Category Archives: Teen Entertainment

What to Do When Your Tween Is in a Hurry to Grow Up

No, really. What do you do when your tween wants to read/watch/play things that are way too “old” for them? Because this is something I’m constantly struggling with my 14 1/2 year-old boys.

“All” of their friends are watching Walking Dead. “All” of them are reading and watching The Game of Thrones. And I see what videos and memes friends are posting to my boys’ Facebook timelines, and, well, they’re definitely pushing the envelope in my opinion.

My answer is always “no” when Charlie asks for these things, but I also want to encourage him to read when he asks for a BOOK. (Yay! Books!) So far the best solution was for him to read the The Enemy series by Charlie Higson.

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We don’t allow our boys to ingest media that’s got language, sex or is generally profane. But, they are also their own people and are surrounded by friends who don’t necessarily live by the same rules. I think my guys are generally respectful of our family’s standards, but the truth is–they are their own people. We can control the media in our own home, but we can’t control what sort of things they partake of when they’re out in the world.

The Enemy series was a good consolation for Charlie. He also enjoyed The Hunger Games series, and Divergent (but not the rest of the series).

It’s hard seeing your kids go from “little” to “big” where you can’t directly control what they read or watch!

So what’s your solution? What do you do to help your children bridge that scary chasm between child and adult?

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Alex 1 (2)Alex Banks likes to say she holds a black belt in awesome since the only kind of kicking-butt she does is on paper. She lives in Utah with her kickin’ husband, two sparring sons, one ninja cat, one samurai dog and four zen turtles.

Alex writes Young Adult and New Adult fiction (suitable for readers over fourteen) under the name Ali Cross.
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Crowd Sourced Writing and Fan Fiction

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I recently began frequenting a crowd-sourced writing website called Skrawl.com. And I have to say I’m having a lot of fun.  Skrawl is set up for you to start a new story or to add to someone else’s story. Stories can be original fiction, non-fiction discussions, or fan fiction.

What makes it so much fun is that Skrawl has a competitive edge to it. When you add to someone’s story everyone in the community gets a chance to vote for your “bit” against anyone else who posted a “bit” for the same storyline. Points are awarded each time you post or vote and you can earn even more points if your “bit” wins.

There’s a social aspect to it too, you can comment on the stories like you would on sites like Facebook.

It’s a great way for me to play with ideas and see where other people take them.

One of my favorite stories posted by Greg Fishbone is a story called Trek Elementary. Trek Elementary is an alternate universe where Kirk, Spock and the gang are children and have created their own group called the Enterprise gang. They sometimes have run-ins with another gang on the block who call themselves the Klingons.

The story started with the kids trying to find a way to get candy from the candy store. Simple enough, but the next writer added the Klingons, then Jimmy Kirk got into trouble, etc. etc.  As you can imagine stories can go anywhere and they often do!

If  you have moment and want to read some short stories, or better yet, if you’d like to play along, join some of us over at Skrawl.com.  I currently have a few fan-fictions running, Divergent, Maleficent and Percy Jackson. Oh, and I just started a new adventure for Big Hero 6! Search for me, Ansha Kotyk, using the magnifying glass icon, I’d love to see you, and read your stories!!

AnshaKotyk Ansha Kotyk writes adventure stories for boys and girls. Check out Gangsterland, the story of Jonathan, who falls into a magical comic book and has to draw his way out.

What in the World are Videogames Doing to Our Readers?

I know what you are thinking. ‘Here comes another anti-videogame message.’ We’ve been hearing it for years. Videogames are damaging our children. They are the reason for all of the corruption. Children have lost their desire for creativity and imagination. Kids are more prone to excessive violence and they now all have ADHD. Videogames are the reason that America is in the sorry state it is in…blah yada blah.

Well if that is where you are thinking this post is going, you are WRONG! If you think that access to videogames is destroying a child’s creativity, I dare you to spend twenty minutes watching an eight or nine-year-old kid play Minecraft. It will BLOW. YOUR. MIND! Seriously, as the father of nine-year-old twins, the volcano-moated fortresses that my children build in that game are amazing! Honestly, they put my old Lego and Lincoln Log creations to shame…but I digress.

