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Guest Blog by Doyce Testerman - The Joy of Writing YA: An Outsider's Perspective

Please welcome Doyce Testerman to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Hidden Things was published on on August 21, 2012.


Guest Blog by Doyce Testerman - The Joy of Writing YA: An Outsider's Perspective



The Joy of Writing YA: An Outsider's Perspective 

A few weeks ago, during an interview, someone asked me what I saw as the future of Urban Fantasy (we'd agreed, for the span of the interview, to pretend that Hidden Things was part of that genre, which is only true if you look at it from the right direction and squint a little, but that's okay).

My paraphrased response: "If it's very, very lucky, it's going to become something like YA."

This answer spun off of a conversation I've had with my wife, who knows a little bit about YA. Those types of books are a passion for her. I completely agree with this passion, but “YA” as a category of books makes me unreasonably jealous (as a writer of stuff-that-isn't-YA); it seems to me that the question of whether or not a book is YA (or middle-grade) pretty much boils down to “how old is the protagonist?” If the protag’s about the right age to fall within the target audience of such books, and the subject matter isn’t too dark, then you’re YA.

As I was saying, it bugged me, because the whole thing just kind of seemed like an excellent kind of cheating. We argued about discussed that for awhile, and the fruitful result of that conversation looked something like this.
  1. All the ‘real’ genres of fiction exist within the YA (or MG) age-grouping. 
  2. While that is true, consumers don’t see that because YA is not usually separated out by genre in bookstores or libraries in the way in which adult books are. 
  3.  (And this is a big one.) That may be one of the big reasons why YA is so popular and successful right now.
Here’s what I mean. Take a look at your local book store. Or Amazon. Or whatever. Look at those signs over the book shelves. Mystery. Suspense. Literary Fiction. History. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Romance. Travel…

… and Young Adult.

There, all by itself, with no subheadings to be seen, are all the books aimed at YA readers, lumped together. Sweet Valley High rubbing up against Twilight. Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes next to Two Minute Drill. Mockingjay halfway down the shelf from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria.

Or, possibly, genius -- a pure gift to not only readers, but writers.

See, if I’m browsing for books in the local store, I go to the genres I enjoy, right? For me, that means I go poke around in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section for awhile – fine: a couple hours, whatever – and then I’m pretty much done.

The odds that I’m going to run across an interesting biography during that time? Low. The same goes for randomly picking up, reading the cover copy on, and buying No Country for Old Men, or the latest hot suspense thriller. Not going to happen. I have a friend who is a huge Stephen King fan, but until I mentioned it last week, she had no idea he’d written an nearly autobiographical book called On Writing.

Why? It’s in another section of the store from the one she normal visits.

But over in the YA section (of the bookstore or amazon.com or whatever), the odds of that sort of thing happening — cross-genre reader pollination, if you will — are exponentially higher, simply because everything under an incredibly broad umbrella is lumped together. It's really no coincidence that some of the best fiction out there right now is in YA, because the writer’s genre shackles are gone, the reader’s expectation are wide open, and in that kind of environment anything can happen.

Let me tell you about me-as-a-young-reader: William S. Burroughs? I was there. Random “sports” novels? Sure. Catcher in the Rye? Yep. Alfred Hitchcock collections? Of course. Stephen King? Heck yeah. Trixie Belden? All 34 books in the series, throw in the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as a snack, and chase the whole thing down with The Lord of the Rings. Then The Old Man and the Sea for dessert.

Today? I pretty much stick to my genres of interest.

Why? Well, mostly because I don’t see the other stuff.

But the YA readers see stuff from all different genres. More importantly, they pick up, check out, and decide to read stuff from all different genres. Because it’s there, and ultimately they are readers and they (like the grown-ups) just like good stories.

I don’t think I’m any less voracious a reader than I was as a kid. I don’t think anyone is. But as adults we tend to read less broadly than we used to because as we allow ourselves to age out of the YA section, our reading selection gets segregated.

Then we buy less, because we’ve ‘read everything’.

