Realistic Topics in Teen Fiction

In the 2019 spring issue of Canadian Children’s Book News, the teens take over and share their views on literature and the current scene in Canada. While all of the articles were great, one in particular, caught my eye. It is by Sara Rigotti and it is her perspective on how authors should tackle ‘Themes of Social Justice in Teen Fiction.’ She says, “We need stories with real issues to break through the barriers of our society.” Her article aptly reminds us that “teens are the generation on the brink of entering adult society. They have the capability of understanding these issues and working toward changing them.”

Two publishers of teen fiction here in Canada offer stories that are realistic, that look at challenges our youth are facing, and do all of this with an accessible reading level for any reader. They are Orca Publishers with their Currents and Soundings series, and Formac/Lorimer, with their Sidestreets series. Orca is also introducing a new series called, Orca Issues. I am proud to write for the Currents and Sidestreets, and to shed light on tough topics. Sara suggests that authors not shy away from these issues, but that they treat them with openness and honesty. Some folks criticize the teen novels that look at tough topics, but today’s youth are hungry for them. Even when I was a teen in the late seventies and early eighties, I gravitated toward stories that shed light on mental health issues and LGBTQ youth. Back then, the novels were few, but they spoke loudly to me and helped shape my understanding of the world – they helped me to further develop empathy and care.

Today, we are more open to conversations, but still have work to do – the low star reviews of my books often suggest I got the rating because I should have ‘fixed the problem at the end of the story.’ But I wrote my novels without a tidy, neat ending because that is real life. Sara Rigotti says, “Everyone enjoys a good happy ending, but honestly, sometimes it is better to have a realistic ending… A realistic ending shows that even though the story’s conflict is over, there may and probably will be more conflict to come, more obstacles to overturn. It gives the sense that this is not over. This is current, this is real, this is ongoing.”

Real stories, with real endings allow teens the opportunity to ask more questions, to look at issues from a number of perspectives, and to further research topics they find important to them. Real stories sit with them and impact them, emotionally. Librarians, and some of the teen readers themselves, tell me they come back to my stories and read them again. They feel connected to the characters and their unique journeys. They recognize their own struggles in the authentic struggles of the characters portrayed in the books. And this makes them want to change the world for the better. As Sara says in her final lines, “Fiction can make us want to learn more, it may encourage us to help. We need to look at social justice issues in teen fiction because our generation can make a difference.”

Thank you, CCBC for the teen issue, and thank you, Sara Rigotti!

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Research for Recent Releases

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Ever tried to lock or pop? How about breaking? Doing isolations or freestyle? If this language seems foreign to you, it was definitely new terminology for me. Sure I watched dance shows and had some idea of the moves associated with Hip Hop, but I was still a novice. I spent countless hours watching videos to learn the moves and understand the jargon. If you happened by my house anytime in 2017 or early 2018, you would have spotted me trying to bust a few moves! More like, bust an arm or two! But I enjoyed the research associated with writing ROOM 555 and it even helped to limber me up a little.

The second phase of research for ROOM 555 happened more organically. And that is the unfortunate part! I was recovering from a bad car accident where I was t-boned in an intersection. While it was 100% the other person’s fault, my body did not lay blame, it only hurt. At the same time a friend of mine was also hospitalized for a bad fall. Being a senior she had a tougher time with healing and ended up in extended care at a private facility after her hospital stay. The two places in which she recovered, gave us great insight into the system and its many flaws. Visiting her regularly also gave me fodder for writing and we began to talk about a book where a young person’s grandparent was in a similar situation. And the premise for ROOM 555 was set!

Research for LOCKED UP came in different waves. I had a conversation with a friend several years back where we talked about the lack of books available around incarcerated parents and how youth needed books written on this theme. I had toyed with the idea and even began writing a few scenes. I remember chatting with my young second cousin about my ideas, and at sixteen, she thought the story would be powerful and an important one to tell. So, I set off!

Then when my publisher Formac/Lorimer suggested doing a book on youth in the system the main premise changed but I was still interested in writing such a story. I met with a friend who knows someone in the system and it turned out the young person was more than willing to talk and give me insight into life on the inside of a Juvenile Detention Center and life inside a prison setting. This person was in a place of wanting to give back to the community.

Originally, we aimed for a story of a youth in adult custody. However, after finding myself about 10,000 words in, the request came from the publisher to change the story to reflect our Juvenile System instead of adult prison. That meant a full re-write but I was glad to have had the conversation with a person living in the system who knew both worlds. That gave my character and story great authenticity.

