Survey Analysis: How Far Is Too Far? How Much Is Too Much?

YA-bobby-socks-puppy-lovetIn my post from last month, “How Far Is Too Far? How Much Is Too Much?” I talked about how authors of young adult books are including more profanity, sexual situations, drug use, and other controversial content in their novels. I was really curious to find out in greater detail what readers of all ages thought about various difficult topics. Leveraging Google Forms and Sheets, I created a survey to find out.

The survey was both a success and a failure. On the plus side, I got almost 200 responses, which was more than I expected. On the negative side, only six of those responses were from actual young adults. The rest were from grownups (18 and older) who read young adult literature.

I promised to provide an analysis of the results, so here they are. Please note that I’m not claiming statistical significance here. I’m not a stats person, though I do consider myself something of an Excel ninja. Though it’s interesting, I would caution against reading too much into the data I present below. When in doubt, write the book you want to write.

Respondents

From sharing my results with various groups, I managed to get a total of 195 responses. The demographic section of the survey tells us a little about the people who completed it.

Age

As I mentioned above, the overwhelming majority of people who responded to the survey were adults. The breakdown by age category is here:

Age Category

Respondents

Percent

12 – 14 years old

1

0.5%

15 – 17 years old

5

2.6%

18 – 29 years old

28

14.4%

30 – 39 years old

94

48.2%

40+ years old

67

34.4%

Gender

The overwhelming majority (86%) of respondents were female. Here’s the full breakdown:

Gender

Respondents

Percent

Female

167

85.6%

Male

27

13.8%

Something else, or I prefer not to answer

1

0.5%

Last year, I was at a writing conference, attending a panel about writing young adult fiction. During the Q&A, a woman stood up and asked the question: “What can be done about the perception that YA is dominated by females?” I actually laughed out loud when I heard this. All four panelists were women. Maybe 80% of the audience were female. This isn’t a “perception” … it’s a reality.

Location

Survey respondents came from 27 US states, plus some international locations. However, because of my circle of friends (and also because of the groups where I went to solicit responses), the vast majority of the responses (54%) came from people who live in Utah.

Here’s the breakdown of how many responses came from each location;

Alabama (1), Alaska (1), Arizona (14), California (7), Colorado (4), Hawaii (4), Idaho (11), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Louisiana (1), Maryland (1), Michigan (3), Minnesota (1), Nevada (5), New Mexico (1), New York (2), North Carolina (1), Ohio (1), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (4), South Carolina (1), Tennessee (2), Texas (8), Utah (105), Virginia (2), Washington (5), Wyoming (1), Other or International (5)

Average number of books read per month

I thought it would be interesting to know whether the respondents were voracious or more casual readers. Because of this, the survey asked how many books, on average, each of the respondents read.

Books per Month

Respondents

Percent

less than 1

17

8.7%

1 or 2

50

25.6%

3 or 4

64

32.8%

five or more

64

32.8%

Percentage of books read in the young adult genre

Finally, I asked what percentage of books each of the respondents read in the young adult genre.

Books in the YA Genre

Respondents

Percent

less than 25%

33

76.9%

25 to 50%

79

40.5%

51 to 75%

45

23.1%

75% or more

38

19.5%

Methodology

Using the word “methodology” automatically makes things more scientific, right? Well, probably not, but I did have a method to my madness. For every topic or subject matter in the main section of the survey, I asked respondents to rate their comfort level using the following rating scale:

  1. Very uncomfortable. I actively avoid books like this, and won’t read them at all.
  2. Uncomfortable. I have a low tolerance for books like this, and sometimes stop reading if I encounter the topic.
  3. Moderately comfortable. I don’t seek out books like this, but I don’t avoid them if the story is good.
  4. Comfortable. I don’t mind reading books like this, and often enjoy them.
  5. Very comfortable. I enjoy reading books like this, sometimes seeking them out specifically.

To analyze the responses, I considered a 1 or 2 to be negative (discomfort) and a 4 or 5 to be positive (comfort). The 3 responses were neutral, so I ignored them for the purposes of analysis. Using this methodology, I created Pro/Con comparison for each item, and then compared them as percentages.

