Tag Archives: young adult

Responsible Heroines

Minstrel Cover

Today in church, L stopped me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading Minstrel. Currently she’s about halfway through, and she stays up past midnight to read.

L just turned 14 years old. She belongs to a demographic for which I didn’t target Minstrel. I don’t want to write young adult fiction, because I don’t want to focus on adolescent characters. I want to write about adults who get into gritty situations and prevail, breaking through pre-existing stereotypes. But as I wrote Minstrel, I thought about my friends’ daughters. I wanted my friends to be able to trust my work, to be able to hand my books to their daughters without first censoring them.

What I anticipated actually happened. My friends bought my novel and handed it directly to their daughters, without reading it first. Without asking me if I had included sex or f-bombs, or even if the subject matter was appropriate. They trusted me. They trusted my writing.

Minstrel now follows many fantasy novels as they gain considerable fans among the young adult population. Namely, among young girls.

Robin McKinley’s books are among those that have trended with young girls, despite being written for an older audience. The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown both feature grown characters. Not far out of adolescence, these heroines fight dragons and lead battles. They fall in love, but are not saved by their men. Often, they save the men.

Growing up, among my heroes was Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series. They were Harry from The Blue Sword, and Aerin from The Hero and the Crown. I began my love of fantasy with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, from author Astrid Lindgren. From there I admired Princess Cimorene, who volunteered to be the dragon Kazul’s captive, and who teams up with the handsome king to rescue the dragon. These were the girls and women I wanted to grow up to be.

My mother was a wonderful woman. She was as combination of superhuman sacrifice and human weakness. She was independent, industrious, and morally upright. As I grew up, I became an eclectic mixture of my mother and my fictional heroes.

Now, my 12-year-old daughter has followed my example. While writing this post, I stepped out of my office to ask my daughter, “Who are your heroes? Fictional or real life.”

She replied, “Katniss Everdeen and Tamora Pierce.” Katniss Everdeen is the heroine from the popular books-turned-movies The Hunger Games. Tamora Pierce writes fantasy quartets about young women who prevail in male-dominated medieval settings.

My daughter didn’t choose me. Does that mean I’m a bad role model? I hope not, for I wouldn’t have immediately indicated my own mother if someone had asked me the same question at that age. Yet my mother was a wonderful role model. She was my reality. Alanna and Cimorene were my aspirations.

No matter how hard to you try to choose your daughter’s role models, she will still choose her own.

As Minstrel’s popularity grows among teenage girls, it further reinforces my responsibility as a writer. I could write horror or erotica, but I prefer fantasy. I prefer a genre that is devoured by teenagers of both genders, whether or not it’s written for adult audiences. And though many of my author friends claim, “You can’t control what the characters do,” I disagree. My muse may guide, but I have the final say over my work.

I could have made Molly a simpering little waif who let herself get bounced around by whichever man claimed her. Aerdra could have let her people die, or begged her husband to defend her, instead of taking up a hatchet and fighting alongside him. Finola remained the voice of reason and morality for her daughters, while her son battled politics within the king’s guard.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, is often asked, “Why do you create these strong women characters?” Joss’ answer has now become a mantra for feminism and equality within art: “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Joss’ inspiring speech is here:

Other authors who write strong female characters stand out as remarkable, or even abnormal. To this idea, Neil Gaiman has replied, “Well, I write people. Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I?”

Orison

Daniel Swensen, an author friend whose fantasy novel Orison is due for publication in 2014, had problems with his main character, Randoval. The novel was staid and boring, and Randoval didn’t have the potential he needed. Daniel examined Orison and realized he followed the trend that so many fantasy authors follow: the men were the heroes, and the few females were oversexualized. Daniel’s amazing solution, which changed the entire tone of the novel, was to flip Randoval into a brown-skinned woman named Story Kai Tann. Suddenly, perspective changed. Friends and beta readers were amazed. Daniel’s editor even said, “Story could never be a man! Story as a man = boring. Story as a woman = awesome.”

Daniel said of his gender-flip, “I’m not trying to teach the world to sing, or anything like that, I’m just writing the kind of book I’d like to read myself. I don’t for one instant consider Orison to be some sort of Important Feminist Work; it most emphatically is not. It’s just a good fantasy yarn, which happens to have a female protagonist who doesn’t get by on her bare midriff and her sexuality. And if that makes my novel out of the ordinary somehow, well, all I can say is, it shouldn’t. I think it should be both common and unremarkable.

