Tag Archives: young adult

Writing Tips from Alison Goodman, author of The Dark Days Club

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing!   How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? I have a particular method that I have used for a very long time now. I call it the portal method. The first step is to think of at least three important events that have happened in your character’s past. They can be good or bad, but they have to be significant. These are the portals through which you look when you are planning a particular scene. For instance, in The Dark Days Club, my main character, Lady Helen, lost both her parents when she was ten. They drowned on a yachting trip and their bodies were never found. So out of that comes a whole slew of character traits and information, all based on what I imagine would be the psychological consequences of that event. For example, the loss makes Helen feel a sense of abandonment, it has made the idea of family very important to her, she does not like doubt, and she has grown up to be quite cautious. When it comes time to writing a scene that has a link to family – perhaps between Helen and her brother – then some of those traits would come into play. I focus the scene through that “Family/Loss” portal. It provides a base line from which to build the character’s responses, and because these are fixed events in the character’s life they provide cohesiveness to the overall characterization. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I always start by researching – many, many months of reading books about my era and searching out primary resources. As I’m doing that, I’m also creating a storyboard and scene breakdown of the plot. Then, when I get to a certain stage in that process, I start writing the first chapter to test out the voice and tone. I keep rewriting that first chapter until I have the voice and tone in place, and I have worked out most of the main plot points on the storyboard. Then off I go, writing the novel. However, that does not mean the research or the storyboarding stops; they continue throughout the whole writing process. There are always delicious new facts to discover and blend into the narrative, and, as I move forward through the manuscript, the interaction between character and plot can sometimes create shifts in the storyline that require a rethink of action sequences or scene placement. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Every writer rewrites. The first thing that comes out of your mind may be good, but it is not finished. One of my bugbears is the notion that if something is going to be good, then it should arrive perfectly formed. That is absolute 19th century Romantic nonsense. That initial, wonderful rush of ideas is a great start, but the real work is in crafting all that excitement and energy into a meaningful emotional journey for the reader. Describe your writing style in 5 words or less. Fluid, suspenseful and slyly humorous. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you?
  1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I was about thirteen and had been dragged along to a dinner party by my parents. While the adults ate prawn cocktails, beef stroganoff and talked politics, I took refuge in the living room to finish The Outsiders. I ended up sobbing my eyes out in my borrowed bean-bag, partly because of the sad ending but mainly due to the realization that a good deal of my devastation had been created by the terrible beauty of the book’s circular structure. That’s when I truly wanted to become a writer.
  2. These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. Again, I was twelve or thirteen years old. My mother always gave me a book for Christmas and this one came at exactly the right moment—I was ready for well-researched history and dashing romance. I was besotted by the exciting blend of adventure, humor, and buttoned-up characters coming undone by love.       This was the beginning of my love affair with the 18th and 19th centuries, which has now come into full bloom with The Dark Days Club!
  3. If On A Winters Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. This was one of the texts I read in college. It is a postmodern masterpiece, and has everything you’d ever want to know about creating poignant relationship triangles in fiction, all explored in beautiful prose.
Learn more about The Dark Days Club below.

Learn all about Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir wrote the popular new Young Adult novel, An Ember in the Ashes last year. On Word and Film, she shared some of her inspiration and background as a writer.
“I grew up feeling voiceless and powerless as a kid. I turned to books – fantasy books, in particular – to give me comfort. As I grew up I realized I could find that sense of power and voice if I simply started writing.”
Read more about Sabaa here and listen to her fantastic interview on Beaks and Geeks!  