As an example, the first question asked the respondents’ comfort levels with “Bible” curse words like “damn” and “hell.” (I actually asterisked them on the survey so nobody could complain about being exposed to profanity). In the results, I got 60 5s, 63 4s, 61 3s, 8 2s and 3 1s. (Yes, three people indicated they were “Very uncomfortable” with encountering the words “damn” and “hell” in a YA novel. Go figure.) Adding the 4s and 5s and the 1s and 2s together, I got a Pro score of 123 and a Con score of 11, or 91.8% Pro and 8.2% Con. Make sense?

So let’s look at the individual sections and scores. To reduce clutter, I’ll provide just the Pro and Con tallies and percentages for each item. However, you’ll find a link to a PDF with the full scoring at the bottom of this post.

Language

I grouped the questions about language into three categories: “Bible” curse words, scatalogical and “body part” curse words, and F-bombs (which my teenaged son calls the “Elder Swear”). The results didn’t really surprise me:

Language

Pro %

Con %

Stories with characters who use “Bible” curse words (d**n, h**l)

91.8%

8.2%

Stories with characters who use scatalogical or “body part” curse words (s**t, a**, d**k, c**k, c**t, p***y)

30.5%

69.5%

Stories with characters who drop F-bombs (f**k)

23.2%

76.8%

On one of the groups where I posted this survey, a group member took me to task for grouping words like “shit” and “ass” in with the body part swear words. The names for female body parts, she claimed, were used more for sexual power games than for curse words. I can see her point (to a point), but I was just trying to do a survey, not make a statement about gender politics.

Sexual Content

As far as I can tell, one thing that distinguishes young adult from middle grade fiction is the introduction of sexual situations. (Sometimes, when meeting other writers, I like to joke that I write “middle-grade erotica.” It’s just fun to see the looks on their faces as they try to parse that.) As in all of the categories, I ordered the items based on what I expected the relative comfort/discomfort levels to be.

Sexual Content

Pro %

Con %

Stories with lots of sexual content but no actual sex between teens

42.9%

57.1%

Stories that talk frankly about pornography and masturbation

12.8%

87.2%

Stories depicting hetero sex between teens

19.9%

80.1%

Stories depicting sex between teens and adults

7.8%

92.2%

Stories depicting taboo sex involving teens (incest, BDSM, etc.)

5.5%

94.5%

One aspect of the results surprised me: overall, the respondents were slightly more comfortable reading stories about actual sex than about pornography and masturbation. I don’t know why, but I was really taken aback to see that readers found simulated, solitary sex more disturbing than the real thing.

The last question in this section is interesting in the sense that it doesn’t seem that the “Fifty Shades of Gray” phenomenon has trickled down to the YA reader. E.L. James’ books pushed BDSM into the mainstream to a certain degree, but that’s not happening for adult readers of YA fiction.

LGBTQ+ Content

Like it or not, young adult fiction tends to be heteronormative in the sense that it assumes that most boys like girls and most girls like boys. (It reflects the real world in this way.) Since I personally know a number of readers who intentionally steer clear of books with gay and lesbian protagonists, I figured it made sense to ask these questions separately.

LGBTQ+ Content

Pro %

Con %

Stories with major LGBTQ+ characters, in which the characters’ orientation is incidental to the plot

57.7%

42.3%

Stories with major LGBTQ+ characters, in which the characters’ orientation is crucial to the plot (including “coming out” stories)

39.9%

60.1%

Stories with minor LGBTQ+ characters

73.8%

26.2%

Stories depicting sex between LGBTQ+ teens

13.0%

87.0%

Stories depicting sex between LGBTQ+ teens and adults

5.9%

94.1%

YA readers seem to be more accepting of LGBTQ main characters if their sexuality isn’t directly tied to the plot. The big difference in comfort levels between the first and second items above kind of surprised me. Minor gay and lesbian characters (I was careful not to use the word “token”) seem to be more acceptable to more readers.

Substance Abuse

I remember being shocked, as a young teenager, reading about teenagers drinking and smoking in The Outsiders. I was probably 13 when I discovered that book, and nobody in my sheltered circle of friends did any of that stuff. My kids had a very different experience. In my kids’ school, vaping and seems to have replaced smoking as the default bad-habit-du-jour.

And remember: The Outsiders was published in 1967. Teens have always smoked and boozed and used drugs.

Substance Abuse

Pro %

Con %

Stories depicting teenagers smoking or vaping

64.2%

35.8%

Stories depicting recreational drug use by teens

38.0%

62.0%

Stories depicting alcohol use by teens

50.4%

49.6%

Stories depicting the abuse of prescription drugs by teens

42.1%

57.9%

Stories depicting the sale or purchase of illicit drugs by teens

36.8%

63.2%

I actually expected the Pro scores here to be a little higher. It’s possible that the older audience skewed the numbers here to the Con side.