You can find Daniel’s blog post regarding this gender-flipping decision here.

So what, exactly, is my responsibility as an author? First, let’s briefly look at some of Minstrel’s growing fanbase:

Though L’s parents are happily married, she’s strong in her faith, and her family has a dynamic that I envy, L and several members of her family are currently undergoing health problems that will alter their future. L herself holds on with uncertainty.

K is 11 years old. She has been the victim of poor choices made by the adults in her life, since she was conceived. Though she’s an honors student, K continues to struggle past the examples set by some of the most important adults in her life.

As she nears 16 years of age, A has become a driving force in the success of her peers. Blessed with a strong and loving family, she maintains a high moral standing in high school, surrounding herself with friends who are not so lucky.

Then there is the teenage girl who stopped by my table at a book signing and asked, “Dad, I really want to read that book. Can I please have it? Please?” I explained the book to the father, who promptly purchased it for his daughter. If she had simply seen the novel in a bookstore, she would probably have wanted it just as badly, without the author present to assure the father of the content.

Which of these girls deserves a trustworthy piece of fiction, with role models and ideals they can follow? How would my writing career, or the trust my readers have, change if I threw in f-bombs, sex scenes, or overt violence into the books? As a parent, I consider this broad demographic the same way that I consider my own children.

Sahara

My own daughter, S, lives two lives because she switches back and forth between two biological parents. When people ask about the moral character of her father, I simply reply, “Well… we’re divorced.” She is still growing, still reaching that critical moment when she decides who she will become. And, if my daughter is going to pick role models that she has never met, I want to be sure she has some she can look up to.

I don’t feel like I owe the world a story. I’m not writing for a teen magazine, or for a rally of any kind. I write entertaining fiction. But when parents hand my work directly to children as young as 11, trusting me, I feel my responsibility is to keep that trust.

As I write Vassal, as the heroine encounters compromising situations and has to take the high road (or doesn’t) through each, I keep these young women in mind. I don’t write for the young adult market, but I write for the ones who might pick up my books. They’re the ones who hand my book off to their friends. They are my fanbase.

Lara Hays – Oceanswept

I owe a lot to Lara Hays, author of young adult romance, but she didn’t know it until recently.

Last year, I received a Nook for my birthday. New to the world of e-readers, I didn’t know what to download until a friend of mine posted on Facebook about her sister’s new release, Oceanswept. Because of this friend, I felt an instant connection to an author whom I had never met. I downloaded the book and started reading. Two sleepless nights later, I finished it. I brought my Nook to my husband and showed him what this author did, self-publishing her own work on an e-reader and suggested I could do the same. The journey began.

Lara Hays has recently released the sequel to OceansweptUndertow, the second of the Oceanswept Trilogy. She has also released two short stories in the Oceanswept Chronicles: “Stowaway” and “Intruder in the Brig”. These young adult stories feature high romance on the high seas, with swashbuckling pirates and fine English ladies. They are clean books, appropriate for young teens. You can click on the pictures to find the Amazon links to her books.

Oceanswept

 I had the opportunity to interview Lara and loved her answers:

1)Tell me about yourself.
I am a writer, a mother, a wife, a animal lover, an adoption advocate, traveler, and reader. I work full-time as a marketing copywriter. I blog (though the frequency has died down quite a bit) about nothing and everything, with an emphasis on adoption. I adore New Girl and have an long-term and rather illicit love affair with junk food.

Undertow

2)Tell me about the Oceanswept Trilogy.
The Oceanswept Trilogy is a young adult historical fiction trilogy set in 18th century following 17-year-old Tessa Monroe who has moved with her father from England to the fledgling British colonies in the West Indies. Her ship is sunk by a hurricane and she manages to be rescued—by pirates. With a future of slavery in the offing, Tessa joins forces with Nicholas Holladay, a charismatic sailor ready to break free from a life of piracy. Mutiny is in the air. Tessa and Nicholas will either win their freedom or earn a spot at the gallows.

Intruder

An addition to the three-novel trilogy, I have written (and plan to write more) a couple of short-stories that take place in the Oceanswept world with the same characters. These short stories are called Oceanswept Chronicles. They aren’t necessary to the story of the trilogy, but just fun extras.

