The bad girl book club: My favorite inappropriate YA reads from my own misspent youth

When I was a kid, young adult literature wasn’t called YA. It was called Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. Thank god for Judy Blume — I’m pretty sure I read everything she wrote (and, thanks to Deenie, lived in fear of failing the scoliosis test and spending high school in a back brace).
YABut since YA wasn’t a thing, with all the marketing and shiny, neon-colored covers that go along with it, I also read a lot of stuff that might or might not have been written with teens in mind — and certainly hadn’t been vetted (unless you count the town librarian’s withering glare at the check-out desk).

So here are four inappropriate books that I read, and maybe shouldn’t have read, and loved even though they really confused me.

1) Go Ask Alice: The first awesome thing about this novel was that it was supposedly anonymously written. And supposedly “a real diary,” as the book’s cover boasted. This was before Oprah old off James Frey for his fake memoir. Continue reading

Best tips for a bestseller

Best tips for a bestseller

The following TEDx Talk is by Jonny Geller, literary agent and CEO at Curtis Brown. He makes some great points about the importance of knowing what a book is about — sounds simple, but it’s not always so easy for an author. Start at the 11:00 mark for the section I’m quoting here — but there’s tons of fantastic advice throughout.

Sometimes writers themselves don’t know they’ve stumbled on a story that might hit on that chart, which may seem a bit odd because they’ve spent a long time writing 300 pages. But I’ve often sat in my office with young writers and said to them, “What’s your story about?” And they’ve said, “It’s about love and death and marriage and redemption and betrayal.” And you go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what’s the story about? Can you complete the sentence, ‘This is the story about a man or a woman who …’” and they’ll be stumped, because it’s very difficult. To reduce a complex story to one sentence is hard. But I believe it’s absolutely crucial. If a book is to become a big, bestselling book, you have to be able to communicate the core idea easily. Not all narratives lend themselves to that, but I do believe that every great classical narrative can be reduced to a sentence. — Jonny Geller

Appropriation and fiction

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately: appropriation. It’s become a bad word (along with privilege). Racial appropriation, cultural appropriation. The taking of ideas and identities. And I think we can all agree that in an overarching way, it’s a bad thing. White bands not only appropriating the blues, but getting rich on music made by black artists who were never recognized for their work. White kids wearing headdresses to indie-rock shows. (White folks do a lot of appropriating.)

1appropriation_0Recognizing it is good and necessary. Having the conversation is important. But there’s also the issue of art being, to an extent, a byproduct of appropriation. Usually we call it inspiration or influence. It’s cool to be influenced — in fact, it’s pretty lame to huddle down in one’s safe space and only create art from that small corner of knowledge. There’s a criticism directed toward those artists who don’t take enough risks, don’t venture outside of their comfort zones, don’t explore other cultures or bring a diversity of viewpoints in their work.

And, though we writers have all heard the “write what you know” maxim, we all only know so much. Eventually experience has to give way to the unknown — especially in fiction — and that’s when the rich, deep, imaginative work begins. Continue reading

Namesake: On christening your fictional characters

What’s in a name? If it’s your own — the moniker your parents bestowed before they ever got to know you – it’s either a blessing or a curse. Or you’ve changed it, legally or at least by reputation, to something more suitable. If it’s the title of a project, then a name becomes a brand, a calling card, and an introduction. In the case of band names, they often deserve more thought than they ultimately get — I’m looking at you, Hoobastank and Diarrhea Planet.

1953yearbook_1_largeBut what I’m thinking about, in this case, are the names of characters in works of fiction. In tenth grade, inspired by my parents’ hippy friends, I named a character in a short story Omega. My English teacher wrote, in red pen, “Do you even know what this word means?” When my first novel was published, one reviewer — who was overall kind and enthusiastic — wrote, “I do find myself wishing that Marshall came up with some non-soap-opera names for her fictional musicians.” So names matter. They set the tone for the character and they also serve as a litmus test for the believability and authenticity of a story.

As writers (unlike parents) we know the people we’re tasked with naming, so we need to try our best to do right by them. I say this as someone who sometimes gets it wrong. But I’m not alone. I’m currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise and while I like it, I find the name of the protagonist, Amory Blaine, rather pretentious. Plus, it makes me think of Andrew McCarthy’s Blane from Pretty In Pink, of whom Jon Cryer’s Duckie said, “That’s a major appliance, that’s not a name!” And what about Dick Diver from Tender is the Night, also by Fitzgerald? Not to pick on F. Scott — even lovely Nick Hornby is prone to soap-opera names for fictional musicians, e.g. Tucker Crowe in Juliet Naked. Continue reading

Q+A with horror writer Grady Hendrix

This story was originally published at mountainx.com.

