Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

Teen Blog

Reading, Wellington, and whatever else – teenblog@wcl.govt.nz

Category: stuff to write

Out On The Shelves: Rainbow Stories at Your Library

It is now officially the 2020 Out On The Shelves campaign week! All around the country, libraries, bookstores, schools and other organisations are putting on displays and events to celebrate LGBTQIA+ stories, and to help connect rainbow people to those stories and to each other.

Rejoice, for this year Campaign Week is not one week, but two, from 17 — 30 August. And there’s all kinds of things you can do! You can participate in the Rainbow Writing Competition — your writing could be featured in the Rainbow Zine, and you could be in to win some sweet book voucher prizes, courtesy of the Women’s Book Shop! You could head into one of our libraries, enjoy one of our Out On The Shelves displays, and pick yourself up some excellent reading material from our collection. If you’re more e-inclined, or not super keen on leaving the house, you could visit our LGBTQIA+ Reading Room on OverDrive, or learn about your rainbow history in the Archives of Sexuality and Gender, which WCL was the first public library in the world to provide full access to. Once you’ve done all that, don’t forget to tell us what you think of what you’ve read by writing a review and submitting it to the good folks at Out On The Shelves.

Keep an eye out for more Out On The Shelves content hitting this blog and your local library. Soon we’ll be posting some gorgeous photos of our libraries getting dressed up all fancy and colourful to celebrate Out On The Shelves along with you — sometimes our shelves can be quite bashful; not so during Campaign Week! For now, though, here are some of our favourite rainbow titles from our collections to whet your appetite:

Sometimes we tell the truth : a novel / Zarins, Kim
{reps: intersex}
{content warnings: sexual assault, ptsd}

Look, we’re suckers for contemporary re-imaginings of classic literature. Some might say it’s the reason we got into this business. So this re-telling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is as fun as it is compelling and moving. It’s the kind of book that gets you to think about the stories we tell, not just to others, but even to ourselves, and the ways in which those stories themselves can sometimes assume the structure of a fiction. At the moment, we only hold this book in our vast Central collection at the Te Pātaka Collection Distribution Warehouse, so reserve it now to get sent to the branch of your choosing!

Every day / Levithan, David
{reps: non-binary}
{content warnings: violence, substance abuse, dysmorphia}

Surely every queer person remembers what it was like the first time they read a David Levithan novel. His works (including Two Boys Kissing, Boy Meets Boy, Will Grayson, Will Grayson) are now so central to the LGBTQIA+ canon that it’s hard to imagine the landscape of contemporary fiction without him. Every Day is one of his most interesting stories. You’ll meet A, a mysterious being that each day inhabits a new body, a new life. Every day they need to become accustomed to a new way of living, a new set of relationships, learning and re-learning over and over again how to be. A’s conception of their own gender identity, sexuality, and indeed personhood is mutable, changeable, flexible as it needs to be. Strong though they are, it is truly their inner voice that is most compelling and relatable as they play through all of the narratives of confusion, defiance, frustration, love, dysmorphia, terror, and acceptance that will be so familiar to so many in our rainbow community. Trust us, and give this a read — you won’t regret it.

Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe / Sáenz, Benjamin Alire
{reps: gay}
{content warnings: discrimination, violence}

We know, we know, this isn’t the first time we’ve highlighted this gem of a novel on this very platform. We’re sorry, but we can’t help but trumpet the importance of this book every time we have the opportunity! Sáenz’s extremely spare, almost poetic, prose sets out in pointillistic detail the agony and anticipation of leaving childhood behind and moving on to somewhere new. At times surreal, but always searing straight through to the heart (yours, mine, the characters’), this story picks you up and never lets you go until what we would class as one of the most perfect endings to a YA novel in recent memory. Even then, it doesn’t truly let you go. Ever. He has a way of setting out the most expansive ideas in the most devastatingly simple of words. Read a segment below to get a sense of what we mean:

There was a tear running down his cheek. It seemed like a river in the light of the setting sun.

I wondered what it was like, to be the kind of guy that cried over the death of a bird.

I waved bye. He waved bye back.

As I walked home, I thought about birds and the meaning of their existence. Dante had an answer. I didn’t. I didn’t have any idea as to why birds existed. I’d never even asked myself the question.

Dante’s answer made sense to me. If we studied birds, maybe we could learn to be free. I think that’s what he was saying. I had a philosopher’s name. What was my answer? Why didn’t I have an answer?

And why was it that some guys had tears in them and some had no tears at all? Different boys lived by different rules.

When I got home, I sat on my front porch.

I watched the sun set.

— Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Simon and Schuster (2012).

All out: the no-longer-secret stories of queer teens throughout the ages / Mitchell, Saundra (ed.)
{reps: lesbian, trans*, asexual, gay}
content warnings: violence, discrimination}

This gorgeous collection of historical short stories is like the perfect fiction companion to Sarah Prager’s biography collection Queer, there, and everywhere: 23 people who changed the world. Oftentimes historical fiction containing LGBTQIA+ representations focusses on the difficulties of life for queer people ‘back in the day,’ or worse, just contains tokenistic references to queer people. This collection is not that. The stories, while they are mostly* accurate portrayals of their respective eras, feel more authentic, the depictions of the characters and their surroundings crystallised through the patented queer lens. The characters are without exception deftly sketched, their circumstances relatable, their relationships real, and their experiences — adventures, first loves, heartbreaks, self-discoveries — speak to a broad universality in queer experience while acknowledging the singularity of each individual’s lived reality. The stories collectively stand and say “Hey, we were here too! We were real, and we lived and loved and ate and cried and went to work and participated in history, just as everyone else did!” And that, friends, is exactly what good fiction should do.

Books Alive: Damien Wilkins and the Subtle Art of Surprise

The announcement of the winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults draws nigh! To celebrate, we’ve invited YA Fiction Award nominee Damien Wilkins (Aspiring, 2019) to run an awesome creative writing workshop for teens called ‘The Subtle Art of Surprise.’ How does language do its tricks? How do we harness its power to pull our readers in? And once we’ve pulled them in, how do we keep them guessing as to what will happen next?

The answers to these questions and more will be yours, should you attend the workshop! Deets below:

What: The Subtle Art of Surprise with Damien Wilkins
Where: Johnsonville Library at Waitohi Community Hub
When: Friday 7 August, 4.00pm

Sadly, we cannot guarantee pizza for this event, but we can guarantee intellectual enlightenment and snacks. Oh, how the snacks will flow. What more could you possibly need?

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s an excerpt from our blog post about the NZ Book Awards where we talk about Damien’s book, Aspiring, and its general awesomeness:

Aspiring / Wilkins, Damien
Our thoughts: We loved the verbosity and relatability of 15-year-old Ricky’s near-constant internal monologue throughout this book — it’s full of the kinds of observations about life in a small town that we recognise and empathise with. It’s exciting to see the author’s bold and unpretentious voice applied to young adult themes and characters for the first time in this book, and we’re hoping there’s more to come in this space in the future!

Pete’s was where I had an after-school job. There was no one at the restaurant called Pete. The owner’s name was Garth but he hadn’t got around to changing the name. He didn’t want to climb on a ladder and paint it up. ‘Besides,’ Garth said, ‘who’d want to come to a place called Garth’s? Sounds like someone clearing his throat.’

I wouldn’t have needed a ladder.

— Damien Wilkins, Aspiring, Massey University Press, 2020.

A Very Special Message for our Teen Writers

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently sent a very kind message of encouragement for our WCL Teen Writers, following their huge success participating in the Camp NaNoWriMo April 2020 Challenge, in which they collectively wrote well over 100,000 words in their bid to write a whole novel over a month of isolation. Here’s what the Prime Minister had to say:

I want to pass on a quick message to everyone involved in the WCL Teen Writers group — and I want to start by saying thanks.

Right now, we’re living through really challenging and uncertain times, and for many people, it’s been tough. I know young people are facing their own unique challenges, from adjusting to distance learning, giving up special occasions like school balls, and not being able to meet up with your friends, but so many of you have put in an amazing effort and played your part to help keep this virus under control. Thanks for this — it’s so important.

I was interested to hear about your online writing group, the work you’re doing, and the support you provide each other. This is a really good example of the positives that have come out of the COVID-19 response. You’ve all come together online to support each other, share your work and ideas, and embark on some pretty impressive projects. I hope you’re enjoying the group and will continue to keep in touch when life returns to something a bit more normal.

All the best with your writing — I’m sure I’ll be seeing your work in bookstores soon! For now, though, stay safe and look out for each other.

— Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern

As you can imagine, the Prime Minister’s message generated considerable interest on our WCL Teen Writers Discord server, from the joyous but mostly coherent:

…to the joyous but not so coherent:

…to the reflective and compassionate:

…and right back around to the disbelieving:

Thank you, Prime Minister, for your words of encouragement, motivation, and solidarity. Rest assured, we’re still writing and keeping connected (and of course the banter is still top-quality), and hopefully will be for a while yet! Here’s what one of our talented writers had to say about the group:

If you’re a keen writer, or even just really like reading, we’d love for you to join our vibrant community on Discord! Just email us or message us on Facebook with your name and school year level, and we can send you a link to join!

