love and warts.

| Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Anger and hurt dripped off my face like raw egg.

“I can’t believe you’re being this way,” I said. “You’re supposed to be my best friend.”

Kira’s eyes were so wide they were practically falling out of her head. “I am! But you have got to be kidding me with this. It’s just BEYOND, Melissa!”

I had revealed my secret to the one person I could trust most in the world, and she was freaking out. How could I tell my PARENTS?

Heat flooded my body. “You’re such a freaking hypocrite. I was totally open-minded when you were seeing that guy with the Muppet Babies tattoo.”

She jabbed her finger toward the place Rodney stood behind me. “HE’S A TOAD, MEL.”

“Just because you don’t understand our love doesn’t mean you can insult him to my face!”

“Are you serious? He. Is. LITERALLY. A TOAD.”

I slipped my hand into Rodney’s webbed paw. “He’s half-amphibian, you jerk.”

“Whatever. I’m out of here.” She practically bolted out the door.

I turned to Rodney and put my hand to his dry, warty cheek. We kissed. He tasted like swamp water and bubblemint.

“I guess it’s just you and me, babe,” I whispered.

“Rrrrr rrrrr rrrribbit,” Rodney said.

“I love you, too.”

***

You have just witnessed my entry for Kay's 20 followers contest. It's one of the five finalists (YEEEAAAAAAAAHHHH). She's posting them this weekend, or so I hear! HINT HINT. GO FOLLOW HER OR SOMETHING.

young adult is about young adults. FYI.

| Monday, June 28, 2010
Today's Tune: Shores of California

I hope this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, but young adult literature? About young adults. Middle grade? Middle grade kids.

You'd be surprised how often people getting started in writing literature for young people forget that the work is primarily supposed to involve and engage the young people. This is very difficult to do, so it's not as though people are being needlessly negligent. Keeping children and teens interested in a book should be a Herculean trial, really.

It's not that they don't want to read - kids really do want to read! Many of them are desperate to do so! The issue is that they want to connect with what they're reading, and it's difficult to do that when something is written below their reading level. Or above their reading level. Or about a character they don't care for. Or about a subject they don't care for.

You see the dilemma of many would-be YA authors. There is good news here: teenagers are as varied as adults. Some have a low tolerance for flowery language; others adore it. Some want action-fantasy, others want contemporary romance, and still others... you get the idea. So the positive side is there's probably a teenager somewhere out there who will love what you have to say. The bad news is that it may just be the one. Or a handful.

Crappy, but true. But there are a few ways to avoid stacking the deck against yourself in terms of keeping interest higher.

One major key to novels for young people? They have to be the central hub around which the story turns. Always. You can't write a story about a protagonist who is significantly older or younger than the target audience. Adolescence is a crazy time, as you may well remember. The world changes by leaps and bounds between the ages of 11 and 13, 13 and 15, 16 and 18... big changes.

If the target audience of a novel is 15, they're not going to connect well with a 20-year old protagonist, or a 10-year old protagonist. Which doesn't mean they can't enjoy novels written for older or younger readers. It only means that for YA novels in particular, the loose requirement is that the MCs should be between the ages of 13 and 18. I say "loose" because this isn't set in stone, but it's definitely the bar to aim for.

Not only should the MC of a YA novel be a teenager, but they should always be the focus (unless you have multiple MCs, but that's another ball 'o wax). If you open with other characters, their actions must in some way directly apply to or involve the MC. Many YA stories open with a birth scene, or the MC as a toddler/young child. When going this route, it's important to remember whose story is being told - is it the parents' story, or the child's story?

Parents and adults can be fleshed out and full characters, of course, but they shouldn't steal the spotlight. We are all the star of our own show, and this is especially pertinent during the teen years.

Another major factor in YA and MG literature is allowing the characters to fight their own battles. It's a very common theme in YA for parents to be absent, abusive, oblivious, or otherwise useless. There's actually a reason for this, other than the obvious ready-made angst factor. You see, for a story to truly be centered around an underage MC, they have to do everything themselves. Parents, guardians, and other adults can't do it for them.