I also had conversations with a few others touched by the system. Then I pored over government documents on youth custody to be clear on the legality of terms and sentencing. I also found a great documentary on life inside the very Juvenile Detention center about which I was writing. That gave me a view of the layout of the building, and in listening to the youth, real insight into their lives. Friends of mine also visited a prison in the lower mainland of BC for several years before the government cut the program, where they brought their writing talents to share with inmates who were crafting stories and poetry. I was able to borrow a few of the journals that were produced during that time and read several of the works by both those on the inside and those who were living on the outside. They also gave me clarity about the world of prison and the place where hope resides.

In both of my accessible, hi-lo novels for middle-grade and YA readers, I incorporated research into the story. The work on ‘getting it right’ took as much time or more, than the writing of the fictional story itself. But I loved the learning curve I was on and I loved being able to work that information into the story. Research took up a great deal of time but it often led to new ideas and ways for my characters to interact with their unique worlds. I hope I ‘got it right’ and where I may have made mistakes – those are my own and not from the shared knowledge of others! I hope you find an opportunity to meet ROONIE from ROOM 555 and STRIDER from LOCKED UP – they both have important stories to tell!

 

High Praise

High praise for the students at Chaffey-Burke Elementary in Burnaby, BC! And happily, high praise from them, as well! I recently visited their grade four/five class after they finished reading LIVING ROUGH and did their ‘Book-in-a-Bag’ projects. It was wonderful to meet such eager readers of my novel. Their in-class questions were just as interesting as their printed letters, which I received before the visit and have since responded to individually.

What great fun! Some of my favourite comments and phrases:

I’ve never seen a book that belongs so much in a classroom like this one.

I drew the part where Edgar had to talk on camera and we had to draw about something important and I thought that part was important because he was trying to help his dad. I love that book. 

When we ended a chapter, we were begging our teacher to keep reading!

Even though reading isn’t my favourite, your book really sucked me in.

I am your number one fan!

For Christmas, I’m probably going to beg my mom for the 2nd book! (Guess I better hurry and write it!)

I also loved the comparison of my books to others – not sure ALL the praise is deserved but it is definitely appreciated. Here are some of the great compliments:

I have interests in chapter books, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It is just as good as your book! 

In my opinion your book is as good as Harry Potter!

Your books are wonderful as a diamond!

 

Upcoming Author Presentation

Want to know more about my books or my writing process?

Want to visit a VERY cool place while the weather is cooperating?

Then plan to come out to South Surrey this Saturday, September 29th and spend some time at the library before heading to White Rock Beach or Crescent Beach for a walk and some sunshine! I will be reading/presenting at Semiahmoo Library at 1:00pm and Ocean Park Library at 3:00pm. This is all part of Surrey’s first Arts4All Festival.

See all the great activities happening around the city here: http://arts4allfestival.com

 

TD BOOK WEEK

This was a busy week as I finished round one of edits for UNLOCKED, my newest endeavour with Lorimer SideStreets. I also planned and facilitated a poetry workshop with loads of activities to get even the most reluctant poet inspired! Then I gathered my information and tweaked and fine-tuned my application for the TD BOOK WEEK TOUR. Next year’s tour runs from  Saturday, May 4 to Saturday, May 11, 2019.

If chosen, I would get to travel to any other province or territory in Canada than my home province of BC. That means seeing new places and meeting new people. I would have the opportunity to share my love of stories with others and may even inspire those who don’t typically pick up books to want to find a novel and get lost in the pleasure of reading! What fun!

This is my third time applying. And since the deadline was a Friday the 13th and I was born on a Friday the 13th, I’m hoping that is a good sign! For more details on TD BOOK WEEK check here: https://bookweek.ca

 

Hearing from your readers…

One of the best things to receive as an author, besides great questions from students when you visit their class, like this recent presentation to Queen Mary School, are letters. I have a busy weekend ahead answering the wonderful letters from the grade five students at this lower mainland elementary school. Below are some of my favourite messages from their letters. What better accolades can one receive than these:

  • What I liked about “Living Rough” were the cliffhangers.
  • Whenever you put a cliff hanger we wanted to read more.
  • I enjoyed your novel because it sounded so realistic.
  • It’s really inspirational!
  • I really enjoyed that your book could make me picture perfectly what was happening in the book.
  • I really improved my writing skills from your book. Also, I got a stronger, creative mind.
  • I love your book because it makes us a better person by making us care more about the homeless and about any people who have any problems at all.
  • I loved how you didn’t tell us Edgar’s secret. I think it is a very good strategy to pull people into the book.
  • Some suggestions that I have for you are that I really think that you should make a Living Rough #2.

And on this last note, it would be great fun to revisit my characters and give them a follow-up story. I have no shortage of ideas for what book two could entail: from this batch of letters and from previous notes from other students. Please keep reading books and sharing your wonderful messages with us – it is the best part of being an author!

