Categories: Genre

What is YA anyhow? Smart stuff from editor Cheryl Klein

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 12, 2014
Categories: Craft, Genre, Other Topics
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My dear friend and kick-ass writer, Cidney Swanson, gave me a copy of Cheryl Klein‘s book SECOND SIGHT: AN EDITOR’S TALKS ON WRITING, REVISING & PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS.  It is so awesome.

My favorite parts, which you should definitely read ASAP, are the sections when she shows multiple drafts of the same manuscript chapter through multiple rounds of revision.  This will help you learn to revise more than anything I can think of.  Go buy the book now!

But what I wanted to call out in this post is the chapter entitled “Theory: A Definition of Young Adult Literature.”  Since many of us Scrivas (Nicole, Mary, Ruth, Melissa, Addie, and me) write YA fiction, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes a good YA novel.  Cheryl Klein’s exploration of the form is spot on brilliant.

She says:

So I’ve been thinking off and on about a practical definition of YA literature — something I could look at to help me decide whether a manuscript is an adult novel or a middle-grade novel or, indeed, a YA. Such delineations don’t matter to me as a reader — a good book is a good book — but they do matter to me as an editor and publisher, because I want every book I publish to find the audience that is right for it, and sometimes, despite a child or teenage protagonist, a manuscript is meant for an adult audience. Hence I have written the definition below to help me think through these situations as they come up. This is very much a WORKING theory; I hope you all will offer challenges, counterexamples, additions or arguments to help me improve what I’m saying here. But here’s what I have right now — the definition broken into five parts for easier parsing:

  1. A YA novel is centrally interested in the experience and growth of

  2. its teenage protagonist(s),

  3. whose dramatized choices, actions, and concerns drive the

  4. story,

  5. and it is narrated with relative immediacy to that teenage perspective.


In the complete post, which you really must read, she deconstructs each of these points and adds a sixth implicit feature of YA.  I really thought Cheryl’s thoughts were wonderful.  Enjoy!

No Chosen Ones Need Apply

by Amber Keyser
Published on: April 11, 2014
Categories: Craft, Genre
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Go to an action adventure movie, and you’ll see cars flying, buildings exploding, and more pyrotechnics than during wild fire season in a California summer.  Spend a few months reading the daily book deals from Publisher’s Marketplace like I do, and you’ll be overrun by Chosen Ones who have to save the world.  Every story meant to entertain us is faster, bigger, stronger, more explosive.

Let’s face it.  Our stories are doping.

And just like I’m tired of Lance Armstrong and EPO, I’m exhausted by books and book pitches on steroids.  I love Harry Potter as much as the next geek girl, but not every character we write is destined to stop history’s darkest wizard.

If I could wave my magic wand and restore balance to the universe, I’d start by banning some vocabulary.  Let’s shut down chosen ones and destiny.  Forget saviors who must question everything they ever knew.  No more magic portals and quests to save the world.

Good stories don’t require steroids.  They require characters we are intrigued by facing challenges that will force them to grow.

Let’s face it folks—not everyone is the Mockingjay.

YA Romance and Feminism

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: December 9, 2013
Categories: Basics, Challenges, Craft, Genre
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Here are some links to chew on the subject:

1. Rachel Lieberman discusses writing active female heroines in your YA Romance here.

2. “Well, in a world where Twilight was universally adored by teenage girls for a brief period of time and universally hated by their male counterparts, I want to celebrate the part of this culture that encourages women to fantasize and dream and write, just as I want to criticize the parts of Twilight that are bigoted or simply foolish.” You can read more of Chelsea Condren’s discussion on The Hub.

3. And here is Bitch Magazine’s list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader.

Have a great week!


Enjoying the Cross-Genre Dance

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: September 16, 2013
Categories: Genre, Other Topics
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Recently, my husband and I were blessed with a night out by ourselves (a rarity with having two kids). We decided to strap on our hipster personas, head into downtown Portland, eat at the food carts, and attend an “Electro-Swing” concert at a local club.

Yes, I said, “Electro-Swing.”

“What is that?” you might ask.  We first discovered this type of “cross-genre” brand of music only a couple of months back in early summer at a Steampunk Convention that my magician husband was performing at.

We loved it!  After having taken many East Coast Swing lessons pre-kids and going dancing at places like The Derby in Los Angeles in our vintage attire and at  “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” and “Cherry Poppin Daddies” concerts (yes, this dates me, I know), these new bands were bringing swing back in a fresh way once again.  Not into the mainstream, but I’m more into alternative styles anyway.  We have recently added their music to our collection.

Enjoying “electro-swing” has gotten me to thinking about how cool of a time we live in—a time where we artists can melt what has gone before us into new and fresh ideas.  I am loving reading cross-genre books lately.  I’m not so sure that they’re a “trend” either, but more like a way of the future.   According to, cross-genre fiction is, “fiction that mixes two different genres, or types, of writing, such as historical fiction and fantasy, or romance and supernatural fiction, or aliens and cowboys — well, you get the idea.” Publisher’s Weekly did an article back a year ago in 2012 about “Crossing the Streams.”  Crossing genres seems like it is becoming the norm more and more.

