Sunday, November 29, 2009

Oh Parents Where Art Thou? Parental Archetypes in YA Literature

Did you catch Donna's awesome post about the BFF in YA literature? Awesome, right? Well get ready for another one of our popular quick studies. Today we're talking about PARENTS!

I know, I know, they don't sound that exciting, but hear me out.

Parents are super important in YA literature. For one thing, they are how your characters were born. Ok, so maybe you technically gave birth to them in your head, but they were also raised by their literary parents (or we shall see) and who their parents are and how they raised them and whether or not they're alive or dead, absent or present, normal or wacky can have a very important impact on your MC. I'm going to divide this post up into two sections. The Absent Parent and the Present Parent-simple enough, right? Here we go!

Absent Parents!!!

You know the drill. You're a teenager falling in love with a  hot vampire--rescuing your werewolf boyfriend from the snow--saving the world from being sucked into hell by a statue--defeating the world's darkest wizard--discovering your new psychic powers through art--getting drunk in a parking lot and rescued by your crush--uncovering the truth about fallen angels--sneaking into an abandoned warehouse to not have sex with your sort of boyfriend---whewww. It's kind of hard to do all of that when Mom and Dad are around. (I will think of a prize for the person who can name every single one of those references accurately--it's a mix of literature and tv)

So luckily for us we have the ever-present archetype of the absent parent. Because curfews and saving the world do not mix!

Dead Parents

Lily and James Potter, Harry Potter

They're dead...
Pros: Very popular in Fantasy, allows the MC the most freedom to explore and go on adventures, adds emotional depth to an MC, if parents murdered you now have a motivation for the character and an innate desire for love and acceptance, you can avoid a lot of angsty emo "I hate my parents" moments, great way to keep secrets from your MC.

Cons: Very popular in Fantasy, usually the MC is then paired up with guardians or relatives who can turn into nightmare Present parents--see below, you are required to explore the depth that comes with having dead parents, it can shape your character in ways you may not have seen and now need to consider.

The Abandoned Parent
sometimes known as the widower, widow, divorcee, single mom

Charlie Swan, Twilight

Loss of signifcant other has left them down and out and absent...
Pros: Much like the dead parents, they are also very popular in Fantasy, particularly in Paranormals. They usually let you do whatever you want without asking too many questions, they often stay off the page and enter very few scenes, often they are away on business (think Nora's mom in Hush, Hush).

Cons: You had better consider the backstory and how that not only affects the parent, but your MC as well, too often they become flat unbelievable characters, though absent they need to be written with a sophisticated amount of empathy, they have a habit of becoming strangely present at very inconvenient times (think Bella trying to leave town to escape James--ouch!) If you're in a Fairy Tale, beware of step mothers. May also lead to meek, shy MC's with unresolved self esteem issues.

The Abandoning Parent

Chris, Gilmore Girls

Flighty, scatty, unreliable, and totally immature
Pros: They can become plots in and of themselves (think Ruby in Lock and Key), they can be very fun to write, they give the MC a lot of character, can cause a lot of premature growth in your character (think Bella's Mom in Twilight).

Cons: Careful they don't become cardboard characters or too unrealistic, backstory is important, a resolution between them and your MC is usually crucial to the plot, can lead to emotionally cut off MCs with anger management issues that don't know how to love.

The Distracted Parent

Aunt Jenna, Vampire Diaries

"What honey? Did you say something?"
Pros: Similar to the dead parents in that they don't often get in the way of our hero(ine) and their adventure. They don't appear a lot and they don't ask a lot of questions, usually because they're too caught up in thier own lives to care, or they were thrust into the role of parenting too soon (think Helen in Raising Helen). Also closely related to the Abandoned Parent, the MC can pretty much do whatever they want (think Grace in Shiver, and Camelia in Deadly Little Lies).