Which brings me back to Urban Fantasy as the terrible (yet wonderful), almost uselessly broad genre heading that it is. This kind of vague categorization could become almost the same kind of catch-all treasure trove as YA. It's almost there, and the closer it gets the more it creates a wonderful head space where writers can can ignore genre entirely and just write; just do their best work and put it out there without worrying about which shelf it's going to end up on or whether it has 'too much' horror or not enough sullen vampire or way too many dragons hiding in otherwise unremarkable cornfields. A place where a reader can start browsing a few books down from an author they know and love and stumble over something really cool they've not only not read, but never even heard of.

What an amazing thing, if we could make our strange little sub-genre do all that.

Shall we?



About Hidden Things
Hidden Things
Harper Voyager, August 21, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

Guest Blog by Doyce Testerman - The Joy of Writing YA: An Outsider's Perspective
Watch out for the hidden things . . . That's the last thing Calliope Jenkins's best friend says to her before ending a two a.m. phone call from Iowa, where he's working a case she knows little about. Seven hours later, she gets a visit from the police. Josh has been found dead, and foul play is suspected. Calliope is stunned. Especially since Josh left a message on her phone an hour after his body was found. Spurred by grief and suspicion, Calli heads to Iowa herself, accompanied by a stranger who claims to know something about what happened to Josh and who can— maybe—help her get him back. But the road home is not quite the straight shot she imagined . . .



About Doyce

Guest Blog by Doyce Testerman - The Joy of Writing YA: An Outsider's Perspective
Doyce Testerman was born and raised in the wilds of South Dakota, where he developed an early and lifelong love affair with the written word, especially stories that included a bit more magic, mayhem, or mystery than one typically finds around a Midwestern farm. He moved to Denver in 1995, where he has steadily ceded control of his weekends to two dogs, his brilliant wife, and two astounding children. He has been a professional writer for over a decade, and his work has appeared in a number of online magazines related to pen-and-paper roleplaying games, computer games and MMOs, and fiction. Hidden Things is his first published novel.

Website : Twitter @doycet : Facebook

Interview with Doyce Testerman and Giveaway - August 29, 2012

Please welcome Doyce Testerman to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Hidden Things, Doyce's debut, was published on on August 21, 2012.


Interview with Doyce Testerman and Giveaway - August 29, 2012


TQ:  Writing quirks! What are some of yours?

Doyce:  I have a very lovely desk with a very nice desktop computer on it. Roomy, comfortable, ergonomic keyboard, the latest word processing software -- a fine collection of bells and/or whistles.

And I never use it for writing.

Editing and revisions, yes, but I never first-draft any stories at that desk. Instead, I have a four year old Asus eeePC netbook with the most basic of writing software on it -- donationware called Writemonkey that feels like writing on an old VAX terminal. It tracks what I need to to track, plays well with Dropbox backups, exports to more advanced word processing formats when I'm done with the draft and ready for editing, and doesn't distract me with little red lines under words the dictionary doesn't know yet.

I have a little lap desk, and the netbook sits on that, and I find a comfortable chair where I can sit with my headphones on and fill up the screen while my big desk collects dust.


TQ:  Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Doyce:  My favorite authors are a bit like my favorite foods -- I take them in small doses, or over time, so I don't overdose and make myself sick. Steven King and Neil Gaiman are perennial favorites (though with King I usually need to hit the gym for a few weeks in preparation for carrying his latest book around). Terry Pratchett is a favorite as well, though I have to be very careful about him -- if I read too much, the whole world starts looking as ridiculous as it probably is. Rounding things out, there's Roger Zelazny, Steven Brust, and (of course) Tolkien, all for different reasons.

Of those, I'd say the strongest influences are Zelazny -- I admire the spare, straightforward nature of his prose; King -- I love the way he handles his characters and gives them room to breath; and Gaiman -- he has such a light yet casual touch with the way he approaches the strange and magical in his stories.


TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Doyce:  I used to be a pantser. The first draft of Hidden Things was definitely a seat-of-the-pants story -- I dove into it, kicked up a cloud of dust, and staggered away 30 days later, not entirely sure what I'd tackled and tied down. In later revisions I paid for that a bit, because it's a story with a very tight timeline and I played merry hell trying to sort out any conflicts and finding the space to expand some of the sections that deserved some more attention and time.

More recently, I've been doing different kinds of outline methods. The current outline I'm working from is a sort of "one sentence per scene" summary, written from the point of view of the main character -- sort of a what you'd get if he'd been updating a twitter account the whole time. It's a bit weird, but so far it's working, and really helped me nail down the protagonist's voice before I got into the actual story.


TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Doyce:  Starting. Once I've sat down, dropped that netbook in my lap, and typed up the first sentence, I'm good to go, but getting to that point is a challenge -- there's always something else clamoring for attention, or just trying to distract you. I've found deadlines are fantastic motivators, and (for once) I don't mean that sarcastically. They keep my mind on the story, and remind me that isn't some stamp-collecting hobby, it's work. The best kind of work in the whole world, if you're someone like me, but still work that requires responsibility.


TQ:  Describe Hidden Things in 140 characters or less.

Doyce:  Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, with a midwestern sunburn.

(That's not what I set out to write, certainly, but it's pretty fair for a one-line summary -- no one reading that should find the book too far from their expectation.)


TQ:  What inspired you to write Hidden Things?

Doyce:  As with most reckless undertakings in my life, Hidden Things was born out of a dare.

My friends and I were sitting around discussing our favorite books, and one of them, De, commented: "It really sucks that there's no weird, magical, fantasy stuff set in the Midwest."

I, secure in my role as the snarky South Dakota expat, replied: "That's because nothing magical happens in the Midwest." I paused. "Ever."

"And that," De countered, "is your fault."

I coughed on the soda I'd been drinking. "Really."

"Yup." She pointed at me. "Fixing that needs to be your next book."

"But --"

"And write a female lead this time," said the-friend-who-would-always-rather-read-female-leads.

"But --"

"And make her a private detective!" called out the-friend-who-likes-mysteries from the kitchen.

"But --"

"I dare you," De finished.

And thus, my fate was sealed, Calliope Jenkins was born, and her feet were set on a path that neither of us knew very much about, except its eventual, inevitable destination.


TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Hidden Things?

Doyce:  The story in Hidden Things takes place over the course of a road trip from Los Angeles to eastern Iowa, and because I wanted to get the timing right, I spent a little time figuring out travel times and checking out place names (to refresh my memory more than anything else). At various points, I also found myself looking up (or calling up friends I knew who could tell me about) proper word use in Lakota, Hungarian, Greek, Aramaic, German, and probably a few more I'm forgetting about.


TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Doyce:  Calliope and... Calliope. In initial drafts, Calliope was a complete breeze to write. She has a very natural voice and personality for me -- one I could easily access. She has that in common with Vikous, actually -- both are very easy for me to write.

In later revisions, though, my editor pushed me to let the readers inside Calliope's head more and more as the story progressed. She would see Calliope make some sort of odd facial expression, and ask "But what is she feeling here? What's going on inside?"

"But what is she FEELING?" may be the most often repeated note I got from my editor during our line edits, and definitely took the most work on my part. The challenge (as I saw it) was to open Calliope up without making it trite and mirror-gazey.


TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Hidden Things?

Doyce:  The scenes where Calliope sings. I can't really go into more detail than that without spoiling things, but those scenes are each very special to me for different reasons.


TQ:  What's next?

Doyce:  The story I'm working on right now, Adrift, is a hard science fiction story mixed in with the fairy tales the main character used to tell his little girl at bedtime; it's a bit like switching the camera back and forth between Blade Runner and Redwall from chapter to chapter, and it makes me very happy.

I strongly suspect that after that I'll go back to the Hidden Lands; something's going on there, and I should probably figure it out before things get out of hand.


TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Doyce:  Thank you for having me!