Camp NaNoWriMo April Challenge 2020 is Done and Dusted!

So, Camp NaNoWriMo April 2020 is officially over. We’re super thrilled that so many of you took part in one way or another, whether you joined our classroom forums, contributed to the conversation, hung out over on our Discord, chatted with Elizabeth Knox, or took part in the Camp NaNo Challenge itself. Around 30 novels were started, and many of them were finished — together, we wrote well over 100,000 words. A lot of us learned something about writing and life along the way. Be proud. However you participated, you reached out in this time of isolation and helped create something really special.

If you don’t want it to end, or worse, weren’t able to take part in the first place, all is not lost. Our NaNoWriMo Young Writers’ Programme classroom will probably be fairly quiet until the next challenge comes along, but the Discord is still just as busy as ever, with author talks, writing games, stuff to learn, people to meet, and of course, the highest quality banter this side of the equator. If you want to join, just get in touch on Facebook or by email. We’d love to have you. Also, keep your eye on the Event Calendar so you don’t miss any upcoming events!

Hear Other Humans: Live in Conversation with Elizabeth Knox

So, you’ve joined our excellent Camp NaNoWriMo online writing classroom. You’re mid-way through your debut novelistic masterpiece. Things are going well — your 10,000 – 50,000-word goal is within reach. But still, you crave something… more. Your bedroom is starting to feel more like a cell of imprisonment than a swell of inspiration. Weeks of hearing only those voices of the humans within your bubble (and possibly the ensuing voices in your head) are starting to grate.

Fear not, we have you covered. The ludicrously talented, multi-award-winning author Elizabeth Knox has agreed to join us for a live Ask Me Anything session ~with voice chat!~ this Friday at 4.00pm! So prepare your best, most burning writerly questions and prepare to have your minds blown by one of the most successful authors this country has ever seen. Sound like your kind of thing? Click here to register.

This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Photo: Grant Maiden.

If you’re not familiar with Elizabeth Knox’s work already, you should be. Her incredible career has spanned the publication of thirteen novels (including the wildly popular The Vintner’s Luck and Dreamhunter Duet), three novellas, and a collection of essays. Her most recent masterwork, The Absolute Book, rightfully garnered huge attention overseas, particularly in the US, when it was published in 2019. It’s a daring, epic, intimate and oneiric journey of a read, which needs to be experienced by any lover of fantasy and the magic of everyday life.

But this isn’t all we’ve got going on. This fantastic event with Elizabeth Knox is part of a series of events taking place over on our Discord, which we’re calling Hear Other Humans. We’re taking advantage of that sweet, sweet voice chat function to chat about our writing, share terrible book covers we want to collectively mock, partake in a near-continuous stream of witty banter, and play interactive writing games together. It’s a great way to keep connected — we can’t wait to see you there!

Got A Month? Get Writing with CampNaNo!

Today is the first day of April. That means a lot of things for a lot of people: pleas for no pranks, people ignoring those pleas, and the sixth day of lockdown here in New Zealand.

For many around the world, though, it is also the start of CampNaNoWriMo, which itself is a spin-off of the November National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo for short. Unlike the classic NaNoWriMo, where the goal is 50,000 words of a new draft, CampNaNo is far more flexible. You can continue a project, write multiple short stories, do editing and rewrites, and set your own goal for the whole thing. Think 50,000 words is far too much, and just want to get a solid start on that novel? 20,000 is grand. Struggling through that finale? If you’re sure it’s just 10,000 between you and typing ‘the end’, set that for your goal.

Best of all, you don’t have to go it alone. Unique to CampNaNo is the cabin feature – writing groups where you can discuss your project and cheer each other on. So why not gather up a group of your friends and get writing socially even when you are distanced physically? There’s plenty of resources available for teens as well, from workbooks to pep talks from famous novelists.

Whether you’re the next teen author like Hannah Moskowitz or Kody Keplinger, or feeling a little like teenage Mary Shelley when she created Frankenstein and the Monster during the Year Without A Summer, each novel begins with an idea and putting words on the page.

We’ve set up a WCL Teen Writers classroom group as well as a Discord server if you want to join us on our month-long writing journey – we will be writing as well, so you won’t be alone. If you are interested, either Facebook message or email us with your details (if you’re a WCL member, include your card number — if not, let us know which library you belong to), and once confirmed we will send out an invitation. We look forward to hearing from you!