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Monthly Archives: April 2013

What Some Readers Might Find Objectionable in 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS)

Even though 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) is sometimes classified as a romance, there is no sex in the book. There is also no violence, but readers might find themselves wanting to punch a character or two in the face now and then.

So what’s in it then?

Swearing. The book is from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl, and there is some language that might cost her a dollar in the “swears jar” in some people’s houses. Okay, maybe more than a dollar. And her grandmother calls people fat ass all the time. But good luck getting her to contribute to “the swears” jar. She’d just laugh, take a drag on her cigarette, and call you a fat ass, too. However, while there is a bit of language, it really isn’t superfluous. The target age range for this book is age 12 and up.

Smoking. Gram and a few minor characters smoke, but main character Ann doesn’t approve.

Non-traditional values. This may or may not be a problem for you, depending on your worldview and political beliefs. While this author is a devout Christian, my characters are not. In fact, Ann calls her step-mother Godzilla because of her fiery, Bible-breathing judgment and hypocrisy.

Most people who’ve heard of the book know that Ann wants to lose 45 pounds before her aunt’s wedding. However, Aunt Jackie is marrying Chris, as in Christine. While some people applaud the presence of a gay wedding without it being the central “issue” of the book, others may disagree.

Why would a Christian writer choose to write something that some readers might find objectionable or even offensive?

Simple. It’s not a Christian book. It feels didactic and trite and forced whenever I try to make my characters into something they aren’t. Yes, it would be easier to not have to defend myself to my conservative friends and readers. But it wouldn’t have been authentic. I, too, have struggled with hypocrisy in the Church. Some of my dearest friends are fighting for equal civil rights, and I support them. People swear. I swear—sometimes too much. These things are real to me, real in my world, and real in readers’ worlds. That’s the kind of book I want to write.

I hope the things listed above aren’t deal-breakers when it comes to reading 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) because when weighing the possible objections against the overall positive themes of self-worth and health and familial acceptance, the positives win—by far.

45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) releases from Viking (Penguin) on July 11, 2013, but is available now for pre-order wherever books are sold.

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The Violence in Vengeance Bound

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So, this month at the Class of 2K13 we’re talking about the violence in our books.  And I’m not spoiling much by telling you there’s violence in Vengeance Bound.

I mean, it’s kind of in the name.

My main character, Amelie (who goes by her alias Cory in much of the book) is possessed by the Furies.  These aren’t a couple of warm and fuzzy entities.  Nope.  They crave vengeance for those they see as bad or deserving of punishment.  And, you know, punishment = death.

So…yeah.  Pretty violent.

My book is recommended for ages 14 and up, and I agree with that recommendation.  If you want to give it to a kid younger than that?  Well, there’s nothing in my book that’s worse than titles like the Hunger Games.  But the violence is there.  Are you sure the person you’re handing it to is ready for it?

As a parent, I read everything before I give it to my kiddo.  And I recommend others do the same.  Or ask your local indie or library about the title.  Booksellers and librarians are great at knowing the content of books, and being able to discuss it.

And I believe forewarned is forearmed.

Violence and Cursing and Sex, Oh My!

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This month we’re talking about the levels of violence, sex, and other “badness” in our books. IN THE AFTER is recommended for 13 and up, and if it were a movie it would be PG 13…but what does that actually mean?

Violence – I’m not going to lie, my book is filled with violence. By definition post-apocalyptic means after an apocalypse, a horrible event in which millions are killed. Flesh-eating creatures appear on the planet, and very quickly wipe out the human population. My main character Amy, is left in the aftermath and ends up killing countless creatures. These attacks are some time gruesome, but never at any point is there violence for violence sake. It’s about survival and living in a harsh environment.

Sex – There is absolutely no sex in my book. With little romance, the only “sexual situation” is a man who tries, and fails, to force himself on Amy. This one incident is in no way gratuitous, and younger readers may not even understand the sexual undertone.

Bad Language – There are a few “curse” words in my book, but nothing that is still bleeped on television after 9pm. No F-bombs.

So, like I said, pretty PG-13 across the board. The truth is; every child/teen has a different level of reading comfort. While admittedly my book does have a lot of violence, it’s important to differentiate between gratuitous brutality and important strife. Children of all ages should know that there is a difference between fighting for nothing and fighting for something.

