YA Futures

YA is big and has been since the late 90s. But the future today doesn’t look like it did even 10 or 20 years ago. What does YA science fiction readers want today?

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, I had the opportunity to listen to the top professionals in the field discuss what they see coming. On the panel were Charlie Jane Anders, James Smythe, Eric Picholle, Fonda Lee, and Kristina Perez.

3 Things That Don’t Fit In the YA Science Fiction of Today

  1. A sense of inevitable progress
    The golden-age of science-fiction brought us flying cars and space cities. From the Jetsons to Star Trek, optimism for a better world was writ large in our stories.

    These days, we’re making our dreams a little more down to earth.
  2. Angst
    The 90s and 00s taught us that angst and cynicism were ‘grown up’ and ‘mature’. Spoiler: they not. And teenage angst when written by adults, far too often turns into teenage melodrama.
  3. Space
    With the advent of the space race, sf writers assumed our future was out amongst the stars. These days, we’re looking at our own planet and resources.

    Space, right now, is a hard-sell in YA.

10 Things In YA Science-Fiction Today

  1. Social issues
    You don’t have to evaluate them, but they should be in there.

    Related? Teens don’t need as much hand-holding or explanations when dealing with LGBTQ+ themes, versus adult readers.
  2. Near future
    Where we might be in 20 years, not 100 or a 1,000.
  3. Taking the brakes off
    With YA, you can turn emotions up to 11. As a writer, you can delve into your own neuroses and baggage and trauma on the page.
  4. Hope
    The reign of dystopia is changing. The future looks bleak and people are looking for hope.
  5. AI
    Even if we’re not there yet, we’re getting really close to being able to fake true artificial intelligence. I would say some robots are pretty close to dog-level intelligence at this point.

    And then? There’s always “the singularity”, when the first artificial intelligence becomes self-aware.
  6. Genetic Manipulation/Trans-humanism
    The science is there. It’s time to explore the moral and ethical quandaries inherent.
  7. Fun Adventures
    Doing stuff with friends to fix things, save someone or something, or just wild hijinks!
  8. Hackers
    Hackers are more and more becoming the heroes of the story.
  9. Online Friendships
    Friends aren’t always local these days. Plenty of friendships have started or moved online as distance becomes less of a constraint.
  10. Mixed media
    With text conversations and real world descriptions, mixed media storytelling is getting bigger.

Clearly, as we don’t actually have any time-travel machines, these are all guesses and YA trends change faster than any other genre.

Let me know what you think is coming for YA. Did the panelists get it right?


As always, thanks for reading and I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Author Spotlight: D. W. Welsh

  • a veteran journalist, research editor, writer of both fiction and non-fiction

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to D. W. Welsh.

D. W. Welsh/David W. Wooddell is a veteran journalist, retired from National Geographic magazine in 2009 as a Research Editor. Since that time, he has self published a few non-fiction history books, and two novellas. David served as editor & publisher of his wife’s book about the cleanup in Ellicott City, MD after the 2018 flood, called EC Stories. Under the pen name of D. W. Welsh, he has begun publishing novellas.

David, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

I think the genetically engineered living fur pet that appears in one of Lois Bujold’s novels would be lovely. Don’t have to feed it except with cuddles, don’t have to clean up after it, and it is always glad to see you.

My sheltie dogs are like that, and so is my hound named Baby Bel, but of course, I do have to feed and water them, and take them out to do their business, and clean up after them. I love them, but sometimes it would be great to have a less burdensome pet.

The perfect choice to curl up on the couch with — with a good book!

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write a little of everything. I love history, so I wrote a history of a Civil War regiment that was 30 years in research. I was trying to answer my grandfather’s question of what happened to his grandfather in the war – because Warwick Wooddell was mortally wounded on May 19, 1864 while a private in the 31 st Virginia Infantry, and my grandfather never had a chance to meet him.

Coming out of university, I wanted to be a novelist. I was a very bad writer, the stuff was crap on paper. But many of the plots, characters, and settings worked well. I seem to do better at the story aspects, and less well at the actual writing, so I’ve had to work hard on learning to write better. I’ve tried my hand at that a dozen times, but this past summer I finally produced two novellas I felt were good enough to publish.

Wow! What a wide variety. And a great reminder that we’re often our own greatest critiques.

What issues are important to you in your writing?

