To Describe Gender

This discussion with Benji really changed, and improved, my own ability to speak about gender -- both my own and others'.

* * *

Today is our conversation about the word "cis," as in "cisgender" - and about the words we can use to talk about gender.


* * *

Here's a link to the original post. (Interestingly, there were more twitter and facebook responses at the time than blog comments.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Editor Deborah Halverson: The Exclusive Pre-#LA14SCBWI Conference Interview

Author, Editor and 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference Faculty Deborah Halverson

Deborah Halverson spent a decade editing books for Harcourt Children's Books before becoming the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, the upcoming Writing New Adult Fiction, the two teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, the picture book Letters to Santa, and three books in the “Remix” series for struggling readers. Deborah has been working with authors—bestsellers, veterans, debut, and aspiring—for over fifteen years. The books she’s edited have garnered awards and rave reviews, and many of the aspiring writers she’s coached have landed agent representation and lucrative book deals. Deborah is now a freelance editor, author, writing instructor, and the founder of the popular writers’ advice site She also serves on the advisory board for UC San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program.

She'll be on faculty doing quite a bit of cool stuff at #LA14SCBWI, and I connected with her to find out more...

* * * 

Lee: Hi Deborah - so excited about the upcoming 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, and thanks for taking the time to chat.

Deborah: Thanks, Lee. I love this annual conference. The first one I attended was in 1996, and here I am, eighteen years later, just as excited to get there.

Lee: From your perspective as an editor, the writer of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies and an author of your own books for young readers, what do you think authors and illustrators can gain from attending the conference?

Deborah: A few years ago I “ordered” a writer, who was penning an MG story but who had no contact with other MG writers or knowledge of the industry, to attend this conference. He aye-ayed and then called me from the conference floor: “I have found my people.” We expand professionally and personally when we talk shop with people who share our passion. This conference brings in professionals to explain how this complex industry works. It brings in seasoned writers and editors to help you fill your writing toolbox. And it gathers around you a community rightly hailed for its supportiveness and enthusiasm. Attendees are educated, invigorated, and inspired. At any given moment during the conference, you’ll see a person whip out a laptop or notebook and set to work feverishly as ideas strike. I bring the same notebook every year and add to it, recording insightful quotes in green, tasks to follow-up on in black, new ideas in red, and general notes about the industry or writing strategies in blue. I’m in multicolored pen heaven.

Lee: I love that multi-colored strategy! (Scribbling a note to myself to try color-coding my notes, too.)

I've heard different perspectives on the "New Adult" category of fiction. Some say it's really stories for older high-schoolers, about people who are out of high school, in college and/or just starting to figure out the "real world." Others say it's mainly an excuse to take YA closer to erotica. Are they both right?

Deborah: I believe that saying New Adult fiction is just YA with sex is akin to saying Young Adult fiction is just stories of high school romance. Hook-ups of the heart play a part in most YA fiction, yes, but YA doesn’t exist to serve up young love. The YA category is well known for its breadth, with thrillers, fantasy, paranormal, historical, adventure, and issue-driven stories. What many people don’t realize is that the category scrabbled long and hard to get away from the “it’s just high school love and angst” dismissiveness that existed at the beginning of my children’s books career. 

New Adult fiction is going through a similar evolution, in a more compressed time frame. Romantic attraction becomes a significant part of life after puberty, and we enter a new phase of it when we leave the constraints of high school and parental oversight—as we should. NA fiction tells the stories of these young people who are finally free to explore their sexuality unfettered, so it includes more sexual activity. And because NA writers don’t have the gatekeepers of YA fiction looking over their shoulders, they can include that activity in juicy detail. The first big NA titles had their share of the sexy stuff, and that dominated the early NA offerings. But readers are making it clear that they want more in their stories about this time of life, and writers are vocal and active about offering more. You hear it all over social media and NA blogs ( is a fabulous one), and you see it in the comments sections at online book retailers. Mysteries, paranormal, thrillers, issue-driven NAs… writers know that if NA is to continue its evolution and thrive, it must do what YA did and push beyond the love stories—even as love storylines remain. 

New Adult fiction explores the hearts and the minds of 18- to 25-year-olds as they learn to live self-responsible lives, reaching up as high as first career forays. That’s a wide spectrum whose common foundation is the full, unrestricted exploration of self before settling into career and family. I’ve written an article for an upcoming SCBWI Bulletin that expands on this overlap of “mature YA” and NA and what it means for those people writing stories about older teens. Keep your eye out for that if you want to know more.

Lee: For our audience, I'll share that Deborah also has a new NA (New Adult) craft book coming out in July 2014 from Writer's Digest Books, Writing New Adult Fiction, which goes deep into techniques and the NA marketplace for indie publishers as well as those seeking traditional publication.