Cons: They can be a cop out for a writer who doesn't want to deal with parents, they can easily lead you into lazy writing if not done carefully, be weary of believability issues and like the abandoned parent, they will leave your MC with self esteem issues, though they usually get angry about it at some point. If the Distracted Parent is not your biological 'rent, than you've got to make sure your MC believably deals with the issues that arise from The Dead Parents,  or The Abandoned Parent or The Abandoning Parent, (also think Charlie from Party of Five).

Honorable Mention: The In-Denial Parents

Joyce Summers, Buffy seasons 1&2

"Honey, is that blood on your shirt? Oh silly me. It's just paint!"
They're there, they're present, they sometimes maybe think that something is going on, but they just don't get it and their blindness leads to MCs getting into all sorts of shenanigans.

Now onto the...

The Present Parents

Look out. They can be your best friend, or your worst nightmare, but you better believe that when you come home with that vampire hickey on your shoulder, they are going to notice!

The Best Friend

Lorelai Gilmore, Gilmore Girls

"Hey, can I borrow your shoes? Yeah, the strappy ones."
Pros: They are fun, quirky, understanding, your MC will never be lonely and will have great self esteem, plus what a relief to see a parent and child who actually get along. Teen angst, take the train out of here, you're not welcome.

Cons: Best friends do not lend themselves well to MCs running around on their own. If your MC goes off on an adventure, the Best Friend is going to notice, maybe even try to come along and bring the salsa. You will have a hard time using the Best Friend in a fantasy or paranormal or anything. If the MC breaks away from the BFF there will be drama!

The Evil Parents

The Dursleys, Harry Potter

"Clean the kitchen, pick up my dry cleaning and stop ruining my life!"
Pros: They make great foils, they are a fantastic way to invoke instant sympathy and likeability for the MC, the MC can often run off on their adventures without feeling guilty, in fact, being a rebel is vindicating! Often they aren't even related to your MC (usually guardians or step-parents).

Cons: They often become cliched or cartoonish, there needs to be a realistic motivation for their cruelty. Be careful that they're not too cruel or child services will need to be called (think Ms. Minchin in A Little Princess).

The Perfect Parents

Patty Chase, My So Called Life

"Oh honey, you have a wrinkle in your shirt. Now sit up straight please."
Pros: Close relatives of the In-Denial Parents, they're only happy if everything is neat, clean and perfect and often lead to great characterization and foils for your MC. Bonus! These parents are present, but their desire for everything to be just so causes them to turn a blind eye and sometimes turn into absent parents (think Macy's mom in Just Listen).

Cons: Perfection can make these parents into monsters, and if they aren't turning a blind eye they see everything, creating the need for some very tricky plotting. Also be aware of extensive groundings and punishments that can get in the way of sneaking out and going on adventures. A perfect parent gone bad...think the stage mom in Center Stage.

Normal Parents

The Camdens, 7th Heaven

"Hey Slugger, whenever you're ready I'm here to listen."
Pros: It's sort of refreshing to see a regular old set of parents who get along with their kids, are present, aren't psychotic and genuinely seem happy to be parents and in the scene you're writing. They're loving, they're sweet, they're really not an issue.

Cons: They're not very good at creating conflict, they are often the parents of your BFF (think Weasley's in Harry Potter) and they have a tendency to become the Dead Parents (think Mia's parents in If I Stay). There is no such thing as normal. Even if your family is functional, there are often elements of the other parents hidden inside. Your MC will have a very tough time sneaking out and making their own path. Be careful that they aren't too involved or too quick to solve your plot's problems, or your MC will lack serious agency!

Ok, I hope you enjoyed our quick parent study! Feel free to add more parent types in the comments below and don't forget to guess the references above.

The FNC Guide to Holiday Shopping

Yesterday was Black Friday, and all across America, we rang in the holiday season with cashiers and credit card machines. This year, as you head out in search of the perfect gifts for your friends and family members, consider stuffing your shopping bags with books--bought from your local independent bookstore, of course!

