Patrick Ryan’s video intro to “Astronauts in Love” by Erin Somers

Erin Somers, author of our new issue, “Astronauts in Love,” in conversation with editor Patrick Ryan

Would you describe Brandon, the narrator of “Astronauts in Love,” as an optimist or a pessimist? The reason I ask is that I’m wondering if he’s able to envision a life with Claire Collins that’s better than the life his parents seem to have with each other. (He’s crushing on Claire pretty hard from beginning to end.)

I see Brandon as an optimist. The seed of this story came about when a friend told me about the Golden Voyager Record. Briefly: NASA sent a record player to space along with a recording of human voices, animal sounds, and music in hopes that alien life or future humans would find it someday and know that life on Earth existed. This seemed to me to be such a hopeful, romantic gesture, an almost emo-level romantic gesture, on NASA’s part. The idea of launching what is basically a mix tape into space even though it might never be found. They sent actual shouts into an actual void! I wanted to write a character with that kind of optimism. A character who believes he can do better than his parents, or even if he suspects that he can’t, even if he suspects that his crush on Claire Collins is doomed, he finds the guts to try anyway.

Your story just happens to be set in my hometown. Have you ever been on a school trip to the Space Center in Cape Canaveral? If so, did you find it fascinating or—as some of the teens in your story find it—lackluster? (I promise not to mind, however you answer.)

I went to the Space Center with my parents when I was very young, maybe eight or nine. I was a little bored but bravely pretended I was into it for my dad’s sake. It’s a shame, because now I follow all that stuff: the Mars Rover, the flying saucer NASA’s testing right now, that astronaut who answers questions on YouTube. I guess one’s interests evolve between the ages of eight and twenty-nine.

The teens in “Astronauts in Love” seem bent on forming their own temporary “adult” society while on this fieldtrip. They gravitate toward one another with a unified purpose—they want to behold (if not actually hold) a “Space Baby,” and they don’t seem at all desirous of adult company. Did you intend this, or did it just happen as you were writing a story about a fieldtrip?

The temporary society of teens (TSOT) was one of those things that got teased out of the story after many drafts. The more I circled the idea, the more the TSOT seemed true to me. I remember in high school abiding strongly by the code of “kids versus adults for life no take backs.”

We adults walk around so obviously damaged, hemorrhaging from our flaws really. Our vulnerabilities are often immediately apparent to young people, who are much more perceptive than they are usually given credit for. Who wouldn’t want to distance himself from such a pack of screw-ups? I still see the logic of the TSOT. Yikes, no thanks, I’ll pass. I’ll make a little world with my friends here, and you guys can continue to get divorced and drink red wine and misunderstand pop culture or whatever over there.

It goes back to optimism, to the conviction that we will do better than the people that came before us. It’s possible that we need that conviction to survive as a species. Certainly we need it to survive adolescence.

What are you working on now?

I’m putting together a collection of short stories. I’ve also just begun work on a longer thing. I’m still in the throat-clearing and knuckle-cracking stage. I’ve opened a Word document, anyway. That’s a vital first step.

What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?

I took a workshop with Christine Schutt once and she compared writing a short story to giving someone a tour of your house. You lead your reader into the house, but you don’t let her go in the sun-drenched kitchen, you don’t let her peek into the sprawling living room, you don’t let her linger in the foyer. You take her directly to the closet and show her the inside. That’s what a short story is. The inside of the closet and nothing else. I think about that all the time.

cbcdiversity:

"Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?” – Walter Dean Myers  

A very special CBC-Diversity-dedicated issue of Update, the Children’s Book Council’s monthly member newsletter, is being shared with non-members. Check it out here.

cbcdiversity:

"Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?” Walter Dean Myers  

A very special CBC-Diversity-dedicated issue of Update, the Children’s Book Council’s monthly member newsletter, is being shared with non-members. Check it out here.

(via richincolor)

ONE TEEN STORY reading at McNally Jackson

Tonight (6/26/2014) 7 PM: hear the wonderful authors Julie Buntin, Tara Altebrando, and Martin Wilson read from their stories!

