Saturday, December 1, 2007

Innovative: A Word for the WriTeen

Edited by Gabrielle Linnell

As a Man Thinketh
by Geary Smith, Guest Writer

"For as he thinketh in his heart..."

This proverb is very old, yet very true. I remember when I wrote my first published story, and the news got out in the city. Several weeks later, a young student, "out of the sky blue", called me at work. After I first inquired about who she was and how she found my number at work, I welcomed and was thrilled that she was so interested and had the initiative to call and want to know more about becoming a writer..

"How do you become a writer," inquired the young student. "What do I need to do to be like you? Are there any classes that I need take right now? How do I get published?"

Well, after several minutes, and thinking about what my answer should be, I gave the traditional response, in that I explained the fundamentals of writing, and developing a plot, characters, scenes, details, action, tension, climax, resolution, editing, preparing the cover and query letters, submission guidelines, etc. However, several months after that conversation, I realized that I had failed to tell the young girl a very important and essential element to becoming a writer or pursuing any other profession for that matter, and something that I had to work on myself, which was truly thinking and believing in my heart like a writer. Even after I had sold and actually gotten paid and published numerous short stories, articles and puzzles for children and teens in acclaimed magazines, I had a hard and difficult time truly believing, thinking, acting and seeing myself like a "real" writer.

"Are you the writer that I read about in the paper?" asked a person one day while I was in the local hardware store. "That is great. I always wanted to be a writer."

"I guess I am," I replied.

I was still holding on to experiences, thoughts, ideas and doubts. It took me several years to really grow and mature as a writer. I called, wrote and e-mailed many of the country's top children's writers, and asked them what they do and think everyday, and what it was like to be a good writer. At first, I got almost no response, but I kept trying and asking the right questions. And, to my surprise, I got several responses back, and found that I was not acting, nor thinking like a professional writer. Therefore, I began to make time for writing, getting up in front of my computer thinking of ideas, joining national writing organizations, and taking some additional writing courses to sharpen my skills. And, it was not very long that I was not only selling more and more of my stories, but also actually thinking and becoming a true writer. So, if you were to ask me today, whether I am a writer or not, the response would be a sharp and immediate,

"Yes, I am a writer."

Therefore, what is my advice for young students who wish to become writers? Work hard and study all aspects of writing, find your particular writing style, and most importantly, think and believe in your heart, that you are and will become a good writer. *

Geary Smith has a B.S. Psychology from Morehouse College, M.Ed. from Stephen F. Austin State University. He is married to Tonnette, and has two daughters, Jessica and Somer. He loves to read, write, run and play golf. Geary has been writing for children and teens for about 21 years, with published stories, articles, quizzes for Highlights for Children, Child Life, McGraw-Hill, ECS Learning Systems and many other publications. Currently, he is working as a Qualified Mental Retardation Professional (QMRP) Coordinator, at Mexia State School. He is also an associate pastor and spiritual/motivational speaker.

Interview with Robin Wasserman, author of Hacking Harvard and other books

Robin Wasserman is the author of several books for children and young adults, including the popular Seven Deadly Sins series, the Chasing Yesterday trilogy, and the novel Hacking Harvard. She grew up in Philadelphia where, as a bored only child, she had ample opportunity to make up stories and dream about a day when she would write them down and other people might actually want to read them. She still has a bit of trouble believing that day has finally arrived. Robin graduated from Harvard University with a degree in the history of science, then worked as an editor at Scholastic Inc, where she became an expert on Pokemon, LEGO, DragonBall Z, and all things Scooby-Doo. Her most recent book, Hacking Harvard, was inspired by her adolescent obsession with college admissions. Now that she's been out of college for as long as she was in it, she remembers the applications period with fondness. Fondness, that is, mixed with white-knuckled terror.

Robin lives in New York City, where she spends her days writing, reading, bike riding through the park, and trying to track down the world's most perfect cupcake.

INN: What was your inspiration for "Hacking Harvard"-- your own Ivy League experience, the fierce competition to get in these schools, love of hacking...?

RW: When I was in high school, I was totally and completely obsessed with getting into college. Partly because I found the process fascinating . . . mostly because I was terrified I wouldn't get accepted anywhere. (I had pretty much one mission in high school: getting out of high school.) I've been watching in horror these last several years as the admissions process has gotten more and more nerve-wracking. So the idea of writing about tearing down the system really appealed to me.

As for the hacking side of things, while I do have a serious love of caper movies (especially Sneakers, Oceans 11, and Dead Man on Campus), I have to admit that I've never done much caper-ing of my own. I've certainly never pulled off the kind of hack my characters would appreciate. I'll always be more of a Lex than a Max. I suppose that was also one of the reasons I wanted to tell this story. Like Lex, I was a very stressed, very nervous, very well-behaved high school student, who was always a little curious about the people who seemed more concerned with enjoying the present than plotting for the future. I never really strayed from my path in high school, so it was fun for me to imagine what might have happened if, like Lex, I had.

INN: What was your favorite part about writing this book?

RW: There's a lot to choose from, but I would say the part I enjoyed the most was being able to stuff the book with details, anecdotes, and unabashedly geeky musings from my own life. I can't imagine sliding that Star Trek vs Battlestar Galactica debate, or a long rant on the wonders of Descartes and the Navier-Stokes equation, into any other book. I also had a lot of fun setting scenes at my college – there's a pivotal moment up on the roof of the Science Center, for example, where I had many pivotal moments of my own.

INN: Favorite prank of all time?

