wheezy waiter on inspiration.

| Friday, April 29, 2011
Happy Friday! Here's a video by Wheezy Waiter on inspiration and how it doesn't exist. Don't wait for it to come to you. You're in control of your own creativity!

what's considered Young Adult fiction?

| Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Today's Tune: Teenage Riot

Yesterday, Ink over at The Alchemy of Writing posted a blog entry asking "What Makes a Story YA?" Many posters, myself included, piped up to offer their known definitions about what constitutes YA fiction. I find the question of whether or not a story "counts" as Young Adult fiction to be pretty common. So here I am to throw my sweet knowledges in the ring and talk about what makes a book YA rather than Middle Grade or "standard" fiction.

Many people, even some literary agents who aren't super familiar with the genre, believe that a book is Young Adult if it features a teenage protagonist. However, having a young protagonist isn't the only reason a book is shelved in the YA section. First, we need to understand that the term "Young Adult literature" is fairly new. Books that fit into the category began to appear in the 1960's and 70's, but there wasn't a widespread YA/teen section in bookstores and libraries until perhaps 15-20 years ago. As such, the genre has evolved and changed rapidly in the last several years, especially after what I like to think of as "The Twilight Boom."

Prior and concurrent to this, many authors still wrote books featuring young protagonists (The Lovely Bones, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) that weren't and still aren't considered Young Adult literature. But why? Let's talk about it, but first I'd like to invoke the Exceptions Rule, which states that I'll be speaking in generalities and of course, OF COURSE, there are always exceptions. Cool? Cool.

What Makes a Story Young Adult?

The main character and, usually, several/most secondary characters are in the 14-19 age range. So, the people who state that YA features teenage protagonists? They're mostly right. The vast majority of YA features protagonists between the ages 15-18, because these are considered the "sweet spot" years between adolescence and legal adulthood/independence. This is a key factor for YA. I'll get into why that is in a moment. In some atypical cases, you'll find YA protagonists who are 14 or 19, but very rarely will you find a YA protagonist under the age of 14. The Book Thief is one of the few YA books in my recent memory that featured a protagonist under the age of 14 for the bulk of the novel, but there were additional factors that put that book squarely in the YA section.

No matter what the story's about superficially (aliens, war, vampirewerewolfmonkeys), at its core, a YA novel is about the teenage experience. This is where some people get lost. There's always some argument somewhere about what is and isn't appropriate for teenagers in fiction, or that some book is "too adult" to be in the teen section. And sometimes that's true (more on that soon), but most of the books in the teen section are there for a reason: no matter how dark, sexy, scary, or difficult, they are about the teenage experience in some way. The Hunger Games is often cited as a book with themes too mature for YA, but it isn't. If it were a story purely about war and rebellion, it wouldn't be YA. What makes it YA is the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen's, experience. She grows from brave-but-frightened girl to powerful woman. She experiences her first shot at romance. She learns that adults cannot be trusted. She's finding out who she is throughout the events of the story. THAT makes it YA. The reason some of the novels I mentioned at the beginning of this post are considered "adult" and not YA is that they're not really about being a teenager. They're about a family falling apart, or someone solving a mystery.

Certain topics will automatically bump a book from Middle Grade to Young Adult. These topics include ANY sex, some kissing (depending on how it's portrayed), certain swearing (some swear words can be "gotten away with" in MG, but not many), drug/alcohol use, certain amounts of violence, and other "edgy" topics. This is what bumped The Book Thief from MG (because of the young protagonist) to YA. There was swearing, alcohol use, a teensy bit of sexuality, and war treated in a grittier, more adult manner.

YA fiction deals with a lot of introspection and internal growth. Teenage emotions and thoughts are constantly present in YA, which means those feelings are always close to the surface. Where younger Middle Grade novels often deal with grand-scale external adventures that lead to character growth, YA novels often have a lot of inner conflict. This doesn't mean devoting long passages to the protagonist whining about how their crush didn't say hi in Algebra, but it does mean sparing time to consider those thoughts and how they affect the protagonist and move them forward.

Intent is key. Is the novel in question intended for a teenage audience? Was it written with them in mind? This is an important factor, but intent alone does not a YA novel make. To continue...

While there's a lot of leeway for content in YA these days, there are still some "rules." Sex is allowed, but erotic description of the act is not. Violence is allowed, but must be handled carefully. Any number of difficult topics can be featured in YA, even up to and including rape, drug overdose, and kidnapping, but they must be handled with the appropriate care and a teenage audience in mind. Note that this DOES NOT mean making everything "clean" or dumbing down the work. It does mean that talking about the throbbing of someone's manhood or the bloated and decaying veins in the arm of a heroin overdose victim may not fly.