Martin Wilson, author of our new issue, “It Could Never Happen Here,” in conversation with editor Patrick Ryan

Miles, the main character in “It Could Never Happen Here,” secretly writes movies in notebooks, and the movies he writes star his classmates. Does this echo your own high school experience? Did you have secret notebooks?

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I did. I had binders full of these movies—plot descriptions, casting choices, much like Miles. In fact, I think I still have them in a box at my parents’ house in Alabama.

I was a pretty solitary person in high school. I wasn’t really bullied, and I had some friends at school, but outside of school I mostly just stayed at home and did my own thing. Which is probably why I’m a writer in the first place. All that time to think up stories. But it didn’t stop at movies. I played (and still play) tennis, so back then I created an entirely fake professional tennis circuit, with hundreds of tennis players, complete with tournaments, rankings, matches, all of which I kept meticulous track of. I know that might sound crazy, but these things kept me sane and happy, I guess, and sowed the seeds for my future creative endeavors.

Miles is drawn to Kat, in part, because he was fond of Kat’s now-dead boyfriend, Jeff. Would you say the story is about a triangle, in that respect? Or do you see it more as a portrait of Miles at this time of his life?

Perhaps both, but I for sure see it as a triangle. Miles felt a connection with Jeff, and I think that’s why he reaches out to Kat. Kat becomes his connection to Jeff. I think, initially, he wants to get answers about Jeff’s last night alive, but then he realizes that really doesn’t matter. What matters is forging this connection.

If you were the school’s counselor, how would you assess Kat’s state of mind / demeanor? At times she seems like a grieving, nice girl, and at other times she comes across as someone who’s aspiring to be difficult.

As a counselor, I would probably assess her as someone in mourning, someone who just needs time to deal with her feelings. And Jeff’s death has forced her to retreat inward, because his death brought certain demands and expectations of her, in a weird way. Everyone wants to know how and why the accident happened. And everyone wants to know if she’s okay, etc. She’s a figure of fascination, and she doesn’t want to be one, so she just shuts herself off from everyone. That’s the way she deals. The same with Miles, I suppose—he elicits attention, but not the kind he wants. And he deals with the pain of isolation by creating these elaborate movies in his head. So you have these two characters who are very withdrawn and closed off who end up changing each other, for the better.

Without giving away too much, did you ever play with the idea of having Kat know more about Miles’s friendship with Jeff, or more about Miles, in general?

In an earlier draft, she knew about his friendship with Jeff. But as I revised the story, that felt false and wrong. Because I think if she’d known about it, she would have been more resistant to opening up to Miles. Also, I realized that Miles’s friendship with Jeff was his special thing that he could store away and protect from being polluted or ruined by the outside world. One of my first boyfriends was a guy who was very much in the closet. And there were frustrations and annoyances about that. But part of me loved the purity of it—we lived very much in our own little secret world when we were together, and no one on the outside could touch us. I think that’s how Miles ended up viewing his time with Jeff—as his own secret, better world.

What are you working on now?

I turned in a draft of a novel a few months ago, and I’m still waiting for notes from my editor. I know it will probably need a few more drafts. It’s very dark and writing it has been emotionally draining, but I’m excited about it. It’s different from my first novel, and I like that. I never want to write the same book twice. I’m also starting to think about the next novel. I have to think about ideas and characters and plots for months before I start writing. But this is the fun part, when you can envision this awesome idea before the reality of the hard work bursts your bubble.

What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?

I’ve gotten some great advice over the years, and here are the things I always like to pass on: One, read, read, read, as much as you can. That’s the best education. You can’t be a serious or good writer unless you read widely. And reread. Go back to the books you love. Two of my favorite writers are Alice Munro and Anne Tyler, and I’ve read some of their books over five times.

Two, write the novel (or story) that you’d want to read yourself. Otherwise, why bother? We have enough crappy books (and stories) in the world.

Finally, don’t sit down to write thinking you’re going to churn out perfect, beautiful pages and sentences. That will stifle you. Just spit it out. You’ll have plenty of chances to go back and make it better.

June 26th — ONE TEEN STORY Author Reading in NYC at McNally Jackson!