Videogames have come a long way from the old Mario and Marble Madness days of the original Nintendo. Games now demand a sense of realism. Game developers have progressed in their ability to immerse a gamer into a story. Don’t believe me? Go and play Last of Us, Mass Effect, Skyward Sword, Skyrim or any of the Uncharted games. Heck, go play Pokemon (although I ABSOLUTELY do not want to hear about what stupid Pokemon you capture, what their weaknesses are, and who they evolve into). The advances in gaming have been seriously amazing and there is no reason to believe that it will be tapering off any time soon.

So…what does this mean for us as writers, especially those of us that shoot for the midgrade audience? Have we lost our target audience forever? Are they drowned in a sea of visual stimulation and mindless button mashing? I say NO! In fact, I shout it from the rooftops!

Why you might ask? What possible reason can this thirty-something aged Clydesdale (that is a triathlon reference for those of you who might be wondering) have for such a response? To answer your unspoken question, I must take you all back with me to my youth and the glory days of the old Nintendo. Remember those fascinating times? Blowing into the cartridges until you were light-headed? Stuffing one game on top of another in the console with the hope that you could find that sweet spot and the screen would stop flashing and the game would fire up? Rage quitting a game by slamming your controller to the floor after reaching the end boss only to die for the last time and be forced to start over?

In those days there were no studies about the effects of prolonged videogame exposure (well, I’m sure there were, but due to a lack of social media, most parents were blissfully unaware of them). The adults in those days discovered one simple thing. Nintendos were built in babysitters! Videogames kept their destructive, attention-craved, overly energetic little boys from leaving Legos all over the floor, coloring on the walls, and beating the stuffing out of any sibling within reach…for hours at a time! It was a wonderful age for both parent and male child (I know there are many female gamers, but lets face it, those early Nintendo games were made for us guys). However, for all of those boy children that grew up on videogames…there were girl children. Girl children that watched as their brothers’ eyes became glued to TV screens and dismissed everything around them. In many cases, those poor siblings became the replacement babysitters and job-doers. They were the children that got things done while their brothers wasted hour after hour in front of the tube, controller in hand, every bit as plugged in as the inanimate console they played.

Well, guess what? Now those sisters are Moms! And you know what else? They don’t want their own kids to follow down the same path as those brothers of old…and they have a strategy. Oh yes, those wily mothers have plotted together and they have come up with ways to keep their children from becoming too entrenched in gaming. Now they even conspire through social media to keep videogames from rotting out the brains of their precious darlings. Pinterest boards and Facebook groups have ended the limitless gaming that the boys of my generation took for granted. Now kids have to work for those precious nuggets of game time. They do jobs, they play outside, they do art projects, they do homework…and they read!!!

Yes, mothers are a bigger advocate for reading than ever before. But…we must accept the fact that videogames have altered the minds of our readers. Kids now have experienced a realism through story telling that didn’t exist before. So, as authors competing for their limited time and attention, we must up our game as well. Now, I am a huge fan of fantasy, and I have often wondered what I could do to hold a child’s interest for prolonged periods of time. What can I do to keep a child reading, even when the sirens call of a videogame beckons?

For me, I have found that the solution lies in the minor details. Often, when a child is telling me what they have found appealing in my book, it turned out to be some minor thing that I considered unimportant at the time. They added a sense of realism for the reader that even videogames couldn’t provide. Simple things such as picking burrs out of socks after beating through the brush, the ache in the back after sitting for a prolonged period of time, or the pain and swelling of feet after a long hike.

The question is, how can we as authors provide those kinds of details to kids? The kind they can’t pick up in the game world. Sure, we can always fall back on research, but I propose a better solution. Experience!!! If we as authors challenge ourselves to try something new, we can use the knowledge and information we’ve gathered in our writing. It was always easy for me to write that my characters were tired after a trying ordeal, but after staggering across the finish-line of a half-marathon or a summersaulting over the finish mat of the Spudman triathlon, I truly knew what exhaustion meant. I now understand how muscles can turn to watery jello and how calves can burn as though you are actually standing in the midst of a fire. I now realize that fleeing from an enemy is more than simply pressing down on the b button for an unending sprint up and over the mountain to the safety of the plains on the other side.

