Author Archives: lindajoysingleton

About lindajoysingleton

Linda Joy Singleton wrote her first story at age 8 and received her first rejections when she was 14. It wasn't until she was a young mom with two kids in diapers that she sold her first book, ALMOST TWINS. An avid collector of series books, her first original midgrade series, MY SISTER THE GHOST was published by Avon Books in 1995. Other series followed: CHEER SQUAD, REGENERATION, STRANGE ENCOUNTERS, THE SEER, DEAD GIRL and in 2010 THE FINDER.

Linda Joy Singleton Talks With Chris Eboch

In the coming weeks, we here at the Spectacle will be interviewing… each other! It’s our chance to tell you a little bit more about ourselves and our books. Today, I’m interviewing Chris Eboch, author of a dozen books for young people, including the Haunted series, The  Well of Sacrifice, and the ghost on the stairs. She writes action-packed romantic suspense for grown-ups under the name Kris Bock.

Linda Joy Singleton: The Haunted series has three books out, The Ghost on the Stairs, The Riverboat Phantom and The Knight in the Shadows. But we haven’t seen a new book in a while. Is anything new in the works?

Chris Eboch: The Haunted series got dropped by Aladdin after major upheavals that included my editor leaving. A couple of months ago, I posted on Verla Kay’s blue Boards — a discussion board for children’s book writers — that I was considering self-publishing the fourth Haunted book, which I had already written.

Last week, I got an e-mail from a new, very small press, wondering if I would be interested in working with them to release the book. We haven’t settled anything yet, but Haunted 4: The Ghost Miner’s Treasure will eventually make its way into print, one way or another. I’d like to keep writing more in the series, but that depends on whether or not I can make enough money to support myself while I write them.

The Ghost Miner’s Treasure continues Jon and Tania’s adventures in hunting — or rather helping — ghosts. This time their paranormal pal is an old miner who struck it rich in life but then couldn’t find his mine again, so he’s still looking, a century after his death. The kids get to join the Haunted ghost hunter TV show on a trek into the Superstition Mountains to hunt for the mine — but someone dangerous is tagging along, and this time it’s not the ghost.

LJS: You did a series of blog posts recently on your decision to self publish after years of traditional publishing. How is that working out?
The Eyes of Pharaoh cover
In terms of the success of the books, it’s still too early to tell. For my first adult novel, the romantic suspense Rattled, I’ve been finding support in the community of mystery writers and fans. I’ve done guest posts on several blogs and have more lined up. It’s really hard to tell how often these things lead to sales, of course, but it helps to get the word out. I also have some great reviews on Amazon!

So far I haven’t seen a big difference in sales between Rattled and my SP middle grade mystery, The Eyes of Pharaoh. I need to contact some of the teachers who use my Mayan historical fiction, The Well of Sacrifice, in the classroom and let them know about the new book.

One of the big challenges is finding the time to promote the books properly, when I have to spend most of my time earning money by teaching, critiquing, and writing articles. But I figured it would be six months to a year before the books had a chance of reaching some kind of “tipping point” and taking off.

I’m still not convinced that self-publishing is the only way to go. I recently met an editor at a conference who is interested in seeing my next romantic suspense, and I’ll probably send it to her. It would be nice to get an advance and more help with the publicity, not to mention the greater distribution. In the meantime, I’ve gotten good feedback on both the SP books, and I’m pleased to have them available to readers. So no regrets, though the process is slow!

LJS: What are you working on now?
The Rattled Cover
I’m working on my next romantic suspense. Rattled is intended to be the first book in a series about treasure hunting in the Southwest, but the new book is a separate stand-alone. It’s similar in that it involves adventures in the Southwest wilderness — this time, Hovenweep, a small national park with Ancestral Pueblo People (Anasazi) ruins. The main character is a young archaeologist who is just trying to get away from it all, but she discovers that there’s a lot more going on in this remote area than she expected. Eventually I want to get back to the cast of Rattled. The main character may be on her way to Happily Ever After, but her best friend needs to star in her own book!

