Tag Archives: teens

Q & A with Amanda Zieba

Amanda ZiebaThis week I’m honored to interview the amazing author Amanda Zieba whose YA sci-fi novel, Breaking the Surface, is followed by the sequel, Bridging the Tides, which will be released on Tuesday May 12.

Q. Welcome Amanda! In the first book, Breaking the Surface, readers are introduced to an underwater world where scientists are working to discover a safe product to cleanse the ocean from the pollution caused by humans. Book two, Bridging the Tides, focuses on how the teens and the adults solve the problems caused by the PE-328 release. How much scientific research did you invest in this series?

A. As a reader one of my favorite genres is historical fiction because not only can I enjoy a fantastic adventure, but I also learn something while I am reading. As both a teacher and an author, I wanted my readers to have a similar experience, learning interesting facts while they enjoy my story. When I began writing Breaking the Surface I did do a lot of research. The series was inspired by a documentary entitled: Deep Sea (a film by: Howard Hall). In this movie, the narrators describe the incredible landscapes and creatures of our oceans. The images instantly sparked ideas in my creative mind, but it was the statement that “there is more uncharted territory in the oceans on here Earth than in all of outer space” that really stuck with me. I was shocked! How could we know less about our own planet than we do about places millions of light years away? This question was the first in an avalanche of musings that carried me to the internet, National Geographic magazines, the library and multiple re-viewings of Deep Sea. As I wrote the story, I tried very hard to be as factual as possible, keeping the animal characteristics/ocean details/scientific realities as true as possible. By the time I got to Bridging the Tides, I knew what I needed to know and therefore was able to write it much more quickly. I did occasionally need to look up a thing or two like: what is the fastest fish in the ocean and what are the specific anatomic qualities of a starfish? I hope readers like discovering these little fact snippets sprinkled throughout the story.

Q. For those who have not read book one, how difficult will it be for readers to follow Bridging the Tides?

A. Bridging the Tides picks up right where Breaking the Surface left off. If you start with Bridging the Tides, oodles of important background information including the explanation of the major conflict will be lost to you, leaving you with a mind full of questions. Funny story, my grammatical editor for Bridging the Tides had not read the Breaking the Surface and as she read, she marked up the page with all these questions about the plot. I felt horrible that I put her through pages and pages of a poor reading experience because she had no idea what was going on! So yes, if you have not read Breaking the Surface, definitely start there first!

Q. What made you decide to end Breaking the Surface with a cliffhanger?

A. I had a lot of frustrated readers when they got to the end of Breaking the Surface and found the problem unresolved. I purposely left the characters hanging to create suspense and a strong desire to read the second book. But don’t worry, I won’ torture you the same way again. Bridging the Tides ends with a solid resolution, hopefully leaving readers satisfied. I do not have plans to write another book in this series, but if I should ever decide to return to the underwater world of the ARK, I feel I left left room for more stories down there.

Q. It took you seven years to start this series. How long did it take to write Bridging the Tides? Does it get easier to write once a series has been started? Or are there unexpected challenges readers don’t know about that you’d like to share?

A. From start to finish Bridging the Tides took 8 months, which is infinitely faster than it took me to write the first book. I started it in November 2014 as my first attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month). I didn’t reach the goal of 50,000 words, but I had a pretty good start (24,000). In addition to being a writer, I am also a mom, wife and full time middle school teacher. It is tricky to balance all of the loves of my life, but thanks to my very supportive husband who works hard to carve out time for me to write, I was able to complete this novel. I write on Wednesdays after school for 2-3 hours (Writing Wednesdays!), after my sons go to bed and on the weekends. I am not a plotter. I write the most vivid scenes dancing around in my mind first and then afterward go back and link them together. I tried to write this book chronologically. I got to chapter 17 before I gave up and went back to my haphazard all over the place writing process. The further I got into the story, the faster the words came. Some of the plot elements required a lot of think time, but once I had those figured out, it got easier.

Q. How has teaching middle school students influenced your writing?

A. Teaching middle school has been a great blessing for my writing. It makes me strongly believe in the benefits of not majoring in writing while in college or taking it up as your first career. In the middle school setting I am constantly surrounded by living breathing middle grade protagonists. I hear their dialogue, view their clothing styles, witness their heartbreaks, listen to their preferences… all on a daily basis. I also am acutely aware of what they select to read. This is a wealth of information that I would be missing out on, if I were not a teacher. I do my best to use this information to inform my writing style, inspire my character dialogue, and ultimately craft a story I know my students would enjoy. I also see the number of students uninterested in reading. I take it upon myself to hook them into great books every day at school, and at home, write ones that will hopefully do the same.