IN THE AFTER is available June 25th from Harper Teen.

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Language, Sex, Violence, (generic) Lucky Charms, and ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE

This month the Class of 2K13 is talking about the levels of “bad” stuff in their books. Or, alternately, if you are a teenager, you might think of it as the “good” stuff. And by stuff, I am talking about sex, language, drugs, alcohol, violence and… ummmm, uuhhhh, I think that’s all of them?

Before I get into the amount of this bad/good stuff in ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, I want to tell a quick story. And before I can tell this story, there are a few things you must know:

Thing the one: My husband grew up in a household where his mother did not believe in sugary cereals.

Thing the two: I grew up in a household where my mother very much believed in sugary cereals, EXCEPT ones that contained marshmallows. She thought cereal marshmallows were disgusting (And yet somehow loved Peanut Butter Captain Crunch despite it’s ability to completely shred the roof of one’s mouth. Go figure).

Thing the three: With our own children my husband and I allow sugary cereals, but try to get the healthier ones (Frosted Shredded Wheat, Life, etc.) and we occasionally get them a box of (generic) Lucky Charms with the caveat that they cannot just pick the marshmallows out-they must eat the sugar coated bits of cereal as well (yes, we are strict disciplinarians, obviously).

On a recent morning I poured some (generic) Lucky Charms into cereal bowls (sans milk – as the little heathens prefer it this way, despite my repeated efforts to convince them that this is clearly wrong. I even bought (generic) Cocoa Krispies to show them the magic of it creating leftover chocolate milk at the bottom of the bowl, but even that was not enough to permanently convert them once the novelty wore off). As usual they began to sift through the bowls for the marshmallows.

“Guys,” I gently reminded them. “You can’t just eat the marshmallows.”

They ignored me, pretending they were too absorbed in their marshmallow excavations to hear me. I came to sit at the table with them and my (slightly) more virtuous bowl of (generic) Frosted Shredded Wheat. Having already plucked every last multi-colored marshmallow from their bowls, they began to wriggle in their seats in a waythat I recognized as the signal that they were getting ready to bolt from the table and move onto TV and toys.

I couldn’t let it happen, and so I opened my mouth and gave them the old, “children are starving in China.” Well, I didn’t specifically mention China, because they don’t know what or where that is. And I didn’t use the word “starving”, because they have not yet learned to be hyperbolic in their whining and so only complain, “my tummy is feeling hungry.”

Honestly, I don’t remember what I said, because even as the words spilled from my mouth about other children who don’t have all the nice things that they have, there was another voice in my head worrying, “Oh geez, should I be playing the starving children card? Is it too soon? Or is it just terrible parenting at any age? Do guilt trips like this ever do any good? Is it right to teach children that because other people are worse off than them that they aren’t allowed to feel the way they feel?!? I. DON’T. KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!”

As it turns out, all the mental hand wringing was unnecessary. My children absorbed my little lecture with wide eyes and then began to thoughtfully chew on their marshmallow free, but still extremely sugary cereal. I enjoyed a moment of victory as they finished their (not-quite) nutritious breakfast. But then…

“Yeah,” my almost six-year-old son, Jamie said, “and some kids don’t have any shoes or clothes.”

“That’s true,” I quickly agreed, a bit shocked and wondering if all this time, unbeknownst to myself, I’d been rearing the next Mother Theresa.

“Yeah, no shoes.” My daughter Zoe, piped up in agreement. So two Mother Theresa’s in the making then (one could be argued to be simply the nature of the child, but two certainly meant some credit must be given to the nurturer.)

“And no houses,” Jamie added.

“Yes, exactly!” I cheered him on, congratulating myself on how much they’d taken away from little lesson.

But then suddenly it went wrong as my children went back and forth listing more things that the other less fortunate children might not have.

No fences. No doors. No windows. No belly buttons. No burps. No butts.

“Go watch television,” I told them.

So what does this have to do with ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE?

Damned if I know.