I’m also working with a book packager on a contemporary teen series. I don’t want to say too much about that yet, though. Just know that I haven’t stopped writing for young people entirely!

Thanks for chatting, Chris! I hope everyone will enjoy our upcoming talks with other Spectacle contributors.

Linda Joy Singleton

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Sarah Beth Durst Talks Fairy Tales

Sarah Beth Durst is the author of Into The Wild, Ice, and Enchanted Ivy, novels that put a new spin on traditional fairy tales. She joins me here for a Q&A about once upon a time, witches, and were-unicorns.

Q: What made you decide to write about fairy tales?

A: I think “once upon a time” and “happily ever after” are two of the most powerful phrases in the English language (right up there with “I love you” and “free pizza”). You hear them and you’re instantly transported. As a writer, it’s fun to play with something that has such cultural resonance and so much emotional baggage attached to it. Kind of like playing dress-up with the Crown Jewels.

Q: Why do you think fairy tales still resound with audiences so many years after they were written?

A: Fairy tales are stories stripped down to bare bone. The characters lack internal lives and often are missing motivation and even logic. So that means that the reader (and writer!) is free to impose her or her own meaning on the stories. Combine that with the universal themes (true love, jealousy, revenge, etc.), and you have a set of stories that can be made relevant to virtually any culture in any time.

Also, fairy tales are awesome. Candy houses, dangerous fruit snacks, and heroines who befriend rodents — what’s not to love?

Q: How do you flesh out characters and plotlines from the fairy tales your stories are based on?

A: Honestly, it’s not so different from fleshing out a non-fairy-tale-related story. Personally, I always start with the characters. I ask myself: What does each character want and fear? Once I can answer that question, I put my main character into a situation that touches on those wants and fears, and I see how they react. At their core, most stories are about a character facing his or her worst nightmare and then changing because of it. It’s the why and the how that make things interesting.

Q: If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be?

I’d love to be Cinderella’s fairy godmother. She makes dreams come true, and she doesn’t fall off a cliff or die in a horrific fashion. In reality, though, I’d probably be a random extra who gets eaten by a wolf.

Q: I especially love your INTO THE WILD books. Who is your favorite character in these books and why?

A: Gothel, Rapunzel’s witch. She’s evil by nature but good by choice, which made her a lot of fun to write.

Q: Will you be writing more twisted fairy tale books? If so, can you tell us what’s next?

A: My next book is called DRINK, SLAY, LOVE. It’s about a sixteen-year-old vampire girl who develops a conscience after she’s stabbed through the heart by a were-unicorn’s horn. It comes out in September 2011 from Simon & Schuster, and I’m really, really excited about it!

Q: Is there a fairy tale your fans have asked you to write about? If so, what is it?

A: I’ve written about a bunch of obscure fairy tales on my blog (compiled here). One reader favorite seems to be the bricklebrit donkey, who spews gold out of both ends when you shout the word “Bricklebrit!” He hasn’t actually shown up in a novel yet, though…

Q: Is there a fairy tale you won’t ever write about?

A: It’s probably a good bet that I won’t ever write a novel about “The Juniper Tree,” which is a charming Brothers Grimm story about a mother who kills her son, tricks the boy’s sister into thinking she’s responsible, and then serves the boy’s body to his father for dinner. Talk about family issues! I like my stories to be a wee bit more upbeat than that. :)

Q: I love to hear about fan mail. What are the most common comments you receive from readers?

A: I love email from readers! My favorite emails are the ones in which readers tell me their favorite characters or their favorite parts or why they liked a particular book. One of the best things about being a writer these days is how easy it is for readers to reach out to you. I feel bad for pre-computer authors. I bet Jane Austen would have adored tweeting.

Q: Share a favorite line(s) from one of your books.

A: From ICE:

The bear bounded through the snow. Cassie clutched his thick fur and clenched her teeth as the impact jarred her bones. Snow spewed out in waves.

“Are you afraid?” the bear shouted to her.

“Like hell I am.”

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Linda Joy Singleton


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Will Book Collections Become Extinct?

