Ava Jae

Obsessive writer. Insatiable reader. Perfectionistic Artist.

Writability: Manuscript Wish List (MSWL): A Hugely Valuable Resource for Writers

So just recently, the amazing Jessica Sinsheimer(Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency) and K.K. Hendin (author extraordinaire whose book I’ve raved about in the past) announced the launch of their new Manuscript Wish List site. 

For those who haven’t already seen it’s incredible hashtag version #MSWL on Twitter on tumblr,  MSWL is a site where agents and editors share what projects they wish they had in their inbox. That’s right—it’s a peek directly into what agents and editors are hoping to find right now.

For more information about this supremely awesome idea came to be and what it’s all about, check out MSWL’s About page.

So while I’m no longer in query mode, I did find the MSWL Twitter event extremely helpful (and exciting!) while I was querying, and I know without a doubt that had this site existed a year ago, I would’ve been living on it.

You see, the tough thing about the MSWL Twitter event is it’s much harder to filter (not impossible, mind you, just takes some Twitter savviness and anyway, digression). There also tend to be a lot of tweets and it’s so very easy to miss something in the fray and well, this website? It’s basically genius.

The extra bonus fantabulousness of the MSWL site is you can filter the results by genre (Fantasy, LGBTQ, YA, NA, whatever) or tag (Crossover, Literary Style, Boarding School, Dual POV,  TV/Book/Movie comp, time periods, etc.). From there, you can see the entries, which vary from a couple sentences to a full paragraph all about what that particular agent or editor would love to see.

I mean, c’mon you guys, HOW AMAZING IS THAT? (Rhetorical question: it’s obviously the bomb).

Querying is tough, and doing your query research can be excruciatingly difficult at times, but I suspect this will really help a lot of writers in their search for an agent or editor who will love their work. So if you’re a querying writer, make sure you take some time to browse this amazing site, and don’t forget to thank Jessica Sinsheimer and K.K. Hendin for their awesomeness!

Will you be using this incredible resource?

On ‘The John Green Effect,’ Contemporary Realism, and Form as a Political Act


Right now, children’s literature is seeing an intense flare-up in the ongoing conversation about the diversity crisis in children’s books. While this conversation has been going on for decades, now social media has given the people having it megaphones, and they are using them to brilliant ends. The conversation is loud, important, and people are listening.

So naturally the mainstream media uses this time to publish pieces that give a straight white guy credit for revolutionizing the industry.

 Last Sunday, the New York Times Book Review featured a rather bizarre review of John Corey Whaley’s Noggin by AJ Jacobs. Noggin is about a boy whose cryogenically-preserved head gets attached to another boy’s body. Remember that part for later. Jacobs begins the review, adorably, by discussing how confusing being a teenager is and how Whaley’s book is a really metaphor for teenage alienation. And then, well, I really need to quote this part:

With Noggin, Whaley is straddling two genres. Its most obvious allegiance is to the category of teenage romances featuring supernatural characters.

 Well, obviously. Guy with cryogenically frozen head gets used to new body=supernatural romance. It must be embarrassing for Whaley to have his influences be so patent.

 Jacobs continues:

 But “Noggin” actually owes more to the John Green genre, which I like to call Greenlit. Green is the master of first-person, funny-sad young adult novels. His most popular — “The Fault in Our Stars” — also has a main character who is battling cancer.

 Ah. “The John Green genre,” and “Greenlit!” Sure! Jacobs is talking with a lot of authority for someone who has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s not alone, though—lots of people who have no idea what they are talking about believe that YA is two genres: Twilight and its imitators and John Green and those he supposedly inspired. Guess which one they think is better?

 The idea that first person funny-sad contemporary YA realism is “the John Green genre” might come as a surprise to all the women who have been writing it for a decade or two or three. I’m sure it came as a surprise to John Corey Whaley, too, who thought he was writing his own books. But both books have cancer in them, so Noggin obviously owes a big debt.

 Jacobs concludes:

Whenever I finish a novel with a high concept, I do a little test and ask if the book would hold up if the conceit were magically stripped away, if you removed the gimmicks and were left with only the emotional skeleton.

 First off, the equation between “high concept” and “gimmick” is reductive, demeaning, and highly revelatory. We could spend a long time unpacking the biases there. Secondly, how is this any different than evaluating realism? Don’t we, as readers, hope for all our literary stories to have a strong emotional skeleton?

