POV

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This post relates to notes I’ve found myself giving to writers and it’s along the lines of my Pimp Your Premise post last month. The theme is the same: You’ve done all this work, created this thing, so why not get the most out of it?

The note that originally elicited this response was a scene with high emotional potential that, for some reason, didn’t live up to its potential. Rather than becoming a sensitive life wire of emotion, the character drifted through, basically, the climax of the story with all of the interiority and sensitivity of a crash test dummy. (For all those who are new to my story theory rhetoric, I define interiority as having access to your character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. This is possible to accomplish in either first or third person.) The emotions were definitely possible in this intense scene, but the writer wasn’t going there.

More and more, my advice to writers can be summed up as: GO THERE. If you set up a premise with a really unique element, exploit that element to the fullest and design as many plot points around it. If you’re writing a grief story and there’s a lot of potential for your protagonist to hit rock bottom, have them crash into it at high speeds. If you’re writing a love story, give us that moment when he loses himself in her eyes entirely and becomes vulnerable for the first time ever. There are a million story opportunities for your characters to become a raw nerve.

As a group, writers–and don’t think I’m insulting writers here, this sentence could just as easily read “humans”–like to play it safe. They have their pet storytelling techniques, their favorite plot twists, their go-to phrases, their easy physical clichés that they deploy instead of having to write about the messy world of emotions. But the writer’s role job isn’t to play it safe. It isn’t to tread the familiar path, because the familiar path isn’t going to electrify readers. Artists in general search for the truth of the human condition by getting out of their comfort zones…and by taking their audiences with them.

If you yourself are unwilling to GO THERE, your reader’s potential to suffer, triumph, and understand diminishes. I’m constantly impressed by how many manuscripts scratch the surface in precisely those moments when they should be plunging in. Interiority flourishes during a boring classroom scene but is oddly silent when it’s time to visit Dad in the hospice, for example. Or we spend a lot of time on happy emotions but completely sidestep anything negative. (Reverse this dynamic for a dystopian manuscript!)

Let me get down to it: The scene that feels the hollowest in your manuscript should either be cut or you should screw your courage to the sticking place and GO THERE with it. Especially when the events transpiring call for high, noble, intense, painful, or otherwise uncomfortable emotions.

To call upon a book outside the kidlit canon, this was my biggest problem with THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER, an insanely successful adult novel by Kim Edwards that came out in 2005 and was incredibly successful. (SPOILERS) While it is a very emotional story, there is one glaring missed opportunity, a moment begging the author to GO THERE that was never realized. Briefly, the story is about a husband who immediately realizes that one of his newborn twins has Down’s syndrome. This is another era and he quickly spirits the girl away to a nurse, then lies to his wife, saying the second child died. Flash forward many years and the secret is close to coming out. Just as I was expecting the BLISTERING reveal and ensuing confrontation between husband and wife, the husband dies suddenly. The wife finds out another way and rages at his memory.

I know plenty of people who loved this book. But I really, really, really would’ve loved to see the scene where husband and wife stand naked before the truth. It’s one thing to rage at someone’s memory, it’s another to confront him in the flesh. And not just him, but the pastand the future. I would never call this author a coward, but I wondered what kept her from GOING THERE and giving us this highly emotional scene using both characters, not just one.

So if you’ve got a premise that’s locked and loaded with the high-stakes potential for emotion, don’t just skirt around it or do the next best thing. It’s going to be challenging, because you have a lot wrapped up in these characters and part of you probably wants to protect them, but you have to think of the most emotional points in your plot as an invitation to unleash those feelings without holding back. GO THERE.

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My most recent novel, PURPLE DAZE (Running Press Teens), is a novel-in-verse which I conceived while attending MFA Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Is the prevalence of young-adult novels-in-verse in the last decade merely a trend? Or can the novel-in-verse do something traditional prose novels can’t? Is it, in fact, peculiarly suited to the turbulent, but often secret, inner lives of teenagers?

Perhaps publishers, editors and readers have accepted this form because it’s an appropriate platform to showcase the inner drama of adolescence. Indeed, as I was reading scores of novels-in-verse, it became clear to me that poetry can bring readers closer to the consciousness of teens—perhaps even closer than YA novels penned in traditional narrative prose. When should a writer consider this form?

