Writer Wednesday: YA Writers Can Learn from “Easy A”

I loved the movie Easy A, not only because it was hysterical, but also because there is a lot YA writers can learn from this movie.  A lot, in fact, that many writers can learn from it.

Here is a flick where they pull from an old classic (The Scarlet Letter), and toy with all sorts of clichés, all while creating something entirely new and fresh. And if there’s something the world of YA needs, it’s new and fresh.

This post kinda ties into my Agent Monday post on originality. From the writer’s point of view, I’m always trying to think original. It’s tough. There’s a ton of stuff that’s been done and overdone.

In the world of contemporary YA, that includes stuff like high school with its hot jocks, snotty cheerleaders, cafeteria tables divided up by cliques, gossip and reputations ruined, distant parents, dead parents, crazy parents, loss of virginity, finding your self-worth, the ditzy best friend, the sweet nerdy guy who comes to your rescue in the end. Etc. etc. etc. (as Yul Brenner would have said).

So what do you do? Ignore it all? For me, it was important to have bits of these elements thread into my novels but to approach the subject of a teen coming into their own in a unique way, in a world that I made real.  In What I Meant… that meant that the Indian-American family dynamic added its own humor, pathos and heart and that it wasn’t the daughter’s virginity that was in question, but the history of an adult’s… In Over My Head, it meant that the snotty girl was a threat, but also was complex. And that a college aged guy brought into question what was mature, what was real love, and when did we truly grow up. In Drawn, it meant pitting a normal teen existence against a backdrop of abnormal and even psychic occurrences, and having my heroine find meaning in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.

So what’s Easy A got to do with it?  Here’s a movie that acknowledges every cliché “in the book” and makes fun of it, even runs with it.  It starts off with the heroine talking about her sad existence and then saying, “Blah, blah, blah. So original.” And you know you are in for some fun. Lots of familiar stuff. You’ve got rumors (that she’s a slut sleeping with all the guys in the school). You’ve got mean girls (the snotty super religious chick who is out to “save” her, but really just wants to take her down). You’ve got the gay student who is being bullied. You’ve got the nerdy guy who helps her save the day in end (Lobster Todd – who wears a stuffed lobster on his head in his restaurant job, and sings the longest birthday song EVER, with lots of hep-hep-heps in it). There are references to cheesy 80’s flicks…and a dance number is included. But it all works.

They even make fun of product placement in movies.  For some bizarre reason, a Quiznos restaurant mascot is in the midst of the zealot anti-slut mob amid all the hateful posters being waved. He yells, “Eat at Quiznos!” Our heroine says with disgust, “Not now, Quiznos Man.” And he shouts back, “You’re a slut!”

Okay, can I just say that every time I walk by a Quiznos, I now mutter, “You’re a slut!”?

See, the heroine isn’t really sleeping with anyone, she just gets roped into lying about it.  First she jokingly says she did to appease her ditzy best friend. Then the mean girl overhears and spreads the word. Our heroine is labeled as a slut and starts being treated differently (she’s reading The Scarlet Letter in English, BTW).  So, what the heck, she starts dressing the part. She’s mad. Then she gets roped in to lying about having sex with a gay friend to protect him from homophobes who have been hassling him, and before you know it, it’s open shop. Every tortured nerd is appealing to her kindness to help their sad images through lying.

It’s poignant. And it’s hysterical too. And the religious group creates a lynch mob, and it all spins out of control… Here’s a flick that uses every cliché, makes fun of them, and also gives us a fresh look too.  At how girls are viewed. At how that overweight kid really feels. At how being kind to someone can actually hurt yourself.

And I appreciate how some clichés are avoided, and how some characters can run deep. Her parents are kooky and original and funny, but they are there and they are supportive and they love our heroine. They don’t pry too deeply, and they tell her, “you’re going to be just fine.” In YA lit, that’s something you don’t see enough of.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we writers need to know our genre clichés. We need to know how avoid clichés, how to spin them, and even how to make fun of them. It’s about keeping it fresh.

Hep hep hep!

Advertisements

Reinvent Yourself

How many times in your life do you get to reinvent yourself? To leave behind your past and become the person you really want to be?

For some of us, it can happen when we move to a new place or switch schools. Sometimes it’s a goal we set for ourselves, like by the end of this summer you’d like to eat healthier, spend more time with those you love, learn a new skill, be happier. For writers, sometimes we want to create a novel with an entirely different voice, or in a new genre…like I did when I wrote my newest novel Drawn, a paranormal about an artist who channels a hot ghost with a sketchy past.  Pretty different from my earlier contemporary YA novels What I Meant… and Over My Head.  Writing aside, when it comes to do overs in your own life, maybe you simply decide that this is the moment when you will make a BIG change. To alter the course of your future. Yet sometimes that seems impossible. Sometimes your past gets in the way.

