ROAD TRIP WEDNESDAY: How to Correct a Fairy-Tale


Road Trip Wednesday #95: Adult Characters Who W ...This week Road Trip Wednesday asks ” In honor of this month’s Bookmobile book, Marissa Meyer’s CINDER, name a fable or story you’d like to see a retelling of. If you’re feeling creative, come up with a premise of your own!”

In general, women get the short end of the magic wand in fairy-tales. We’ve all heard how the original tellings of such tales at Sleeping Beauty and Snow White involved some kind of rape, but even the sanitized modern interpretations don’t have much to recommend them. More recently this is starting to change. TANGLED ‘s Rapunzel is sort of kick-ass I guess and Tiana in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG is pretty cool too.

But being a tough heroine is maybe not enough. Maybe these stories need to be picked apart from their core to examine what they said about the people who wrote them and the time in which they were written. More importantly, if we are going to retell a fairy-tale how can we make it say something about US and OUR time?

File:Franz Jüttner Schneewittchen 6.jpgFor example, let’s take on what has been retold again and again, SNOW WHITE. An interesting feature of many of this kind of “princess” fairytale is the pitting of one powerful and already high status women against a younger and lower status and always more beautiful young girl. This is certainly the case in SNOW WHITE wherein the Queen takes against Snow White because her mirror declares the younger woman more beautiful. We see the same kind of girl on girl conflict between Cinderella and her step mother and sisters, and also between Sleeping Beauty and the witch/fairy who curses her.

At the time these tales were written high status and powerful women were maligned and mistrusted, suspected of witchcraft (the villainesses in SNOW WHITE and  SLEEPING BEAUTY are both witches) or gold digging social climbers (like Cinderella’s step mother). In retelling these stories with the evil jealous female rivals still in place (EVER AFTER, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and MIRROR MIRROR all include these rivals) we are reinforcing these old values and neglecting to challenge them historically. The real impediment to young women in this time was not, in fact, older more powerful women in general, but men, and the oppressive state.

Not much has changed today. The difference is, the fairy-tales of old were likely penned by men who projected their own power struggles onto their female characters. Can women today relate to being marginalized and oppressed by older and more powerful women? Possibly but this is hardly a major neurosis of our time (although this is certainly what happens to young men in many milieus). As in olden times, the most dangerous foes for young women are still predatory males and the state. But again, the difference is NOW GIRLS ARE WRITING THE STORIES.

So regardless of what story is being re-spun, what I’d love to see is not only an empowering of the female heroes but a vindication of the female villains. Maybe Cinderella’s MOTHER died leaving her in the care of an evil step-FATHER and two abusive step brothers. This is, after all, a far more likely scenario (in general girls are more likely to be abused by fathers or stepfathers than by mother or stepmothers). Maybe Snow White is marked for death by an evil KING, who views her as a blemish on the honor of the kingdom, perhaps because she was seen consorting with the prince, who is, of course, above her. (this sort of “honor killing” is all too common) Maybe Sleeping Beauty is cursed by a judgmental WIZARD because her mother aborted her previous pregnancy (well, okay, that’s some poetic license but still…).

I don’t mean to paint men as the villains here. I’m completely okay with Prince Charming or whoever riding in to save our fair maiden. Or not, maiden kicking butt works too. All I’d like to see is a re-examination of the source of conflict in these stories and an exculpation of, (full disclosure, I’m 45) meddling old broads like me.



For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks “what was the best book you read in April?”. I’ve been having a huge reading month (and a crap writing month but that’s often how it goes). With nearly a week left I have already read fifteen books. There were definitely some standouts and some that didn’t work as well for me.

Interestingly with several of the books I found myself asking the same questions – legal questions.  All the below books deal with a crime in one way or another. I don’t want to give any spoilers but some of them left me doubtful about the way the legal response to this crime played out. In several cases  I found myself doing Google research to check whether the legal reaction was plausible give the circumstances. In a couple of cases, I don’t think it was.

The book to which I gave the highest Goodreads rating,  SPEAK by, Laurie Halse Anderson (five stars!), though it concerned a serious crime, did not include legal ramifications. I suppose that’s because the story was not really about that. Whatever the  reason, this was a fantastic book that I devoured in about four hours. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read it. And I was particularly glad that a great read wasn’t marred by implausible legal outcomes.

This just goes to show how careful you need to be with your research. I know teen readers are probably not quite as skeptical as I am, but a writer should never assume that readers will buy their bullshit, just because it makes the story go where it needs to. When it comes to legal cases, the best thing to do is to consult a lawyer or police officer who works in the district in which your story is set. I know this sounds expensive, but I emailed a New York criminal lawyer, when I was writing a screenplay, and he was tickled to be consulted about criminal law in New York and did it for free.