Oops. Language. But luckily that reminds me, I did have a point with that story and here it is…

In ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE there is:

Swearing (not Tarantino levels, but the F word is invoked)

Sex (not graphic, but it’s there)

and Violence (way less than your average shooting people video game, but it does get a little bloody in a few different sections)

BUT before you put my book on your (or your child’s, or your libraries) do-not-read pile, please take a moment and try to think of this “bad” stuff as marshmallows mixed into the cereal of my story. They are part of the story and not meant to be separated from it. However, unlike marshmallows they were not added as colorful sugary enticements, but rather grew from the characters and story organically (I don’t think anybody has tried to sell organic marshmallows yet… at least I hope not. Yeesh.).

If I had picked all the marshmallows out of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, I’d be taking away the stuff – be it “good” or “bad” that makes it ring true. And that wouldn’t be good for anyone.

And, of course, whether children are digesting sugary cereal or a book with difficult content – it’s important to remember to talk about it with them… just try not to mention the children starving in China.

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Should kids be allowed to read whatever they want?

During our #classof2k13 Twitter chat on Tuesday night, some really interesting questions came up. One of these had to do with books that are appropriate for kids to read and who should act as gatekeepers for what they do read.

Since my contemporary young adult novel, BRIANNA ON THE BRINK, deals with the mature subject matter of unprotected sex and the very real consequences thereof, this is a topic near and dear to my writerly heart. Did I hesitate about tackling this obviously controversial subject when it came to telling Brianna’s story? Not really, and here’s why:

I can’t remember not being a reader. Not only that, but I can’t remember not being a reader who was allowed to read pretty much anything my heart desired. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t care. Quite the opposite. My mother was/is a voracious reader and former university professor who seemed to know how to open the gates for her daughter to become a lifelong reader as well. Set me loose in a library or a bookstore, and I’d be off, scouring the shelves for whatever was interesting to me at the time. Horse stories? Check. Dog stories? Check. James Herriot books that led to biographies that led to poetry that led to classics and even books that had been banned in their eras due to controversial content? You bet.

Did every book I explored as a young child and then as a teen resonate with me? Of course not. Sometimes this was because I was too young to have much in the way of a necessary frame of reference. Sometimes it was because the subject matter just didn’t interest me. But that unfettered exploration led to an understanding of what I do love to read and what does resonate with me. It led to the books that continue to enrich my life and expand my worldview beyond my own experiences and my own backyard. It’s given me common ground with people all over the world with whom I might not otherwise have found that common ground.

Obviously, I am a big fan of kids being allowed to choose what they will read. Does this mean I think young children should be turned loose in the adult section of a library or bookstore and told to go for it? Hardly. As an occasionally overly-protective parent, I am aware of the power of books, and of the fact that, sometimes, that power may be overwhelming for a young mind just starting to grasp certain concepts and realities. Thank goodness for the age recommendations found on most YA and MG books (including BRIANNA ON THE BRINK, which the inside jacket flap clearly recommends be read by those 15 and up). That said, I also have great faith in the ability of both young children and teens to seek out the books they need at different times in their lives. I was one of those kids. And now, when my kids and I are in a bookstore or a library, I watch as, time and again, they gravitate toward the stories they’re not only ready for but craving at this age, at this point in their lives.

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Telling a Fictional Truth: Violence in GOLDEN BOY

The 2k13 theme for this month is to talk about the content of our books and whether that makes them more appropriate for certain ages than others.

With GOLDEN BOY, I’m considering this from an unusual perspective as my book, perhaps more than most in my debut class, is based off of real circumstances. People with albinism living in East Africa are currently being hunted and killed so that their body parts can be used as good luck talismans.

I wrote GOLDEN BOY with a middle school reader in mind. Truly graphic violence happens “off-screen,” and I made the choice to have my main character be a boy rather than a girl so as to avoid another superstition: that having sex with an albino can cure AIDS. That said, many reviewers, including Kirkus and the Junior Library Guild, are listing it for teen audiences due to the seriousness of its subject matter.

To answer the original question: Yes, there is violence in my book. I couldn’t have told the story without it. Elephants are poached; people with albinism are attacked. However, when people’s greed creates a demand for death I feel it is vital that this be paid attention to.