In Drawn, Michelle longs to escape her past and have a fresh start. As she says in this early scene from the book:

The two of us have only been in England for a few days, yet I’m already convinced it’s the best place in the universe. Not because of the quaint little shops or everyone’s adorable English accent, or even because of this supposedly grand castle on the edge of town. No. This place is perfect because here no one knows that back in New Jersey my family, the De Freccio’s, are called the De Freak-o’s.

Back in New Jersey, Michelle’s mother was an eccentric psychic who suddenly up and left the family without a trace. And her brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic. And Michelle had been friendless, an outcast. But in England, she hopes for a new life. A normal one.

Honestly, while writing Drawn I could really identify with Michelle’s do over moment. In elementary school a bunch of snotty girls used to push me around during recess, and it crushed my spirit.  So in middle school, where lots of new kids filled the classrooms, it looked like a clear do-over moment to me.

But reputations tend to cling to a person, so it was pretty rocky for me at first.  Those nasty kids still were in my school, even though their power was now diluted. Still I was too self-conscious and too worried about what I said and wore and how people looked at me.

Now looking back I can see the real problem wasn’t those girls, it was what I carried inside myself: the loser image I wanted to ditch, but that on some level I’d bought into.  What if they were right about me?

In the novel, Michelle may have left her past behind, but her insecurities have come along for the ride:

I get that familiar hot burn of humiliation. I always felt it whenever someone back in New Jersey would pull a trick on me, convincing me that I really was invited to a party, or that science class was actually meeting out near the woods on the edge of school grounds. I discovered I was an easy mark. Too trusting, too eager for friends.

I’d promised myself that those days were over. But here, an ocean away from New Jersey, it’s starting all over again. It’s like I’ve got a permanent “KICK ME” note stuck on my back.

Luckily for me, by the end of middle school I did have friends. I was liked. I remember wondering, why? It mystified me. Wasn’t I the same person who was so looked down on earlier?

In the novel, when things start looking up for Michelle, it mystifies her too:

I sigh, realizing I’ve disappointed my friends. I blink a few times, as this all sinks in. I’ve just turned down an “in” with the popular kids. And I actually have friends. It seems that by simply moving to a new place, I’ve somehow climbed out of my social wasteland. I think of all the high school kids in the world who are teased and shunned. They should all have the chance to move and start over—kind of like a witness protection program, but for outcasts.

Actually, I believe there is a sort of relocation program for anyone who needs it. And you don’t need an airline ticket to England to get there. It’s not a place, but a state of mind deep within ourselves. Michelle started to have friends not because she moved but because she had already begun to change inside. To trust others and have more faith in herself. She truly wasn’t that same person anymore.  And that’s what happened to me, too, in a way.  I’d started to genuinely feel good about myself and to open up to people more and that made all the difference.

Of course nothing is simple, and real change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and DING! Everything is all butterflies and happy songs.  It takes time to gain inner strength and for those better choices in what you do and who you hang out with to all gel and reshape your days into the life you truly want.  For me, it was a process of feeling better about myself and discovering what was most important to me. It did take time, but by the end of high school I felt like really strong, really happy.

In the book, not all Michelle’s new friends are good ones. And her life is NOT easy, especially after the appearance of Christopher who is either a delusion or a ghost.  This definitely spells trouble for a girl trying very hard to blend in. And it forces her to wonder about who she really wants to be. And what she should truly believe in.

She comes to learn she can’t control how others feel, only how she feels. And in the end she must choose whether or not to believe in Christopher, a spirit who may or may not be a murderer. Who may or may not love her back. His life, their love, and Michelle’s hope all hang in the balance.

Michelle does a lot of incredibly brave things in the book, but to me, she is most courageous when she owns up to this:

Maybe I am a fool. Maybe Christopher doesn’t love me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in love with him…

It’s a huge risk, trusting that this is enough. And it propels Michelle into a life threatening struggle where she puts everything on the line. But in the end, trusting her own feelings opens Michelle up to true friendship and to true love.

Taking risks and believing in yourself.  It’s the bravest thing you can ever do, and what do overs are all about. So believe!

DRAWN is a “Top Picks” Novel!

Happy spring, everyone!  Flowers are bursting out everywhere (and weeds too), and nothing beats being able to take a walk AFTER dinner and have it still be light out.  Love this.

SO busy here, what with all the writing, and visiting conferences, plus doing literary agent stuff like reading queries, pitching books to editors, etc.  All is SO exciting, but most exciting are some of the recent reviews I’ve been getting for my novels.  Before too much time sweeps by too quickly, I wanted to take a moment to share them with you all…

I’m seriously thrilled that my new paranormal novel DRAWN has been selected as a Night Owl Top Pick!  The reviewer said such amazing things, things I only thought my parents would say (if you know what I mean).  The review raved, “This is a thoroughly enchanting novel. The characters are beautifully written, and the story is witty, charming, and an utter delight to read. I could not put it down. This is a fantastic romantic and tender story that will continue to enchant readers for years to come.”  Okay, I admit I’m blushing a little… For the complete review, you can go here.

