All posts by lialondon

Keeping it Tween

A few months ago, I released my first sequel, The Gypsy Pearl 2: Craggy.  Writing something that readers were actually anticipating changed the way I looked at the writing process.  I had to be consistent.  I had to build on what the readers had come to expect after reading book 1.

 Craggy cover

One of my avid fans after book one actually offered to beta read book 2, and that’s when I learned a valuable lesson.  In my draft, I had included some darker scenes, including a scene in which sexual violence was threatened.  The reader wrote to me saying she was disappointed that I’d chosen to write such a scene because she would not feel comfortable sharing it with her middle grade children who had so enjoyed the first book.  She admitted her standards might be conservative and apologized.

I, on the other hand, did some soul-searching.  Did I want other young readers to have to put the series down and never know the ending just because I got too edgy?  While the scene was mild by most standards, not graphic at all, it was still not appropriate for tweens.  This was when I realized that tween/middle grade and young adult are not always interchangeable.  Some stuff is better left for the bigger kids and adults. Ironically, once I’d revamped the scene to take out any innuendo or reference to sexual assault, I saw that the story would still be just fine for older readers.  The younger kids don’t need that stuff—but perhaps neither do the big kids or grown-ups!

Tween fiction is targeted to kids in those middle school years. While they may have been exposed to hormonal and/or violent interactions, it’s usually not a norm in their daily lives. Themes that dwell on such things run the risk of flying over their heads at best, or upsetting them at worst. Given that a good book draws a reader into the world of the main character, we need to ask ourselves, “Would I drag my 12-year-old into this?” If the answer is yes, we’re probably not writing for tweens. We’re writing for an older audience who will be able to distance themselves sufficiently not to be traumatized. It’s one of those tricks writers need to have: not only must we be able to get inside the head of our main characters to bring them to life, we must get inside the head of our target audience and consider how they will respond.

Call it a craft, call it a balancing act, or call it magic. It’s a wonder when it works.

What themes do you think are best left for older audiences?

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Learn more about Lia London and her writing (some tween, some young adult, some adult) at LiaLondonBooks.com or follow her on Twitter at @LiaLondon1

New Release: Of Mice and Momphibraks

MOT 1 coverA collection of satirical princess stories and spoofed fairy tales begins with the first installment of A Maze of Tales~Of Mice and Momphibraks.  Each short story will come out on Amazon for kindle, and when the collection is complete, a paperback anthology will bring the whole mess (…er maze) together.

 

The first tale begins in a kingdom so ridiculously far, far, far away from anything else that potential conquering (or at least pestering) forces couldn’t be bothered to make the journey for such a small patch of land, no matter how fertile the fields or how full of magical mice.  Princess Pennilopintha is about to find true love…but not until her prince cuts the cheese.  Literally.

 

Coming soon: Saccharine White (she smiles with artificial sweetness)!  Each story is connected to the one before it by at least one character, and they will all eventually loop back around to the beginning.  Think of them as baseball cards or stickers and be sure to collect them all!

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For more on Lia London, see LiaLondonBooks.com

 

Where’s Mom and Dad?

IMG_5779Once upon a time, we were kids.  We hated homework and lima beans, and we loved cartoons and fart jokes. Energy abounded, and so did laughter, grass stains and candy wrappers.  Soap and finished chores were much harder to find.  Our parents were background furniture unless they served as vending machines who dispensed bandaids, snacks or new shoes.  We thought they were nuts most of the time, except when they were being boring or mean.

And then we grew up and became parents ourselves.  Some of us decided to write for the very children we used to be.  We create stories full of imagination and adventure, mystery and humor.  We’re usually pretty good at including the things we had and did in our youth, but we often forget–as we did then–the parents.

So many young heroes today seem to be busy saving the world without adult supervision, and while I understand that such stories feed the independent spirit of children, it doesn’t do much to foster the most important relationships they’ll ever have: those within their family.

I say this, and I am guilty of it myself.  There go my characters, wishing they had guidance, wondering in whom to trust, and needing that protective hug that says, “It’s going to be okay.  I’m here for you.”

(This is where I reveal how incredibly outdated I am.)  We don’t have cable TV.  Or satellite.  Or Netflix.  I make my kids watch DVDs of The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch and other shows of that ilk.  Guess what?  They love them!  When Opie goes to Pa, or Marsha and Greg seek counsel from Mom and Dad, it all makes sense.  The world is righted.

Nowadays, much of tween programming has either absentee parents or buffoons who are the punchline of all disrespectful jokes, but our books don’t have to follow suit.  That doesn’t mean that our young characters can’t reflect true-to-life attitudes about adults.  I recently read a hilarious passage in a middle grade book that illustrated a child’s disdain for the tasteless diet of her health freak parents.  I later found out the author is a health freak herself and had made fun of herself in a totally engaging way without taking parents out of the picture or making them lose all credibility.

All kinds of studies show that kids who read fiction grow up to be more empathetic, creative, and adept at problem-solving.  After all, they’ve watched it all happen in their minds.  What if they also grew up to be more respectful and loving to their parents, more inclined to value family, and more likely to stand up for (instead of mock) their siblings?

photo credit: npr.com
photo credit: npr.com

We can do that.  It’s been done before.  Harper Lee gave us Atticus Finch, and Laura Ingalls Wilder gave us Pa and Ma.  We can fill the shelves with parental role models that even kids will think are cool.

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Emblazon headshotLia London has written three MG/YA books and is currently working on the sequel to The Gypsy Pearl, a tween series that will definitely conclude with a reunited family!  Learn more about her and her writing at LiaLondonBooks.com.