The tone and voice of the novel should resonate in some way with a teenage audience. This means it should be a teenager's voice. Not the voice of an adult looking back on their teen years, not the voice of someone so far removed that we can't get a good sense of the protagonist's inner workings, not the voice of a small child. This does not mean you can throw a bunch of "likes" and "whatevers" into the dialogue and call it a day. This means writing from the perspective of a young person who doesn't have all the answers yet, who isn't completely sure of themselves, who feels every slight and joy intensely, and who wants something every teenager can relate to. Freedom, adulthood, love, sex, popularity, understanding. These are some of the topics that motivate the average teen.

Purely from a physical and technical standpoint, YA novels are often shorter, punchier, and have more clearly defined plots and stakes. This is a sticky one, and again I'd like to make it clear that I'm speaking in generalities. The bit about word count is tending to go by the wayside with the influx of 90,000-120,000 word paranormal/fantasy novels and series coming into the market, but overall, most YA tends to be between 45,000-80,000 words. The style tends toward quick, punchy prose, rather than long description or lavish literary passages that drag. The plot and stakes are clear and present throughout the novel. Again, generally speaking here.

There's a light at the end of the tunnel. This is an important one. No matter how dark a YA novel is, no matter how much the protagonist loses, no matter how bad things get by the end, YA novels almost always end on a note of uplifting hope for the future. They can show us that life is difficult and brutal, but not bleak and hopeless. Generally speaking, teenagers love darkness -- it speaks to their inner emotional turmoil and pain -- but most of them also need that light at the end. No matter how bad it gets, there will always be something to look up at. "Adult" novels are a lot more okay with leaving the protagonist an empty, battered shell weeping amid the ruins of their world. HELLO 1984, HOW ARE YOU.

More questions about what makes a story YA? Ask in comments and I'll answer as best I can!

handicapped characters are people, not lessons.

| Monday, April 25, 2011
Today's Tune: Wake Up (live)

There are times when I'm reading a story or watching a film and I come across an odd sort of predicament: a character who was obviously created with a writer's best intentions in mind, but in doing so, that character is robbed of personality and development. They're rendered unrealistic. Flat. Even irritating.

For me personally, one such character is the (usually mentally) handicapped individual who is reduced to a happy-go-lucky child; whose purpose it is to teach abled characters about The Beauty of Life. This character kills me a little inside every time I see it in fiction or television. It's a well-meaning creation that ends up hurting my heart.

But why, you ask?

My little sister has Down Syndrome. She's blond and green-eyed and petite. She's a high school graduate. She's an actress. She loves to sing and dance. She throws tantrums like you wouldn't believe. Sometimes she can be mean. Sometimes she's a brat. Sometimes she cries and rages and manipulates. Sometimes she's personable and hilarious. She tans a lot easier than I do. She's smart. She loves to eat sushi. She hates the feeling of shaving cream. She laughs and smiles and wants to fit in. She hurts and weeps over things she knows she'll never get to have. She wants to be loved. She's perfect. She's imperfect.

My point is this: she is a person. She has hopes, dreams, flaws, and secrets.

She is not a lesson about the finding The Beauty of Life.

The reason the aforementioned character bothers me so much is that it robs a very real person of her chance to be... a person. It reduces her to a vehicle through which another character can learn something. It tends to follow the misleading and frankly insulting assumption that a mentally handicapped person is permanently a child, and thus permanently "innocent" and happy and able to see *magic* everywhere. It discounts that these are individuals with flaws, who make mistakes, who are human and thus subject to the human condition of questioning their lot in life and being justly pissed off about it.

In essence, this is a flat, two-dimensional character who exists not to be an individual of their own merit, but to make other people feel better. I say again: they are people. They are not lessons.

This is sort of a difficult post to write, because most writers who create a character like this have all the best intentions in mind. However, just because the character is portrayed in a positive light (sweet, kind, loving, full of Simple But Poignant Secrets) doesn't make the portrayal less condescending. My goal isn't to make anyone feel bad, but to hopefully give people a position they may not normally think about while writing a handicapped character.

As always, just remember that a character should always be a person, not a prop.

Can you think of any portrayals of handicapped individuals that you found really powerful and moving?

maureen johnson & writing as a profession.

| Friday, April 22, 2011
Hey dudes! Happy Friday! Have a video of Maureen Johnson (YA author extraordinaire) talking about writing as a profession :)

trouble with character motivation? try acting.

| Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Today's Tune: Little Lion Man

Hello, new followers! Thank you for tuning in to my ramblings. It gives me a happy in my tummy :)

When I was a young teen, I briefly got into acting and modeling. Very briefly. About long enough to take several months' worth of acting classes, try out for a few positions as an extra, and get some pictures taken. Nothing ever came of it beyond some increased confidence, which was a bonus.

Before I took those classes, I was a shy little thing. I wasn't a "theater geek" in school, but several of my friends were. I had a special fascination with the drama department, and my friends convinced me to try out for one of the plays. At fourteen, I finally agreed to try. When it was time for my audition, I was beyond terrified. I stood by the piano, shaking, and attempted to sing "The Rose." My voice was barely audible. The director politely thanked me and I ran from the room. I didn't make first cut.