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Back in 2007, I sat alone for New  Year’s Eve in my apartment. I was reflecting on my year and its many challenges. I was also looking ahead to what I could differently in the coming year. I knew one thing for certain, I wanted my New Year’s Resolution to be meaningful; I wanted my goal to be something that would bring me pleasure and fulfill my life-long dreams. I decided at two minutes to midnight that my resolution for 2008 would be to write a book. I had done some work for our school district and knew that Orca was publishing the kind of books I wanted to write: books that would appeal even to the most reluctant readers. My resolution was set!

Jump ahead to December 31st, 2008. I am in the same apartment and still don’t have plans for New Year’s Eve. Instead, I am madly writing and finishing the last lines of the story. At four minutes to midnight, I write, “The End.” I have accomplished my goal. I didn’t eat less chocolate or lose 50 pounds, instead, I did what I set out to do the year before: I finished writing my novel, Benched. Exhilarated by the prospect of achieving my goal again, I set a new Resolution for 2009. I decided I needed to workshop my completed novel and by the end of the year, send it off to Orca Book Publishers. I also threw in an additional challenge, just for fun. I would write a second book.

Now we are at December 31st, 2009. Though I had a few offers for things to do for New Year’s Eve, I stayed in so that I could complete my goal. At 10:00, I wrote “The End.” My second book was done! I also sent off my query for Benched to Orca a few weeks before the end of the year. I was amazed at how my Resolutions had helped me finish two books. So, naturally I set my new goals for 2010. To be published (okay, that was a little out of my control) and to write my third novel.

2011 saw both Benched and Living Rough published. I continued my goals each year of writing a new book, and sometimes even finished two. Although it wasn’t until 2016 that I was published again, the books were from each successive year of New Year’s Resolutions. I think I found a great way to ring in the New Year and it has kept me writing and being published, ever since. Now with Cutter Boy, On Cue, and Dead to Me coming out in 2016 and Epic Fail being released in 2017, I think I can say I am on a slow roll. Orca signed with me for Room 555 for 2019 and I have hopes for another book with Lorimer. Of course, there are still two other options floating around and I am writing a new book! Thank you New Year’s for making my dreams come true! Now back to work!

Throwback Thursdays

This article was posted on my original blog on 2/12/16

THE ART IN CUTTER BOY – TAKE 3

Today is the release date for Cutter Boy! I am anxious to have a book in my hands. As mentioned in my two previous blog posts, I plan to share the final artist showcased in my novel, through this post.

When writing a book, one may have the germ of an idea for a story. So much more has to come together for the story to have plot, tension and to be a compelling read. When I first decided to write about a boy who self-harms, I knew that was not enough. I knew the story needed more to be a compelling read, and it needed more to help those in distress and/or helping others who struggle.

When I first discovered paper-cut art and saw the artist, Béatrice Coron through my character’s eyes, it made it so much easier to peruse the web for more artists. I knew which ones my character was drawn to and why he connected with them. The last artist alluded to in my book is Canadian, Calvin Nicholls. His work can be seen here: http://www.calvinnicholls.com/

I was mesmerized by his work and it becomes a connecting moment between Travis and Chyvonne is the book. As Cutter Boy is released today, I hope that readers enjoy the art mentioned in the book and I hope

that the story helps those youth, who need to be heard.

 

Throwback Thursdays

2/4/16

THE ART IN CUTTER BOY – TAKE 2

Last week I started a 3-part blog in anticipation of the upcoming release of my first hi-lo YA novel with Lorimer Sidestreets. Cutter Boy will be released on February 12th and thanks to Netgalley, is receiving a high volume of ratings and reviews posted on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27788155-cutter-boy

Please see my previous blog post: Art in Cutter Boy – Take 1, for a synopsis of the story and for information on the first artist to be showcased from the novel, Béatrice Coron. You can order Cutter Boy here: Lorimer Sidestreets: http://www.lorimer.ca/sidestreets/Book/S/32/2893/Cutter-Boy.html

Once Travis (my main character) became hooked on paper-cut art through his discovery of Béatrice Coron, he searched the internet for other artists using this medium. In one scene I have him being introduced to the art of Elod Beregszaszi, who focuses on 3-dimensional and pop-up paper-cut art. A favourite piece for Travis is a set of lines that look like crazy stairs going nowhere: http://www.popupology.co.uk/galleries

The next artist to be featured here is Miriam Dion, a Canadian who studies in Quebec and uses newspapers and magazines to create her images. She often leaves parts of the text in tact, adding to her unique art. Travis refers to one piece as, The House That Screamed. Check out her work here: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/10/cut-lace-newspapers-myriam-dion/

As promised in my first blog on Cutter Boy, I am also including places to access support because of the sensitive nature of the story.

kidshelpphone: http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/teens/home.aspx

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre: http://keltymentalhealth.ca/

 

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