Field Trip Friday: October 24, 2014

Hi friends! Because of some life and health stuff going on (don't worry, I'm okay), I just can't get this week's links compiled into their usual categories and summaries. I know, between the Hale controversy, the Percy Jackson pearl-clutching, several kick-ass articles about YA, and the launch of We Need Diverse Books' Indiegogo campaign, this is a terrible week for me to drop the ball, and I'm sorry!

I do, however, have a slightly less convenient way to share this week's links. They're not organized, but you can scroll through my bookmarks on Delicious and get an idea of the week's news. You can also check out the YA Highway "Scenic Route" on Tumblr for news and links (along with a lot of other things).

I'll be back next week with the regular round up!

The Landscape of YA Lit: A State of the Union

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With all the YA books hats I wear, from writer to reader to agent to YA Highwayer, I think about the state and landscape of YA lit pretty much all the time. Even so, there are moments that make me take a step back and reflect even more deeply than usual.

This happened recently, as I closed the final page of the wonderful The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. I adore this book, but I was left questioning why it was marketed as YA. It’s an Allende-style epic magical realism, spanning several generations of women within one family, following their stories through love and heartbreak and life and aging. It’s not really until the last quarter or so of the book that we see a narrator in the late teens take over the story.

So…why YA? That's the section I found it in at my library, it's placed in the YA section at the bookstore, and Goodreads readers tagged the book as Young Adult more than another other category. Is this a good example of the crossover YA that I’ve been seeing so much interest in recently? Just One Year by Gayle Forman might fit in the crossover category, with protagonists out of high school, while Kimberly McCreight's 2013 novel, Reconstructing Amelia, told in alternating voices of a mother and her teenage daughter, is another book with noted "crossover" appeal. Is this the new direction of YA? How else is the landscape of YA evolving?

I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by brilliant minds with interests in YA lit as deep as mine. Whenever I’ve come into contact with them, whether over lunch or drinks or social media, I’ve asked their thoughts about YA—where it’s been, where it is now and where it’s headed. A few notable themes emerge. One is the state—or lack thereof—of trends.

Often enough, colleagues who are looking to represent or buy YA mention that there is no one “hot thing” they’re looking for. They want something different, something they’ve never seen before. And because they haven’t seen it, they don’t know quite what “it” is. But one thing is a constant: the bar for quality writing is very high in YA and new projects have to exceed that bar.

My own agent, Suzie Townsend, says, “We've run through a lot of the trends. Now, everyone I talk to is looking for projects that don't necessarily fit a certain type. They want something they haven't seen before--or at least something that feels unique and stand out. They're looking for projects with a great voice and great writing. Commercial concepts are still important, but they don't have to fit into a certain trend.”

Sarah Barley, now senior editor at Flatiron Books and formerly editor at HarperCollins Children’s/HarperTeen and Henry Holt, agrees:

“There is no next “big thing” (that I can predict) in the way that there was during the Twilight craze, so what editors want are authentic, indelible voices—and fresh stories. There are an incredible number of fabulous books of every ilk—there are no taboos in YA—coming out right now that set the bar very high. All kinds of readers are coming to YA now, so everyone’s paying a lot more attention! Above most everything else, I want to read and experience something new when I open up a new manuscript from an agent (or new novel in a bookstore). I try not to focus too terribly much on the trends, since trends can come and go quickly. We can spend a lot of time guessing what’ll take off next and make a big bet on it, but when all’s said and done, readers want books for voices that speak to them. “

Which brings me to the next theme that, maybe, shouldn't even be a theme, because it should have been there the whole time: diverse voices.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign is hitting its stride, just last week announcing an award named after the late Walter Dean Myers and a host of future funding opportunities for diverse authors. Readers have always wanted to see themselves reflected in the stories they read and voices that speak to them, but the pickings haven’t always been good. WNDB and the Children’s Book Council: Diversity work to promote and encourage diverse voices in YA lit. Publishing professionals are paying attention, and many agent and editor wishlists include a desire for diverse books, whether that diversity comes from race, class, sexuality, ethnicity and/or ablelism.