Not sure where to start? Here are a few of our favorites:

For the little person in your life: How about a wordless book? The story changes every time the book is "read"! David Wiesner's Tuesday, Sector 7, and Flotsam are always a hit. We'd also recommend Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu. The illustrations are beautiful and are great fuel for story-telling.

Mo Willem's Pigeon Books give kids a chance to talk back to a book. Plus, the illustrations are simple enough for any kid to learn, and create their own Pigeon story.

If you're looking for a different take on a picture book, try Wabi Sabi. Told top to bottom instead of left to right, it's a simple and beautiful story that will teach children how to find magic in the ordinary.

Of course, don't forget the easy readers--there's nothing more satisfying than being able to read a book all on your own for the first time. Cynthia Rylant is the author of tons, including Henry & Mudge, Poppleton, and the Mr. Putter and Tabby series. For a meater bite, check out Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series (as a companion, read Babe by Dick King-Smith as a bedtime read-aloud.)

For non-fiction, check out the books of winning children's science writer Seymour Simon. His photographs are out-of-this-world.

For the sports fan: Dan Gutman writes some great middle grade sports adventures.
Also for middle grades, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, is a poignant story about a 10-year-old Chinese girl who immigrates with her family to America. Her fascination with baseball and Jackie Robinson sustains her through the difficulties of her first year in a foreign land. The baseball elements sit in the background of this sweet and funny story about cultural adjustment and early adolescence.

Dairy Queen, The Off Season and Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock are great choices for the female sports fan in your life. The three books center around narrator D.J. Schwenk, whose story begins when she helps train the quarterback of her school's rival--and ends up trying out for the team herself.

For the philosopher: Flabbergasted by Ray Blackston. Hilariously funny. Lamb by Christopher Moore takes a look at the early life of Jesus, from the perspective of his best friend, Biff. There's also Good Omens, written by the iconic Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, all about what happens when there's a mix-up when the Antichrist is born.

For the next Joyce Carol Oates: The classics are always a great place to start. Kids can tackle classics either in abridged form to make them small-person friendly, or the more precocious can go full throlle and check out some of our favorite classics, like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. There are also the Newberry winners to turn to--The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is making its way into many childrens' hearts (and while you're at it, check out his creepy-yet-triumphant tale, Coraline!)

There's also the books of Kate DiCamillo, which are marketed to the old elementary and middle grade crowd. Her writing, with its lyrical prose and high-level vocabulary will provide a satisfying challenge to the young person who can read anything. Her best known book is The Tale of Despereaux, but her newest novel, The Magician's Elephant, is a beautiful story of hope and family--a perfect tale for the holiday time.

For the intellectual: Remembering Babylon, an obscure but wonderful work by David Malouf, is about an English boy who, shipwrecked on the eastern coast of Australia and presumed dead, was raised by aborigines until, at age 30, he stumbles upon a colonial settlement in Queensland and tries to reintegrate into European society.

Also, don't forget about the many wonderful classics: Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Fitzgerald, Hemingway . . . so much for readers to sink their teeth into!

For the young foodie: Check out Applesauce Season, by Eden Ross Lipson--a heartwarming picture book about a tasty family tradition, recipe included; and Cookie Count, an AMAZING pop-up book by Robert Sabuda


For the mature foodie: A cookbook by The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten--everything is killer delish! How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman--so informative!

For the daydreamer: Thursday Next series, Dan Brown, The Looking Glass Wars

For the techno junkie: Know someone who won't tear their eyes away from their laptop? Tempt them with a book from the cyber-punk genre, a cult-status subset of science fiction. You can start with the gurus of the genre--William Gibson (ever seen The Matrix? You can thank him for the idea!) and Neal Stephenson. Or, delve deeper and check out Richard Powers.

First Time Authors to Check Out: Here at the FNC, we've interviewed and reviewed the work of several debut authors, but we cover only a tiny fraction of what's out there. If you're interested in fresh voices, check out for an exhaustive list of the 2009 debutants.

