Tag Archives: young adult

Isabella sails into gold at the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President's Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay continues to generate enthusiasm and accolades as 2016 moves into its final months. Earlier, Isabella and her crew fought their way to recognition as a Category Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Tortuga Bay has also made it into the final rounds of the Royal Palm Literary Awards (final results will be released in October). Now, her crew earned gold medals in two categories of the President’s Award competition hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Both awards came in Young Adult (YA) categories. This first category was Young Adult Fiction, a broad category that would have her compete among many other books and subgenres. The second category was in YA Romance, Coming of Age, and New Adult.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Tortuga Bay (and the Pirate of Panther Bay series) are showing a broad appeal. While all the results are not in, the story has made it into the RPLA finals under Published Fiction—Mainstream/Literary. That means the novel is competing against a wide range of novels, in and outside the young adult category. In addition, Tortuga Bay made it into the RPLA semi-finals in the categories of YA historical fiction, women’s fiction, and YA romance.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

FAPA’s awards have a lot of integrity. Unlike some other competitions, FAPA does not feel obligated to hand out awards to books based on the number of submissions in a category. Each book is judged and evaluated numerically based on a rubric. In order to become a finalist, the book has to meet a minimum numerical threshold from the judges. Specific thresholds are also necessary to qualify as bronze, silver or gold. Some categories, in fact, didn’t have any medalists. Other categories didn’t have any gold medals awarded, and others didn’t have bronze or silver medal awards. So, winners have confidence that their award was based on an absolute measure of quality (although scores are still subjective) that are compared equally across other submissions.

Thus, we are particularly proud to have earned these gold medals.

To buy Tortuga Bay, check out amazon.com or SYP Publishing.

For more on the series and how it can be used in the classroom, check out my website: http://www.srstaley.com/pirate-of-panther-bay.html

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Will Tracy Lawson’s novels become this generation’s Ayn Rand substitute?

By SR Staley

Resist, the second novel in Tracy Lawson’s Resistance Series, picks up right where Counteract leaves off: Heroine Careen Catecher and love interest Tommy Bailey are on the run after the murder of the director of the national Office of Civilian Safety and Defense (OCSD). The OCSD is a federal umbrella agency that has subsumed major bureaucracies such as the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, and presumably even the Centers for Disease Control. Careen and Tommy have discovered the director of this super agency and his cronies are plotting to use terrorism as a cover to drug the general population under the pretense of inoculating them against biological warfare.LawsonResist,1

Set in the near future (15 years from current day), the Resistance Series explores the loss of freedom that can creep up on individuals and society through incremental changes that seem small but loom large over time. As Lawson says: “In the Resistance Series, there has been no rebellion, no cataclysmic event. The dystopian world in which they live has been created by fear, engineered by an enemy masquerading as a protector.” The premise is scary enough, and remarkably rooted in modern events and policies, as the controversy surrounding Edward Snowden and leaked classified information on domestic and international spying remind us.

The setting and premise could easily lend itself to an adult thriller by Michael Crichton, but Lawson’s series is firmly rooted in the young adult/new adult genre. The action is faster, and the story carries a syncopated beat that lends itself to the pace of a YA trilogy, not unlike the Hunger Games. In fact, like Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne, the protagonists are older teens who are simply trying to get on with their everyday lives. Rather than the post-apocalyptic setting of Panem, in which the vast majority of the population lives in servitude to the Capitol, Lawson’s protagonists are recent high-school graduates focused on the normal current-day activities of enrolling in college and participating in sports. Only an unanticipated series of small events leads them to discover the sinister plot to turn the nation into a mass of compliant citizens under the thumbs of politically powerful bureaucrats. In this way, Lawson’s series is very much grounded in another characteristic of the YA genre: everyday young adults forced to make significant life decisions without the luxury of experience or preparation. Not surprisingly, both Counteract and Resist tend to be plot- and setting-driven stories although the characters have an opportunity to flesh out in important ways in the second book.

Lawson,CounteractMy review of Counteract compared Lawson’s novel to 1984, George Orwell’s classic dystopian story the coined the term Big Brother and wrestled with government over reach, the tyranny of collectivism, and the implications for freedom. About halfway through Resist, I couldn’t stop thinking about the novels of Ayn Rand, especially her 1937 novella Anthem. In Anthem, Rand tells the story of a Equality 7-2521, a person who lives in a community in which individuality has been purged from the formal institutions of society. A Council of Vocations assigns jobs to people based on what they determine is their Life Mandate. The story follows Equality’s evolution into an individual as he discovers his natural inquisitiveness and intelligence leads him to innovate and produce. Through unregulated exploration, he discovers the word “I” and finds freedom.

