In November we’ve been seeking out children’s and young adult fiction on Writing to be Read. There are a few differences in writing for our younger readers from writing for adults. As authors, we are in a position to shape young minds, and that’s a big responsibility.
Fiction for adults relies on our words to paint a visual image for the reader, but stories for beginning readers rely heavily on illustrations to enhance our words for youngsters. Authors who have the ability to illustrate their own books may be at an advantage, because illustrations can be a sizable expense for authors like myself, who do not possess such abilities. (Long time Writing to be Read followers may be aware that I once tried to have the first book in the My Backyard Friends series published, but a halt was put on the project after a five year publication process, when the arrangement for illustrations fell through. So, I speak of this added obstacle for children’s authors first hand.)
My interview with author and artist Judy Mastrangelo talks about her Portal to the Land of Fae series and her other works, and shares several of the author’s bright and colorful illustrations. I found her work to be delightful in both text and illustrations in my review of Flower Fairies, and I’ve no doubt that her stories are enjoyed by both young and old.
Young adult authors are faced with a different dilemma, because the audience they write for still have the curiosity of children, but they are beginning to deal with adult issues in their lives, although they are not yet adults either. Controversial topics must be handled with sensitivity and finesse, because the Y.A. critics can be relentless, as is illustrated in this NY Times article about Y.A. author Amélie Wen Zhao.
On Writing to be Read, we looked at how Y.A. fantasy and science fiction author Carol Riggs deals with issues that might be frightening for adolescents in her Junction 2020 series on “Chatting with the Pros“, and saw how Jordan Elizabeth handles a dark fantasy story which deals with the controversial and often taboo topics of teen suicide, cutting, and depression in my review of Tabitha’s Death. Jordan also talks about the inspiration behind her fantasy novel, The Goat Children, which deals with the issue of Alzhiemer’s disease, on “Writing for a Y.A. Audience“.
Also in November, Robbie Cheadle also looked at the pros and cons of classic vs. contemporary children’s fiction on “Growing Bookworms“, and Jeff Bowles took a look at Disney’s new video streaming service, Disney+, on “Jeff’s Movie Reviews“, where we can find all the great tales of the Disney classics. What a great way to introduce our children to them, (or just re-watch them ourselves to indulge our own inner children).
In addition, we said goodbye to a great author, who was known and loved in the online writing communities in my “Tribute to Tom Johnson“. Tom was originally a pulp and science fiction author, but in recent years, he’s been writing children’s stories for the Wire Dog story collections. He will be greatly missed.
November has been a great month and we’ve explored a lot of children’s and young adult fiction. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself as much as I have. There is no theme for December, as I’m taking this time to breathe before the next round. I’ll be updating you about the changes that will be coming for 2020 on Writing to be Read, reviewing a couple of books which didn’t fit under this year’s themes, and throwing in a few surprises. I do hope you’ll all drop by and check it out.
I was at a book signing in October. A woman came up to my booth and asked for a quick synopsis of each story. I was happy to oblige, and when I got to GOAT CHILDREN, the woman teared up.
I wrote GOAT CHILDREN based on my experiences taking care of my grandmother when she suffered from dementia. This woman’s mother was diagnosed with dementia. She went on to share a few examples, and I could identify with all of them.
The woman bought the book for her daughter, who feels alone while helping her grandmother. The other kids in high school don’t understand.
I went through the same thing when I was in college and high school. My grandmother was “weird”. I was a “freak” for trying to take care of her. She was “scary”. Okay, the unpredictable moods were scary, but she was still my grandmother. Fear goes hand-in-hand with dementia.
After the woman bought the book and moved onto the next book at the fair, my mind kept returning to GOAT CHILDREN. It was one of my first books published and one very dear to my heart. Now come the spoilers…
The Goat Children are a mythical warrior class who the fictional grandmother, Oma, believe to be true. The main character, Keziah, can’t figure out if they are real or not. The story provides glimpses into the truth behind the female warriors.
My grandmother believed in little people living in her fireplace and dancing in her basement. When we asked her if she was scared of them, she said no, they comforted her. The Goat Children comfort Oma too.
At the end of the story, the grandmother and Keziah both leave Earth to live with the Goat Children. They are together and strong, and immersed in a world of magic both of them longed for. I decided to make the Goat Children real because I always wanted the little people to be real too, taking care of my grandmother, keeping her safe.
Jordan Elizabeth currently lives in the house her grandmother lived in. She’s still looking for the little people in the fireplace. You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.
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My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest today writes young adult fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Her debut science fiction novel, The Body Institute, is currently being developed into a television series by NBC, which I think, is pretty cool. I met her when I reviewed Bottled three years ago. Since then, I’ve reviewed her science fiction novel, The Lying Planet, and she was a member of the author panel for the first round of the “Ask the Author” blog series in 2018, right here on Writing to be Read. Let’s find out what she has to share. Please help me welcome author Carol Riggs.
