A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Social Networking--Stalking or Research?

This week I turn 37. I don't mention this because I want my house to be filled with flowers and balloons or birthday cards from my followers (but e-mail me if you need contact info to send me something), and I don't want to get into a too-long rant about my age and where has the time gone. (Seriously, where has the time gone???) My point is, I haven't been a teenager for like 18 years, (yikes) so what makes me think I can write about them?

Well, for one thing, I REMEMBER being a teenager (contrary to what my kids think), I have teenagers, and I have a lot of teenagers who I consider to my friends. (Even if that mortifies my own kids.) And I write fiction so I can make stuff up. :)

I've started to wonder if all of that's enough. I mean, after all, I grew up in a different world than what teenagers are living in today, and as much as I want to think I know what's going on in my kids' head, I don't. And I can't make EVERYTHING up.

That leaves me one option--research. But most of the books about teens are written by adults like me, and the world is changing so fast that the research would probably be outdated by the time I read it anyway. So where can I find timely, accurate information about teens, from a "teen" perspective?

Ive tried a few things; listening closely to what my kids are talking about with their friends in the car on the way to whatever, I've even offered to let them have a party, as long as I get to sit in the corner and take notes. (We haven't had many parties at our house lately, hmmm, wonder why.)

Today I stumbled on a tool that I've had for a long time, only I didn't realize until now that it was such a tool. That tool is social networking. (DUH!)

I tweet, I blog (obviously) and I'm on Facebook. Guess what? So are the majority of the teenagers I know. Growing up in a tech-savy world, most teens use this media, and they're pretty open about what they post. I've seen crushes and break-ups and good days and bad days splashed all over Facebook, and commented on. I watched the shock wave of grief spread across the internet after a local high school student was killed in a car accident. The feelings and expressions were real and immediate and, I believe, good for the kids who wanted to share. We didn't have any kind of outlet like that when I was in high school.

This morning I read two blog posts from teen aged friends. The first about crushes and "Puppy Love", made me laugh. (I'm sharing this with permission from the blogger). The second, written by a girl who just found out her step dad has a brain tumor, made me cry. I love both of these girls. I read the posts, not for research, but because I care about what's happening to them. Then I kept reading their posts and I realized that this is a great window into the real world of teenagers.

Does this make me a stalker or a voyeur? Is it unethical if I glean information about the lives and thoughts of today's teenagers by reading their blogs or their tweets, or their Facebook posts?

I don't think so.

Because I do care about these kids. Because they know I'm following them or friending them, and they know that I am an author. Because I feel a responsibility to know my audience as well as I can, so that what I write might be real and mean something to them.

Teens are smart. Their lives are crazy. They don't deserve to be stereotyped or patronized. The deserve (as much as is possible) to be understood.

Does that mean I'm going to plagiarize my teen friends' thoughts, or steal pieces of their lives and publish them under my own name? Of course not. My characters and stories are all made up--put together from bits and pieces gathered from my vast, (37 years), of experience. But if reading blogs or checking Facebook posts, or even taking notes at a party (I would never really do that, I promise), helps my stories or my characters feel more real and helps me be the best Young Adult author I can be, then I think it's a good thing.

(To my teenaged friends, knowing what you do now, feel free to unfriend, unfollow, or block me. Except my own kids, I still control your computer rights. Love you!)

What do you think? Is social networking a valid way to research the lives of teens? Is it wrong to use it this way?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Teens Doing Great Things--Teen Donates 1000 Books to a Homeless Shelter

I love books. I love teens. I love to see teens doing good things in their community, so when I read a story from the Sammamish Review about a teen who worked for four months to collect 1,000 books for a local food bank, I knew I had to share it. (Sammamish is a town in Western Washington, yes we have a lot of towns named after Native American tribes. Try to pronounce this one, Puyallup.)

The following is taken directly from the Sammamish Review article by Laura Geggel, which was posted on January 12, 2011:

An old Issaquah barber was the inspiration for gift of books.

Bibliophiles looking for a good read in early Issaquah might have popped into the local barbershop. Barber Enos Guss shared his love of books with the public when he opened the city’s first library in a corner of his shop on Front Street North in 1906.

More than 100 years later, Sammamish 13-year-old Nathaniel Turtel resolved that he, too, would share his interest in books with others.

Follow this link to read the rest of this story.

What a great thing to do Nathaniel! Congratulations! And thanks to the Sammamish Review for letting me share this story. Nathaniel Turtel came up with a great idea. Gathering books for a food bank isn't something I would have thought to do. It makes me wonder, what are some ways we can share books with people in need, especially during tough economic time?

Monday, February 7, 2011

All the Cool Kids are Doing It: What Responsibilies Do YA Authors Have to Their Audience?

