Monday, September 8, 2014

Roadmap to a YA Contemporary Novel

As some of you already know, I've recently put aside my otherworldly fetish to explore my abilities in the contemporary arena. And I've had a bit of progress. 

In brief: the real world YA tale I'm developing finally has its bare bones. I have my female and male leads, their backgrounds and current struggles - some of which touch upon the serious topics of a physically debilitating disease, depression, and self-inflicted abuse such as anorexia and drug use. Of course, it all revolves around young love, learning to trust, and the gift of believing in one's own worth. The more I develop these ideas, the more I see value in this story being told. There's still plenty of details to figure out, and I'll keep you informed on my progress.

With the above in mind, please help me welcome Young Adult Author Julie Musil! She's here to share her wisdom on writing YA contemporary literature. She writes from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Find her: Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Website | Goodreads/The Summer of Crossing Lines | Goodreads/Julie Musil | Pinterest.

Her YA novel The Boy Who Loved Fire was released earlier this year. And her latest was released a few days ago. Congratulations to Julie! 
Title: The Summer of Crossing Lines
Author: Julie Musil
Release date: August 19, 2014
Category: Young Adult (YA)
Genre: Contemporary Mystery

Description: When her protective older brother disappears, sixteen-year-old Melody loses control of her orderly life. Her stuttering flares up, her parents are shrouded in a grief-induced fog, and she clings to the last shreds of her confidence. 

The only lead to her brother’s disappearance is a 30-second call from his cell phone to Rex, the leader of a crime ring. Frustrated by a slow investigation with too many obstacles, and desperate to mend her broken family, Melody crosses the line from wallflower to amateur spy. She infiltrates Rex’s group and is partnered with Drew, a handsome pickpocket whose kindness doesn’t fit her perception of a criminal. He doesn’t need to steal her heart—she hands it to him.

With each law Melody breaks, details of her brother’s secret life emerge until she’s on the cusp of finding him. But at what point does truth justify the crime? 


Roadmap to a Contemporary YA Novel
by Julie Musil

With the success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, there’s been a lot of talk about contemporary novels being “in.” But contemporary novels have never been out. They’ve quietly lurked in the background all along. Contemporary is my favorite genre, so naturally that’s what I gravitated toward as a writer.

How do writers capture a contemporary story? Here’s my process.

•   Pluck ideas from the news. For my recent release, The Summer of Crossing Lines, the original story seed came to me while watching the news. A high speed car chase was happening on our Los Angeles freeways. No surprise there. But what did surprise me was that a teen guy and girl ended up sprawled out face down on the freeway. Guns and ammunition were found in the truck. My writer brain kicked into high gear. Who were these teens? How did they end up face down on the freeway? Why were they carrying guns and ammo? A scene was born.

•   Connect current issues to teens’ concerns. Thankfully, I have three teen sons in the house which helps with character development. But even if I didn’t, I’d rely on my own teen experiences to capture teen worries. Sure, times have changed and some of my former worries are antiquated. But some teen issues remain the same--the need to fit in, self esteem, insecurities, friendships, fractured families, etc. If we put ourselves back in that time, back when we had pimples, a fresh driver’s license, and curves in new places, we can capture what today’s teens are going through and create a meaningful theme.

•   Create characters who will struggle most within the plot. I usually come up with plot ideas first, then work to create characters who will struggle the most within that plot. In The Summer of Crossing Lines, the main character Melody searches for her missing brother and infiltrates a theft ring. Who would be out of place in that situation? A lot of people. But Melody stutters and she’s insecure. Instant conflict.

•   Beware of “dating” your material. Technology changes faster than we can update our iPhones. In my opinion, it’s best to keep these references vague or give them new names. Instead of saying “Facebook,” come up with your own name. Sarah Dessen calls a similar site UME.com in her novel, Lock and Key. Who knows how long before Facebook goes the way of MySpace? In my recent release, I simply used the phrase “wall page.”

Books about real characters living in the real world and tackling real issues make compelling stories that current teens can relate to. Do you write contemporary novels? How does your process compare? Any tips you’d like to add?

Thank you for joining us, Julie! 
 photo Sheri2.png

36 comments:

  1. I don't write contemporary and don't have a clue how to. I've been wondering about it lately. So thanks for the road map. I really needed it and it's very timely. Congrats to Julie!

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  2. I wrote a contemporary YA/NA series and since I don't have children, I had to rely on the memories of what I felt and went through. While times have changed, the feelings of angst and finding one's place are universal.

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    1. Perfect stated and so very true! The world might keep spinning and changing, but as human beings our basic needs have always remained the same. Everyone wants to be loved and heard and cared about.

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  3. Sheri, thanks so much for having me! I wish you much luck on your contemporary. I'm sure it'll be wonderful.

    Natalie, it's amazing how we usually write what we like to read. I rarely read fantasy or paranormal, so I wouldn't have a clue as to how to write in that genre.

