Reading in your Genre

Maceration of the grapes

Maceration of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes – source – Wikimedia Commons

Mondays on this blog will be given over to musings on being: a writer (for children), a voracious reader, an MFA student, an expat in New York, a nature advocate, part of the LGBTQ community, a lifelong wanderer, an obsessive observer of human nature, and one who jives to the java bean and the fermentation-flirtation of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape!

While I shall most definitely be writing a post on, ‘Why One Should Read Outside One’s Genre,’ today I espouse the importance as writers of reading the themes, content, forms and genre in which we have rooted our own manuscript. You need to know how your book compares with the competition, and how it is different. Reading your genre is about staying current as an author, just as a teacher or doctor might. Agents and publishers will expect this of you, and you should certainly know on which shelf in a (Indie) bookstore a reader should be able to find your book!

I like to not only read in my genre, but also books that have focused on some of the big themes and subject matter in my story; maybe betrayal, or teenage pregnancy, maybe set in other cultures, or in slang…. You might read to be inspired by form and style. Maybe you are seeking to write in a more literary style, then you could perhaps read Laurie Halse Anderson’s WINTER GIRLS. Since meeting and reading most of the works of author, Ellen Hopkins, I have been fascinated by the form of novels written in verse, and have been reading broadly in this form. I am thrilled that we have on the faculty of the Stony Brook MFA program, Patty McCormick, whose novel in verse, SOLD, has so much of what I want to explore in my own writing.

In which genre are you writing? And/or what theme(s) are you exploring, and what recommendation do you, therefore, have for us? Let me kick off, and let me say that while my novel is at present in prose, I am drawn to a more poetic vehicle for the story.

Genre: Contemporary YA fiction (edgy)                                                                                Form: narrative prose                                                                                                     Themes: Estrangement, abusive parental relationships and/or LGBTQ characters and bullying

My recommendations:

smokeSMOKE by NYT best selling author, Ellen Hopkins and published by Simon and Schuster. I was lucky to read an ARC of this novel in verse, which is released tomorrow, September, 10th 2013. I loved BURN and was not disappointed with this sequel. SMOKE addresses big themes – courage and survival, abuse, hypocrisy and silence in religious communities (LDS), gay bullying, neglect, love… the writing is quick and sparse and visually meaningful. All the characters are 3+ dimensional. If you have never read a novel in verse, I highly recommend any of Hopkin’s novels. SMOKE is also included in this recent list of Top Ten YA Releases in Sept 2013.

Okay, I have not yet read FREAKBOY, a YA novel in verse by Kristin Elizabeth Clark,freak which is going to be published on October 22nd, 2013, by Farrar, Strauss and Geroux, but I have discussed the book with the author and am a huge fan of her writing and very happy to see a book embracing these themes. I am convinced this will be a book with significant ripples in the YA book community. Just this week it received a starred review –“*”This gutsy, tripartite poem explores a wider variety of identities—cis-, trans-, genderqueer—than a simple transgender storyline, making it stand out. — Kirkus Review, starred review.

You can buy it now, here.

octOCTOBER MOURNING by Lesléa Newman, published by Candlewick, September 25th, 2012. “A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the world.”

On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming gay bar by two young men pretending to be gay. Matthew was savagely beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die.  October Mourning, is  the author’s deep personal response to the events of that tragic day. It is a novel in verse, but quite different from the previous two as Newman creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to and the girlfriends of the murderers. This is a heartbreaking series of sixty-eight poems in several different poetic forms offering the reader an enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.

Your turn! Please add your recommendations in the comments below.

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13 Responses to Reading in your Genre

  1. Interesting post. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to what you have to share in coming posts.

    Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie, was a very different YA fiction book, exploring some of the issues you mentioned above, but with surprising discovery by a brother about his hero brother killed in the war (LGBT) and an unexpected ending.

    I read in my own genre, PB, but I read many more books in MG, YA and adult fiction and nonfiction. Most I don’t review because they don’t fit my blog theme, like Lois Lowry’s The Giver series, Bruce Coville’s the Unicorn Chronicles, and Shannon Hale’s, The Princess Academy — all exceptional reads.

    • Joanna says:

      I think I split my time fairly equally between in and out of my genre, Pat! I haven’t heard of the Princess Academy, so i shall go and read up on that. Thanks for weighing in with your suggestions.

      • The Princess Academy is far from what you think. Brilliant piece of work that won a Newberry. There is a sequel that is just as good or even better, The Princess Academy, Palace of Stone.Very unique books with a strong protagonist. And, remember Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early — a literary masterpiece.

  2. One of my problems in reading in middle grade is that when I start reading books that are just so excellent, I think “what am I doing, thinking I can write?” I know that’s not the attitude I should have, but there it is…

    Reading picture books is much more comfortable for me!

    Silly Beth…

  3. Joanna says:

    Ah, Beth, I don’t think you are the only one with such thoughts. I vacillate from, ‘Darn, I wish, I had thought of that,” (often for picture book ideas), to, “I’ll never be able to match this,” to occasionally, “That was great, but I do think my WIP has a place on this shelf, too.”

  4. I would recommend the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Even though it’s MG, it can be read as YA. It has some great vocab and lots of details. Plus a lot of action. But the characters are animals… Still awesome! 😀

  5. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve still not read anything by Ellen Hopkins and I really must. The October Mourning book, just from your description, is making me weepy; I don’t know if I could survive reading it, though I know it would be wonderful.

    I write for kids to adults, mostly sci-fi, science, and multicultural themes. So reading outside my “genre” would probably be something historical. I’m not a history fan but I absolutely loved Team of Rivals. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Gay Pride Month PB, MG and YA Book Recommendations | Miss Marple's Musings

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