Mental Illness

There has been a huge effort over the past several decades to destigmatize mental illness. In the past several years, I’ve read YA books with protagonists who have Tourette syndrome, with severe depression, and even sociopathy. Readers seem to see mental illnesses as just another obstacle for characters to overcome.

Mental Illness

Pro %

Con %

Stories focusing on protagonists dealing with mental illnesses

95.1%

4.9%

Stories that prominently feature self-harm (cutting and other self-injury)

52.5%

47.5%

Stories focusing on protagonists who have eating disorders

85.5%

14.5%

Stories depicting characters with suicidal thoughts or who attempt suicide

68.1%

31.9%

The one surprise here is the balanced Pro/Con score for self-harm. From what I can tell, in the United states, around 6-10 percent of teenagers intentionally hurt themselves, with “cutting” being the most common activity of this type. At the same time, less than 3 percent of of teens struggle with eating disorders. With self-harm being two or even three times more common than eating disorders among U.S. teens, you’d think it would be a topic more people would be comfortable reading about. Not so, apparently. That self-harm is significantly less acceptable to readers than suicide should be an eye-opening fact.

Abuse and Violence

I’m not certain I got the questions in this category “right.” Violence is a staple of growing up—kids beat up on each other all the time. I tried to think of the types of abusive situations that might cause someone to put a book down.

Abuse and Violence

Pro %

Con %

Stories depicting sexual abuse involving teens or children

17.9%

82.1%

Stories depicting sexual assault involving teens or children

19.5%

80.5%

Stories depicting domestic violence

43.1%

56.9%

Stories depicting other kinds of violent situations

68.1%

31.9%

Interestingly, the Pro/Con rating for sexual assault is within half a point of the rating for hetero teenaged sex (see above). And the readers I polled are more comfortable reading about sexual assault than about consensual sex between LGBTQ teens. That last question is kind of a catch-all, and doesn’t really say much about anything.

Social Issues

Speaking of catch-alls, this last category was exactly that.

Social Issues

Pro %

Con %

Stories involving bullying (real-world or cyber)

92.2%

7.8%

Stories involving racism, racial discrimination or racial inequality

89.3%

10.7%

Stories involving sexism, sexual discrimination or sexual inequality

83.2%

16.8%

Stories in which teens talk about or get an abortion

46.6%

53.4%

Stories involving firearms

88.5%

11.5%

Stories with heavy political content

67.8%

32.2%

The bullying question was a gimme. Bullying is so pervasive in all aspects of teenagerhood that I would defy anyone to come up with a single YA novel that didn’t feature bullying of some kind.

I wasn’t surprised by the Pro/Con ratings on the “ism” questions. I was pretty surprised that my respondents were more comfortable reading about teenagers with guns than they were about teenagers getting abortions. (But then, I had a very Utah-heavy population that responded.) The question about politics was also interesting. I wasn’t expecting a two-thirds Pro rating on that one, though I’m not sure whether I expected it to be higher or lower.

 

Conclusion

Again, since this turned out to be essentially a poll of adults, I’m not sure how much we can extrapolate regarding teen readers. It’s worth pointing out, though, that adult readers of YA fiction are often the “gatekeepers” who buy the books, put them on library shelves, assign them for classes, and so on. So grownup attitudes about young adult fiction are still worth considering.

You can download a more detailed analysis of numbers below. Enjoy!

YA Fiction – How Edgy Is Too Edgy?

____________________________________

David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

How Far Is Too Far? How Much Is Too Much?

YA-bobby-socks-puppy-lovet

I didn’t actually set out to answer those questions. But over the past several months, they’ve been on my mind. A lot.

Let’s back up. My teenaged daughter is a voracious reader. She always seems to discover and read the “hot topic” books months before I even hear about them. She’d read all John Green’s books before I even got a whiff of The Fault in Our Stars, and she read Thirteen Reasons Why way before Netflix even thought about vandalizing the book as a miniseries.

In the run-up to my NaNoWriMo project last year, I decided I wanted to write the kind of YA book my daughter likes to read: edgy, real, and touching on the scarier areas of high school life. I settled on a revenge novel, one that used multiple points of view. Then she and I sat down and brainstormed about the horrible things high schoolers do to each other.