I'm a mom with two teens, so I think I have a different perspective on books then many Young Adult authors. When I read YA, I have to read as a writer and as a mom. I can't read a book without wondering what effect that book would have on a teen reader. More specifically, what effect the story would have on my kids and on their friends.

I love my kids and I love their friends. I love to spend time with them. I worry about them and about the choices that they're faced with every day. I read a lot of Young Adult literature, and I'm going to be honest here.

Some of it scares me.

Recently I read a blog about sex in teen literature. (That's a whole 'nother discussion that I'm only going to touch on here.) One point the blogger made was that an author's first responsibility was to their characters and to telling the story. That gave me a big pause. In my opinion, an author's first responsibility, especially an author of books for kids, (yes, teenagers are still kids), is to their readers. BIG POINT--the characters are fictional, the readers are real.

For example, I've read a lot of books where the main characters smoke, AND the main characters are portrayed as the "popular kids," AND it's no big deal. Say my 12-year-old daughter (or one of her friends), picks up a book like that. She reads up from her age level (as most kids do), and she's curious about what high school is like. If she reads a book where the popular kids all smoke, what message is she getting?

Same thing goes for main characters who drink, do drugs, or have sex.

Now I know there are people out their screaming "But that's what high school kids do!" And you're right, some high school kids do all of those things.

And some high school kids don't.

It feels like the majority of YA literature has smoking, drinking, drugs, and sex as the norm. Often those things happen without any consequences to the characters. The message is "that's what everyone does." "All the cool kids are doing it." "It's all part of growing up."

As an young adult author, I've honestly felt like I have to justify it when my characters don't drink, smoke, do drugs, or have sex. That worries me. I think I'm getting a taste of what teens who don't participate in those kinds of activities have to live with. The feeling is they have to justify NOT doing those things when T.V., movies, music, and books show all of that as normal teen aged fun.

I find it interesting that when I asked for teen reviewers, the first girl that stepped forward, M. S. Steed, (see last week's review) said she chose Ally Condie's MATCHED because it was clean. She also said it was hard for her to find books that reflect her values. I would like to point out that although I share her values, I didn't know her before last week. I didn't have any idea what she was going to write about until I read her review.

As a writer and as a mom, I think it's important for teens to see examples of kids in books doing the right thing. I cheered for the main character, Tyler, in Laurie Halse Anderson's TWISTED through the whole book, but never so much as when he did the right thing. For those who haven't read the book he was put in a situation where he could have taken advantage of a girl who was drunk. (In fact that was kind of what was expected.) Spoiler alert: He didn't take advantage of her, he did the right thing. Even when she laughed at him for it.

I loved it in C. J. Omololu's book DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, when the hot lead singer of the high school band introduces the main character to his "special brew" after he sees that she doesn't like the beer at the party. The "special brew" is root beer. The cool kid made a responsible choice. YAY!

On the flip side I've heard of, and read YA stories that read like how-to book for drug use, or shop-lifting, or date rape. (No, I'm not going to cite specific examples.)

I'm not advocating censorship, or book banning, and we aren't having a bonfire at my house to rid the world of inappropriate teen literature.

What I am advocating:

YA authors should take responsibility for what they write.

I know you're trying to portray reality. (So am I.) But being a teen is not all about sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. It's a time for learning independence. It's a time of mental and physical growth. It's a time for discovering who you are. It's an amazing and exciting time. (That's why I write for teens). But it's also a time when outside influences play a huge roll in what you do and how a you see yourself for the rest of your life. (I still carry scars from my teen aged years. I bet most people do.)

It's a time when bad choices can screw up your whole future.

I believe books have the ability to influence their readers like no other media. That's why I advocate parents reading with their teens. An author can develop a character, or a problem, or a consequence to an extent that isn't possible in a half-hour sitcom, or a three minute song, or a ninety minute movie. A character in a book can be a window to a new world or a hero to a kid struggling for understanding. (Check out the comments section of my review of LHA's SPEAK if you don't believe that.)

I think that most Young Adult authors write for teens because they care about them. With that in mind, I'm making a request, as a mom and as a fellow author. In your quest to write the perfect YA novel, in your quest to influence the teens who read your book, (because you will influence them, like it or not,) even in your quest to sell as many books as possible, consider your readers.

You have a responsibility to them.

For my fellow children's writers: What do you think is your responsibility to your readers?

For my teen readers: What books have influenced for good or bad? Do you feel like YA books reflect reality?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I'm excited to introduce as my first guest reviewer, M. S. Steed, a 19-year-old aspiring writer from here in Washington. I should point out that I have never met M. S. Steed, she is a friend of a friend, but she was the first to step forward when I asked for teen reviewers. She chose to review MATCHED by Ally Condie.