Having said that, please tell us more about what you'll be covering in your Friday breakout workshop on "New Adult Fiction."

Deborah: Many YA writers are interested in exploring what it means to be a teen after high school. I’ll cover New Adult Fiction as the next step in our young readers’ development to adulthood. These young people have distinct concerns and sensibilities that you can tap into just like you would for YA fiction. They are establishing new social circles, dealing with constant change and the stress that goes with that, learning financial responsibility, developing their own world views—all with brains not yet fully developed, so their risk-taking and decision-making skills are still lacking. Great fiction opportunities there! I’ll be sharing examples and, because I like tangible take-away, covering strategies for writing NA characters who feel authentic, situations that ring true to that age group, and storylines that intrigue fans of new adult fiction. 

Lee: Sounds indispensable for those wanting to write New Adult!

One of the incredible resources SCBWI offers members and conference attendees is the "Market Report" that you put together. Can you tell us more about what that is?

Deborah: Happy to! I sure love putting it together. Each summer I interview about 20 publishing insiders—editors, agents, sales VPs, institutional market reps, etc. We get into what’s selling and what’s being acquired, what’s being wished for, what’s not so popular, and what’s showing signs of potential upswing. I’m extremely grateful for their enthusiastic willingness, across the board, to give us this glimpse at the market from their seats. I combine their insights with my own research to create a market snapshot for attendees, which I’ll be presenting in a keynote at the Sunday morning gathering. I’ll also highlight big changes to the printed Market Survey, which is SCBWI’s list of publishers, their editors, and each house’s lists and submission policies. If a new imprint has been launched or there are new calls for submissions, I give all the details. Every attendee holds the most current version of that document as I talk about it.

Lee: After the three full conference days (Friday August 1, Saturday August 2 and Sunday August 3) there's a day of craft intensives on Monday August 4. There's one for illustrators, and the writers have a variety of expert classes to choose from. You're offering a morning intensive on "Crafting a Youthful Narrative Voice and Sensibility in MG/YA Fiction." I've heard many discussions about "voice" but this is the first time I've heard it separated out from "sensibility." How do you define the difference between those concepts?

Deborah: A writer can learn to use the words and phrases a teen would use, and to construct sentences in ways that jive with how teens would stitch together their thoughts. These skills are essential to creating a youthful narrative voice. But that doesn’t mean the writer understands what teens talk about, what they focus on and think is important about the situations at hand. To me, writing a youthful narrative “sensibility” is about understanding how a young person processes the world and her place in it. I encourage those who write for young people to take into account both voice and sensibility so that their fiction can sound authentic in every way.

Lee: Please share more about the intensive as you're planning it...

Deborah: I’m a nuts-and-bolts nut. I want people to walk away from me armed with strategies they can put to use in their WIPs immediately. The intensive will include strategies, examples, individual exercises designed to try out those techniques, and group evaluation of portions of attendees’ WIPs to help them see opportunities for revision. I hope that what attendees learn will also strengthen everything they write in the future.

Lee: Another aside for our audience: make sure to check out Deborah's "cheat sheet" for quick tips into creating a youthful narrative voice, creating convincing teen dialogue, and evaluating character and plot here. It includes great tips like this one:

Make the conversation about the speaker. Teens are a self-absorbed lot, and that can come out in their words. Frame teen dialogue from a perspective that focuses on how the circumstances affect the speaker. Thus, instead of "Tom seemed sad today. I wonder why?" use "Tom blew me off today. What's up with that? What did I do to him?"

Back to our interview...

Deborah, I really liked the quote you had up on your DearEditor site from Revision Week 2013: Laura Griffin, NYTimes bestselling romance writer, with 11 acclaimed novels: "I always try to remember that no matter how compelling a plot is, the reader is really in it for the characters. So I try to make sure I focus plenty of attention on character arc so that the story will have an emotional punch."

It's good advice for plotters like myself. Do you find your own stories grow from plot or character?

Deborah: I’m a character-driven person at heart, but that doesn’t mean my projects start with the character every time. My MG and YA stories start with characters and the issues I want them to grapple with. However, I’m currently developing two chapter book series, and each one of those very definitely started with concept and plot; the characters seemed to spring forth of their own accord as I wrote the action. Did that happen because I’m writing a series, and in a category known for hijinks and whacky action? Perhaps. Whatever the reason, I found when I was done with the first stories that the characters are so distinct and essential that the plots now depend on these characters for existence. I can move the characters around from adventure to adventure, but the adventures would change completely if I altered even one character.