Quality Science Fiction: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin is about George Orr, whose dreams change reality. Octavia Butler is the author of several books with science fiction themes, from Armageddon to time travel, with human relationships at the center of it all.

Strong Female Leads: Harriet the Spy, Matilda, the Tamora Pierce quartets, Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study series, The Hero and the Crown, Sabriel

Writing Reference Books: There are tons of great ones out there for every genre and every market in the writing world. Here are just a few that these writers have test-driven and approved: The Curious Writer, by Bruce Ballenger; Reading Like A Writer, by Francine Prose; and Writing with Power by Peter Elbow.

Of course, this is only a sampling of the many wonderful books available this season, so comment and add to our list and get in the holiday-book-buying spirit!


--Janine and Sara

Thursday, November 26, 2009

We're thankful for amazing authors who let us pick their brains...

Hello international readers and US-ers escaping their crazy families on Thanksgiving!

In lieu of the traditional turkey-centric post, the FNC is highlighting the people for whom we are most thankful: AUTHORS.

Everyone reading this blog is doing so because they love to read and/or write. Who inspired that all-consuming love? AUTHORS!

And who takes time out of their busy schedules to answer questions for us? (say it with me now) AUTHORS!!

Our author interviews are writer-centric but reader-friendly, meaning they're chock full of delicious info for writers but also have the juicy details that readers crave. Seriously, who needs turkey?

I absolutely love reading these interviews to get that behind-the-scenes peek at the humble beginnings of some of my favorite books and recent bestsellers.

Writing is a tough and sometimes lonely profession, so we're asking that you show your thanks to these authors today by reading a few (or all!) of these interviews and commenting on the posts with some love! I guarantee that you can't read just one.

Becca Fitzpatrick - discover more about Becca, her hot debut novel Hush, Hush, awkward moments in biology, sex on the first page?!, the writing process, chipmunk love and more

Bree Despain - learn more about The Dark Divine, Bree, what dark chocolate has to do with her writing, the creation of her playlist, secrets to the first pages and more

Cara Lockwood - discover Cara's dream school, her life as a lit nerd, her connections to MTV and Lifetime, which books she'd take to a deserted island, and bringing romantic bad boys back to life in her Bard Academy series

Emily Arsenault - learn about Emily's choice of narrator, the nudist colony scene that never made it to the final draft, and why her murder mystery, The Broken Teaglass, just might make you happy

Gayle Forman - learn about If I Stay, how Mia's love Adam isn't too far off from her real life true love, how music influenced the novel, the upcoming transition from page to screen, Gayle's unique writing process, and a little something for everyone dying to read a sequel

Jessica Verday - find out about the genesis of The Hollow's sequel, the music she identifies with the novel, her quick road to publication, and why silence really is golden

Julie Kraut - read about Julie's thoughts on characters who don't wear pants in Slept Away, being on the other side of the publishing world, and why her writing is like pepper jack cheese

Kimberly Derting - learn about creating a character's supernatural ability in The Body Finder, her husband's influence on her writing, her guilty pleasure TV shows, and more

Lara Zeises - discover Lara's love of Delaware, what character gained a larger role in her latest book The Sweet Life of Stella Madison, a behind-the-scenes look at a Lifetime movie, and what it's like writing as two different people

Maggie Stiefvater - read about her most embarrassing author moment, her own personal theme song, the moment her Shiver character Sam changed his story, the settings she wished were real, and more

Maria V. Snyder - check out the interview for insights into Snyder's creation process for the Study and Glass series, her life as a "Pantser," the trials of world-building, her road to success, her dream-collaboration with Joss Whedon, and more

Theresa Martin Golding - learn about how she juggles writing picture books, MG novels, and YA, ghostwriting a Boxcar Children mystery, her favorite conferences to attend, and why her first novel took ten years to be published

Debut authors and publishing veterans alike, thank you!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The BFF in YA: A Character Study

Back by popular demand: another YA character study!