 Finally, Jacob’s “little test” is critically suspect at best. Remember the part about the cryogenically-preserved head? This isn’t a gimmick, it isn’t frou frou; it’s an essential part of the story, a deliberate choice made by the author to deliberate ends. And I’m just not sure you’re supposed to evaluate surrealism by removing the surreal parts so you can evaluate the parts you understand.

 One thing we’ve learned: it’s all-too-easy to let popular narrative guide your views on YA—certainly much easier than ever researching or reading in the field you are talking about. These articles about YA are based entirely on accepted truths from people who live entirely outside the field; they keep getting perpetuated, and everyone nods sagely as someone else proclaims John Green is saving poor teenage girl readers from those silly silly vampire books.

 Why, just yesterday the WSJ featured a big profile on Green in conjunction with The Fault in our Stars release. And it would have been so easy for them to just write a good, accurate profile of a highly successful, really interesting author with a movie coming out. But the article just has to overstep:

Some credit him with ushering in a new golden era for contemporary, realistic, literary teen fiction, following more than a decade of dominance by books about young wizards, sparkly vampires and dystopia. … He’s thrown his weight behind several young-adult authors who write realistic novels and are now regarded as rising stars, including Rainbow Rowell, E. Lockhart, and A.S. King.

Well. Yes, some do credit him with that. But not anyone who knows what they are talking about.

 Rainbow Rowell is a star, but she rose to prominence last year, so calling her a rising star isn’t wholly ignorant, just a little behind the times; more, while John Green did give her a good review in the NYTBR, it’s demeaning to Rowell’s talent and accomplishments to credit her blockbuster success to it. And, speaking of demeaning, A.S. King and e. lockhart are John Green’s peers. They are stars, entirely on their own merit. They are blazing trails, not following them.  The idea that their success has anything at all to do with John Green’s weight can only be entertained if you think that stuff men do is just inherently more important. (And that John Green can time travel.)

Of all the ludicrous and sexist things that have been said about YA of late, this one is the most ludicrous and sexist. But it’s a particularly flagrant example of what’s been happening in the conversion for years. And there’s something really troubling about it all—in a field where the books supposedly appeal primarily to teenage girls, where the stars are innovative and brilliant authors who are predominantly female, we’re telling these readers that maybe they can aspire to growing up to be influenced by a guy, too.

 Also, A.S. King and e. lockhart do not write realism. There’s so much ignorant and insulting about the way they were positioned in that article, and it seems particularly cruel to deny these authors their immense sophistication and ingenuity—and then credit their success to someone who writes much more conventionally. King’s books are magical realism, as is lockhart’s latest (and her previous books all use postmodern techniques). Magical realism is actually an entirely separate genre from realism. 

 This is important: when the magic in magical realism is treated as irrelevant or erased, critics are taking a profound literary tradition and robbing it of its significance and import, erasing it altogether. And since this is a genre that rose out of and has been perpetuated by authors from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, (and whose practitioners in this country are predominantly female and of color) that gets pretty disturbing.

 The American literary canon defaults to realism. Novels that don’t fit in this mold are seen in dominant literary culture as other—a deviation from the norm. You can see this bias all through this article—the quotes from editor Zareen Jaffery and agent Michael Bourret as presented* imply that only characters in realism can be relatable, and only realistic stories can be character-driven.

 Which is poppycock.  

 (*For the record, I don’t buy for a second that either of them said those words in that order.)

 Realism is a construct, the same as any other genre. In America, it sits in a place of privilege as something more literary and authentic—but this is about nothing but tradition. And it’s a tradition of white male authors and the white male critics who canonized them.   

 In American theater in the mid-20th century, serious plays tended to work a certain way; this is the well-made play—realistic domestic dramas with unity of place and time. This is the theater of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams—all still considered the titans of American Theater. But around the 1960’s, voices started to rise up from the margins, and the dominant form didn’t work for stories they wanted to tell. The feminists, the writers of color, the LGBT writers exploded conventions in the structure and language of theater. For so long, realism was the standard, but for these writers, form was political—and they had to remake it in order to tell their own stories.

 Naturally, certain people get unhappy when anyone from the margins remakes anything. Young playwrights are still often taught that the correct method of storytelling in theater is the well-made play. And those game-changing contributions from feminist, black, Latin, Native, and LGBT playwrights still get treated as “other,” as fodder for diversity day on the syllabus instead of essential texts in understanding the history and capacity of theater.