With realistic contemporary fiction then, the question we’re really asking  is, at what age to we give children access to the details of the violence in the world? This, I think, is a personal choice determined by parents, teachers, and the children themselves as they gravitate towards or away from books that show disturbing realities. Violence is in the world one way or the other. In fact, children in other areas of the world are often the ones most likely  experience it first-hand. And it’s not only adults who can do something to change it.  I truly believe that kids can make a difference in the world, but this can only happen if they are allowed to know what’s going on in it.

The Senegalese ecologist, Baba Dioum, said the following in a speech he made in 1968 to the general assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but I feel it applies just as truly to human nature as it does to environmental concerns:

“In the end, we will protect only what we love.
We will love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught.”

Mindy Weighs In On Violence In NOT A DROP TO DRINK

The authors of The Class of 2k13 are blogging this month about age appropriateness of our books. I’ve already talked about the levels of sex, violence and language in NOT A DROP TO DRINK in vlog format, but I wanted to elaborate on the violence aspect.

NOT A DROP TO DRINK is labeled as appropriate for ages 14 and up, which I agree with. I also believe that there are probably thousands of 12 and 13 year olds that are mature enough to read my book and understand that the violence being handed out serves a means to an end within the story arc that lands squarely in the Violence is Not Cool camp.

Recently a friend of mine read my ARC, and her 13-year-old son snagged it off her dresser, reading it in two days. He loved it, and his mother shared this with me in regards to the trickier topics involved therein:

We talked about the violence and mention of rape, you know, just to have it in the open, and he didn’t take any of it out of context at all. So, from that standpoint, I think the maturity level comes into play.

I was so pleased to hear this. Of all the groups of people in the world, a 13 year old boy wasn’t walking away from my book thinking that shooting people was awesome. Thank God. However, would all adolescent boys (and girls!) react this way? I can’t say that for sure, because I’m not on a casual conversation basis with all of them.

As a librarian and a writer, I think the best approach for NOT A DROP TO DRINK wanna-be readers under the age of 14 is to have parents or an educator read it first and make the judgement call as to whether it’s appropriate for their maturity level. I’d much rather have an adult decide this before their child / student reads it, as opposed to after the fact.

And who knows – I might pick up a few adult fans, too! 😉

Between the Covers: Age Appropriateness of MAID OF SECRETS

Young Adult fiction runs the gamut of styles, content and intensity, from super sweet young teen reads to dark and gritty stories suitable only for very mature teens and adults. So where does my tale of spygirls in Queen Elizabeth’s court, Maid of Secrets, fall in that range?

I thought it would be easiest to ask the spies themselves.

Meg (The Thief):

Well, begging your pardon, but I am a thief, and a good one. ‘Tis only what I’ve known all my life, of course, and I don’t steal but what someone has left out in the open for the taking. I mean, really, some people are just careless. So, yes, there is thievery, pick-pocketing and the like, and a fair amount of the light-fingering of letters not intended for my eyes. But if I were not to thieve, I and my troupe would starve. And if I were not to follow the Queen’s orders to steal these letters I mention, I would be imprisoned. As to the Queen herself, ’tis said she carries on with a married man… but you’ll never prove it by me. Love is a private matter, and that’s all I will say on that.

Beatrice (The Court Insider):

Oh, pray, don’t preach your morals and high standards to me, for I have seen the truth of them! The only thing ‘noble’ among many of the lords and a fair number of the ladies of Queen Elizabeth’s court is our birth, I’ll tell you now. But still, we are not fools. As bawdy and flirtatious as the Queen’s court is, there is only the suggestion of indecency you’ll find in these pages, nothing plain to the eyes. Of course, Meg’s terrible manners and poor schooling are a scandal… does that count? And while I have it on good authority that the thief makes big moon eyes at her Spanish boyfriend, and the two steal kisses here and there, there is no more between them that. Pish, ’tis a surprise there’s even that, as annoying as Meg is…

Sophia (The Seer):