Generally speaking, high school can be a pretty miserable place. Without a best friend, it would be downright unsurvivable. No wonder best friend characters are so prominent in YA lit, right?

But what's in a BFF? They help flesh out the main character, and occasionally they even outshine the protagonist with their inherent awesomeness. Here's a rundown of common best friend characters, with shiny examples from movies and TV shows. And fun commentary.

The Bad Influence

Rayanne from MY SO-CALLED LIFE
Need cheap alcohol and sketchy guys to hang with? Rayanne's your gal. She's the epitome of a person with a good heart and bad decision-making skills.
* Pro - Bad Influences help define the protag because they bring up plenty of moral dilemmas.
* Con - Authors may use Bad Influences simply as a plot device to get the MC into difficult situation, which doesn't do this BFF justice.

The Geektastic Sidekick

She researches the best way to navigate the city sewer systems while hunting vamps AND helps you pass geometry!
* Pro - The brains behind any operation, the Geektastic Sidekick is super useful, and his/her various skills may include hacking, lockpicking, and fluency in archaic languages.
* Con - Teens can excel at a lot, but if the Geektastic Sidekick's skills are too awesome, then they're not the sidekick anymore. Plus, it all becomes a little far-fetched. 

The Frenemy

Ultimate Frenemy Moment: She ditches her "best friend" Bianca at a party to hang with Bianca's crush, Joey Donner. Ouch.

(It's ok, Bianca, Joey's a d-bag anyway.)

Honorable Mention:

"You're a virgin who can't drive."
Except she redeems herself:

* Pro - The Frenemy ramps up tension like no other. She gives you a manicure one minute and a stab in the back the next. Yikes!
* Con - If the Frenemy is too awful, it makes the reader doubt the main character's judgment and self-esteem. Seriously, if she has no redeeming qualities, dump the beeyotch.

The Sympathetic Ear

Rajah from ALADDIN
Sure, he doesn't say much, but Rajah's there with a furry shoulder to cry on when Jasmine blathers on about her lack of suitable boytoys.
* Pro - Your MC needs somewhere to go when the world sucks.
* Con - If the Sympathetic Ear is just that and nothing more, you might as well have the MC write in a diary. Snoozefest...

The Outrageous One

When Romy concocts an epic scheme to invent fake lives for their high school reunion, Michele goes right along with it. Did you know they invented Post-Its?
* Pro - Everyone loves a crazy. The Outrageous One puts humor in any situation.
* Con - Did you create this character because your protag and plot are too boring otherwise? Are you using the Outrageous One to conveniently put your MC in stupid situations? Tsk, tsk.

The Balancing Act

Cameron tries his darndest to rein in Ferris's cockamamie schemes. He's just not very good at it.
* Pro - The Balancing Act highlights the protag's character traits via opposites. Opposites attract, right?
* Con - Be careful not to make the best friends so different that readers wouldn't buy their friendship as legit.

The Outcast

#1 hater of the Plastics, Janis shows Cady what it's like to be on the fringe.
* Pro - This can be especially interesting when the protag isn't an outcast but the best friend is.
* Con - The goth/edgy/emo thing has been done so much that if it's not done well... bo-ring!

The Partner-in-Crime

Cristina from GREY'S ANATOMY
Cristina (about Meredith): "If I murdered someone, she’s the person I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor. She’s my person."
* Pro - The Partner-in-Crime best friend will happily break into your ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend's house with you to steal back the necklace that you left at his house and he gave to her as a "gift." Jerk.
* Con - Be careful that the P-i-C has his/her own individual personality. We don't need a clone of the MC!

The Secret Admirer

Duckie from PRETTY IN PINK
Hey Duckie, we missed you. Sorry you didn't get the girl.

