A few days ago, I read The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens by VICKY WHO READS. It was a thought provoking blog post about Young Adult (YA) fiction that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how teens are isolated from the books that are supposed for them.
Because adults are the ones writing YA, publishing it, and spending money on it, teen voices often get left out of the genre. This had me wondering if my YA fiction was guilty of isolating teens, and if as someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time with teens, I should even be writing books labeled as for teens.
I’m still grappling that and one way I am pursuing it is by reflecting on how I read as a teenager so I can see how it impacts my assumptions about teen readers. What I discovered about the later is worth sharing.
I was high school from 2002-2006, and I was barely aware that there was a category of fiction labeled as “Young Adult.” I think read about five YA titles on my own, unless you count the Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl series, but I think those are really middle grade.
Some of the books I was forced to read, like Lord of the Flies or A Separate Peace might be labeled YA now, but they were written long before YA was an official category.
I was actually in college when I started seeking out and reading YA novels. I met a girl who called herself Artemis, and she let me borrow a copy of Tithe by Holly Black. She introduced me Libbra Bray, and eventually Cassandra Clare (whose books made me shelve Power Surge for a long, long time).
If I wasn’t reading YA in high school, what was I reading?
The Star Wars Expanded Universe, which sadly is no longer cannon. There were plenty of books in that series to keep me busy for a long time. Why would I bother with the YA shelves when all the good Star Wars stories where in the Sci-Fi section?
Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels were one of the best things my senior English teacher introduced me too.
I’m almost certain I was a senior in high school when I started reading The Dresden Files, though it might have been the summer after graduation. I know was not happy when I got to White Night and realized it wasn’t out yet.
I loved these books. I bought them in used book stores, or the used “Section” of my favorite indie bookstores (Jabberwocky and Toadstool). If I couldn’t find it used, I went to the new section, and if it wasn’t there, Borders almost always had it. The staff often said they could special order things for me, but I never wanted to wait that long.
I didn’t really write reviews since I didn’t spend much time online. There was one computer in the house that I shared with my parents. The only review I remember writing of a bool was for my local new paper’s teen authored page. Normally, they published teen authored movie reviews every Saturday. But one week, they let me choose a book from a selection of ARC’s they’d gotten. I picked a science fiction novel by Mike Resnick.It wasn’t YA. I don’t remember which one and I don’t think I’ve ever read any other books.
I occasionally pre-ordered things, especially if it was summer and I had money from my job as a game attendant at Canobie Lake Park.
Like many of the teens mentioned in Vicky’s post, I did not have a huge influence on the industry.
The other question is, did I connect to those characters?
Jaina Solo and Mara Jade Skywalker are still two of my favorite heroines and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive Disney for erasing them. Mara was an adult, but when I started reading, Jaina was a teen who acted as much like a teen as one can when being a Jedi and the daughter of Han and Leia. She acted more teen-like than the adult characters, and as she aged, her voice matured appropriately.
And with the other stories? Tolkien? Butcher? Kurtz?
No. Their characters weren’t other teens with relatable experiences. They were fascinating heroes I could vicariously live through for days on end, but they didn’t really share problems or experiences with me.
They weren’t necessarily characters I needed. They didn’t show me it was okay to be depressed, or that medication wouldn’t change who I was or ruin my ability to be creative. They didn’t help me understand why I was so jealous of the girls who boy’s clothing or help me understand that I could dress like that too if I wanted to.
Honestly, I can’t say the actual “YA” books did any better. Later, when I read YA in college, I found those characters relatable to my self as a college student. They weren’t much more relevant to high-school me than Harry Dresden or Bilbo Baggins.
These are books that had a big impact on my writing: Holly Black for the better and Cassandra Clare for the worse (because I thought there wasn’t room on the shelf for both of our demon hunter books).
I try to write the books I think would’ve helped me if I picked them up as a teen, but I’m 30 and I can’t help but wonder: are my teens to mature? Did I Erin Evanstar grow up too much between draft 1 and draft 15? Will they help teens how I imagine? Will teens even read Power Surge?
So far, more 3/5 of my reviews are from adult men.
