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Authors in young-adult market go on the road to teach teens

ErBowman (from left) Susan Dennard Sarah J. Maas KZhang are authors behind Young Authors Give Back Tour.

Erin Bowman, (from left) Susan Dennard, Sarah J. Maas, Kat Zhang are the authors behind the Young Authors Give Back Tour.

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When: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: 826CHI, 1331 N. Milwaukee

Tickets: Free (workshop is full)

Info: (773) 772-8108;


When: 7-9 p.m. Friday

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson, Naperville

Admission: Free

Info: (630) 355-2665;

Updated: July 11, 2013 6:13AM

Pay it forward. This is the phrase that keeps coming up when talking to young adult authors Erin Bowman and Kat Zhang, who along with Susan Dennard and Sarah J. Maas are the brains behind the Young Authors Give Back Tour.

Early in their careers, all four authors received advice from people who helped them achieve their goal of writing and publishing a novel. Now they want to help other young writers. Their tour, which is stopping at cities across the country, is part traditional book-signing, part teen workshop.

In Chicago, the authors are holding a workshop at 826CHI, the non-profit organization co-founded by author Dave Eggers and dedicated to nurturing teens’ creative and expository writing skills.

“We jumped at this opportunity to connect our students with real-life writers,” says Zach Duffy, direction of education at 826CHI. “This is another step in our goal of instilling in them a passion and respect for writing.”

The four authors, who also will sign books at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, are represented by different publishers but know each other from the blog. The Give Back Tour began to take shape after Dennard and Maas met with adult-fantasy writer Robin Hobb at a conference.

“We had been thinking about the pay-it-forward idea but didn’t really know how to bring it to life,” says Bowman, 28. After some brainstorming, they created a tour geared to teens because, adds Bowman, “this is an age when you learn a lot about your craft and can become really inspired about writing.”

Zhang herself is a prime example of this. At 12, she decided she wanted to write a novel and set out to find the right people to help her achieve that goal. Now 22, she is the author of the popular novel “What’s Left of Me,” which she started writing at 17.

“I was lucky to find people who were nice and helped me along,” Zhang says. “If I hadn’t had them to give me advice I probably wouldn’t have pursued what I wanted so badly to achieve.”

Selah Amoaku, 12, has already written her first young-adult novel and hopes to have a similar experience. She enrolled in the workshop “to get advice on how to improve my writing.”

“I also want to ask how they got to where they are now,” adds the well-spoken Amoaku, a seventh grader at Beasley Academic Center. “And how I can get there, too.”

Students will be given packets of detailed information about the basics of writing and insight into publishing. The authors will answer questions and do a couple of writing exercises.

“It’s all heavily focused on what it means to be an aspiring writer in today’s world,” Bowman says. “We want to be a shoulder for these kids to lean on. Writing and publishing is a lot of work, a long, uphill battle. But we’re all proof that it is possible.”

Here are the novels of the visiting authors:

“Taken” by Erin Bowman (HarperTeen): In the town of Claysoot, boys vanish on their 18th birthday. It’s called The Heist. Gray Weathersby, months from that dreaded day, starts to question everything he’s been raised
to accept.

“Something Strange and Deadly” by Susan Dennard (HarperTeen): The year is 1876, and zombies are terrorizing Philadelphia. Eleanor Fitt’s brother has gone missing, and she’s determined to infiltrate the Spirit-Hunters who protect the city.

“Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas (Bloomsbury USA Children’s): In the land of Endovier, an incarcerated 18-year-old assassin, Celaena Sardothien, must act as the Prince’s champion in a deadly competition to find a new royal assassin and gain her freedom.

“What’s Left of Me” by Kat Zhang (HarperCollins): Eva and Addie are two souls woven together in one body. As they grow older, one must fade and the other take over. But that’s not what’s happening as two souls ache for life.

Mary Houlihan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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