Then I took those classes. I learned how to project, how to embody a character, how to emote. The next year, I went back in to try out for the spring musical, Little Shop of Horrors. The director took one look at me and sighed before telling me to go ahead. He clearly recognized me. The accompanist started playing the first few bars of "Somewhere That's Green." I took a deep breath, opened my mouth, and started singing. Audibly, and pretty well (I'd practiced). I watched the director look up at me from his notes with raised eyebrows. On Monday morning, I went to look at the list for first cut, and there I was. I made it.

I wish I could say that I won the lead in the play and I blew everyone away, but that didn't happen. I did make it all the way to final cut for the female lead, though. It ended up going to a talented senior who'd been taking Drama for her entire high school career, and I couldn't fault her for that. Really, I was thrilled to have made it that far.

So, what's my point with this lengthy anecdote? It's only very loosely related. I just wanted to share that story, heh. You know, practice and confidence and all that.

Really, though, I wanted to mention that if you're having trouble connecting with your characters, you should try some acting classes. Even if you have absolutely no desire to become an actor, they're dead useful. Being able to crawl inside your character's head, become them, and completely understand their motivations is a great skill to have in your writer's toolbox. Plus, they're a great confidence boost if you're the sort of introvert (as most writers are) who has trouble with feeling awkward around new people or speaking in public.

Just another of the many fun activities we can enjoy in the name of "research" :) Try it out!

rape is not a plot point.

| Monday, April 18, 2011
Today's Tune: As Is

Serious post from me today, uh oh. I hope you'll indulge me, as it's an issue I feel pretty strongly about.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. All this month, it's likely there are events happening in your area focused around sexual assault awareness and prevention, such as Take Back The Night and others. The prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, rape, abuse, molestation and incest continues to be very real and very harmful, and we can all do our part to help make the world a safer and healthier place for all sexes, genders, and sexualities.

In one of my posts last week, I touched on the subject of rape (or attempted rape) of a character as a cheap trick intended to illicit sympathy for said character. I'd like to expand on that in this post.

First, I'd like to go over exactly the sort of scene I'm talking about. Every portrayal of rape, attempted rape, molestation, or other sexual abuse is not created equal. There are stories where the inclusion of such topics is handled beautifully and is integral to the plot. There are other instances where a very deep, personal, potentially hurtful topic is treated with a sort of blasé nonchalance. It is the latter instance that I'll be discussing here.

These are the scenes where a (usually female) character is cornered by a man (or group of men) that intend to rape her, but she's saved at the last minute by another (usually male) character. Or a scene where a character who's known to be moody, depressed, or unusually angry casually mentions that sometime in their past they were raped or molested, thus explaining away their "weird" behavior. Or any scene where a character's rape is treated with a one-or-two sentence sidebar and then never mentioned again. Essentially, it is any scene that fits into the Rape as Drama, Attempted Rape, or Rape Is The New Dead Parents tropes.

Here is where I feel the need to state that sexual abuse is not a character builder. It's not a plot point. It's not titillation in preparation for a Rescue Romance. It's not a parlor trick to keep up your sleeve when you think a character needs a little bit of extra love and sympathy. It's not a miracle explanation for moodiness. It's not something you can just throw on the table and then forget about.

Sexual abuse is a real, damaging, difficult topic that more of your readers than you'd care to imagine have had some experience with. If you are going to include it, you absolutely must do so with the right research and care. Survivors of sexual abuse react in a multitude of ways. There is no one reaction to abuse, there's no one way to deal with it, there's no one way to heal from it. But there is one common thread: if a person is a survivor of sexual abuse, it will affect them for the rest of their lives. Even the act of consciously deciding NOT to let it affect one's behavior is a mark of how it's changed them.

This is what is so grating and upsetting about the casual use of rape as drama, as a plot point, as a sympathy-maker. There IS no "casual" mention of rape. Rape is not an explanation for behavior. It may be a catalyst for a host of other physical and mental issues the character has had to struggle with, but you can't say, "Oh, by the way, she was raped, that's why she hates men so much." It's this offhand, "by the way" treatment of rape that is the issue here. When a person is raped, it becomes part of their daily existence. Part of who they are. It is so much deeper and more complex than a brief mention can give credit to.

All that said, survivors of rape live with it every day without letting it define them. If you walk down a busy street, odds are you are walking by dozens of sexual abuse survivors who are going about their daily lives. They are not all angry, or depressed, or hateful, or broken. They also don't go around casually tossing around the fact that they're a sex abuse survivor. That's just not how it works.

So, as with anything, do your research. If you find yourself mentioning a character's rape only in passing, just don't do it. Don't use it as a shortcut for character development. Don't use attempted rape for the sole purpose of allowing a heroine to be saved and then leave her completely unaffected by the trauma because she's with the hero now. Do not talk about averted or completed rape with gross metaphors about purity, virginity, and wholeness.

