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Tag Archives: Young Adult

Middle Grade, Young Adult, Confused Gen Xer

Yesterday was a big day for me. I completed all the edits on my Untitled Steampunk (yes, I know) and considered it ready to shop to agents. It’s been about a year since I last shopped out my Blood of a Godkiller manuscript to agents and I’m ready to get back to actively trying to sell a book. The elation, the pride, the self-satisfaction. I had a solid, worthy manuscript on hand.

For about 10 minutes.

Some little brain worm burrowed itself into my grey matter within moments of giving myself an internalized huzzah. The completed manuscript is 43,504 words. Prior to really getting involved in writing this story, I reread some of the books I read growing up. I needed a little experiential instruction on the YA format, so I read these familiar stories with a different eye. I looked more closely at character development, pacing, and content. I even looked at word counts. I felt confident. So where had this insatiable brainworm come from and why was it siphoning off this newfound confidence with such gusto?

Careful dissection of the nefarious beast revealed two things. First, is this manuscript intended to be YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade)? Second, does the admittedly sparse word count greatly affect which category this manuscript can be considered for? See, I’m not overly familiar with the MG classification as I had intended this story to fall into YA. Now that I wasn’t so certain, I had to do a little research.

According to Colleen Lindsay at the swivet, my manuscript falls just shy of expectations at the lowest end of YA (45k) and just over the highest end for MG (40k). Okay, that isn’t entirely disconcerting. It is acceptable to have some variation, I’m sure.
Well, then I read at www.fromthemixedupfiles.com that  YA generally starts around 55k words. Even so, they still classify MG as topping out around 40k, so there must be some shady grey area where anything between the two resides.

Naturally word count is hardly the defining factor in classifying a book. The writer at The Mixed-Up Files and Michelle Schusterman at YA Highway take a closer look at content as the dividing factor. Subject matter, naturally tops the list. The overarching theme in my Untitled Steampunk manuscript is self-discovery which, in both cases, seems to best fit into the MG category. However, being an American Steampunk tale, there are issues of ethnicity, class, and politics that are largely linked to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Someone dies. So, unfortunately, I fear that this particular designation is a bit murky as well.
Romance is quite disparate in MG and YA. In MG it would typically involve hand-holding and maybe a first kiss. In YA it can go so far as intercourse and could potentially deal with such subjects as rape and abandonment. Well, I’m not much for romance as a reader or, really, as a writer. Even so, I did include an unspoken adoration between two of the three protagonists. As it is neither central to the theme nor important to the story, it never progresses beyond furtive glances, lingering touches, and the like. So, does this mean it falls squarely within MG?

Finally, and most easily adjusted to suit my needs, is intended readership. While an 8 year-old would not be put off reading about a 13 year-old, it might be less likely that a 13 year-old would read about an 8 year-old protagonist. At present, my protagonists are 11, 11, and 12. Technically, that would place the book into the MG category. If I (or an agent or publisher) felt more keenly that the book should fall into the YA category, I could probably push the characters into the 13 and 14 range, but not much further. I wrote them to be independent and worldly and they are self-sufficient with little interaction with their parents. If I push the 1878 setting to 1880, I may have to change some of the historically accurate names and realign the timeline in reference to events, but I don’t think the characters would be forced to change much. It had always been my intention to give them more responsibility, freedom, and capability than might be expected of children.

So, yeah. I am somewhat deflated in comparison to my brief joy at having completed edits because it seems more work may need to be done. “More work” could include adding another 30-40k words if I decide the manuscript does not easily fit into the YA category.

I think I’ll go ahead and put together a query letter and let the responses I receive determine how much more work I may need to put into it, if any.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Birds and the Dead Bees

When I read YA books, and I do this pretty frequently, I very rarely find the violence or deaths to be over the top for children. Instead, I keep wondering how all of these stories about kids anywhere from 13 to 18 never seem to involve anything more than the occasional cheek peck.

I was raised on Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera, so I’m pretty certain that any excessive exposure to imaginary violence would have already reared its ugly head and forced me into a life of cannibalism and human trafficking if it was going to happen. Moreover, the books I read as a child were almost exclusively within the fantasy genre, so I read about gruesome deaths inflicted on all forms of both the living and undead without growing up to be a skin-wearing serial killer.

 

And yet, not surprisingly, very rarely did I happen upon books that dealt with the very real likelihood of sexual attraction among the characters. Don’t get me wrong, I was gifted Then Again Maybe I Won’t and it did wonders at answering some few questions I didn’t have the guts to ask. Even so, books specifically aimed at young adults very rarely broached the subject of sexuality by any real measure. Having grown up a young boy, I cannot begin to illustrate how woefully uninformed I was and how the occasional pilfered porno mag or overheard locker room braggart did little to provide real information. Even worse, my attempts at furthering my book-based knowledge with other Judy Blume titles did less to help. I never got my period, so I must have skimmed over something vital.