Some of the ideas we came up with together were pretty dark. But I was drawn to the characters they suggested, and I thought they made for a great story. I’m revising now, struggling with my beginning, but I’m still happy with the way the book is shaping up.

To help me get in the right frame of mind for this book, I’ve been reading extensively in the “edgy YA” category. Here are a few of the books I’ve devoured in the past few months:

  • Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Deals with suicide, bullying, violence, alcohol and drug use, rape and voyeurism.
  • King Dork, by Frank Portman. A comedy dealing with sex, drugs and (of course) rock ‘n’ roll—plus bullying, alcohol and assault with a deadly tuba.
  • Hate List, by Jennifer Brown. The main character is the survivor (and unwitting participant) of school shooting rampage. Also touches on bullying, violence, alcohol and drug use, sexual issues.
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews. A very funny, profoundly weird story about terminal illness, bullying, racial issues, drug use and gangs. Contains copius F-bombs.
  • Looking for Alaska, by John Green. This multiple award-winning book deals with sex, smoking, death, more sex, and alcohol and drug use, with enough profanity to earn it a hard R from the MPAA.
  • The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner. Abuse and poverty, some surprising violence (domestic and otherwise), lots of language and bullying and mentions of kiddie porn mixed in. So far, my favorite book of 2017.
  • Castration Celebration, by Jake Wizner. Billed as “High School Musical—rated R,” this book revolves around sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, alcohol, suicide, and depression. And it’s a comedy!

Now, I live and write in southern Utah, so I work in a bubble. Though this isn’t an absolute, readers here tend to gravitate more toward sci-fi and fantasy, focus on “clean romance,” and stay away from heavy realism. The bubble is thick and isolating—so much so that, when I began introducing my current project to my writing group, one of the members asked, “Do books like this actually sell?”

Publishers don’t release sales numbers, but if we look at Thirteen Reasons Why on Amazon, we see the book has 29 separate formats and editions, including seven hardcover, nine paperback, two digital and four audiobook. There’s also the popular miniseries on Netflix. What this says to me is that Jay Asher probably doesn’t have to feel around under his couch cushions for gas money. Similarly, Looking for Alaska is available in 55 different formats and editions. Millions of copies of both books have been sold.

Obviously, books for teens with lots of “adult” material can be incredibly popular and make bucketfuls of money for their authors and publishers. But I’m still curious to know: how far is too far, and how much is too much? Are there specific topics that readers just don’t want to encounter in young adult novels?

I can’t answer that question. In fact, it’s a question I’m asking TTOF readers. I’ve put together a survey for you to fill out:

Take_Survey_button

Copy-and-paste link:
https://goo.gl/forms/AyEmZ23eLdXptYMt2

You’ll be asked about various thematic elements and  your level of comfort with them. I encourage you to respond to the survey, and to ask your friends to do so as well. I’ll summarize the results in a future column.


David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

What is Hip?

Listen up, all you hepcats and cool kittens, you daddy-o’s and hot mammas, you radical dudes and bodacious babes, it’s time to get down with your bad selves and get totally tubular as we talk about slang! So, grab your bae and make sure you’ve got enough vo-de-oh-do to stay on fleek, because this groovy post is about to go off the hook, yo!

[crickets chirp]

[a tumbleweed rolls past]

Okay, that was pretty lame. But it does bring to mind a conversation I saw recently on social media. A friend, who is in the midst of writing a contemporary YA story, was asking others for words and phrases that were common among teenagers. The answers were wide and varied, and very few agreed with each other, even as many people offered words culled directly from their own teens’ lexicons.

The conversation got me thinking about the need writers feel to keep the language in their stories as hip and relevant as possible. Writers are always striving for that air of authenticity that says “I know what’s going on in the world today, and I am attuned to the things my potential audience likes.” In short, using current slang terms and pop culture references is a way for a writer to prove that they themselves are still current.

whatis-hip

In 1980, when I was but a wee lad of seven with tousled hair and cheek of tan, the book of choice for everyone in my school was Judy Blume’s Superfudge. I mean, everybody was reading it. And, being set in a then-contemporary setting, the book featured pop culture references of the era, including The Amazing Kreskin, a TV mentalist popular in the late 1970’s, and the first Christopher Reeve Superman film. In 2003, Judy Blume went back and “updated” Superfudge and many of her other books from the 70’s and 80’s by inserting more current pop culture references. Thus, kids today will read about how Peter Hatcher listens to music on an mp3 player, and wants an Xbox for Christmas.