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör (set in a haunted IKEA-type big-box store), returns with the 1980s-themed My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Of a recent author event he said, “I’m going to be talking about the Satanic Panic in the ’80s when everyone thought heavy metal music and backwards masking were sending kids straight to hell, Dungeons and Dragons was a doorway to evil, and Saturday morning cartoons were indoctrinating children into the occult.”

9781594748622The book — part humor and part horror — borrows a big from Hendrix’s own high school experience (as he explains below, in a Q&A with Xpress). Hendrix is also the author of Occupy Space and Satan Loves You, the co-author of the YA series The Magnolia League and the graphic cookbook Dirt Candy, co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival, and a contributor to Slate, Village Voice and Variety, among others.

Alli Marshall: I suspect most people think their high school experience was, at least in part, a horror story. What was the idea for you that initially led to My Best Friend’s Exorcism?

Grady Hendrix: The title popped into my head first. Then I figured best friendships were most intense in high school, and my high school experience was in 1988, so that’s when it would be set. Then I wrote a first draft and showed it to my wife because I was feeling pretty studly … and she told me it was a dumpster fire of secondhand ideas and stolen characters. And she was right. I was just recycling John Hughes movies and other people’s ideas about high school. So I sat down with all my letters and diaries from high school (and all her letters and diaries from high school) and read them for about three weeks. And somewhere in there, I had a genuine, authentic memory about what it felt like to be in high school in the ’80s, then another, and then another, and then I was off and writing.

I love the high school yearbook design of My Best Friend’s Exorcism — are those photos from your yearbook by any chance?
My author photo is my senior portrait and I thought that was horrifying enough. The rest are from the staff at [boutique publisher Quirk Books], so there’s a heavy New Jersey/Philadelphia vibe to them. One thing I’d like to point out is that even though I wrote all the yearbook inscriptions on the inside covers, our designer, Tim O’Donnell, farmed out the actual handwriting of them to about 32 different teenaged girls, like a yearbook-signing sweatshop. Continue reading

Anton DiSclafani on historical fiction

“The thing about writing historic fiction is it’s easy to see the character’s flaws,” says Anton DiSclafani, author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls and The After Party. “It give you automatic tension. The reader understands what the characters don’t: that their world is coming to an end.”

Story originally published at mountainx.com.

Anton-and-CoverAnton DiSclafani, the New York Times best-selling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, sets all of her books in the past. Her debut novel took place in 1920s Appalachia; her work-in-progress is set in 1940s Alabama, and The After Party, her just-published follow-up to Yonahlossee, gives readers a window into Houston in the 1950s. But “I’m a big believer in not letting the research get in the way of writing,” says DiSclafani. “I’m not somebody who wants to spends days and days in the library.”

The After Party was inspired by the River Oaks community, a wealthy neighborhood in Houston. Both sets of the author’s grandparents are from that city, and when she’d visit as a child, DiSclafani loved to drive past the sprawling homes of River Oaks. While many of those grand domiciles are now being demolished to make way for larger, newer houses (“Houston is all about the future,” the writer says), The After Party’s narrator, Cece Buchanan, can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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Interview with Matthew Quick

“When you write about mental health, you want to start conversations [that are] helpful in the community,” Matthew Quick says. “But where does your responsibility as a writer end?” Known for Silver Linings Playbook, among other novels, Quick has recently published a new YA book, Every Exquisite Thing.

This story was originally published at mountainx.com.

Author PhotoThere’s a hint of The Catcher in the Rye to Matthew Quick’s new YA novel, Every Exquisite Thing. Main character Nanette is a star soccer player, but when she reads The Bubblegum Reaper, she finds she has a lot in common with that novel’s anti-hero. In a Holden Caulfield move, Nanette develops an aversion to doing what’s expected and in interest in what Wrigley calls “quitting.”

But the story wasn’t inspired by J.D. Salinger’s 1951 work. Instead, the idea came from Quick’s own experiences as an author. While known for Silver Linings Playbook, which became a film starring Bradley Cooper, it was Quick’s previous YA novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, that struck a chord with readers. In that 2013 book, a teenager plans to shoot the high school bully before ending his own life. “I get really intense fan mail from teens who connect with Leonard [and] feel like he represents things that they think,” says Quick. “They read symbolism into it and want me to confirm that their view is right.” While Quick is flattered by his readers’ investment, he’s also conflicted.

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