Monthly Archives: November 2010

T(w)een Trends: To Be Real?

In a previous post, I mentioned the debate concerning Barnes and Noble’s new categorization of teen books.   I only scratched the surface of  the consequences of this categorization for writers and readers, and those consequences can be disheartening.

In her November 8th post on her excellent blog, www. kidlit.com, Mary Kole addressed the question asked by many of her subscribers (many established and fledgling YA writers) “Is Contemporary YA a Difficult Market?”.  As an agent for the Andrea Brown Agency, Mary Kole knows her stuff, and for those toiling away at contemporary realistic YA fiction, the news was not overly optimistic.

She notes the trend we’ve all witnessed since the Harry Potter-powered resurgence of YA lit over a decade ago — that paranormal and fantasy continue to rule the shelves right now — though she sees dystopian fiction gaining a strong foothold as well recently.  (When I attended the annual regional conference for the New England chapters of the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Editors, many echoed that after the success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, dystopian fiction was the Next Big Thing in publishing).  Kole writes that she has “heard countless editors discuss how difficult it is to get a straight `contemporary/realistic’ story through their acquisitions committees”.  But she feels that there’s hope for such narratives if there is a romantic element to them, as “romance is a huge hook” as romance just may be, after all, the “number one thing” teens of both genders are interested in.  She concludes that any narrative that is going to pass muster with an agent, editor, or acquisitions board has got to have a “really strong hook” right now — a unique voice, a new twist, a compelling story.

But before we struggling YA writers raise arms against shortsighted editors, there’s another piece to this paranormal stranglehood on the market, and that’s the fact that so much of what is acquired and published by any publishing house is based on the dictates of a market controlled by a  few megasellers (ie. Amazon and Barnes and Noble).  As one successful YA writer told me, as long as a handful of people get to decide what sells and where, in these megachains that have taken over for independent booksellers, and those few sellers like paranormal or dystopian fiction or stories about striped talking dogs, then what’s going to be widely sold is paranormal or dystopian fiction or stories about striped talking dogs.

This doesn’t mean that you should shred your realistic, gritty contemporary teen novel and start writing about ghosts or wizards or vampires if that’s not your thing.  One of Kole’s readers commented that they see a “renewed interest” in contemporary YA fiction among readers, an idea seconded by others, including a librarian who gauges these things.  Hopefully, the buyers and marketers at the behemoth chains will notice this.

Until then, it is better for all of us to take the advice of the venerable YA writer Ellen Hopkins:  “Write the story that speaks to you.  Don’t worry about the market, because once you do that, you’re always behind.”  So keep writing what you want to write because you really want to write.  And with a little luck, talent, perseverance, and that holy grail of a hook, you’ll be on the shelves of a bookstore some time (or the warehouse shelves of Amazon, wherever they may be).  Best of luck to all of you out there with contemporary teen novels burning to be told.  I know plenty of us would like to read them.

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The end of “both worlds”? Hannah Montana Retires

For the first time in years, there were no Hannah Montanas in the Blueberry Hill Elementary School Halloween parade.  Usually there are at least five, so maybe everyone is moving on, along with Miley, whose decision to hang up the blonde wig of her alter ego after four seasons has been much publicized.  My daughter and her BFF went as Hannah and Lola, Hannah’s BFF, one Halloween, but now they find the pole dancing Miley to be too “weird” to comprehend, let alone emulate.

This past Sunday, November 7th, seemed to mark the airing of the series finale of the Disney show (though Jason Earles,who plays Miley’s brother on the show, has apparently tweeted that “there are like five episodes left”. ) Whether in optimism, a bid to sell some last- minute Hannah merchandise,  or as reassurance to young fans, Hannah Montana was renamed for this final season as  Hannah Montana Forever.  And despite Miley’s obvious eagerness to put aside childish things and be an adult performer in her own right, the finale and the episode leading up to it presented both a working metaphor for her decision and closure for fans.

The final season began with Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus), her songwriting dad/manager Robby Ray (Billy Ray Cyrus), and her goof-off older brother Jackson (Jason Earles) trying to recapture their Tennessee roots by ditching the Malibu beach house and moving a to a palatial ranch.  They were motivated to recapture their past after a visit back home when Robby Ray noted how much Miley loved her old preteen bedroom and tried to reproduce it back in California.  Miley was horrified by this blast from her pre-star past and mortified by the idea that her friends would kick off their senior year with a sleepover in this mausoleum to her early adolescence.  The lesson was clear:  you can’t recapture the past.

