Writing for Young Adults: A Conversation with Author Sarah Skilton

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If you’ve ever tried to write for a YA audience, you know there’s a particular brand of alchemy needed: complex characters, a convincing teen voice (without echoes of parent or teacher), and a plot that moves faster than teenage attention spans. No easy feat! That’s why it’s a treat to feature someone who gets it so very right: Sarah Skilton, author of the YA contemporary BRUISED (Amulet/Abrams, March 2013).

Sarah_Skilton

About Sarah:  After growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduating with a TV/Radio degree from Ithaca College in upstate New York, Sarah Skilton moved to sunny Los Angeles, where her blood promptly thinned out, preventing her from returning to either location. Kicking around Hollywood for ten years, Sarah worked as a movie-of-the-week production assistant, a TV extra, a freelance writer, a film reviewer, and a blogger at a Japanese marketing group. She currently reads TV and film scripts for a company that streamlines the casting process for agents and actors. She and her husband, a magician, live in Santa Clarita, California, with their young son. Sarah’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a fact that came in handy while she was writing her martial arts-themed debut YA novel, BRUISED. You can read more about her work at www.sarahskilton.com .

AM: Welcome, Sarah! So what made you decide to write Young Adult novels? Do you write for other ages, too?

SS: Thanks so much for having me at your blog, Anita. I’m really excited to be here.

I joined a Young Adult book club in 2009 and read some phenomenal novels by authors such as Judy Blundell, Patrick Ness, Coe Booth, Angela Johnson, Rebecca Stead, Natalie Standiford, and MT Anderson that jumpstarted my interest in a big way. YA books tend to be fairly fast-paced and dialogue focused, and that format appeals to me as a writer and a reader.

For BRUISED in particular, the story couldn’t have been about anyone other than a teenage girl or it wouldn’t have worked, I don’t think. I always envisioned my protagonist as someone who didn’t have a ton of life experience yet; I like the emotional highs and lows inherent in teen life, and the sense of identities formed and lost during that time.

I have written for adults in the past but I’m currently focusing on YA.

Your main character, Imogen, is a teenage girl with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do who struggles with guilt over a life she couldn’t save. What do you hope readers will connect with most in this character?

Bruised

I hope they’ll connect with the dichotomy of her strengths and weaknesses, since we all have them. In some parts of her life—such as her

dedication to martial arts—Imogen is very mature, but in other parts of her life—her relationships with friends, family members, and Ricky (her love interest)—she’s immature, even vulnerable, and I hope readers see her as a “whole” person because of it.

Critics love BRUISEDyou got a starred review from Publishers Weekly and tough-crowd Kirkus called it “a distinctive debut.” Howdoes that affect your current writing—is it energizing or do you feel the pressure? 

A little of both! I’m flattered and happy that people seem to like the book, and hopeful that they’ll like my next story, which is very different from BRUISED in terms of narrator and style (and plot, obviously, ha ha). One of my favorite BRUISED reviews came from Goodreads. The reader said something along the lines of, “The only thing I didn’t love was that the doom and gloom began affecting me.” I find it cool that something I wrote depressed a stranger!

What’s your top piece of advice for aspiring and debut authors?

For aspiring authors: Write the book you would most want to read, but also make sure to read outside the genre you’re writing. Inspiration may hit from unexpected sources.

For debut authors: Celebrate every single moment, big or small, from your edit letter, to seeing your jacket copy, to relatives’ reactions, to getting your ARCs, to seeing the book online or in stores. Don’t deny yourself any amount of excitement.

Last but not least, what’s up next for you as a writer?

HIGH AND DRY, my next YA, comes out Spring 2014 through Amulet Books. It’s a desert-set mystery about a high school soccer player, a boy this time, who’s framed for a stranger’s near-fatal overdose, blackmailed into uncovering a missing flash drive, and pressured to throw the big game, all while trying to win back the girl of his dreams.

That sounds fantastic. I can’t wait to see it hit shelves! Thanks again very much, Sarah.

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