Human rights and the dignity of all humans is the most important theme for me. For instance, in my novella Argonaut, the main character named Angel is concerned with the disparity of wealth and poverty, and immigrants to America were influenced by poverty in 1897. In the yet-to be named sequel, in 1898, she travels to Jamaica where she encounters the situation of the “coolies” who were the migrant, indentured laborers brought to the Caribbean from India and other parts of Asia to replace the slaves.

Definitely some heavy stuff. It’s easy to tell where your real-world concerns show through in your writing.

What do you like to read?

I love good historical fiction, including Alan Furst’s very atmospheric novels about the resistance and spies in Europe during WW2. I also love science fiction. I’ve read and listened to many audio books, but have almost memorized the Vorkosigan novels of Lois M. Bujold. The Expanse books of James S. A. Carey are absorbing. Jacqueline Carey’s work is a major favorite, I love the novels she writes, and listen often to the audio books of her work. I think her Starless is one of the best fantasies out there.

For suspense and mystery, the Virgil Flower novels of John Sandford; the work of Louise Penny, Jusi Adler-Olsen, and surprising to me, Robert Galbraith’s wonderful detective novels (written, of course by J. K. Rowling under her pen name.) I love the character she created of the one-legged private detective Cormoran Strike. I’m also a great fan of Sarah Waters, and her novel Tipping the Velvet.

You’re taking the advise to be widely read to heart, clearly! What a great selection.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Conflict is necessary on every page.

All of them, apparently! I’m not a natural writer, so I have to work hard at writing a legible sentence. I’m not a stylist – I have stacks of books by famous authors on how to improve style. Bah! I place them near the head of my bed so the advice will sink in, but it never does. I was an English major in college – but didn’t graduate because my grades were so bad and I just couldn’t bother to attend classes often enough. I’ve had six years of undergrad and still no degree.

But on a more specific note – the idea that conflict is necessary on every page is vastly overdone.

The theories were the product of the writer’s rooms of television sitcoms. Yes. There must be some sense of tension, but life is not conflict at every turn. Television shows need conflict, but most of us don’t write for TV, nor do we write for half-hour shows that only get 18 minutes of actual screen time because of commercials. I don’t watch TV news, I read the news online from the NY Times, Washington Post, and many other quality journalism organizations.

TV news is so absorbed in reporting conflict that I wonder if their reporters and anchors ever experience long form journalism. Or get out of the studio and experience life. I don’t believe in or agree with the idea that we should be putting a conflict on ever page.

I believe interesting characters and situations make stories worthwhile to read. When I read stories by European writers, in translation, I find a totally different feel of characters, places, and the plots are not all based on bang bang bang, conflict conflict conflict.

I also think too many writers think violence is the centerpiece of conflict. I’ve been trying to write non- violent stories in which interesting things happen. There are conflicts, but there are also mediators, and people who help resolve conflict, or who look for alternative ways around the conflicts. For instance, when violence happens in Argonaut, it is a surprise to the reader, just as most often violence occurs as a surprise in real life.

With your background as a journalist, it’s not surprising that this issue is so heart felt. And I agree, there are plenty of ways to build tension and get the readers emotionally invested without outright conflict. So many writers think that conflict needs to be physical, or the readers will miss it. Readers are more intelligent than some give them credit for.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Write every day.

Set aside a time that works for you, and stick to it. Write your journal, if nothing else, even if you were boring and did nothing, you should make it sound like something. When in doubt, describe the room, the art on the walls, the glimpses of nature through the window. Write. Write. Write. And practice interviewing people without them realizing that is what you are doing. Record patterns of speech, and make notes of conversations.

That’s one I have to pass on (unless you count social media), unless I’m actively creating a rough draft. But I do do my best to make sure I’m sitting down several times a week to work on my writing..

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Under my non-de-plume of D. W. Welsh:

Argonaut: An Angel and Gabri Adventure is a historical novella that brings the reader into the high-tension end of 1897 and the belle époque.

Angel and Gabri must put on a brave front in the face of danger and intrigue to succeed and survive in the high-stakes game of international arms. From Paris to New York and Baltimore, two young French researchers move through privileged berths to gritty shipyards in search of the prized submarine secrets of the Argonaut.

But who is really paying them? Are they the natural children of the famous author Monsieur V, or the dupes of secret services across Europe?