Most of my taste is drawn to a lot of YA historical romance mixed with either mystery/ espionage/adventure or a bit of paranormal/fantasy or even a bit of everything!  YA titles I’ve enjoyed lately include Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb (historical/paranormal/romance), Born of Illusion by Teri Brown (historical/paranormal/romance), Wildwing by Emily Whitman (historical/fantasy or sci-fi/ romance), Venom by Fiona Paul (historical/mystery/romance) and Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan (historical/mystery-espionage).  And I must include our very own Scriva Ruth in this category with the Oregon Book Award winning Blue Thread! (historical/fantasy or sci-fi).

Two adult titles I have to mention that I’ve loved in the cross-genre category are the Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Romance, Sci-Fi, Chick Lit, Literary) and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Romance, Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal, Mystery).

Why are cross-genres being published more and more?  For me, the stories are fresh, interesting, and multi-layered, making for a deep reading experience.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts about the future of this type of story as well as other titles people have enjoyed that could be considered cross-genre.

Happy Writing and Reading!


-Nicole Marie Schreiber



Variety is the Spice of Life

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2012
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In a few recent critique meetings I attended, we discussed:

A funny picture book about grammar

A middle-grade novel featuring a magic dog and a missing professor.

A middle-grade graphic novel about a kid who gets superpowers from mud (yes, Muddy Max).

A YA novel addressing (I kid you not) stuttering, music, the Free Speech movement in Berkeley, Hannukah, time travel, and LSD.

A picture book on space.

A picture book about a historical train ride.

A middle-grade novel about a family living in the woods.

A quirky piece of writing about a man with a literary fetish.

A picture book about a wren.

Both of the critique groups I belong to are open to any genre of children’s book writing – and even allow the occasional piece for adults. And I have to say that I LOVE the variety. I may never write a YA novel, but I can learn a lot by reading one closely. Critique group members may have never written or even read a graphic novel, but they know enough about character, plot, setting and structure to give great comments.  And picture books…picture books are just super hard to write – and super fun to read.

So what does this mean for you? If you are thinking about starting a critique group, consider not making the parameters too narrow. (I was once in a lovely critique group with people who wrote everything from adult novels to self-help nonfiction to magazine articles to children’s books.) And if you are in a critique group and you want to share something a little different from what the group usually reads, go ahead. (Depending on your group, you may want to ask first.) My guess is that you all may all benefit from the variety.

So that’s my experience. Is anyone out there a member of a YA-only, a MG-only, a nonfiction-only, a picture book-only, a magazine-article-only critique group? (Or one with any other focus?) Feel free to share the benefits of that approach!



Middle-Grade Graphic Novel Reading List

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2012
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One of my favorite things about the Viva Scrivas is that often after reading a manuscript, they will suggest some books that are similar in some way, are a good model in some way or, as ScrivaAmber once said: “I don’t know, there is something about it that I think you should see, that might be helpful.”

Reading other books in your genre or that somehow do something like what you are trying to do can be incredibly helpful as you write – and especially as you revise.

These days I’m writing and revising a middle-grade graphic novel called Muddy Max, about a boy with neat-freak parents who gets superpowers from mud. (The book, to be published in 2014 by AMP! For Kids, will be illustrated by the talented Portland comic artist Mike Lawrence

Since it’s my first foray into writing graphic novels, I’ve been devouring them.  (I should mention that my 3rd grade daughter is also devouring them. She is what I would call a developing reader, yet when I brought a stack of middle-grade graphic novels home from the library one afternoon, she had read four by dinner time.)

Here are some of my recent favs, some recommended by Scrivas, and some that I just pulled off the shelf and loved. This is far from a comprehensive list of the best (I KNOW I have missed some great ones!) so if you have any you love, please let us all know!


Early Middle Grade

Guinea PIG, Pet Shop Private Eye series by Colleen AF Venable

Babymouse series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Magic Trixie series by Jill Thomspon


Middle Grade

Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke

Sidekicks by Dan Santat

Bone series by Jeff Smith

Secret Science Alliance series by Eleanor Davis


Upper Middle Grade

Hereville: How Mirka got her sword by Barry Deutch

Chiggers by Hope Larson

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Page by Page by by Laura Lee Gulledge

The Arrival by Shaun Tan


So tell me, what did I miss?


The Picture Book Manifesto

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: June 21, 2012
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I recently participated in the SCBWI Oregon conference in May and attended a break-out session with Kristi King, an agent from Writer’s House who also works alongside Steven Malk.  She shared with us “The Picture Book Manifesto,” and it was my very first time hearing it.  It comes from

I LOVED it!  What an inspiring piece for a writer.   It’s been out for a while, but since I am usually knee deep in paint and glitter teaching preschool alongside writing my WIP and taking care of my family, somehow I missed it when it first came out.  But now that I have heard it I want to share it with the world!  I think you could even change the term “picture book” to “historical fiction,” or any other children’s genre in a sales slump, and the proclamation would work for the most part, give or take a few lines (which is what I did, and the proclamation took on a whole new meaning. I teared up from being so moved by it.)