Mel Barnes, a bookseller for the indie bookstore, University Books, and co-mastermind behind the Novels, News and Notes blog, says:

“It feels as though we are currently in one of the best positions we can be in to reach a wide variety of readers, pre-teens, teens and adults with the books that are marketed in the YA category. It is nearly impossible not to find at least a handful of books for every reader. Not only are there amazing diverse books for all sorts of readers but we also have books written around a variety of topics. There is definitely something for everyone right now. I love that I can find mysteries, horror, historical, future, current time and yes even my favorite, books about bands! It feels as though we are headed in the direction of being FAR MORE open minded towards the differences between all of us and I'm excited to see more book covers with teens of all shapes, sizes and color. We seem to be shifting from the 'pretty white girl in a dress' on a cover to real teens that are easier to connect to for teens, and adults remembering their own teen years.”

And what about those crossover YAs like Ava Lavender? Is it a reflection of how many readers of YA are in their 20s and 30s (despite the regularity of fodder articles bemoaning the range of ages of YA readership)? Or is it simply a natural evolution as the talent pool of YA authors grows and is challenged to be better and more innovative? What about the younger end of YA? Are fun, escapist novels suffering under the current sophistication of YA lit?

“...There's really a hole in the market between sophisticated middle grade and older YA, so what are the kids to do? But, no one's buying it now. I would agree that right now that kind of book isn't easy, unless the writing is super-sparkling and unusual,” says Sarah Barley.

Stephanie Kuehnert is the author of Ballads of Suburbia, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and an upcoming memoir about her own teenage years. She also is a contributing writer for Rookie Magazine and teaches YA writing at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle. Her take on the YA landscape? No matter what, it has to be authentic and hard-hitting:

“I’d actually say that its core, YA is still the same. Readers are still reading and writers are still writing fearless, honest books that speak to all aspects of the teenage experience—that’s why YA is and will continue to be an important part of the literary landscape. The trendy genre does seem to change every couple of years—two years ago, dystopian was the bestseller, now it seems that contemporary is getting it’s time to shine. I can’t say what will be next, though I hope it’s YA memoir since that is what I’m writing… But seriously, the advice I give my students is to write honestly, fearlessly, and from the heart because that’s what readers will always want.”

Perhaps contemporary is getting its moment to shine, but the various YA bestseller lists and the deals currently being made and reported to outlets like Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace show that readers, agents and editors are picking up a wide variety of books. In just October, every kind of contemporary, from darker "issue" books to ones whose focus is decidedly more romantic--and everything in between--grace the Deals page of Publishers Marketplace. But they're not alone. Fantasy, mystery, scifi, adventure, thriller, horror, short story collections and historical have also been announced in numbers that challenge the contemporary projects. These are, really, the cornerstone genres of any age group.

So perhaps what we're seeing is proof of the idea that trends are mostly over. There will likely always be a sway in one direction or another, following pop culture trends, bestsellers in other reading age groups (see the mildly grown interest in YA thrillers after the success of Gillian Flynn, for example), or maybe in the wake of a particular, unexpected breakout hit in YA, itself. But overall, I think every genre and topic has its place in YA right now, as long as it's unique and exceptionally written. Yes, even those much-maligned paranormal stories.

Martha Brockenbrough, author of Devine Intervention and the upcoming The Game of Love and Death loves the current landscape of YA.

"The landscape of YA continues to dazzle me," Martha says. "When you think about the books that have had a huge effect on popular culture for almost twenty years now, it’s young adult (with a healthy dose of middle grade). And it’s been all sorts of books that have resonated with readers of all ages. The bottom line: People know what we’re doing. And they’re becoming sophisticated enough to want things that are distinct."

Writing what's distinct can be tough, but it's a sign of a healthy and innovative category of books.

"Part of the deluge of excellent books is because the category has been so successful," Martha continues. "The market is saturated, and agents and editors can afford to be choosy. And while this feels like a double-edged sword when you have a manuscript that maybe would have sold five years ago but won’t today, it’s ultimately a good thing for everyone. A book should be better than what’s currently on the shelves to sell. It should be better than something that sold five years ago. Otherwise, it’s just cannibalizing backlist, which doesn’t serve authors or publishers. Just as athletes have gotten faster and more skilled over the decades, writers can, too. We shouldn’t settle for anything less from ourselves, or anything less for our readers. So if you find yourself saying, “Oh, my book won’t sell because today’s market is all about contemporary realistic,” take a deep breath. If your book does what no other book has done, if it adds something new to the conversation, if it stands out in some way that excites readers, then it will find a home. It’s going to take a lot of work, sweat, and smarts for you to do it. But you can, and you will!"

