Writing Teenage Boys: Guest Post with Teri Polen

I’m not much of a horror reader since Dean Koontz scared the bejeezus out of me as a teenager. I’m also not a huge fan of teenagers. The real ones are tolerable, but the ones in books sometimes drive me crazy. They’re angsty,  dramatic, and they make dumb decisions. They remind me of me at that age.

So… when I picked up Teri Polen’s YA horror novel, Sarah, I was worried.

Well, silly me for fretting. The book was awesome. I’ll give you my review below, but first, I had to quiz Teri. One of the best things about the book was the way she dove into the experience of Cain, a 17-yr-old teenage boy. It felt totally genuine to me, and I happen to know Teri isn’t a 17-yr-old teenage boy. How did she do that with such authenticity? How did she prepare? Here’s her answer:

***

You’re not the first person to ask how I channeled the voices of 17-year-old boys, Diana. A good friend is convinced I was a teenage boy in a previous life. I have two sons—I honestly don’t know what I would have done with girls—and we’ve always had a steady stream of their friends hanging out at our house.

I spent countless hours driving them to sports and band practices, sleepovers, movies, dances…you get the picture. They trash talked each other while playing video games, compared puzzling encounters with the female species, and debated superhero movies. I’ve witnessed their heartache after breakups, their bets on when a friend would get dumped by a new girlfriend—and if it would be by text or in person, and their vehement defense of each other when challenged.

All the while, I listened. And it’s mostly been quite entertaining and enlightening. When the characters in my head demanded their story be told, it was natural they’d be teenage boys, because that’s what I know.

Cain’s pigsty of a bedroom is a near perfect picture of my oldest son’s room—or as my younger son calls it, ‘The Black Hole’. Things have literally disappeared in there, and the smells emanating from that room have been horrific at times. If a zombie apocalypse happened today, we could live on the half-empty Gatorade and water bottles, snack bags, and protein bars for quite a while.

My sons and their friends probably never dreamed some of their comments would come back to ‘haunt’ them in a YA horror novel. You never know who’s listening.

***

My Review: 

Sarah is categorized as YA horror and the book fits the genre perfectly. Sarah is a teenage ghost seeking revenge for her murder. She returns to the scene of the crime, now the home of Cain Shannon, a 17-year-old horror fan. At first, she appears shy and vulnerable, and Cain agrees to help her, but she’s not as helpless as he believes. With each bloody act of revenge, she grows in power, and her tactics increase in brutality. Before long, Cain is in the battle of his life against a ghost intent on death.

This book has some really creepy, icky, suspenseful, and scary things going on, but the scare-factor and gore feel appropriate for YA readers (as well as adults). The story grabbed my attention from the first page, and the tension and suspense escalate at a steady pace without much of a break right up to the climatic end. Even the last few paragraphs of the epilog are worthy of a few terrifying chills.

Though the horror aspects of the book were engaging, what impressed me the most was Polen’s outstanding characters. All of them felt well-rounded to me with fully developed personalities, but I was totally taken with the main character Cain and his friend Finn. They felt authentic to me in their thoughts, emotions, dialog, banter, friendship, and relationships with others. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to capture the essence of teenage boys with such expertise. I found the pair of them refreshing and likable, and therefore enjoyed the non-horror moments of the book as much as the horror, if not more so.

Another thing that impressed me was the believability of the characters’ choices. I often find that characters in horror (movies) make stupid choices because the plot would keel over and die if they acted sensibly. Polen was meticulous in building a backstory that supported Cain’s decisions, particularly his choice not to involve his mother and to stay in the house despite the presence of a murderous ghost. This careful attention to character and plot kept me enmeshed in the story from chapter one right through to the end.

An excellent book for both YA and adult readers of horror and suspense.

***

Eh, what’s one more book in your TBR pile? Here’s a link: Sarah

Connect with Teri on her book review blog: Books and Such

169 thoughts on “Writing Teenage Boys: Guest Post with Teri Polen

  1. The best horror stories — particularly the ones featuring teenagers as the protagonists — are the ones with rich and realistic characterization, like Scream. I’m extremely curious to read Sarah!

