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This blog was featured on 01/07/2020
Melissa Albert on YA, Relationships & Resilience
Written by
She Writes
January 2020
Written by
She Writes
January 2020

As the founding editor of the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog and managing editor of BN.com, Melissa Albert has spent her fair share of time in the world of books for teens. “I used to dictate stories to my mom when I was four,” Albert recalls to Publishers Weekly. “They took me to the library, bought me anything I wanted from Scholastic’s book fair. I was baked in books.” 

So, it came to no surprise that when Albert decided to write a fantasy fiction book of her own for young adults, it was a smashing success. Her 2018 debut novel, The Hazel Wood, became an instant New York Times bestseller – one in which film rights were recently optioned by Sony.

This month, she releases The Night Country: A Hazel Wood Novel, the highly anticipated sequel chronicling unlikely heroine, Alice Proserpine, as she dives back into a menacing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors and discovers that something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors.

On Genre

“When I sat down and tried to write a book for the first time, it was 2011 for the National Writing Month, actually what came out was a YA book. I just love writing teen characters. I love the immediacy of the teen experience. And I love how every YA story is a story full of firsts.”

This excerpt was originally published on Lithub. Read the full interview here.

Her hope for YA readers, is that they develop new ideas about female characters, and women in general, when they read The Hazel Wood. The novel's protagonist, Alice, is an intense and often angry young woman who will force readers to confront their ideas about female characters and their likability.

"I hope the phrase 'strong female characters' will eventually be phased out," Albert says, "because for a book or a show to be considered good, complex characters of any gender will be a given."

This excerpt was originally published on Bustle. Read the full interview here.

In an interview Lithub on the same topic, Albert was asked about her stories being gender-driven, with less leeway for a female character to act aggressively. She replied:

“When big shifts happen and how stories are told and which characters are allowed to take the forefront and how people are allowed to be, I think it’s in YA that those changes are seen first and it’s thrilling and it’s happening all over media but in YA I think it’s happening quite fast.”

On Relationships

An ongoing theme in Albert's novels is imperfect relationships – namely mother-daughter relationships in The Hazel Wood stories.

"The older I get the more I understand that families free of dysfunction don’t exist, and nobody I know is more than one generation removed from some kind of familial chaos," Albert says. "The sooner young readers can abolish any shame they might carry for having a nontraditional or imperfect family, the better, and I hope seeing diversity in family structure on the page helps."

This excerpt was originally published on Bustle. Read the full interview here.

On Advice

“I have always avoided public speaking, but it’s been so great to meet readers that it’s changed my perspective,” Albert says. “It’s actually really energizing to be reminded that there are so many people who come out to celebrate books. As a book blogger, reading is my life, but meeting so many kindred spirits made me feel like I had plugged into something really positive.”

This excerpt was originally published on Publisher’s Weekly. Read the full interview here.

And her advice to aspiring writers dealing with self-doubt, she preaches resilience.

“Some days, you don't stop it: you ride it out. You read or walk or stare at the wall feeling edgy or watch a movie or do whatever helps clear your head – and then you do something to remind yourself why you're excited to write your book in the first place.”

She continues:

“Every time I read my baby Where the Wild Things Are, I get excited and grateful that I'm writing, too, that I live in a world where art exists that can make me feel the way that book makes me (and my baby) feel.”

And finally, with a lovely sentiment that leaves little room for dispute, she urges writers to stop comparing their work to that of others.

“Our world is built to withstand the simultaneous existence of, say, Marlon James AND Nora Roberts, Judy Blume AND Holly Black. No use in making comparisons.”

This excerpt was originally published on Reddit. Read the full thread here.

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