Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing for the YA Crowd by Christine Hughes

And so, my dear Rancourtesans, I'm taking a break from my blog vacation (blogcation?) to introduce you to another of the fabulous writers whom I've met through Black Opal Books. Christine Hughes is gearing up for the big release of her first novel, TORN, and I'm pleased to have her here to talk about writing for young adults. Keep reading, cuz you'll see there's a sneak peek at TORN down below, and it looks awesome. Thanks so much, Christine, and all the best with your release.

Thank you for having me on your blog! I am very happy to be here.
When I was writing TORN, I had to remember my protagonist, Samantha, was not an adult. Sure, she was experiencing adult situations and adult emotions but she was 17. The reactions and mannerisms of a 17 year-old, no matter how mature, are going to be very different from the reactions and mannerisms of someone five, ten or fifteen years older.
As much as I wanted her to be able to hold a conversation with the vocabulary of the kids from Dawson's Creek, I wanted her to be real. Don't get me wrong, I've met students with high level vocabulary but there is something jaded about using words for the sake of using them. And I wanted Samantha to be regular teenage girl with regular teenage girl issues and doubts. It was bad enough I was dropping fate on her shoulders, I did the best I could to make her as real as possible.
I was an English major in college and was a middle school English teacher for some time so I’m no stranger to the phenomenon that is Young Adult Literature. YA is like this thing, this creature that infiltrates the minds of young men and women, occasionally crosses over into grown-up land and opens up worlds.
When I decided to write, no question – my first book was going to be YA. I loved crafting my characters to fit the idiosyncrasies of the intended audience. I knew the message in the pages would need to rise to the level of a thought provoking, conversation starter and I truly hope I’ve been able to do just that. Only time will tell, of course. With that said, writing YA is not easy. It’s hard to forget sometimes that teens aren’t snarky for the sake of being snarky. It’s hard to remember that Mean Girls is just a movie. It’s hard to process that these kids discuss adult issues, deal with adult problems and unfortunately have to grow up faster than I remember having to.
The point is, my two cents on writing YA is this – remember these kids are so much different than when many of us grew up. They know more, they see more and they expect more from a book that “happily ever after”. They want variety. If you can give them something to think about, something to talk about and something to share, they’ll read your book and pass it along to their friends. 

TORN will be released June 9, 2012 and is currently available for pre-order at Black Opal Books.

Bio: A former Army brat, Christine Hughes moved quite often. She spent much of her time losing herself in books and creating stories about many of the people she'd met. Falling in love with literature was easy for her and she majored in English while attending college in New Jersey.
Not sure where her love of reading and writing fit, she became a middle school English teacher. After nine years of teaching others to appreciate literature, she decided to take the plunge and write her first novel. Now at home focusing on making writing her new career, she spends her time creating characters and plot points instead of grading papers.
Music has become an integral part of her writing process and without the proper play list, Hughes finds the words don't flow. At least a few times a week she can be found at the local Barnes & Noble with her Mac and headphones working on her next novel.

Torn Blurb:
With the sudden, mysterious death of her father, Samantha discovers her life isn’t what it seems. Not only isn’t she the normal teenage girl she thought she was, Sam must now take her father’s place in the fight between two groups of fallen angels—the Faithful and the Exiled—in a race to save humanity. In addition to dealing with the devastating betrayal of her friend and her feelings for someone she is forbidden to love, Sam must also fight the growing darkness within her as she struggles to make a choice between fighting alongside the Faithful or succumbing to the temptation of the Exiled. Both sides require sacrifices Sam isn’t sure she can make.