    I agree that teenagers are the hardest voices to capture authentically. I know a lot of professional writers who are absolutely wretched at it (though no one has told them, it seems), and I myself veer clear of teen-centric stories because I suspect I wouldn’t be able to recreate the particular voice and vernacular of an iGeneration youngster. (And the fact that I just used the word “youngster” should prove my point!) That said, it’s the job of the writer to observe and internalize, and it sounds as though Teri did exactly that. Bully for her! Can’t wait to check out the book…

    Liked by 1 person

    • She did a great job, Sean, you youngster you. Ha ha. She captured the voice and technology, the friendships, and the habits of teenage boys in a way that felt totally authentic. The book is perfect too for a YA audience, just creepy enough and high on plausibility. She’s been getting great reviews too. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a case of “you live with them, you get to be like them”. You don’t have to be a murderer to write a crime novel so you don’t have to be the same gender or age as your character. All you need is creativity, imagination, experience and if all else fails research.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True, Brian. I’m a fantasy writer and don’t get to try everything I write about, but inside knowledge (when we have it) can add those tiny details that make a narrative come to life. Teri has been a good listener around her sons. :-). Thanks so much for visiting and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love your comment about a horror story where characters make sensible decisions. When it come to watching movies, our house is a tough room. Typical comments might run something like this:

    Me: Oh, look, they’re splitting up now, just as things get dangerous.
    My son: How else could the ghost/zombie/werewolf pick them off so the protagonist can hear their screams?
    Son’s wife: And look, they even dressed him in a red shirt. Why didn’t they just paint a target on his back?

    You get the idea. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. reocochran says:

    I trust and respect Diana’s high opinion of Teri’s book! I enjoy YA and some horror, too. One of my favorite short story writer is Stephen King who wrote the plotlines for the great “The Green Mile” and “Shawshank Redemption” films. He is not just all
    about horror!
    Teri, with grandchildren in their 13-14 year old stage, I definitely will keep you and your books in mind. . . 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review, Diana! LIke you, I’m not much for horror or teens (even considering I have two of them 🙂 ). Love Teri’s peek into her writing teen boys as well. And you make it sooooo convenient to add this to my TBR list–sneaky. Very sneaky 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Antonia says:

    I am looking forward to reading this. Honestly, I would have been scared to pick it up, if I hadn’t read your review. I love how life has prepared her for her character Cain.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love a book that grabs me right from the beginning 🙂 This sounds like an interesting and intriguing book to read. My goodness, I haven’t read a horror story in years!
    Great review my friend. Have a wonderful weekend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have to admit that I was fascinated by the teenage boys having been a mom of a girl. They were so beautifully rendered. The horror isn’t too gory so the book is perfect for non-horror readers as well. Thanks for the visit, Lynne. Have a great weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Teri Polen says:

      I agree with Diana – the more ‘gory’ parts happen ‘off screen’, making it a more gentle read for those who prefer their horror on the milder side, Lynne.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the way you introduce books…and authors to us. I’m nodding my head about not being a horror book reader (Stephen King is the one who got to me) but then you turn it around and say “but hey this one is great!” And I totally agree with Teri re how to figure out teens. I also spent hours (and hours) driving my kids to activities. They seemed to not realize I was in the car, and the conversations between themselves and with friends were eye-opening and fascinating.
    Thanks for the recommendation and best of luck to Teri.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. One more book in my to read pile, indeed, Diana! I do like horror stories – to read, not to see on film. So I’m sure I’d enjoy this one. Plus I raised a boy so I’m sure I would relate to the teen boy shenanigans.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Silent Hour says:

    So much to read, so little time… Actually, one lifetime to pass with books isn’t enough. And this one sounds so good!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thank you for sharing Diana. I am pretty sure the book is very interesting. It is those kinds of books my daughter used to read when she was a teenager. And she doesn’t read them anymore. Thank your for sharing! Have a lovely week!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. rijanjks says:

    Sounds like an eerily great story. Wonderful review.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Wonderful review! I can’t help being intrigued – and slightly scared – by the title. LOL! 😊 Unlike you I actually read and like horror stories and Dean Koontz is one of my favourite authors but haven’t come across it in the YA genre until now. Thanks for pointing out this book, Diana! 😊💚

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Mae Clair says:

    I read this book shortly after it was released and loved it. Great to see such a wonderful review here!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. An excellent review/interview of the book “Sarah” and the author Tero Polen, Diana. It sounds like a winner. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for reading, Suzanne. I definitely enjoyed the read and horror isn’t something I would normally pick up. Teri is wonderful at characterization and I could easily read more of these teenagers. Happy Writing, my friend. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. acflory says:

    I haven’t been able to read horror in years. Actually, make that decades! But I do appreciate good characterisation, and it sounds as if ‘Sarah’ has it a-plenty. Great interview and great review. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  17. The most frightening thing about this post is having two teenage boys. Though soon I’ll have three teenage girls, and that’s going to be a real horror story.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. dgkaye says:

    Excellent review and sounds like a well written story. Still, I just don’t read horror. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  19. balroop2013 says:

    Nice review Diana. Sounds to be an interesting plot…rightly do writers say – “you may find a mention in my book”…picking up from the conversation of teenagers is a brilliant idea! I avoid horror stories as all unpleasant characters follow me everywhere 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  20. A fabulous review to share, Diana. Thank you. I have Sarah on my TBR list and just moved it up based on your review. 🙂
    Bravo to Teri!
    Cheers to you both. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  21. hsampson says:

    Thank you D! it sounds great I love horror stories! (although I have lived some in my real life) but your comments made me feel like reading it!! excellent review, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Staci Troilo says:

    Great review. I enjoyed this story, too, and am glad to see it shine here.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sounds like a good read. Great premise too. And as a mother of sons, I know all too well of what the author speaks!

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Wonderful review, Diana! I’m also not a fan of horror either but I’m glad Teri did such a lovely job you had no trouble with this one.
    It’s true what they say about authors being the true observants of the world. One can’t write about life if one doesn’t know life, after all!

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Thanknyounforvyhe very fine review and introduction to this author. I look forward to adding her book to my collection. I am reminded of “The Lovely Bones”, I love having the bejesus scared out of me. Thank you dear Diane♥️ 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Add my testimonial to the list. I loved this book and gave it five stars myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Enjoyed the review, but the way you started this post was excellent. You grasped me with your opening. Be well my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. What a great start to your review–not into horror or teens. Me2! And I can see in your review I might actually enjoy this book despite my rocky start.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. delphini510 says:

    Great review Diana and I find it interesting how Teri Polen got so much knowledge of teenage boys. Perfect study just around you.
    I am also squeamish about horror novels but can nonetheless admire people who write them.
    Miriam

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for stopping by, Miriam. I love how all writers are different, with different tastes, interests, and styles. It makes for wonderful variety, and I’ve enjoyed branching out. Have a lovely week and Happy Writing! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    • Teri Polen says:

      My sons and his friends definitely helped inspire the teenage boy characters, but strangely enough, Miriam, the story was inspired by my black cat hissing at something on the stairs that no one else could see. Perfect studies around me in more ways than one!

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Enjoyed Teri’s guest post! Nice review too… Shaing…

    Liked by 2 people

  31. I love Teri’s last line above: “You never know who’s listening.” Isn’t that the truth? As a mother of two young men, once boys of course, I can relate to the relationship with the boys and their friends. Way to go, Teri, for writing the story. Thanks for sharing, Diana. Great review.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. I love good character-driven stories, I’ll have to check this one out!

    Liked by 2 people

  33. A stimulating biog and review

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Darlene says:

    A great review of Teri’s book. I love how she used her experiences with her boys and their friends to create her male character.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. Hi Diana. Thanks for this mindful review. How fun that you added a mini interview with Teri. She’s a fabulous author. Hugs all around.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Like you, I don’t read much horror, since it doesn’t take much to freak me out. 🙂 That said, this was a great review Diana. I’ll pass the recommendation along to my friends who enjoy the genre.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. ghostmmnc says:

    Wow! Sounds exactly like what I’d read. I’ve been reading lots of YA horror lately, so I must get this one. Thanks so much for the review! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Teri Polen says:

    Thanks so much for your review of Sarah and for having me today, Diana! I’m thrilled (and immensely honored) you enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. […] love to be able to reblog Diana’s post over at Myths of the Mirror, but since all the reblog buttons have disappeared, I can only provide the link.  She has some […]

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Wow! That cover is AMAZING! I wanted to read it before I even read the rest of your post JUST BASED ON THAT! I am a horror junkie and I love that you say this on has very authentic feeling characters because there are many horror novels that don’t seem to have that.. it’s almost like the author thinks “well, you’re going to die anyways, so why give you a real voice and personality!” Lol! I really give Teri kudos for getting the voice right (I mean … who DOES like teenagers. Lol!) but, even with 2 boys herself it doesn’t mean that a lot of parents actually LISTEN! BRAVO TERI! BRAVO! I’ll DEFINITELY be checking this one out!!

    Liked by 3 people

  41. A wonderful review of Teri’s book, Diana. It is the second great review of this book I have read in a short period.

    Liked by 3 people

  42. Great review and love the interview! I have a friend with two boys like that, I should recommend the book to her!

    Liked by 3 people

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