Resist, fortunately, is not nearly as abstract as Anthem, making it much more suitable for YA audiences. It’s relentless focus on personal freedom and the right to live independently of the government is strong and tightly woven into the plot, and the action keeps the reader engaged. More importantly, however, as the characters develop, we see in Resist the makings of a trilogy that provokes readers in ways that more popular genre fiction doesn’t. Katniss Everdeen, for example, remains remarkably apolitical through the trilogy despite bearing witness to extraordinary oppression.AnthemBookCover

Lawson has the refreshing courage to push her characters to act and take responsibility for their actions. They don’t just bear witness. They recognize and accept the responsibilities that come with the knowledge they gain. And they act. Thus, unlike other YA fare, the Resistance Series admirably challenges its readers to ask themselves “What would you do?” and explores the implications of acting on those decisions.

For those looking for an engaging, YA adventure/thriller with strong pro-personal liberty themes, the Resistance Series should have a highly visible place in their book case or on their e-reader.

 

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The unrocognized depth of the Divergent Triology

By Claire W. Staley

Popular books often become the target of criticism simply because they are popular. The dystopian, young adult novel Divergent by Veronica Roth seems to have fallen into this camp. Now that Roth’s books have become popular movies, earning more than $300 million worldwide, they seem to be the subject of even more criticism: Some say it’s just a story about a boy and girl who fall in love while they fight an oppressive regime. Some say it is too violent.

However, before denouncing Divergent and shoving it aside, perhaps it is more important than previously believed. This young adult novel taught me many things about life, and understanding this might change a society that looks down upon YA fiction novels. Here are just a few of my “takeaways” from these novels:

  1. Tris and Four, the lead characters, are equals. They support, love, and challenge each other in equal measures and they stand side-by-side. There is no love triangle (though I have nothing against these if done properly), and their relationship problems come from within themselves. This gives this particular book diversity from many other books.
  2. The enemy is constantly moving from one person to the next, from one group to the next, and from the good guys to the bad guys. Everyone is up for game and no one is completely innocent. Everything expands and retracts, gets larger and smaller, until you have no idea who is the actual problem and who is the solution. It challenges your critical thinking and frustrates you to no end- helping you realize that nothing in life is secure. Things and people change, and people aren’t always who you want them to be.
  3. Both Tris and Four are incredibly strong and real. They are role models because they make the hard decisions. They make the choices they must, and they learn how to deal with that and move on. They learn for to forgive-each other and themselves. And sometimes they have to put aside their personal ethics to do what has to be done. And it never gets easier. They do not get used to killing others. They understand and accept that they must make choices with no good outcome. When they are allowed to make choices that protect their hearts, they do. That makes them strong.
  4. People can change. And anyone can influence one to do so in positive or negative ways. Once you believe that no one can change, that no one can make different choices than those they made in the past, hope is lost, as is compassion. Love and understanding thread through the characters, even between enemies, and that makes a difference.
  5. People in power do not always make the right choices, and it’s okay to forgive them for making mistakes, but they are not always virtuous. They do not always make the right choices for the right reasons. They can be bad. They can be good. And the people are stronger than the government for a reason. Because the people are mostly good, and they thus are expected to uphold that. Everyone has an honor to themselves and to the people they live with. That honor must be upheld or chaos reigns.

Perhaps Divergent is really an educational novel, capable of teaching readers about, love, life, and people, and perhaps it is not just another book to read for fun. Divergent, like many YA books published these days, can be much more than light entertainment if readers give them the space to fulfill those aspirations.

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Modern fiction for the modern classroom: Round 1

By Claire W. Staley

In an earlier post, I discussed why today’s students have a distaste for reading and why incorporating more modern fiction into the classroom would be a tremendous step forward in promoting reading among teens. Today’s post includes a few of my suggestions for modern books that can be used in the classroom. Perhaps, if more teachers took into account these next books, kids and teenagers would have a new outlook on books.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Even teenagers who hate reading are reading this book. The Fault in Our Stars is a story about overcoming the vastness of the universe, finding your place in an unpredictable and unfair world, and finding happiness for those around you despite the horrible things that happen in the world. It’s modern, edgy, clever, and filled to the brim with enough symbolism and discussion points to keep teachers happy for weeks, if not entire semester. Plus, it’s well written, thoughtful, and has a good story with likable characters.

Positive role models: Hazel Grace, Gus, Hazel’s parents, Gus’s parents, Isaac, and etc…

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A brilliant work of literature that delves into the worst parts of humanity with hope, inspiration, and intelligence. Unlike The Road, which is also post-apocalyptic and shows the worst of humanity, this story has hope in it. Collins, despite the horrific lives these people lead, infuses her words with a chance at a better future. She writes to illuminate and change, while creating compelling characters we can root for.

