Master Mondays, Week Twelve: The YA Novel Class Recap

Master Mondays, Week Twelve: The YA Novel Class Recap

Figure 1. Sometimes you just have to stand around being casually Irish and shirtless, I guess. This has nothing to do with anything.

Figure 1. Sometimes you just have to stand around being casually Irish and shirtless, I guess. This has nothing to do with anything.


TL;DR Version

Tacos, advice, manuscript review, Andrew Karre.

Unabridged Version

If you’ve ever wondered about taking a Loft class and weren’t sure about whether it would be a good time, let me just give you reason #476 to take the plunge and register for something in the 2015 catalog:


For our final class, Piyali suggested we have tacos and then the whole group set about bringing various ingredients to share, including Coronas with lime and Jarritos Mexican sodas, and DESSERT (yesss) and it was beautiful and fun and wonderful, because who doesn’t want to discuss writing while eating tacos? Nobody, that’s who.


I started out with a little advice. I HATE ADVICE. But I had to get over it because one must provide closure on the final session of class.

1. Post-Manuscript Review Grief Period. I suggested that it is natural to hear feedback about your writing and then want to shove it in a drawer and leave it there while you curl up like a pillbug and not do anything about it because it all seems insurmountable. I think this is normal. Let the feedback sink in until it starts to make sense to you; lots of changes all at once take a bit to absorb. But give yourself a limit to this period and make a goal after that about when and how to finish your first draft.

2. Writing groups and conferences. First, critique groups are great, but you can also form accountability/goals groups that don’t do manuscript review or beta reading and just focus on keeping members on task for their efforts. This might be helpful for you if you’re in the query stage, which can be very demoralizing and easy to avoid and procrastinate about. I also mentioned looking into memberships at SCBWI, the Loft’s Children’s and YA Lit Festival (May 1-3, 2015) and then Piyali reminded me about the Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference  on February 21st as well.

3. Fanmail. I suggest that sending fanmail to authors who write books you love is a good way to become a part of the literary community, as well as establish good will among humanity. I don’t know that fanmail has obvious results involved, but that it’s just a good thing to do, especially if a book has influenced and inspired how you’ll proceed with your own writing.

Manuscript Review

Beth and Brandon had their manuscripts reviewed! Woo!



Figure 2. Yes, even my swaggy Highlander is all set: I AM READY FOR EDITOR Q&A

Figure 2. Yes, even my swaggy Highlander in his flowy man-blouse agrees: I AM READY FOR EDITOR Q&A


Editor Q&A with Andrew Karre

Andrew is editorial director at Carolrhoda LAB, Carolrhoda Books, Darby Creek & Graphic Universe, and as of January 12, executive editor at Dutton Children’s Books. He joined us for butterbeer and a Q&A. 

I should also give his style notes, because such things are important to me:

– navy wool sweater (shawl collar, right?)
– khakis that I think are best described by the adjective “butternut”
– Red Wing boots (were they Heritage? I am not sure. You really cannot go wrong with Red Wing footwear, afaik)
– navy peacoat (in actual NAVY BLUE; we’ve had arguments about whether pea coats can be black, so trust me on this)

Mr. Karre has a very nice high-and-tight haircut and zero facial hair. This is because he follows my rules, I can only assume. Yes? Yes.

Here are some non-verbatim highlights:

Re: Jellicoe Road & Jonah Griggs. Karre reports not being swoony over Griggs but being amazed at Marchetta’s ability to create a character like Griggs and make him so well-rounded and heroic, even when he does horrible things.

Re: “fearless revision” – I asked, “what in the hell do you even mean by that?”

Karre: being willing to “break your book” by going under the hood and rummaging around; being willing to deviate from or discard entirely the scenes and bits you’ve come to love blindly.

Re: unlikeable characters

Karre: tends to dismiss most reviews that cite “unlikeability” as a problem with the book; in YA, you will find more readers who are upset about “unlikeable characters” or characters who do anything “unpleasant” because of notions that we must serve up warm soporific pabulum to teenagers to ease the peevish hormonal tumult that rules their psyches.

Re: where is YA going to go in the future?

Karre: there’s been a full-cycle from all the YA subgenres, back to now, with a recurrence of contemporary realism; basically, we’ve tried all of it, and all of it works, and fails, to a certain degree. YA is a genre in ascendancy now, whereas, in the long arc of publishing, anything for children or teenagers was relegated to editorial backwaters (read: female editors) while keeping the “real” stuff for men. The divisions of publishing that produced books for kids and teenagers used to be labeled “juvenile” and were written off until they started making real money.

To answer the question even less directly: where YA is going is in itself a question that will become less and less important to people as time goes on.

Re: what are you looking for in a manuscript?

Karre: is looking to be surprised: “I like first chapters that are sparse in information and dense in intrigue.”

Also: skills. Authors who can write body language – be “adverbial without using adverbs.” Adolescents are always body conscious, whether they like their bodies or not; characters should not feel like “talking heads with no bodies.”

Also: “A mess that has something in it.” [<—-WHATEVER THAT MEANS! – Carrie]

Re: what’s the best book you’ve read lately?

– non-YA: the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn (nothing like YA, in their style)
Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman
– currently reading Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer and enjoying it a lot

Re: what do you think about writing adult characters in YA stories?

Karre: writing compelling adults in YA is a sign of real talent; so often parents function as “convenient levers” to move the teenaged character one way or another

A couple of examples of well-done adult characters:

Loa’s father in Blythe Woolston’s The Freak Observer
James’ grandmother and mother in Peter Cameron’s Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful To You


Figure 3. Saddle up & get cracking, yall.

Figure 3. You’ve got great stories in you. So, saddle up & get cracking, yall.


Conclusion (Warning: Sappy)

A 12-week class is no small thing. Especially for adults with busy lives and lots of obligations. The fact that these people dedicated their time (3 hours every week!) to writing and reading and discussing fiction, in this world that likes to piss on dreams and crowd out inner aspirations is a marvel. I’m glad they gave me this experience. Even more glad they gave themselves the gift of time when it comes to their own writing. My hope is that they’ll continue to do so.





  • Ed Anton on Dec 16, 2014 Reply

    2 things.

    1. Jellicoe Road was a tad overwritten, a little to melodramatic, but I did like some of the dialogue.

    2. Why all the “poor womans Playgirl pinups”?

  • Sarah Ahiers on Dec 16, 2014 Reply

    Piyali was in your class? I know her from another loft class. She’s awesome.

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