Lee: What's your current favorite piece of writing advice to share?

Deborah: Don’t neglect your setting. Setting influences and illuminates characterization, figures directly into plot, influences characters’ word choice, affects pacing and tension, and provides subtext and ambiance. Yet setting is often missing from the MG and YA manuscripts I see as an editor. I think writers fear stalling their story with description dumps, and there’s certainly a push for strong characters, action, and dialogue these days so maybe that’s what’s highest on writer’s radars. Don’t fear description dumps: Go beyond description and have your characters react to and interact with setting elements to bring your world to life. Trigger your readers’ sense of hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Slip these triggers into the narrative beats between lines of dialogue. You don’t need another character pushing his bangs out of his eyes or smiling or looking at another character—that’s generic action that fills the spot without revealing anything. Use that opportunity to show us your character is ticked off even though she says she’s fine. Perhaps she scrubs furiously at the sweat on her brow when she’s standing at the stupid lemonade stand with her little brother, thinking about that sun hat she failed to bring. Maybe she sits on the plastic lawn chair then leaps up with a yell at the burn on the back of her thighs. One hot day, one unhappy gal, demonstrated through interaction with props and reaction to the elements. Dialogue and action are great, but don’t burden them with your whole story. Let setting do its share—and reap the rewards that follow.

Lee: That IS great advice. Thanks so much, Deborah. See you in August!

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If you want to see Deborah and learn from her in person, you'll have to join us at the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, August 1-4. Click here for Information and to register.

You can find out more about Deborah at her website,, and at

Friday, May 9, 2014

Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother's Day Gift For Us All

Mother's Day is Sunday, so this is the perfect time to share about:

Two Spirits, One Heart by Marsha Aizumi with Aiden Aizumi

Mother, educator, and LGBT activist Marsha Aizumi shares her story of parenting a young woman who came out as a lesbian, then transitioned to male. Marsha's personal journey was from fear, uncertainty, and sadness to eventual unconditional love, acceptance, and support of her child who struggled to reconcile his gender identity.

Two quotes from Marsha's introduction in the book need to be shared:

"May the thoughts I am sharing encourage you to continue to love your child no matter what and may this book serve to inspire you to release the fear and embrace the love you have for your child."

"This journey with Aiden has made my life so much richer. It has deepened my appreciation for my husband and brought me closer to my younger son, Stefen. I am living the life I dream, and I am living it because Aiden had the courage to say, "This is who I am."
Marsha Aizumi and her son, Aiden

I interviewed Marsha last year, and you can watch that video here. Add your review of "Two Spirits, One Heart" in comments!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gender 101 Episode #3 Redux: A New Vocabulary

Join my continuing conversation with Lucy, my Gender Queer activist friend, as we delve into the world of gender-neutral pronouns.

Get ready - 'cause this is stuff they don't teach in schools!*

*but they will someday, hopefully!

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Here's a link to the original post.

Comments from that original post to start the conversation:

The Pen and Ink Blog said...
I love Benji Lucy
Ze is the greatest . I love hir hair.
Zeir are a lot of students out there who would enjoy reading this.
April 13, 2011 at 11:39 AM

Torque Wrench said...
a must see , for students..I did really enjoy this and take note of the lovely hair..

April 13, 2011 at 11:37 PM
Anonymous said...
I'm sorry - but this is RIDICULOUS. I'm all for identifying any way you choose to identify but isn't this taking it a little far? Can't you just refer to a person by their name or the pronoun that fits them at the time?

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Trust Me, I'm a Ninja" - A one minute film you have to see

Trust Me, I'm a Ninja is the winner of the "Love is..." category in the Outfest Fusion Lab's one-minute film competition, and it's great.

Check it out!

Cheers to the filmmakers, Evelyn Lorena and Henry Alberto, and to everyone involved in the production!

Namaste (the light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in every one of you,)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Fat Angie - A Teen Lesbian Novel

Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Angie is broken — by her can’t-be-bothered mother, by her high-school tormenters, and by being the only one who thinks her varsity-athlete-turned-war-hero sister is still alive. Hiding under a mountain of junk food hasn’t kept the pain (or the shouts of "crazy mad cow!") away. Having failed to kill herself — in front of a gym full of kids — she’s back at high school just trying to make it through each day. That is, until the arrival of KC Romance, the kind of girl who doesn’t exist in Dryfalls, Ohio. A girl who is one hundred and ninety-nine percent wow! A girl who never sees her as Fat Angie, and who knows too well that the package doesn’t always match what’s inside. A girl who might become more than a friend... and who might just help Angie change everything.

"Fat Angie" was one of three books to win the 2014 Stonewall Book Awards – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award. Add your review in comments!