Sunday Inspiration: Querying is Painful

The dream of becoming an author through traditional publishing is just not for those with a low tolerance for rejection. As I continue to seek literary agent representation because I just don’t want to give up on it yet, I’m clinging to this:

“I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelations 3:8).

I believe that my desire to do this is firmly rooted in all the right places. I refuse to give up in finding that open door and walking through it. The journey to find it might take longer than I hoped. The door itself might not look like what I envisioned. But I will not give up.

YA Fiction: Who Is It For, Really?

I read a TON of teen fiction. I’m passionate about a well-told story that can teach a student more than I could ever hope to, like Divergent’s Tris in her sacrificial determination to save those around her, or The Giver’s Jonas in his refusal to sit back and let immorality rule, or The Outsiders’ Ponyboy in his effort to “Stay Gold.”

Fiction can be so powerful, and there’s nothing I love more as a teacher than seeing a student really connect with and learn from a character.

However, I’m noticing an alarming trend in YA fiction. More and more, I’ll get an advance copy of a book and wonder, as I start reading, WHO is this actually written for?

Shouldn’t that answer automatically be young adults? Teenagers? After all, that IS what YA stands for – Young. Adult. Now, though, it seems like there are tons of YA titles being published that are written FOR adults, though the characters happen to be teenagers.

What’s the difference? In books written for adults, there’s a feeling like the characters can do whatever they want because it’s all made up anyway, so the natural consequences of the world don’t matter. It’s like that creepy mom who tries to live vicariously through her popular daughter, sending her off to unchaperoned parties and indulging her every whim. It’s grown-ups trying to go back and live their teenage years the way they wish they could have spent them, without worrying about what will happen as a result. This is really disturbing.

While a fictional story is made up and can be a place to explore all kinds of dreams and hopes and wishes, however impossible they may be in real life, it’s also necessary to recognize choices that lead to heartbreak and rough adulthoods. As much as we might wish we could go back and have the party-filled, alcohol and vulgarity laced, sex and excitement ruled high school and college experience, there’s a reason we didn’t have that in the beginning: It’s. Not. Good. For. You.

And really, as authors, we have a responsibility to our readers. The best interests of teenagers should be at the forefront of our minds while we write. There should be some value to the reading experience – something to take away from it. That’s what I love about YA fiction; it’s a powerful avenue for teaching truths through the experiences of a fictional character.

On this site, I only highlight books that I feel are worthy of teens. The books I’d like to see my students reading. Otherwise, how can I call myself a teacher and a writer for young people?

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

vigilante poets

Blurb from Goodreads:

Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three friends decide to take down the reality TV show, For Art’s Sake, that is being filmed at their high school, the esteemed Selwyn Arts Academy, where each student is more talented than the next. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art’s Sake. But then Luke—the creative force behind the poem and leader of the anti-show movement—becomes a contestant on the nefarious show. It’s up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school. Along the way, they’ll discover a web of secrets and corruption involving the principal, vice principal, and even their favorite teacher.


When I saw this title and read the initial blurb, I knew I had to read it. I’m a sucker for a witty protagonist, vigilante world-changers, and prose involving poetry.

For the most part, I really enjoyed The Vigilante Poets and liked Ethan as a character. He’s the kind of guy who falls in love with girls for unusual reasons, like a beautiful neck because it’s the connecting point between the mind and the body, which is kind of cool. He’s smart and funny, but not really over the top nerdy in a way that makes it difficult to relate to him. I also like the main supporting characters of Jackson, Elizabeth, and Luke, though at times it was difficult to follow their conversations full of academic lingo.

The story moves along at a good pace, and I like the Arts Academy setting. The idea of a poetry-based revolution initiated by industriouos students is a dream of English teachers everywhere, including myself. The fact that they are led by their passion to preserve the integrity of their school makes it even better.

There are a few qualities that make this completely unlike anything else I’ve ever read, though. One, for a young adult novel (and most adult novels, really), the vocabulary and the poetry are incredibly advanced. I mean, I’m an English teacher and I wanted to look up some words to make sure I really knew what Hattemer was saying. Plus, Ezra Pound is not an easy poet to read, so there was some having to figure that out on my part. While I can breeze through most books in a matter of a few hours, this one took considerably longer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

Another unique quality of this title is found in Hattemer’s style. Ethan is the protagonist and narrator, but sometimes he would address the reader directly, acknowledging that this was a book. I won’t say it went as far as some postmodern-type literature, but it was enough to sort of startle me as a reader because the character was suddenly talking to me. It’s sort of unsettling.