  1. Stories that are better told from more one than one character’s point of view. Mel Glenn’s verse novel WHO KILLED MR. CHIPPENDALE? has more than fifty viewpoint characters. Even if Glenn had used an omniscient viewpoint – in other words, bouncing in an out of others’ minds — it would be confusing to the reader. However, not all verse novels have more than one viewpoint character.
  2. Stories that are predominantly character driven, as opposed to action-driven. Verse novels tend to deal with highly charged emotional issues. Some issues include, incest (FURNITURE by Thalia Chaltas), mental illness (STOP PRETENDING WHAT HAPPENED WHEN MY BIG SISTER WENT CRAZY by Sonya Sones), and teen pregnancy (FIRST PART LAST by Angela Johnson). In each of these novels, what the characters are thinking and feeling is more important than what they are doing.
  3. Stories with poetry as a subplot or theme. In LOCOMOTION, Jacqueline Woodson’s main character Lonnie is exploring poetic forms to help him deal with the untimely death of his parents. In Ron Koertge’s SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEAN UP the main character is bedridden. He’s a bored kid who reads his dad’s poetry books and then begins writing his own poems.
  4. Stories that are best told in short, energetic bursts – instead of traditional margin-to-margin prose. For example, scenes that capture one moment whether it be an emotion or an idea.
  5. Try this exercise: Take a paragraph from any novel. Rewrite it in verse. Concentrate on metaphor, assonance, imagery and cadence. Shouldn’t all good writing contain these elements? Sure. But I find it easier to focus on ‘voice sounds’ and ‘patterns of expression’ when my writing looks like poetry.

Sherry Shahan has 30 children’s books to her credit, fiction and nonfiction. YA novel PURPLE DAZE is set in 1965 Los Angeles where six high school students navigate war, riots, love, rock ‘n’ roll, school, and friendship. She teaches a writing course for UCLA Extension. Feel free to contact Sherry if you have any questions about novels-in-verse or the VCFA MFA writing program. Email: kidbooks [at] thegrid [dot] net. Or visit www.SherryShahan.com

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Say what? Bear with me here a moment. I want to talk about something I’ve been noticing a lot: third person-style narration in the first person. It’s easier to illustrate than to explain. It goes, for example, like this:

My gaze shifted to the corner of the room. A shadow seemed to move. It hadn’t been there a moment ago. My heartbeat quickened and my pupils contracted with fear. I leaned back against the wall, the muscles in my torso tightening, my mouth drying out, my legs ready to spring into action. With my breath coming in short, shallow gasps, I prepared myself to attack.

Now, this is a subtle one to pick up on, I think. Can you figure out, from this sample, what I might mean? I’m referring to a style of narration that is more commonplace (and appropriate) in the third person. When you’re writing in the first person, you are immediately inside your character’s head, heart, and body. When you’re in third person, even if you’re in very close third, you’re on the outside of the body, seeing it from a bit of a bird-eye view.

Descriptions like the one I’ve written above are in first person (within the body) but seem oddly outside of it. This most often happens with physical descriptions/actions. I fear I’m not making a whole lot of sense, so I will try another approach. Imagine you’re telling an anecdote to your friends. You’ve got them wrapped around your finger as you’re describing a scene, say, the last time you were thrown a surprise party. Do you say, about yourself, “My gaze shifted to the corner and my mouth dropped open to discover Uncle Eddie wearing a party hat”?

That doesn’t sound very natural to me. If I were telling a story to a group of friends at a party, I would say something like “I looked and saw” or, if I’m feeling really fancy, “I glanced over.” When I’m in first person, it feels oddly distancing to say, about myself, “my gaze shifted.” I also wouldn’t say “my mouth dropped open.” I’m not watching myself on a video tape and narrating what’s happening. “To my shock” or “shockingly” would be more first person-appropriate.

To further illustrate, let’s put the above passage in the third person:

His gaze shifted to the corner of the room. A shadow seemed to move. It hadn’t been there a moment ago. Jake’s heartbeat quickened and his pupils contracted with fear [I have problems with writers relying too heavily on physical symptoms and gestures to convey emotion, but that's another post for another day...]. He leaned back against the wall, the muscles in his torso tightening, his mouth drying out, his legs ready to spring into action. With his breath coming in short, shallow gasps, Jake prepared himself to attack.

Now, it’s not a perfect paragraph, and it still has a lot of cheap physical symptoms cluttering everything, but it sounds much more natural in third to my ear because we’re observing the character from the outside. Sure, we can’t see his muscles tighten or his heartbeat quicken from a true bird-eye view, but the tone of this piece is that of an outside observer. That same tone doesn’t work when the observer is in first person, talking about their own body.

This is one of those more subtle notes that I give, but I’ve found myself giving it a lot lately. Sure, it’s probably less fancy to adhere to true first person tone when describing physical events (the boring “I glanced” vs. the sexy “my gaze shifted”) but I think it’s more authentic. On a related note, I’ve also been giving a lot of writers pointers about overwriting, making things more complex than they should be, and showing off. This is one example of prose where I think we should all strive for a bit more simplicity.