After taking combat classes, I realize that close quarters combat is more than simply throwing a series of punches and blocks. It is all about position, speed, timing, breathing, conditioning, and everything else that can give you an advantage over an enemy. The experiences I gained there were something that made my combat scenes much more realistic and lent a sense of immediacy that had been lacking before.

Now, I am not proposing that we go out and experience everything that we plan to put our characters through. Is your character going to jail? DON’T GO AND GET ARRESTED! Sometimes we need to use our imaginations, and of course, we need to research. But sometimes, a dash of real life experience in an adventure might just be the secret ingredient in the mix to winning the fight for a child’s attention. Whether that battle might be to get our next book onto the bookshelf in the home, or simply to keep our current book in their hands five minutes after a mother calls out those sweet, magical words that nearly every kid longs to hear:

“You can play now!”

JR JR Simmons lives in Northern Utah with his wife and 4 boys. He loves spending time with his family and coaching his kids in all of their different sports. He is an avid gamer and is very excited that his boys are picking up on his hobby. JR was recently introduced to triathlons and has since found that he loves the sport. Most nights he can be found either sitting down with a good game or hunched over his iPad writing.

Retellings

Like most people, I am a huge fan of retellings—familiar stories, legends, or myths told in a new fantastic way. You see this happen a lot in the movies, especially with fairy tales. We’ve all heard of the story of Cinderella. How many different variations of that story have you seen or read? Me? I have seen tons! In fact one of my wife’s favorite films is a retelling Endless-Coverof Cinderella. It was cleverly titled: A Cinderella Story (I know, not too creative there.) One of my favorite Cinderella movies is Ever After. They tried to put a more historical twist to the story and make it more about friendship and invention that helps save our heroine rather than magic and a fairy godmother. One of my favorite retellings of Cinderella in book form is Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Even one of our Emblazon authors, Jaclyn Weist, just released another retelling of Cinderella in her new book Endless. As you can see, I can go on and on naming all the retellings of just one familiar story.

As writers we like to use the familiar story as the skeleton or premise on which to build our new telling. As readers we like the closeness we feel with retellings because they feel like an old friend.

Noah's_Ark_on_Mount_Ararat_by_Simon_de_MyleI had a wonderful experience recently reading a collection of books all based of a retelling of stories from the bible. Everyone has heard of the story of Noah’s Arc and his mission to save mankind and all the animal kingdom. I would never have thought to take that familiar story and do a retelling of it. Furthermore, I would never have thought to put the story in space and set it way in the future. How awesome does that sound? D. Robert Pease, also an Emblazon author, does just this with his fantastic books: the Noah Zarc series.

In the first book, Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, we get a retelling of Noah’s mission to save the animals. But you wouldn’t guess that from its synopsis:

24fdccbbf14631708e714c88cec439b0“Noah lives for piloting spaceships through time, dodging killer robots and saving Earth’s animals from extinction. Life couldn’t be better. But the twelve-year-old time traveler learns it could be a whole lot worse. His mom is kidnapped and taken to Mars; his dad is stranded in the Ice Age; and Noah is attacked at every turn by a foe bent on destroying Earth… for the second time.”

This is such a fun story! What I like most about the main character, Noah, is that he is disabled. He can’t walk. I think this was an even better twist on a hero’s tale. How many heroes to we see or read about that are disabled? Not too many. The ones that I have read like Noah Zarc and the Farworld Series have touched me deeply. I think kids facing their own challenges can see how disabilities, large or small, can be overcome and turned into strengths.

The second book, Noah Zarc: Cataclysm, is a retelling of Moses and the exodus of his people. Again you wouldn’t get that from the synopsis:

08eb9044cd1429dc01d9f44725731fae“Thirteen-year-old Noah Zarc rockets to Venus in a quest to learn more about his past. He refuses to believe his father is really the monster everyone says he is. Could there be valid reasons for everything he’s done, including abandoning Noah at birth? While searching for answers to secrets no one wants to talk about, even those that have remained hidden for over a thousand years, Noah becomes embroiled in a mission that could cause the greatest cataclysm in the history of the solar system. Will his name, Noah Zarc, be forever linked to the most devastating crime in humanity’s existence, all because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

The third book, Noah Zarc: Declaration, takes a different approach to a retelling. One that I really like! Pease takes on another familiar story just one closer in time and more connected to US citizens: a retelling of the American Revolution. Again, you wouldn’t guess that from the synopsis:

noahzarcdeclarationcover“As battles rage across the solar system, Noah must work to join together a rag-tag bunch of miners, farmers, and scientists who would rather just live in peace. With only a time-traveling ship full of animals and a general from the history books, the Zarc family has to stand against the full might of the Poligarchy. Will the truth about what really happened a thousand years in the past be enough to stop total war, or will Noah and his friends need to find another way to bring down a dictator?”