Writing Tips from Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes

We know readers tend to be writers too, so twice a month, we’ll feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing!  What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? I don’t have any specific techniques I employ on a daily basis. But there are some tips I’ve found useful over the years. In particular, an article that Zadie Smith wrote back in 2010 is one I think every writer should emblazon on the inside of his/her brain. The entire list is here. My two favorite rules from it, No. 7 and No. 8, are:
  • “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.”
  •  “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”
How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? I find character summaries useful—a few pages where I write out character history, likes, dislikes and personality quirks. But I learned the most about my characters when I “interviewed” them. I got a friend to ask me questions, and took on the personalities of my characters as I attempted to answer those questions. The interviews made me really consider who these characters were and what they wanted. It was weird, but it was also a revelation. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I stare at a blank laptop screen thinking, “Oh no, what now?” Kidding! It depends on what I’m writing, but when working with a book idea, I try to sketch out a few paragraphs worth of action—just to see if the idea has legs or if it falls apart. Once all my thoughts are down—and if I feel like the idea is still solid—I try to organize what I’ve got into a few coherent chapters
Sabaa Tahir
Sabaa Tahir
Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Music and coffee. Without either of those, I’m no good. The coffee wakes me up, and the music gets my brain moving—it’s basically the fastest way into whatever scene I’m working on that day. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I always wanted to write, but never admitted it to myself. I’ve told stories since I was a little girl, and began writing them down as soon as I figured out how. But for my parents, who are South Asian and were quite traditional, writing wasn’t a legitimate career because it offered no security. I spent years assuming I’d become a doctor. Eventually, I went into journalism and used that as a springboard into fiction. What’s the best piece of advice you have heard? “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” —Winston Churchill. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Off the top of my head, I can think of three.
  1. Don’t waste inordinate amounts of time polishing small sections of your writing. Figure out your story first. Polish later.
  2. Show your work to people. Recently, I fell into an old (bad) pattern. I’d written 50 pages of something and was certain it was horrible, but hadn’t actually shown pages to anyone. Don’t do that! Find trusted readers amongst writer friends, and get feedback.
  3. Don’t make excuses for yourself. You can waste years that way. If you find yourself repeatedly saying you haven’t written because you’re too tired/busy/blocked etc., then rethink how badly you want to be a writer.
Describe your writing style in 5 words or less. Tell it like it is. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I sometimes borrow certain quirks or characteristics from people I know, but no, I never wholly base characters off of people I know. It’s way more fun to make them up. Read more about An Ember in the Ashes here.

Celebrating Judy Blume, author of In the Unlikely Event

Judy Blume’s first book for adults in seventeen years has just come out, and we couldn’t be more excited!

In The Unlikely Event is a multi-generational novel that explores war, love, family and a changing America. The story traces an air-travel tragedy from the 1950’s and follows Miri Ammerman as she reflects back on that time, thirty-five years later.

Since Blume has shaped so many lives over the years, we turned to our employees to reminisce about the Blume books they loved growing up.


I have two daughters now in their twenties. When the  younger one was almost eight, she particularly loved Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. When the older one was ten, she loved Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. Judy Blume was empowering girls before the word empowering was ever used in the current context!”

-Beverly Horowitz, VP Publisher, Delacorte Press


“I used to imagine myself in the NY city apartment building where Peter, Fudge, and their pet Turtle lived. I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing during “silent” reading time in 3rd grade and giggled in the corner the whole time.”

-Melissa Major, Digital Marketing Coordinator, Random House Children’s Books

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was the first Judy Blume book I ever read and my best loved.  Even though our circumstances were entirely different, I saw so much of Sally in myself: she was inquisitive, opinionated, and had the most intensely weird imagination of any character I’d ever read.  I’m still all of those things and I like to think that Sally is too!”

-Emma Shafer, Community Manager, Blogging for Books


“Coming from a family of three siblings, Superfudge both defined and helped navigate my sibling relationships. As a middle child myself, I completely relate to Fudge.”

-Sonia Nash Gupta, Associate Director of Marketing Random House Children’s Books Browse through all of Judy Blume’s books here!

Beaks & Geeks interview with authors Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, chat with Lindsay at Random House’s Open House event to discuss their 2nd book together, Off the Page. Check out the Beaks & Geeks episode archive! Visit us on Soundcloud Subscribe on iTunes – be sure to rate and review us! Follow us on twitter: @BeaksandGeeks

Challenge Your Shelf: Young Adult Reading Challenge

Who said reading can’t be competitive? Every few months, we’ll be challenging you to read a list of selected books. Print out the challenge and cross the titles off as you go. Show off how much you’ve read by taking a picture and tweeting @penguinrandom or Instagramming (@penguinrandomhouse) with the hashtag #challengeyourshelf. There are always books on your to-be-read shelf, so why not challenge yourself? We picked 24 beloved Young Adult books everyone should read. Show us how many you finish! (click image to see full size and print out)readingchallenge-must-read-ya-best-sellers