While Judy Blume certainly has the right to do what she wants with the books she’s written, I disagree with her decision. To me, the “updated” versions of her books feel grossly anachronistic, and the new additions stick out like sore thumbs, much like the “updated” versions of the original Star Wars trilogy that George Lucas just couldn’t seem to stop tinkering with. They smack of insecurity in one’s own work, that it cannot stand on its own without constant retooling. Furthermore, I see such actions as evidence of a fundamental distrust in the intelligence of modern readers, who the author seems to see as incapable of understanding or relating to anything not set in the current day. And it begs the question in Blume’s case: what will happen in another thirty years when Xboxes and mp3 players are out of date?

This is why I believe authors shouldn’t get too hung up on wanting their contemporary fiction to be hyper realistic. Getting the details right is commendable and good, but those details will change over time, just as authors themselves change over time. It’s a sobering fact of life that nearly everyone grows up to be less cool than they were as a teenager or young adult. As Grandpa Abe Simpson said: “I used to be ‘with it,’ but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now, what I’m ‘with’ isn’t ‘it,’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me!” Or, as the 1970’s era funk band Tower Of Power suggested, “what’s hip today might become passé.” (And yes, I fully recognize the irony of citing 20 and 40-year-old pop culture references to make my case here). The slang terms and pop culture references you so painstakingly researched and included in your story will, in fact, feel outdated at some point, and probably sooner rather than later. That’s the nature of living in a linear timeline.

This is all especially true when it comes to the language of teenagers. Let’s face it: we don’t allow teenagers to do very much in this world on their own. They can’t do cool things like drink, smoke, vote, or rent a car like sophisticated adults do. The only thing left for them to control themselves is their language, which they do. For as long as teenagers have been around, there’s been a new word or phrase that only the younger generation is using. And when adults try to learn to speak this language, they almost always end up looking silly. You want to instantly lose some credibility? Tell your teenagers—without a shred of irony—that they’re “on fleek” in front of their friends. You’ll get reactions ranging from stunned shock to outright horror. Adults are often the killers of cool in the teenage world.

What does this mean for your writing, then? If you’re writing a contemporary YA novel set in the current year, how much attention should you really give to the popular slang terms and pop culture references of the day? One solution may be to treat them with a sense of irony, as if the characters themselves are in on the joke. Another solution may be to ignore actual pop culture trends and invent your own. Thus, instead of teenage girls getting all gooey eyed over One Direction or Taylor Swift (they’re still things, right?), maybe the teen girls in your story have their own pop stars to fawn over. Maybe the kids in your story are saying “sparking” when things are going great, much like how Kaylee uses “shiny” in Firefly.

All a writer—or any artist, for that matter—can really do is to show what it is like to be alive in a certain part of the world at a certain time in history. It’s why, when rereading Stephen King’s The Langoliers recently, I didn’t get worried that one of the characters said “totally tubular!” The story was written in the late 1980’s, and such an expression was commonplace. It sounds silly to modern ears, but I wouldn’t want King to go back and change it. In the same vein, while I’ve never lived in 19th century London, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the worlds of Oliver Twist or Ebenezer Scrooge. I wasn’t alive during the greaser era of The Outsiders, but it doesn’t mean that I need S.E. Hinton to change them into the Bloods and Crips. And I certainly don’t expect the ghost of William Shakespeare to appear and magically change Hamlet’s “get thee to a nunnery!” to “I’m swiping left on you, Ophelia!”

Great stories can and will be able to stand on their own throughout all time. Indeed, the greatest stories have done just that, even those stories that may not have been totes on point with all the tight fleek and lit references of the day, dawg!

(I think I injured myself just now).

_____________________________

Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

Thinking in Threes: Louise Gornall

Welcome to our special feature Thinking in Threes, where we ask an author, agent, or editor three questions and they respond with three answers to each. Today I’m thrilled to be interviewing my friend and author Louise Gornall.

Louise is a graduate of Garstang Community Academy. She’s studying for a BA (Hons) in English language and literature with special emphasis on creative writing. Her debut YA contemporary novel, UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES, will be released by HMH/Clarion (2017) And Chicken House UK. A YA aficionado, Brit girl, film nerd, junk food enthusiast and rumored pink Power Ranger, Louise likes to spend her free time hanging out with her twin sister, and adding to her extensive collection of book boyfriends.