RW: I suppose I should probably pick one of the famous MIT pranks on Harvard (and there are plenty to choose from), but if you want to know the truth, my favorite prank of all time is one that got pulled on me and my freshman roommates. My suite of five girls had become pretty good friends with the suite of five boys who lived below us, and at some point, we'd decided it would be a good idea to play a little prank on them. So we sneaked into their room, stole their favorite clothes, and then—after a lot of arguing about which of us would get to play which of them—spent the day dressed (and acting) like them. (You may or may not find this amusing, but I promise you that as giddy college freshmen, we found it hilarious.) The guys decided to pay us back.

So a week or two later, after one of the first big snowfalls of the season, we girls went outside to have a snowball fight. The boys grabbed a couple screwdrivers, sneaked into our suite . . . and stole our bathroom door. Somehow they managed to get it out of the dorm and across the campus without us noticing—and, no matter how much we begged and pleaded, it was weeks before they gave it back. Which meant that for a while, at any given moment in our suite, you could hear someone shouting, "I'm going to the bathroom— don't look!"

It may not be the greatest prank of all time, but it was one of those freshman year moments when I sat back, looked at my life, and realized, "It's finally happened. I'm in college." A thought which never failed to blow my mind.

INN: How did you break into publishing?

RW: I did an internship at Scholastic Inc. (home of Harry Potter) the summer before my senior year in college – and loved it so much that as soon as I graduated, I got a job there as an editorial assistant. In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to be a writer, but I wasn't sure how to make that happen—and was afraid it never would—so I decided to give editing a shot. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

It's not just that I made a lot of valuable contacts in the publishing industry, although I did. It's not just that I learned a lot about what kinds of books are most likely to sell, although I did. It's that I learned to see writing a manuscript as the first step in a very long process—a process that includes editing, designing, manufacturing, marketing, selling, etc. Obviously writers have a pretty fundamental role in the publishing industry, but it was immensely helpful to get an understanding of everyone else's roles, too. Making a book is really a team process, and because writing is such an isolating endeavor, that's sometimes easy to forget.

I left Scholastic after a few years and finally felt like I was ready to take the chance and write something. So I pitched an idea for a series about a bunch of teens living in the California desert with nothing to do but get into trouble – and, much to my shock, Simon & Schuster bought it. A year later the first Seven Deadly Sins book was on the shelves, and I was officially an author!

INN: What projects are you working on right now?

RW: I've just started writing a new (untitled) science fiction trilogy that will come out from Simon & Schuster in the fall of 2008. I'm pretty nervous, since it's the first thing I've written in this genre. (I did a trilogy called Chasing Yesterday that features some sci-fi/fantasy elements, but this new project is set in the future, which offers a whole new set of challenges.) But I'm also really excited about it, because I think it's the kind of thing I would have loved to read when I was a teenager.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

RW: Almost anyone will tell you that the best advice for aspiring writers is: "Just write." Certainly that's what everyone told me whenever I asked for suggestions. And it's great advice . . . for people who are able to do it. I, on the other hand, was one of those people who really wanted to be a writer, but could never think of anything to write. Coming up with new ideas was really hard for me—and following through on them was even harder. I really started to worry that this meant I would never be a writer. Because what kind of writer doesn't write?

So my advice is directed very specifically to aspiring writers who are afraid that they'll never have a good idea or never be able to finish a story. And that advice is: Don't worry. I think for some people, it just takes a little time to figure out what it is you most want to say. And there are plenty of things you can do in the meantime. I highly recommend taking writing classes – partly because that will give you a deadline and force you to write something (and finish something).

This is really important. But also because writing ability isn't just a talent you're born with—it's a skill you can, and should, learn. I took a ton of writing classes when I was younger, and I wish I could go back in time and take them all over again, because I learned so much about what to do and what not to do, how to critique my own work, how to revise—so much that I never would have figured out on my own.

That said, if taking classes isn't an option, there are other things you can do to give yourself a deadline and force yourself to sit down at the computer: Submit something to the school literary magazine. Find some friends who also want to be writers and start a writing group where you read and evaluate one another's work. Join the school newspaper. Anything you can think of. Because it's true: Writers write. Find something—anything—to write, just to teach yourself how to do it. So that when your story finally comes to you, you'll be ready.

And one more piece of advice, when it comes to finding the right story to tell. Write the story you want to read. It took me way too long to figure that out, but once I did, it was the key to everything.

Thanks, Robin!

Click on this link: to buy Hacking Harvard on

There is also a book trailer , made by NYU Film Students, that is quite entertaining and worth checking out! And don't forget to visit Robin at .

-Would you like to interview authors?

If you're a 15-19 year old guy WriTeen who has time to read and a working knowledge of email, join THE HUNT FOR A GUY INTER(e)VIEWER and send me an email at

-Spread the WORD! Contest Update
Wow! I've been swamped with emails from everyone, entering the Spread the WORD! contest. So many new WriTeens and WriTeen supporters have joined that we've just about doubled our subscription e-list! But don't stop now, whether you have 20 points or none at all. There's a chance for everyone to win the 5 Points Plus prize, or even First or Second Place. Go for it! The rules are further down on this page. The last day to enter is DECEMBER 5th, 2007!

-More Innovative Housekeeping
There are two remaining issues of 2007: December 9th and December 16th. I am no longer accepting submissions for 2007; but am open to queries for 2008.
There are rumors of a January/February Fiction contest to coincide with Innovative's 6-month birthday. Those rumors may be true.
This issue is posted online because of how much we have! Thanks to Geary Smith for contributing and Robin Wasserman for being a wonderful interviewee.
Logo designed by Katie Beth Groover.

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