Monday, August 24, 2009

`Keeping it Lite' in Dark YA

At the OCCWW (Oregon Coast Children's Writer's Workshop,) each author had the opportunity to submit the first 5 pages of one of their current manuscripts to be read and critiqued by each of the 9 instructors. The instructors were 6 well-published authors, 2 children's/YA editors, and 1 agent. This opportunity, alone, made the whole conference worth the price!

Out of curiosity I submitted the first five pages of a novel that's been stewing in my mind for over a year. It's a YA tale of two teen girls who find themselves separately homeless on the city streets of Europe, in winter. It covers the very different hard choices they make in order to survive.
It's a dark, issue-laden YA story.

And yes, unlike my other novels, there's a curse word on the first page! I wasn't sure if that was a good idea or not, so I submitted it to the OCCWW for review.

I chose this manuscript to submit because I wanted to know whether this type of darker, issues-laden writing still has a place in the current YA market.
Would the editors, the agent, and the more experienced writers at the OCCWW
consider such a book too hard core for the current children's/YA market?
Would it be a downer?
Are there readers out there who would seek it?
Would it be marketable if I finish it?
Would it get published? Would it sell?
The answer I got? Yes.

Yes. It's marketable.
Dark YA is still hot with teens today.
Publishers are still looking for this type of book -- if it's well written, they said.
And YES, novels about real-life struggles and issues have a following among teens
-- certain teens that is, but not all.

What I was told agreed with what I already believed. Dark, issue-laden novels are not as mainstream as the gossip-girl style of books, or the darkish fantasies like Twilight.
But there are still teens who look for them.

Both editors at the conference said they would have read more, beyond the first 5 pages. I was elated. Hooray! (Now I guess I'll have to write page six and so on... : )).
One bit of very wise advice that I got from one of the editors was something to the
effect of " always keep some things lite in your dark YA."
The editor indicated that stories like this one, about difficult issues like poverty, war, violence,
drug use, homelessness, death/dying, divorce, mental health, or medical issues can
be overwhelmingly sad if there isn't something upbeat in your story too.

Real life has both sadness and happiness in it. Realistic fiction should reflect real life.

Therefore, she suggested that the best way -- in life, and in fiction -- to get through the darkness, is to laugh or have some sort of positive experience from time to time.
She said it's important to make sure there is humor or something upbeat in all books of dark fiction. That makes sense to me. Even if it's irony or sarcasm, humor lightens the mood.

Just like with life, in fiction things can't be terrible all the time, or none of us will ever get through it.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Hello world. I'm now back from the Oregon Coast Children's Writer's Workshop (OCCWW)-- and I have a number of tips that I learned there to share, and some stories to tell. These details will show up every two weeks, (approximately,) on writermorphosis, for the next few months. After that, I'll be off to the SCBWI Carolina's conference in September, and there will be even more to tell.

But firstly I want to talk about the most important thing I learned at the Oregon Coast Children's Writer's Workshop. It wasn't about markets, or first pages, or brilliant dialogue -- although information on all of those things will come out on writermorphosis soon. No, what stuck with me the most was how much literary work can get done where there is no internet or cell phone service to distract you!

The OCCWW is held in Oceanside Oregon, a tiny town that spills down from evergreen forested hills to the edge of a windy pacific beach. It's a twenty minute drive to the next town to get cell phone service on most plans, and the only place with internet access for visitors is the local coffee shop, where the adoreable sweatshirts suggest "make coffee, not war."

As a converted city-girl I was worried about having no contact with the outside world for a whole five and a half days. But I have been converted to the no-cell-phone life. It was wonderful!

For five and a half days we participated in workshops. In the afternoons and evenings, when not in the workshops, I and the two other writer's I shared a house with, wrote, and discussed plots, and helped each other modify troublesome sentences. I resolved more plot problems in my projects in those five days than I have been able to do back here in the real world over several months!

So I, the girls who is always busy in my home-town, running here and there, have finally learned the beauty of the word RETREAT.

RETREAT: an act or process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable; a place of privacy; (or) a period of group withdrawal...for instruction under a director.

Just being away from the distractions and requirements of work, regular household responsibilities, the phone, and the internet, was a wonderful way to give my writing a boost.

I recommend it for anyone, and I hope to do it again, in some form, at least once a year.

For now, I'm vowing to only check my internet once in the morning and once at night on my writing days. There are some distractions that can't get to you unless you go to them. : )