Confessions of the Clueless, Part III: If John Green’s Clueless Enough to Write About Articulate Teenagers, So Am I, Thanks

Raise your hand if you

  • have read (or seen) John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
  • are, or once were, an intelligent, articulate, even eloquent teenager
  • have read John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines
  • are the parent of someone who was formerly an intelligent, articulate, even eloquent teenager
  • have read John Green’s Looking for Alaska
  • believe that teenagers have as much capacity for intelligence, articulateness, even eloquence as adults (and way more than several recent Presidents)
  • are excited about John Green’s latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down.

Me? My hand never went down.

Thinking about the critiques my own books have faced–“Your heroine thinks and talks too much like an adult!”–I’ve found happy solace in this article by Jennie Yabroff of Signature Reads. com, which details John Green’s patient resistance to dumbing-down his teenage protagonists. Here he explains that his characters simply narrate not the way society expects of teens, but the way these teens, these PEOPLE, see themselves:

“The reality of experience is ultimately a lot more interesting to me than what I think is sort of wrongly called ‘objective reality.’ Because I don’t actually think objective reality is a thing — certainly not a very interesting thing for fiction, I don’t think,” he said. Rather, he believes that the way he represents his characters on the page is the way they see themselves in their heads. “Certainly, teenagers don’t sound [like my characters] when they talk to us… But they do sound that way to themselves. And that’s what interests me. I’m not really interested in capturing how they actually sound, because that’s not their experience.”

I say AMEN. Or rather, my protagonist, Jocelyn Burgowski, says that. Even though “that’s not something a teen would say.” Jocelyn is trying, like every other teen, to figure out exactly who she is. Her voice is the voice of the self developing inside her–which we, the readers, are privileged to peek into. So who are we to demand a different voice on the page?

(Orig. photo courtesy high school-aged Brian Whittier)

I prefer to get my books from the library or in paperback from my local bookstore, so I won’t get to read Turtles All the Way Down very soon. But if you do–and I hope you do!–please listen hard, and hear what Green’s heroine Aza has to say. Then apply that listening to the teen nearest you.

Take Your Child (Or Just Yourself!) To A Bookstore Day

Okay, I added the “yourself” part, ’cause why should kids have all the fun on National Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day? This Saturday, December 5, run, walk, drive, bike, take the bus or subway or a rickshaw, but get yourself to your favorite bookstore, a REAL bookstore made of, and filled with, REAL materials of bricks and mortar and wood and paper. The only “virtual” things on the premises of these stores are the dreams their books kindle in children’s heads. And I do mean kindle, not Kindle.

Could there be a better National Day, especially in this terrible season of random violence? Books + Children = Hope. I can’t say it better than that.

Here’s the bookstore I’ll be taking myself to this Saturday, A Book For All Seasons in the sweet town of Leavenworth, WA.

Could there be a more adorable bookstore to take your child to?

Could there be a more adorable bookstore to take your child to?

Gotta admit, though, I won’t be taking a child. But I will be signing books for other people’s children! And, since I finally got sent the photo from the Chanticleer Review Awards Banquet from a couple of months ago, this seems like a legitimate place to visually brag on my book, The Flying Burgowski. Here she is, winning Best Contemporary YA Novel:

I know, the picture's me. But the prize is for my book!

I know, the picture’s me. But the prize is for my book!h

And while I’m sending shout outs to myself, here’s one for my own local bookstore, Lopez Bookshop: I love you guys!

So, everyone on board? Show some love to your local bookstore–and a child or two–this Saturday!

“Read Me a Story!” How to Spice Up Author Readings

Face it–we all love Drama. Even when we say we don’t. Period.

We also love being read aloud to. IF the reader is animated. IF the story catches our attention. IF we’re not too distracted by when’s dinner-what-time-do-I-have-to-get-up-tomorrow-wonder-how-bad-traffic-is-did-I-even-remember-to-thaw-that hamburger-oh-shoot-I-forgot-to-call-so-and-so to attend.

Notice the difference between Drama and Being Read Aloud To? There are no “ifs” in Drama. Provide it to your listeners, and…they’re yours.

(all photos courtesy Susan Breslow)

(all photos courtesy Susan Breslow)

That’s what I’ve discovered in my first year of Author Readings. Choosing a good bit of the book to read is key, of course. Providing a nice, gracious, humorous intro–also a must.

[Important tip: get someone who KNOWS you, someone who can make that intro part of the entertainment itself, like my friend and fellow writer Iris Graville:Iris

Even when I’ve checked all those boxes, though, I’ve seen some squirming in my audiences, some furtive watch-checking. But when I’ve done dramatic readings of those same bits, with fellow “actors”? RAPT attention.

Yes, it takes a little more work. You have to round up folks. Bribe them with cookies. Meet to practice. And be prepared for last-minute let-downs. In the case of this last reading, the launch party for Headwinds, my 13 year-old “actor” failed to appear, so I had to read her part as well as that of the narrator.attitude

Turns out I love reading the part of a 14 year-old. Can you tell?

Even little glitches become part of the entertainment. So you flub a line–it’s not a play! You’re not a REAL actor! You’re just an author who happens to be a person with a spirit of adventure, someone who’s reaching out to your audience in ways they can appreciate.

Moral of the story: read, by all means! But when you can, bring others along. Bring your story to life.

And then, when they line up to buy your book–they’re not just doing it out of obligation. They LIKE you–they really LIKE you.


Has anyone else had experience with dramatized author readings, or readings that were made somehow extraordinary? Please share!