Congrats to local member Reyna Marder Gentin on the publication of her first YA novel: My Name Is Layla! Learn more about Reyna and her transition from adult to kidlit below:
1. What sparked the idea for this book?
I had just finished my debut novel, a romantic legal thriller entitled Unreasonable Doubts, and the pub date was still a year off. I decided to take a workshop in Writing For Youth at the The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. I had no story in mind, other than my desire to reach back to the emotions of a 13 or 14 year-old — that sense of wanting to fit in and needing to be heard. One of the women in my class had dyslexia and that was the spark for My Name Is Layla. I decided to write a protagonist who was struggling with reading, and who also had a host of family and friendship issues on her plate.
2. What are some takeaways you have for transitioning from an adult
to teen audience?
to teen audience?
As obvious as it sounds, writing for teens is all about being age appropriate. And what I mean by that is developing a voice that younger readers can relate to, and a character that has both strengths and flaws but is very much still developing as a person. For me, part of that immediacy meant writing in the first person, to get closer to my readers. I also tried hard to get into the mindset of teen, that place where friends are all important, where that first crush can awaken both delight and fear, and where a sense of stability, no matter the family constellation, is critical to well-being. Age appropriate also means remembering that if you are writing middle grade, as I was, that you don’t stray too far into bad language, drugs, or sex. This was a big transition for me, as my first book was set in a public defender’s office, where the language was sometimes off-color and the crimes were violent. It was a relief in some ways to focus on a more wholesome story!
3. What ways have you been reaching readers during the pandemic?
The pandemic has been difficult, to be honest. I had a wonderful virtual launch party, which was a real celebration and a chance to see so many friends and readers. I’m doing some podcasts, and I’ve had a number of guest posts on different blogs. I haven’t yet worked out the virtual school visits; as a non-teacher, these are a bit daunting for me, although I’d love to get my feet wet!
4. Have you been able to write and stay creative in quarantine?
Writing during quarantine has been challenging. I’m a person who thrives on routine, and I love to have the house to myself and a whole day stretching out before me to write. For the first six months of quarantine, both of my college age children were home doing their studies, and my husband was home working. Thank goodness we had space for everyone staked out a place, but I work in the kitchen, which was like Grand Central Station! We’ve all adjusted and we’re not all here full time any more, but the most I’ve really worked on are pieces in connection with the publication of the book. I also have a new contemporary fiction coming out in October, so soon some more work will happen there.
5. Who are some writers and artists in the children’s book world that
Like everyone my age and younger, I admire Judy Blume. I recently went to a Zoom presentation of the Author’s Guild with Judy and Margaret Atwood, and you can’t help but be humbled and inspired by the humanity and thoughtfulness of those two women. As for middle grade and YA, these are still new genres for me in terms of both reading and writing. My children are in their early 20s, so I loved reading all the Harry Potter novels with them, as well as the Hunger Games series and the Twilight series, so those all still hold a special place for me. I also love to read local writers, including Carolyn Lyall, who has just published book two of her young adult fantasy trilogy in the Virus Of Beauty series.
More About Reyna:
Reyna Marder Gentin lives with her husband and children in Westchester County, New York. Reyna’s first novel, Unreasonable Doubts, a romantic legal thriller inspired by her work as a public defender, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Debut Fiction. Reyna has studied at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and her short stories and personal essays have been widely published online and in print.