Jars is a relatively gentle comedy of manners.

Following a massive population crash, Lem, Jane, and their children, like so many others, turned to farming.

But now, civilization is returning and with progress comes choices. Families can be created in many ways, and so can children. Everyone wants to live happily ever after, including gay curmudgeon farmer ‘Jars’ Wilson, who builds his family of choice with lesbians Liz and Sylvia.

Set largely in rural America, it shines a warm and humorous light on our right to live as we choose.

My stories often have people of alternate sexuality or gender in them. I have many friends who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or some mixture of all or none of above. I don’t look to exploit such themes, but rather include them as I do in real life, as part of the multi-faceted real world.

For my non-fiction:

If you read archives of the National Geographic magazine, you may spot me referenced in the footnotes on many articles, credited as a researcher under David W. Wooddell.

And Books

Hoffman’s Army: The Thirty First Virginia Infantry : A book that has been described as “one of the best narratives of the war fought by the soldiers themselves.”

Steam Locomotives: Nineteenth Century Engineering is a visual catalogue of historic illustrations of steam engines, from the origin of such inventions to the 1870. It’s a book for railroad enthusiasts.

Booktube: The World of YouTube Book Discussions

The booktuber world is right next door to the authortuber world — full of people talking about their to-read lists, the books they’re actually reading, and their own community. As opposed to us authortubers, talking about writing tips, writing progress, and apparently streaming virtual write-ins. Both are full of people passionate about books and wanting to talk about it on youtube.

In the titular panel at WorldCon, Stevie “Sablecaught” Finegan, Claire Rousseau (Books and Quills), Thomas Wagner (SFF180), Linnea Sternefält (RobotMaria133), and Brianne Reeves (BreeReadsBooks) shared with us their experiences being booktubers.

Why Youtube?

Everyone had their own path and reasons that led them to youtube.

For Claire, 5 years ago, her partner started a geeking out/gaming channel. After seeing how it went, and attending a convention, she wanted to get in on it too, but with her own hobbies. Thus, her booktube channel was born.

Linnea started as a blogger. She’d seen the English-language booktubers, but was worried there wasn’t a large enough audience in her native tongue. Then? She found the other european-vloggers and decided to try it anyway.

Bree had graduated from college and was underemployed. So, she got back to her love of books, found the community, and wanted to join the conversation.

Thomas had been doing traditional book reviews on http://www.sfReviews.net since 2001. He’d seen his gamer friends start up game vlogs and wanted to try, so he tried it — without even knowing the community was there! He’s found that reviews are a lot more personal when your face is attached to the words.

Common BookTube Videos

These booktubers wanted to talk about books on youtube, but what sort of videos are out there?

  1. Book Hall
    – A stack of new books that you’ve gotten.
    • Thomas called his a ‘mail bag’, because he didn’t know it was a thing
    • Bree loves watching these, but hates recording them
    • Linnae loves these
  2. TBR
    – Your to-be-read pile. What you’re planning to read in the coming week or month.
    • Claire loves these
  3. Wrap-up
    – Your end of the week/month where you talk about which books you actually got to, and what you thought about them.
    – Some people do a video for each book (like Thomas, with his traditional book review roots)
  4. Book discussions
    – Talking and analysing books. These come in many forms.
    1. Simple analysis
    2. Comparing the book to the movie
    3. Comparing and contrasting different books of a similar theme
  5. Top 5 Wednesday
    – Share your top 5 books in a given theme/genre

Getting Started on Booktube

Don’t be afraid to join in. You don’t need much to get started, and all of the booktubers out there started just like you, wondering why anyone would care what they think about books.

These are people who love reading and just want to connect with other fans. Just like you.

  1. All you need is a smartphone, a youtube account, and the internet
  2. Crappy videos are fine – talk to people and build community.
  3. Try to post on a consistent schedule, at least once a month.
  4. Audio is more important than video, look to upgrade that first.
  5. To upgrade your video, you can do it in phases
    1. Better microphone (like a Blue Snowball mic + pop filter)
    2. Better camera (like a logitech USB webcam)
    3. Better lighting (like umbrella lights)
    4. Video Editing (like VegasPro)
  6. Monetization.
    1. If you get big enough (4,000 view hours + 1,000 subscribers), youtube will let you monetize.
    2. Patreon may be a better way to get money, but you have to have something to offer people at the different tiers that people are interested in. And that often means bonus material.
      NOTE: Most monetized channels can pay for a coffee. Or, in a good month, start to recoup the money they spent on equipment.
      WARNING: In some countries, it is illegal to accept donations/ patronage without giving them something physical in return.

