How long have you been teaching the Writing Young Adult Literature Writer’s Workshop?
I’ve taught WYAWW since spring of 2016 at a local university, so it is still relatively “new.”
What is your approach to teaching writing? How are your classes structured?
My writer’s workshop class is a little different than most offered on our campus. Instead of reading and writing short stories, my class focuses on reading current YA literature and students start writing a novel length YA manuscript. We start with defining YA lit, various methods for plot/or not plotting, and each week build on writing elements such as character development, setting, etc.
What are some special considerations for teaching how to write for a Young Adult audience?
The one thing I always remind my students of is that kids ALWAYS read up. Technically, YA is geared toward 12 years old and older. My son, like many students, was ready to start reading some YA novels in fourth and fifth grade because he needed longer books, a wider vocabulary, etc. BUT he was only 10, so he wasn’t ready for more mature content. I encourage my students to have their audience in mind when writing, younger YA versus upper YA, or even more specific than that.
Can you give us an example of YA literature that you use with your class to show good writing?
Well, students are required to about seven YA novels through a semester (and the list changes every semester), but I also use tons of examples from a plethora of authors because “good writing” looks different to everyone. One book I’ve used a couple times is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, a younger YA story. I’ve also used An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and many, many more.
What are the main things you would like your students to take away from your class?
I want them to know Young Adult Literature is all about feelings, no matter if it’s high concept, a quiet story, a non-conventional novel, or whatever. It’s about letting young adults know that they are seen, heard, represented, not alone, loved, unique, and valuable. Craft-wise, I want them to remember GMC – Goal, Motivation, Conflict.
What two pieces of advice would you give to someone just starting out in writing for Young Adults?
Make sure you know the main conflict and make the reader feel.
Has teaching writing for YA affected your approach to writing YA?
Yes, I think I’ve become even more aware of how I write, what I caution my students about, what I encourage them to include. You know the saying, “practice what you preach?” Welp, that definitely fits. 😊
Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
I try to mirror the world in my writing, so there is a diverse set of characters. The most underrepresented group/idea in Enigma is the occurrence of anxiety (anxiety attacks) in Josie. I wanted to show that even a sort of super-hero suffers from anxiety, that there doesn’t have to be stigma around mental health issues.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I fell in love with reading/books in second grade. Some of the first books I remember being addicted to was The Celery Stalks at Midnight, Bunnicula, and anything else by James Howe.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing my first manuscript the summer of 2009.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I loved all the “firsts” as a teenager and I love remembering them. Our teen years are so transformative, I was drawn to writing those characters. As far as scifi goes, I grew up reading and watching scifi and fantasy, so it’s just a part of me.
What do you think most characterizes your writing?
I think the fact that I write in a way that is approachable to anyone. The dialogue in my writing is pretty natural and relatable.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I’m starting to work on a secret YA manuscript this summer!
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Katherine McNamara, the star of Shadowhunters on Freeform, would play Josie – in fact, she was my inspiration for Josie way back in 2013 – and, though he’s a bit too old, Chase Crawford would be Reid.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before? Ireland. (ME TOO)
Worst. Road Trip. Ever.
Escaping with Reid Wentworth should have been fun, but how can I enjoy it when I just (accidentally) killed someone, my mom and brother are in danger, and the Consortium is trying to enslave humanity? (Yeah, they aren’t fooling around.) So feeling something for Reid Wentworth was not part of the plan. Trying to help unite the Resistance against the Consortium means I can’t be distracted by hot boys.
The Resistance secret hideout isn’t exactly the rebel base of my dreams. A traitor there wants me dead, but we have no idea who it is. And with both the Resistance and the Consortium trying to control me, the only one I can trust is Reid. If we’re going to have any chance of protecting my family, controlling my unstable powers, and surviving the clash between the Oculi factions, I’m going to have to catch this traitor. By using myself as bait.
Tonya Kuper writes young adult science fiction and contemporary novels. She first fell in love with reading in elementary school, which eventually lead to earning a BA in Elementary Education and a MS in Reading Education, but she never thought she’d write a novel, let alone several. When Tonya isn’t writing, she teaches Young Adult Literature Writing Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, laughs as much as possible, loves music, and nerds-out over Star Wars, Marvel, Sherlock, and all things pop-culture. She lives in Omaha, NE with her husband and two rad boys.