The rest of the season propelled us toward the inevitable moment when Miley would weary of living her double life and reveal to the world that she is Hannah Montana, thus, effectively, retiring Hannah forever.  Along for the ride are guest stars Angus T. Jones as the brother of Jackson’s bikini model girlfriend; Christine Taylor as the school nurse whom Miley tries to set up with her dad; and, inexplicably, Ray Liotta as the school principal who has to inform Miley that her dad forgot to register her for her senior year somehow and now she can’t go to school.  It all works out for Miley in the end, after she fails to survive a day at school as Hannah (who for some reason can enroll there) when all of her classmates turn into rabid fans, proving to her that her double life was once indeed necessary.  There’s a salute to military families featuring videos made by families to their soldier relatives overseas and Hannah singing “I’m Still Good” (even as Mikey was raising eyebrows in hot pants and a steamy video for “I Can’t Be Tamed” — the contrast between the two song titles seems to say a lot about the paradox that Miley Cyrus has lived for at least a year now — see the first post  ever on this blog for more about that.)

In the penultimate episode, Miley’s record company refuses to a release a song that everyone admits is awesome but with its hip hop flavor, it just is “not the sound her audience expects from Hannah Montana.”    Angered, Miley counters that they are “afraid to let an artist grow” and assures the producers that she “believe[s] in the song and trusts [her] fans.”  But a focus group proves her wrong — her fans do not want to grow with her, even when she tells them “change can be scary but it’s part of growing up.”  There’s a clear parallel here between Miley Cyrus and her tween fans, who aren’t ready to embrace her dancing round a stripper pole, and shouldn’t.  But Cyrus is ready to move on, and her real life and TV father tell her, in true Disney fashion though the move is antithetical to all that Disney represents, to “listen to [her] heart” and ignore the “naysayers.” Miley Stewart records the song as a duet with Iyaz, after he hears it and tries to buy it from her — to give to his protegé Taylor Swift. A torch is being passed here, it seems, as Miley acknowledges how talented and hardworking Swift is (“Does that girl ever sleep?” she asks).

In the hour-long finale, Miley’s life gets more complicated when her musician boyfriend Jesse refuses to aid in her double life.  He kisses her on The Tonight Show and Jay Leno announces that Hannah and Jesse are “America’s New Sweethearts.”  So when Jesse is seen out with Miley, he’s accused of cheating by the press, his five-year-old niece,and his grandma.  To make matters worse her BFF Lilly gets into Stanford (which they pronounce “Stan Ford”) because of her awesome extracurriculars, while Miley appears to have done nothing all through high school– because she was busy being Hannah Montana.   Lilly agrees to wait a year so they can go to school together and Jesse relents, but Miley faces herself in the mirror, sees Hannah, and realizes that she is asking a lot of her friends.  Robby Ray reminds her that “nothing lasts forever — kind of like a mullet” (the last mullet joke he’ll make on the show!)  and Miley recognizes what she has to do.  She goes to her huge hidden Hannah closet and each outfit triggers a memory, seen in flashback, as Miley’s voice sings a poignant song called “I’ll Always Remember You”.  She is “thankful for the moment/so glad I got to know you” and any viewer over the age of three realizes that she is singing to them, to those who have loved Hannah for years now.  But as Miley sings back on The Tonight Show — as Miley Stewart, not Hannah –she is “moving on, letting go/Holding on to tomorrow.”  It’s a bittersweet farewell that acknowledges Miley Cyrus’ need to move on and still respects the fans, even those that feel, as the girl in the focus group did, that they “don’t want [her] to change.  [They] like [her] just the way” she is.”  Even my daughter, who had disavowed Miley, watched the last episode eagerly and cried at the flashbacks.  She cried a little more as she went to bed, putting a small piece of her childhood to rest.