    L. Diane, you're so right about those universal feelings that remain the same. Sure, the world is totally different than when we were teens, but those angsty feelings do NOT change. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. You had me at a "handsome pickpocket" !!!

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    1. Ha! Catherine, that's so funny. I tell ya, I know these characters do bad things sometimes, but it sure was fun to write. No teens--or grown ups--are perfect, right?

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  5. I have one idea for a contemporary YA novel, which my daughters keep encouraging me to write. And recently, when I pitched several ideas at a non-writing couple who (unwisely) asked what I was writing next, this was the one they were most interested in.

    The big problem -- I'm not that interested in it, and I don't think it's original or market-worthy.

    How do I convince MYSELF that it's worth trying?

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    1. Yeah, that's the problem with it. It's precisely the reason it's taken me this long to come to this point of wanting to write it.

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    2. Dianne, seems to me you should write what you're passionate about. Don't you think?Maybe let this idea simmer on the back burner until you're totally ready.

      My last book actually had ghosts in it, but I never thought I'd write a book with ghosts. I have a feeling your contempt. idea will surge to the front when the time is right.

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  6. I love writing contemporary just as much as I love writing fantasy/paranormal.

    I really like this cover too.

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    1. Kelly, thanks for the kind words about the cover! I love that you like writing in multiple genres. I recently heard the writing advice, "If the genre you're writing in doesn't bring you success, then try another genre." Seems like that advice is tailored just for you!

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  7. I've been seeing this around. Congrats to Julie.

    Contemporary can be fun to write. I decided to add a fantasy element to a part of the story. Maybe it will work. :D

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    1. Donna, I'm glad you've been seeing it around :)

      It's funny you mention this. I recently read a Nicholas Sparks novel that included a ghost. First time I'd ever read one of his contemporary novels that included the slightest hint at paranormal. It was fun!

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  8. Congrads Julie! I love contemporary MG. I love your idea of plucking events from the news. Good one! Your book sounds fabulous. That's two books I've seen this morning that I have to buy.

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    1. Robyn, thanks for the kind words! I swear, I watch the news with a pad of paper close by. There are so many fun/dramatic/heartbreaking real life stories to draw from. Happy reading!

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  9. Congratulations, Julie! I don't think I could write contemporary. So many things to consider.

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    1. I totally understand that. It's one of the reasons I've waited so long to jump into that ring.

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    2. Alex, thank you!

      I'd say you're doing just find writing what you're writing. If it ain't broke...

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  10. I love contemporary too. The ideas from the news is a good one--especially if you see a trend of certain kinds of incidents. I know Jodi Picoult uses news trends quite often to build premises.

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    1. She does? I didn't know that, but it is totally logical. Gives you a base to start building upon.

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    2. Laurel, I loooove Jodi Picoult. Have you guys read her novel "19 Minutes?" Holy cow. That's a ripped-from-the-headlines story that involves a school shooting. I read her notes in the back, where she told how she'd interviewed many of the Columbine victims. It's an unforgettable story.

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  11. I do have YA book ideas I want to work on in the future. This definitely gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing! And congratulations to Julie!

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    1. Thanks, Chrys! It's great that you have YA book ideas all lined up. Maybe you could even combine some :) Good luck to you!

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  12. You know how much I enjoy your books, Julie. I'm looking forward to reading this one, too.

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    1. Lee, you are a super, duper, sweetheart. Thank you <3

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  13. I've heard a lot of buzz about this book and it sounds like something I'd like to read. I agree that contemporary novels have never been out. Look at the success of Sarah Dessen! What a great idea to create characters who will struggle most within the plot. I never thought of it that way. I usually start with the characters. Thanks, Julie and Sheri.

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    1. Joanne, excellent point about Sarah Dessen. I ADORE her books! Her books quietly tell compelling stories about real life situations for real life teens. She's brilliant. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  14. I love this post. Great points to ponder from the roadmap. Thanks for sharing!
    Edge of Your Seat Stories

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    1. Raquel, thanks so much! We each have our own process, but I find it helpful to "rob" techniques from other writers. There's always something I can learn from someone else :)

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  15. Congratulations, Julie! I'm going to put your book on my TBP list. :)

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    1. Sharon, thank you! I hope you enjoy the book.

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  16. Wonderful list and tips. In my past few manuscripts I'm vague with technology since it changes so fast. The news can give us ideas.

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    1. Medeia, isn't it crazy how fast things are changing? Heck, even in publishing things are changing faster than I can publish a blog post.

      I swear, the news is packed with story ideas. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction.

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  17. I'm working on a contemporary YA right now...this is so helpful for me! Thank you!

    Sarah Allen
    (writing blog)

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    1. Sarah, that's wonderful! I wish you much luck with your contemp YA!

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  18. I'm always impressed by anyone who can successfully capture an authentic, contemporary YA voice! Great interview, ladies :)

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