Kaye: Please begin by telling us briefly about your author’s journey?
Carol: I began writing in the 1990s, took a 10-year break, and started up again in 2009. I met my agent at an SCBWI retreat and signed with her in 2011 for my 2015 debut, THE BODY INSTITUTE. Since then, I’ve published 7 more books.
Kaye: Why do you choose to write for young adults? Why science fiction and fantasy?
Carol: I enjoy writing about teens as they experience the road to individual growth and becoming an adult—navigating independence, romance, tests of courage, etc. Sci-fi and fantasy appeal to me because I love making things up. Speculative genres give me the most room to be creative and use my imagination.
Kaye: What is your biggest challenge in writing for a young audience?
Carol: Keeping in touch with how a young person thinks and talks, sounding like a teen. My editor at Entangled Teen nails me on that, and makes me rewrite things that don’t sound authentic.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Carol: Nothing too unusual. I don’t listen to music or other distractions. I draft novels moderately quickly (3-5 months), and I write 1 or 2 books a year. I also keep my novels “clean,” with no profanity, gory violence, or sexual scenes. I prefer to make up my own slang and swear words, which don’t become outdated like modern teen lingo/slang/cussin’.
Kaye: NBC is developing your science fiction novel, The Body Institute, into a television series. That must be exciting. Tell us a little about the story.
Carol: THE BODY INSTITUTE is a dystopian sci-fi novel where the main character gets a job losing weight for other people—by having her mind downloaded into their bodies. It’s set in the near future where society is ultra health conscious. The TV series is using the book as a jump-off point rather than being a direct replica of the novel, which is okay with me. It’ll be fun to see where their creative minds take it.
Kaye: How much say do you have in the development process of the television series? Are you involved at all?
Carol: I don’t have any say at all, but that honestly doesn’t bother me. I’d rather spend my time developing new novels! Readers have the book if they want to explore what I’ve developed; the TV show will be a different experience entirely.
Kaye: Do you have a date yet for the series premier for The Body Institute to air?
Carol: As of yet, I don’t; the filming of the pilot show hasn’t begun yet. I’ll announce on my newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter (@CRiggsAuthor) as soon as I find out any developing news.
Kaye: Most of the books in your Junction 2020 series have scary sounding titles: The Portal, Nightmare Realization, Vanishing Fears, Silent Scream, and Future Terrors. Is this fantasy series scary?
Carol: Some people consider these books “horror,” but it sort of depends on your tolerances. If you can’t stand spiders, for instance, don’t read THE PORTAL. Nothing is hyper-bloody in the series, though…no slasher-type nightmares or anything overly gory. I chose each characters’ fears to manifest in a way that would lead them to personal growth, a challenge to overcome rather than sheer horrible nightmares.
Kaye: How do you approach scary subject matter when writing for young adults?
Carol: I try to keep it emotional but real to each character, and I don’t make things gory. Depending on the teen, that could be totally un-scary, or it could be very unsettling. I try to hit somewhere in the middle, for the average reader.
Kaye: Are there certain subject matters that you wouldn’t tackle for a young adult audience? Why?
Carol: I don’t write sex scenes, gory violence, or profanity. I think there’s plenty of that going around nowadays in society (books, movies, etc.), and not having those things in my novels jives with my personal morals and my feelings about what I would want to (or not) read in a novel. I wouldn’t write about demons or the occult, either—too creepy and real.
Kaye: My favorite book of yours is Bottled, which I reviewed a few years ago. It is a fun and entertaining fantasy story. What was your inspiration?
Carol: Long ago, I used to watch “I Dream of Jeannie.” While BOTTLED isn’t that similar in plot to the show, I was inspired by the fun, magical atmosphere of the TV series. It’s my tribute to the show.
Kaye: I also reviewed The Lying Planet. Tell us a little about this science fiction story.
Carol: I was lying in bed one night years ago, and heard a noise in the living room (it was probably the refrigerator). That became the germ seed for TLP, a teen boy on the planet Liberty who one night hears a noise in the living room and gets up to investigate…and then wishes he hadn’t. He uncovers an evil that rocks his world in the worst way possible. I’ve found that teen guys really seem to like this novel. It has lots of danger, adventure, and a degree of creepiness.
Kaye: The other thing I loved about Bottled was the fantastic cover. And the vibrant colors used for Lying Planet cover and those used in the covers your Junction 2020 series are eye catching, as well. The colors are wonderful and the designs fit what the stories are about. Do you design your own cover art or hire it out?
