Hone your Craft through Reading

In the midst of snowiest, coldest winter in Michigans history, Ive been hard at work, furiously attempting to complete the first draft of my first YA novel (working title, Foxwoode).  More than once, while Ive been trapped inside my snow-covered house frantically typing away on my computer, images of Stephen Kings, Misery, have crept into my brain.  But, thankfully, there is no crazy woman holding me hostage in a snowy cabin forcing me to write the next great American novel.  I dont have any fans to speak of.  The pressure to complete my first novel is coming completely from within me.

Im happy to report my thriller/mystery, which is set at a summer riding academy in Northern Michigan, is making progress.  I just passed the 35,000 word mark and Im nearing my first draft end goal of approximately 50,000 words.  Ive learned so much about the writing process, just by writing.  Its been inspiring to see the characters personalities and previously unimagined story lines develop before my eyes.  But, not surprisingly, doubts and questions have also developed as I write.  For example, how much adult content is appropriate in a YA novel?  How dark is too dark?  (My mind easily slips into dark places see Misery reference above).  Is my writing horrible?  What is the best way to begin a new chapter?  To signal the close of a chapter? And for that matter, how long should the chapters be?

I know there are many books out there dissecting the art of writing a YA novel.  Personally, I have found Mary Koles, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, to be extremely helpful in this area.  But all of the how to books in the world cant answer many of the most basic questions, including Am I on the right track? and What are they looking for?  By they, I mean agents, publishers, and the young adult audience.  Ive found the best way to answer my constantly developing questions is by reading other thriller/mystery young adult novels that have recently been published.  Just by reading similar novels, I can see how other authors were successful in doing what I am trying to accomplish.

In her book, Chapter After Chapter, Heather Sellers recommends reading 100 books from the same genre a writer wishes to write.  Im not sure Im going to make it to 100 before my first draft of Foxwoode is completed, but I am striving to read at least 40-50 comparable novels.  I love Heather Sellers idea of keeping a list of each book Ive read with a sentence or two about the story line.  That way, when it is time to query agents and publishers I can easily refer to the list and mention books that are most similar to mine.

The other day I went to Barnes & Noble and made a list of all of the best-selling teen thriller/mystery books on display.  Just from that one trip, I have about twenty new books to add to my list.  Im currently reading, and thoroughly enjoying, The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney.   I love that it is written in third person, just like my novel.  Ive been able to sharpen my technique of writing dialogue and internal thoughts by observing how Ms. Cooney did it successfully.  Next on my list is The Killing Woods, by Lucy Christopher. The cover of the book looks almost exactly how I envision the cover of my future novel to look (except mine will have a misty silhouette of a horse in the woods too).

Now I need your help.  I am searching for some great YA thriller/mysteries that involve horses and have been published in the last 3-5 years.  Any suggestions?  Please share!  Also, Id love to have more friends with me on my YA reading journey. Please be my friend on Goodreads to join me.  Id love to see what youre reading too!

Until next time, happy reading!

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