“My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn’t been laid yet. I couldn’t go into the slammer before that happened.” Hutch McQueen.
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is trapped between an abusive mother and an absentee father. Shackled by poor vision and poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears.
After another suspension from school and suffering through one of his mother’s violent attacks, he escapes to a friend’s house that turns out to be a meth lab. The lab is raided and Hutch lands in juvenile detention.
When the court sentences him to six months in a new juvenile program, he meets a teacher with Alzheimer’s who will change his life and hers.
Three Things YA Fiction Writers Should Avoid
If you’re not writing historical fiction, there are three things YA fiction writers should avoid.
Including Identifiable Technology:
I wrote a story a few year ago called The Princess of Las Pulgas, and by the time I’d finished it, and it was ready to submit to publishers, I had some major changes to make. One big change had to do with technology.
In the original story, I had a flip phone—remember those? They were the latest in cell phone technology a few years ago, but not in 2010 when Princess came out.
This writer can’t keep up with the changes that Intel or Apple or whoever, comes up with. They spew new software and new devices faster than a high powered automatic.
I now try to make my techie references as generic as possible and hope those won’t be outdated before publication.
Using Current Slang:
Slang comes and goes about as fast as techie stuff, so finding something fresh, but not soon to be on its way out is difficult to impossible. I often approximate slang with what I call “loosely correct” grammar, or I just stay away from it entirely. It doesn’t necessarily add to character. In fact, I sometimes think it detracts. Still I do resort to some when it suits the character and I can’t come up with another way to express something.
Including Well-known Celebrities:
I took a big chance in Double Negative when I mentioned Lady Gaga. I knew I shouldn’t use a well-known celebrity, but I did anyway because the scene and the elderly character of Maggie begged for it. Here’s a snippet to give you an idea of how I trapped myself and probably will date my book within a few years.
The scene takes place at Thanksgiving dinner. Dixson Wang’s mom is Chinese and doesn’t speak English well. Hutch is the pov character.
I look over at Wang who’s leaning close to his mother. I guess he’s telling her what people are saying because sometimes he translates what she says to him. “Mom says the peas are delicious,” or “My mom has never tasted this kind of salad, but she likes it very much.”
Moss keeps shoveling food into his mouth as if his elbow’s set to a timer, and Meeker’s already taking seconds. Like me, they don’t talk, but they look around at the others.
That’s when Maggie says, “We should talk about sex or Lady Gaga. The boys are bored.”
Heather chokes and grabs her water glass.
Maggie asks Liz, “What is it about that singer that makes her so popular in the gay community?”
Dixson Wang isn’t translating anymore.
I hope Lady Gaga stays in style for a while.
In my other life–the one before I began writing for teens and younger readers–I was a teacher and administrator at California State University, San Jose. My field of Linguistics and Inter-cultural Communication has carried me to a lot of places in the world to explore different cultures and languages. I can say, “Where’s the toilet?” and “I’m lost!” in at least five languages and two dialects. Go ahead. Pat me on the back.
My idea of a perfect day is one or all of the following: starting a new novel, finishing writing a blockbuster novel, hiking on a misty morning trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains, saying Namaste after a great yoga practice, sipping a cappuccino topped at a bustling café, reading in front of a fire with snow outside, swimming in an ocean someplace.
I’ve just set out my perfect life. Day after day after day.