Carol: I’ve been incredibly lucky to get awesome covers for my traditionally published books. The JUNCTION 2020 series covers I developed myself in Photoshop, with the tips and suggestions of a writer friend who is also a graphic artist. I have a BA in Studio Arts, so I think that helps me have a bit of an eye for what looks good.
Kaye: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
Carol: Walking, reading, working jigsaw puzzles, watching sci-fi and fantasy movies, going to the beach, and listening to all kinds of music.
Kaye: Writing organizations can be of great value to writers of all genres. You’ve been a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for many years. Would you talk a little about the organization and how you have benefited through membership?
Carol: Back in the 1990s when I first joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), it was super helpful. Submissions were sent to editors at publishing houses by postal mail rather than email (talk about slow!). There wasn’t the wealth of information on the internet that there is now, so the SCBWI was invaluable for honing one’s work to make it ready for editor eyeballs. I learned a lot.
When I returned to writing in 2009, an agent was almost mandatory to submit your work, and the SCBWI retreat I went to offered manuscript critiques for a fee. I actually met my agent-to-be during one of those brief, one-on-one meetings. SCBWI conferences are also great places to network with other writers, learn about the craft of writing, meet industry professionals, and talk about books all day. Some regions offer scholarships to attend if finances are tight.
Kaye: What is your best piece of advice for aspiring authors of young adult fiction?
Carol: If you love it, never give up. THE BODY INSTITUTE was the 13th book I wrote, after 350+ rejections and 11 years of writing and trying to become published. Surround yourselves with supportive writer friends to share the ups and downs. Keep learning your craft, persevere, and enjoy the journey!
Kaye: What can your readers look forward to in the future? What’s next for Carol Riggs?
Carol: A deal has just been signed for THE BODY INSTITUTE for an audiobook version, which is cool. I’m also working on a sequel to the novel, called SPARES. Ideas are springing into my head for a fresh YA novel, and I’m excited to begin imagining a whole new world for readers to explore.
I want to thank Carol for sharing here and answering all of my many questions. And thanks to all of you readers for joining us. You can find out more about Carol Riggs and her young adult science fiction and fantasy books on her website, her Amazon Author page, or her Goodreads Author page.
Next month, there will not be a “Chatting with the Pros” segment. In December we’re wrapping up 2019 and giving you a rundown of what’s in store for 2020. I plan to run this blog series again next year, so check back after the New Year for the first 2020 segment in January. I hope to see you all then.
You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2020, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress. Please share content you find interesting or useful.
Flower Fairies, by Judy Mastrangelo, is book 1 in her Portal to the Land of Fae series and a delightful introduction into their world, no matter what your age. Each page is filled with colorful images which highlight the natural world and enmesh it with the world of fantasy. Laugh with fairies and elves as they dance and play among the plants and flowers. Manstrangelo’s bright illustrations bring her well crafted descriptions to life and immerse you within the imaginary world of fea. There is no age restriction on the hearts these tiny fairy children will capture.
I’m looking forward to my next adventure into this magical land when I read the rest of the books in this series. I give Flower Fairies five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
My earliest years were spent in Westernville, NY. Right down the street was the beautiful Lake Delta, a place we visited frequently. My parents and I played on the beach. We walked the trails through the woods. One day my father mentioned that when he used to fly his plan over Lake Delta, he could see the foundations beneath the water. That puzzled me – why would there be foundations down there? Were they like the shell fossils we found in our backyard sometimes?
He explained that a village used to be there, but it was flooded to create the lake. My imagination went wild. He also told me that my grandmother’s house on the farm where we lived was moved from the lost village. That amazed me, and gave me my first glimpse at history. My fascination with Lake Delta continued, but we moved to a neighboring village and didn’t visit the state park as often.
One day, the Westernville Town Clerk, Mary Centro, spoke at my hometown about Delta. My mother and I attended the lecture, and we were enthralled. I wanted to write a story at once, but I didn’t know where to take it.
My parents moved back to Westernville and I met with the town clerk to discuss Lake Delta in more detail. She told me about walking the land while the lake is low and finding treasures washed up on shore. The next year, my parents and I walked the lake, but we didn’t find anything. Again, I felt the need to write about the lost village of Delta, but I didn’t know who my main character would be yet.
The town clerk wrote two non-fiction books about Delta and my dad bought copies. While visiting my parents, I looked through them, and then did some research online. I learned that one house hadn’t been torn down the first time they flooded the land. It wasn’t until later, when the water receded, that they demolished it.
That was my story. A little magic seeped into the tale, and Lottie came to life. You can read about Lottie in DELTA, my first historic fiction novella that is appropriate for teens and adults.