Honorable Mention:

* Pro - This definitely adds complications to any story. When the protag falls in love with someone who's NOT the Secret Admirer, does the SA support it, or did I hear someone say "sabotage"?
* Con - This can slip into cliche territory in about .5 seconds. And if the Secret Admirer's affections are so obviously not a secret, the MC can't legitimately be in denial.

What's in a gender?
Girl-Girl: Generally speaking, best friends for a girl are EVERYTHING. The emotional investment, the trust -- it's huge. Therefore, it tends to fluctuate insanely. You could love your BFF one day and wish her a long and happy life in the fiery pits of hell the next. Some girl friendships aren't so volatile -- think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But keep in mind that when most girls fight, it's war, and forgiveness doesn't come easily, though sometimes it comes abruptly. Sound complicated? Welcome to being a girl in high school.
Girl-Guy: Ah, the co-ed friendship. Too often does it turn into the Secret Admirer relationship. Occasionally one or both parties is gay (this doesn't necessarily preclude the aforementioned one-way crush). And every once it awhile it's plain old platonic. Either way, it's one of my favorite dynamics.
Guy-Guy: Best friendship between guys is a lot more low-key but no less dedicated than girl-girl friendships. They don't declare their love for each other openly, unless they're the bromantic types, but they still care. How do they show it? They're there for each other. Guys don't talk, they act. In the same vein, when they fight, it's physical, but oftentimes it's over once the last punch is thrown. It's just important not to underestimate the Guy Code and the relationship between guys in high school.

So that's the BFF rundown. Who's your favorite best friend in YA? Any BFFs I forgot?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Come Along for the Ride -- Amazing Book Signing Weekend and BIG CONTEST!!!

You may have heard the buzz recently that just about every author, editor, agent and publisher in the world (ok...not in the world) but a WHOLE lot of awesomeness came to Philadelphia, where we just happen to live. Yay us! So while we didn't actually get to attend the NCTE conference, we still managed to make it to a few book signings, got to meet and re-meet many cool authors and editors and most importantly, we got books signed.

Stay tuned. We're about to tell you everything.

It'll almost be like you were there and at the bottom of the post, we have presents for you, so if you win the contest, it'll be like you really were there with the signed books and swag to prove it!

Sunday morning bright and early, the FNC chicas got on the road to West Chester to have breakfast with Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Dessen at Joanne's really sweet independent book store, the Chester County Book and Music Company. After we ate and had some coffee, Laurie and Sarah spoke briefly before opening the floor to questions.

Sarah Dessen Opening Remarks:
-She always felt like her books were boring, especially compared to the paranormal stuff out there and that growing up and now she's always liked "boring" books.
-Sarah spoke briefly about taking intense writing courses in college where everyone else wrote very serious dark stories full of angst and in her stories, people went to prom. Her classmates all dressed in black and considered her cute.
-For a brief period she tried to write dark stories too, but it never worked.
-Sarah feels that life is complicated enough for teenagers without having to bring a supernatural element into the equation.
-She only writes about regular girls, normal girls, though she admits she doesn't know what's "normal."
-The changes she underwent in high school had lots of intensity that can inspire her stories. Now motherhood has a similar feeling of constant change and intensity to it. There's no handbook, no rules. She now has greater appreciation and sympathy for the mom characters in her novels.

Laurie Halse Anderson Opening Remarks:
-This was her last day of publicity for 4 months (so we got lucky seeing her).
-Laurie and Sarah do a lot of signings together because their books tend to complement each other, though Laurie said she jokingly refers to Sarah as "Glenda the Good."
-Got her early love of writing from her father who loved poetry.
-Her parents always joke that she can write as much as she wants about them as long as they're dead.
-She thought they were insane when she was in high school, and fully believes that adolescence is hard!

The FNC's pile o' books for signing.

Question and Answer...

Sarah on the movie How To Deal
The screenwriter who wrote the screenplay was also a writer for the MTV show Daria. Though it was optioned and had a script, nothing really happened with the movie until Mandy Moore read it. Mandy loved the script and wanted to star in it and thus history was made. Sarah got to meet Mandy Moore twice, they have one picture together and everyone in Sarah's house LOVES Mandy Moore.