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If you are writing a manuscript with multiple POVs (points of view), ie: first or close third person narration through the eyes of different characters for different sections or chapters, how do you space them? Do they have to be evenly spaced throughout? Here’s a question that Kathryn sent in:

If I am doing a novel with a defined MC, but alternate between him and the supporting (but also very important) character’s POV, do I need to have this happen constantly? Because there are a few times in my book that I switch to ‘the girlfriend’s’ POV, but it isn’t like VAMPIRE DIARIES, for example where LJ Smith has each scene switch to a different character’s POV. Is this something that has to be completely consistent? Or can I put it in as needed?

This is a relatively easy question to answer. When writing from multiple POVs, you don’t need to lock yourself into any kind of scheme. A lot of people think, if they’re splitting the story between two POVs, for example, they have to alternate always POV 1, then POV 2, then POV 1 again. This isn’t always the case. If your two POV characters have almost equal “screen time” in the novel, maybe you can keep it that consistent, but there are no rules that say you have to.

Especially if your story has a MC and then the POV of a supporting character, you can use her when you need her. A few things to consider, though, for any manuscript where you alternate POV:

  1. Give us the first instance of the “other” POV pretty early on, so the reader knows to expect another POV throughout the story.
  2. Don’t go too long without hearing from your other POV characters. You don’t want us to forget that their voices are there and we will if you go for like 50-70 pages without changing POV.
  3. It’s all about balance. You don’t want to switch POV every 4 chapters at the beginning and spend 70 pages in one POV near the end. Make sure they’re somewhat evenly spaced, even if they’re not totally consistent.

Finally, one thing I would urge all of you to consider: do not include adult POVs in manuscripts that have predominantly kid or teen POVs. I’ve seen a lot of writers try this, and it never works that well, unless yours is a very specific type of story (and yes, I expect mentions of THE BOOK THIEF to pop up in the comments, but that is a very specific type of story, more on this later). Besides, a kid who is reading a book targeted to their age group is going to be SO BORED dipping into the head of their teacher, their parents, their minister, their librarian, their whatever. I’ve read manuscripts where we dip into Dad’s head while he’s fretting about the mortgage… his marriage… troubles with his manager at work… Yikes. A lot of adult writers want to reinforce to teen readers that adults have problems and to be more sympathetic to them. Probably because they’re raising teens at the time and feel unappreciated. This is not the way to help teen readers empathize because this type of moralizing usually doesn’t get published and reach teen readers. Even if they’re dipping into the head of the adult villain, it’s still not advisable to do this. You don’t want to alienate your reader, and adult POV does that more often than not. I see the adult POV issue most in fantasies and mysteries, so people writing in those genres, take extra caution.

Other than that, feel free to experiment. You’ll probably be rewriting a lot if you end up changing your mind but really nailing the balance of POVs is important. And, also, do keep in mind that you should vary the voice. If you have a few different characters providing their POV but they all sound the same, use the same words, use the same imagery, etc., then what’s the point of multiple POV? That’s what makes this technique very difficult.

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I’m punctual this morning. Yay! Our next workshop selection is Tiffany Bennet and her manuscript, GO. GENTLY.

Tiffany is writing from the male POV and wants to know if it sounds authentic.

Here’s the material!

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Folks got a lot of ideas about us guys. Some of these ideas are born from television or movies. Hell, maybe some are born from books. If people still read books. And no, I don’t count reading myspace pages or twitter as reading, though some of it can be pretty entertaining. Some of these ideas are perpetrated by some girl’s bad experience which now, somehow, without explanation, will mark our species forever. And let’s be honest, men and women are two entirely different species.

Wait, I’m confused. Am I reading a fiction novel or an essay on gender roles in teenagers? Phrases like “Some of these ideas are perpetrated” sound downright clinical and don’t have an engaging voice.

This is what I like to call a rant. Every once in a while, a character will go into a long monologue about an issue that “they” (sometimes I wonder if it’s really the author sprouting off here) care about. In almost all cases, rants are unnecessary. Nobody likes to hear someone on their soapbox, even if that person is fictional. Especially not at the beginning of a piece. This also tells us nothing about the character, since they’re speaking in vague terms about teenagers, males and society in general.

Also, this writer wanted to see if her writing worked well in the male POV. I don’t know if there’s a LESS convincing way of portraying maleness than by having that person talk about, “I am male. I am having a specifically male problem.” This doesn’t seem very natural or authentic and might not fly with today’s readers.