Nearly all reviews for DRAWN have been positive, which is so gratifying.  When you spend over 2 years writing a book, hearing readers say it was all worth it means more than I can say.  I was pretty disappointed to receive an only 3 star review, therefore, from Romantic Times Magazine this past week.  Blah. Why am I sharing this with you? Because I think it’s important for folks to know that writer’s lives have ups and downs and that it’s okay. We understand that one book isn’t for everyone.  Still, it does sting a little when it feels like you’ve gotten the reviewer who doesn’t “get” what you’re doing.  And when you’ve paid big bucks (well, big bucks for me) to have an ad in that magazine when the review pops up. Double blah.  Still (I note with a raise of an eyebrow), that review site also allows for readers to post their own review of DRAWN right there on the page.  So if you could add your own perspective on that site by visiting here, it would mean a ton.

For that matter, if you enjoyed DRAWN, you can really make a huge difference in supporting this title by simply posting your review of it on its Goodreads page here, or adding your review on its Amazon page here (did you know that DRAWN is currently ranked #87 in its category? Huzzah!) or on its Barnes and Noble page here.  Even clicking “like” on the Amazon page and agreeing with the book’s tags helps other possible book buyers to see it. (Don’t ask me how it does…it’s all very mysterious.)  You can do this sort of thing for any book you fall in love with, and truly help that author.  (Why do I feel like saying “Clap if you believe in fairies”?  Not sure!) My heartfelt thanks to anyone who goes the extra mile.  You are an author’s rock star!

Okay, back to the positive stuff now…  Also just a few days ago, I got this phenomenal review for DRAWN from Clean Romance Reviews: “The characters are all wonderful, filling in two worlds with real people and making you feel like you’re there. The main romance is heartrendingly sweet and will curl your toes.”  

There.  I’m feeling better now.

By mentioning this review, I’m jumping the gun a little here, since the review won’t officially post until 3/28, but consider this a heads up, and check out this great romance review site in the meantime!  After the site reviewer contacted me with the contents of the review, she wanted to know if I’d run a giveaway on her site…my response? HECK YEAH!  There will be a DRAWN giveaway on Clean Romance Reviews which will run April 19-27th, so check back there for a chance to win.

And to wrap this up on another cheery note… My other novel, the contemporary YA Over My Head, has some great news of its own.  This book recently cracked the top 10 in its category on Amazon twice in the past few weeks!  I’m over the moon about this (or, perhaps, over my head?).  And it may have something to do with a really insightful review posted by highly respected book blogger Stephanie Su.  On her site StephSuReads, she says: “The YA world very clearly needs more books like OVER MY HEAD, where the main character is of mixed race, culture is an important part of the story, but the story itself is not about accepting one’s culture or battling people’s ignorance of your culturally different family…Marie Lamba gets numerous kudos for portraying the Jumnal family in such an empathic and rich way…younger readers will most likely find a bit of themselves, their frustrations and their desires, in Sang, and cheer this promising young lady on.”  She’s a discerning reader and a serious critic, and I appreciate her thoughtful comments and perspective about Over My Head.  To see the full review, and add your own thoughts to the conversation, you can go here.

That’s it for now on the book front.  Now get outside everyone and enjoy the flowers, deeply inhale that springtime air, and get some sunshine on your face!

Happy reads,

Marie

OVER MY HEAD’s Latest Review!

I just got back home from a four-day visit to Florida for a family wedding, feeling a little tired and a bit overfed, when I opened an email that really perked me up…

Seems that Australian book blogger Agrippina Legit has just posted a review of my YA novel Over My Head. As with any review posting, I found myself holding my breath when I first gave it a read. But I quickly found myself grinning!

The review starts with this:

“Although Over My Head is really a sequel to Marie Lamba’s What I Meant (Random House), it reads perfectly as a stand alone novel… It’s an entertaining contemporary YA offering, which has a generally light tone but nonetheless manages to deal with some very big issues in a particularly sensitive manner.”

And the blogger’s review ends with this:

Over My Head is a strong contemporary offering, with an interesting, multi-layered plot and a likeable cast of characters. Marie Lamba deals with cultural conflicts with warmth and sympathy, while accurately representing young love, with all its accompanying mistakes and embarrassments. A solid read.”

So great!

If you want to read her complete in-depth review, you can visit the book blog review by clicking here.

Hope you’ll check out this review, share it with others, and, of course, check out Over My Head.

Happy reading,
Marie