Harry Potter got a kiss, Whatshername and the sparkling vampire waited until they were married and anyone not terminally romantic had stopped reading before anything progressed beyond the weird watching-her-sleep thing. Despite the excessive use of ‘puss’ as ‘face’ in the Xanth books, nobody ever actually saw one. Maybe if just one character that I grew up with had dared to have a thought about sex, I wouldn’t have considered myself unreasonably preoccupied with it. I’m not suggesting that Wind in the Willows should have culminated in an explicit contrivance between species, but Ron and Hermione could have gotten as far as a little under the shirt, over the bra without turning everyone into perverts.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Busy Busy Busy

I’m actually on a very nice roll with the editing today, so rather than spend time deciding on a topic, I’m going to give you another excerpt from my still untitled YA steampunk manuscript:

“That hatch up top inside her gullet there is the coalslide, namesake of the whole of the undercity. Folk aboveground dump the coal and we open the slides up to let it in as we need it.” The Furnacemaster paused with a twinkle in his eye. “But there’s a better reason everything got named after them chutes, of course. And I suppose the fastest way to get you where you need to be will help explain that.”

Furnacemaster Joseph Locklear led Oscar and his friends to the room across the hall. If he closed his eyes and gave it a second, Oscar could imagine that this room was identical to the last minus the actual machinery. A black scorch outlined the spot where a furnace used to sit and several open holes in the wall and one in the ceiling marked where the missing furnace had connected to the rest of the system. The most obvious difference other than the missing equipment was a metal track running at an angle from the coalslide to the ash chute cut in the floor. A line of what looked to be upright leather mattresses sat against one wall, looking very out of place.

“First time tends to give folks the shakes, but seeing as how you rode an air duct down here, I think you might enjoy this.” The towering Lamplighter strode to the line of leather mattresses and grabbed one. Walking back to the center of the room, he stopped and yanked on a beaded chain hanging alongside the iron track. A red light flickered on inside the coalslide and was reflected by a second inside the ash chute. Joseph Locklear set the mattress against the tracks. Oscar saw then that the bottom side was fixed with a line of adjustable clamps and small, inset wheels. Moving his large hands with surprising dexterity, the man snapped the clamps loosely over the tracks and gave the whole of it an experimental jostle. It moved smoothly up and down the tracks.

“Now, who’s first?”

Completely clueless as to what exactly he’d be volunteering for, Oscar stepped back slightly, putting himself behind both Billy and Constance. Constance merely shook her head and set her face back to the unreadable mask she’d worn since they met the man. Billy, naturally, stepped forward excitedly. If there were times that Oscar envied him his courage, and there were, this was certainly not one of them.

“Aright then, listen close. Once I’ve got you strapped in, you’ll be moving fast. Keep your arms in if’n you want to keep them and try not to get sick all over the place. The rest of us have to slide through anything you leave behind.” Joseph Locklear gave Billy an earnest look and then a lopsided grin when he realized that Billy was fidgeting in excitement. “In you go then, feet on the brakes and hands on the lights.”

While he spoke, he pointed out the particular pieces of the slide. At the bottom, jutting out from the base of the leather sled-bed, was a pair of peddles intended to slow or stop momentum. He assured them they’d have no need for those as they were going to the last stop where springs and lock-stop gears would slow and halt them. Even so, he pointed out, if someone was hopping in below them, they’d want to slow themselves rather than let the safety stops engage. Just as he’d done when he lit the red lights here, anyone hopping in below would light red lights which would set a stop at the slide above them. If they didn’t brake to slow, the stop would be abrupt. When he said abrupt, he said it with the sort of gravity that strongly encouraged using the brakes.

The lights were a pair of pressure activated electric torches set in either side of the sled, very much like handles. When Billy stepped up on the base and grabbed at the smooth copper grips, twin beams lit at their bases, shining downward toward his feet. It was that moment that it dawned on Oscar exactly what Billy had so readily volunteered for. Constance seemed to arrive at the same conclusion in the same moment. The grimy Lamplighter had just finished strapping broad leather belts across Billy’s chest, waist, and thighs as both Oscar and Constance opened their mouths to protest. A moment too late, their tongues caught as he stepped on a release set in the floor alongside the ash chute.

Both Billy and slide disappeared into the hole with a creak and a hum. As the wheels on the slide carried him along the tracks, further away and deeper into the Coalslides, the low hum slowly faded into nothing. Oscar felt his stomach sink into his knees.

“You’re not getting me on that thing,” Constance said matter-of-factly, verbalizing Oscar’s particular feelings exactly. “There’s no way that is even remotely safe.” At that she set her fists into her hips and furrowed her brow. She looked immovable.