Review by M. S. Steed:

When you live in the Society, you don't have to think. The Society tells you where to work, where to live, provides your food, tells you how much you're allowed to exercise, where to go when you have free time, when you'll die, who you'll marry and when. You're not supposed to think.

But maybe you should.

Seventeen year old Cassia's faith in the Society is complete, and when she attends her matching ceremony, she's sure that the boy the Society matches her with will be the perfect person to spend her life with. When her best friend, Xander, is declared her match, she's thrilled and confident.

So when she goes to put the information card in the computer the next day, why is Xander's face suddenly replaced with Ky's? Is it really just a rare computer glitch, as the officials tell her? Or is there a reason? For the first time in her life, Cassia begins to wonder.

I picked up Matched by Ally Condie after I read a review from the Compulsive Reader, and I went in hopeful, but not expectant, that I would find a story I could enjoy without cringing at the language or content.

As a Christian, I choose to read books that fit a standard. Since I'm a teenager, I want young adult books that I can enjoy. Trying to find a book for teens that has a moral code aligned with mine, without sexual content, bad language, or substance abuse, is difficult. It borders on impossible, actually. Occasionally I'll take a chance on a book that I've read interesting reviews to, but often times I'm let down hard.

With this book I was pleasantly surprised.

Dystopian stories seem to be in vogue right now, and they can begin to bleed together after a while. But this one was a breath of fresh air in a genre that I'm not a big fan off. Often they’re violent, with all the content I want to avoid.

I loved the character journey of this story, which was wonderfully written, with a realistic flow that made Cassia's changing opinions easy to follow. Unlike so many stories I've read, her relationship with Ky evolves naturally, from interest, to friendship founded on trust, to love. As it evolves, we also watch Cassia's blind faith slowly slip away as she begins to question their total control of her life.

Discovering more about Ky and his history is handled in a unique way. Rather than sitting the Ky and Cassia down and having them talk, talk, talk and talk, the author leaks the information to us in short phrases alongside Ky's drawings.

Even supporting characters, from Cassia's match Xander, to her parents and grandfather, are all well-rounded, and well-portrayed.

Xander is a sympathetic character. Though I was on Ky's side from the beginning, I could definitely understand why Cassia would be a little torn.

To my joy, Cassia's parents were also solid characters. The contrast between her mother and father, one following the rules to protect their family, the other breaking the rules for the same reason, was intriguing, and I was happy to see that Cassia's relationship with them was strong, even when there were things she couldn't tell them. Like real parents, they wanted Cassia to be happy, whichever path that meant she had to go down.

The world of the story is also well-presented. It's easy to understand everyone's satisfaction with the setup of the Society, but at the same time you question why people are so complacent.

As if this wasn't enough for me to love the book, then I get to add that it's clean! No bad language, no use of drugs or alcohol. There are a few descriptions of violence and devastation, but when compared to the graphic nature of books like The Hunger Games, those descriptions are quite tame.

Even more, the questions raised by the story were also powerful. Is security and comfort worth giving up control of our lives?

As someone who believes in free will, this was a great chance to think about my beliefs, and the value of that gift.

Of the 300+ pages, I found only one problem with the whole book, and it's merely a bit of grammatical style. Save for the possessive, I don't think I found a single contraction in the whole book. "I'm" was always "I am", "I've" was always "I have." Considering the teen narrator, and knowing how much teenagers love contractions, it was a little jarring. But otherwise the voice of this story was consistent and absorbing. As I said before, the character and her journey made sense, no jump from one opinion or frame of mind to another. It all made sense.

This is quite possibly the best book I've read in awhile. Maybe not the best quality of writing, but it's clean, the main character didn't make me want to pull my hair out, and the romance was sweet, centered on a couple drawing close to each other and loving each other for their personalities and heart, rather than just what they look like.

I eagerly await the sequel, Crossed, due out November of this year.

Reviewed copy borrowed from my local library.

Thanks for the review! I love hearing what actual teens think of YA books (rather than what adults like me think they should think).

As a side note, I'm happy to announce that yesterday, MATCHED was chosen as a finalist in for the Whitney Awards in the category of Youth Fiction-Speculative. (The Whitney awards are sponsored by LDStorymakers, the author's guild for the LDS market.)

About my reviewer:

M. S. Steed is nineteen, currently living in the Northwest, where she's chosen a nontraditional route for her education, receiving her GED. At this time she's focusing on her writing, searching for good books to read, and manages her blog, songofafreeheart, where she talks about writing, reading, while ranting about her opinion on the current cultural landscape of America.