The protagonist holds the power. This may mean they disregard the wishes of authority figures, or have to pull themselves along on their own momentum because Dad's dead and Mama's a drunk. This works because if there's one thing a teen can relate to, it's being told they're not adults. That they're not mature enough to do X, Y, or Z. That they have no power.

To clarify, this isn't about wanting to go out with friends to smoke and get drunk. It focuses more around decisions about their own lives that teens want to make, but are held back from. Young adult literature is about putting those decisions in their hands. The police aren't figuring out your father's murder quickly enough? Take it into your own hands. Dad is an abusive ass who has no interest in sending you to college? Do it yourself. The kindly headmaster wants you to stay in your room like a good boy while he and the other teachers hunt down the monster that hurt your friend? No way.

The point I'm trying to get at here is absentee parents aren't really about the dissolution of family and teaching teens to rebel against authority, as is often argued. It's about putting power in their hands. This can also be done with a traditional family unit with caring parents, of course. It's just something to keep in mind - adults can't be the solve-all. The protagonist has to be the catalyst for the action, always.

I think that's about enough rambling for today, yeah? Heh. YA RULES AND STUFF.

some contests.

| Friday, June 25, 2010
Today's Tune: Love and Some Verses

Contests. You like them. You will participate. This is an imperative.

Kay - 20 Followers Contest. Write a Hilarious Love Scene in 200 Words. Due Sunday.

Christi - 106 Followers Contest. Write some Flash Fiction. Due 7/4.

Shelley - "I Can't Say It" Blogfest. Post a scene where the characters have something to say, but can't quite get the words out. Due 7/7.

Karen - Many, many contests. Requirements for entry TBD. Due throughout the summer.

Anyone else have a blogfest or contest deadline coming up? COMMENT HERE. I DEMAND IT.

You know, if you want.

IT'S A TRAP!: Curing Mental Illness With Love

| Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Today's Tune: Earthquakes and Sharks

IT’S A TRAP! entries are posts in which I discuss newbie writing mistakes that seem like a good idea at the time, but usually end in burning wreckage. I’ve made many of these mistakes myself and thankfully learned from them, but I needed a few years and wake-up calls to recognize them for what they were.

DISCLAIMER: there are aaaaalways exceptions. The topics discussed herein are not always mistakes. But most of the time they are *shifty eyes*


Curing Mental Illness With Love: IT’S A TRAP!


As you may be able to tell by my unapologetic use of Admiral Ackbar up there, these themed posts tend to be on the light and frothy side. However, this particular subject is a little more serious - at least, it's one I take pretty seriously.

Here's a storyline set-up for you... one you've probably seen before.

Main character is introduced. MC has a debilitating mental illness - but they're not TOO CRAZY, if you know what I mean. It will be something that impedes their happiness, but not an illness that makes them an "undesirable" (I say somewhat sarcastically, because mentally ill people are not really "undesirables," but that's another post). I'm talking moderate OCD, not severe schizophrenia.

So, MC has this disorder that is acting as their personal demon. It's impeding their path to happiness. They're often pessimistic and cranky, resigned to being miserable. Or it will be pitiable and tragic, like Alzheimer's Disease. UNTIL! They meet or reconnect with Love Interest. Then things change.

Slowly but surely, the resigned-to-their-miserable-fate MC finds a new zest for life. Love Interest's attention and care actually makes them better. Their germophobia is lessened! They can remember things! They power of love is healing them! Happy happy!

This is a fairly popular story, and one that is often attributed to the warm fuzzies. Love heals all wounds!

But I have a different position, which I will openly admit is colored by the fact that I have known and loved people with debilitating mental disorders such as manic depression and Alzheimer's. Now, I'll also say up front that I understand works of fiction are... well, works of fiction. Sometimes the goal *is* the fantasy of the feel-good happy ending. I get that.

That said, stories of this nature can be ill-informed and sometimes even callous about the reality of mental illness. As a person who is, for instance, slowly watching her grandfather turn into a shell of the person he once was, it's almost insulting to read a story in which a person with a similar illness is regifted their memories via the "power of love." It's like saying if we only LOVED someone enough, we could make them better. Change the chemistry of their brain, or restore destroyed tissue.