I’ve been collecting juvenile books for a long time. The 100 girl series books I treasured as a kid followed me into adulthood. After connecting with other series collectors, I found more series to collect. Within a few years, 100 books became 1,000. Now I have over 5,000 juvenile books in a home library. Have I read all of these books? Heck, no! I’ve only read a fraction of them. But by collecting them I am preserving a piece of history. And I love all my precious books. 

Part of my book collection

If I hadn’t collected most of my books before the internet became the third dimension for modern life, I wouldn’t have such a good collection. I have complete collections of Nancy Drew, Dana Girls, Trixie Belden, Beverly Gray, Penny Parker, Vicki Barr, Anne of Green Gables, Sammy Keyes, Judy Bolton and many more. Most of my books were found in secondhand bookstores, thrift shops, garage sales and trading with other collections. It was challenge to find treasures and I rarely paid over $10 a book. Now if I want a treasure, it will usually be found online. While it’s quicker to search the internet for books, the fun of the treasure hunt is gone.

As an author whose books are selling more e-reader copies than paper copies, I wonder about the future of book collecting. Downloading a book doesn’t mean you own it. You can’t loan it to a friend. You can’t display it on a shelf. And how reliable are reading devices for protecting your e-library? Many people are choosing the convenience of downloading rather than the tactile experience of cradling a book in your hands and flipping pages.

Lately I’ve wondered where the world of paper books is headed. I’ve heard many opposing theories of what will happen. I’m in the camp of the “books surviving” theory. I think publishers will continue to publish books in many different formats: audio, paperback, hardback, e-books. But I do wonder about all those books going directly into devices. Will readers be able to keep their stored books or lose them as devices keep evolving? Will only the bestsellers survive and midlist books fade to e-file obscurity? How will readers find their books? Will there be book collectors? If so, will paper books become a rare artifact that only wealthy collectors can afford?

One thing is for certain: E-books are here to stay. There will be more of them and a variety of prices and publishers. There have been some big successes of self-publishing like Amanda Hocking. But as more authors self-publish directly to e-book, success will be a steeper ladder to climb. I’ve heard many writers, especially eager new writers, say they’re skipping submitting to publishers and going straight to e-books. I wonder if editors will be glad for the decrease in their slush piles. Or will they lament a really good book they never had the chance to buy?

I give a lot of credit to editors for improving my own writing skills (and I’m still learning!). I’ve learned so much by submitting, rejections, rewriting and editorial letters. I was very impatient when I first started writing. I thought everything I wrote was ready to sell. I was told that self-publishing (except for niche books) was not for serious writers. But if I were starting out now, I suspect I would skip the rejections and go straight to e-publishing. Why not? It’s quick and easy. Writers don’t need to prove their skills to get published; only have knowledge of formatting. Ultimately, though, the book will have to compete for readers.

I’m hoping traditional publishers keep publishing a variety of formats. I’ve been lucky to publish with some amazing publishers. My readers can choose between paper or electronic formats of my books. Personally, I prefer the touch of paper books and I’ll continue to buy hardback and paper books for my girl series collection. Someone needs to keep all these amazing books in one place.

As I heard at the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference, the book is a perfect device. No batteries or cords necessary. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try out e-books. If I’m going on a trip and need to pack light, I’ll download a book to my I-Pad. But if I end up really loving that book, I’ll buy a paper copy to keep.

Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 35 YA/MG books, including Flux series: THE SEER, DEAD GIRL trilogy and 2012 release, BURIED: A Goth Girl Mystery.


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IVY’S EVER AFTER by Dawn Lairimore

Fairytales have become popular in YA literature. One of my favorites was published in 2010 by Holiday House and is titled IVY’S EVER AFTER.

Ivy is a princess who must wait in a tower for a dragon to devour her. She isn’t crazy about this idea but it’s her duty agreed to in the Dragon Treaty. So on her 14th birthday she’s imprisoned in a tower and waits her fate. But when the dragon comes, he’s not interested in a princess snack. He’s peaceful and becomes friends with Ivy. The real villain of this book is the prince, who is greedy and cruel, and to conquer him, Ivy joins forces with the dragon on a magical journey that’s dangerous fun.