Miley Cyrus will be eighteen in a few days and she has already been living the life of a wage-earning adult for many years.  Like most eighteen-year-olds, she is ready to say goodbye to the last days of childhood and carve a space for herself in the world, on her terms.  She wants to grow up, and to show us that she is grown up.  She did this years ago, in the infamous Vanity Fair spread,(www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2008/06/miley200806) when Cyrus’ camp blamed Annie Leibowitz for tricking her into posing semi-nude (personally, I found the draped semi-nude shot tasteful.  It was the shot of Miley and her dad lounging like lovers that seemed far creepier to me).  It was all retracted and we could go back to believing that our little Miley would never do such a thing as pose somewhat in the altogether.  But her most recent videos and TV appearances show that yes, she certainly would (last week entertainmentwise.com posted stills from”another raunchy video” ).  Miley is moving on.  She is making the rounds of European awards shows now and, according to Perez Hilton, will soon star in the film So Undercover as a “`tough, street-smart private eye hired by the FBI to go undercover in a college sorority.'”  At best, this could mark her as the next Sandra Bullock in a Miss Congeniality-type comedy.  At worst it could be exploitive trash.  But either way, Miley Cyrus is moving on.

Unfortunately for Cyrus, she is doing so in the midst of scandal and heartache, as her parents are in the process of divorce and rumors point to her mother’s affair with Brett Michaels as the source. Others say their attention to their daughter’s career left them no time for their marriage, and Miley Cyrus is making no comment, while Perez Hilton posts that “Miley Parties to Cope with Parents’ Divorce” and Popeater claims “Miley Cyrus Would Trade All Her Success to Fix Her Parents’ Marriage.”  Her on-again-off-again relationship with movie co-star Liam Hemsworth is over, according to the tabs, so Cyrus has a lot to sort out right now.  Maybe Miley Stewart had it right after all in creating an alter ego to protect herself and her privacy, so she could live the life of a normal teen and still be a pop star.  Miley Cyrus never had that chance. Disney is taking care of many of the show’s other stars.  Mitchel Musso (Oliver) wasn’t present for much of the final season because he is on tour, his second CD drops soon, and he has a new sitcom on the channel.  Emily Osment also has a CD out.  I’m not sure where Jason Earles will get work unless there is a remake of the Back to the Future franchise, but he is likely to land on his feet.  Miley Cyrus has opted to go it alone, for better or worse.  Her current fans are unlikely to follow — at least until they grow up a little, too.


An open letter to Demi Lovato

Dear Ms. Lovato:

I write to you today not as a snarky pop cultural critic, but as a feminist, a mom, and a former eighteen-year-old girl.  I don’t know the whole story behind your leaving the tour with the Jonas Brothers — and neither do most of the people who are blogging and writing about it.  For that reason, I don’t blame you for shutting down your Twitter page, though there are many many girls out there who would like to tweet you well.  (There are some sweet wishes and sound advice on DemiLovato.com, such as “stay away from guys who play mind games.”)

If you’re not aware of it, I’m sure you can guess the speculation that’s out there. The words “celebrity” and “rehab” send people into fits of schadenfreude, a great German word that means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.  Another Hollywood teen on drugs?  A Disney teen on drugs?  Even better!  But I’m betting drugs are not the problem here.  Lots of other sources, from People to TMZ say it’s the return of your old nemeses, cutting and eating disorders, that have sent you away.  These symptoms are produced by the kind of self-doubt our culture produces in young women.  All young women, on some level, know what it’s like to not measure up — to measure too big, perhaps, or fail to meet the standard in some other way.  But most of them don’t have to pass or fail this standard  in the public eye, as you do.  Some would say that you chose to do so, to live your life publicly, and that is certainly true, as far as I know — though one could wonder at what age one could competently make this decision with a full understanding of exactly what public life entails in this era of instant celebrity and constant scrutiny.  If one could ever have the wisdom or foresight to see what this would cost them.

I don’t know about the alleged physical attack on a dancer or threats to Joe Jonas’ girlfriend or any of that.  But I do know what it’s like to be tired — really tired — and have to carry on anyway because people are depending on you.  With a tour and a television show and a clothing line and everything else you do, why wouldn’t you be exhausted?  Couple that with the staggering depletion of the soul produced by being watched and judged by everyone with access to the internet and I don’t know how you do it, how anyone would do it, at such a young age. You probably don’t feel young, though.  I didn’t, at eighteen, and my life was much less that of an adult professional than yours is.  I was a pretty typical college freshman. I made my mistakes with only friends and classmates around, and they were making their own mistakes right along with me.  It’s hard crossing that bridge from kid to adult, and, sadly,  some of us don’t make it.  I had friends who didn’t, and the news is filled lately with stories of kids who took their own lives because they couldn’t take the pressure of what was being said about them in school, on the internet, and, they felt, just everywhere.  To them, it feels like that, that the scrutiny is everywhere — in your case, it’s actually true.  I cannot imagine how hard that must be.