The other books dealing with crimes were: NOTHING by Janne Teller, GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Williams, LEAVING PARADISE (Leaving Paradise, #1) by Simone Elkeles, WE WERE HERE, by Matt de la Peña,  CRAZY BEAUTIFUL  by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, and  FORBIDDEN,  by Tabitha Suzuma.

How JK and HP Changed MG and YA


For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks what is your favorite literary moment?

So I think it will come as no surprise that I am a huge Harry Potter fan, not just as a reader, but also as a writer. The whole Harry Potter experience has colored and shaped the young readers’ book industry immeasurably, to which anyone in the industry will attest.

Of course the big change has to do with sales, with the size of the market. Before Harry Potter, books for young readers rarely crossed over into adult best sellers. Now they frequently do. Agents, publishers and now even established writers are keen to explore this realm. No one could have predicted  this. If you’d told me, when I was reading A Wrinkle in Time as a youngster in the 1980s, that in twenty years a book about a boy wizard would become the best-selling book of all time, I would have laughed.

Truth is often stranger than fiction.

I love Harry Potter for so many reasons, but for me what the phenomenon did to the industry is not as important as what the plot did to story-telling. If Harry Potter is ever criticized (which it is) then it is often on the basis that it’s not very original. Sure the themes and settings are derived from Lord of the Rings and the Narnia Series and sure the over-arching plot is really nothing but “The Hero’s Journey” but so what? You could say the same of Star Wars or any number of other fantasies.

But for books for children Harry Potter did something that is rarely seen in escapist fantasy: a character, a child, is murdered right there on the page.

“Kill the spare,” Voldemort says, towards the end of The Goblet of Fire, and poor Cedric Diggory gets turned into an Avada cadaver RIGHT THERE ON THE PAGE.

I remember reading this scene, the first time I read the book, in the wee hours of the morning, after reading all night (as one does) and thinking: “Now everything changes”. And I was thrilled, and delighted, and excited for the possibility that kidlit fantasy had just graduated to something darker and scarier and less safe.

I know kids have been dying in books for a while, but usually only in “contemporary issues” books  and almost never actually on the page. Cedric’s death scene was a precursor to all the violent devastation of the HUNGER GAMES. Without Cedric there would be no (spoilers spoilers spoilers) Rue, Finnick, or Prim. We would not see beloved characters killed “on screen” as it were.

Cedric died so that others might…well…die. Poor Cedric.

I won’t say that it’s my favorite literary moment. There are others – I don’t think I can choose. But this one is right up there for sure. It was a game changer. And this is my game.



For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks If you could wander anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?

I have to ask: does it have to be in this world? Today?

Let me go back a bit. I write middle grade, I write YA. I write fantasy and sci fi and YA romance. I write some historical stuff. What I DON’T write is about stuff that I could actually do. I don’t particularly care to read that either. I never read Eat Pray Love and I never watched “Sex and the City”. I can wander around South East Asia having epiphanies any time I want and if I really wanted to go to New York,  buy expensive shoes by day and shag worthless alpha-men by night, I could probably do that too.

I write and read about young people because I can never be young again. I read and write about aliens and wizards because I haven’t been able to find any, no matter how hard I look. I read and write about Regency times, Victorian times, Elizabethan, Roman, the 1970’s, the 1960’s, WWI, prehistory and the far future because I can never go there .

I write and read about first love and losing virginity because those ships have sailed. I write about high school because that’s a frightening fantastical dystopia too, from a past so far away it seems ancient.

So I guess all this is a long winded way of saying that if I could wander anywhere in the world it would be sideways, through time, or off it completely, to another planet or universe. Not that I don’t like our world, but if we’re fulfilling wishes here, why not wish for something that I can’t get on my own steam?

Still I have to say, right now, I could do with a bit of a wander through the Grande Bazaar in Istanbul. No particular reason, I just feel like it would be a nice place to spend the afternoon, looking a jewelry and knock-off handbags, drinking tea and eating baklava. Sigh.

If you’ve never been to Turkey, you should go. And here’s a horribly inaccurate video to inspire you a bit:



When I meet new people and we have that awkward “So, what do you do?” moment and I tell them “I’m a writer” am usually then faced with one of a small selection of follow up questions. Many of them are described very well by Wendy over at YAtopia, along with a few others added in the comments.  One comment that perplexes me is ‘where do you get your ideas?’  I find this such a strange question. I’m perplexed by people who go through life WITHOUT a million ideas infecting their brain, but that’s me.