This is simply not reality. Which, I know, it's fiction, yeah yeah. But just because it's fiction doesn't mean it can't strike someone as disingenuous. I mean, imagine it from all sides. Picture yourself as the disordered individual, struggling to help your loved ones understand that it's not that they don't love you enough, it's not that you don't want to get better, it's that you're struggling with this thing that can't be completely overcome. Love and good intentions won't make it go away.

Mental illness is not this "all in your head" monster people can banish with the right combination of support and will power. This is a potentially hurtful position to take. For the individual affected, and for their loved ones. Those of us who have loved a disordered or handicapped person can feel like we've been kicked in the chest when we see this storyline and realize that our love wasn't enough to "cure" our loved one.

As always, this story can be done well when treated with the appropriate level of care. Just, you know, some food for thought. There are some things love can't fix. No matter how raw or powerful it is. If you understand this, you can craft a stronger story. Unless, of course, you're going for a fantasy. Because that's what the "love can cure anything!" plot is - a fantasy. A fantasy that many people may connect with and find warming, but not all.

Just... please, if you're writing about a mental illness or disease, make sure you research it and understand how it works. Really. Don't pull a disorder out of a hat for the insta-tearjerker factor. Do it with purpose. Do everything with purpose.

I got all serious on you with this post. SORRY! I lighten up sometimes, honest.

readings, signings, and all things in between.

| Monday, June 21, 2010
Today's Tune: Say Hello

I got to go to another author meet 'n greet and book signing this weekend! I saw Malinda Lo, Heidi R. Kling and Cheryl Renee Herbsman. I'd only read Ash, but I enjoyed Heidi and Cheryl so much that I made sure to pick up their books - Sea and Breathing, respectively.

The readings were wonderful, and the ladies were all so friendly and informative. And very, very encouraging to a newbie trying to get her feet wet, which is always greatly appreciated. I always recommend going to signings for books you're interested in. Maybe even signings for books you aren't interested in!

Author signings don't really generate huge turnouts, unless we're talking Stephen King/Stephenie Meyer/J.K. Rowling level fame. That always disappoints me, so I try to lend my support when I can. It's too bad, too, because how incredible is it when you can meet and talk in a semi-intimate setting with PUBLISHED AUTHORS in YOUR GENRE who are SUPER AWESOME and quite possibly READ ON A NATIONAL LEVEL?

So this is me championing the cause of "support your fellow authors - go to their readings and signings!" I can't imagine anything that would thrill me more than finally being published and ACTUALLY HAVING PEOPLE SHOW UP TO MY SIGNING OMG. It's not even just about the support, either. It's about meeting really cool people who are also on this crazy journey, and who you can relate to and share experiences with.

Plus they write cool things in your copy, like, "Good luck with your book!" or "Never give up the dream!" Which may not seem like much, but feels like a lot to someone who is still on the bottom rung of their dream ladder. IfyouknowwhatI'msaying.

Have you been to any cool readings or signings lately? Which authors gave you a case of OMG THEY'RE SO COOLs?

kurt vonnegut rules (writing) school.

| Friday, June 18, 2010
Today's Tune: Have It All

Still plugging away at my manuscript. It's going - slowly, but it's going!

So today I leave you with this discussion of various approaches to plot by Kurt Vonnegut, whom I love and miss dearly.

And now: back to writing!

the bechdel test.

| Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Today's Tune: Her Words Destroyed My Planet

As many of you may have noticed, I am female. As a person who is female, talking about the portrayal of women in literature and the media is a topic of interest for me.

One such topic that I find very fascinating is the Bechdel Test, which is primarily focused on film, but can possibly be extended to other areas.

If you haven't heard of the Bechdel Test (or Bechdel Rule) before, it's pretty straightforward. It's a gauge of whether or not women are accurately represented in a film. It's a simple test. In order to pass, a film must contain: (1) two or more female characters (2) who talk to each other alone (3) about something other than a man or men.