Positive role models: Peeta, Finnick, Rue, Prim, and Katniss (though I’m not convinced her literary job is to be a role model)

  1. Divergent by Veronica Roth. Tris, the main character, taught me to be strong, courageous, to make a change, to believe in oneself, and to never give up. She battles rivals close to her and far above her, the entire time with kindness, compassion, and a clever head that is capable of making tough choices as well as loving her family and friends. I aspire to have some of her strength and her ability to adapt quickly and positively.

Positive role models: Tris, Four, most of the Dauntless initiates minus Peter, Uriah, and etc…

 

Next post? Round 2 in my suggestions for incorporating modern fiction into the classroom!

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The case for modern teen & YA fiction in school classrooms

by Claire W. Staley

Some people tell me that they wish they read as much as I do, but they either don’t have the time, or they don’t enjoy it. The way teenagers or college students see reading confounds me, especially when their faces are like most children’s when they are told to eat vegetables. Most students look at reading as a requirement for class, and most don’t even read those books. And yet, they want to read.

My friends believe they should read, and even have a desire to do so, but they haven’t had an experience with reading that makes them act upon this.

To enjoy reading, teenagers think they must enjoy all types of books, or, even worse, that they must enjoy the classic literature they are force fed from eighth grade onward. If students are not getting good books at home, the only experience with literature comes from school. I’m sorry to say that A Christmas Carol—or any other book by Charles Dickens for that matter—has done nothing to inspire me to pick up books and read them. And it has not inspired anyone else I know, either. If teachers honestly expect students to be avid readers after reading Shakespeare I think they are quite mistaken. I am not saying to this cut Shakespeare (or Dickens) out of the curriculum (I, for one, adore Shakespeare), but perhaps infusing it with modern YA books would create a new generation of readers.

Harry Potter got me started on books in fourth grade. The books taught me about the values of kindness, courage, intelligence, wit, reflection, loss, love, fortitude, standing up for my beliefs, and the power of a single individual. This is only a fraction of what I could say about Harry Potter, but there are a multitude of books that students love and are usable in the classroom. Divergent, Eragon, Artemis Foul, anything by Tamora Pierce, The Hunger Games, and countless others have created powerful role models that changed my life. When I have a problem I look to them. I look to Hermione, I look to Tris, I look to Peeta, I look to Percy Jackson, and I look to Hazel Grace. They always provide me with answers and support. They have never let me down, and I wonder why these characters aren’t a part of my education experience at school.

To pretend that John Green (The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) is just teen fiction and has no basis in a classroom because his books are not “old” or about certain subjects is to deny every student and what they love. It reinforces the idea that there are good books to read and bad books to read, and that only one kind has value. Once teenagers find books with relevance to their lives and are well written, then they will read.

My next blog post will explore this concept even more as I discuss different books that I recommend for classrooms.

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Lessons in Writing Styles: Cussler vs. Clancy vs. Staley

One of the great benefits of Beta Readers–those brave souls willing to read drafts of your work before presenting it to the world or a publisher–is their insight into your writing style. Sometimes we resist these comparisons–as happened in this case–but they often yield a useful perspective that helps us define our own style and gives us a marketing angle as well.

This came home to me recently while my Tallahassee-based critique group was reading an early draft of St. Nic, Inc., my fourth novel released in August 2014.  After reading the opening chapters, critique group member and aspiring novelist Emily Timm said “Your book reads like a Clive Cussler novel.” After a few chuckles from the other members, she added, “and I mean that in a good way.”

Now, at this point, I was a bit embarrassed. I had never read a Clive Cussler novel, although I knew he had sold a lot of books. In fact, he’s sold millions, and his books have been on the New York Times best seller list twenty times. But this information was really useless to me as a writer, and I didn’t know how to process it. I wasn’t sure if this really was a good comparison.

Then, another reader (but not a critique group member), Mark McNees, said St. Nic, Inc. “artfully combines the action of a Tom Clancy novel with the insightful social commentary and multiple levels of experience as George Orwell’s Animal Farm.” Two more great cites. The contrast in writing styles between these now deceased writers was potentially significant: Orwell wrote in a class literary tradition while Clancy wrote action-adventure-technology thrillers. 

While I am very familiar with Orwell’s work, I wasn’t well versed in Tom Clancy’s, except for watching a few movies based on his novels. Tom Clancy was a genre buster and one of the few writers to have their inaugural novel (The Hunt for Red October) shoot to best seller status.  Still, I understood the genre pretty well, and I was curious how my writing style compares to Clancy’s.

The only way to find out was to read their books. What I found was quite revealing.