But not all of us are happy merely fitting into the mold so effortlessly created for us. I sure ain’t. And neither was Tristan. We’re not all appeased by a quick go-around in the backseat of our mom’s mini-van with some girl we won’t call the next day. Maybe that’s why Tristan is dead. You can only deny something for so long before it eats away at you.

Trust me, I know.

And talking about “generic teenage issues,” like being forced into a mold, won’t automatically make teenager relate to the character because, again, the issue here is very general. Readers open a book to read about a specific character who has a specific problem, not to have a list of vague problems described. I also am a bit unsure re: “I sure ain’t.” Is the grammar here trying to be folksy? In that case, it sounds downright odd right next to the more formal diction of “And neither was Tristan.” Plus, “ain’t,” though not widely accepted, stands for “am not” and is present tense, while the rest of this has been in past.

Here we finally get a hint at a specific problem, though. Tristan is dead and the character has some denial and, apparently, some guilt or grief about it.

Soon my mother will be up to tell me he is dead. Drunk-driving accident. But I know the truth. It was no accident. He wanted, needed, to go. I have to decide how I will react to the news. Do I retreat inside myself? Would it be simpler for everyone around me if I pay homage to the I-have-no-emotions-give-me-a-beer-I-will-cry-if-the-Falcons-lose-the-game-but-not-acknowledge-any-human-connection-man that so long carried the flag for my species? Or maybe I should recklessly abuse drugs and alcohol. I could become another actor in the teen drama, I Have So Many Issues. Please Notice Me.

I’m wondering how this character knows what is about to happen. It does raise the tension. I’m also wondering if this is early morning or late at night — there could be more grounding. “needed to go” is also a bit vague. Needed to “go” as in DIE or needed to go to wherever he went (a party?) before he was killed?

Again, we get some pontificating on what it means to be a male and what kinds of male emotional responses are acceptable or expected. But that sentence with all the hyphens is overlong and I lose steam halfway through it. There’s a voice issue with “recklessly abuse drugs and alcohol.” I can’t imagine an older teen saying this. This actually sounds like an anti-drugs-and-alcohol brochure, not a teenager considering a bender.

The last line really does rub me the wrong way. The character here seems pretty condescending toward teenagers. Like he’s got their emotional responses and their experiences all figured out and he’s judging them. If I was a teen, I’d want to tell this guy off. He’s not giving a teen’s emotional experience any respect. And even if most teen drama seems like it’s just another case of “I Have So Many Issues, Please Notice Me,” it’s all very real and very important to teens themselves, no matter how frivolous it appears to an outsider. And because of that judgmental tone, this character really does seem like an outsider… and he seems like an adult. With a YA novel, that’s a problem.

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My notes of advice for this submission could best be summed up with urging the writer to focus on the character and his problem, not on expounding on various issues about life and the teen age. This person’s brother (implied by “our mom’s mini-van,” emphasis mine) has died, and he seems to know about it before the rest of his family. And he doesn’t seem too broken up by it, either. That’s the tension there. Focus on it. And don’t use fiction as a personal platform for yourself or for what you think a male would want to say. That makes it less convincing. Get to the story and let who he is and how he thinks about the world unfold naturally from there.

Stay tuned. The next submission will appear on Monday.

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I read a lot of books in my line of work. Most of them are unpublished, sure, but I still have to make time to keep up with the market. I read tons of ARCs (Advance Reader or Review Copies, sent by publishers to reviewers, bookstores and librarians before the book’s release date… I get them through bookseller friends or at industry events) and already-published books. I used to do a lot more in terms of book reviews on here, but now I think I’ll put together lists of my recent favorites a few times a year. In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a quick and dirty last-minute Holiday Gift Guide with recommendations for some things I’ve read lately and loved.

Support the industry you want to work in by buying two copies of each of these… one for the favorite teen in your life and one as research for yourself, the writer!

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flashburnoutcoverFLASH BURNOUT
by L.K. Madigan
Young Adult (336 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547194899

For Readers: You don’t need lil’ old me to recommend this book to you. It is a PW Flying Start, a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and beloved by everyone. But I will anyway, because it is just that good. You will love Blake’s voice. The main character manages to be hilarious and poignant from one moment to the next, a feat that’s not easy to pull off. Author L.K. Madigan has crafted a story where you’ll be frequently put-off by Blake and his choices, but you’ll be rooting for him anyway, all while laughing your ass off. There are some sexual situations, so this might be a good fit for the older teen set.