 And, as much as those who clutch to realism as standard would deny it, this too is political.

 So the peculiar canonization of John Green and this string of bizarre articles that anoint him as the vanguard of a post-sparkly-vampire seriousness in YA isn’t simply about taking a white male more seriously than everyone else. It’s also about privileging a certain narrative structure—the dominant narrative’s dominant narrative. It’s not only that Green is a straight white man, it’s that he writes in the way that generations of straight white men have deemed important and Literary. And in art, the remaking of form has historically made the establishment very uncomfortable. There’s so much innovation in YA (and, hi, middle grade!) and its audience is wonderfully open to new stories told in new ways. By holding up Green as an exemplar, by shoving his peers into his shadow, these critics are telling writers who might be innovating: if you want to be important, write like him.

 It’s not just YA, of course. Recently the New Yorker posted an essay by Junot Díaz about his experience in an MFA program, “MFA vs POC.”

 The title pretty much sums it up. The essay is devastating if you care about literature, young writers, or, you know, human beings. Díaz recounts the misery of being a person of color in a program where whiteness is considered the norm, and where no one ever thinks there’s any reason to question that norm. Of course, this showed up in everyone’s writing:

 From what I saw the plurality of students and faculty had been educated exclusively in the tradition of writers like William Gaddis, Francine Prose, or Alice Munro—and not at all in the traditions of Toni Morrison, Cherrie Moraga, Maxine Hong-Kingston, Arundhati Roy, Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker, or Jamaica Kincaid. In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male.

This is a literary tradition perpetuating itself by ignoring other voices, treating them as unserious. It’s normalizing one type of storytelling and casting the others as suspect. And, among many other things, it’s going to make our literature really boring.

 This isn’t to say that contemporary realism belongs to white men alone; for recent example, Pointe by Brandy Colbert and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina use the form beautifully, and to affecting, important, and political ends. In their hands, realism becomes a tool for speaking truths about gender, race, and class.

It is one way. But it is not the only way.

 Fantastical elements, non-linear storytelling, unconventional language, postmodernism, experimentation and innovation—these elements tend to otherize a book in our literary culture. But why? Why is a fantasy less serious? Why is it okay to strip the magic from magical realism? This is a reactionary response, based on long literary history, and it’s all about power.

 We need diverse books. In children’s literature, this is urgent for the well-being of our kids. But it’s also about the well-being of literature itself. Art thrives on being challenged and questioned and pushed—and it’s not the establishment writers and critics who are going to do it. Every single writer benefits from reading stories that play with language and structure and reality—and so do the readers.

 We need diverse books, but it’s going to be hard to get them when we keep privileging a certain narrative structure, when we keep erasing the elements that make a book unconventional, and when we ignore decades of female writers to canonize one of the white men who follow the path they laid out. This idea of a white male vanguard leading a revolution in realism is reactionary on so many levels. It’s time to stop it. It’s time to start looking ahead.

Are you a writer who doesn’t have time to read? Here’s why you may want to seriously consider making it a priority. 

Also, here’s the blog post version from several years ago. 

JK Rowling created seven Horcruxes. She put a part of her soul in every book and now her books will live forever

—Stephen King (via devine-infinities)

(via theartoffiction)



basic spelling when it comes to trans terms, since these things tend to get misspelled fairly often:

  • transgender, not ‘transgendered’. you wouldn’t say someone is gayed; it’s the same thing here
  • trans, not trans*
  • remember to put the space. trans woman, trans man, trans non-binary person
  • not necessarily related to spelling, but don’t use ‘enby’ as a blanket term for all non-binary people. some of us don’t like it or are uncomfortable with it, and prefer ‘nb’ or ‘non-binary’. stick with non-binary until you know what a person is okay with
  • add on if you see this list and have something else to say

i thought of more things:

  • never use ‘it’ UNLESS the trans/non-binary person has specifically said it pronouns are fine. if the person wants you to use it pronouns only, and you refuse or use different pronouns, you are misgendering the person. yes, i know the history of the usage of ‘it’ against trans people. that doesn’t make it okay to misgender someone who has made the conscious decision to use ‘it’ for itself
  • FtM and MtF can be harmful. use these carefully; make sure the person you’re talking about/to is okay with these terms. on that note, don’t talk about trans people being trans to others without the person’s express permission
  • "used to be a boy/girl"/"became a boy/girl" = not okay
  • "opposite gender" erases non-binary people. try "all genders" or "another gender" instead

(via thewritingcafe)

Writability: Discussion: Are You a Re-Reader?