Q. What particular challenges do you face writing in the dystopian genre?

A. I’m not sure I would consider my novels dystopian. I feel like the environmental problems my characters face and try to solve are problems we have today. I’m sure there are people out there in our world trying to solve the problem of water pollution and oceanic habitat destruction, but just maybe not in the ways that I have described in my books. A message that I would like readers (especially middle grade and YA readers) to take away from the Surface Series is that even though there are problems in the world, there are ways to solve them. Additionally, I would like them to learn that they, even at a young age, can be a part of the solution. Finally, I hope to have communicated the importance of the bonds of family and friendship. No matter what happens in the world, no matter who you meet and no matter where you go, it is the way you treat those around you that matters.

Q. What is your next writing project?

A. My next writing project is a middle grade series about geocaching. Geocaching is a worldwide outdoor treasure hunt. Using handheld GPS receivers my main characters, twins Sam and Molly Ross, go on adventures around the US, hunting for geocaches and the treasures they hold inside. Geocaching is a great sport that combines technology, the outdoors and physical activity. I hope to add a love of reading to the recipe and come up with a hit. While I have self-published all of my books up to this point, I am planning to go the traditional publishing route with this series. I have begun working with a professional editor and this summer I will be rewriting my first draft according to the recommendations he has made.

Q. Where do you see yourself five years from now as an author?

A. In five years I hope to be writing full time. My very specific plan includes leaving my teaching career in 3 years when my youngest son goes to Kindergarten and my family is no longer burdened by the massive investment of daycare expenses. At that point in time I will have been writing professionally for 6 years. I will have 6 self-published titles (3 in the Orphan Train Riders Series, 2 in the Surface Series, and one picture book: Pauly Wants to Doodle All the Day- due out in summer 2015). In addition to the funds I make from these books, I hope to supplement my author income by doing school author visits, educational material sales via TeachersPayTeachers.com and other freelance jobs. Of course I hope to be writing more books as well. I have several book ideas circulating in my brain right now ranging from a YA medieval time period fantasy, and two clean romance novels for adults. All I need is the time to get them down on paper.

For more information about Amanda Zieba or her books, visit her on Facebook.

Teens, Identity, and Despair

"Lips" from The Human Act and Other Stories to be published by All Things That Matter Press

“I was here. That’s what she means when she writes in big block letters with her bright red lipstick, TYC 2001, in the mirror of the girls’ bathroom in Jefferson High School.

“I stand beside her pretending to fluff my already exaggerated hairdo. She thinks I don’t know her importance so she draws a line beneath her initials with a sweep of her wrist.

“TYC catches me staring at her. ‘What you looking at?’ She narrows her brown eyes, swivels the lipstick into its black case, turns, and struts away.

“By the time school lets out at three-thirty, I have seen TYC three more times. By the lockers exchanging her history book for algebra. In the halls shouting at a cheerleader for accidentally touching her. At the library checking out a book written by Dorothy Allison.

“I start to think there is more to my fascination with TYC than her bright red lipstick, which she never wears, only writes with. At home I stare in the mirror at my reflection and pucker my lips and mouth the letters, TYC, like I’m some sort of rock star in a music video. Before I go to sleep, I sit on the edge of my bed and roll up my pajama sleeves and stare at my wrists, turning them from side to side. The bones are heavy and awkward, not slim and manipulative. I lie down and pull the covers toward my chin. I close my eyes and dream of large techno-colored lips. I wake up in the middle of the night and feel my heart racing. I touch my lips with the tips of my fingers, the same lips those large techno-colored lips just kissed.”


The above section is an excerpt from my Pushcart Prize nominated short story, “Lips,” which is one of the 14 stories featured in my upcoming collection, The Human Act and Other Stories, to be published by All Things That Matter Press. The story focuses on a high school girl whose best friend, Lorraine, has moved to Arizona, leaving her friendless. The high school girl becomes obsessed with TYC, another seemingly friendless girl. But her preoccupation with TYC prevents her from grieving over the loss of her friendship with Lorraine, exploring her identity, accepting her budding sexuality, and acknowledging her increasing despair.

Teens have always had to cope with crossing the wasteland between childhood and adulthood. The terrain may be different from generation to generation, but the concerns remain the same: teens want to belong as much as they want to differentiate from one another.

But the cost of belonging can be high. Teens have to try out for sports before they can become members of the team. They have to qualify for the math Olympiad or the national honor society. They have to audition for band or drama. They have to possess some sort of talent or skill that fits into a socially acceptable format or else risk not belonging. Those teens who fail to fit neatly into one of these categories can fall through the cracks. Some of these teens join gangs or become stoners. Other teens remain painfully alone.