Honest and fearless. Innovative and different. Crossing all genres, and crossing over into different age groups. YA is broad and fierce, diverse and full of quality, and in my opinion the landscape is only going to get more and more beautiful. As writers, it means we have to up our game. A lot. As readers, it means we have some real gems to read now, and to look forward to.

And that's a state of the YA-Union I like.

~Kristin H.

Long Haul Projects

I took this photo last time I flew home from Europe. I had just spent at least twelve hours flying from London to Singapore, and then twenty crazed minutes dashing across Singapore Airport for my connecting flight home to Auckland, which would take another ten hours or so. My brain was a bleary blur and as my plane took off from Singapore, I snapped a photo of the harbour, silvery in the early morning light. It was so cloudy I couldn't see where the sea ended and the sky began.

It seems like a mad, mad thing, to fly from New Zealand to the other side of the world and back again, and when I'm halfway through I always wonder why I bother. Why anyone bothers. But if you come from a small country surrounded by ocean and you long to see all the famous, far away places, like London and Paris and Rome and Barcelona and New York and Montreal, you do it, even though the restlessness and the exhaustion will both hit you at the same time and you'll want to crawl out of your own skin, even though it seems like the journey will kill you long before it ends. Because you know there's no way you'll ever see those places in person otherwise, and they are worth every moment of the ordeal to reach them.

Some writers finish things quickly. I'm not one of those writers. At least, not at the moment. Things might change in the future, but for now, every project I embark on is a long haul flight from beginning to end. And I'm okay with that, because I have to be. If my choice is between travelling a long way to see a place I've always longed to see or never experiencing it in person, I’ll travel. And if the choice is between taking years to finish one novel or never finishing one, then I'll take years, because the destination is worth it.

At least, I spend a lot of time telling myself it is.

I've been working on the same novel for a long time, and I'm nowhere near done with it. I am near the end of the current draft though, and when I get to the end, I get to take a rest, because I figure I deserve one. I might not be home yet, but there's still the gap between flights. The moment when I get to wander through an unfamiliar airport, leaden but joyous, because it's been so long since I walked across any kind of open space.

Maybe I'll work on a new idea when I'm done with this draft, one that's still shiny and fresh. Or maybe I'll do nothing at all with the freedom except sleep and read books and play Sims 3. Either way, I've been looking forward to it for ages. It's impossible to be in the air for so long and not look forward to touching the ground again, even if it's just for a short while.

I spent the last few weeks feeling like I wanted nothing more than to be off this plane. I've been working on this novel so long that sometimes – ok, a lot of the time – all I can see is everything that's wrong with it. And then I feel like I’m trapped in a box with six hours of flying behind me and six hours ahead of me and no result to show for it, and my brain gets antsy and starts posing drastic solutions. Change the entire plot! Abandon it and write a different novel! Quit writing entirely! Empty the dishwasher, then browse the internet forever! Find a parachute! Escape escape escape!

And then I have to remind myself of what I'm meant to be doing and drag myself over to my computer to do it, even though I can hardly even remember where I'm flying to anymore, let alone why I thought it would be a good idea to fly there.

The other day I sat down to write after weeks of restlessness. I was writing a climactic scene, one I'd been waiting to write for a long time, but I couldn't feel anything other than weary. Still, I had a few hours, which is a rare thing in my life at the moment, and I knew I needed to use them. So I sat down, ignored the internet, found appropriate music, and started typing, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. And as I wrote, for the first time in a long while, I became more and more excited. Excited by the scene as it built up and up. Excited by this story, drawing increasingly quickly towards the end I planned out all those months ago. Excited by the scene flowing out of my head and onto the page.

And I knew I'd reach the end of the draft soon, even if I wasn't quite there yet. But I could feel the roar of the plane’s engines, the feeling of bursting through the sky, and suddenly, the journey stopped being maddening. I might not have typed the last words and stepped off the plane, but in that moment, it didn’t matter.

The sky can be worth it too.

The Carpool Lane: Inspiration For NaNoWriMo 2014!

There's that special chill in the air, your fantasy team is probably already hopeless, and you feel a certain itch to create something new. That can only mean one thing: It's time for National Novel Writing Month!

Every year, thousands of writers join in the month-long campaign to write a novel (50,000 words) in one month, in a collective burst of creativity that probably registers huge on the Universe's Richter Scale of Awesome.