3) Who is your favorite character, and why?
My favorite character is actually Captain Black. His role is smallish in Oceanswept and practically nonexistent in Undertow, but he is hugely significant in the third book and he is a fascinating character. I also love Nicholas. Who doesn’t? Daring and handsome and brave, but there is a lot to him under the surface.

Stowaway

4) What was the hardest scene to write, and why?
The hardest scenes for me to write are often the transition scenes between dramatic events. Keeping the pace, keeping things interesting and realistic, yet still being able to connect the dots between all the dramatic events to make a big picture.

5) Are any characters or scenes based off of real life events/people?
No, not directly. One of my character’s names is very symbolic, based off a real person and what they mean to me. I have traveled to the Caribbean twice and pull from my experiences with the ocean and the islands. There are a few small things that are based off real events. There’s a small scene in Undertow when Tessa is watching the sunrise and when the sun crests the horizon, she listens to hear the sea sizzle because her father taught her that—even though she knew the sea doesn’t sizzle. My father taught me the same thing and to this day, if I am by the ocean during a sunrise or sunset, I listen for the sound of the sea sizzling.

6) Why pirates?
I love stories about redemption because it’s something everyone can relate too. Pirates—aside from creating an adventurous backdrop—represent “evil” and we have Nicholas and even Tessa to an extent navigating that world of evil and trying to get out of it and redeem themselves. It’s a metaphor that’s popular in many novels, movies, and TV shows. Think of all the vampire stuff that’s so popular now. It’s the same story. Redemption. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated with sailing and with the ocean, so if I am going to spend countless hours researching and writing, it might as well be about something I enjoy!

7) I read Oceanswept and would definitely let my 12-year-old read it. What is your target audience? What would you say to parents who are hesitant to introduce their preteen daughters to the romance genre?
“Romance” is such a tricky word. We automatically think of those steamy bodice rippers at the grocery store. I honestly prefer to classify it as a Young Adult Historical Romance for that reason, but the romance is what everyone loves about the story so we can’t leave that out! My intended audience is females 13+. I leave the + there because I think more adults have enjoyed my books than teenagers! I would tell parents that it is a clean romance. All virtue remains intact. All thoughts are pure! And remember, most all books no matter their genre incorporate love interests and romance in some way. So this is a great way for teens to experience a love-story that is going to be clean.

8.) Is Oceanswept the first book you’ve ever written? Please describe the writing process.
Yes, it is. I don’t even know how many books I have started, but Oceanswept was the first I finished. I think in the past I was too concerned with coming up with a book that others wanted to read, or that would garner critical acclaim or something lofty. This time, I decided to write a book that I would want to read. I got the idea in a meeting and created the entire outline in that meeting. I began writing in my spare time and I was obsessed. Every waking minute that I could spare, I was writing. I finished the first draft in three weeks.

 9) What lessons have you learned from publishing?
Format as you go! If plan A doesn’t work, go with plan B, plan C, plan D, whatever. Don’t give up and don’t let others dictate your dream.

10) What are your future plans for the Oceanswept Chronicles and other books?
I am working on a young adult book right now about a teenage boy whose recently divorced mother purchased a hospice and his new home is living among dying people as he struggles to shape his own life in the midst of a broken family. It is definitely a departure from swashbuckling adventure and teen romance, but I hope my readers will take the leap with me. I have an outline of the final book of the Oceanswept Trilogy and that will hopefully be available in about a year. I am also planning to continue to supply more Chronicles—I don’t know how many of those might crop up. They’re just fun and people love little “director’s cuts” of the stories. So I don’t necessarily have a limit on them. I have even taken requests on what extra details readers want.

Lara Hays

My author website is larahays.com, though I need to be better about updating it.

You’ll get the most updates from me at Facebook.com/LaraHaysAuthor

And you can read my personal blog at pocketfullofprose.blogspot.com

Lisa Shambrook: Beneath the Rainbow

On October 12, Lisa Shambrook will re-release her novel Beneath the Rainbow. She has a new cover, a new designing team, new online support group, and new works in progress! And she’s giving away a free paperback copy of Beneath the Rainbow. Enter by following this link.

I interviewed Lisa Shambrook today, and the answers I received got me excited for her future work.

Beneath the Rainbow announcement

-What inspired Beneath the Rainbow? It came right out of the blue! The first line hit me as I was walking through the park “Freya was seven-years-old when she got hit by the car, it was a 4×4 with a bull bar.” The line shocked me, and I had no idea how to write a book that began with the death of a child! At home I crafted the first chapter, and was completely drawn into the grief her family was suffering, and I imagined how it would appear to a child on the other side of Heaven.