Of course, my writing style is different–neither Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, or George Orwell. In part, this is the result of my focus on writing for young adults and middle school readers for the first three novels. St. Nic, Inc. is written for the general fiction market although it is accessible to young adults. These readers want fast plots, plenty of action, and a gripping story. The rule is the less description, the better. In this way, Clive Cussler’s style, although he is geared toward adult markets, is well suited to my approach.

But I also included layered characters with arcs that peak at different times based on the trajectory of the main plot and subplots. Thus, my stories aren’t as straightforward as Cussler’s, and my characters experience significant life changing events that influence how they view the world. Like Clancy, I strive to make my fiction authentic. The Pirate of Panther Bay attempts to stay true to the real world of pirates and the historical context in which the characters live. The Path of the Warrior series attempts to ensure the martial arts self-defense skills are authentic and realistic, set within the context of middle-school bullying and violence. These values permeate the stories and books.

So, where does St. Nic, Inc. fall? Of course, it’s a little bit of each. I admire the lean writing style of Clive Cussler even if it won’t earn him accolades from the literary elite. (Of course, readers love it.) While I would like a little more flourish when reading Cussler’s novels, the action and pace keep me engaged, and I’m not sidetracked by subplots or thinly disguised attempts to be classic fiction. The characters and stories are straightforward, and that suits his fans (and publisher). These are very easy reads, the epitome of escape literature. I like Clancy’s commitment to keep the adventure-thriller grounded in reality and the characters more layered and complex. This also has turned out to be a highly successful strategy, and it probably reflects his own personality as a writer. While still escapist in its approach, Clancy’s novels require a bit more patience and enjoyment of the journey.

Based on the comments I’ve received from readers, St. Nic, Inc. seems to reflect a happy evolution of my writing style, one that embraces a lean writing style with layered stories. I am pleased to embrace comparisons to all three highly successful (for different reasons) literary giants. I’m not sure I would have made these connections, and become more confident in my own writing style, if hadn’t been for the prodding and candid observations of my beta readers, friends and critique group.

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New Novel, “Counteract,” Asks What We Would Do to Preserve Our Freedom

My friend Tracy Lawson is launching her newest dystopian thriller, Counteract, the first of a series, on Wednesday, August 6th, and we’ve got a sneak peek! Tracy’s book is a fast-paced adventure examining how we might act in a world in which terrorism has defined every element of our relationship with the government.

CounteractBookCover

With the population under tight restrictionssupervised by the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense, the government uses the threat of bio terror via chemical weapons to keep us under their control via an “antidote.” Would you have the courage to resist? Is it too late to recapture our freedom?

Win chances to win in her special giveaways by leaving a comment on this blog post or clicking here!

Here’s the press release:

Ripped from the headlines…The year is 2034, and the United States as we know it is no more. In thefuture, the concept of “Big Brother is always watching” has taken on new meaning.

NSA drone flyovers and government surveillance of citizens’ emails and phone conversations are the least of anyone’s worries. With the rampant threat of terrorism a constant presence, the government has had to take extreme measures to ensure the public’s safety.
The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense (OCSD) has been enacted as an offensive against terrorist attacks. And make no mistake, attack is imminent. Citizens in 2034 now live in carefully monitored quadrants, with regulations governing food distribution, driving, entertainment, and much more. For college student Careen Catecher, and recovering accident victim, Tommy Bailey, life is far from carefree and easy.
Anyone who loves a good dystopian thriller will find a new favorite in Counteract. Lawson joins the ranks of authors like Aldous Huxley, and his Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, as she questions whether the government should be allowed to usurp personal freedoms under the guise of doing
what’s best for the people.
Readers will find themselves eagerly turning the pages as Careen and Tommy uncover the enemy in their own backyard and discover just how far they are willing to go to fight for a freer way of life.

 

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Tracy Lawson launches new book

On Tuesday, August 5th, novelist Tracy Lawson launches her new novel Counteract. Check out this blog for an interview with Tracy about her writing process and the importance of her new novel.

TracyLawson

 

As prelude, here’s a quick bio:

Tracy Lawson knew she wanted to be a writer from the time she could read. While working toward her Bachelor’s degree in Communication at Ohio University, she studied creative writing with Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon. After short stints as a media buyer and an investigative analyst, she settled into a 20-year career in the performing arts, teaching tap in Columbus, Ohio, and choreographing musicals. Though her creative energies were focused on dance, she never lost her desire to write, and has two non-fiction books to her credit: Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More, winner of the 2012 Ohio Professional Writers Association’s Best Non-fiction History Award (McDonald & Woodward), and Given Moments (Fathers Press). Tracy’s love for writing new adult fiction is sparked by all wonderful teens in her life, including her daughter Keri, a college freshman. Counteract is Tracy’s first novel.

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