I’ve been thinking about re-reading, lately.

Largely because of my never-ending TBR list (and not-so-infinite allotted time), I don’t re-read quite as much as I used to. And yet, I’ve recently met some people who frequently re-read novels five or six times (sometimes in a row!) and it got me thinking about why we re-read and re-watch and re-consume our favorite media.

I mean, from an outsider perspective, one might think it’d be a little boring to re-read something—after all, don’t you already know what’s going to happen? But as anyone who’s ever re-read a favorite book can tell you, you come out of every reading with something a little different. You notice things on the second and third and fourth readings that you hadn’t picked up on the first time. The nuances become more clear, the foreshadowing obvious, the character development easier to understand.

That, and re-living a favorite book, quite frankly, can be a lot of fun.

Nowadays, the main reason I re-read books is to remember what happened before I dive into the sequel, so I can pick up on the nuances and references from the previous book without pausing to try to wrack my brain to remember what happened. This, of course, really only applies to when there’s been a decent amount of time between the reading of book one and book two, but I find that it really does help me fully understand the sequel.

That being said, I don’t re-read every book before picking up the sequel, especially if it’s a particularly long book (City of Lost Souls, for example? Probably not going to get a re-read before I pick up City of Heavenly Fire, even if I did enjoy it. Which I did). Mostly because of the aforementioned time constraints and mountainous TBR list.

But I’m curious. Do you re-read books? Often? Sometimes? Three or five times? 



The one thing I love about re-reading my favorite books is the ‘no need to rush’ feeling. You already know everything that happens to your darling babies, the plot, and your otp, so you can savor every detail like a sip of the perfectly brewed tea on chilly sunday morning.

And you get to notice all the little things that you missed before because you were too caught up in the plot.

(via theartoffiction)

Anyone who has ever written “The End” on a manuscript knows that, sometimes, inspiration eludes us. No one looks forward to those lulls in the writing process, but they are natural, and they can be overcome. These are the times when we must proceed on willpower and caffeine and the unflappable confidence that each word we write is one word closer to a finished novel. I can promise that, tough as those times may be, they often lead to some of our most proud and beautiful writing moments.

—Marissa Meyer (via writingquotes)

"Piracy’s No Different Than Checking Out a Book From a Library"




Stop right there. 

Piracy and checking a book out from a library sounds the same to you, because to you, there is no difference. Either way, you’re not paying. 

But there is a HUGE difference. Because when you pirate a book, the author gets NOTHING. The value of books go down to the publisher, resulting in fewer books produced and smaller advances for authors. Piracy actively hurts the sales of books. Yes—there are some people who pirate books and then go on to purchase books. Yes—there is an argument to be made that people discover books via piracy, leading to more sales. But for the vast majority of authors, piracy hurts everyone in the business—there is no statistical data that I know of that disproves this. Anecdotal evidence based on that one guy who buys a copy of every book he downloads doesn’t count.

Libraries? Libraries HELP everyone in the business. A library sale is significant and directly supports the authors and publishers who make the books. If a book you want isn’t in the library, requesting it leads to a sale. If it is, checking it out leads to more future sales for the author. A library sale leads to more than just profit—it leads to exposure in significant awards markets, promotion for the author in trade show and librarian market shows, and much more. Library books are free for you to check out, but not free for the library to purchase—so when you check out a book, you’re contributing to the purchase of the book, to money in an author’s pocket. The more a book is checked out, the more an author gets—books have to be replaced, and check-out date contributes to future advances and sales for the author. Every book checked out from a library supports authors, supports publishers—and what’s more, it also supports libraries and the communities—the people inside those communities. More library activity = more tax money to support the library = more community involvement in the library = greater educational opportunities throughout the community. 

To you, it’s a free book. Maybe it doesn’t feel different how you procure the book. But piracy at best gives an author exposure and at worst actively hurts the exact people who are trying to make the very books you’re stealing. Libraries actively work to support authors and the very community you live in. 

Saying that piracy is equal to libraries is the same as saying that you don’t care how other people are affected if the end result is the same to you.


Today I met a 6 year old named Nox.

Either that’s a name I’d never heard of or the Harry Potter generation is having babies, skipping character names and going straight for the spells. 

(via bibliogato)

Diversity in YA’s 2014 Back to School Giveaway

Everyone loves free books, right? Check it out this awesome giveaway from diversityinya