About the real Delta…
New York State decided it was time to expand the Erie Canal. Many of the ports along the canal were no longer being used, because shipping goods by train became the more popular method. Shipping by train was cheaper than shipping via canal. It wasn’t just the price, though, that encouraged manufactures to choose train travel. The modern barges that were needed to ship the goods couldn’t go on the Erie Canal, which was too small and far too shallow. The water level of the Erie Canal tended to fluctuate. By expanding the Erie Canal, the ports would flourish once again. Many farmers were excited by this. They would be able to transport their goods to cities elsewhere in New York State. Expanding the canal required the use of five reservoirs. These reservoirs would provide enough water to keep the level of the canal even. New York State chose Delta because they would only need to build one dam.
The village of Delta rested inside of a deep valley. This made the perfect bowl-shape to fill with water from the Mohawk River nearby. Flooding Delta meant that privately owned land would need to be seized by the government. Everyone living on that land would need to move elsewhere.
In 1903, surveyors arrived in Delta to measure the land and create maps. In 1908, New York State officially authorized that Delta would be cleared to make way for the reservoir. Blue evacuation notices were presented to the village’s five-hundred residents, forcing them to relocate. One hundred buildings were torn down and destroyed. Some, however, were dismantled and moved to other towns in the area, where they were rebuilt. People moved away and their village became a reservoir. The dam was completed in October 1912. Water first went over in May of 1916.
Despite the great expenses incurred in the relocation of the Black River Canal, it closed in 1921.
Jordan Elizabeth is a fantasy author who is obsessed with history and ghosts. You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com. The photo above shows Jordan on the shores of Lake Delta. You can often find she and her son enjoying the beach.
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I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two horror novels written by this month’s author guests; Arcana, by Paul Kane and Cold Black Hearts, by Jeffrey J. Mariotte. I found it interesting that these two authors chose one or two lines that were so similar to begin these very different horror stories. Both beginnings are designed to grab the reader and reel them in, and in both stories, it worked. The hook was instantly set.
Kane begins Arcana with,
“They were all going to die.
But it was for the cause, and they were not only glad to do it – they felt compelled to do it.”
Mariotte starts Cold Black Hearts like this;
“They were dead, all of them dead, and so was she.”
Both authors bring us into the story in the middle of the action at the point of impending death. We don’t know what is happening yet, but we know the speaker in each case is about to die. How does anyone walk away from that without reading more?
Both Arcana and Cold Black Hearts are horrific stories of evil and death, but they each present horror stories of distinctive and different flavors. Although each presents the battle of good versus evil, the resulting stories are very different, yet each has the ability to captivate their audience and satisfy whatever it is inside of us that makes horror such an appealing genre to us.
Arcana, by Paul Kane takes place in an alternate universe with a future where magick is very real and has survived through the Arcana culture, despite repeated efforts to exterminate them from the planet. It’s a world where torture is still used to extract confessions from those suspected of using the the ancient arts, and Callum McGuire is an orphan who bears a hatred for the magick communities responsible for the terrorist attack that left him alone, to be raised in an orphanage with a brutal matron. As a young M-forcer, dedicated to stopping Arcana after a recent series of terrorist attacks carried out by the group. The viciousness and brutality against Arcana is broadly directed, and as Callum watches innocent children fall prey to it, his own morality tells him that something isn’t right. When he guesses that his friend and neighbor is secretly Arcana, he is swept into the Arcana culture as he tries to protect her from being apprehended by his fellow M-forcers. This tale is cleverly crafted to let the story unfold in a series of discoveries which lead Callum to think that things are not the way he’d been lead to believe, even as more terrorist attacks take place, and his friends in Aracana try to convince him that he is the savior of their prophecy. Savior or destroyer? The power is in Callum’s hands and only he can decide.
Arcana takes readers on a hero’s journey beyond death and back in a world where anything is possible. That, my friends, can be a very scary journey. I give it five quills.
In Cold Black Hearts, by Jeffrey J. Mariotte, evil stirs the ancient legends into reality. When Annie O’Brian is caught in a bust gone bad and the resulting explosion, she loses both her hearing and her job, but she gains an uncanny sense of empathy for the people around her. So, there’s nothing to stop her from taking a job investigating a four year old murder where the original investigation was botched, and working to free the convicted man, even though he gives her the creeps and is probably guilty of numerous crimes, if not this one. Her investigation uncovers not only the evidence needed to free Johnny Ortega from prison, but also evidence that there is something much more sinister going on in Hildalgo County than a simple cover-up, but when Annie manages to put all the pieces together and tries to stop the return of an ancient demon, it could cost her her life, or worse.
Filled with sacrifice and betrayal, Cold Black Hearts will chill you to the core of your soul. Lots of unexpected twists and turns to this story. I give it four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.