Laurie Halse Anderson pays $1 to whoever asks the first question
Laurie hates how women are taught to be shy and meek and quiet and so being the first to ask a question is a big deal and she likes to reward that, although if you like being quiet, than more power to you. She is just anti the idea of HAVING to be quiet.

What keeps you motivated to write?
LHA: College tuition!
SD: You won't accomplish much if you wait for the muse.
LHA: Jane Yolen has it down...B.I.C. Butt in Chair. If people really understood the monetary pay off for a writing career, no one would go into it.

On First Drafts:
LHA hates first drafts, they make her feel stupid. The language is stilted, you don't fully know the character yet, descriptions are cliche. She LOVES revisions because she gets to take a steaming pile of yuck and make it better.
LHA advises that you figure out what you love to do more than anything in the world and then find a way to get people to pay you for it. She loves to do revisions.

On Being a Full Time Author:
SD: That basically means that she has no other job, writing is her only source of income. She used to teach creative writing classes, now she focuses on her writing and takes care of her daughter.
LHA: Works on writing and author-work (blogging, twittering, running the website, signings, events etc) all the time. She'd love to get down to working on 60 hours a week.

The FNC and Courtney!

On the True Story behind their Stories:
LHA writes about things that make her angry. She feels teens are disrespected and wants the world to be a better place for them. For Wintergirls she never went through the experiences of her characters, but she has struggled with body image since the age of 11 and so the story was fueled by her emotional background and then grew through lots of research.
SD says that something that just actually happened to her isn't interesting. If you're telling a true story you're not creating. But all stories start with truth. Along for the Ride is about a girl who is always worrying about the next step, never stopping to take a minute to herself to actually pause and breathe and be in the moment and enjoy where she's at. Sarah is like that and knows many teens and college students who are the same way. When you reach a goal, then you suddenly have to set the bar higher and what do you do if you're not striving for the next thing?
SD also sometimes writes about the dynamic funny girl that everyone wanted to hang out with. Sarah wanted to be that girl, but she was quiet and hung out with those sorts of girls and became the chronicler of stories or the oracle of her friends, remembering everything that happened between them.

On the Overlap of Characters and Places in Sarah Dessen's Books:
Started with readers asking for a sequel to Someone Like You. The ending is complete, but maybe not the tightest end. Sarah won't write sequels, but having Scarlett appear in This Lullaby was her little nod to readers who wanted to know Scarlett was ok.  However it happens more often now and she isn't always aware of it. The overlap also stems from the fact that she lives in her hometown where everything overlaps and repeats, so it makes sense to her.

Janine and Sara reading Laurie Halse Anderson's picture book
The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School

Laurie Halse Anderson on Outlines:
She doesn't outline for her contemporary books. She doesn't want to completely know how it's going to turn out for her characters. But for her historical novels she outlines like a nutcase and obsesses over every detail down to what material was used for underwear.

How Long Does It Take To Write a Book?
LHA: 1 year for a YA, 2 years for a historical
SD: 7 months

On Writing from a Male Perspective:
SD: Has never written a male MC before, doesn't plan to, but never says never. She just doesn't know what boys are thinking and she thinks she doesn't want to know.
LHA: Has written a male MC before. Approaches it like you are writing a book outside of your culture, so you must approach the writing as you would a multicultural novel where you are outside your element. You must assume nothing, clear your mind and write with complete respect.

How Many Books Do You Write At Once?
LHA: 3-4
SD: 1

On Distractions from Writing:
LHA mentioned that her husband, a carpenter, built her a cottage to avoid distractions. Distractions from her writing can be anything: the dog, the internet. She has no phone and no internet in the cottage. It's important to disconnect!
SD's biggest distractions are the internet and her toddler. She also mentioned that even if you are working from home and you are your own boss (which is usually the case for full time writers) you must take your work seriously or no one else will. A friend wouldn't stop by and start chatting if you were serving tables at a restaurant, so just because you're sitting at home, that's not an invitation. You're working!