This summer, I took my daughter and her friend to see the Jonas Brothers Camp Rock 2 tour and they loved it.  They loved you.  And  as I hear the shallow analysis of your “case” on shows like Today and The Talk, I can’t help but also hear the lyrics to your song “LaLa Land”.*  Girls I know love you for singing “I’m not a supermodel/I still eat McDonalds” and “Who said I can’t be single/I have to go out and mingle”.  That’s empowering for them.  The lines “Some say I need to be afraid/Of losing everything/Because of where I/Had my start and where I made my name” are cautionary, even prophetic perhaps, but I can tell you that all the girls in the audience at Hartford were right with you when you sang of bucking the “La La Land machine” and not “changing anything of [your] life.”  You’ve probably already had to change so much to be where you are today.  You “still have [your] moments”?  We all do — you just have yours in public.  I’m glad I didn’t have that pressure, and I wouldn’t wish it for my daughter.

What I do wish, as a feminist and a mom and a former eighteen-year-old girl, is that I had some wisdom to give you, something to say that would make it all better for you and other girls like you.  Ultimately, the many things I could say would all boil down to something pretty simple, but something that took me a long time to learn myself:  Take care of yourself.  Because, ultimately, no matter how great your family and friends are, they can’t know what it’s like to be you.  And they can’t always know what’s best for you.  Neither can you, all the time, but you have to listen to yourself; in those few quiet moments when it’s just you, just listen.  Over the years, I finally found that more often than not, I knew what I needed and wanted.  I just didn’t know I knew.

Get better, first for you, and second so you can be that role model you mentioned dreaming of, so you can start that “foundation” you mentioned in People , “or something that’s for girls feeling confident, to empower them.”  Because they could really use it.

Proof that Disney boxes and sells their young stars like products?  Not exactly — it’s a (sadly ironic) shot from the Sonny with a Chance holiday special, coming up in December.

*music and lyrics by Joe Jonas, Kevin Jonas, Nick Jonas, and Demetria Lovato


A thoroughly awesome interview with A. S. King!

Full disclosure (which you would find out soon anyway):  I know A. S. King, knew her as “Amy”, in fact, when she was the not-at-all-“twerpy little sister” of a friend of mine in high school, back in the town that is thinly disguised in Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  Now, she is who I want to be when I grow up.

Knock Knock Pizza delivery. I’ve got one mushroom, onions and block olive with soy cheese here for the awesometastic Steph Wardrop…

A.S. King has not gone off her meds or her rocker. This is just a little bit of fun to promote her newest novel. (Official Rules here, if you’re the curious type.) A few weeks ago, my book Please Ignore Vera Dietz came out. It’s a pretty exciting time, but more exciting when you can traipse around to your friends’ blogs and  answer some really interesting questions. And for those of you who came over here but have never heard of Steph before, let me introduce you: She is an awesome writer, one of the smartest people I know and a hip hip hip hip lady. When I was like twelve, she was a high school friend of my older sister, and she was the kind of person I wanted to grow up to be. I know. Vomit, right? But it’s true. So deal with it. Now on with the show.

SW: WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE GOING TO BE WRITER AND WAS THAT THE SAME TIME YOU DECIDED YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER? IN OTHER WORDS, DID YOU HAVE THE DESIRE BEFORE YOU THOUGHT YOU COULD ACTUALLY MAKE THAT HAPPEN AND WAS THERE AN EVENT OR A MOMENT WHEN YOU RECOGNIZED “YEP, THIS IS MY DESTINY”? (DO YOU THINK ONE IS BORN A WRITER OR SOME PEOPLE JUST BECOME WRITERS, FOR WHATEVER VARIETY OF REASONS?)
ALSO, ISN’T IT CLEVER HOW I AM SNEAKING IN MORE THAN MY FAIR SHARE OF QUESTIONS? 🙂 (I WOULD ALSO BE CURIOUS IF EXETER TWP, IN ANY WAY PREPARED OR ENCOURAGED YOUR LIFE AS A WRITER)

ASK: In order: I first wanted to be a writer when I was 14. I was standing in the lunch line in Jr. High (I know you can picture this…I was right outside the window that looked into the metal shop) and I’d been obsessively reading Paul Zindel books for a year at that point and I had this yellow legal tablet and I figured I would start writing a book “to help teenagers and their parents understand each other better.”
Which, coincidentally, is kinda what I do now.
Anyway.