I really loved this book! It has a great voice and unexpected twists. There will be a sequel, too, I recently found out from the author, Dawn Lairimore. I saw the cover, similar to the first book with a dragon flying heroine. I can’t wait for IVY’S MEAN STALK, a twist on Jack & the Beanstalk, coming in Sept 2012

Linda Joy Singleton


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The Free E-book Experiment

All during January, my book THE SEER #1. DON’T DIE DRAGONFLY, was a free download from Amazon for Kindle apps. This didn’t happen overnight, in fact, it took about 6 months from my suggestion that my publisher temporarily offer the first book in MY SEER series for free since the 6th book came out in 2010.

My publisher admitted this would be an experiment, to see if a free book increased book sales. Since DON’T DIE DRAGONFLY came out in 2004, I was just thrilled for it to get some notice and the chance to find new fans.

So on January 1st at 2AM in the morning, I excitedly grabbed my I-Phone from my bedside and clicked on DON’T DIE DRAGON to check it on Amazon. I held my breath, hoping that it was going to cost “0.00” and not the usual $9.95 – and it did! By morning the sales ranking was already showing sales.

 There’s a separate list on Amazon for free books, which has over 20,000 titles competing for the Top 100 spots. My goal was to hit the Top 100. Most books on the list are public domain, and I was in direct competition with Alice in Wonderland and Pride and Prejudice. A few other YA authors offer samples of their books for free or short stories.

Well on January 1st, DON’T DIE DRAGONFLY went from #5,200 on the free book list in the morning to #54 by night. I had been one of the first to download it, finding it very easy to go from the Amazon page to my I-Phone where I’d already downloaded the free Kindle App. (I also have the Nook app, but have yet to read a complete book on that tiny screen … maybe when I get the I-Pad).

For all of January, it was a great ride for my free book. I was obsessed with checking the rankings. I watched the numbers fall (which is the best direction) from #54 to #28 to #21. My best ranking ever was Day 3 when I hit #13. After the initial buys from regular Kindle fans who look for free books, the rankings stayed around #40. My publisher noticed and emailed me with congratulations.

So was this experiment a success? I don’t have official numbers from my publisher but by checking my page on Amazon Author Central, I watched all my THE SEER sales improve; mostly the e-books. Even when DON’T DIE DRAGONFLY stopped being free, the books continued to sell–including the paperbacks. Of course, having 6 books in a series is what made this work so well for me. For a single title, it wouldn’t be a good idea to offer a book for free.

If I had my way, I’d continue to offer DON’T DIE DRAGONFLY at a very low e-book cost to lure readers in to the series. When the series was reprinted in French Canadian, #1 was sold for 99 cents while the other books had the usual prices. My books sell very well in Quebec and I think that initial low cost helped readers find my series. Free is a great price, too, but it comes with some lack of respect. Some of my reviews when it was free were rude. So in my opinion, a free offer should be temporary. Books involve years of work from the author, editors, copy-editors, cover artists, publicists and many more invisible people who bring books to readers. All those contributions deserve compensation and respect.

I am hearing from many authors that they’re considering selling out of print books either through an e-publishing program like Amazon’s or self-publishing. I expect soon there will be a huge flea market of inexpensive e-books available—which will bring authors back to the need for promotion. How do you make your book stand out?  But that’s a topic for another post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on reading/buying e-books.

Linda Joy Singleton –who prefers to hold paper books and read the old-fashioned way.


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From the Archives: Why Someone Else Won the Contest

Have you entered a writing contest and won? If so, congratulations! It’s not easy and a huge accomplishment.

But if you’ve entered contests and not placed in the finals, there could be some simple things you can do to improve your chances.

I recently judged a writing contest and it was so interesting to read these entries; imagining myself an editor, and sympathizing with some of the common mistakes they must see repeatedly. (Note: this was NOT a SCBWI contest, so most entrants were probably new writers).

