5 Things I’ve Learned from Writing a YA Novel

SandraGullandPlease welcome today’s guest Sandra Gulland—an internationally bestselling author of biographical historical fiction set in France. She is known for the depth and accuracy of her research, as well as for creating novels that bring history vividly to life. Published by Simon & Schuster and Doubleday in the US, and HarperCollins in Canada, she is now writing two Young Adult novels for Penguin in the US and Canada. The popular Josephine B. Trilogy about Napoleon’s wife Josephine has been published in over fifteen countries. Mistress of the Sun and her latest novel The Shadow Queen are set in the mid-17th century French Court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and are published internationally as well.

I am writing two YA novels about Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter Hortense. Exploring this new genre after decades as a writer of adult historical fiction is enlightening and creatively invigorating. The explosive renaissance in YA fiction right now is both thrilling and inspiring.

Connect with Sandra on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Writing a YA Novel

I have been writing adult historical fiction for over thirty years. After publishing The Shadow Queen, my fifth novel, I got an offer out of the blue from Penguin to write two Young Adult novels.

This was a serious swerve for me: I had never considered writing a YA novel.

Just because a novel is written for teens does not mean that it’s going to be easier to write. Writing YA is fun, but it certainly isn’t easy. I don’t believe it’s any different than writing an adult historical novel. The same standards apply.

In retrospect, I don’t know why. I read and enjoyed YA. Before becoming a novelist, I had been a book editor—and the lion’s share of my work for over a decade had been editing a series of YA novels for reluctant readers. As an editor, I had explored the idea of developing a series of YA biographies. Researching this idea, I read a YA biography: it happened to be the story of Josephine Bonaparte.

Bingo! I got hooked on Josephine. Years later, I sent a book proposal to a publisher for a YA novel about Josephine. The publisher declined, but I persevered, and much—much!—later, my Josephine B. Trilogy was published. I wept finishing this amazing story. Josephine had been an important part of my life for over a decade. Sad and depleted, I plunged into the 17th century Court of the Sun King, selling my Napoleonic research books to make room for this new era. I was finished with Josephine’s world.

Or so I thought…

One of the YA novels, Penguin stipulated, was to be about Josephine’s daughter, Hortense.

I gave this offer a great deal of thought. Over the following months, I mapped out Hortense’s teen years, to see what her story might be. It was all there—enough for the two novels, in fact. I got excited. [Read more…]


Writing the Story of Your Heart: Even When the Odds Aren’t in Your Favor

By Flickr’s Sergiu Bacioiu

Today’s guest is Aisha Saeed—an author, mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. She is also the Vice President of Strategy for We Need Diverse Books™. While Aisha loves writing about a variety of topics, her main passion lies in channeling her inner teen. Her debut YA novel Written in the Stars will be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. When Aisha isn’t writing or chasing her two little boys, you can find her reading, baking, doodling henna patterns, or daydreaming about eight consecutive hours of sleep.

As a member of We Need Diverse Books, and someone who grew up without diverse books that represented me this area is near and dear to my heart and that is why I am sharing it with Writer Unboxed. I wanted to write for Writer Unboxed because this space has been a great source of advice and information on the writing journey and it’s great to give back some of what I’ve learned along the way.

You can connect with Aisha at her website and blog or follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr.

Writing the Story of your Heart: Even When the Odds Aren’t in Your Favor

In the increasingly competitive world of publishing, it can be very stressful to wonder if you’ll ever see your book in print. It can be tempting to try to boost your odds at getting published by studying what worked well and which book sold millions and trying to emulate it. But as anyone will advise you, chasing trends doesn’t work. Trends come and go and by the time you identify a trend, the moment has passed and some new trend is likely already just around the bend.

There is one “trend” however that has yet to truly take off, and that is stories featuring diverse protagonists. Earlier this year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin made the shocking revelation that while the United States is growing increasingly diverse, children’s books are still anything but. In fact, of the over three-thousand books released in 2013, only 7.5 percent of those books contained any diversity at all.

The topic of diversity has received a lot of traction as of late from many organizations including one I’m proud to be a member of, We Need Diverse Books™, and while many are working to change how diverse books are perceived, the [Read more…]


Rogue Novels

About a year ago, we hired a company to clean our carpets.

The gentleman who arrived at our door looked like someone who would be, perhaps, even better suited to perform at a bachelorette party.

But Therefore I opened the door wide for him and spent the next few hours pretending to write as he cleaned my carpets.

When he finished, and I handed him my Visa, he smiled. “You know, Mrs. Callender, cleaning carpets is just my day job.”

“Oh?” Suddenly I felt uncomfortable.

He reached for his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and slipped a business card into my hand. “I’m a writer. And an actor.”

“Ah,” I said. “Got it.”

“This card is for my new movie . . . check it out if you want.”

I read the card aloud. “Rogue Saints: The greatest church, diamond heist, romance, comedy, drama, adventure you’ve ever seen.” I smiled. “Wow. All those things in one movie!”

When my husband got home that night, I held up the business card, moving it around as if tantalizing him with a treat. “Not sure you want to commit to just one genre?” I murmured, my voice sultry. “Try Rogue Saints: The greatest church, diamond heist, romance, comedy, drama, adventure you’ve ever seen.”

Who would fund a film that clearly had such major identity issues? Who would write a screenplay that was such a blatant, unapologetic salmagundi?

Well, my friends, the Mocker is now the Mocked as it seems I, too, have managed to write a genre-straddler of a novel. [Read more…]


The Real World and the YA Novel

Today’s guest is YA author Meredith Zeitlin, whose debut novel, Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, was just released on March 1st. What’s the book about? Meredith’s book trailer is too good not to share, and does a better job answering that question than we could, so please give it a look:

FRESHMAN YEAR AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS by Meredith Zeitlin from Anne Walls on Vimeo.

We’re so glad Meredith’s with us today to talk about weaving a message into your YA novel while still being true to the real world. Enjoy!

The Real World and the YA Novel

When I set out to write Freshman Year…, part of the reason I wanted to do it was my intense disappointment that YA had changed so much since I was a tween. I was a babysitter at the time for an awesome 12-year-old girl who loved to read, but didn’t seem to have a single book that reflected her actual life.

Don’t get me wrong – I like reading about fantasy worlds as much as the next gal, but I think it’s important to remind readers that that’s what books like Twilight and Gossip Girl actually ARE – fantasy. Based on the massive amount of copycat material that began popping up, it seemed to me like kids had started to think that the way the teenagers lived in those worlds was the way THEY should be living, and since most of them don’t have the resources – or the supernatural pals – to do so, it was really demoralizing.

Why should a 14-year-old feel bad about herself because she doesn’t have six pairs of Manolos? Why should anyone think his or her life is less-than because s/he never met a vampire in the woods during a brisk evening stroll? [Read more…]