“Ah, well, there’s always the corridors.” Joseph Locklear grinned at the two of them. “If you aim yourselves down and start walking, you’ll find your friend at the bottom come morning. It really is a long walk, though I’m happy to let you make it.” He planted his own considerably larger hands on his hips, mimicking Constance’s own stalwart pose. For a moment, Oscar wasn’t sure who he was more frustrated with, but that settled itself soon enough. It wasn’t the Lamplighter’s fault that Billy had a tendency to leap into dark holes without thinking it through. Even so, he wasn’t excited about what he was preparing to do. Swallowing hard, he stepped to the line of leather-wrapped slides and selected one that looked as sturdy and safe as he could hope for.

“Alright, I’ll take this one,” he jerked a thumb at it and walked back to the tracks. He gave Constance a wry smile that felt like a grimace. “Look, he’s right. We can’t let Billy go in alone. There are displaced folk down there with belowground dispositions.” He emphasized the words the Lamplighter had used to describe some of the Peddlers, hoping that Constance would understand. Not that she wouldn’t understand his meaning, of course. No, he hoped that she would understand why he wasn’t taking her side in this. He was, ultimately, forcing her to take the slide as well.

Constance surprised him with a brilliant smile that lit her eyes.

“Right on, then. I’ll take that slim one at the end; it should get a bit more speed than that old dump Oscar’s picked.” Her wild grin dropped his stomach past his knees and into his ankles. Constance had never had misgivings about the coalslides at all. She’d merely put on an act to give him the opportunity to take the cowardly way out. And he’d fallen for it so completely that he was almost surprised to see himself already strapped against the slide with his hands clenching the grips and his feet already poised to push on the brakes.

“You’re a rat, Constance Scott,” Oscar started when the bottom fell out from under him and his slide rushed into the ash chute at an impossible speed.

If the slide down the airduct had been fun, the coalslide was awful and wonderful and impossible all at once. The moment Joseph Locklear hit the release, Oscar dropped straight into the darkness with gut-wrenching speed. He reflexively grabbed at the handgrips, summoning up the forward lights to illuminate the narrow chute. What he saw in those twin beams was breathtaking.

The rails ran down the center of the chute, twisting and angling their way at a fast clip downward. At irregular intervals, a burst of green light would flash past his head, presumably bulbs meant to mark the route as clear. When he came to the first turn, his heart nearly stopped in his chest. Below him he could see the sharp turn of the track and the flat surface of metal that marked where he would collide if the sled failed to make the curve. He instinctually smashed his foot down on the brake to slow into the turn and the sled slackened its pace to slide around the bend.

Impressed by the clever mechanisms that gave him control over the sled, Oscar grinned and whooped wildly, letting loose the brake. Whatever misgivings he’d harbored before were lost in the pure joy of the reckless ride.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Age of Content

One of the difficulties I’ve had in writing a young adult manuscript was determining age appropriate content. As I don’t have children of my own and play Bad Uncle to my nephews and nieces, I’m not able to use much of our interactions as a basis for determining story lines. I have a soft spot for reading young adult fiction, but that includes generally benign content like Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted to the much more intense Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

Given that my (still) untitled Steampunk story takes place in 1878, there were very delicate subjects to either deal with or neglect as possibly unnecessary to the plot. The Civil War is still a fresh memory and the Reconstruction Era has barely passed. Add to that the inclusion of an African American girl as one of the three protagonists and I knew I had to determine how much or how little I wanted to deal with the cultural atmosphere of Saint Louis in 1878. Moreover, I needed to decide what segment of the extensive range of ‘young adults’ I was writing to and what amount of historical accuracy they expected in a novel.

The three main characters (Oscar Tumblety, William ‘Billy’ Lemp Jr., and Constance Scott) are ages 11 and 12. I decided to look at the young adult fiction released in 1986, when I was 11, as well as some more contemporary young adult books. 1986 included Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold by Terry Brooks, and Her Majesty’s Wizard by Christopher Stasheff. I have a pretty strong memory of each and don’t recall any of them touching on anything too dark or disturbing. In comparison, today’s holy grail of young adult fiction, the Harry Potter series, is practically built around death and abandonment as concerns central to the main character. Current Steampunk authors that, I think, are feeding the same age group I’m aiming for include Cherie Priest and Shelley Adina and they deal quite differently with the problems on different continents.

All in all, I didn’t get anything solid to go on because as would be expected, book content is as variable as the authors that write them and the readers that read them. For my own purposes, I decided that I wouldn’t completely ignore the bigotry and politics that come with writing in the period, but I also didn’t dwell on it as central to the plot. It isn’t. Constance is referred to as a Negro at one point, and the kids give an interesting bit of commentary on the difference between Hasidic and Reform Jews, but in general the story is about adventure, exploration, and discovering internal strengths rather than adjusting to a new world in the wake of a war. I’ll just have to see if my beta readers feel that I handled it appropriately.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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