Joining the BookTube Community

Most of these tips are going to sound familiar if you’ve seen any of my other posts on joining other online communities.

  1. Subscribe to other booktubers!
  2. Comment on other booktubers!
    • Comment on what they’re discussing, be on topic! You might think a compliment like, “you’re pretty” is something everyone wants to hear. Instead? The booktuber is probably thinking you didn’t care about what they were discussing.
    • NOTE: If your comment is non-specific, just long enough that your name links back to your own channel, they can tell you’re just trying to use them to find followers. It’s rude and won’t win you any friends.
  3. Watch to the end! Many booktubers have bonus material there. Like booktube challenges, or requests for you to share your own links below (either for your channel or similar themed videos).
  4. As always, don’t be disappointed at slow traction. It takes a while to become an “overnight” success.

Booktubers to watch!

If booktube sounds up your alley or you’re already a fan, here are some people the panelists suggested to check out.

And, of course, they didn’t do it themselves, but I’m happy to plug them, our panelists:


Had you run into Booktube before?

Are you a booktuber yourself? Tell us how you got into it and share your link below!

As always, thanks for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more panel notes. And maybe some ramblings on PitchWars, because it’s that time of year again.

Picking an Agent (or #PW Mentor) To Query

Whether you’re querying PitchWars mentors tomorrow or literary agents on Friday, it’s best to do your homework first. Querying an agent (or mentor) simply because they represent your genre is the bare minimum to not get thrown into the trash in 0.005 seconds.

I know it’s hard to pick — and harder yet not to get emotionally invested in a person who knows nothing about you.

I’ve talked a lot about picking agents and my own pitchWars experiences. From querying agents and mentors, here’s a list of my biggest tips.

2 Things NOT To Do To An Agent/Mentor

  1. Do Not Stalk Them.

    As I’ve mentioned before, do not stalk agents or mentors. Do not go through their facebook/instagram feed and like everything they’ve posted for the last five years, scour their photos to find out their favorite foods, their friends, vacation places. Don’t Do It.
  2. Do Not Rules Lawyer Their “No Thanks” Lists

    Some agents or mentors mention things they want A, B, and C. But never Z. And you have A, B, C, and Z. They’d be perfect except for that last thing!

    I can promise you, they do not want you messaging them asking if off-screen Z counts. Or, yes, they have Z, but it’s not that explicit.

    Imagine saying you hate dogs and then your inbox gets flooded with dog pictures asking if this one is allowed because of whatever excuse. You’re now flooding them with exactly what they asked NOT to get.

5 Things To Help You Select An Agent/Mentor

  1. Read their wish lists
    – on their bios
    – profiles
    – on #mswl/www.manuscriptwishlist.com
  2. Read their don’t want lists
    – Then REMOVE from your list of agents/mentors to query if you have a match. No matter what.
  3. Read their twitter feed
    – see if their personality seems like a good fit
  4. Examine their bio
    – see what sort of agent/mentor they are (editorial/big picture/etc)
    – what experience they have
    – what sort of publishing experience/connections they have
    REMEMBER – This is a two way process. It’s not just “do I have what they’re looking for”, it’s also, “do they have what I’m looking for”.
  5. Check out their list of favorite books
    – if those books would be a great comp for your novel, or are evocative of your tone? That’s pretty promising!

Querying is scary and intimidating. It can be easy to stall by doing your research… FOREVER. But, eventually, you have to query or move on.

All you can do is your best. Then, it’s out of your hands.

Best of luck to all of you out there in the querying trenches — with agents or PitchWars!


Let me know what you’re querying!
Let me know if you’re a pitchWars hopeful.

And link your social media below. I love connecting with other querying (and beyond!) writers.

Done To Death: The Art of Killing Characters

When you’re reading a story and a character dies, you can tell if it’s just the writer trying to manipulate your emotions or if it’s good storytelling.

In the titular panel at Worldcon77, Patrick Rothfuss, Veronica Roth, Su J Sokel, Amy Ogden, and Daryl Gregory did their best to make sure we know that every death should count.