Does this mean you have to turn your work into a morality lesson about The Horror of Rape, or dedicate swaths to exploring the Secret Hidden Pain of a character? No, it doesn't. But it does mean you need to treat the subject with the respect it deserves and not like a monkey wrench you tossed in to raise some stakes. If your character has been raped, then it is part of who they are, but it's not all of who they are. Don't forget that.

marketing alone does not sell books.

| Friday, April 15, 2011
Today's Tune: Cue the Elephants

"That book is terrible. The only reason it's selling so well is because of great marketing."

I imagine we've all heard (or said) some variation of the phrase above. It's easy to explain a "bad" book's success away with marketing or celebrity, isn't it? After having worked in marketing, however, I know there's a lot more to it that that.

Here's the deal: dumping a lot of money into marketing and promotion can absolutely increase a book's exposure. More eyes will see it, more ears will hear about it, and more impressions will be made. But exposure alone will not sell books. Or any product, really.

What I'm saying is the very best marketing in the world (traditional or digital) cannot sell a product no one likes or connects with. A product sells because it has something people want. (Or because they monopolize the market. YOU SUCK, COMCAST. BTW.). Books sell because people get something from them. Entertainment. Butterflies in their tummy. Excitement. Education. Laughter. Whatever. Then they tell their friends. That's where most sales come from -- word of mouth.

People are more likely to purchase things that have been recommended to them by a friend, family member, or acquaintance, and people don't recommend things they hate. Publishing houses often take gambles marketing books that don't end up selling so well for whatever reason -- didn't connect with people, wrong subject at the wrong time, didn't hit the right combo of timing and luck, whatever.

This very argument has been made several times over about the Twilight series, the favorite punching bag of recent years. I'm sure you've heard it before. According to this stance, Meyer supposedly became a millionaire because of fancy-pants Big Publishing marketing dollars shilling her book everywhere. But here's the thing... not really. Her fan base alone contests this very claim. Regardless of anyone's personal feelings about Twilight and its sequels, those books sold because they connected with their audience.

Writers can get hoity-toity all they want and cry foul about the books they think "don't deserve" the attention and sales they get, but it doesn't change anything. Marketing can only do so much. Advertisements can only do so much. Books sell because they're offering readers something they want. Period. They want a magical world and an unlikely hero. They want a "perfect" romance with a happy ending. They want to laugh. They want to cry. They want action and explosions and teenagers slaughtering each other on live TV. (Okay, they probably don't actually WANT that last one, but it's a concept that makes for entertaining and heartbreaking fiction. Which they do want.).

All that said, exposure doesn't hurt. The first step is, of course, to write a book people will want to read and connect with. After that's done, you can't very well send it out into the wilderness and hope it doesn't get lost. Good books are overlooked every day, many times because no one even knew they were out there. You don't need big marketing dollars to spread the word about your book. Check out Amanda Hocking. That girl worked the social media angle like no one's business to her very obvious benefit. BUT. She also had a book (several books, in fact) that people wanted to read.

So, to summarize:

1.) Write an awesome book people will want to read
2.) Somehow, some way, publish that book and make it available to the public
3.) Promote it any way you can
4.) Have some luck on your side
5.) ?????

bruce coville & neil gaiman on writing.

| Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Today's Tune: Movies

We all have our particular writing heroes. When those heroes give out free writing advice, we tend to listen.

One of my favorite pieces of advice came from Bruce Coville, author of Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, My Teacher is an Alien, and dozens and dozens of short stories I adored as a preteen. A while back, I came upon this blog post in which someone from Upstart Crow Literary got some advice from Bruce Coville.

This bit of advice was something even Bruce himself had found elsewhere, but it resonated with me a great deal. It's called "The Rule of Twenty." The basic concept is that it's only when we reach the twentieth idea that we're reaching truly original territory. When we're thinking up character names, or plotting, or trying to plan twists, our brains will naturally go to the easy and familiar. This is the stuff that's been done a million times, that's cliched and boring. We have to reach past the first five or ten ideas into the deeper stuff; the stuff that the audience won't see coming. I love that.

Another writer who I feel gives amazing advice is Neil Gaiman. He's just... something else, man. From where writers get their ideas to how to write a book, he's got a quippy-yet-poignant answer for anything.

One of my favorites from him: "Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." 

What's your favorite-ever piece of writing advice? Who gave it to you?

YA common clichés series: paranormal romance

| Monday, April 11, 2011
Today's Tune: Giving Up the Gun

Starting a new series today. Let me know what you think :)

One of the best bits of advice you will hear as a writer is to read, and to read a lot. Particularly within your genre to familiarize yourself with its tropes, clichés, and what's currently selling/being published. So, I read a lot of young adult literature, which is kind of its own beast. It's a specific genre, but within that genre are any number of subjects. I'm hoping to break them down and highlight some of the more common clichés (read: stuff that is so overdone it's boring and predictable) within each area.

The goal with this series is not to ridicule, but to inform and inspire a break from the usual in today's literature. Also, clichés do not automatically make a manuscript or novel junk. If used sparingly and mindfully, they can work.