I shared this I-want-to-write-books idea with an adult in my life who claimed that writers all have to work at newspapers. And that really bummed me out, man. I did not want to work at a newspaper. So, I gave up on the idea until I was out of the country a decade later. That time, I was voraciously reading about two books a day and after closing Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses I said, “I have to try this.”

I wrote three really horrible novels over the next two years. I did feel like it was my destiny, but at the same time, I pretty much knew that I was never going to get anywhere where I was (Ireland, broke, and sucking at writing novels.)
I have no idea if writers are born writers. The longer I write, the more I know I was born to do it.
And yes, I think it is very clever how you are fitting more than one question into the question.

YES YES YES where I grew up, Exeter township, is a HUGE influence on my writing. It’s probably wider than that. More like Berks County or even Pennsylvania as a whole. I write about characters from the area, I know them intimately because I’m from here. (Oh, hey, while we’re on the subject, let me be clear. NO REAL PEOPLE FROM BERKS COUNTY ARE IN MY BOOKS. NONE. ZERO. NADA.) After spending most of my adult life in Ireland, moving back to PA has really re-introduced me to the characters I was writing all along, and that was a HUGE change for me. A boost, even. And dude. I got to write the pagoda into a book. It talks. How cool is that?
As for preparation, I had a few really great teachers who I owe a lot to. I wasn’t a great student, but they didn’t seem to care. They were encouraging and kind and smart and they influenced me greatly.
(Photo credit: Matt Smith)

SW: WHAT IS THE ABSOLUTE WORST THING ABOUT BEING A PIZZA DELIVERY PERSON AND WHAT ARE ANY SURPRISING PERKS (BESIDES SMELLING LIKE PIZZA ALL THE TIME)?

ASK: I found getting lost was the absolute worst thing. I delivered pizza before GPS, handheld computers and cell phones. So, getting lost was a major drag. Also, assholes. Assholes suck in any job, though. But I figured I should give them a mention. Close seconds: smelling like grease and pepperonis, not liking pizza anymore after about a week, and having to wear a baseball cap.

The absolute best thing about pizza delivery was spending huge chunks of time in my car listening to loud music all by myself, smoking as many cigarettes as I wanted (boo! do not smoke cigarettes) and spending my tips on Twix bars and Kit-Kats. Not sure there was anything all that surprising. Though at the time, for me, the best things that came out of working at that pizza place were the beginnings of my love affairs with lettuce and Philip K. Dick.

SW: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OPENING LINE FROM ANY BOOK, YA, ADULT NONFICTION — ANYTHING?

“To the as-yet unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life.”
–Kurt Vonnegut, Deadeye Dick

Steph, asking for soy cheese was daring, which means you get a TRUTH OR DARE bonus question. (Yep–it’s just like truth or dare.)
SW: HOW DOES THIS WORK? DO I DEMAND THAT YOU CONFESS TO HAVING A MAJOR CRUSH ON MR. SHANK OR YOU MUST AGREE TO FILL THE ROBESONIA POOL WITH JELLO? HOW ABOUT TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT A YA WRITER YOU THINK IS OVERRATED OR YOU HAVE TO EAT AS MANY OREOS AS YOU CAN IN A MINUTE?

Yes. You’ve got the gist of it. Um. No, I didn’t have a crush on Mr. Shank, BUT, I did give him and my favorite class with him, Modern Social Thought, a nod in Please Ignore Vera Dietz and I thought he was really boss. And sadly, I cannot fill the pool with Jell-O. And I sure as hell can’t talk about overrated YA books or writers. So, it looks like I’m eating the Oreos, which is completely possible in my house because Mr. King is an Oreo addict.

I think This calls for a vlog.

Thank you so much for having me around to you blog! Before I go, I hope you don’t mind if I tell your readers what the book is about!

SW: Sure thing, A. S.   (Do I have to call you that now?) Vera Dietz is a great book, dear readers, even if her creator is a total wuss in the Oreo eating game.  Come on, Amy — five?  Five Oreos?  And no crumbs?

vera cover
PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ
is a Junior Library Guild selection for Fall 2010


18-year-old Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone. Will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

“Brilliant. Funny. Really special.” –Ellen Hopkins, author of NYT bestselling Crank, Glass and Tricks


Next Stop on the Pizza Delivery Blog TBA on my blog at www.as-king.info