About Hidden Things

Hidden Things
Harper Voyager, August 21, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages


Interview with Doyce Testerman and Giveaway - August 29, 2012
Watch out for the hidden things . . . That's the last thing Calliope Jenkins's best friend says to her before ending a two a.m. phone call from Iowa, where he's working a case she knows little about. Seven hours later, she gets a visit from the police. Josh has been found dead, and foul play is suspected. Calliope is stunned. Especially since Josh left a message on her phone an hour after his body was found. Spurred by grief and suspicion, Calli heads to Iowa herself, accompanied by a stranger who claims to know something about what happened to Josh and who can— maybe—help her get him back. But the road home is not quite the straight shot she imagined . . .



About Doyce

Interview with Doyce Testerman and Giveaway - August 29, 2012
Doyce Testerman was born and raised in the wilds of South Dakota, where he developed an early and lifelong love affair with the written word, especially stories that included a bit more magic, mayhem, or mystery than one typically finds around a Midwestern farm. He moved to Denver in 1995, where he has steadily ceded control of his weekends to two dogs, his brilliant wife, and two astounding children. He has been a professional writer for over a decade, and his work has appeared in a number of online magazines related to pen-and-paper roleplaying games, computer games and MMOs, and fiction. Hidden Things is his first published novel.

Website : Twitter @doycet : Facebook




The Giveaway

THE RULES

What:  One commenter will win a copy of Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman from The Qwillery.

How:  Leave a comment answering the following question:

Are there 'hidden things' where you live?

Please remember - if you don't answer the question your entry will not be counted.

You may receive additional entries by:

1)   Being a Follower of The Qwillery.

2)   Mentioning the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter. Even if you mention the giveaway on both, you will get only one additional entry. You get only one additional entry even if you mention the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter multiple times.

There are a total of 3 entries you may receive: Comment (1 entry), Follower (+1 entry) and Facebook and/or Twitter (+ 1 entry).  This is subject to change again in the future for future giveaways.

Please leave links for Facebook or Twitter mentions. You MUST leave a way to contact you.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*

2012 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - August 2012 Winner

The results are in and the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars winner for August is Doyce Testerman's Hidden Things with 36% of the votes cast. The cover was designed by James Iacobelli.


2012 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - August 2012 Winner




The final results:

2012 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - August 2012 Winner



The August Debut Covers
2012 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - August 2012 Winner



Thank you to everyone who voted, Tweeted, and participated. The 2012 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars will continue in September with voting on the September debut covers.

2012 Debut Author Challenge Update - August 15, 2012

2012 Debut Author Challenge Update - August 15, 2012


Announcing the two newest authors who will be featured in the Challenge - Sharon Lynn Fisher and Doyce Testerman.



Sharon Lynn Fisher

Ghost Planet
Tom Doherty Associates
Tor Science Fiction, October 30, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

2012 Debut Author Challenge Update - August 15, 2012
Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world—a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she'd struggle with the requirement to shun these "ghosts." She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet.

As a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy—creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone—oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love—Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence.

But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man that she loves.



Doyce Testerman

Hidden Things
Harper Voyager, August 21, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

2012 Debut Author Challenge Update - August 15, 2012
Watch out for the hidden things . . . That's the last thing Calliope Jenkins's best friend says to her before ending a two a.m. phone call from Iowa, where he's working a case she knows little about. Seven hours later, she gets a visit from the police. Josh has been found dead, and foul play is suspected. Calliope is stunned. Especially since Josh left a message on her phone an hour after his body was found. Spurred by grief and suspicion, Calli heads to Iowa herself, accompanied by a stranger who claims to know something about what happened to Josh and who can— maybe—help her get him back. But the road home is not quite the straight shot she imagined . . .


You can keep up to date with all the 2012 Debut Author Challenge information here.
Guest Blog by Doyce Testerman - The Joy of Writing YA: An Outsider's PerspectiveInterview with Doyce Testerman and Giveaway - August 29, 20122012 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - August 2012 Winner2012 Debut Author Challenge Update - August 15, 2012

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