On What They're Reading:
LHA: Reads a lot of non-fiction and adult mysteries. She is not a fan of literary fiction or short stories in the New Yorker. She just likes a good story to sweep her up. She also reads outside her genre (except for friend's books like SD). Getting sucked into a story where she can stop self-editing is the best feeling in the world.
SD: Lots of non-fiction and audio. She reads outside of her genre too because she doesn't want to write what everyone else is writing. Recently loved Olive Kittredge's latest book.

Frankie and Donna signage!

Getting Our Books Signed...
Sarah was a total sweetheart and Laurie was very cool! They both took the time to chat with every person in line. We decided to gift Laurie's latest book Wintergirls to Gretchen Haertsch, our Writing for Children instructor who brought the FNC together. In Gretchen's class we all read our first Laurie Halse Anderson book, Catalyst, so Laurie wrote a really sweet message in Gretchen's book about her being a catalyst for writers! Laurie also has a tattoo of the first word in Beowulf in Olde English on her wrist.  Not only did they sign all of our books, they posed for pictures with us too! We took an official FNC picture and also some pics with Courtney who is becoming an honorary FNC member. You might remember her from the Epic New York Signing with Suzanne Collins.

The FNC with Laurie and Sarah!

Next...we caravanned to Haverford to another indie, Children's Book World, for a signing with... Laurie Halse Anderson (again!), T.A. Barron, Sarah Dessen (again!), Steve Kluger, Justine Larbelestier, David Levithan, Lauren Myracle, Scott Westerfeld, and Jacqueline Woodson.

Donna with Justine Larbalestier and Sara with Scott Westerfeld

One highlight was seeing T.A. Barron again. He is one of the sweetest and most sincere writers I've met and his ability to encourage is amazing. Another huge highlight was David Levithan!!!

Meeting David Levithan
The FNC was lucky enough to run into Maggie Stiefvater during the weekend and she gushed about how sweet David was as a person. He was really fun to meet, though we had a brief fangirl moment of speechlessness. I mean, wouldn't you? He's the editor for Shiver AND The Hunger Games and the author of awesome books like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Love is the Higher Law, and the upcoming Will Grayson, Will Grayson which he co-authored with John Green. (He highly recommends How to Say Goodbye in Robot, another book he edited.) So cool!

Lauren Myracle was also great to meet and very funny. She and Donna chatted about How to Be Bad and was so excited that Donna loved it so much.

Donna and Lauren Myracle

After a long day...we headed back to Sara's to meet her new dog, Huck, stuff our faces with half cheese pizza (no cheese for the vegan) and to have our critique meeting. What a day!

We hope our recap successfully made you feel like you were Along for the Ride with us, but just in case you want something more than a t-shirt that says "I went along for the ride with the FNC and all I got was this t-shirt"--Ok, so we don't have a t-shirt, but we do have this...

A SIGNED hardcover of Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride, and an ARC of Will Grayson, Will Grayson signed by David Levithan.
Plus all of this sweet swag from the day!
(as seen in a picture of all the books Donna got)

- set of four Leviathan postcards (middle, left, far right)
- Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks pin (right)
- Sarah Dessen magnets (bottom left)
- Liar bookmark (bottom (far) right)

To enter:
You must be a follower.
+1 if you comment below AND tell us which author you'd most like to meet
+1 if you tweet about our contest
+1 if you repost/link on your blog
For a total of three entries!

The Fine Print:
Contest is open worldwide. Winner will be contacted by email at the close of contest. If you do not leave your email address in your comment, it is your responsibility to check back at the FNC blog to see if you've won. You have 72 hours to claim your prize, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Contest runs until 12/1 at 11:59PM EST.
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