I think the key in creating any retelling is not to make the story it’s based on the largest concern in the book. Pease does an excellent job with his books because the main focus is always his main character: Noah. This is more of an emotional journey of overcoming the greatest of obstacles more than it is a just a retelling. Stories that can accomplish this become the favorites we continue to read over and over.

What are some retellings that you have enjoyed?

Audiobooks—Oh, how I love thee

I want to start this post of by saying I LOVE audiobooks. I love them so much I gave up a publishing contract with a good publisher over my audiobook rights. As some might know I work full time as a freelance illustrator and cover designer. Drawing can take up a lot of time throughout the day. Instead of listening to music, I listen to books. I average about 3 audiobooks a week. They help me get through my day and get through my “to be read list”. Audiobooks make up at least 90% of my day to day reading. The majority of them are middle-grade books.

Why am I such a lover of audiobooks? Check out this list below to find out. There are many benefits from reading an audiobook. These are just a few:

  • Storytelling out loud goes back to the beginning of time. It is how we all used to cute-15719“read” a story. The love of the spoken word grew into all sorts of other forms of entertainment: readings, theater, and movies. When we listen to an audiobook we are embracing that love that is fused in our very makeup.
  • Listening to books can actually help your reading levels. Listening to how words are pronounced and how sentences are spoken aloud can actually strengthen your reading. This is why parents are encouraged by doctors to read aloud to their children at least twenty minutes a day.
  • Most narrators have experience in the theater and they showcase that during their productions of audiobooks. Narrators diversify the books by giving different voices to each of the characters and making the senses more real and gripping. I remember my first time listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, read by Jim Dale. It was fantastic! I had read that book probably half a dozen times before listening to the audiobook. To be honest, I never enjoyed it as much as I did when Jim Dale read it to me. I really believe that it also promotes literacy to children and gets them excited to read on their own.read-316507
  • Audiobooks are readily available. Most libraries carry them, and with companies like iTunes and Audible, audiobooks are at our figure tips. This is particularly nice because lots of teachers encourage kids to listen to the audiobook as they follow along in the print version. This too helps advance reading levels.
  • Piggybacking on reading along with audiobook I’d like to share a little about Amazon’s Whispersync technology. You can purchase an eBook from Amazon and then get the audiobook (also at a discounted price of normally $1.99) and then you can listen to the book as you read on your kindle. It’s quite fascinating. Each word highlights as the narrator reads along. I think this is a marvelous tool for those that want to advance their reading skills, especially kids.

51JwCnlVzJL._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_Did you know that many of the Emblazon authors have audiobooks available? I just found this out myself. They have all been added to my “listening list”. The few that I have had the opportunity to let my ears devour have been sensational. They took me right into another world and kept me entertained up until the very end. Like all good books they left me with a linger of that world still on my mind.

I invite you to listen to an audiobook. If you never have, oh what a treat you are in for. If you have before keep doing it. If your first experience wasn’t so good. Try again. Most people want to tackle an audiobook by listening to something brain challenging like War and Peace. Not that it isn’t a great book, but it might not be your best audiobook “first”. Make your “first” be a middle-grade book…seriously. You will have fun. You will laugh. You will cry. You will become a fan of audiobooks for a lifetime.

List of audiobooks by Emblazoner authors:

 Some of my “recent” favs to give a listen:

Let me know how your audiobook experiences are going. I love to hear what others think of audiobooks. If you need more suggestions just let me know I have a wickedly long list of favorite audiobooks. My top favorite right now: The Dream Keeper Chronicles books 1 and 2 (I know, I know those are my books. But I still love them). Now go listen to a book!