Emptying the mail bag

It is raining here, first time in 20 days. It is raining because tonight is prom. It is supposed to clear up by the time the photo ops are scheduled (6ish). Here’s hoping everybody has a blast tonight!

Since I grew up in Central New York, rainy days are my second-favorite (what I really love is a good blizzard). Writing comes easy on dreary days and this morning has been no exception. While I had to beat the words out of me yesterday, today I can’t type fast enough.

Right now it’s time for a coffee break, and time – finally – to deal with some recent mail. First, many thanks to Sara in Wilmington who says she’s “not a book worm” but read and liked my books anyway. That’s mighty high praise. Likewise the writer who signed her/his note LOVEUREBOOKS. Good luck with your own writing. Thanks also to Olivia who wrote in appreciating my use of humor, and to Jenn in Oswego who knows my sister and sent me a wonderful poem.

Kourtney writes: Hi we were asked to write our authors and see if they wrote back. I was wondering if you could explain why you write controversial teen novels, and if it bothers you when people criticize the subjects involved.

I don’t think I write controversial teen novels. Story requires conflict. Sensitive people (I’d like to put myself in that category) write about age-appropriate conflict for their audiences. If you write for adults, you can write about anything. If you write for children, you choose the subject matter carefully. For example, there are books written for younger kids that involve death or violence, but usually they are written in a way that won’t unnecessarily scare or upset the reader. We would all love to shield children from the ugly facts of life, including death, but this is impossible. So authors generally try to tell difficult stories in a way that will allow the reader to think and mature.

Writing for teenagers puts you smack in the middle of these two worlds. Teens cannot be protected from reality. Sex, violence, substance abuse, cheating, academic, social and family pressures, confusion – you name it, most of them are dealing with it. I do not feel there are any subject matters “off-limits” for my books. I also do not recommend my YA novels for readers younger than 8th grade. Are my books going to hurt anyone? Absolutely not. But reading about teen characters makes a lot more sense when you are actually a teenager, than when you are in, say, 5th grade.

I care deeply about teenagers. I think our culture abandons and exploits them. We drown them them in crap TV and movies, then yell at them when they mimic the behaviors of the icons of popular culture. I think literature is a fantastic way for teens to help figure out who they are, who they want to be, and why the world doesn’t seem to make sense most of the time. In my books, characters mess up. They make mistakes. Sometimes they drink. Sometimes they have sex. Sometimes they cut class and are disrespectful to adults. They mess up and then they have to deal with the consequences of messing up – just like in real life. I don’t think any of that is controversial. I think my books (and many of the wonderful YA books out there) are honest reflections of adolescent life today.

I wish I could say the negative criticism of my books does not affect me. But I can’t. It kills me when people criticize my books. I don’t mind it so much if people say they didn’t like a character, or the plot wasn’t interesting to them. That is a matter of personal taste. I don’t like all the books I read, either. But I get sad when people yell at me for “daring” to write about characters who mess up – drinking, sex, etc. And I’ve been a little bummed that some people don’t like PROM because it is funny and lighter than my other books. Some people seem to want me to write SPEAK over and over again. That’s not going to happen. I have plans to write other dark (hopefully sensitive) novels, but I don’t want to do that every time out. To write basically the same kind of book over and over would be dead-boring, and it would not help me grow as a writer.

Wow – short question, long answer. Next!

Mark writes: Dear Laurie, I first got started one your books by my school. My teacher Ms.Mckay (Argo community high school) had the class read speak and i got hooked. I loved it. I love to read and just wanted to say thanks for these books. I can’t to wait see if your going to write a new one(i have read speak,prom and catalyst). And was wondering if you were going to incorporate a view for a teen male. Thanks for your time.

Brilliant minds think alike, Mark. The novel I am working on right now has a 17-year-old male main character. Stay tuned!!

Felicia writes: I love your website but Mattie was 16 years old and in the questions in the teachers guide it says that she was 14 years old.

There is an error on the Library of Congress information and some flap copy in some of the editions of FEVER 1793. Mattie is 14 and turns 15 during the year of the book.

Sara and Meagan from Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, FL, write with these SPEAK questions:
How did you get an idea to write about this topic and speaking out for yourself?

I know a lot of people who have dealt with the aftermath of sexual assault and I personally know how hard (and how necessary) it is to talk about painful things.

How did you get the idea to use trees as a tool to symbolize Melinda’s change and growth?
A tree showed up in the first draft and I ran with it.

Exactly how did you want the reader to interperate the trees throughout the book?
Readers need to interpret books for themselves. If you don’t find meaning in the trees, there is nothing wrong with that. For me, the trees reflect Melinda’s growth and maturation.

How did you make the school setting so real and up to date, research or experience, or both?
I did very little research for this book, but I had visited large suburban high schools when I was a newspaper reporter, and I think that helped.

Is this a true story?
No and yes. SPEAK is a work of fiction. The stuff that happens in SPEAK goes on all the time.

Both Ashley and Liz wrote in asking if Mr. Neck is known by that nickname by all the students in Merryweather high, or is it just Melinda who calls him that?

I think everybody calls him that. Do/Did you have nicknames for any of your teachers?