For Writers: This is what I mean when I say “voice.” A lot of you are still confused on that subject, or you want to see it in action. Just read this.

buckfeverBUCK FEVER
by Cynthia Chapman Willis
Middle Grade (240 pages). Feiwel & Friends, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0312382971

For Readers: I feel like I have to include BUCK FEVER here because I don’t usually cover a lot of MG and I don’t usually cover a lot of boy MG especially. This book features an unlikely hero, a boy who isn’t one of those self-conscious nerd geniuses like the character in FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE (Read my review). He’s sensitive and shy and genuinely wants to make a difference in his world and to belong to his family, neither of which he’s been able to do very well so far. A sensitively-written novel that’ll appeal to both girls and boys, this MG pits its hero against a really big moral choice… and, in my opinion, that’s the heart and essence of middle-grade right there.

For Writers: If you’re writing more literary or more old-fashioned middle-grade, pick up BUCK FEVER because it puts to bed the myth that these kinds of books have to be slow and boring. There’s a lot going on and the pacing moves briskly. There’s also a great mix here of internal conflict, of the main character and his struggles to define himself and to live up to his father’s expectations, and external conflict, with a local hunting family and the deer that he’s supposed to kill. Yes, it’s a hunting book, and that will turn some people off, but it’s still worth a study.

timothydragonTIMOTHY AND THE DRAGON’S GATE
by Adrienne Kress
Middle Grade (368 pages). Weinstein Books, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1602861091

For Readers: Hilarious hijinks ensue in Adrienne Kress’ second book. Middle-grade readers who want just the right touch of whimsy and don’t want to dip their feet into wizards and dragons will love the author’s unique take on fantasy/adventure. This will appeal to both boys and girls — a rare feat — and will leave readers clamoring for more. Good thing they’ll find it in Kress’ debut ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN, which shares characters and plot with the follow-up. Well worth a read!

For Writers: This is another example of great voice. Kress’ work is a study in the self-conscious narrator. What do I mean by that? It’s a narrator who is very much a part of the story him- or herself. They break the fourth wall, make asides to the reader and otherwise participate. The narrator’s voice colors everything. Kress’ books are also great middle-grade adventure novels with pirates, theatre, quirks galore. They’re over-the-top and they’re romps but there’s also some serious craftsmanship going on. This style worked very well for Lemony Snicket and, if you want another hidden gem example, definitely pick up TIMOTHY.

goodbyerobotHOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT
by Natalie Standiford
Young Adult (288 pages). Scholastic Press, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0545107082

For Readers: I have made no secret of my burning love for this book. It slays me. If I had read it in my incarnation as a geeky, profoundly introspective 15- or 16-year-old, it would’ve changed my life. I think it has pretty much done that anyway. This book is truly for those special readers: the observers, the quirk-ridden, the deep thinkers, the lonely hearts, the painfully awkward. And that’s an amazing thing. I think this simultaneously heart-warming and heartbreaking story is one that will reach out of the pages and grab its readers, never to let them go.

For Writers: “Quirky” is such a cheap word now. Too many people think they have what it takes to write a truly quirky character and instead they emerge with a mish-mash of incomprehensible traits that don’t make a fleshed-out person. Natalie Standiford has created characters who are almost too real. Their interests, their passions, their needs are achingly authentic. They are truly quirky, without being cute or contrived about it. And they don’t harp on their quirks or their loneliness, like most other characters do. I don’t know exactly what lesson a writer can take from this book. I’ve taken so many, over several rereadings, that I really do urge you all to just read it and discover it for yourself.

gothgirlGOTH GIRL RISING
by Barry Lyga
Young Adult (400 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547076645

For Readers: Kyra won’t be for everyone, but those who read her and resonate with her will carry her voice and her story for a very long time. Lyga’s angsty, fully-formed character has been waiting for a chance to tell her story and I can’t imagine a better one to showcase her side of things. Despite some very difficult and emotional moments throughout, the ending resonates will a rare, well-earned hope.

For Writers: Barry Lyga is a guy. But he writes an edgy teen girl with all the skill and conviction in the world. Many writers ask me if it’s okay to step so far outside yourself to find a character’s voice. Guy writers, especially, worry that they won’t get credibility writing from a girl’s POV. And I think that’s a valid concern, especially for men writing a first-person woman (I think women writing from a guy’s POV have it slightly easier in terms of criticism, as did L.K. Madigan in FLASH BURNOUT, above, but that’s another bucket of fish). If you are finding your current first-person protagonist is a stretch for you, pick up GOTH GIRL RISING and see how seamlessly the writer a) maintains the writing voice he’s well-known for, and b) slips on a whole new skin.

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And for the love of goats, go buy these at your local independent bookstore or online at IndieBound.org.

For other books that I have loved this year, click on the “Highly Recommended” tag in my blog sidebar. You’ll see things I’ve reviewed and loved from earlier.