Values for Literature~Values for Life

IMG_5682I recently completed the grueling requirements to receive my black belt in Taekwondo.  Along the way, I drew strength from the “Tenets of Taekwondo”: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.  It occurred to me that these same values show up in a lot of tween literature~and they should!

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When a young person actually reads our stories, we have been given a gift: their focused attention.  What we do with that should be our gift back: life skills and inspiration.  Oh, sure.  Entertain them.  But if we can change them, too?

Let’s break down why those Tenets of Taekwondo are so perfectly applicable to tween literature.  Courtesy.  We’ve all seen teen TV shows nowadays.  Snark and sass are glorified.  (And then we wonder why kids today can be so disrespectful?) When we write stories with tween characters that are polite and well-mannered, we leave an impression.  I’m not saying the young heroes have to hold their pinkies up while wielding their wands/phazers/swords.  It doesn’t need to be a Victorian garden party.  But if we can depict the benefits of courtesy, we’re doing society a favor.

Integrity.  This one shows up a lot in tween lit.  Despite stereotypes of kids cheating or lying, I think honesty in word and action is a core value that resonates with kids.  They want people to believe in them, and they know deep down that means they have to be worthy of trust.  They have to tell the truth and follow what they believe.  Any time we can give them literary role models in that effort, we’re on the right track.

Perseverance.  We all love the stories where the hero never gave up.  We pant and groan and crawl with them across the literary finish line and rejoice that they kept going to see victory.  One of the biggest problems I see for youth today is that they are largely programmed by the media to want instant results, but the best things in life don’t come after a sprint.  They come after a marathon.  An uphill marathon.  An uphill marathon in the snow.  Tales of the hero who finishes can truly inspire readers of all ages.  We close the book and think, “I want to be like that!”

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Self-control.  This isn’t one most people like to talk about in an era of “free to be me” and “no rules”, and yet anyone who has ever accomplished something really tough knows that a certain amount of self-mastery is required.  Any time we can weave the idea that controlling our words, emotions and actions is a true demonstration of strength, we encourage a self-awareness that ultimately leads to an awareness of others and their needs.  Whether a heroine controls her temper and doesn’t clobber her bumbling sidekick, or stills a nervous fidget that will alert the enemy, she’ll show her readers the importance of mind power.

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Indomitable Spirit.  This is the one that gets the gold medal stickers put onto the front cover and the tear stains on the last page.  This is when the hero has done the right thing despite all the odds.  It implies courage, tenacity, and a strong moral compass.  Kids and adults alike feel that heart-pounding, fist-pumping victory when a character triumphs over all the adversities and stays true.

Tweens (and most of the rest of us) don’t like to be told how to be or how to act, but when someone just goes out there and shows how awesome it is to be or do something good… well, that’s another story.  And a good one, too!  So let’s write that story!

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Lia London has authored three tween sci-fi and fantasy novels which all reflect these core values in her main characters.  Find out about those books and more at LiaLondonBooks.com

Dynamic vs. Static (hint: get rid of static)

photo credit: widescreen.com
photo credit: widescreen.com

During the holiday season, many of us saw at least one version of A Christmas Carol or The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  Both Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch start and end their stories in very different emotional places.  They begin cold, bitter, and cut off from their fellow beings.  By the end of their adventures, despite all their efforts to forge ahead as bah-humbugging misers and misery mongers, they experience a change of heart.  They discover relationships matter more than things.  They are dynamic.

 

Scrooge?  The Grinch?

 

Here’s the thing: Dynamic does not mean lively, charismatic or even likable.  A Dynamic Character is one who evolves during the course of the story in a significant way: a change of heart, a change of values, or a change in entire thought paradigms.

 

The opposite is called a Static Character.  A static character is predictable and steady.  This does not mean he has to be boring.  Most sit-com characters are static.  They behave with the same general motives in every episode.  But it is a rare author who can wrap a whole story around such a character and mold it into anything deep. There is no real arc or evolution.  There may be action and excitement, but the outcomes as they affect each individual are predictable and formulaic.

 

Why does this matter to writers of tween fiction (or any writers, for that matter)?  Tweens and teens are coming of age.  They are evolving and becoming bigger and better than they were.  They are, by nature, dynamic.  That may be why so many adults enjoy fiction targeted for this younger age: even us “old” folks recognize and empathize with the theme of growing up and being more.

 

In the course of any really good novel, a lead character should reach a turning point when he or she abandons the reality of a prior mindset and embraces a new outlook.  Sometimes the change is subtle, unseen even to the character himself. In those cases, the actions take a while to follow the new course of thought, but by the end of the story, the audience feels it.  Some famous tween slow changers who pack a punch by the final curtain are Huckleberry Finn, Bean (Ender’s Shadow series) and Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird).  All three of these people change their opinions of others and of themselves, and they move forward with those new interpretations.

 

Dynamic characters don’t always lead to a happy ending, but they consistently lead readers to a level of mental or emotional catharsis and self-discovery.

 

To go deeper, the author must ask, “Whose story is this?”  It isn’t always obvious.  I have started reading (and even writing) some stories convinced that I was supposed to be watching Character A, when in fact it was Character D that proved the one to grow.

 

Look at what you’re writing now.  Who is the character you care most about?  Why?  Will she be the same at the end of the story as she is now?  Will she be someone even more worth knowing and caring about?

 

That’s what every story needs.

 

Lia London Books

The Writing Coach Is IN

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