I cannot really say as I have anything to add to this discussion, for though it is thought that I might, perhaps, one day see more than what one can ordinarily see–see the future in fact–it has not happened yet. Still, there is the idea of magic and some might even say witchcraft, which I suppose is only fitting, as I am ward to John Dee, the Queen’s honored astrologer. But within this first tale, I can assure you, nothing more is wrought from me than the wringing of my own hands. I hope my gift does manifest soon, if manifest it will! And I hope it is indeed a gift, and not the curse I fear…

Anna (The Scholar):

Well! So much to ponder on the question of age — the language in Maid of Secrets is a bit formal, I should say, a bit longer in sentence and cadence than in a typical tale. That’s only fitting, as it’s historical fiction, but still, ’tis something to keep in mind. That said, any learned girl beyond the age of 12 can pick up this book and enjoy it–and any fan of Elizabethan history can find much to recommend this book, no matter her age!

Jane (The Assassin):

I kill people, make no mistake. I stalk and track and strike from the shadows. But as a wise man once said: if you find me at your door, chances are you’ve done something to bring me there. And to be plain, you’ll see none of my handiwork on the page in Maid of Secrets. Ample murders and knife fights occur in this tale–Meg’s young Spanish count, Rafe de Martine, takes particular issue with a few unlucky Spaniards, and the death that has brought Meg to our group was gruesome indeed. There are also grave threats, particularly to Meg, who must face the prospect of a bloody awful fate. And, too, there is some terrible pain visited upon minor characters by the villain. . .though he gets his due, in the end. But the violence is measured and shouldn’t offend. An’ if it does, well. ‘Tis not the tale for you.

 

And there you have it! Maid of Secrets is intended for audiences twelve and up, and has themes of empowerment woven into its tapestry of Tudor-set intrigue. Murder and violence do occur, but not gratuitously, and the language is only slightly salty. The few curse words that find their way onto the page are mild by most standards. There is no sex on the page in the book, and Meg’s romance with Rafe goes no further than a few passionate embraces. She is a Maid of Honor, after all.

If you have any questions, by all means, post them in the comments below!

RUMP Author Liesl Shurtliff on Why Fairy Tales Matter

WHY FAIRY TALES MATTER

by Liesl Shurtliff

A common misconception people have about fairy tales is that they are somehow irrelevant because they’re not realistic reflections of our life experience. Fantasy and the fairy-tale are purely escapism, a way to ignore reality and it’s inconvenient laws of nature. “Life is not a fairy-tale,” people often say, but I couldn’t disagree more. I think what they mean to say is, “Life is not a Disney animation film.”

Despite my love for Disney and the joy they bring to my life, they have butchered the integrity of fairy-tales for generations. The real fairy tales, the ones written and collected by the Brothers Grimm, Perrault, Andersen and others, are generally brutal and often tragic. Take a look at the original tales of The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, or various origins of Little Red Riding Hood. They are not pretty, friends. Tragic love, cannibalism, and pecked out eyes. Some of them don’t even end well, and a few of them do not live happily ever after. They don’t even live. Why then do we say that life is not a fairy-tale as though we have somehow been duped? Consider the following statement made by a man who penned some of the most tragic fairy tales.

“Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale.”

-Hans Christian Andersen

Was this man delusional? I don’t think so. He didn’t mean that life is all butterflies and fairy dust and happily ever afters. There’s a sprinkling of that in real life. Of course there is great joy in this life, but many will suffer betrayal, heartache, and tragedy, and children are no exception. Fairy-tales, I believe, are great metaphors for real life. It’s beautiful, but it’s also ugly. It’s happy, but it’s also sad. It’s sweet, but it’s also bitter. Sometimes there is no explanation for why things happen.

It is all wonderful.

So I implore you, whenever someone says “Life is not a Fairytale,” you should yell “YES IT IS YOU IDIOT!”

~~~~~~~~~~

RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN, by Liesl Shurtliff (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers) releases tomorrow, April 9, 2013!

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke.

Rump has never known his full name—his mother died before she could tell him. So all his life he’s been teased and bullied for his half-a-name. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. For Rump discovers he can spin straw into gold. Magical gold.

His best friend Red Riding Hood warns him that magic is dangerous—and she’s right! That gold is worth its weight in trouble. And with each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse.

There’s only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end.

An inventive fairytale retelling, perfect for fans of Gail Carson Levine or Shannon Hale.

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