Subject #1: YA Paranormal Romance

I know, I know, this is an easy target to start with because the market has been over-saturated with it for the last few years and it's been under a lot of scrutiny blahblahblah. But writers are still writing it, publishers are still buying it, and it's still rife with so many clichés.

Vampires, Werewolves, Fallen Angels, and any other mystical creature you can find in 20+ different books in the YA section right now. - Okay, so this is a given, right? Paranormal fiction almost always includes paranormal creatures, and these are the go-tos. Vampires in particular are so overdone at this point that you can find virtually any variation you can possibly think of. Vampires who sparkle? Done. Vampires who are really aliens? Done. Vampires who are fat and nerdy? Done. Does this mean you can never write a vampire story again? No, it doesn't. It just means you're up against a seriously steep mountain and a seething mass of competition. What's a Paranormal Romance writer to do? Two options: 1) think of new creatures, or 2) make the already-done creatures so different that it makes your work stand out. But be careful -- you don't want to come up with something so wacky that it only serves as a gimmick, or some creature so bizarre that its difficult to find it sexy (see: Loch Ness Monster).

[Edited one out here because I no longer agree with it or feel it's an issue -- this post is now two years old!]

The Hero/Main Love Interest is a Bad Boy. No, seriously. In the sense that he kind of wants to kill the Heroine. - This one's been talked absolutely to death in recent years, so I'll be brief. There's a certain timeless appeal to the "Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold" trope in romance. No denying it. However, there's been a recent rash of YA where this trope is taken and morphed into, "I want to kill you. Let's fall in love." Needless to say (but I will anyway), this relationship dynamic is... problematic. And disturbing. And it's been done more often than many people are comfortable with.

Sometimes he's also a real jerk. - Like, a REAL jerk. Not in an "I'm just being a smartass to hide my TRUE FEELINGS from you" kind of way. In an "I am absolutely awful and condescending and mean to you, why do you still like me?" kind of way.

OR: he is so perfect and nice and wonderful that he's boring and unbelievable. - Wish fulfillment and fantasy, I know, I know. But poetry AND flowers AND fancy jewelry no teenager could really afford AND a sensitive artist's soul AND a super-hot body AND a "sense of humor" AND he wrote her a song AND he never gets mad AND picnics at sunset AND his favorite book is The Bell Jar? Too much. Way too much. He's a teenage boy, not a robot programmed for optimal female swoonage. Or is he?

If someone's stuck in a teenager's body, they act like a teenager. Even if they're hundreds of years old. - See Emotional Maturity Is Physical Maturity. I mean, if your love interest is 100+ years old, obviously you can't have him acting like a lascivious old man. That would be creepy. But you could also, I don't know, let the love interest be the protagonist's own age? There's something a little tired and strange about having someone who's technically 306 years old be romantically and sexually attracted to a teenager, I'm sorry. This sort of thing *can* be explained away (example: their life cycle is different than the human cycle and 300 years technically IS their "adolescence"), but it could also be fun to experiment and play around with. Maybe have a character who's a crotchety old lady stuck in a teen's body. Could be fun.

Everyone's pretty. Except maybe the bad guys and/or teenagers who are mean to the protagonist. - Self-explanatory, I would think. Sometimes it's okay for characters to look like, you know, regular people. And physically unattractive = bad is so, so shallow.

Everyone is clueless. Especially adults. - No one notices people having a fireball battle in a dark alley? No reports on the news? Mom and Dad are so oblivious that they don't notice sprouting wings or changing eye color? Really? Really? If people aren't noticing these things, you have to explain why.

Oh, these bruises and cuts? I, uh, fell. - WHY DOES IT SEEM LIKE EVERY PARANORMAL ROMANCE HEROINE SAYS THIS. No one in the world believes this line. NO ONE.

The protagonist is almost completely useless. - In Paranormal, it's assumed that we're going to be dealing with some weird shit. Generally, weird shit that puts our protagonist in danger. Yet again and again we read about these teenage-girl protagonists who are weak, flimsy, helpless, clumsy, meek, and unable to fight back against The Big Bad. Good thing the Hero's there, right? We don't have to make our protagonists superhuman -- that's not the requirement. Having a "hurtable" main character who is absolutely capable of dying raises the stakes. But just because a protagonist isn't superhuman doesn't mean she can't be capable, or wily, or able to fight back somehow. Always remember whose story you're writing. Is it the Hero's story, or the Heroine's?

Alternatively, the protagonist is the specialist snowflake who ever specialed. - This cliché edges dangerously into the Too Perfect To Be Allowed zone. It's also extremely common. The protagonist has some unique power or ability that no one in the ENTIRE PARANORMAL WORLD has ever seen before. Usually it's a highly desired trait and the protagonist is immediately good at it. It's also the ONE THING that could have possibly saved the day. It's generally an easy and convenient way to make the protagonist stand out amid the crowd and can be pretty cheap if not fleshed out appropriately. See also: she's the first and only girl the Hero has ever met who he's been seriously attracted to. He's never had a crush before, really? Hrm.

