Q&A with Diana Wagman: Young Adult Fiction, Positive Critique, and Following Characters Anywhere

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1) You've written novels for adults and screenplays in addition to your young adult novel Extraordinary October. How do you approach YA differently than the other genres? What do you like about writing YA?

I have fewer expectations of the reader when I write YA. The story can be just as complicated, just as deep, just as scary or troubling or sad as an adult book, but I think of my readers as fresh and more open to where I might lead them.

2) What does a typical evening look like in the Young Adult Fiction workshop?

We share our week briefly, any writing problems or questions that have come up, either in their work or what they’re reading. Then we discuss the work for the evening—and I do my best to make the comments both an example for everyone and at the same time particular to the work we’re critiquing. I use a particular critique method where everyone speaks positively first—to set a positive tone for the workshop—and the writer has to come with specific questions he or she needs answered.

3) Who are some of your favorite YA authors? What makes a YA novel or short story stand out from the crowd?

I’m an old-fashioned reader—love E. Nesbitt, C.S. Lewis, Graham Wilson, and other old works of fantasy and adventure.  On the other hand, The Spectacular Now, by Tim Tharp really stands out for me.  A book about a teen alcoholic, but the narrator is charming and funny.  Tharp shows both the ecstasy of drinking—politically incorrect as that seems—and then the despair.  For me, it’s not the content as much as the character.  Give me a character I want to follow anywhere.