Friday, August 9, 2019

Lilliam Rivera - Tense & Sensibility: Ways to Tackle Tragedy in Young Adult Literature

Lilliam Rivera
Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and author of the young adult novels Dealing in Dreams (Simon & Schuster, March 2019) and The Education of Margot Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, February 2017), available in bookstores everywhere. Her work has appeared in Elle, Lenny Letter, the Los Angeles Times, Tin House, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, to name a few. Lilliam lives in Los Angeles.

The estimable Lilliam Rivera is here to remind us that writing is a way of coping with tragedy, including so many of the events taking place today. She's a very character-based writer, and the way she writes about tragedy is rooted in who her characters are and how tragedy would affect them. You know what this requires, right? Intimate knowledge of our characters, of course. In a similar vein, techniques for doing this work are rooted in knowing teens, and understanding both how they experience YA books and what they want to experience when reading YA.

The cover for Lilliam Rivera's DEALING IN DREAMS
Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera
A lesson from author Richard Price: the bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Which is another way of saying we need intimate knowledge of our characters, because the personal moments and experiences we choose to write about come from knowing which of those moments would matter to our characters the most.

What does it look like when a character who's not us is experiencing tragedy? As is true in so many writing-related contexts, the first answer is research. Lilliam reaches out and talks to everyone - therapists, social workers, teachers, and most important, teenagers themselves. Most young people want to talk openly about a lot of things, so make the effort to talk to them about those things.

This is an author whose level of empathy and compassion for teens, especially teens who are experiencing trauma, is sky-high; her commitment to writing stories that honestly speak to those kids couldn't be more clear. Self-compassion matters too: Lilliam reminds us to remember self-care, because we don't have to directly experience trauma to have it embedded within ourselves.

Follow Lilliam Rivera on Twitter and Instagram, or get more info at her website.

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