Monthly Archives: June 2016

Genre Lessons: Humor

Laughing face.I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

Since Summer Reading is in full swing, librarian book club is taking two months to prepare for our next meeting, where, like more traditional book clubs, we’ll all discuss the same title. Since starting a new job and scrambling to put together the entire teen Summer Reading Program at the last minute mean a crazy amount of stress, I thought I’d balance that out with some comic relief. Here’s what reading humor has taught me about writing.

1. Specificity creates humor. A big, broad-shouldered security guard driving a VW bug, hunched over the steering wheel so they don’t hit their head, may be funny. But that same guard driving that same bug with lashes on the headlights and a “DIVA” glamour plate is even funnier. You don’t want to bog your prose down with description, but the right detail at the right time can take a sentence from one that makes a reader smile to one that makes them laugh out loud.

2. Surprise creates humor. The guard driving the bug in the example above is funny because it’s unexpected. You can lighten a tense scene and develop richer characters by giving them an unexpected hobby, like a football player with a collection of My Little Ponies or a ballet dancer who does taxidermy. I’m not a fan of stereotypes, but they can be used — and subverted — to great effect in situations like these.

3. Humor and depth are not mutually exclusive. You can explore really heavy, really dark topics and still sprinkle humor judiciously throughout. Sometimes humor can even help you delve deeper into a topic by providing pockets of relief for readers, so they don’t get overwhelmed.

Those are my takeaways from reading humor. Do you read or write humor? What would you add to this list?

What makes you DNF?

Woman reading.I recently went through a period where I struggled to finish several books. A few of those ultimately landed on my DNF (Do Not Finish) list. This got me thinking: what makes me abandon a book? And, alternately, what keeps me hooked? I came up with a few things:

1. The characters. I am very much a character-driven reader. If I like a character enough, especially if their voice is distinctive, I will follow them anywhere. I would read the phone book if it was written in Baz’s voice (from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On). Alternately, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the book. No matter how exciting that car chase is or how cool that world’s magic system, if the characters aren’t invested in said car chase or magic system — if they don’t have personal stakes in what’s happening — I’m not invested either.

2. Research. If a book takes place in another country, or another time period, or both, I expect the author to know what life is/was like there. One of my recent DNFs takes place in Australia, but the narrator sounds very American. Aside from using kilometers instead of miles, and mentioning tea, there’s no indication this story is set in Australia. All of the pop culture references are to American bands and American TV shows. There’s no Australian slang or phrases. I’ve never been to Australia, but I spent a summer working with several people from different parts of Australia, and there are definitely colloquialisms that are unique to different regions (as you’d find in any part of the world). Also — and I understand this isn’t something the author could control — I was listening to this as an audiobook, and the narrator has an American accent. The inconsistencies were jarring enough to take me out of the story.

3. Personal preference. Sometimes I’ll be really excited for a book I’ve heard great things about, but it’s just not for me. The voice or the structure of the story doesn’t resonate with me. Usually I can recognize that these are well-written books, and often I’ll try to finish them, but sometimes I’d rather set them aside in favor of a book that will work for me.

What makes you DNF a book?

Who are we writing YA for?

Last week, an article in The Guardian, “Most YA Fiction is Grown-Up Fiction in Disguise,” argued that YA writers are missing their target audience. Now, publishing in the UK looks very different from publishing in the US, but the article got me thinking. What makes a YA book YA, and are teens still connecting with new YA books? Who are we writing YA for?

First, what makes a book YA? The simplest answer is the age of the main characters — typically fourteen to eighteen is considered YA, though there’s some flexibility there. But making a character sixteen doesn’t automatically make a book YA. The characters have to sound like teens, and they have to be dealing with problems teens face. If a book is high fantasy, the characters’ struggles can still mirror those of contemporary teens — figuring out who they are, navigating changing friendships, assuming more responsibilities, dealing with parental/family/community expectations, first loves and first heartbreaks … I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. For a YA book to resonate with teen readers, the characters must be authentic teens — they must worry about things teens worry about, and they must talk and act like teens. Voice is huge in kid lit. Whether you’re writing a chapter book, middle grade, or YA, your characters have to sound like kids their age. (If you want an excellent example of this, check out All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. While I’m sure many adults will enjoy this book, it’s hard to argue, as the Guardian article suggests, that this is adult fiction in disguise.)

So, are teens still connecting with new YA books? The teens in my community are. And teens are lining up to meet YA authors at book festivals all across the country — at the Texas Teen Book Festival, at YALLFest, at Book Con, and at hundreds of other smaller gatherings at libraries and bookstores. I’ve heard teens in heated debates about their favorite characters and series. And if you look at all the fan art and fan fiction created by teens about teen books, I think you’ll find teen interest in YA is alive and well.

Still, the question remains, who are we writing YA for? Most YA writers I know say they write for teens. Diverse authors often say they write the books they wish they’d had as teens. And I’m thrilled to have those books now to share with the teens in my community.

As a YA writer, I’ll be thrilled if adults connect with my books. I hope some adults will. But I don’t write my books for those readers. I write them for the teens who may see themselves in my characters, who may be facing the same challenges as those characters, who may read my books and realize that they’re not alone. Because that’s what I wanted from YA books as a teen.

If you’re a writer, who do you write for? Do you feel YA has become more adult lately?

I’m now a Teen Librarian!

Good news, everyone!

I’ve wanted an excuse to use this meme for a while now. Image credit: http://www.memegasms.com/meme/vhyfxm

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know this, but I’m trilled to announce I’ve accepted a position as a Teen Services Librarian! I’ve always been passionate about teen services, and am really excited to build strong programs that engage and empower my community’s teens. Best of all, I get to do this at a library I already know and love! I took over some teen programs here in mid-April, and am blown away by how awesome these teens are. I can’t wait to hear their ideas and work with them to make the library a teen hub and haven.

So, what does this mean for the blog? I’ll still discuss librarianship, writing, and publishing, though my library-related posts will be more teen-focused. If there’s a topic you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments, or get in touch with me on Twitter. I think the best blogs, like the best library programs, are shaped by their communities. So, let me know what you’d like to talk about (within the realms of libraries, writing, and publishing), and let’s start a conversation.