In this contest, I read only one chapter and a short synopsis. I found some of the synopses really interesting, but often the writing wasn’t strong enough. In one situation, it was the reverse: great writing but weak synopsis. So I started keeping a list of common mistakes in the entries and will share them with you:

9 Things to avoid when entering a fiction writing contest:

1.  Telling too much backstory in the first chapter, so it ends up sounding like a long synopsis.
2.  Simple grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. Please double space and indent paragraphs.
3.  Stereotypes instead of interesting characters, such as saying “popular crowd” with few other details.
4.  Of the dozen+ entries, two were vampire books and one a zombie book.  If I had three trendy YA topics, I can only imagine how many editors are receiving!
5.  Mixing past and present tenses.
6.  Opening a book with a dream–this can be overdone.
7.  Introducing too many characters in the first chapter.
8.  Know the genre you’re entering — middle-grade and YA can be similar but there are differences.
9.  Describing a character by having him/her look into a mirror.

In addition I’ll add some reasons why I chose the top two entries:

ENTRY 1:  The entry started off with a shocking scene. The following action grew, enhanced by the main character’s inner thoughts and fears. By page 3, something very strange happened. By page 4, a stranger showed up who added even more mystery. The story mixed dialogue, inner thoughts, narrative smoothly. I was curious enough to keep reading if there had been more.  Also, this entry was double spaced, with a good synopsis that told the key points in the drama and concluded on an inner plus outer resolution.

ENTRY 2:  Loved the title–catchy and perfect for the current YA market. It gave me one of those “wish I’d thought of this!” moments. The synopsis wasn’t spaced exactly right but it told the story with drama and wry humor. The paranormal set-up was not vampires-zombies-werewolves but instead a twist on the genre. The opening line was sharp and intriguing. I immediately connected with the character. The dialogue and inner voice were a great mix of teen angst balanced with humor. I really loved this first chapter and am considering recommending it to my editor (only the contest is anonymous so don’t know who wrote it).

Another note about ENTRY 2–the paragraphs were not indented properly and the spacing was off. But that didn’t stop me from making this my top pick. And I think that’s how editors feel, too. They will forgive small mistakes if they fall in love with a story.

I really recommend judging contests — it’s insightful and a great lesson in writing. I always learn a lot–and it’s very satisfying to know I’m making the winners very happy.

lindaiconLinda Joy Singleton

Originally published 9/3/09

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5 Secrets of Staying Published For (Nearly) 2 Decades

My first book — ALMOST TWINS — came out in 1991.
Almost two decades later and my 36th book, THE SEER: MAGICIAN’S MUSE, just came out from Flux.


1. Butt in Chair on a regular schedule (but be flexible & enjoy family-friends, too). I’m at my computer every day. But when the kids drop by, I stop to enjoy them. Then it’s back to work.

2. Networking: writing friends are wonderful. We support each other and share info which can lead to sales. In 2003, after several years of crushing disappointments, a good friend Dotti Enderle suggested. I submit series ideas to her publisher Llewellyn. Since then I’ve sold STRANGE ENCOUNTERS, THE SEER series, DEAD GIRL trilogy, and upcoming 2012 GOTH GIRL Mysteries to Llewellyn/Flux. I’ve passed on pub news and love to support with other writers. One young writer friend, Jeff Sampson, found a publisher after a tip I gave him. He’s sold a lot since then and has a new book out now. I treasure all my writing friendships.

3. Never regret having written something even if it never sells. Raise your hand if you have unsold books buried away never to be read. I have about 10 unsold books; some deserved not to sell, others may be reworked in the future. Everything I’ve written was a lesson learned in writing and a stepping stone to the next book–which could be a bestseller (that’s my goal!).

4. Always say “yes” to new opportunities. When I was starting out I jumped at any publishing job. I wrote a quiz and short stories for teen mags. I ghostwrote a Sweet Valley Twin. When I was invited to write a cheerleading series for Avon, even though I had no cheerleading experience, I immediately said “yes.” Then I researched, took cheerleaders to lunch, attended cheer meetings & posed as a coach at cheer camp. Those were some of my best writing research experiences. The most challenging job ever was writing two Pick Your Own Dream Date books, which had over 15 different endings and I needed to make a color-coded chart of every page in the book to keep the storylines straight. That was a fun, stressful job which I’m still proud of; like puzzling together a book.