Disclosures: This list includes friends as well as ABLit clients. Books have either been purchased by me, obtained at BEA, passed along from friends, or sent to me by the author in ARC form.

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by Maggie Stiefvater
Young Adult, 400 pages.
Scholastic Press (2009)
ISBN: 978-0545123266

“Once bitten, twice shy” does not apply to Grace. Ever since an amber-eyed wolf rescued her from his pack, she has been combing the woods for him, reveling in his silent gaze every winter.

What Grace doesn’t know is that her wolf has a name, Sam, and a human body, but only after the temperature rises past a certain degree. She also doesn’t know much she will love him. Or that this year is his last as a human before the cold wins out and he becomes a wolf forever.

Can their love thaw him for good? Better yet, how could Grace have survived her own wolf bite without turning were? Does that mean there’s a cure?

Edward who? SHIVER is poised to usher in the Age of Werewolf and dominate the glut of vampire and faerie books on the shelves. The only difference between this novel and some of the paranormal romance out there is that it’s actually good. Well-written, haunting, imagined so well and so completely that the world, the love, the wolves, and Grace’s self-deprecating and funny voice are all achingly real.

Maggie Stiefvater (author of LAMENT and the upcoming BALLAD) delivers a love story full of obsession, danger, high stakes and simple, nuzzle-your-face-in-the-hollows-of-his-neck bliss. That’s pretty much the epitome of how any great romance feels, and she captures all angles, from the stupid fights to the hope, against, in this case, some pretty long odds, that love is enough to overcome any obstacles.

And, unlike some romances out there, the two characters aren’t drawn together by inexplicable invisible magnets. There is a very real and visceral explanation for Grace and Sam’s love, and it dovetails with the rest of the book both emotionally and plot-wise, which is so refreshing.

Overall, a well-written, raw and powerful love story that just so happens to have tons of fierce werewolf action and mythology. Seriously: what more could you possibly ask for?

SHIVER officially comes out August 1st but lots of stores and Amazon are selling it early. Here are some links: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon.

For Readers: Read it. Now. Before all your friends start talking about it and you feel left out. There’s something here for everyone. Paranormal action, heart-melting romance, high school drama. It’ll take a couple hours to get through and you won’t be able to stop. For me, that’s the mark of an excellent story.

For Writers: SHIVER will take paranormal romance to a more serious and realistic level. Some of the specimens out there now have been following some old cliche that throws two unlikely but insanely hot partners together and goodness forbid anything wrench them apart, even if they have very little in common. This convention goes out the window here. The characters have great motivation to be together, the love between them feels very real (both the good and the bad of it) and they take the notion of sacrifice to an entirely new level. If you’re writing teen or paranormal romance, just know that the bar has been raised, and then go buy the book that’s raising it.

This novel is also written in very compelling alternating POV chapters, so if you’re working with two or more narrators, especially if one is a guy and one is a girl, check it out and see how Maggie does it. It really is very well-crafted.

Disclosure: Maggie is an ABLit client.

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by Daniel Waters
Young Adult, 416 pages.
Hyperion (2009)
ISBN: 978-1423109235

Phoebe and the gang are back and tensions at Oakvale High School run higher than ever. Since there are no human rights for zombies, Peter gets away with Adam’s murder. And Adam, completely different from the handsome, agile football player he used to be, must navigate his new afterlife. As more and more people try to eliminate the zombie menace, the differently biotic and Phoebe, their biggest supporter, must decide how to live and whether or not to go, ahem, underground.

In this sequel to GENERATION DEAD (see my review), Phoebe Kendall makes a very difficult choice between Tommy Williams, the articulate, intelligent zombie, and Adam, who loved her all through his life and who she must take care of in his living death. He isn’t nearly as mobile or developed, but Phoebe breaks this off with Tommy because Adam is where her heart belongs. Tommy, meanwhile, hits the road and leaves Phoebe and beautiful zombie Kelly in charge of his MySoCalledUndeath.com blog.

Meanwhile, a more radical group of zombies, led by the disgruntled Tak, start wreaking havoc to get back at society. The anti-zombie movement, which Peter has gotten mixed up in, of course, uses these pranks to frame the zombies in even bigger crimes, including a murder. As police and the FBI crack down on zombies and the formerly zombie-friendly Oakvale High bans them from lunch and then from classes, the community is thrown into turmoil. Even the supposedly friendly Hunter Foundation may not be what it seems. After a particularly vicious attack on the zombies, Phoebe and her friends need to find a place where they belong, and fast.

