Saturday, February 13, 2010


Tracy Walshaw recently entered her first Young Adult novel, PAPER TIGERS, in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.

In PAPER TIGERS, Tracy’s young protagonist discovers a secret portal into a world of adventures.

        Writing Teen
            By Tracy Walshaw

PAPER TIGERS is the story of Rigby Johnson, a nearly fourteen-year-old whose father, Ben, passed away just days before Rigby sees her mother climbing out from the cabinet under the kitchen sink. Worried the only responsible adult in the house has lost her mind, Rigby confronts her mom.

What her mother tells Rigby defies logic, which takes the storyline from tragedy to adventure, appealing to a tween and teen base alike.

Teens have things to do. A book goes beneath piles of Aeropostale hoodies if we don’t keep their attention. I decided I needed two things to keep teens reading: lots of action and a strong lead voice.

Most of PAPER TIGERS is told in first-person by Rigby, who knows nothing of the secrets in her father’s past. [ Excerpt: ]

I was still on my knees and Jude was on his bottom, and we looked at each other. I’ve never wished a dog could talk before, but at that moment I think I would have sold blood to have it be so.

With her father actions as a teenager being key to the story, I switched to third-person for these critical back-story scenes. [ Excerpt: ]

Ben took each step down the stairs slowly. Reverently, even. This was the biggest of birthdays. Never had he felt the electricity in the house more than on this night. This was the birthday to end all birthdays. Okay, not end. Ben hoped it would only surpass the others. And that he’d live through it with minimal discomfort and embarrassment.

My writing seems geared towards tragedy that makes the main character find hope. I have a very strong faith in God which has been a thread running through each novel I’ve written. It’s also strengthened me during my own recent tragedy, the death of my husband. We’d been together since high school and have four children. Three boys, ages 11, 17 and 20 and a girl, 7.

I’m lucky enough to have my children love my company for the most part and want me to be in the middle of their conversations, to watch while they play their X-Box, and look at their text messages from friends. Because of this, I have a front row seat to the authentic young reader, and to ’tween and teen voice.

The love of reading among teens isn’t limited to games and phone texting altogether. Just last night, I told my 17 year old that I’d ordered some old paperbacks on-line. I mentioned that one was S.E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS. My son smiled big and said, “Mom, that is my absolute favorite book ever.”

This is why I write.


gae polisner said...


wonderful blog (I wrote blod first by accident which was funnier -). As always, your excerpts are so vivid and appealing, i cant wait to read your book.

Good luck in the Amazon Contest. I'm gonna go there and break some kneecaps if they don't advance you!


Tracy Walshaw said...

Aww, thanks Gae (yep, you should have left blod. much funnier!) :D And thank you SO much, Randy for giving me this wonderful opportunity on your blog! :)

Megan said...

Wonderful blog Tracy. I almost cried. I love then end especially. :)

J. Allen Fielder said...

Good stuff, Tracy.

So, writing in teen voice in first person is one thing (maybe not easy, but perhaps easier?), but how do you maintain that "voice" when switching over to an omniscient third person narrator within the same manuscript?

Anonymous said...

Tracy this is all so well written and a beautiful blog:) Reading this page has made me want to finish reading Paper Tigers....hint....please send the rest I am hooked:) and I know my daughter Taylor is. She has been reading over my shoulder:)

Tracy Walshaw said...

Thanks, Megan! :)

Jeff, it seemed to flow easily when I kept the first person voice for Rigby only. When she speaks, the reader is brought fully back into the present. By having Ben's backstory, which is critical to the present, in third person omniscient, and using very short chapters to keep interest peaked, I think it created a interesting fast-paced story.

Scotti Cohn said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Tracy! I struggle with my own YA novel, trying to figure out whether I want to use third person close or third person distant (or omniscient). On the one hand, I think it engages readers if they feel they are "inside the head" of the MC. But if I do that, I can't use descriptions I might want to use because the MC wouldn't use those words or see things that way. (Your situation is different, as you're switching back and forth, with clear distinctions between the voices).

Tracy Walshaw said...

Thanks, Scotti! I agree so much with you about the voice. It seemed the best decision for my novel because so much of it is back-story, and of course Rigby wasn't even born when some important things are unfolding.

I find writing in first person comes very natural to me. The best part of creating a novel is becoming someone else for awhile and seeing things through their eyes. I think most of my novels will be character-driven! :D I always have to go back and "decorate" the settings. I'm all about the character and what happens next! :)

Alissa said...

Great post, Tracy! The fact that teens still love The Outsiders is proof that it is possible to write a timeless YA book.

Tracy Walshaw said...

Thank you, Alissa! And it is SO exciting that books written so long ago still capture the teens of today. I had also ordered Catcher in the Rye after the recent death of J.D. Salinger (and I shamefully confess I'd never read it before now). I was hooked at the first paragraph, thinking that this boy of the 1940's could easily be a boy of 2010! The voice was so strong that I was drawn in immediately.

It is so good to know well-written books with an authentic, honest voice will be timeless and loved. said...

Hi, Scotti. Thanks for dropping by the blog! I write in 3rd-person as a narrative parimeter, but I have found it is easy for me to move in and out of the thoughts of the p.o.v character.

Once the pattern is set for the reader (and this should probably be done early on), she or he will come right along with you.

For YA especially, readers like to be as close as possible to the main character's feelings, thoughts, etc. [I'm sure there are some stellar exceptions to this, too.] This makes using first-person strongly attractive.

I wish I could sustain first-person for the length of a novel. Maybe I will one day. After all, it's not just an approach for YA. The Great Gastby is first-person. Much of Little Big Man is first-person. Heck, even Moby Dick with it's famous first line "Call me Ishmael" is first person.

My problem is that it's my writing nature to develop and interweave story outside the seeing/hearing or even knowledge of the main character. I like to show the reader things that are impacting the story that the main character, as yet, has no thought of.

It helps me create at atmosphere of suspense, danger, foreboding and I find I can personally do bigger story pay-offs (and lots of plot surprises) in third-person. This is how I take control of the story.

Heaven knows, the characters push me around enough already.

In short, if I didn't use third-person my own story structure would be much thinner.

In PAPER TIGERS, Tracy has a lot of critical information (and events)to share with the reader that impact her main character's fate. I really admire the confidence she shows in using third-person scenes/vignettes in an otherwise first-person novel.

There's nothing a reader likes better than a confident author.

Don't you feel when you read your favorite books that the author is in total control and is showing you the story the only way it could possibly be told? That they are showing you the story the way it exists?

That's why it's so important for an author to play to her/his own strengths.

Clearly what a writer does best naturally [ okay, some of this "naturally" stuff takes a few years' practice for most of us ] will contribute to stronger story and a more authentic (or passionate... or consistant) author's voice.

I mean, if you can play the guitar like Carlos Santana, there really is no sense in taking the stage with a harmonic in your mouth and a violin under your chin.

Techniques for writing fiction... first-peson, third person... present tense, past tense... are a writer's instruments.

*Still, it's nice to know a few tricks on the drum for getting over the occasional p.o.v. hurdle. So, we keep learning.

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful post, Tracy. Tragedy does allow a MC to find hope, as well as his/her strengths.

Terry said...

Loved the excerpts, Tracy. I would follow along and I'm a bit beyond YA.

I'm sorry for your terrible loss. Tragedy does give a person more depth and empathy, I think, and that shows it writing.