 Chapter 1

The Cabin

Run, Samantha. Don’t look back. Just run.
I repeated this mantra over and over again as I sprinted through the trees. Focused, like my life depended on it and knowing that one day it would, I ran. Through the damp woods, past branches that tore at my skin, and hurdling over logs, I ran. My breath mingled with the crisp fall air but I didn’t feel the cold. I felt nothing but the pure and relentless adrenaline that pumped through my veins. As the sun rose and cast its broken beams through the trees, I ran. With only a single thought: I have to get there.
I knew he was following me. He was close. So close. I couldn’t let him catch me.
My legs carried me over slick moss and rotting bark. I flew over downed trees, grabbing for branches to help me over. I was fast. Faster than before. Faster than yesterday. My focus was singular. The task at hand was all I could think about. Get through, Sam. Faster, Sam. Jump, Sam.
I swore I could navigate those woods with my eyes closed. I could see the next obstacle that lay ahead of me yards before it came into view. And when I concentrated hard enough, those obstacles began to disappear.
I burst into the clearing and could faintly make out his barely labored breathing behind me. He was so close I could smell him. I dug in and pumped my legs faster. Always faster. I knew I was going to beat him this time. I had to. I closed in on my destination. All I had to do was jump. I had to make it over the water. Over the creek on the other side of the clearing.
Samannnnnnthaaaa…. Run!
The intrusive voice pulsed through me and drowned out the mantra in my head, breaking my rhythm and I stumbled over a rock I was sure hadn’t been there yesterday.
Damn it! The eerily familiar voice that had settled comfortably in my head like a squatter, had the worst timing It teased like a schoolyard bully and I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t. I had to run. I was almost there. Come on, Sam. Fifty feet. Forty feet. Thirty feet. Almost there. As I braced my body for the jump over the swollen creek, he caught my ankles in mid-air and dropped me to the ground with a bone jarring tackle onto the muddy bank.
“Son of a bitch,” I growled.
I fought back, jumping up the way I was taught, fists at the ready. I caught him off guard, for the first time, with a jab to the chin and a roundhouse to the stomach. Then I did a back spring, landing well out of his reach and quickly regrouped. The grin on his face as he rubbed his chin told me I surprised him with that one. And now I was in trouble.
“Lucky shot, Sam. Nice kick. Too bad this one’s on me.” His cocky bravado triggered an extra jolt of adrenaline inside me. He’s not gonna take this round. Not this time.
For a few seconds we circled each other, anticipating the other’s next move. He crouched and lunged at my knees. I jumped to grab the branch above me and he missed, sprawling out in the dirt. But not for long. He was on his feet again before I’d even let go of the tree, his eyes merely blue slits of predatory focus. I had a total of three seconds to figure out my next move before he lunged again, targeting me mid-waist.
Instinctively, I dropped to the ground, and sprung forward, drilling him into the trunk of the nearest tree. Rain had started to fall, shrouding the sound of my movements as I quickly disappeared behind the brush. I needed to work out how to nail him with an element of surprise.
He growled in frustration but his annoyance didn’t matter. I was winning. I could feel it.
My hands and knees were scraped and dirty. My hair was a tangled mess and the sudden rise in humidity brought on by the rain wasn’t helping. The scent of decaying vegetation around me did nothing to mask the stench of my sweat.
His voice taunted me. “Come out, come out wherever you are. You can’t hide from me forever. You think you can camouflage yourself from me? I can smell you.”
Think, Samantha.
He was right. I couldn’t sit there all day getting soaked in the rain waiting for him to find me. Through a small gap between the leaves, I could see him looking, scanning the trees and underbrush. Then his eyes focused where I crouched. I needed to act, now.
The forces of nature seemed to heed my need for action and the sky erupted, complete with booming thunder and darting strikes of lightning. I belly crawled behind bushes until I was on his right. His eyes still boring into the spot I’d just vacated, he took a step forward.
I slowly stood and crept up next to him. He turned around and I caught his cheek with a right hook but he grabbed my hair and yanked my head back. I yelled, in surprise and  pain. The look on his face made him almost unrecognizable and for a moment I was paralyzed as the maniacal voice stole through me once again.
Samannnnnnthaaaa… Run!
He took advantage of my shock and swept my legs out, dropping me face first into a vat of mud.
So not how I had envisioned this ending.


  1. WOW! Can't wait to read TORN, Christine! Great post. It's so true about YA. It's a challenge to write realistic YA. I'm glad you stepped up to the plate because TORN sounds awesome!

  2. Christine HughesMay 30, 2012 at 7:21 AM

    Thanks Liv for having me on your blog today.
    Thank you Leslie! 10 more days!

  3. As the mother of middle schoolers, I'm in awe of you, Christine. I can't imagine trying to teach them. And I can tell from the excerpt that you've pretty much nailed the voice. Strong work!
    & thanks for checking in, Leslie...

  4. So looking forward to Torn. YA mystifies me, but it's been SO long since I was that age, a lot of young people mystify me!

  5. You are so right about teens being different now than when we were teens. I have a 14-year-old stepson who definitely has to deal with more than I did. You made a good point about teens not being snarky for the sake of being snarky. There is often a reason, even if we don't know it at the time.

  6. This book sounds amazing ~ can't wait to read it!

  7. Great stuff. I can't wait to read and to give to my teens. So exciting. Thanks for bringing this to us, Liv.

  8. Mona - I'm sure you can remember - the embarrassing parts, anyway. Seems like all of high school was one long embarrassing part.
    Sheri - I know for sure I never sent my best friend a text message when she was sitting right beside me "so no one will know what we're talking about". Things change...
    And yeah, Sara & Kim, if the rest of the book is as good as the excerpt (and I'm sure it is!), it'll be an awesome read.
    Thanks, y'all, for stopping in!

  9. Great advice - nailing that teen voice is one of the biggest challenges I face as an adult writing a YA novel. Christine, you seem to capture it very well. I'm adding Torn to my list of to-be-read books. Thanks for sharing this, ladies!

  10. Well said, Christine! Especially about the language of the new generation. During writing my YA, I heard "You can't have her say this or that. A teenager doesnt speak like that..." from my critique partners more often than not. Now, I'm glad I listened to them. :)
    Great post, and great first chapter. Counting the days until the release with you.

  11. Thanks for the positive vibes, Tami & Piper! Hope you get a chance to read Torn & that you enjoy it.