Monday, March 8, 2010


Ever wonder what thoughtful teen readers really think about what’s being published in YA? I recently had a chance to chat with Sam, a local reader, writer, and blogger, about the genre.

* To start us off, could you tell us a little about yourself?

When I was eight, I wrote a story for Halloween. In it, the rivers turned to blood and eyeballs grew on trees. Instead of sending me to the school counselor, as maybe she should have, my teacher laughed. She thought it was awesome. I have a particularly clear image of her in that moment; she held up the story to the class, pointed at me with one hand and said, “Someday, she’s going to be an author.”

Yeah, well, not quite.

I’m fifteen, though, so I guess that’s okay. I’ve been writing stories since that day in third grade. Only recently have I actually started to write anything worth reading. I’ve sent a few queries out and have gotten partials/full requests. Part of my story is on a website called—it’s ranked number in the top five right now, which means Harper Collins will review it at the end of the month. [Sam’s submission can be found here.] For now, though, my life revolves around school and my friends. Oh, and books. Lots and lots of books.

* As an author whose first book will hit store shelves in May, I’m dying to know—how do you choose the books you read? Recommendations from friends? Blog reviews? Covers / titles? Publishing house?

It depends. If I'm online, then it's usually through blogs. I see a book, or an author, and go look it up on Amazon. If I like it, I go and hound my mom to buy it. I like that method more on some level because I usually know what I'm getting into.

If I'm in a store, I kind of fall into that horrible 'judging-book-by-cover' category. Right now, there are so many books in YA. It's an overload of pretty and awesome books, but the cover and the title will actually get me to pick them up.

Friend recommendations actually play the biggest role, though. I mean, I find more on my own, but if someone tells me how much they liked a book, I'm more likely to read it quickly. My mom and I trade books a lot of the time, too—if she tells me to read something, then I'll almost always.

* What KEEPS you reading—what grips you, keeps you turning the pages?

Hah, that's kind of hard to answer! I think it's emotion. If I care about the character, I'll keep reading. It doesn't even really matter whether I like or dislike them—I've just got to feel something. For instance, in Gone With The Wind, the main character really annoyed me. However, I could empathize with her, and in a sick way, I kind of admired her. I cared about what happened to her. The books I put down are the ones that have flat characters.

Oh, and humor helps too. :D If I can laugh at a book, I will keep reading. It doesn't matter how twisted or dark the story is, if there is some sort of weirdness to laugh at, the pages will keep turning.

* How do feel about reading books that contain characters who are younger than you?

Oh, gosh. .... Hah, this sounds bad, but.... I don't usually like to read them.

I'm getting better about that as I get older, but it kind of bothers me sometimes. Of course, I'm fifteen, so that rarely happens in YA—it's usually the middle grade novels, and I try to keep away from middle grade in general. Still, though, if the book is good enough, it doesn't matter. Just look at Harry Potter. I grew up with the books—I was in the first grade when I read Sorcerer's Stone—but I can still reread them and not be bothered.

* Do you enjoy reading books about or from the perspective of the opposite sex (a male narrator)? How about a narrator of a different race / cultural background? Do you feel that YA stacks the deck with white females?

Yeah, I think YA does seem to be filled with white girls. It isn’t overloaded, though; I can think of several that are multi racial or from guys point of view that have done pretty well. I actually like reading those more sometimes, just because there are less of them. I mean, teenage girls with a love for a sexy, smoldering vampire tend to blur together. A guy is rare in YA books, so I can actually probably name more; same with other cultures.

Guy point of view in particular is kind of enjoyable to read. The Percy Jackson books, for instance, by Rick Riordan, are awesome. As for books with different races or backgrounds, well, those tend to be pretty interesting. If I can actually learn something when I’m reading, then I like the book more.

* What do YOU write—and how does that influence what you choose to read?

Hah, I feel pretentious talking about my stories, mostly because what I write is just random. I mean, the ‘novel’ (I hate calling it that; it sounds like I’m trying to make something out of it that it isn’t) that I’ve actually shown people and even sent to several agents is a dystopian novel. However, I’ve got another about demons and another that is realistic fiction. I write whatever pops into my head, and I kind of read the same way. Some of my favorite books are about dystopian societies (Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, for example) and some are about vampires, as much as it kind of hurts to admit (Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy comes to mind.)

It influences it on a very base level, though, because I read books and think 'Well, good. I guess I'm on the right track.' However, I read so much that usually I just stumble across books. If they correspond to what I'm writing, awesome, but I don't really require it.

* How does blogging influence what you choose to read?

A ton. There are a couple of author’s blogs that I religiously check out, and I’m on Amazon a lot.
If Meg Cabot recommends a book, I will check it out. If Maureen Johnson rambles about a story, I’ll go and look it up. It’s like I said; I take recommendations pretty seriously. From published authors, though, I know it has to be good because they’re tacking their names onto someone else’s work. If that work is bad, then they look bad.

As for my own blogging, well, that really isn’t affected. I only talk about books I really like; I don’t see the point in giving mean reviews. I read a ton, though, so that really isn’t an issue. Chances are I will find a book I love in under a week, just because I do read so much. Reading is kind of my hobby; while some kids spend their internet time on Facebook, or their free time watching tv, I’m either with a book or on the internet looking them up.

* How does your interaction with an author change how you feel about what they write?

I’ll love it twelve zillion times more. :D

I know it probably shouldn’t, but it really will change my opinion. I mean, come on; I’m fifteen. How many adults would give me the time of day regardless? (The answer is ‘not many’, by the way. No, I’m not griping; it’s just how it goes.) When an author takes the time to email me back, I think it shows that they really care about what they’re doing. Plus, when I read their books, I have the almost unholy satisfaction of 'Haha, I got to talk to the author.' For instance, Maggie Stiefvater did a video chat with a group of kids at my local library. Now, whenever I read her book, Shiver, I do a happy dance because I actually got to talk to the author, and I know what was going through her head when she was writing.