Teens that do not fit into a group have a hard time finding people like themselves to relate to. Some of them find solace in a hobby. Others escape through reading or music or video games. Still others find themselves like the narrator of “Lips,” searching for connection through a mysterious stranger who seems to fulfill all of one’s fantasies.

The longing for human connection does not end when one leaves childhood. It changes shape like the body, developing the lines and curves of being unique and yet still belonging.

For more stories of uniqueness and belonging, “Like” my Fan Page on Facebook to be notified when The Human Act and Other Stories is released.

Daughter Knows Best

Trust a Teen or a Publishing Professional?

Last year, amidst the holiday celebrations, I received a letter from my literary agent stating she would no longer represent me. The New York publishers she had pitched my young adult novel to had told her the plot wasn’t engaging enough and the main character was too young.

My daughter tried to encourage me by telling me she would help me rewrite the book so it would attract the attention of another literary agent who would finally sell it.

She kept her promise, read the novel, and critiqued it.

While she was reading and critiquing, I researched current publishing trends. I read young adult novels from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to Smart Girls Get What They Want. I filled notebooks with magazine articles and blog posts detailing teen speech patterns, habits, fashion, and concerns. I volunteered to be near teens and chronicled first-hand encounters of student-teacher interactions, relationships between peers, and tensions between grade-levels. I witnessed teens sending secrets texts while pretending to pay attention in class. I overheard stories about how they pirate e-books and music for free from online sites.

When my daughter and I sat down to compare notes on how to approach the rewrite of my young adult novel, our views vastly differed. I wanted to set the novel in present time to use my research, but my daughter wanted to keep the historical context. “It would be fun to learn about a time before cell phones and iPods,” she said. I wanted to start over from page one, but my daughter wanted me to beef up the plot by deepening the romance between the main character and the boy-next-door.

“Rewriting the whole book is a waste of time,” she said. “You only need to change a few things.”

Changing only a few things in the scope of a novel seems daunting. I rewrite like an auto mechanic overhauling an engine. I do not know how to rewrite a book like an auto mechanic performing a tune-up on an otherwise solid engine. But that’s exactly what my daughter had asked me to do.

Of course, I don’t want to listen to her. After all, she’s a teen with limited experience, not a professional who can negotiate a lucrative publishing contract and advance my career. But she insists she knows what she is talking about, as a teen and as a reader. And, being a mother, I have decided it would be best to listen. Because even if the book never reaches hundreds of thousands of teens, it will reach my daughter, who is the only teen who really matters anyway, right?

More than Ugly Modeling

The Daughters (The Daughters, #1)The Daughters by Joanna Philbin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Are you a gawky teen trying to fit in? Or a quirky-looking girl wondering if she has any natural beauty? Are you struggling to differentiate yourself from your parents who seem to be perfect? Or are you just trying to find your place in the world?

Fourteen-year-old Lizzie Summers is the daughter of supermodel Katia Summers and best friends with Hudson Jones, the daughter of a pop star, and Carina Jurgensen, daughter of the multi-media mogul. Lizzie looks more like her father—a short, frizzy redhead freak with bushy eyebrows—than her mother with her tall, blond, lithesome grace. Lizzie hates being part of her mother’s glamorous modeling world until she is discovered by a talented photographer who specializes in showcasing ordinary people for their extraordinary uniqueness.

Plunged into an alternative world of “ugly modeling” where freaks are fabulous, Lizzie’s success catapults her into becoming the face of New Beauty. But with her sudden success comes a price: the relationship with her mother with its fragile understanding, the love of the boy she has always known although only recently loved, and the respect of her English teacher.

The Daughters is the first book in a four book series by Joanna Philbin, daughter of television host Regis Philbin. Joanna knows first-hand what it means to be a daughter of a mega-star and the friendships needed to survive in that peculiar world.

But Joanna also remembers the universality of what it is like to be a teenager. It’s her deep understanding of the issues important to teens: discovering yourself while also trying to fit in, speaking your truth while also respecting the rules and wisdom of your parents, and making mistakes along the way and learning the power of love and forgiveness that makes her story resonate with a deeper, more lasting truth than the latest fashion trends.

Although not The Great Gatsby, The Daughters is a great story about individuality, family relationships, career choices, crushes, and best friends set against the backdrop of a glamorous world.

My twelve-year-old daughter has challenged me to read all four books in the series, so look for my reviews on the other three as I finish them.

Happy reading!

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