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This weekend I signed with literary agent Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency. How rad is that? And this is one of her agenting pictures- yes, that’s her, knuckles and all. She reps some pretty awesome YA books by Courtney Summers, Amy Reed, and Kirstin Cronn-Mills. I’ll be posting reviews of  those books periodically throughout the year. I’m re-working a bit of my first book before we go on submission to publishers, and then I hope to revise my second novel shortly thereafter. Hopefully, I’ll be coming to a book store near you! Whoo-hoo!

Yesterday, at twilight, I spent time with twenty high school students in a creative writing club. We gathered in a small classroom, desk to desk in a circle, and wrote about Thanksgiving, families, spices, and herbs.

These were students of all different backgrounds: class, race, gender, age. In a perfect world they all get along. Now, since I don’t teach there, I don’t know what their interactions are like on a typical day. However, in the twilight hour, I witnessed a perfect world.

All twenty students read their work with pride. All twenty students offered affirming feedback to what they heard. They wrote. They read. They listened with open hearts. While this may all sound cheesy- it was incredibly warming.

Some lines that stayed with me from their writing:

“Oregano is my mom.”

“I am hungry for what can not be cut up and put on a plate.”

“I am smooth as a moon’s crescent.”

“The virus- is humanity.”

“You bring out the black in me…. The I-have-no-choice-but-to-go-through-puberty-in-me.”

“A bittersweet smell, the memory of… the uncle who pinched my cheeks, while the other uncles abused my face.”

In the spring, 916 Ink will be working with these youth to hone their craft and revise a piece of their writing for publication. I can’t wait to buy their book and hear them read at a huge gala in June 2012.

I was very proud of these young adults yesterday. They truly embodied the quote: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”  ~William Wordsworth

The following poem came out of a writing workshop I lead on Monday night. I was drawn to a salt and pepper shaker of Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. I was also inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (albeit my poem is way shorter).

Let’s not even talk about noses and lies.

Some days all I want is to be a real boy, too.

Crickets annoy me.

Let’s admit it, everyone has the propensity to be a jackass.

The old man made me from wood.

Of course, being a girl comes with strings attached.

I think I’d quite like hiding in the belly of a whale for a little while.

Where is my shimmering star fairy?

God, who doesn’t want to run away and be in a traveling circus?

The wolf tricked me.

I only let him tie my up so that I wouldn’t become kindling.

I was on my way to school one day when….

No, I’m not a liar.

About a year ago, I sat in a class with Dorothy Allison. She, and eleven other lovely writers, work shopped the first chapter of a novel I had written.

To make a long story short, Dorothy told me that I should be writing in the genre of young adult. I’ll admit, it was a bit disappointing– here was my literary heroine telling me to switch homes. However, she IS Dorothy Allison. So, I believed her. Later that week an agent told me the same thing. Now, this wasn’t “shocking” news. I often wrote in young narrative voices, but was dealing with very adult scenarios. I felt a bit stuck. Then I remembered an acquaintance of mine, someone a year ahead of my graduate cohort, who had published a gritty and evocative young adult book: Amy Reed’s Beautiful.

Her book is vivid, a punch in the gut, and glistens with hot words. Her scenes are the best kind of heartbreaking. She is a true young adult author–serving up honest stories (sex, drugs, rock n roll) that some teens need to make it through the day. I’ll be honest. It was a bit scary reading her book because I’m a mom. I didn’t want my daughter to be put in the same situations as her main character, Cassie. However, I wouldn’t want to censor Beautiful. If my own daughter needs it- her book will be proudly waiting for her on my shelf. I imagine the rewarding dialogue I’ll engage with Calla about Cassie’s journey to freedom.

In November 2010, I pondered this idea of leaving adult fiction behind– giving up my dreams of appearing in certain aisles in libraries and bookstores– my book hobnobbing between Carson McCullers and Cormac McCarthy–but, after reading Reed’s Beautiful (and Frank Portman’s King Dork) it was time to give young adult fiction another glance.

I found amazing gems. I was an avid reader as a child, but there was nothing compared to the plethora of young adult fiction we can find today. Books I discovered (and adored), that you should discover too, are:

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt

The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Wintergirls or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Absolute True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Skellig by David Almond

King Dork by Frank Portman

Hoot by Carl Hiassan

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

There are, of course, more books. However, the above list is a good start for a juvenile literary reader. Now, some of the above books are technically “middle grade” books. So, what is the distinction between young adult and middle grade? Well, mostly it’s an age difference of the narrators and/or characters.

I’ve learned that most literary young adult books are dealing with immensely difficult teen issues. Those stories must exist if we want teens to mature into amazing adults. They need stories to help them through the day.

Middle grade books are trickier beasts. They are dealing with issues surrounding identity and the family. While some middle grade books can be mostly about adventure and middle school shenanigans, some AMAZING middle grade books are completely gorgeous in how they understand the transformations that take place during that precious 10-13 age period.

Ultimately, on my journey to the new genre, I’ve learned that I am a middle grade writer. I just don’t have the grit and sex and angst for teen writing (or at least not yet). I linger somewhere in the messy area of 12-14 year old lives. I’ll probably be a very tricky sell to publishers. Oh well. It’s my world to create.

So, now, when I write, I consider audience. I hope to provide books that sing to kids, or make them weep a little and hug their pillows at night. I want to write a book that requires turning on the flashlight for late night reading under the sheets. I hope to be that author who gives kids a reason to grow into a beautiful human being.

I am a juvenile literature author. I proudly wear my badge.