Before we got started, the panelists listed their credentials…

How many characters have you killed?

  • Su killed 3 in one novel.
  • Veronica, in her Divergent series, asked if we counted “outside of catastrophic events?”
  • Amy killed all of humanity. Twice.
  • Patrick has killed 5 characters.
  • Daryl says his only die offstage.

How To Use Death and What Deaths Are Overdone

Fridging Characters

There are tropes that keep popping up, and one of the most trite ones in fiction is using the horrific death of a 2-dimensional female character to motivate the (usually male) main character.

From TVTropes: “The name of the trope comes from a storyline in Green Lantern, in which the villain Major Force leaves the corpse of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, literally stuffed into a refrigerator for him to find.

We’re not saying horrific deaths are bad (in fiction. Please don’t kill people.) We’re just saying they need to matter beyond character motivation.

Parents

Many stories start off with the parents being killed. Even books for those who aren’t old enough for school. And this is traumatic for small kids. We want to teach empathy. We want them to understand death. This is a bad way to do it.

Daryl’s daughter would always go ask him for a snack during the Lion King stampede and get back just as Simba was running away.

Patrick’s sons loved the 3 Little Pigs and the wolf destroying the houses. But they wanted him to tell it without gobbling the pigs all up.

As Amy said, “as a mom, I’m tired of seeing myself die. As a queer person, I’m tired of seeing myself die.”

Queer Characters and Characters of Color

Either as bad guys or as expendable characters, queer characters or characters of color are often the first to die.

Children

Killing children, just to demonstrate that the villain is a bad guy.

Patrick declared, “if that’s all you can do, you’re a bad writer. I stand by this.”

Other

Veronica, in retrospect, admits that there is a bullshit death in her second book. She could have handled that differently. There are plenty of horrible ways to LIVE!

The list could go on. Do we want to show readers the gritty truth, or a better world?

How Do You Make a Death Not Bullshit?

  1. Give fullness to the dead character’s story arc
  2. Try to only kill well rounded main or secondary characters, but think first if there is another way to progress the plot.
  3. Listen to the character – they should tell you if their death is bullshit.
  4. Feel free to have foreshadowing — best done when it’s only obvious in retrospect.
  5. Context matters — who is being killed by whom?
  6. If you do kill characters — parents, children, lovers, make it matter. Make the reader cry and miss them forever.
  7. Showing life after trauma is important.

The Power Of Writing

At this point, the panel started to meander, but we followed along for the ride.

Patrick shared a story. After the Frog Princess, 70 kids were hospitalized from salmonella (from licking frogs). Now, he worries a lot about the consequences of what he writes.

Veronica asked, “then how do you write?”

Patrick — the man whose audience is still waiting, 8 years later, for book 3 of his series — replied, “I’m the wrong person to ask.”

Where You Are Emotionally Affects Your Writing

For almost all of us, what we’re worried about and what we’re struggling with tries to come through in our writing.

There are two approaches.

  1. You can try to leave it at the door.
    • Personal essays, blogs, etc on whatever is bothering you can be a cathartic way to get it out, so you can focus on the story you want to tell.
  2. You can use your writing to work through it
    • So many writers end up doing this. Even if they don’t know that they are.
      • Veronica’s first series was literally about exposure therapy. Later, she went on to be prescribed it!
      • Patrick was thanked for his handling of PTSD in his writing. 10 years later, he realized where it came from. Now he’s in therapy.
      • Amy notes that as a mom, she’s leaving a worse world for her child than she was given. Everything she writes is about climate change.
    • NOTE: Mission-oriented novels come across like after-school specials. It’s okay to work through things, but forcing the theme doesn’t come across as genuine.

[Audience Question] How Do You Handle Villainous Deaths

Everything should be complex — the desire to simplify makes it less real. Just remember, death is a change and it’s the final one. [source?]

Disney took the violence out. Took the blame out. The hero still wins, the bad guy still dies. But, the hero isn’t the hand by which the villain dies. And that might be wrong. There should be consequence.l

[Audience Question] Which Death Would You Undo?

Veronica said, “Lynn.”

Amy’s answer? “Humanity deserved it.”


What stories have you read where death was handled wrong? Which ones have done it well?

If you write, how many characters have YOU killed?