5. Never give up. EVER.

Linda Joy Singleton (cross-posted at my livejournal)


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Notes on Starting a Dystopian Novel

I’ve started writing a dystopian YA. I’ve read dozens of these books and finally have an idea of my own which I feel compelled to write. While I am good at plotting and cliff-hangers, it will be a challenge to build a new world. When I’ve written a SEER or DEAD GIRL books I already know the world and paranormal rules. But world-building is new to me and I have to do more than plot a story; I have to create a new world. I’m having to consider language, setting, history, rules of society and much more. I could spend months creating all the background for this book, but my impatient style is to just jump right into the first chapter.

How to start my book? If I compare myself with clever writers of my favorite novels, I’d probably get stuck and never write anything. I often like to start books with dialogue, but is that a good idea for a darker glimpse of a future world?

For examples, here are the opening lines from my favorite dystopian authors:
HUNGER GAMES: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.
INCARCERON:  Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.
CITY OF EMBER: (Chapter 1)  In the city of Ember, the city was always dark.
BIRTHMARKED: In the dim hovel, the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia’s ready hands.
FIRST LIGHT: Most boys his age had never touched paper.

All very different openings, but each sets the scene for a new and different world. Which is your favorite? I particularly like the opening for FIRST LIGHT. Not a surprise that this author, Rebecca Stead, went on to win the Newbery with her WHEN YOU REACH ME last year.

So now I’m thinking…should I start with dialogue? None of these authors did. But then I have to remind myself dialogue is a strength of mine. It’s important not to follow other authors and hone in on my strongest skills.

I have lots of notes about my society and I have an idea of where the book is going, including some dramatic plot points. But as I plot, I wonder if some of my ideas are over-used? My society is secluded, which has been done a lot. It involves scientists, which is also common. And even if I come up with something completely new that hasn’t been done yet, it might be published by the time my book is ready. So how can I make my story different enough to be publishable?

It would be interesting to know what things you think have been overdone in dystopian books. Comments please!

Linda Joy Singleton — who is entering a strange new world where the future is a scary, fascinating word adventure.


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Put A Teen In It and Call It YA

The character is 13 to 19 – but is that enough to call the novel a YA book?
The dialogue is ridiculous with teen slang – does that make it YA?
Descriptions are smothered with brand names and trends = YA?

As if! No way! Not even! Kill me now, please!

As someone who has written over 35 books, mostly YA, I cringe when I read a book that’s supposed to be a YA but is actually an adult novel in disguise. If you’re read a lot of YA, you know what I mean:

  • The character is 16 but talks formally and spouts lectures like a parent.
  • A 17-year-old isn’t concerned with appearances, friends, music, school, fitting in, standing out, passing tests or getting into college.
  • Every other word is slang…but from two decades ago. Radical, huh?
  • The style and rhythm is wordy, heavy-handed, pages of description, etc.
  • The teen is a background shadow while the adults carry the story.
  • A teen isn’t aware of everything electronic: iPod, Phone, Xbox, etc.
  • The ending lacks hope. Even if everyone dies, there should be a glimmer of hope on the final pages.

As Ellen Hopkins, author of CRANKED and other bestselling YA novels said in a recent interview:

Teenagers want to see themselves reflected between the pages of a book. It isn’t enough to mimic the voice of a teenager; to hook the young adult crowd, you have to climb inside their skin and channel their unique energy.

That’s sooo true! And that’s why I really get annoyed when I read a book that has a teen character but is not a YA. I recently read a science fiction YA book with a character who was supposed to be 14. Okay, this was a futuristic society so slang and trends weren’t an issue. But as I kept reading, I realized the author who was known for brilliant science fiction novels just stuck in a teen for the sake of reaping teen readers in a hot YA market. When I finished, I realized you could have put in a 40 year old guy in the SAME role at the 14 year old girl, and the story would have read the same. This was not a character teens could identity with—even though the book was good. Teens and adults would enjoy the book, but teens won’t get that extra connection; a sense of seeing themselves in the main character.

