What is the title of your class?
People should take this class if…
They loved books like The Hunger Games or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or The Fault in Our Stars or The Mortal Instruments series and want to learn about writing books like them. Or if they have a killer story idea that teens would love. Or if maybe like me they felt different and weird as a teenager (who doesn’t?) and always wished there was a book that would make them feel understood and/or like they could survive high school. Or if they are young at heart/want to stay young at heart.
Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?
Are any of your works online and available to the public? (If no, we’ll remove this question from your survey
You can read the first chapters of both of my books on my website. You’ll find I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone here and Ballads of Suburbia here, and they are both available as e-books and book-books. I also write for a magazine for teenage girls called Rookie. I do everything from personal essays to book recommendations to playlists to goofy things like people reviews. You can read my stuff here.
What excites you about the material you’re teaching?
Young adult lit is pretty much my favorite thing on the planet! (Well, that and music and cupcakes.) When I was a teenager in the early ’90s, I felt that it was really hard to find books that spoke honestly about the teenage experience, especially the difficult things that teens deal with—addiction, depression, abuse. Those barriers have come down in the last ten years or so and now the possibilities for YA are limitless. Genre lines tend to be blurred a lot more often in YA, too. Look at a book like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; it’s part fairytale, part thriller, part adventure, and there’s even TIME TRAVEL. It can happen more subtly, too, as in Nova Ren Suma’s books which read like they could be real or they could be magical or supernatural. Writing YA is both serious and playful and I get such a deep satisfaction out of it. I love sharing that with students and other writers.
Tell us a bit about your previous teaching experience.
I taught young adult Fiction as well as a general fiction writing course to both graduate and undergraduate students at Columbia College Chicago for three years before I moved here. I’ve also taught online YA Fiction workshops through Mediabistro and workshops on character development at StoryStudio, which is like Chicago’s Hugo House. I’ve taught YA and other aspects of writing to teens at high schools and libraries as well.
What do you like best about teaching at Hugo House?
I’m brand new to Hugo House and excited to get to know people there. What I loved about teaching at StoryStudio and Mediabistro though is that people who take writing workshops outside of school, within their community, and on their own time tend to be really invested in what they are doing. They always participate fully and that’s what I love the most as a teacher: students who come with a lot of ideas and questions and general enthusiasm.
What’s the best piece of writing you’ve read in the past year?
Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. It’s this gorgeous, poetically written YA book about a teen girl in the Portland suburbs who is trying to figure out love and sex and friendship. I reviewed it for Rookie.
What books made you want to write?
It all started for me with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. I decided when I started reading those at 5 that I wanted to be a writer and record my life experience. But since my life experience wasn’t terribly exciting, I quickly turned to fiction. Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat series and The Hanged Man. Those were my go-to books as a teenager, they felt more honest than anything I’d read, but they were also vivid and magical and the language was so musical. Also Louise Erdrich who is a master of real, flawed, fully developed characters. And Greek mythology.
If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Write the story that is in your heart. Writing about your deepest passion is what will get you through the whole process of finishing a book, rewriting it, and getting it published.
If you were to meet your favorite writer in person later today, what would you say to them?
Hmm, that would be Francesca Lia Block, and since I imagine she is as fashionable as her character Weetzie Bat, I would ask her to go thrift-shopping with me. Of course, I would also thank her for helping me survive my teenage years and inspiring me to write YA.
What are you reading now? If you could pair it with a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), what would you choose?
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare—the movie is about to come out! Since the opening scene reminds me of the club I used to sneak into in my late teens, I’d say the drink that the bartender always made me, a Shirley Temple Black: Absolut Mandarin and Sprite with a splash of grenadine. Wait, unless it’s bad to pair YA with booze … then I’d say chai tea 😉