Anyway, one time, after someone asked me this and I explained that I just have ideas and I don’t really know where they come from, he hit me with a follow-up question: ‘Do you ever write about your life?” To which I replied: ‘Who would want to read that? I can see it now, a book called FOUR FAT SISTERS COMPLAIN ABOUT THEIR FATHER.” Of course I realized immediately that this was  GREAT title, but if it really was about me and my sisters, no one would want to read it. BOOOORRRIIINNNNGGG!

I don’t really like memoir much – I’ve read a couple of decent  ones – but I’d much rather read fiction. I have friends and family members who are dealing with cancer/mental illness/drug abuse etc, so those topics don’t really interest me as reading material. I faced my own little tragedies too, all the typical girl stuff, you know. I don’t want to read about it; I don’t want to write about it either. I write BECAUSE  my life is variously dull or depressing, the  joy coming from the banality of daily life – a roast dinner with my hubby, my daughter singing, a fire in the fireplace, a glass of wine, the usual simple stuff. Not exactly Doctor Zhivago.

Maybe later in life I’ll do something extraordinary, or experience something worthy of memoirizing. I kind of hope not. You know what the proverb ‘May you live in interesting times’ really means right? I guess if I was to write a memoir of my life as it had actually been, the title would be INCREDIBLY DULL AND AND EXTREMELY AVERAGE. 


That would be the YA title. The adult version would add something about sex and drugs.

Road Trip Wednesday – African American Authors and Characters


For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks Who is your favorite African American author or fictional character?

I’m pretty excited by this question, because I’m been thinking a lot about writers and characters of color, and what they mean to me, a white writer. I’m very conflicted about writing characters of color myself, which I rant about here and here (a bit). But that’s my own stupid problem. I’ll save that for some hapless psychiatrist’s couch.

I don’t check the color of authors before I read them, and I’m sometimes surprised when people start talking about characters as being this race or that. I guess maybe my eyes just drift over those details. So maybe I might be more widely read in terms of African American authors and characters than I think I am. I’ve read Toni Morrison of course; who hasn’t? I think BELOVED did permanent damage to my brain. Possibly Ms. Morrison is the reason I gave up trying to read literary fiction for adults. She’s too darn smart for me. I don’t feel worthy.

That’s not to belittle the author I AM going to choose – Walter Dean Myers. I was thrilled when he was chosen as an ambassador for young people’s literature.  I admire his body of work (such prolific authors scare me) and I love that he uses multi-modal formats. I was a screenwriter, so MONSTER was particularly appealing to me. The protagonist STEVE is great.

I’m going to cheat a little bit though, when it comes to my favorite African American character, because he’s not African American, he’s Jamaican Canadian. Yes, I have to choose Harry Ambrose, the protagonist from my upcoming book WICKET SEASON. After all that angsting, I still wrote a book with a black protagonist. I wrote this book on contract so my choice to make Harry Jamaican Canadian was driven as much by the needs of the publisher and the subject matter (in Canada, cricket is played almost exclusively by people of color) and my own stylistic choices. Also, since this is a hi/lo book there was a requirement to keep the plot and language simple. This eliminated the need to get into the Jamaican culture in detail, or to use more than a smattering of Jamaican Patois. Nevertheless, I tried to do my research and make it seem real, for the love of cricket. I hope readers love Harry as much as I do.

Road Trip Wednesday – Words That Don’t Belong in Queries


For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks what words do you absolutely hate?

A couple of years ago I started a thread on called ‘Words that Should never Be In Queries’. A great deal of hilarity ensued about such phrases as ‘fiction novel’ and ‘the next Twilight’ (although I said this to my agent the other day, but I was joking).

What inspired me to start the thread was the ubiquity of certain words and phrases in the summary  section of queries. These types of words also appear on IMDB a lot, and in TV Guide. So rather than focus on one word I hate, here are a few words that fairly strong consensus indicates should NOT be used in queries:

1. Tumultuous

Tumultuous is not such a bad word I guess. I guess the problem I have with it is that really ALL books are tumultuous, or should be. Not many people want to read about someone’s average, uneventful day or life. Too many YA romance queries point to some teens “tumultuous summer” at her aunt’s beach house, or “tumultuous romance” with some mysterious loner etc. “Tumultuous” is not descriptive enough. It can be a good, bad or just busy summer or romance. Be specific.