The only non-adult feedback I’ve gotten is from the 7th grader in my neighborhood who hangs out with the adults more than the kids. They said they were loving it so much that their mom had to take it away so they could do their homework. They said it was relatable, but when I asked why, they said it was because of the protagonist used “they/them” as a pronoun. How much of this kid connecting was because the 17-year-old character as a whole was relatable, and how much of it was because they just hadn’t read many other books with enby protagonists?
I have no clue.
Going forward, if I truely want my books to serve teens, I need to seek out feedback from teen beta readers and read whatever teen authored reviews and book blogs I can find, otherwise, my “YA” will be for adults who are young, not teenagers.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this up because I love Holly Black’s faerie stories, I was sick, too tired of looking at a screen to write more, but not willing to get lost in a novel that would take me away from my words for too long.
I liked how it was written to the sister, how the “stories” were interspersed with the narrative, and enjoyed being back in the realm of the fair folk.
However, it almost felt like a summary of Cruel Prince from Taryn’s point of view as opposed to the love/horror story apology I wanted it to be.
Every time Taryn spoke of jealousy, I felt a little of it. Not for a lover, but for the ability to be able to have enough of a fan base to write and sell a companion novella like this, one wholly dependent on readers knowing what happened in book 1 and already knowing and loving the world.
Now that I’ve admitted my jealousy to the internet, I’ll put it aside and go to sleep.
Tomorrow, I’ll get up and I go to work at my paying job and I’ll write on my breaks and at night when I should be sleeping. I’ll focus on the little step I won and keep writing for another.
This week, I attended my first two book-related events as an author: a book talk / signing at Jabberwocky Books and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival.
For someone with lots of social anxiety, planning, committing too, and/or attending events is no small feat, but somehow, I managed to set up a launch event and sign up for a book festival.
After convincing myself that one event or another wasn’t going to happen, they did. I did my talk and signing at Jabberwoky. I sold books at the festival.
I learned a few things.
For first time authors, launch events are really for family and friends. Unless you have a fascinating non-fiction topic people want to learn about, if they don’t know who you are, they are probably not going to take time out of their Friday night to listen to you talk about your book. That’s my theory, anyway.
On the other hand, my family and friends showed. They were super excited to be there, to have me sign a copy of Power Surge, and to congratulate me. I was the only one that seemed disappointed that there weren’t any “strangers” in the audience.
It is a lot easier to stand at a podium and talk to strangers than it is to talk to people I know.
The book festival wasn’t any different than the craft fairs I attended back when I sold sea glass jewelry. A lot of people attended, but there were also a lot of vendors. People walked by the table, picked up books, said good things about them, and walked away, saying they needed to look more before buying.
90% of people who say they will or might come back do not.
I brought about fifty copies of Power Surge and sold three. I brought ten copies of Drabbledark and sold four. At craft fairs, I’d have at least fifty pieces of jewelry, and I’d sell somewhere between four and ten pieces.
I made some mistakes:
- As usual, I left something I needed at home.
- I arrived at the venue with just enough time to set up, but not enough time to take a breath between set up and people walking in.
- I had to make three trips to the car because I brought too much and it wasn’t packed up efficiently.
These three mistakes are ones I made early in my craft fair and flea market days.
It wasn’t all a disaster. I remebered to get plenty of one dollar bills, so I could make change. I brought snacks, and ALL the pens and sharpie I needed.
Next time, I won’t let anxiety and imposter syndrome stop me from preparing. I’ll pack efficiently, and get everything ready the night before. I’ll have a larger variety of items.
I’ll be ten times more confident.
Writing Through Life (and doggy drama)
October’s Question is:
How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?
My answer is yes.
Major life events can affect how frequently I write, how coherent that writing is, and sometimes, even the content of my writing.
When I’m stressed, anxious to the point where I can’t even think about going to bed at a reasonable time, writing is the only thing that keeps me going. When my spouse goes to bed, I’ll sit up at the kitchen table with the cat at my feet, frantically writing until two or three in the morning. The sentence structure and punctuation might be more off than usual, but it is also when I can actually write emotion, show characters feeling things.
With Power Surge, the book that took a decade to finish, life events and revelations about my self shaped how I finished and revised the novel. In fact, one could say it was a major life event that lead me to finish it in the first place: I finished a different book. And I finished that book because it was the only way to get through a few months of very high anxiety.