Attempted (or, in some cases, completed) rape or torture of Heroine. - This is a trope that pops up again and again in romance in general, but seems to have a special place in Paranormal. I have serious issues with this trope, so much so that I probably can and will write an entire post dedicated to it, but for now I'll try to keep it short. This trope is used to garner superficial stakes and sympathy for the Heroine, and she is almost always saved (just in the nick of time!) by the Hero. My main issue with this trope lies in the way it's used. Very rarely is it used with the appropriate care. There's often a lot of creepy subtext about virginity and purity and the potential of the Heroine to be "ruined." Really, it's just an easy way to disempower the Heroine, leave her at the whims of Something Evil, and then have her saved. For which she will be eternally grateful to the Hero, of course. Because you owe your love to your savior. Treat with care. Always, always treat with care.

"Borrowing" legends from another culture to bend to your own whims. - Celtic, Japanese, Aboriginal, Egyptian, Roman... it's all been done. Usually poorly. Margo of the Bransforums recently wrote a wonderful post on this very topic that you should most definitely read. This gets a little bit sticky when a writer wants to use a creature most commonly found in a certain culture's mythology (see: fairies/faeries), but the more important point to keep in mind is doing one's research and not including another culture just for the "magical Native" superficial storyline. When using this sort of trope, it's very important to try and find a member of the culture you're portraying and ask if they'd mind giving their opinion on whether you're being patronizing/offensive or not.

Have you caught any overused tropes in YA Paranormal Romance you'd like to share?

things I wish I'd known as a teenager.

| Friday, April 8, 2011
Today's Tune: Brand New Day

Things I Wish I'd Known as a Teenager

1) Anyone who tells you that you'll "grow out" of zits is a LYING LIAR WHO LIES.

2) The guy in books and television shows who's kind of a jerk (or really a jerk) but secretly reads Hemingway and has a gentle heart that he's trying to hide with layers of jerkiness? He's like a unicorn: not real. In real life, the guys that act like huge jerks are usually huge jerks.

3) In the same vein, not every girl is a backstabbing evil temptress who only wants to make you miserable and steal your crush. A lot of them are more like you than you realize. BUT: as with the dudes, jerks do exist. Avoid as necessary.

4) A person is not obligated to love you back, no matter how much you pine after them and cry into your pillow and swear you'll cherish and adore them always. In fact, it's kind of crappy of you to put that kind of pressure on them when they've already said no thank you.

5) If you want to go to Homecoming or Prom, go. With a friend if you can't find a date. If you hate the idea of dances, it's okay to stay home. Don't listen to the people that insist you're missing out. They're only ~*magical high school memories*~ if you want them to be. There are different memorable experiences to have.

6) Once in a while, do something scary and hard. Try out for cheerleading or the school musical. Do it even if you absolutely suck. Then do it again the next year, just for the hell of it.

7) People who claim there's only one "real" way to do high school properly don't remember what it was like to be there. Do it your own way. Your way IS the right way... for you.

8) Pick something for your senior quote that has nothing to do with Friendship or Inspiration or The Places You'll Go. Never go for the expected unless you find meaning in it.

9) Sometimes best friends break up and move on. And it sucks. It really, really sucks. It's fine to be hurt and pissed. It's also fine to let go.

10) Adults still don't know what the hell they're doing a lot of the time. They just have more practice at life than you do.

What do you wish you'd known as a teen?

in which my cat is cute.

| Wednesday, April 6, 2011
No writing-related post today. The last 2-3 weeks have featured a lot of ups and downs for me. My older cat, Mystery, was recently diagnosed with a vaccine-associated sarcoma (tumor) in her leg. Just under a week ago, she had surgery to remove the tumor. She's doing well in her recovery now, but unfortunately it's very likely she'll have to go back in for a more drastic procedure -- an amputation of her leg. So, yeah, a lot of hand-wringing and emotional stress has been taking up residence in my apartment in the last week or so. But it's okay. Her prognosis is good. The vet assures me she'll pull through with flying colors and that I'll go through more worry and trauma than she will. FUN.

Anyway, I'll take this opportunity to dust off my soapbox.

*dusts off soapbox*

Cat owners: make sure you check out your kitties' vaccination and injection sites on a regular basis. Vaccine-associated sarcomas are rare, but they do happen, and catching it early and informing your vet immediately will greatly improve your cat's prognosis. They usually appear as a small, hard lump on a leg or between the shoulders (the most common areas for injections). They're very aggressive and will often grow quickly. If you ever find a lump that doesn't go away after a month, gets larger rather than smaller, or is bigger than 2 centimeters (about 1 inch) in size, take them in for a check-up immediately. Better safe than sorry.

