Just before we get to the first judging decision tomorrow we thought you might be interested to hear a few words from some of our nominated authors. In this post a selection of the authors on the 2010 Nerds Heart YA shortlist tell us why the subjects they’ve written about are so imortant to them:

Funny How Things Change – Melissa Wyatt

‘When I started writing Funny How Things Change, I thought I was writing a book about worth of place. The story is set in southern West Virginia, an area I know well because that’s where my husband’s family is from. But I have to admit I didn’t much like it there at first. And I couldn’t figure out why my father-in-law wanted to move back so badly, or why the people who lived there had stayed. So the idea for the book started with a question: Why would someone stay here?

So I started writing about a place and the perceptions people who have never even been there might have about it. I needed a main character, and at first, I wasn’t really sure who he was. But as Remy developed on the page and I got to know who he was and what was important to him—and how and why he would answer that question—I began to feel a quite fierce about him—and by extension, other people who make choices that don’t involve college.

Because it seemed to me that YA lit often has a mission to present that college path as the ideal, the “get up and get out,” when it really isn’t the right choice for everyone. Other paths are just as valid and valuable, but that isn’t the message you get not just from YA but from our society in general.

And so I found I was writing about the worth of a person and the choices he makes. And that’s a revelation that was driven home when my agent and I started marketing the book. There were editors who were interested in the book but couldn’t get past the no-college, stay-where-you-are thing. The suggestion was made that Remy’s story was not a hero’s story. It surprised me to hear it stated so plainly, that there is this one preferred path and if you choose something else, you are somehow less.

And I started thinking about all the people I know who never went to college, who do the work that keeps the world running and live lives of quiet honor in the same towns in which they were born. And then I thought of the kids I know who are going on to do those same jobs, the auto mechanics, the road workers, the truck drivers, and I started to get mad. Especially mad at the idea that YA lit had to be aspirational in those specific terms, and that if you don’t fit that mold, you don’t deserve to have your story told.

Facing the future when you’re a teen is scary enough. It takes real courage to decide where and how you want to step out into the world, whether it’s New York City or a small town in Appalachia. Those who are considering non-college paths deserve to see themselves reflected in the literature that is crafted specifically for them.’

Pure – Terra Elan McVoy

‘When I first got the idea for Pure, I was working as an editorial assistant in New York, and reading a lot of YA fiction. Almost everything I read left me thinking, “Hmmm… this really wasn’t at all like my own high school experience.”  Everything in these books felt extreme: extreme wealth, extreme trauma, extreme supernatural craziness . . .  Though my friends and I never had extreme lives like these, for us the everyday stuff was definitely dramatic enough. So I decided to try to write something myself: something that captured the whirlwind rollercoaster of what it’s like trying to navigate the regular obstacles of becoming who you are. For me, that focused on the deliciously horrible time in life when, for the first time, you’re making choices that separate you from your friends, your parents, your teachers and mentors—when you begin defining yourself as an individual.

I wasn’t very successful with this right away. In fact it took moving away from New York to Atlanta before things really gelled. But knowing I was working on this type of project, my editor friend showed me an article about purity rings. Immediately my interest was sparked.

I knew a book about purity rings couldn’t be about whether or not someone broke her promise, but what happened to her normal life afterwards. What would it be like if your whole social and moral framework suddenly got broken apart? How would you decide what was right? Whose side would you be on? How would that affect other decisions you made? And suddenly I had my story—a story about forming your own morality, and how hard that is to do in the midst of all the normal societal (and parental, and educational, etc.) pressures we face.

It took another year and a half of working on and off to finally finish what is now Pure. I hope, when people read it, they think about their own promises and why they make them, but mainly I hope they just enjoy the book!’

Lost – Jacqueline Davies

‘Some books come easy. I’ve had one of those in my lifetime. Most books are hard, one way or another. And then once in a while, there’s a book that nearly takes you to your grave. For me that book was Lost.

I struggled to write this book for ten years. For the first five, I didn’t know what it was about. I wrote and threw out 1500 manuscript pages—seven complete drafts of the book that I discarded entirely.

And then one year, I discovered a poem by Gabriella Calvocoressi entitled The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart. From that point on, I knew what my book was about. It’s about how you can lose something, anything in your life—a job, a friend, money, faith, love. In an instant, what you hold most dear, what you believe is safe in your heart, can be gone. And it can never come back. And then what do we do? How do we go on?

I believe everything I wrote in this book, back in a time of greater innocence than I live in now. I believe that loss comes to each and every one of us. And that it will drive us to our knees. And I believe—I do, I believe— that each of us will rise and walk in the light again.’

Evil? Timothy Carter

‘First and foremost, I’d like to point out that Evil? isn’t just about masturbation, even though it starts with it.  It’s a story about a gay teen boy’s struggle against religious fanaticism, with fallen angels and demons thrown in.  Poor Stuart takes enough heat being gay in a town full of devout Christians, but when he’s caught self-pleasuring in the shower the town goes crazy and all Hell threatens to break loose.  I wanted to do a comedy about the fanatical reaction to a supposedly taboo topic, and Evil? is the result.  It also gave me a chance to examine faith from a secular perspective, something I didn’t plan for.  So it’s not just about naughtiness.  But I will admit to giggling madly when the premise popped into my head!’

 Say The Word – Jeannine Garsee

‘The idea for Say the Word came to me several years when, when the gay marriage controversy began to dominate the headlines. Children have a hard enough time adjusting to the divorce of their straight parents, so I wondered: what happens to the children of gay and lesbian partners when these parents separate, or when one partner dies? With few legal recourses, these parents often have no right to the children who may not biologically be theirs. In cases such as these, nobody “wins”; not only does the parent lose all contact with children he or she may have cared for from birth, but the children themselves can’t understand why they’ve been torn away from someone they’ve loved and depended all their lives. Say the Worda explores this scenario from the perspective of college-bound Shawna, who, after dealing with the death of her estranged lesbian mother, is forced to face the ugliness of her own prejudices, and learns the true meaning of “family” from a very unexpected source.’ 

Gringolandia – Lynn Miller Lachmann

‘The other day, I stopped by Puro Chile, a store in New York City that sells Chilean products and got a bunch of postcards, tourist brochures, and maps. Two postcards, posters, and brochures show Chile as it was in 1986, when Gringolandia takes place, and today. What are these gorgeous images doing next to a book cover that depicts a torture chamber? Chile is not like that picture today because of the bravery and sacrifice of people like Daniel and his father in Gringolandia, millions of people who defied a brutal government to bring about peaceful change. I organized concerts and other events in the United States to support the democracy movement and had the chance to witness personally the transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1990. It was the most inspiring moment of my life, and it showed me that young people really can make a difference.’

Jumped – Rita Williams-Garcia

‘When we hear about school violence and bullying, it’s always about the bully and the victim.  I wrote Jumped to put the spotlight on the third equally active party, the bystander.  If you know beforehand a fight’s going down, if you stand around and watch fights and then talk about them, if you video tape and post fights or check them out online,  then you’re involved.  You’re a player in the spread of peer violence.  For those reasons I wrote Jumped as a tragic comedy to better poke at the players.’

‘Border Crossing’ – Jessica Lee Anderson
 
‘I was shocked when I learned about Operation Wetback while studying history in college.  The knowledge of this event made me feel insecure even though I’m Anglo—I thought about it for three years before Manz’s schizophrenic voice began to develop.  I wanted to share his struggles with mental illness and racial identity.’

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