* What have you read that made you roll your eyes and say, "That's SO not the way it is now"?

Bad dialogue. That’s the number one thing that will annoy me in a story. Kids don’t talk that differently than adults. Kids who read really don’t talk that differently at all. I feel condescended too when the dialogue sounds like it came straight from a bad cliché. Yes, I use slang. Sure, when I text ‘OMG’ will occasionally pop up. The majority of the time, though, I tend to speak the same as most adults. Plus, slang changes too fast. I have never heard someone say ‘Man, that was a friggin’ dope party’ but I’ve read it dozens of times. That’s fine every once in a while, but sometimes it just feels as if the book is trying too hard to be cool.

* How relevant is your assigned classroom reading? Does it bore you? Excite you? Do you wish contemporary writing could be more like the classics? In what way?

I’m probably a bad kid to ask about this, because I love reading, and I love my English class. I trust my teacher to have good taste in books; I take Honors, so it’s especially nice. I have liked every book I’ve read this year in my English class. We read A Separate Peace by John Knowles, and I liked it enough to have my mom go buy it. It’s beautiful written. We just finished Animal Farm by George Orwell. I’ve never had a book inspire so much annoyance in me; no, not because I didn’t like it, but because the societal parallels are astounding. For our independent book project, I read A Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. It was gruesome and gritty, and I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t like nonfiction, but that’s one particular story that really affected me.

I don’t wish contemporary was more like the classics, though. I think the classics are remarkably similar to today’s writing; they go after the same issues in many ways but the writing is just vastly different. I think that’s cool. I can learn about a time period just by the way the author wrote. I like classic novels and novels that come out today, but I wouldn’t wish either to change.

* What role does technology play in your life and reading? Do you cringe when you read a slightly older book that has out-of-date technology?

Nope! There is no cringing. Actually, it doesn’t affect my reading at all. Again, I think it’s cool. Look at Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. He’s got a ton of technology in there that he made up; it isn’t the same today, but it’s still cool to read about. And as for out-of-date novels, they don’t bug me. However, I do tend to read more fantasy than anything, and those will always be in style.

As for how it affects my life, that’s different. I don’t think there’s a part of my life that isn’t touched by technology. My cell phone is always in my pocket, I spend more time texting than talking on the phone, and I actually don’t think I’ve ever written a letter by hand. (Well, I did in Elementary school for an assignment, but I don’t think that counts.) I’ve been typing since I was eight—in eighth grade, I averaged roughly 115 words a minute—and my camera lives in my purse. It affects how I write, I think, even if it doesn’t affect how I read; I mean, it would be hard for me to write a story without technology in it, just because it is such a huge part of my life.

* What do you think YA writers, as a whole, do well?

Oh, goodness. What don’t they do well? Hmm. They keep us teenagers entertained. They have good characters. I’ve never really read an adult book that makes me care as much about the characters as I have in YA. (I’m biased, though; I’m fifteen, so I’m bound to like my own age better.) Still, overall, the characters in YA books are awesome. I mean, come on—Edward never would have been so famous if people didn’t care about him. I never would have consented to putting a Hunger Games pin on my backpack if I didn’t love Katniss and Peeta so much. YA writers rock at making us care/love their characters.

* In what ways do you think YA writers miss the mark?

Oh, goodness again. That’s hard to say, especially on such a wide range. Hmm.

Okay, I’ve got one. It’s the curse of trilogies. So many YA books come in sets of three. Now, that’s awesome. I mean, seriously, I get three books to read about my favorite characters instead of one. However. I think YA writers are bad sometimes about making each book stand by itself. Instead, it’s just like three parts to one giant novel. That can be kind of annoying. Every story needs a start, middle, and end, even if it will eventually plug into a bigger picture. YA authors seem to be particularly bad about this.

* Finish the following sentence: "More than anything, I wish that YA authors would___"

Do signings close to my town.

-sigh- If only.

...You can always catch up with Sam by checking in at her own blog: One Sparkling Star.

In the meantime, thanks, Sam, for your insight!


  1. Great interview, Holly and Sam! Loved the insights!

  2. I appreciate every one of your comments, Sam, and thanks so much for the "Trilogy" tip ;)

  3. I enjoyed this interview, Holly and Sam. Really great questions and answers. Nice to know what a young adult actually thinks about what is being published today in this genre.

  4. Great interview! Such wonderful information!

  5. really enjoyed this. Chock full of gems and insights. Thanks to both of you and to Randy Russell for steering me here.

    Gae H. Polisner
    The Pull of Gravity, FSG, spring 2011

  6. Hah, thanks Holly. :) This is really cool.

  7. This is an awesome interview - and Sam sounds mature beyond her years.

    I love the comment of "inspired annoyance" from Orson Wells. I think I might have to grab this phrase and use it one hundred times.

    Sam- keep writing. Someone with your love of literature and critical thinking will have novels and stories flowing out of them.

    -Bettina Restrepo
    Harper Collins Jan 2011

  8. Great interview. There really isn't enough information out there about what the true experts in young adult literature (teens, of course) think about the genre and publishing and such. Thanks!

  9. This was great! It proves that teenagers are such a great audience to write for, because they're so thoughtful, and if they love books -- the LOVE them. Inspiring!

  10. This is probably the most relevant blog I've ever read! Sam - you are amazing! You are the audience. You're the reason most of us are writing. I can't wait to check out your blog.

  11. hi -

    great post. wanted to know what a blue so dark is about and i can't find any info on your blog. can you tell me about it?

  12. Thanks for asking, Sara! You can find info on all my books at my author website (, under "My Books."


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