21 Replies to “Emptying the mail bag”

  1. I’m curious: Do you ever read YALSA-BK? Your comments about “protecting” teens from reality made me think of a thread this past week that started out with somebody asking if anyone was required to read every book that went into their collection. Somebody replied that they weren’t allowed to include any books that had the “f” word, which sparked a really interesting discussion/debate about the realities of life as reflected in teen literature.

    I really wish there was an answer. *sigh*

  2. I’m curious: Do you ever read YALSA-BK? Your comments about “protecting” teens from reality made me think of a thread this past week that started out with somebody asking if anyone was required to read every book that went into their collection. Somebody replied that they weren’t allowed to include any books that had the “f” word, which sparked a really interesting discussion/debate about the realities of life as reflected in teen literature.

    I really wish there was an answer. *sigh*

    1. No, I don’t read YALSA. Not enough hours in the day.

      Here’s a thought: the root of the “horror” surrounding swear words is that swear words are a challenge to authority. As an English-speaking country, “we” have decided that there are tiers of swear words. The F-bomb is widely perceived to be the strongest curse word that is not directly an attack on a racial or ethnic group.

      So the F-word has power. It is a loaded gun, ready to blast away at the conventions of society. Which is, of course, why so many teens use it so often.

      By choosing not to put YA lit that contains swear words in a library, the decision-makers validate the power of swear words, and increase the likelihood that teens will continue to use them to shock and offend. They also rob the most vulnerable segment of our society of the opportunity to use literature as a safe, healthy way to learn about the world. Too many teens think that books jump straight from Baby Sitter’s Club to Old Man And The Sea, and that there is no such thing as a book that will hold a teenager’s interest.

      Here’s my message to adults who ban books because they contain curse words: Congratulations. You have done your part to create an illiterate generation.

  3. I’m curious: Do you ever read YALSA-BK? Your comments about “protecting” teens from reality made me think of a thread this past week that started out with somebody asking if anyone was required to read every book that went into their collection. Somebody replied that they weren’t allowed to include any books that had the “f” word, which sparked a really interesting discussion/debate about the realities of life as reflected in teen literature.

    I really wish there was an answer. *sigh*

  4. No, I don’t read YALSA. Not enough hours in the day.

    Here’s a thought: the root of the “horror” surrounding swear words is that swear words are a challenge to authority. As an English-speaking country, “we” have decided that there are tiers of swear words. The F-bomb is widely perceived to be the strongest curse word that is not directly an attack on a racial or ethnic group.

    So the F-word has power. It is a loaded gun, ready to blast away at the conventions of society. Which is, of course, why so many teens use it so often.

    By choosing not to put YA lit that contains swear words in a library, the decision-makers validate the power of swear words, and increase the likelihood that teens will continue to use them to shock and offend. They also rob the most vulnerable segment of our society of the opportunity to use literature as a safe, healthy way to learn about the world. Too many teens think that books jump straight from Baby Sitter’s Club to Old Man And The Sea, and that there is no such thing as a book that will hold a teenager’s interest.

    Here’s my message to adults who ban books because they contain curse words: Congratulations. You have done your part to create an illiterate generation.

  5. No, I don’t read YALSA. Not enough hours in the day.

    Here’s a thought: the root of the “horror” surrounding swear words is that swear words are a challenge to authority. As an English-speaking country, “we” have decided that there are tiers of swear words. The F-bomb is widely perceived to be the strongest curse word that is not directly an attack on a racial or ethnic group.

    So the F-word has power. It is a loaded gun, ready to blast away at the conventions of society. Which is, of course, why so many teens use it so often.

    By choosing not to put YA lit that contains swear words in a library, the decision-makers validate the power of swear words, and increase the likelihood that teens will continue to use them to shock and offend. They also rob the most vulnerable segment of our society of the opportunity to use literature as a safe, healthy way to learn about the world. Too many teens think that books jump straight from Baby Sitter’s Club to Old Man And The Sea, and that there is no such thing as a book that will hold a teenager’s interest.

    Here’s my message to adults who ban books because they contain curse words: Congratulations. You have done your part to create an illiterate generation.

  6. We had one ubiquitous substitute teacher in high school that everyone called “The Nazi Sub”. I think he was preferentially some sort of P.E. teacher, but he always ended up in our English or Math classes. We were always half embarassed by calling him tha – enough to never let him hear us, but not enough to stop.

  7. We had one ubiquitous substitute teacher in high school that everyone called “The Nazi Sub”. I think he was preferentially some sort of P.E. teacher, but he always ended up in our English or Math classes. We were always half embarassed by calling him tha – enough to never let him hear us, but not enough to stop.

  8. We had one ubiquitous substitute teacher in high school that everyone called “The Nazi Sub”. I think he was preferentially some sort of P.E. teacher, but he always ended up in our English or Math classes. We were always half embarassed by calling him tha – enough to never let him hear us, but not enough to stop.

  9. Another speak?

    Hello I was wondering if their is going to be a second book to speak?

    Carolyn

  10. Another speak?

    Hello I was wondering if their is going to be a second book to speak?

    Carolyn

  11. Another speak?

    Hello I was wondering if their is going to be a second book to speak?

    Carolyn

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