Easy, right? I mean, women make up approximately 50% of the population. We talk to other women. About things other than men. Yet you'd be surprised how many films don't pass or barely pass this test. There's even reasoning behind it in Hollywood - "the public" doesn't want to sit around and watch women yak yak yak yak. Because our conversations are always vapid, useless, and boring, of course.

The point of this test is to shed light on the way women are unfairly portrayed in film - as sidekicks, foils to the male lead, romantic interests only, for the purpose of supporting men, or just "hey, we should probably throw in a woman for that whole feminine emotional factor." We are independent human beings capable of being defined based on our own merit, not a man or men.

Now, to be fair, a film does not have to pass this test to be pro-woman or a quality flick. Many films don't pass, but still portray strong female characters. Nor is this test intended to be anti-man. It's merely supposed to point out that hey, maybe we should pay attention to the way women are underrepresented in many films, or do away with the idiot notion that all we talk about when we're alone is men, shoes, men, fashion, men, makeup, men, men, and babies.

WHICH IS NOT TO DISCOUNT THOSE THINGS AS THEY ARE ALL WELL AND GOOD FUN TO TALK ABOUT SOMETIMES. But really.

This portrayal tends to be less of an issue in literature, as a very large demographic of authors are female. We are far more greatly represented as authors than screenwriters and directors, that's for sure. Still, novels do exist where the female presence is mediocre at best - men are given all the best lines, they get to do all the fun stuff, and any focus the female character gets at all is comprised of "oh, that man of mine."

So, my point? I like being a person. I like seeing other members of my sex being treated as people, not props. And no one has to kill romance or fashion talk in order to do it! Just, you know, let your female lead do something else, too.

Okay! Next time I'll actually talk writing. SWEARSIES.

Ash by Malinda Lo

| Friday, June 11, 2010

Today's Tune: Diamond Dave

Just a quicky post today!

First, I'd like to direct your attention to Ash by Malinda Lo, which I recently finished. This novel is richly literary, with fantasy elements that are ever-present, but never over the top.

If you've heard anything at all about this book, you'll know it's a lesbian retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. Elements of Cinderella are strong throughout, but this retelling is just as I like them - using the original story as an obvious frame, but not a verbatim rehashing of the story with names and a few key elements changed. I greatly admired that the title character, Ash, was strong. There's a strong theme of "the choices we make" in this novel. Ash begins as a brow-beaten girl in mourning, and becomes a woman determined to follow her heart.

All in all, a lovely and well-written novel. It is a bit slow at times. Ash begins the story at about ten or eleven years old and ends it at eighteen, and there are several points where the story stops in order for a character to recount a fairy tale. Even so, the writing was enjoyable to read, though some teens may wish for a little more action in their fiction.

Malinda Lo is supposed to be doing a book signing around these parts soon, and I'm very excited to go meet her :)

In other news, I actually finished a new chapter! YAY! Now back to it, heh.

*splat*

| Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Today's Tune: Fidelity

So, I've been languishing. My WiP has been sitting stagnant, and I can't seem to discipline myself enough to get 'er done. It's not even writer's block - I know *exactly* how I want to finish this thing, so why can't I do it?

I think part of me is afraid. Afraid that I'm going to finish it, and it will be terrible. Or disappointing.

I think the other part of me is just lazy and realizes that I have a LOT of work to do on this thing. A lot. Many, many hours of work. It's daunting.

And then there's the part of me that freaks out every once in a while and goes FHS*^RT^Q(GOHHE(^%(*% ARE YOU SERIOUS YOU ARE GOING TO PUT ALL THIS WORK INTO THIS THING THAT WILL GO NOWHERE.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH, DEFEATIST ATTITUDE. GTFO PLZ KTHX.

Also, the Internet is shiny. Why is there so much STUFF out there? Shiny, shiny STUFF?

So. I need to cut this out. I need to get this done. I need to get it done for my loved ones who have been supporting me, for my new critique partner, for the writing conference I'm attending, and most of all, for myself.

All right. No more dawdling. If you don't start seeing that number in my sidebar going up, please feel free to scold me appropriately. Or inappropriately. Whatever cheers the cockles of your heart.

