Episode #10: Illicit Relationships


Episode 10:  We discuss illicit relationships where there is a power differential between the people involved, as well as legal and social restrictions.

Click to subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher

Our Current Reads
Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson
The Master by Kresley Cole

Traffick by Ellen Hopkins
The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume I: At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus


power control wheel #3

the power & control wheel


being on “the down low”
“Is This TMI?” flash fiction
Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick
Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
Flawed by Kate Avelynn
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler
Other Broken Things by Christa Desir

Recommended Reads
Consent by Nancy Ohlin
Girl by Blake Nelson
How We Fall by Kate Brauning
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Still Waters by Ash Parsons



Tell us what you think! Leave a comment or send us an email: feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com



Episode #9: Body Image

oral history podcast cover

Episode 9:  We discuss body image, in our own lives, and in the context of sexual content in YA books.

Click to subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Our Current Reads
Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian & Muslim Feminists & Why We Stay by Gina Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair & Amy Levin, editors
The Infinite In-Between by Carolyn Mackler

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz
Mastering The Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen

Dick Is Abundant & Of Low Value by Alana Massey
The Year I Grew Wildly, While Men Looked On by Ashley Ford
Another Round w/ Tracy Clayton & Heben Nigatu (subscribe here in iTunes)
I Have Never Turned Heads: What it’s like when you’re not the object of desire by Sarah Einstein
Carrie & Christa’s Twitter conversation re: Einstein article
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross


Recommended Reads
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero Flores
I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Do you have a story to share? We’re looking for real anecdotes/flash fiction (under 300 words) on the next topic we’re covering, which is Illicit Relationships. All stories kept confidential if desired, but send us to them and we’ll pick our favorite for the next episode.

Looking for an example? Here is Christa’s “Accidental Threesome” story to get an idea. Send your true tales & fake stories to feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com


“Pretty vivid, huh? Tell us what you think! feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com”

Episode #8: Cheating

oral history podcast cover

Episode 8:  We discuss cheating, in our own lives, and as portrayed in YA fiction.


You can subscribe to this episode and previous episodes via iTunes or Stitcher.


Our Current Reads
Christa: The Dinner by Herman Koch; Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn
Carrie: Infinite Sky by CJ Flood; H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald; You Against Me by Jenny Downham


dan savage quote

The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Swimming Sweet Arrow by Maureen Gibbon
Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu
Love & Other Theories by Alexis Bass

Recommended Reads
99 Days by Katie Cotugno
Tyrell by Coe Booth
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
Breathless by Jessica Warman

We’re proud to be sponsored by The Booklist Reader, a blog offering opinion, news, and lists from the friendly bookgeeks at Booklist magazine and Booklist Online. If you’re an aspiring author, check out their Publishing U series, which offers excellent advice from a wide variety of industry pros. You’ll find that and more at  booklistreader.com, or follow them on Twitter @BooklistReader.

Devastatingly brilliant episode, right? Tell us what you think - feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com

Devastatingly brilliant episode, right? Tell us how we broke your brain! Leave a comment or send an email to:  feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com

Introducing Our First Sponsor…The Booklist Reader!


“BOOM. Way to handle shit, ladies!”

We’re THRILLED to announce a new happy partnership: The Booklist Reader has become the first Official Sponsor of The Oral History Podcast!

What this means:  we’ll be spreading our show around to a larger audience, so you can listen via Booklist’s channels as well as this site, iTunes & the newly-added Stitcher app. We will also have a little more means for our business costs as well.

Beyond that? It’s the same show, the same opinions, the same Midwestern accents, the same candor about sex and books.

Expect Episode 9 on “Cheating” to release in early September. Meanwhile, our thanks go out to The Booklist Reader and Daniel Kraus for making this possible, Andrew Karre for making us sound good, and of course, all of our listeners!

And listeners? Thank you for all your emails and tweets about the show – we really appreciate your feedback and support!