For more information, read this: Vaccine-Associated Sarcomas

I'm not trying to scare anyone, and I am absolutely not advocating refusing to vaccinate your pets. The diseases prevented by vaccines are far more common than vaccine-associated sarcomas and are actually required by law in some areas. Continue to vaccinate your pets. I'd just like to spread awareness about this condition because I had no idea it existed before I found the lump on Mystery's leg.

*steps off soapbox*

On a lighter note, here's a cute video of Mystery. She was getting neck scratches and couldn't lick me, so she licked her Cone of Shame instead. Enjoy.

doctor who: a character study

| Monday, April 4, 2011
Today's Tune: I Am The Doctor

The blog got a facelift. It was about time for one - I've had the same layout almost since this blog's inception. Whatcha think? You like? I like. I'm normally not a big fan of bold reds (I'm more of a cool blues kind of girl), but I'm digging it. It feels new. Energetic. And stuff.

Let's talk about Doctor Who, shall we? Weird segueeeeeeee.

Here's a science fiction show that spans decades and has lasted throughout generations. It's so popular and beloved that it was resurrected for a new generation following its 1989 cancellation. It's a serial which is constantly rebooted -- literally. If you're unfamiliar with the show, every few seasons, the MAIN CHARACTER, the Doctor himself, suffers some sort of life-threatening injury or other would-be fatal ailment and averts death by regenerating his cells, giving him an entirely new appearance and a slightly (or very) altered personality. Essentially, the character "dies" without really dying and is reborn in a new body, with all the same memories but a different outlook.

This is a fascinating character study. I can't claim to be a Doctor Who purist, as I've only really watched the "NuWho" seasons (the resurrected version of the show beginning in 2005), but in just these five seasons I've seen the incredible scope of the storyline. The individual Doctors all tie in together in some way (shared memories, a visit from a past companion), but each one essentially represents his own story arc contained within a much larger tale. He's the same character, but he's not. His pain and joy from his past experiences will always color who he is, but each incarnation allows it to color him a different way.

Where one Doctor seems joyful and good-natured, another will react with
rage or even selfishness. Some incarnations appear completely in tune with the humans he loves so much, while others are entirely clueless about human relations. But always, always, he seeks to do right by the Universe, to protect those who need protecting, and to rise out of the ashes of a crippling war to be better.

What an incredible feat, eh? To create a character that is SO changeable but remains fundamentally tied to very specific roots is quite the accomplishment. Isn't this what we, as writers, are constantly trying to achieve? A character built on past experiences that have made them who they are, but who go through incredible personal growth and change throughout the course of our story? Such change doesn't come without a price, however. Every time, every time, the Doctor regenerates and becomes a new man, the audience goes through the same crisis. How can we let go of the man we've come to love? How can we be sure we'll love the man he will become? What if the changes are bad? What if he becomes someone we don't know; someone we hate?

That's just the risk we have to take. A character who stays the same becomes boring; stagnant. Some of us aren't willing to put our characters through this kind of change. We're not willing to hurt them, to really hurt them, and force them to become someone a little bit different. We're so afraid of hurting our darlings that we let them meander on, only putting superficial obstacles in their way and letting them achieve victory without having to do much of anything; without having to really try or grow or become more. What if the audience doesn't like the "new" changes? What if I think the "old" character is just fine?

Well, what if? If played right, putting your character through the ringer and letting them be "reborn" will deepen their personality. You don't have to go in quite the dramatic direction of Doctor Who -- you don't have to change their physical appearance, or give them wacky new personality quirks and a brand new wardrobe. But take note. Despite the differences portrayed by the new actors and new scripts, the Doctor always makes sense. You can tell when he's still mourning a lost companion and see the sparkle of tears in his eyes when he remembers his old world and the part he played in putting it beyond his own reach. Even being reborn cannot erase his past sorrows, but he always grows. He always changes. He always finds new adventures and new companions to share them with.

Try it. Take away something your character loves dearly. Cut away their family. Steal their significant other. Annihilate their best friend. Destroy their freakin' world. Then let them change. Let them grow. Let them become someone with a different outlook on the same past. Let them be stronger for it. And let the story continue.

Despite everything, despite all he's lost, the Doctor is still a person who loves humanity. He's still a person who wants to save the world. Whatever shape he comes in, he's still the Doctor. But he's a stronger, more powerful, more beloved character because of what he had to do to stay true to his core.

language barriers (flash).

| Friday, April 1, 2011
Today's Tune: To Be With You

Regular readers may recognize the first few paragraphs of this from when I posted them on Valentine's Day. Here's the finished flash fiction piece. Enjoy ;)


There’s something easy and thrilling about making out with someone who doesn’t speak your language. Literally, I mean. Not in some metaphorical “we don’t operate on the same wavelength” way, but in a “he speaks Italian and I can only understand about every third word he says” way.