I really enjoyed GENERATION DEAD and KISS OF LIFE definitely kept my interest. However, not as much happened in this follow-up compared to the first book. It was pretty much the same formula repeated, only with danger coming from more people, not just Peter and a few anti-zombie radicals. Now it feels like the entire country is against the undead. Other than that, there is still the love triangle between Tommy, Phoebe and Adam, but it is just as uncertain by the end as it was in the first book. Phoebe loves Adam and we believe it, but their romance still has a doomed air about it.

Obviously, Waters is setting us up for a third book as he leaves many strands untied after the climactic human vs. zombie battle. We especially want to know what happens to Kelly, one of my favorite characters. Another interesting thread we get here is narration from Adam in his post-zombie state, where we can see his slow but steady progress toward movement, speech and thought. Watching his emotions develop is something I particularly enjoyed and it really settled the question of whether or not zombies can feel. Overall, a solid sequel that continues to raise interesting social issues, but nowhere near as interesting as the first.

Daniel Waters’s KISS OF LIFE comes out May 12th, 2009. Pre-order a copy today or pick it up at your favorite indie bookstore. Here are some links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores

For Readers: KISS OF LIFE is a good sequel for GENERATION DEAD fans. The world feels familiar by now and the dangers are still the same: zombies vs. zombie-haters. I wish there were more elements introduced into this world. The Hunter Foundation reveal was interesting and definitely hinted at but I don’t think enough was done (yet) with that storyline. Still, the franchise is good enough that I will read the third book. Just a caveat, I don’t think you’ll be very impressed with KISS OF LIFE if you haven’t read GENERATION DEAD first.

For Writers: Take a look at how Waters uses Adam’s narration throughout the book. Adam starts with halting, one-word sentences that illustrate his zombiefied condition and ends with some pretty developed prose. It’s a good narrative technique to master, especially if one of your POV characters is undergoing some sort of radical change. Just remember: “Style imitates content.” More on that later.

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by Daniel Waters
Young Adult, 416 pages.
Hyperion (Hardcover, 2008, Paperback, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1423109228

All of a sudden, dead teenagers aren’t staying that way. Now these kids — call them zombies, undead, living impaired or the politically correct term, “differently biotic” — seem to be descending on Oakvale High School. Phoebe and her friends Adam and Margi are here to witness the new revolution unfold. Their friend Collette comes back after drowning. Sensitive zombie blogger Tommy Williams joins the football team. The Hunter Foundation, a research society for the differently biotic, sets up camp and offers an Undead Studies class. All the while, a different kind of unrest is boiling, led at school by Peter, the quarterback, who thinks the dead should stay dead. Ministers cry “Apocalypse!” and the living figure out that the differently biotic can be killed.

As Phoebe falls for Tommy Williams, who isn’t like the other zombies, who can move and smile and speak without the trademark hitch in his voice and maybe even feel, Peter comes up with a plan to put the zombies in their place (six feet under, all over again). When the undead congregate at a Haunted House on the outskirts of town for a party, Phoebe must choose between Tommy and her very human friend Adam. Little do they know that Peter and his shotgun are about to make that choice much more difficult.

People get their yaya’s in many different ways. For me, I love trashy-yet-intelligent books like THE LUXE series and catching up on the occasional VH1 reality show (Tough Love and Tool Academy, anyone?). While I like reading the mind-blowing books, like yesterday’s THE CHOSEN ONE, which I can’t stop thinking about, I really can enjoy a fun, trashy novel every once in a while. That’s what I was thinking when I picked up GENERATION DEAD, so my expectations were pretty low. Imagine my surprise when it surpassed my wildest hopes as a really, really enjoyable book that I couldn’t put down!

Not only is this a high school love story, but it verges on creating a reality where there is a believable and dangerous battle for zombie civil rights. It gets totally political and I loved it! For a book with such a fluffy cover, it manages to explore prejudice and hate issues pretty deeply and ends with a predictable but emotionally charged scene of deadly sacrifice. I know my credibility with the intellectuals out there is about to take a nosedive, but life can’t be all serious, all the time. Neither can undeath!

Tired of inarticulate, slobbering zombies? There’s no better way to develop a reverence and passion for zombie rights than picking up GENERATION DEAD and its forthcoming sequel, KISS OF LIFE!

GENERATION DEAD is out in paperback as of April, 2009. Its sequel, KISS OF LIFE, is coming out May 12th and I’m posting my review of that tomorrow. Here are links for GENERATION DEAD in paperback: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores

For Readers: A breezy and addictive read that manages to go surprisingly deep below the surface. Follow Tommy, Kelly, Phoebe, Margi and Adam and be sure to read Tommy Williams’s blog, MySoCalledUndeath.com, which is still maintained with regularity. If you find yourself tempted to sport an “All My Friends Are Dead” shirt after reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Perfect for paranormal fans, beach reading, reluctant readers and zombie fans everywhere.