More about The Booklist Reader:

The Booklist Reader is a blog offering opinion, news, and lists from the friendly book geeks at Booklist magazine and Booklist Online. If you’re an aspiring author, check out their Publishing U series, which offers excellent advice from a wide variety of industry pros. You’ll find that and more at  booklistreader.com, or follow them on Twitter @BooklistReader.

thoughtful norman

“Well. Wouldya lookit that? Our heroines got a sponsor!”

Summer Close-Read Series: Sara Zarr’s STORY OF A GIRL

We really like Sara Zarr: both her writing and her human self. We like her honesty and her skepticism and her kindness. We especially appreciated her insight and advice on podcasting and are big fans of her This Creative Life show.

Story of a Girl is one of our favorite books. Clearly we’re not alone – it was a finalist many awards, including the National Book Award in 2007, and received many other accolades and honors as well.

In Story of a Girl, there is a scene that is so powerful and unforgettable that we’ve decided to honor it with our own analysis. The scene involves the main character, Deanna, and her older brother’s friend Tommy. This scene functions on so many levels, sending so many messages and revealing so many layers of both characters, that it rightly blows our minds whenever we read it. That it clocks in at around 600 words is all the more remarkable.

If you have not read Story of a Girl, this scene is not a spoiler. After the jump is a pdf with the scene in question and our comments in the margin. Feel free to leave your own comments on this post as well.



Continue reading

Episode #7: Writing Sex – A YA Fiction Craft Talk


Episode #7:  We discuss writing about sex from a fiction craft perspective.

Subscribe in iTunes here; listen via Stitcher here

Current Reads
Carrie: Lady Sings The Blues by Billie Holiday & William Dufty; Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life & Times of Muddy Waters by Robert Gordon
Christa: Simon Vs. The Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli; The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

CORE BELIEFS ON WRITING SEX <———–*cue angelic music*

1) There is no trick and there are no rules. Writing sex doesn’t involve a kind of how-to recipe & moral authority holding a giant book of rules. The only rules that matter are the ones that govern the story you want to tell and the people you are depicting.

2) If you aren’t comfortable writing about sex, then don’t do it. YA doesn’t require sex in it. If you don’t want to write about that aspect of adolescence, that is okay. But if you write about romance, realize that there has been an historic imbalance in YA of swoon versus physicality, which is sort of disingenuous in lots of ways.

3) Sex scenes are some of the most closely-read prose ever produced. Kids who like to read and who are curious about sex will PORE over your sex scenes. They matter. 

4) Good sex writing comes directly from good character development. You must be solid in the latter for success in the former.  When asking, ‘what can I do in my YA book?’ you need to kick back the question to the character: “what does this character do?”

5) Writing sex scenes for teenagers is much different than writing them for adults.  Adults have completely different motivations, constraints & expectations for their sexual lives than adolescents. A lot of adolescents don’t even know what they want or need or like.

6) Whether or not teens are having sex should not dictate if books should include it or not. Emerging sexuality is part of adolescent development and lopping it off for political reasons is like removing religion (or lack of religion) from a character’s personality. Which is to say that understanding a teen character’s feelings about their own sexuality makes for more richly developed characters.

7) The biggest problem I’ve seen with sex scenes in YA books is the absolute unevenness of them with respect to other elements of the book. Authors will spend ten pages describing the inside of a castle but won’t spend ten words on what it feels like to have someone’s fingers inside them. In the romance world, you often see the opposite problem. There’s wall to wall sex details but so little plot or other dressing that it can feel like full-on porn.

References & Books
Carrie’s list of Romance Novel Words
Andrew Karre’s blog post on What Teen Readers Want To See Regarding Sex
What Is Graphic? – a post on using ‘graphic language’
Breathless by Jessica Warman
The Vagina Monologues script by Eve Ensler

Some Interesting Links on Writing Sex by Steve Almond:
“How To Write Sex Scenes – A 12-Step Program”  The Rumpus
“On the Enchantments & Uses of Bad Writing” in The Writer’s Chronicle
“What I Learned from Teaching a Sex-Writing Class” in Salon

“So? What did you think? Tell us yr thoughts: feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com

Writing Sex in YA Fiction: Some Thoughts

casual sex friday

I get asked lots of questions about sex and YA and writing sex and sex in general. Which is one reason Christa Desir & I started this Oral History podcast.