2. Fast-paced or Action packed.

This is basically a cheat that says “My book is good, really really good. Trust me.” Therefore it’s a review. One should never “review” one’s book in the queries. Three more offenders are riveting, inspirational, and enthralling.

3. Rousing or rollicking

What are we? Speech writers from the 1930s? Both these words says exactly nothing except perhaps that things happen, whatever they may be, loudly or in fast succession with a lot energy,  usually sometime before the Second World War.

4. Chaotic

Scientists have shown us that the universe is governed by chaos. Telling an agent that your MC has a chaotic life is not helpful.


5. Spirals out of control

Even if this wasn’t a cliché (it is) and even if it wasn’t regularly combined with other clichés to create the most horrendous mixed metaphors imaginable (“the fairytale romance spirals out of control”,  “His life spirals out of control as he tries to keep the wolves from the door” etc), this phrase is too vague. It’s also inaccurate, or it should be, because a good story is driven by INTENTION and an ACTIVE character, not just one who watches the proverbial sh*t hit the clichéd fan. Also why is lack of control always circular, like a spiral? Why not fractal (like chaos) or linear (like a runaway train)?

Generally I object to the above because they don’t really say anything. They are words used by lazy writers who haven’t bothered to really think about how to describe what happens in their books. A query needs to be pithy, above all, packed with meaning and clear. Don’t waste precious space in a query by using one of the above clichés. If you’re not sure about your query try I comment there as “Petal65” and am happy to offer feedback, especially on queries for Young Adult and Middle grade.

Road Trip Wednesday – Shiny New Ideas


I’ve been kidding with people for a while that “Troll-Love” is going to be the next big thing. I mean we’ve had vampire-love, werewolf-love, angel-love, devil-love, faerie-love (the spelling is critical here), immortal-love (which is always weird because usually the guy is about a thousand years old and the girl is 16 – ick) and mermaid-love. So troll-love is obvious right?  In this spirit I jotted down the word “trollogy” the other day, tittering at my cleverness.  A romantic trilogy about troll love, how cute, thought I.

This is where we get to the happy ending to this story. I always ALWAYS start with Amazon when I have a shiny new idea. And guess what I found: TROLLOGY by Steve Barlow. Now apart from the horrendous lost opportunity of this not being the title of a trilogy about trolls, I concede this book looks pretty cute. It’s a middle grade adventure though, not a YA paranormal romance. So much for troll-love.

I don’t worry about ideas. Nothing I’ve written is strongly “idea” driven, “high concept” as we used to say in the screenwriting biz. Sometimes when I start writing something, I don’t even HAVE an idea.  My verse novel AUDACIOUS (did you hear I signed a two book deal on Monday?) started out with the premise “a semi-autobiographical YA verse novel”. My current WIP is hardly an original concept (come to think of it, it’s practically troll-love) but I hope I’m bringing something new to the table.

Also, ideas are a dime a dozen for me. I have pages and pages of ideas. I have enough ideas to write two books a year for the rest of my life.

However, part of my writing process is to read what’s out there in the same vein. So I start with Amazon. I Google. I certainly don’t get attached to a great title. I want to avoid the tropes in particular, but also see how other authors approach a genre. I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian, because originally I thought my WIP might be dystopian. But it’s turning out to be more apocalyptic, so I’ll be looking at things like THE WAY WE FALL by Megan Crewe to get an idea of how authors are handling this.

The main thing is to try avoid what has been trending for a few years. Dystopian is OVER people. Angels are OVER. VAMPIRES are soooooo OOOOOOVVVEEERRRRR!

For now. All these things will come back. No idea is ever really done.

Road Trip Wednesday – January Books


For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks what was our favorite book to read in January. Well, I’ve had quite the month. Including finishing A DANCE WITH DRAGONS I have read 20 books.

The book-tweets are below, but I have the say the winner is BOY TOY by Barry Lyga. This book completely slayed me. I actually had a three day reading break after finishing it I was so messed up. Please for the love of everything, read this book.

My least favorite would have to be, disappointingly THERE IS NO DOG by Meg Rosoff. Read why here.

Phew. What a month!

@NealShusterman BRUISER. Sigh…loved the multiple POV, the verse chapters, the premise, the characters. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

@VeronicaRoth DIVERGENT Cool world building, sweet romance, wild action, crazy climax. Something for everyone. I dug it.

#fridayreads THERE IS NO DOG by @megrosoff. It’s giving me a little Douglas Adams feel, which is fun.

FIRST DAY ON EARTH by @misscecil Cecil Castellucci made me sad and happy for at least ten different reasons. I want to believe.

WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by @realjohngreen and David Levithan is all kinds of awesome and LOL funny. Read it!

BOY TOY by @barrylyga really messed me up. Utterly unputdownable. Can’t type. Can’t think. Can barely focus my eyes.

YOU AGAINST ME by Jenny Downham. Devastating. Beautiful. I need a drink. @RandomHouseCA @randomhousekids 21 Jan

Finished TWISTED by @halseanderson Laurie Halse Anderson. So good. Couldn’t put it down. Had to remember to eat and pee. 20 Jan

Why did I wait so long to read NICK&NORAH? @rachelcohn So much fun to #readinasinglesitting 19 Jan

Just finished WITHER by @LaurenDeStefano . Beautiful and evocative. Evokes THE HANDMAIDS TALE a bit, but in a good way. Like Atwood=good 19 Jan

FLYING FEET by @McCannJames an @orcabook sports book. Surprisingly visceral for “hi/lo” and actually quite scary. I wanted more. 18 Jan

Just finished HAVEN by @Kristi_Cook . Fun read! Can’t say more due to spoilers but I liked it more than.. ;-) Less whiny – more kick ass 17 Jan

GRACE by Elizabeth Scott @escottwrites Tight and tense. A challenge to follow and maybe a little obscure for my taste but beautiful writing 16 Jan 

@AGSmith_Author LOCKDOWN:ESCAPE FROM FURNACE was so f-ing good. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Dark, wild and unputdownable!!!

EVERMORE by @alysonnoel Pretty hard to put down, towards the end especially. High School+mystery+magic+hot guy+angst=fun read!

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by @bethrevis. Took a few chapters but crept up on me. Turned into a real page turner. Nice duel POV. YA+scifi=YES!

GIRL PARTS by @johnmcusick. Yes, oh yes. Funny, sweet and sexy. A rare instance where omniscient POV is not annoying. YA+male authors=win.

DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver…not so much. This felt like a premise in search of a plot. Lots of description, a tepid romance…meh

@LucyCAuthor Just stayed up all night reading STOLEN. Wow, just , wow.

Holy crap STOLEN by Lucy Christopher. What a great book. I’ve been up all night.

u think?

Road Trip Wednesday – Gabrielle by Any Other Name


For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks about names. Not character names, writers’ names. Pseudonyms, in other words.

First I should point out that my sister browsed my blog the other day and complained that on the Why Angelhorn page I didn’t give some background as to my own name, Gabrielle. You can see from her comment that she was looking for some recognition of our late father, after whom I am named. His name was Gabriel, the masculine version of Gabrielle.

My sisters and I all have the same last name as our father (and mother), none of us changed our name in marriage. This wasn’t any kind of feminist statement on my part at least, more apathy. By the time I got married I had three passports, a driver’s license and about eight credit cards. I just couldn’t be bothered.

So it was that I found myself at the beginning of a screenwriting career with a name that was very close to my father’s name, who was, before he died, a moderately successful (if mostly unknown) stage and screen actor. To avoid confusion, this is when I began to toy with the idea of having a pen-name.

My mother’s surname, before she married dad, was rather dull, but HER mother’s maiden name was BERGMAN. What better name for a screenwriter, thought I. And thus, for a mercifully brief time, I went with my second name, Sara, and became G. Sara Bergman. In short, I became Swedish and/or converted to Judaism.  And contrary to popular belief this didn’t turn me into an instant Hollywood sensation (one has to be a MAN for that to happen). Frankly, the name never really stuck. By the time Hildegarde was in production I had reverted to using my given name, adding the middle initial S to create a little distinction.

My dad died before the movie was released (although I did read the novel to him). It was an exciting time for me though, the only low point being the day I finally got a copy of Hildegarde on DVD. I flipped it over to see my name under “Screenplay by” and there it was : Gabriel. I literally cried.  I could not believe it. Where the wires got crossed and who is responsible, I may never know. The DVD has been re-issued a couple of times and I don’t know whether the mistake has been corrected. To be honest I no longer care.

Now that I’m writing fiction, I find myself toying with the idea of having multiple personas. I genre hop, and think maybe one persona could be the contemporary YA verse novelist, and one the sci-fi fantasy girl, one the picture book lady, and maybe, one day, the screenwriter again. I’m tempted to go with my initials, like JK Rowling, just to avoid the whole misspelling risk though.

But the last name, Prendergast, awkward as it is, I think I’ll keep. It has a really cool history, and my family’s Norman founder, Maurice de Prendergast was a heck of a guy.

Or maybe I’ll just go with my stripper name: Tequila Juliett. What do you think?