Where are the top 3 places you love to write?

1. I love to write in bed on my phone.

2. I love to write inside my head when I’m in the shower.

3. I love love love to write outside, on my laptop, when I’m in the Lake District.

Oh, that looks lovely. Thanks for sharing this, Louise!

What were your top 3 “ah-has!” when writing your latest book? (And please tell us a little bit about the book for our readers!)

Hmmmm… to only pick three 😉 There were many, but my favourites are:

1. Realising I actually had something with this story. Norah, my MC, is agoraphobic, suffering with OCD and anxiety, and when I first started writing UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES, I was convinced it would come to nothing because Norah’s world seemed way too small for there to be a solid story… turns out, I was very wrong.

2. Figuring out how to make *this one thing* happen when at first it seemed impossible — I so badly want to tell you more about this, but I can’t… all I’ll say is, it involved dragging Norah right out of her comfort zone.

3. Figuring out how I was going to end this sucker without compromising Norah’s character. Breathing life into Norah was, at times, soul destroying. She’s complicated, never clean cut, and I was determined to maintain that until the very last line which was tricky because at the same time I wanted to satisfy the reader.

Photo by J.E. Photography (Lancaster)

What are the top 3 best pieces of advice you ever received as a writer?

1. Read all your stuff out loud. I cannot even begin to tell you how much this helped straighten out my writing.

2. Read. READ ALL THE BOOKS! When I’m stuck, I always take some time and read for pleasure. It really helps to get the juices moving again.

3. Don’t write to trends, write what you want. I’ve been burnt by writing to trends twice now (paranormal romance/Dystopian). I didn’t even know what Rose was going to end up as when I started writing it. Turns out, I hit a trend when I wasn’t trying to.

Thank you for being on our blog, Louise! We cannot wait to read UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES! ❤

_____________________________________

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.

Helen’s Five Favorites from 2014

This entire week we’ve been highlighting our five favorite reads from 2014 in the genre that each of us write. In case you want to visit/revisit any of the previous posts, here’s the breakdown:

Today: My Five Favorites (Young Adult Fantasy and New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Some of my book picks were published this year, some earlier, but I’ve enjoyed reading each and every one of these in 2014! At the end of this post, I also have a special excerpt to share from one of my favorite romance reads.

Aurora Sky (Vampire Hunter #1) by Nikki Jefford
(Upper Young Adult Fantasy)

If there is one thing eighteen-year-old Aurora Sky wants, it’s to get off the iceberg she calls home. Being kissed before she graduates wouldn’t hurt either.

Then a near-fatal car wreck changes everything. Government agents step in and save Aurora’s life in exchange for her services as a vampire hunter. In Alaska. Basically she’s a glorified chew toy. All thanks to her rare blood type, which sends a vampire into temporary paralysis right before she has to finish the job… by hand.

Now Aurora’s only friends are groupies of the undead and the only boy she can think about may very well be a vampire.

This is a great read for anyone who enjoys upper YA paranormal. The main character is a heroine who’s forced to make the transition from a typical high school teenager to a vampire hunter. I loved how Nikki Jefford captured both Aurora’s paranormal challenges as well as her typical high school struggles. Compelling story with great humor, awesome action, and super cast of characters! Loved it.

Awaken (Awakened Fate #1) by Skye Malone
(Young Adult Fantasy)

Running away from home was never Chloe Kowalski’s plan. Neither was ending up the target of killers, or having her body change in unusual ways. She only wanted a vacation, someplace far from her crazy parents and their irrational fear of water. She only wanted to do somethingnormal for once, and maybe get to know her best friend’s hot stepbrother a bit better at the same time.

But the first day she goes out on the ocean, strange things start to happen. Dangerous things that should be impossible. Things to which ‘normal’ doesn’t even begin to apply.

Now madmen are hunting her. A mysterious guy with glowing blue eyes is following her. And her best friend’s stepbrother seems to be hiding secrets all his own.

It was supposed to be a vacation. It’s turning out to be a whole lot more.

This was a fun YA read! Skye Malone spun a creative story revolving around mermaids and other mythical creatures, and I loved the lore connected to the various characters. The story had plenty of action and Malone kept the intrigue factor high as she unfurled secrets and threw in unexpected twists. It does end on a semi-cliffhanger, but the other books in the Awakened Fate series are already available. I already bought book two and can’t wait to hop into it!