But recently a friend of mine in the Hamline MFAC program asked to pick my brain on Sex in YA Literature, as that is the topic her critical thesis paper (mine was, too!) and her creative thesis also features sexual content (again, same here!) We met for coffee and talked for a few hours, which was pretty cool. Then she emailed me some follow-up questions, as she was worried about what she was positing as the main stance of her thesis paper, as well as wondering if she was taking her own advice from the paper when it came to her own YA novel.

Below is an excerpt from that pep-talk email I sent her, in hopes it might help those writers out there who are thinking about these questions and choices:

Okay, a couple of thoughts here:

Lose the word “gratuitous.” From yr paper, from yr brain. Same goes for “as long as it serves the plot.” What serves plot is character. And fully developed characters, in my opinion, have layers that we must know as their creators: spiritual, physical, genealogical, mental, intellectual, emotional, sexual. SEXUAL. Many ppl don’t bother to learn their characters’ sexual layers bc we live in a society that won’t freak if they don’t know those details (though many LOVE to know those details.) This stupid, repressive & dismissive attitude is something that separates sex in YA that is illustrative, beautiful and truly unique to a character and his/her situation from sex in YA that is cliched, obvious, unclear & formulaic. Because we live in a culture that is so fearful of discussion of sex as it happens in reality (v. sex used to sell products) even seeing sex that is formulaic appears radical (which is why the romance industry makes billions for its authors)

There is a balance between writing a true-to-character story that includes sex and a story that includes sex just to shock or seem ‘edgy.’ But I don’t think there’s a tension in positing that there are a spectrum of considerations, actually. What lies between is the vast canyon of artistic expression and possibility.

I don’t think the writer decides ‘how much is too much.’ That is an editor decision. And maybe even a reader decision. But it’s too variable to let others take the wheel on, anyway. What is better to ask is, “Can a reader imagine this? Am I helping readers imagine this or am I getting in the way of their imagination?” What they think is “too much” or might find “unbelievable” is also a moving target. Everyone has their beliefs about adolescence that generally just happen to cohere with what happened to them as adolescents! (Funny how that works, huh?) So ppl who weren’t sexually active at that time might say, “That is Too Much!” While others, like me, will say, “This looks familiar.”

– The question of “where’s the line” and “how much is too much” will never offer a writer any useable data if we’re talking about sex or adolescent experience. Better questions might be “is this story balanced chronologically i.e. am I writing 50 pages about a sex scene with 10 pages about 3 months at summer camp?” or “how does this sex scene function in telling us about the characters or raising the stakes?”

The only source I can think of beyond my own big mouth would be Harmful To Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by Judith Levine. Levine looks at the effect of sex education on kids, plus a whole lot more on sexuality and education. A lot of my thinking on sex has come from writers like Susie Bright and Dan Savage, but I can’t point you to a definitive book on that count (although Susie Bright published a mother-daughter sex advice book w/ her own daughter that I’ve heard great things about).

The last thing: on a personal level, for authors thinking about writing sex in YA or other kidlit – be ready for blowback and be brave about it. Because guess what: it’s coming. Own what you’re doing, believe in it, know that you’re advocating a natural human behavior, and be proud of what you’re writing. Sex scenes in YA are the most read prose you will ever, ever write. Kids will pore over those passages. I think of those stakes when I write my stories, not just the plot stakes. Give them something to lay their own sexual life beside and think about. Books can provide a great way to talk about difficult issues that are embarrassing (sex, drugs, mental health, etc.) so think about that when you write sex, not just about “positive representation.” You’re providing discussion and emotional cover for very tricky, complex problems. It’s one thing books can do that other media can’t. Be proud of that.

If I think of more, I will send! Let me know if this helped or if you need more. I think you’re fine, actually. 


Found this helpful? Have more questions? Leave a comment or send an email to us for our upcoming Oral History Podcast (feedback AT theoralhistorypodcast DOT com) and we’ll try to discuss it during our upcoming episode, Writing Sex: A Craft Talk.