One book that may at first seem like an adult novel more than a teen novel is THE BOOK THIEF, which has Death as the main character. But if you keep reading, the novel is about a young girl growing up in war-time who learns about herself through bravery and a love of books. The essence of this book is a coming of age novel. And it’s brilliant.

But I’ve read many books which make YA an “age” not an “experience.” Some books were still great and I finished reading, but others didn’t pass the 50 page test and were discarded. And I’ll admit that if I recognize the name of a writer who is known for adult books, I analyze the story more, testing to see if they sincerely get what YA is about or they’re just following a marketing trend. I won’t name names…but I’ll bet you can think of a few who have succeeded and failed.

So is there anything wrong with adult books that masquerade as YA’s? Kids won’t know the difference, right? And most will just enjoy the story. But what about the teens that close the book, sensing that something is off, not connecting with the characters? What if they decide YA books just don’t excite them anymore? What if they lose interest in reading?

Have you read any YA books that you felt were adult-novels-in-masquerade? What are you thoughts on this topic?? I’d love to hear from you!

Linda Joy Singleton (who has been reading over 100 YA novels a year for a very long time)


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Why CATCHING FIRE Didn’t Suffer From “Second Book Syndrome”

(Minor spoilers for CATCHING FIRE)

The Second Book Syndrome happens when a middle book in a trilogy sags and drags.

Sometimes when I read trilogies, the second book is more of a holding place, a continuation that can’t stand on its own. And too often second books don’t measure up to the first book. Middle books can be like the light fluffy middle in an Oreo; delicious but not solid enough to stand alone.

But CATCHING FIRE surprised me and worked in a completely unexpected way. While waiting for this book to come out, I anticipated Katniss would be on the run, maybe hiding out in different districts. And it did start in a way that may me think my guess was on-target. But when I reached Part 2 and found out that there would be another competition, I was astonished.

At first I thought, “Not again! This can’t work.” But the tension kept growing with unexpected story twists and the new competition setting was unique. The setting for the new competition raised the stakes plus added science fiction elements (so if this fantasy or science fiction? Interesting question there). New plot twists appeared making this middle book unique and interesting enough to be a stand-alone book. CATCHING FIRE gave a solid delicious middle to this trilogy.

But that doesn’t happen in many trilogies. I’ll name one, but only because I can honestly say that I LOVED Catherine Fisher’s INCARCERON and SAPPHIQUE. Those books worked well together and each was fascinating and exciting. She was smart to keep it to 2 books which worked perfectly.  So I decided to try another series of hers and read THE NAMED. I loved THE NAMED. It set up a fascinating world with some mythology based fantasy mixed with time travel. The characters were sympathetic and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. But for me (and others may have a different opinion) the second book fell flat. It just felt like one drama to the next, with danger dumped on so much the original fun of the series seemed lost. I need to connect with my characters and feel their successes, but I lost interest since they were in constant peril with little hope. And often second books will use this device — making drama so intense and terrible, without giving success and lighter moments. Each book needs to have a good mix of despair and hope, without waiting until the final book in the trilogy for success and triumph.

Other common problems with middle books fall into the categories of could be called “IT REALLY SHOULD BE ONE BOOK” or “SAME STORY, NEW DRAMA.”

Without naming a popular trilogy that completely failed in my opinion with the sequels, what failed was that the drama in the first book built on strong characters who survived a disaster. The 2nd book continued the same event but with new characters. Then the 3rd book brought characters from the first 2 books together — and it fell flat with plot and characters, like a wrong turn on a familiar road. The author lost the momentum and I was very disappointed since I really admire this author.

A series that does a good job with additional books is UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld where the same character takes on a new challenge and changes in huge ways in each book. Each was a complete book on its own although it continued a larger story arc.

Can you think of trilogies/short series that had middle books which failed? Or some that totally worked for you? I’d love to hear your opinions!

Linda Joy Singleton


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