If you're cracking your knuckles, readying to dive back into the NaNo ring, or if you're a n00b to the whole crazy rigamarole, we want to help fuel your quest for 50K! So we're bringing back our newsletter, Carpool Lane, a daily offering of inspiration, quotes on writing, resources, and of course .gifs!

Want some examples of the daily goodness we'll be spittin' your way? Try this (wam!) or this (pow!) or one of these (kablam!).

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Field Trip Friday: October 17, 2014

Kate Hart is off doing some well-earned galavanting this week, so I'm taking the reins! Oh god I spelled that "reigns" the first time. Bear with me, friends.


- The National Book Award Young People's Literature finalists were announced! They are: BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson; NOGGIN by John Corey Whaley; THE PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY, AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Steve Sheinkin; REVOLUTION by Deborah Wiles; and THREATENED by Eliot Schrefer. They're all winners! Go forth and read 'em!

- John Grisham made some truly mind-boggling remarks to The Telegraph, suggesting the U.S. legal system should be easier on people who view child p0rn online. Anne Ursu wrote a pretty definitive response, asking what it means that someone who has of late started writing books for children believes that "sixteen-year-old girls who look thirty" are somehow less exploited than 10-year-old boys. "I do believe that when you profit off kids, you have a moral obligation to serve and honor those kids, and I know that this industry is full of people who care a great deal about that obligation," Ursu writes. "So, what happens now?" Grisham has apologized. But why even bother, when people fall over themselves to come to your defense in major U.S. newspapers and call the response a "piling on"?

The women at Teen Librarian Toolbox recount a time the police were (correctly) called on a patron searching for child p0rn on library computers, and note that the "accidental clicking" Grisham suggests a friend of his did is different from the engaged activity of downloading. "The ease at which Grisham suggests people accidentally stumble upon child pornography has not been evidenced in my 20 years as a YA librarian working in a library system with sometimes over more than 20 public computers used daily by 100s of people."


- American Indians in Children's Literature posted a handy guide to the best books by or about American Indians.

- Debut author Robin Talley writes about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for The Guardian, and how that book's message of empathy ties into the current movement to publish and read more diverse stories. In the same paper, Corinne Duyvis wrote about the rise in "incidental diversity" in kids' books: "When none of these elements are acknowledged in realistic fiction, I notice. When the absence of those elements is praised, I notice especially. And I wonder — perhaps uncharitably — are diverse characters only OK as long as they’re not too diverse?"

Malinda Lo also took down critics who critique books by saying diversity "isn't realistic."

- Brooklyn Magazine compiled a map of the best book for every state. We spy THE OUTSIDERS and ELEANOR AND PARK!


- Writing retreats don't have to be at four-star resorts by Lake Tahoe, author Kristi Holl reminds us. She challenges writers to think differently about retreats, and give themselves permission to take one. (Incidentally, YA Highway has a quiz to help you figure out what dream writing retreat is right for you. Daydreams don't hurt, right?)

-Stumped? Get inspired by BookRiot's list of the Top Ten TED Talks on Writing.

- Cat Winters, Morris Award finalist for her debut IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, talks about her 20-year path to being published.


- We Need Diverse Books announced a new grant and award program. The Walter Dean Myers Award, which will begin in 2015, will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing and “[allow] children to see themselves reflected back” in those works. Grants will be awarded to up-and-coming, unpublished writers and illustrators who are creating diverse works and require financial support so that they can get published.

- CNN does a YA publishing trend look-ahead to 2015. In: Illness; diversity; mystery; horror; fantasy; bullying; New Adult.

- A book by an unidentified visual artist detailing the sexual abuse from his childhood has been put on hold after his ex-wife protested its release, in hopes of keeping their son from reading it. A UK court ruled that the question of whether the boy’s rights should take priority over those of his father should be decided at a full trial.

- Riot grrl goddess and Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon's memoir, GIRL IN A BAND, has a 2015 release date!

- Ursula Le Guin's 90s letter declining - in badass fashion - to blurb a Brian Aldiss work because it is so "self-contentedly, exclusively male."

- NYTimes best-selling author Margaret Stohl is writing a Black Widow YA book as part of her deal with Marvel Comics!