-Is any part of it based off of real-life experiences or people? Thankfully I’ve not suffered like Freya’s family, though we do have family experience of both cancer and unfulfilled dreams, which are strong themes within the book.

-Can you describe the process of writing your book? It was cathartic. It’s a difficult subject, but one that leaped into my head and heart, and refused to let go. This book flowed and told me what to write…the only time I’ve ever pantsed a book as I’m a planner at heart!

-Is this the first book you’ve ever written? What’s your previous experience with writing? I realised I could write books almost fourteen years ago and began with a children’s fantasy adventure trilogy. These books need rewriting and severe editing, but I still love them. I also have a half written dragon epic, and a sequel to ‘Beneath the Rainbow’.

-What challenges did you encounter when first writing and publishing the book? How have the challenges changed with the re-release? At first, I truly had no idea what I was doing! I wrote ‘Beneath the Rainbow’ with no thought for genre, or age, or marketing. I put it on Kindle then joined Twitter hoping to sell it…thankfully I didn’t pimp it, instead I discovered how social media worked and found a wonderful writing community. Now the book has been revised, reformatted, redesigned and rereleased. I finally have online support, confidence in my writing and a better understanding of the business!

-What plans do you have for future writing? ‘Beneath the Old Oak’ is going through its first edit, hoping to release it at the end of next Summer. This November I’m planning the third book in the series tentatively titled ‘Beneath the Stormy Sky’.

-What advice would you give anyone who is considering writing a book? Flash Fiction! Flash writing has honed every writing skill I have and has made me a much better writer! Give it a go, short and sweet, and fun. Regarding the book itself, edit well…and lots, and lots! Get as much professional help as you can afford, and find a supportive writing community…they are priceless!

-What’s your writing environment like? I write on my laptop, on my lap, lol. I prefer silence, and often forget to drink or eat while I write! My favourite writing time is once I’ve done the school run, or late at night.

-How do you balance writing with family? I generally write when the family are at school or work, I need the peace!

-What support systems do you have for your writing endeavors? An online writing community…like I said, other writers know what you’re going through, take all advise that’s offered! Lastly, I could not do this without the support of my family. My husband encourages and respects my writing, and my children both read and critique my work, and I sometimes listen!

Beneath the Rainbow is available on Amazon.com, and it’s not expensive at all. U.S. customers click here, and U.K. customers click here!

Beneath the Rainbow cover

Beneath the Rainbow

“It’s those silly dreams that keep us alive.”

Dreams define us, shape us and realise our potential…they make us who we are.

Freya won’t let death stand in her way.

When she dies Freya knows she needs to move on, but is caught within her mother’s grief and the discovery of terminally ill Old Thomas. Finding she can affect the lives of those beyond her heaven she fights to reach her mother and wants to help Thomas realise his final dream.

Meanwhile, her family finds her own list of goals and soon discovers that Thomas has a burning desire to ride a motorbike.

Freya intends to create a rainbow, the last item on her list, to reach her mother, but her pale arcs won’t achieve closure. She needs scarlet like remembrance poppies then sunset orange and sunflower yellow. She makes green like her willow and blue like daddy’s t-shirt. Finally conjuring indigo, the shade of deepening night and violet to match Purple Ted…

Beneath these colours will Freya reach her mother, wait for Old Thomas and be ready to move on?

Discover the importance of dreams and fulfilment in Freya’s heart-breaking and uplifting tale of grief, hope, triumph and joy.

Lisa Shambrook

Lisa Shambrook

Born and raised in vibrant Brighton, England, Lisa’s lyrical writing is emotional and imaginative. She concentrates on description and colour, and hopes her readers will easily visualise the narrative. Her first book ‘Beneath the Rainbow’ is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

A wife and mother, Lisa draws inspiration from family life, faith, memory and imagination. After having her first of three children, Lisa has lived in Carmarthen, West Wales, another town rich in legend and lore.

Lisa loves family time, walking the family’s excitable German Shepherd, beaches, scrap-booking, photography, art and last, but not least, writing…she says “There is nothing better than escaping and immersing yourself in a good story!” You can follow her blog at http://www.thelasykrystallos.blogspot.co.uk

To read another exciting interview about Lisa, visit LE Jamez’ blog.