For Writers: Yes, I will make a recommendation that writers read this book. The writing is actually just fine and carries the story very well. What I love about this book (and about THE LUXE series) is that Waters uses alternating POV’s in chapters and sections to really ramp up the tension. We get to see the good guys advancing toward their goals and then the bad guys plotting, all from their own unique POV’s. If you’ve never written in alternating POV, it’s a challenging but dynamite way to raise stakes and increase tension.

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Today, we’ve got a fantastic interview for you from our Kidlit Book Club pick of the month author, Heather Duffy Stone. Since her debut novel, THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU, deals with such intense and honest emotions, I wanted to find out more about what her process was when it came to writing these types of scenes. Enjoy!

Kidlit: All three of your main characters in the book, Noelle, Nadio and Keeley, have intense feelings about sex. From Noelle’s disappointment and Keeley’s experience to Nadio’s complicated inner struggle, how did you go about writing these scenes? What did you want to convey?

Heather Duffy Stone: This is a great question. I have to say these scenes were easy in the sense that I knew that the book was going to be about the intensely complicated nature of first sexual experiences. I felt very strongly where the characters were coming from and I pulled on experience. I mean not just my own.

In fact it was very much the experience of growing up and of hearing friends’ stories and talking friends through different experiences. I wanted to convey the truth of first relationships. I think Keeley and Nadio cared about each other deeply but they were coming from different, and very uncertain places. I think Noelle and Parker did not have a relationship based on love or trust, but it was certainly based on a mutual physical attraction. I wanted to convey that both of these things are very real and valid.

KL: The triangle of relationships between the three main characters makes for a lot of intense emotions: love, hate, jealousy. Does this “threesome” relationship come from something in your own life?

HDS: Wow. Well, yes and no. Everything I write comes from some kind of experience. And I actually have been part of a lot of friendships where two parties end up falling in love. But mostly I wanted to write about the two sides of ourselves that pull us in different directions—hence the twin thing.

KL: Without giving too much away, there is also a breakdown and cry for help in your book, including a time when the character isn’t exactly clear-headed. How did you handle writing this scene? Did you have any concerns about broaching the topic of possible suicide?

HDS: I didn’t have any concerns—this scene had to happen. I felt comfortable and confident writing it and, again, I wanted to convey only truth. I did not want to sugar coat anything. I have a graduate degree in Counseling, so maybe I have added confidence writing about these kinds of scenes—but at the same time I certainly worry. I knew there was not going to be a clear fix or a happy ending to this story. But life is often the same way.

KL: Nadio has a complicated relationship with his role as a man and other males, especially his estranged father. What was it like writing from his perspective? How did you make his experience and his relationship with manhood and with his father so truthful?

HDS: Writing as a teenage boy was so hard. In some ways, Nadio is the character I’m closest to. He is most like me I think and it was very easy to write his inner journey sometimes. But he was definitely way too feminine in the early stages. Some of my readers just kept underlining scenes. “Too girly, too girly”. He is still very sensitive, but I think he is undoubtedly a man now… thanks in huge part to my critique partners!

As far as manhood, I think I was able to convey trying to grow up—to fill expectations and be yourself and protect and take care of people without giving up too much of yourself. I hope I was able to do that. I think we can all relate to that same kind of searching.

KL: Did the book begin with either narrator or was it always going to be two POVs? Which narrator was easier to write? Did you ever find yourself writing more fluidly in one or the other?

HDS: Actually, the book began seven years ago with Lace (the mother). It was a third person adult novel about her. But my perspective and my interest changed gradually. Then it had three narrators—Keeley was actually a narrator. But the story belongs to the twins. I loved writing both of them—it really fed two sides of my story, and my needs as a writer, but I think I could also appeal to different kinds of readers too.

KL: You made the choice not to use any quotes or a lot of dialogue tags. Can you talk to us a little bit about the thought process behind this?

HDS: It’s not very exciting. It just felt completely unnatural to punctuate dialogue in this story. Noelle and Nadio are so overwhelmed, so uncertain about speaking certain truths out loud, and sometimes aren’t even making the distinction themselves between what they’re feeling and what they’re saying. I just wanted the reader, in some way, to feel this with them.

Thank you so so so much for having me, Mary. This was so fun!

THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU is Heather Duffy Stone’s first novel, it came out with Flux in March, 2009. Order it right here or pick it up in your favorite indie store. You can check out Heather’s website here and join the dedicated Kidlit Book Club page we have by clicking here.

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