Whether it was Power Surge, or one of my yet to be published manuscripts (Song of the Forest, Like Birds, or Earth Reclaimed), my novels, and my numerous short stories, have all helped me coped with anxiety, depression, or whatever my brain throws at me.
This summer in particular, writing helped me deal with a stressful neighborhood situation. The two people who live on either side of me both have dogs. One dog is female, yellow, and about 45 pounds (the same size as my dog). Tavi, my pup, was still a baby when the yellow dog came to the neighborhood, and I swear she thinks she is his mother, at least she protects him like a mother dog would protect her puppies. To the other side of me is an 8lb ball of yapping energy.
This was not a good combination. One day, the little dog chased Tavi out of my yard and into her driveway. I thought Tavi had been tied to the trailer of the boat I was cleaning, but I had never actually clipped his 15-foot training leash to anything, so as he ran, that dragged behind him.
Tavi stopped and play bowed, possibly oblivious to little dog’s ruffled fur and bared teeth. Yellow dog charged out of her yard and down the driveway, grabbed little dog, and pullled her away from Tavi.
Little dog got hurt.
And for the next month, neighborhood tension grew as yellow dog’s and little dog’s owners passive aggressively argued over whose dog should be leashed and who was responsible for the vet bill.
Literally and figuratively, I was in the middle of it.
It was summer, so I wasn’t working. Yellow dog’s human, also a teacher, wasn’t working. Little dog’s owner, a national grid gas employee, was on strike and eventually, locked out.
In one month, I wrote a 20,000 novella and revised it three times. It wasn’t directly about what was happening in the neighborhood, but in one scene, a similar incident occurred. The main character was dealing with the same kind of mental health problems as me.
I haven’t looked at the story in a while, so I can’t confidently say whether or not it was good. But after proof reading the third draft, I remember thinking it was fantastic, and that it was the most emotional piece I had written since Power Surge.
- Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2RoANiQ
- Amazon Paperback: https://amzn.to/2xWqpqp
- Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729
- NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/
- Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/897512
Thank you Matt Doyle Media and IndigoMarketing for hosting my release day blitz! Check it out for an excerpt, book description, and a chance to win a $10 NineStar Press gift certificate.
Power Surge’s road to publication has been long and bumpy, but as it gets closer and closer to publication date, I want to take a minute to discuss the age category, trigger warnings, and mature content.
I’ve rarely thought of Power Surge as anything other than Young Adult (YA). However, you may notice it listed on Amazon as New Adult (NA), and on my publisher’s website, it is tagged as both YA and NA.
My publisher has reasons for labeling it so, but to me, this book is YA. The main character is a 17-year-old high school senior who is still trying to figure out who they are and dealing with very teenage issues.
However, my editor feels the themes were more suitable for a NA audience. While I agree this might be too mature for many 12 or 13-year-olds I think a 16-year-old would be fine. Depending on their life situation, it might be the kind of book that helps them get through a dark time or even empowers them.
If you are a parent, educator, or anyone thinking of recommending this book to teens and want to know more about content warnings and why the book is tagged as both NA and YA, here are some explanations. But be warned, they do contain spoilers.
These are the warnings listed in the book: Depictions of violence, discussion of off-page abuse, death of a parent, mentions of off-page sexual assault, brief on-page depictions of attempted sexual assault, self-harm, suicide ideation, and bullying.
What follows is an explanation of why they are there and how they relate to the age category.
Content Warnings + Rational:
Violence: This is a book about demon hunters, so as you might expect, the main character, Erin, violently fights and banishes demons. There are four violent fight scenes in the book. There are two sparring matches.
Erin thinks violent thoughts about people, but they rarely act on those feelings. For example, Erin knows their love interest, José, is abused by his father. When Erin sees José’s father, they think about specific ways they want to hurt him.
There are many YA books with much larger amounts of violence, and perhaps some middle grade books that are on par with it. Erin may rage and think about hurting people all the time, but most of their physical fights are not against other humans. In fact, Erin is often aware of how wrong some of their violent thoughts are. The book sends a clear message that it is not okay to hurt other people.
Discussion of off-page abuse: As I mentioned above, José’s father is physically and verbally abusive. The physical abuse is not shown on the page, but the bruises it yields are.
As much as Erin hates José’s dad for being an abuser, Erin is terrified that they are going to be abusive to José. More about that in the next section.