AND! I need to be better about responding and visiting blogs. I am way behind. And I'm so sorry about that! I love that you take the time out of your day to come read my blather, and I want to be better about reading your... well, not blather, but awesome and informative posts of wonder. Yes.

Oof. So much to do. AAAARGH BRAIN 'SPLODEY.

buffy is awesomesauce.

| Friday, June 4, 2010
Today's Tune: Magic

In my obsession with all things YA, I also occasionally dip into youth culture - television, internet sensations, that sort of thing. It's helpful to have a bird's eye view of what teenagers are really into, and why they're into it.

As part of a recent binge on youth culture, I've been rewatching TV shows from my teen years. It's fun remembering how I felt the first time I watched certain episodes, and reliving it. Also eye-opening to look at them with fresh eyes and figure out why I enjoyed them so much.

One show in particular I adored as a teen was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'd watch it with my mom every week. I'm a big Joss Whedon fan in general, and Buffy started that love. Watching now, I've really paused to wonder - why did I think this show kicked so much ass?

For starters: familiar characters turned completely on their ear. Buffy's blond, pretty, adored by boys, occasionally ditzy... sounds like your stereotypical blond cheerleader character, yeah? Or every girl in every horror movie ever who dies in the opening credits because she keeps looking behind her and trips. But wait! She's actually the self-sufficient, super-powered heroine of the story. The apparently frail, doe-eyed girl is actually a stake-wielding badass who can take down everything from vampires to THE OLDEST AND MOST ULTIMATE EVIL OF ALL TIME.

So, there's that. We also have the tortured vampire with a soul (which, okay, is overdone now, but Angel was the original Edward, really), the trusted adult mentor with a shady past, the shy little bookworm who becomes an immensely powerful witch... the list goes on.

Next, there was angst. Oh, such angst. No one does angst like Mr. Whedon. Not only was Buffy the defender against all things creepy and evil, she was a teenager. With teen issues. Feeling like she doesn't fit in, boyfriend troubles, friend troubles, no date to the prom, struggling in school... all incorporated into the show. This show was on the dark side, so there were also themes of death, loss, domestic abuse, even rape and drug use. Pertinent issues that were dealt with without turning every episode into a Very Special After-School Episode.

Granted, as Buffy the Vampire Slayer progressed and Buffy and her friends moved on to college, the show took on a much more adult tone. And yet, that was one more thing that I loved so much - it didn't remain stagnant. The characters grew up and progressed. You know, like real people. Several of the main players went through dramatic changes over the seven years the show was on the air. They battled personal demons, fell from grace, and had to find a way to fix their relationships and themselves.

One more thing Joss is masterful at? The well-woven plot. Not only was there a great deal of foreshadowing for future events (sometimes even several seasons beforehand), but he's amazing at adaptation. One of the show's best-loved characters, Spike, was a dark horse out of nowhere. He was only supposed to be there for a few episodes, but the fan base loved him so much that Joss figured out a way to weave him back in, and even make him integral to the storyline. It takes a good deal of talent and creativity to look back to what you've already written and figure out how to tie it together later in the story. It rarely felt forced or contrived.

So, we have atypical characters, balanced angst, progression, and well-drawn plot. But no discussion of Buffy would be complete without mentioning Buffy Speak. The dialogue of the show was witty, entertaining, and still believable teenspeak. Short quips, pop culture references that didn't sound forced, snark... even the whining was well done. It wasn't convoluted and pseudo-deep, or exceedingly childish and slang-filled. A great balance. Probably not something easily transferred to the written word (the actors' delivery of the lines is always half the charm), but worth checking out nonetheless.

And last of all, Buffy never got boring. The pace was always fast, the tension always high. When the interest in the paranormal waned, there were strong character-driven storylines to fall back on. Joss isn't afraid to kill his darlings - literally. When I watch Buffy or any other Whedon show, I know I'm going to be in for a fun ride with balanced action, tension, hilarity, and emotional wreckage. Plus awesome, powerful, flawed, amazing, fragile, kick-ass female characters, which I'm always a fan of.

Now, if only I could figure out how to capture something like this in the medium of the novel. Hm.
 

Copyright © 2010 maybe genius