So to those of you in need of a bit of inspiration with your writing, here you go– “The Picture Book Manifesto.”  Enjoy!


-Nicole Marie Schreiber









Do you know your Reading Bias?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: November 15, 2011
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Recently ScrivaAmber submitted a manuscript written in two points of view: a sarcastic male teenager, and a charming twelve-year old girl.

I was drawn to the teen character and wanted more of his voice. ScrivaLiz was drawn to the younger character and wanted more of her. The rest of us split somewhere between those two poles. This split happens sometimes, and tends to tell the writer: either direction would work, which do you favor? But it made me think more about how we critique and the bias we bring to the table.

For the last three years, I’ve been reading almost strictly YA titles, leaning towards male protagonists and gritty plots. No surprise that I favored the teen. Maybe no surprise that I can be hard on Middle Grade Novels, which sometimes leave me lukewarm. Where’s the drama? Where’s the tension?

That critique group was kind of an awakening. As a reader, I suppose there will always be bias — or to put it more gently — personal preference, in reading. But it is good to recognize my own, and it made me wonder: does objectivity just get harder the more we work together? Can you get entrenched in your genre if you read too much of it? I remain glad that the Scrivas write and read in a range of genres, because it expands my personal repertoire. It took three years of reading the fabulous nonfiction titles of Liz and Amber to make me appreciate that genre, and even want to write one myself.  Maybe I’ll even understand steampunk one of these days…

Women Channeling Teenage Boys

by Addie Boswell
Published on: October 24, 2011
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S.E. Hinton knows boys, in the Outsiders.

This year, the Scrivas have featured quite a few teen and preteen boy characters in our novels, along with multicultural, historical, and superhero characters of both genders. Considering that we are white, middle-class women spanning the middle decades (as many childrens’ writers, librarians, and teachers tend to be), I believe we do a good job of letting our characters speak in their own, distinctive voices.

But the fact remains: we’ve never been teenage boys.  And raising them, or befriending them, or having them as brothers and boyfriends (even wanting to be them, in my case) is not the same as walking the walk. When writing my current YA novel, I sometimes wondered if I was getting 16-year-old Carlos’s reactions “right”? And also, in an edgy, coming-of-age boy book, is it honest to avoid cursing and sex and (god forbid) masturbation altogether?

Even in fiction, writing “true” means doing your research. It is a lesson I have learned well, for Scrivas are painstaking and thorough when researching their nonfiction and historical fiction titles. This is what most helped me get closer to boy-think.

  • Read what boys are reading. There is a common belief in publishing that boy readers skip YA altogether and go straight to adult fantasy and nonfiction. But I hope not, because it would be a shame to miss the excellent body of YA “boy” books out there. One thing I loved in these books: Action Rules, plots move quickly, and dialogue is clipped and to the point. Note: I found sex and slang both understated; a little goes a long way.
  • Read kick-ass boy protagonists by kick-ass male authors. Some of my favorites: The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier, Chaos Walking series, Patrick Ness, Punkzilla, Adam Rapp, Tales of the Madman Underground, John Barnes, Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Whale Talk, Chris Crutcher, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Markus Zusak. I’ve read plenty of kick-ass boys written by women as well — find titles at Guys Read or Guys Lit Wire.
  • Watch teenage boys in action. Recently ScrivaMelissa and I met at Burgerville during high school lunch hour and observed the species up close. What slang! What quick speech and movements! (We almost saw a fight!) I also hung out with some Brazilian teenagers, and was amazed by how affectionate the guys were with each other. Into the book it all goes.

It goes without saying that that the children’s publishing industry needs more racial diversity and gender balance. I would love to see teenage boys writing about their own lives. But in the meantime, we women have work to do, and we will strive to do right by our characters.

Giving the full draft of a novel the Scriva treatment

by Amber Keyser
Published on: April 23, 2011
Categories: Critique Process, Genre
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Most writers find the words to the left rather satisfying to write.  Of course, we also know that the end is never the end until the mss is pried from our zombie fingers.

When a Scriva finishes the first draft of a novel (or book length nonfiction), we usually want to get a global perspective from the other Scrivas.  It’s the only way to properly assess voice, story arc, plot consistency, character development, and other features that must be sustained throughout the entire piece.

To do this, we scrap our typical meeting structure and move into novel mode. We dedicate an entire meeting to the novel.  The writer prints and mails a full copy to each of us as far in advance as possible (ideally 3-4 weeks).  We each do a full read.  We try to resist line edits (difficult for Scrivas) because we know the details may change.  We’re reading for the bones.

Typically we provide overall feedback and pull out example passages that are really working (and therefore should be the writer’s model for revision) and ones that miss the mark.  It is helpful to suggest novels with similar features for the writer to read.

Our goals are to give the writer a concrete plan of attack for the revision and the encouragement to get right to it.


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