Mentions of off-page sexual assault: This is one of warnings that makes me hesitate to give this book to a 12 or 13 year-old. Some junior high students would be okay reading this, but others would not.
Through internal thought and dialogue, readers learn that when Erin was 16, their boyfriend tried (and ultimately failed) to rape them. Erin retailed by trying to murder him.
More specifically, Erin tells José about the following event:
Erin and their now ex-boyfriend Ricky were kissing on a beach. He wanted to touch them places they said he couldn’t touch. He touched them anyway. Erin punched him in the face. He forcefully removed some of Erin’s clothing. They fought physically. Erin nearly beat him to death.
The above scene isn’t shown on page, rather relayed through dialogue and some internal monologue.
It does haunt Erin through out the book. It makes it harder for Erin to trust people. It’s one of the reasons Erin thinks of themself as a monster. Yes, Ricky did something bad and tried to do something horrendous, but Erin feels that while subduing him, even leaving him unconscious was justifiable, murder would not have been.
When José and Erin make out, Erin thinks of the incident with Ricky. Anxiety and rage mix. Erin says no physically (i.e. shoving José across a room) instead of just telling him to stop, and they hate themself for it. Hence what I said above about Erin thinking they are an abuser.
Brief on page depictions of attempted sexual assault: A demon that feeds off of human energy, sometimes by sex or touch, tries to grope Erin. Later, that same demon pins another character to a wall with the implied intent of sexual assault, but Erin stops it.
There is a scene where José appears to be trying to pressure Erin to have sex with him, but later, it is revealed to have been an act they both agreed to in order to make their enemy think Erin was alone, angry, and vulnerable. Erin was using themself as bait to lure a demon into a trap.
Self-harm: Erin has some mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety. Like me, Erin’s anxiety often turns into rage. When Erin can’t contain it and is afraid they will harm someone else, they harm themselves. Erin views it as an addiction they need to quite. They know it’s a bad coping mechanism, but they’re human (somewhat human, anyway) and make mistakes. The self-harm happens several times in the book, but it is clearly portrayed as a problem that they haven’t yet found a solution to.
Suicide ideation: There are a few instances where Erin thinks about a past suicide attempt and/or that they would be better off dead. These thoughts are fleeting.
Bullying: Jenny Dunn, José’s ex, is on a jealousy-motivated mission to make Erin miserable whether it is by using inaccurate slurs, dumping food on Erin’s head, or ganging up on them in a locker room.
Death of a parent: José’s father dies.
Despite these warnings, I believe that Power Surge is YA.
There are plenty of other books labeled YA that are as mature, if not more mature, than Power Surge. For example, Mindy McGinnis’s Female of the Species is YA and it explores rape culture and violence. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series is YA, but it is exponentially more violent and has more sexual content.
More importantly, I think this book is appropriate because some of the issues that make it dark are also things that make real life dark. There are teens get angry, and violent, just like there are teens who get depressed, bullied, and sexually assaulted.
Sexual Assault is all over the media these days with accounts of victims coming forward after years of staying silent and with people resisting the rape culture that kept them silent.
Power Surge is relevant, perhaps more so now than it was over a decade ago when I started writing it.
If I haven’t ruined the book for you, pre-order Power Surge on
NineStar Press.com: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/
An article I wrote for Pulp Appeal:
(Editors’ Note: Sara Codair lives in a world of words. Writing is like breathing; they can’t live without it. Sara teaches and tutors writing at a Northern Essex Community College. They live with a cat named Goose who likes to “edit” their work by deleting entire pages and a dog who limits their screen time. Their short stories were published in places like Unnerving Magazine, Broadswords and Blasters, Alternative Truths, and Once Upon a Rainbow II. Their debut novel, Power Surge, will be published by NineStar Press on Oct. 1, 2018. Find Sara online at https://saracodair.com/. Twitter: @shatteredsmoothFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/saracodair1)
It’s time to unlock my word-hoard and take “Pulp Appeal” back to the days of the mead halls and scops.
Editors’ Note: The Heaney translation is editor and poet Cameron Mount’s favorite, but even so it doesn’t hold a candle to the…
View original post 972 more words
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received an advanced release copy of this from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Undertow, the second installment in the Port Lewis Witches Series, was as beautifully written as the first book, however, I didn’t love it as much as I loved Darkling. The prose and plot and were great. However, I didn’t connect with Liam as much as I did Ryder. It’s not fault of the writers — Ryder and Liam are just different people, and Ryder was the one I engaged with more.