Overall, I recommend The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy. I think it will resonate particularly well with upper teens who enjoy a bit of a challenge in reading material, but want an entertaining challenge. Also, those with an interest in poetry or the impact of Pop Culture on the Arts will enjoy the story of Ethan and his friends.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy releases this Tuesday – check it out here on Amazon or at your preferred bookseller!

Sunday Inspiration: The Creative Process

ira glass quote

One of the hardest parts of any creative process is deciding whose feedback to let impact your work. I’m learning as I go along, giving some people more of a voice than I probably should and shutting out some that I probably shouldn’t. One person might love my first chapter while another might think it starts off too slowly. One person might think I should start with a flashback while another might think it should jump into the heart of the story immediately. Ultimately, though, the gap is mine to close through revision and constant practice. Eventually it will work. I have faith.


Do you have a love for teen fiction that you’d love to share?

Do you often finish a book and wish you could tell people about it?

Pimples, Popularity, and Protagonists is looking for a few high school or college aged contributors for a monthly or biweekly post on the site. If you’re interested, contact me!

Friday Favorite: The IT Crowd!

I used to think British TV was weird. I still do. But in the case of The IT Crowd, it’s an amazing kind of weird.

Basically, it centers around three people who work in the basement IT department of a big corporation. The company isn’t important. The characters are. Not only are they well-written and interesting, they are some of the funniest characters I’ve ever encountered. Roy and Moss, your stereotypical, socially awkward computer geeks, work in the department alone until Jen, a woman who lied on her resume and has absolutely no clue about anything computer related, is hired as their supervisor.

My husband and I have watched every episode multiple times (you can find the entire series on Netflix, and tons of episodes/scenes on YouTube) and they just never get old. It’s like a British Seinfeld. Classic comedy.

So go search for it on Netflix and watch it. Yes, even teenagers, because while not a specifically teen show, it’s freaking hilarious. I seriously dare you to watch it and not laugh, which is absolutely impossible (especially in the one titled “The Work Outing”). For now, though, enjoy his infographic of the very best character ever: Maurice Moss.



Adventures In Book Writing, Part 1

So, I wrote a book.

A whole one. 75,000+ words. 300 pages. One full YA novel.

I’ve always talked (or whined) to my husband about how much I’d like to pursue writing as a full-time career, and he finally challenged me to start writing my first book. Actually, what he said was, “If you write as much as you read, you’ll have a book written in a few weeks.”

He was kind of right. It actually took a few months, but within about three months (even while teaching full time and being a mom to two young kids) I had my complete novel and had already gone through a few full edits on my own.It felt challenging in the best of ways – like putting together a puzzle of pieces that had been floating around in my head for years.

Great, right?

I had grand visions of spending my summer off sending out query letters to agents and choosing carefully from the offers of representation (because of course in my daydreams the agents were jumping at the chance to work with me). I thought that, maybe, I could even go back to school this fall with a contract from a publisher. I mean, if the book writing process went so well for me, why not expect the rest of it to go as smoothly?

I was so wrong.

As of now, I’ve sent out 25-30 query letters to agents. All were written according to the guidelines of each particular agent. Rules were followed. I participated in twitter events involving agents, tried to follow every lead I caught wind of. So far I’ve responded to a request for a partial manuscript and a request for the full manuscript, but I’ve mostly gotten form letter e-mails back telling me that my book just didn’t sound like the right project for that agent at the time.

I guess I’ve gotten to the point where I’m going to put some effort into writing another, different book instead of just pursuing the first one. That’s not to say I’m giving up on the first one – the people I’ve had read it have loved it, and I’m grasping onto their compliments to keep me sane and focused on my dream. I am, however, coming to terms with the fact that it may not be the manuscript that gets me an agent. So I need to work on the manuscript that’s going to get me an agent.

I wish the whole agent/publisher process was a little more author friendly, but I understand that agents can only take so many authors at a time. I also understand that they get crazy amounts of queries every day. That doesn’t stop me from hoping that, one day, I’ll be the author they respond to with a resounding “Yes!”