Her (Him #2) by Carey Heywood
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

You know her side of the story, now learn his.

“It was useless. I felt branded beneath my skin by a girl who left without even saying goodbye.”

When Will Price was assigned a partner for a sixth grade class project he had no idea she would become his best friend. After years of friendship, she eventually became so much more. Then, one day she left with no explanation. 

Will’s life shattered right before his eyes and he was left alone to pick up the pieces. Floundering, Will must figure out a way to carry on, to find a way to exist without her. 

Seven years later, a chance encounter leaves him desperate to get her back. He has one week to make her his again. Not everyone gets a second chance with the love of their life and Will is determined to never lose her again.

 If you like friends-to-lovers stories, this book is for you! Her is Will Price’s side of the story and is based off Carey Heywood’s NYT Bestseller Him, which tells the story from Sarah Miller’s point of view. I actually read this one first because I enjoy reading stories told from male points-of-view, and I adored it. Carey Heywood did such a great job portraying Will’s emotions, angst, and inner turmoil as he tries to win back his old friend and love.


Charade (Games #1) by Nyrae Dawn
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Nineteen-year-old Cheyenne tries to portray the perfect life to mask the memories of her past. Walking in on her boyfriend with another woman her freshman year in college threatens that picture of perfection.

Twenty-one-year-old Colt never wanted college and never expected to amount to anything, but when his mom’s dying wish is for him to get his degree, he has no choice but to pretend it’s what he wants too.

Cheyenne needs a fake boyfriend to get back at her ex and Colt needs cash to take care of his mom, so they strike a deal that helps them both. But what if Cheyenne’s past isn’t what she thought? Soon they’re trading one charade for another—losing themselves in each other to forget about their pain. The more they play their game, the more it becomes the only thing they have that feels real.

Both Cheyenne and Colt know life is never easy, but neither of them expect the tragedy that threatens to end their charade and rip them apart forever.

Nyrae Dawn has such an amazing gift for writing authentic characters with real issues. For me, the emotional development of characters in new adult stories are key, and I loved being part of Colt and Cheyenne’s journeys as their relationship progressed and became something meaningful. The books in this series may be read as standalones, and I read this one after buying a signed copy from Nyrae at an author event *cue fangirl scream.* Without providing any spoilers, you might want to include a box of tissues if you give this one as a gift.

The Untamed Series by Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Rich, beautiful, and wild, Reagan McKinley has everything she needs…but nothing that she wants. That is, until she spends one hot night in the arms of sexy, unbridled Dare Wilde.

She’s a girl trapped in a rigid world she desperately wants to escape, and he’s an untamed artist with an attitude, hell-bent on freeing her–body, mind, and soul. But Reagan’s life is not her own, and Dare is not welcome in it. She can’t include him in her carefully-controlled, extremely public lifestyle…and yet she cannot give him up.

Will a shared passion for art–and, increasingly, each other–be enough to keep them together? Or will it be the thing that ultimately tears them apart?

The epic saga is just one click away…

Available for the first time: all 5 books in the Untamed Series collected into this special omnibus edition–a $13 value, over 1,000 pages long! Get ALL of Dare Wilde–wrapped up in a big, red bow–just in time for the holidays.

Reagan McKinley is a damaged soul in the guise of a woman who has everything, and her journey with artist Dare Wilde is emotional and action-packed. This isn’t just a story about finding your true love, but it’s also about finding courage and inner strength to stand alone. I loved each of these novellas and am looking forward to reading more from these authors!

I’m also happy to be able to share a short excerpt from the authors Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green, two very lovely and FUN women that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know this past year.

EXCERPT

The light of early morning sunshine woke me. Or maybe it was the heat of Dare’s gaze. I felt it on me before I even opened my eyes. It was a weird sensation—both familiar and unnerving. Slowly lifting my eyelids, I found him sitting on an armchair off to the side of the bed, watching me sleep. 

No, not watching. Drawing. 

Eyebrows knitted together and lips pursed in deep concentration, his gaze flitted from me to the sketchpad propped on his bent knee. His hand moved across the surface and the only sound in the apartment was that of pencil on paper. Up and down and side to side, with long, sweeping strokes. 

It sounded beautiful. And almost made me forget where I was.

In bed.

Naked.

After a night of mac and cheese and Dare.

What are your favorite reads from this past year? Comment below!

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. 

Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.