Please come out to the ONE TEEN STORY Reading at McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince St., NY NY) on Thursday, June 26th, at 7PM.  Tara Altebrando, Martin Wilson, and Julie Buntin will be reading from their stories, signing copies, signing books, doing impressions etc.  We hope you can join us!

weneeddiversebooks:

#WeNeedDiverseBooks summer reading series! If You Liked The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, try Prophecy by Ellen Oh. If you loved the sense of adventure and the intricate mythology in the Percy Jackson series, then be sure to try out Prophecy, a novel steeped in fast paced action and Korean myths.

weneeddiversebooks:

#WeNeedDiverseBooks summer reading series! If You Liked The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, try Prophecy by Ellen Oh. If you loved the sense of adventure and the intricate mythology in the Percy Jackson series, then be sure to try out Prophecy, a novel steeped in fast paced action and Korean myths.

weneeddiversebooks:

Thanks so much to YA Highway and all the voters for recognizing WNDB’s commitment to diversity!! This really means a lot to all the volunteers who work hard behind the scenes. We are honored and so appreciative of these 2 awards. And we will work hard to continue to fight the good fight!!

Claire Spaulding, author of our 2013 contest-winning story (and our latest issue), “Helen,” in conversation with editor Patrick Ryan

What was the first thing that came to you—the first thought or observation—that led to the story that became “Helen”?

I read a lot about the lack of diversity in YA literature, so I started out with a conscious desire to write a kind of story that hadn’t already been told, at least not for a YA audience. That was my first thought. Then a passage in The Great Gatsby inspired me to write a short exercise in description that turned into an important scene of “Helen,” and the rest of the story came to me all at once after that.

Was it always your intention to stick to Walker’s point of view, or did you experiment with telling the story from the points of view of both your main characters?

I did experiment with both characters’ perspectives—as I was writing, I saw each character most clearly through the other character’s eyes, so I had to put myself in Helen’s shoes for a bit to get a solid grasp on Walker. But it would be a very different story from Helen’s point of view, and while I might revisit that idea someday, this story has always belonged to Walker.

You give us the events out of chronological order. Did you ever think of telling it chronologically, or was the plan always to render it the way it is now?

I began writing the most important scenes as they came to me, but I always planned to go back and put them in order later. Then I got halfway through and realized I was already telling the story I wanted to tell. Without giving any spoilers, I think that having the story unfold non-chronologically plays with readers’ assumptions in a powerful way. As more information gets revealed, hopefully “Helen” will challenge some preconceptions and force readers to confront their own biases; that was always my goal in writing this story, and I think the unusual structure contributes to that.

One of the things I love about “Helen” is that it’s a doomed love story, and yet it’s not a story of unrequited love. It’s actually a fairly complicated dynamic you’ve created. If we were to put the events in chronological order and look at the arc of the story, was this always what was in store for these two characters? Or did you consider having things turn out differently for them?

Most books I’ve read draw a clear line between friendship and romance, but affection and attraction and love are a lot more complicated and mixed-up than that, especially for teenagers. I wanted to write “Helen” in part to celebrate a relationship that was deep and loving and important but didn’t fit easily into any boxes. The specific details of what would happen to the two characters at the end of the story came later, but I always knew how their relationship would develop.

What are you working on now?

I’m starting my third round of revisions on a novel that I’ve been working on for a little over a year. It’s a fast-paced urban fantasy, very different from “Helen” stylistically, but it explores some of the same themes of love and identity and social justice. That’s my biggest project at the moment. I also have a few more short stories that I’m working on. I’m actually most comfortable writing novel-length fiction, so I’m trying to challenge myself to write more short fiction and poetry.

What’s the best piece of advice on writing you’ve ever received?

I’ve heard this advice worded several different ways, but it boils down to this: “Write the empty spaces on your bookshelf.” It’s easy to get too focused on trying to write beautiful prose and not realize you’re writing a story that would bore you after three pages if you picked it up at the library. Instead, write the kinds of stories you would want to read. And write the stories and characters that aren’t getting written, whether that means writing more LGBTQ characters, more characters of color, or just more characters dealing with problems and emotions that feel real to you.

A Patrick Ryan Original Sketch Video: our contest winner, ‘Helen’ by Claire Spaulding