On with the review.
If you’ve read Darkling, than expect the same lyrical writing filled with lush imagery and stormy emotion.
The plot is the good kind of slow. It’s followed a clear path and while I was on it, I had an idea of where it might be going, but I wasn’t really sure until I saw it all play out. It definitely added depth to Liam’s character, closed one chapter of his relationship with Ryder and began a new one.
Zooming out to the bigger picture, I am more fascinated by the circle now than I was with the last book. I love seeing how they grapple with their friendship. They’re young but not children; they’re testing their power and their responsibilities figuring their place in the universe, and they still have a lot figuring to do.
I’m looking forward to the next installment.
I’ve lived my entire life with characters and stories in my head. Some were as original as anything can be while others were fan-fictions that never escaped my maze of a mind long enough to be put on paper.
After watching Xena: Warrior Princess, I’d run around the house with music blasting. The living room would fade as I retreated into my head where I reimagined the episode with myself, or a character based off of myself, involved in some major way. If no one interrupted me, I’d plot out the next episode and the next. Each would steer further from the plot, featuring more of me and my made up characters and less Xena and Gabrielle.
TV shows and movies never failed to rev up my imagination, but they were not my only source of stories. Songs, fears, news, and my contorted perception of reality were compost to my imagination’s produce.
For all the stories I dreamed while running and dancing, I wrote sporadically, scribbling ideas in journals and penning poems for school assignments. As much as I loved making stories, the creative part of my brain rarely worked unless my body was moving.
So the characters stayed inside me. To an extent, they grew with me.
Terrifying magical adventures involving waterfalls, brain-altering head injuries, supernatural relatives, and a fair amount of time travel shaped them into distinct people that had less and less in common with me as time went on.
They reproduced like cells.
As the adventures piled up an they grew more and more complex, sometimes, they split into two or three different characters.
Yes, some of them had things in common with me, but none of them were me. I no longer had a version of myself that popped into tv shows and fan fiction. I had a cast of distinct , developed characters trying to claw their way out of my head.
Ari. Amelia. Elle. Erin. Lucy. Michael. Sam.
There are more, but some of their names have faded from memory even if their personalities haven’t.
I started writing. I had to. My brain would’ve exploded. Reality would’ve shattered. Something bad would’ve happened.
At first, writing came in short bursts. Stories would fill a notebook on rainy summer days or cold winter nights. Senior year of high school, I wrote and illustrated the first twenty or so pages of a centaur portal fantasy. Freshmen year of college, I wrote the first act of a screen play. I started a novel. I wrote a short story. Started another novel.
Each time I wrote, the characters that grew up with me appeared in the story along side new faces. My burst of writing grew longer each time they happened.
When I was 26, on a cold October night when I couldn’t sleep, I started the longest writing spurt I’d ever had, meaning it hasn’t ended. In one for or another, I have written every day since then.
Characters and pieces of stories coalesced into novels.
The characters continued to grow through the whole process.
Now, I’m proud to say that the world gets to meet two characters that have lived in my head under one name or another for most of my life.
Erin and Mel (Amelia) debuted in notebook pages. They solidified in a screenplay. Bloomed in a mess of a half of a book I started in college. They slept for decades, through short stories and a paranormal suspense.
They slept but the they never left. Their identities evolved with mine.
Erin’s mental health deteriorated with mine. When I discovered the words and concepts that I could use to finally explain how I felt about my gender, Erin used those words too
I could tell you what Mel or Erin had for breakfast on any given day. I could tell you about their first kisses, their greatest fears, most embarrassing moments, successes and failures. The last mountain they skied. The last trail they hiked
People always ask me how I keep it all in my head, if I had spreadsheets and pages of notes.
When it comes to the Evanstars? I didn’t need those things. I internalized world and most of it’s inhabitants long before I started writing. I have drafts and short stories and micro stories and poems.
I have dreams.
These characters own a piece of me.
They are pieces of me.
Their stories will always live in my soul, but if I have readers willing to read, then I will write and write in this universe as long as I can.
I just hope that when readers meet them on October 1st, they love them as much as I do.