But he’s hot and his mouth is sweet. We’re two people smelling of oil paint caught in a piazza full of Roman rain. He tastes like rosewater gelato. It’s good. Other painters are throwing tarps over their easels and running around us, out of the downpour. I imagine we're rocks in a stream, the water pushing and caressing but never moving us. The image makes me giggle against his lips and I feel him smile in return. I catch a glimpse of his canvas and watch my face melt and puddle on the ground.

I didn’t used to be this ballsy. Not even close. I once stared at the back of a guy’s head in class for an entire school year and never said more than three words to him. Weird how a change of scenery can reinvent you. You come to a new place and it makes you a new person. Back home, I was all slick ponytails and downcast eyes. In Rome, I’m sopping-wet waves and artistic inspiration.

“Andiamo, andiamo,” he laughs, pulling me behind him as he joins the scattering artists. My feet don’t move right away. I’m tempted to stand here by the little fountain and the dripping paint and twirl in place like some scene from a movie. But he’s a really good kisser. I wonder if Kissing 101 is required in Italian secondary schools. I let him lead me by the hand and we run, run, run.

The shop and café workers have been unraveling the overhead tarps to cover the storefronts and customers. We stop beneath one, panting. He buries his face in my neck and I let out one of those awkward screech-laughs. Some patrons glare at us and others just shrug to their coffees and one another. We’re just another pair of lovers, giddy with youth and hormones.

“Como si chiama, la musa? Non hai detto.” He tilts his head. I only laugh and shake mine.

“I have no idea what you just said.”

“Il tuo nome?” He points to his chest and says, “Nico.”

“Oh, my name!” I point to my chest. “Alison.”

“Alison,” he repeats, grinning. He pronouces it “Ahl-EE-son.” His eyes follow my finger, still pointing at my chest, and he unapologetically scopes my boobs. The inclination to shrug forward and cross my arms comes over me and passes. That’s what the old me would have done. It doesn’t help my resolve when I realize my nipples are standing at attention due to the cold rain. I privately curse my roommate for convincing me going braless would be freeing. She also pushed me to go down to the piazza and find someone to paint me, though, so I can’t feel too annoyed.

Nico (NEE-koh) pulls me further down into the open alleyway next to the café and gets back to business. He has me backed into a wall. The rain is running in rivulets over my shoulders and his entire body is pressed up against the length of mine and I can feel his heat on my chest and my belly and my...

I break our kiss. “Woah,” I say. “Woah.” I swallow and saliva slides down my throat like lead.

“Che cos'è?” he mumbles into my hair.

The constant rain is making it difficult to breathe. “Too fast. I mean, I just met you. You’re smoking hot, don’t get me wrong, and I’m totally down with the kissing, but, uh. Yeah.”

He blinks confusedly at me.

I try again. “Uh. Rapido? Mas rapido?”

Laughter scatters between the rain drops. “Perché?”

Time to try a different approach. I raise my hands above my head, point both index fingers directly at my face, and say, “Virgin.”

That word must be similar in Italian because he cracks up. When he calms down, he brushes my cheek with the back of his hand. “Simpatica vergine Americana, non preoccupatevi.” He takes me by the hand, more gently this time, and leads me back to the café. It feels like all the heat that was boiling over in my middle just a second ago has migrated to my face.

We find a seat and he orders two coffees as I stare at the green-checkered table, avoiding his eyes. Smooth, Alison. So smooth. Tell the sexy Italian you’re a virgin so he takes you out for a nice platonic coffee. A love story for the ages.

A stiff-lipped waiter brings us two little white cups and a disapproving glare. Don’t mind us, I want to say. There won’t be any more kissing. I’m still the same meek little spaz from Madison.

“Drink,” Nico says, pointing at my cup. My eyes snap onto his.

“You speak English?”

He smiles. “Only very little.”

“What else can you say?”

“Hm. I say days of week. Today is rain. Pretty American girl.” He winks at me and my blush comes back. “Maybe you try next to see il Vaticano?”

“Oh, that’s perfect. Send the virgin doofus to Vatican City. Thanks.”

“You think much. Do not think so much. We have fun, yes? Is what you look for? Fun? Good day with me?”

"Yes, but I wanted to be different, you know? Someone new."

"You are different. I see. You cannot kiss me and stay the same," he laughs.

He’s right. I take a sip of my espresso. It’s thick and black and flavorful, so much different from the over-sweetened messes they serve back in the States. Still, part of me misses being able to find a Starbucks on every corner and knowing I’ll get the exact same frothy toothache no matter which one I choose. Maybe a touch of the familiar isn’t so tragically bad. Maybe I don’t have to change completely.

“Yeah,” I say, grinning at him. “It was a good day, huh?”

“Very good,” he nods. “Come, finish. I walk with you home, yes?”

The rain stopped while we were talking. Sunlight filters through the silver clouds, hitting the cobblestones and making them steam. Red and yellow buildings wink at me with their windows when the light hits them just right. And I’m still sitting here, drinking Italian coffee with an Italian hottie under an Italian sky. When I tell this story, maybe I’ll leave out the part where I acted like a dork.

Or maybe I won’t.


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