- GamerGate continued to horrify this week, as developer Brianna Wu was forced out of her home to seek safety after an online stalker sent death threats to her and her family. Deadspin posted a thorough break-down of what GamerGate is, what they're doing (systematically threatening and harassing women who discuss misogyny in the video game industry). Video game vlogger Anita Sarkeesian - who has also been forced to flee her home and contact police because of Internet harassment and threats - had to cancel an appearance at Utah State University after the college received threats of a mass shooting and then refused to check attendees for concealed weapons. Most recently, the group apparently now plans to attack Brianna Wu's game, Revolution 60, by mounting a string of false anti-feminist complaints about it. In response, CommunityRED outlined nine ways to to doge trolls, "A Feminist's Guide To Digital Security." (via @katwithsword)

- Our own Kate Hart's new project - Badass Ladies You Should Know - prompted some great thoughts on what makes a lady "badass," and a list of pretty freaking awesome women. Follow the new Tumblr for future awesomeness!

- A 12-year-old Arizona girl called B.S. on DICK's Sporting Goods for sending her a basketball catalogue that featured zero women playing basketball in a letter that went viral. "It's hard enough for girls to break through in this sport as it is, without you guys excluding us from your catalogue."

- The seven Sayreville football player teens charged with hazing may be tried as adults.

- THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS will be adapted again -- but for TV this time.

- GayYA is looking for volunteers!

- Send YA Interrobang your favorite female authors for #WomenAuthorWednesday.

- Photographer MarĂ­a Fernanda, who was taken down by VICE commenters (ugh), gives advice to artists on how to deal with haters.


- Drunk J Crew!

Cover Reveal + Giveaway: BETWEEN THE NOTES by Sharon Roat

Today we are so excited to reveal the cover to Sharon Roat's debut contemporary BETWEEN THE NOTES (June 2015, HarperTeen) I love books about music and I really love this cover. I hope you do too! 

Also, Sharon is generously giving away a signed ARC of BETWEEN THE NOTES, so be sure to enter below!

Now....the cover!

The book:

When Ivy Emerson’s family loses their house—complete with her beloved piano—the fear of what’s to come seizes her like a bad case of stage fright. Only this isn’t one of her single, terrifying performances. It’s her life.

And it isn’t pretty.

Ivy is forced to move with her family out of their affluent neighborhood to Lakeside, also known as “the wrong side of the tracks.” Hiding the truth from her friends—and the cute new guy in school, who may have secrets of his own—seems like a good idea at first. But when a bad boy next door threatens to ruin everything, Ivy’s carefully crafted lies begin to unravel . . . and there is no way to stop them.

As things get to the breaking point, Ivy turns to her music, some unlikely new friends, and the trusting heart of her disabled little brother. She may be surprised that not everyone is who she thought they were . . . including herself.

Debut author Sharon Huss Roat crafts a charming and timely story of what happens when life as you know it flips completely upside down.



Sharon's thoughts on the cover:

When my editor told me they were working on cover designs and asked for my input, I was excited and terrified! (Pretty much describes my state of mind throughout the publishing process.) I spent several hours picking out examples of YA covers I loved. Until then, I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking for in a cover. But the collection I had curated made it pretty clear. Most of the covers I fall in love with are: 1) are either fully illustrated or combine illustration and photography; 2) have hand-lettered titles; 3) are colorful and light; and 4) give a visual hint of the main characters but leave their exact appearance to the imagination of the reader.

The only specific visual I mentioned in my cover ideas was Ivy’s little attic room at the top of her family's tall, skinny house.  I was therefore thrilled when I saw the first sketch for my cover. They nailed it—from the gorgeous colors to the silhouettes at the bottom and the little piano keys in the window. I can't wait to see it on bookshelves!


Sharon Huss Roat grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and now lives in Delaware with her husband (who makes fonts), her son (who makes music), and her daughter (who makes believe!). She worked in public relations for twenty years before deciding what she really wanted to be when she grew up. Between the Notes is her debut novel. When she’s not writing (or reading) books for young adults, you might find her planting vegetables in her backyard garden or sewing costumes for a school musical. Visit her online at or on Twitter @sharonwrote.

ARC Giveaway!

Sharon is giving away a signed ARC of BETWEEN THE NOTES. Enter below for a chance to win (US/Canada only, please). Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Road Trip Wednesday

This week's topic: What was your best Halloween costume ever?

You can participate via comments, your own blog, tumblr, twitter (hashtag #roadtripwednesday), wherever you'd like!