Writing for Young Adults Panel – AWP 2012

I’m live blogging from AWP.

The panel hasn’t even started yet and the room is packed.

Meg Kearney
Curtis L. Crisler
Helen Frost
Marilyn Nelson
April Lindner

April admits she was an accidental YA novelist. Her agent said her novel “Jane” (a modern telling of Jane Eyre) would be better for teens so she changed it only slightly (the ages of the characters and toned down some of the racier scenes), everything else stayed the same.

April says that she finds YA freer then she ever would have imagined. The readers are highly communicative and write often.

April reads a selection from the fourth chapter of her novel, “Jane”.

Meg is reading poems from her novel in verse. Her second poem she read “My Two Mothers’ is about having an adoptive mother and a birth mother.

Meg says that it’s fun writing for young adults because they not only are very communicative, they write great reviews of books they love and they share them with their peers.

She says she grew up with books and Jane Eyre changed her life, so it’s fun to write for young adults because that’s the age most people have a book change their life.

Meg said she did a Q&A and didn’t realize there were so many people who were adopted. After the Q&A a girl came up and said that she had never talked about being adopted with anyone other than her mother before and Meg said to herself, this is why I write.

“Writing for children or young adults is as hard as it is for adults.”

The hardest part of writing for YA/children is the fact that it’s treated like the unloved step-sister by others. Inevitably YA writers are asked, “are you ever going to write for adults,” or “are you ever going to write a ‘real’ book?”

Because of this, Meg says, sometimes we even ghetto-ize ourselves. But we need to be part of the conversation.

Curtis is reading poems from his works. He said that his novel was his MFA project, and someone told him, “whoever publishes this is going to have to have balls.” He paused and said, “and guess what? It’s published as YA.”

His novel, “Dreamist” is about a kid from Chicago who gets a scholarship to Cal State. It’s a mix-genre novel (prose/poetry).

The books I read as a kid is the reason I want to write now.

Helen made a hand out on where to start if you’re beginning writing YA literature. “I use a story to pull teenagers into poetry.”

Helen is reading her poems. Her first one is about an abusive father.

Marilyn tells the story that someone once asked a famous poetry author what her writing process was like and were shocked when the author said that the first part of her process every day is to answer fan mail.

Marilyn says she fell into YA backwards while working on a biography of George Washington Carver. At first she said, “I don’t want to be stuck in the children’s book ghetto,” but it was a life-changing experience. That said, her books are not reviewed in poetry journals.

People act like they can’t buy and read YA books. “I’ll buy it for the 14 year old daughter of a friend of mine, but I won’t read it myself.” And Marilyn says that sad.

Marilyn says that she writes for YA for political reasons. She knows too many people who write poetry with the purpose of not being accessible. They want their poems to not be read by 90% people. Marilyn, as a reaction, wants to write poems that don’t scare readers away. “I write history.” She calls herself a lyric historian because of a 7th grader who called her that when she did a reading at a school.

She says that she uses poetry because words effect us in a new way. “Poets always complain that they don’t have an audience, a way to get an audience is to write for young adults. If they learn to love poetry at age 15, in 10 years they’ll be 25 and still love poetry.”

Marilyn is reading a poem based on a fan who told her about a time she met George Washington Carver as a child.

Question: “Are there are any journals that accept YA in verse?”
Sucker Literary Magazine http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/

Question: Taboo subjects – do they need to be wrapped up at the end? Or the answer be moral?
Curtis: No. I think we need to be truthful to characters.

Question: Do you find your audience is a younger audience (because kids like reading ‘older’ books).
April: I get a range, but a majority of them are on target age.
Helen: “They advise you to write your protag older than your target reader.”

Question: Where are the avenues/places for writers to bounce ideas off each other?
Society of Children Book Writers is a good start?
Highlights Foundation
Halmen University has a low-res MFA has children/YA writing program

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