IT'S A TRAP: Focusing on the Drivel

| Monday, January 30, 2012
Today's Tune: 1000 Ships

Time for IT'S A TRAP! These posts are intended as somewhat humorous (but true) tributes to traps that we writers occasionally find ourselves falling into. Disclaimer: there are always exceptions to every rule.

IT'S A TRAP!: Focusing on the Drivel

I don't know about you, but I've heard some variation of the following come out of a lot of writer mouths: "There are no good books in bookstores these days. It's all the same stupid formula. Originality is dead. Publishers won't publish anything but Twilight ripoffs. Everyone gets down on self-publishing, but there are terrible trade-published books, too. I write WAY BETTER than the crap they publish. They have no taste. They're driven by money, they don't care about ART."

And hey, I try to be very supportive of writers in every stage of their writing life and through whichever path they decide to take, be it going with major publisher, an indie, or self-publishing. However, nothing will make me roll my eyes and go elsewhere faster than writers who espouse this attitude.

1.) "There are no good books in bookstores these days." If you honestly believe this, then you either have an extremely skewed idea of what constitutes a good book -- maybe you think the only "good" books are classics written by long-dead white men -- or you don't read very much new literature at all. Literature is overall subjective, naturally, but that doesn't mean objective duds don't exist. Of course they do. Not even publishers are perfect judges of 100% quality literature. However, the existence of duds never negates the existence of strong, powerful novels. If you claim you can't find those novels, you aren't looking very hard.

I'm a very difficult person to impress. Even so, I can still recognize the strengths of works that I don't particularly care for. If you can't, that's probably something you should work on.

2.) "It's all the same stupid formula. Originality is dead. Publishers won't publish anything but Twilight ripoffs." If I hear you say this, I pretty much assume that you definitely don't read very much. This is ridiculously and patently untrue. I notice the way people who make this claim seem to fall back on the same super-popular books for comparison. Harry Potter ripoff! Twilight ripoff! Da Vinci Code ripoff! No, guys. You are being willfully stubborn if you claim everything being published today is a _______ ripoff. Yes, mimicry happens. It's not as common as you think. Some plots/storylines are archetypal.

This claim also seems to carry the underhanded implication that THE SPEAKER is the lone original wolf amid the sea of bland sheep. And I'm very sorry to say this, but none of us are the singularly-original special snowflake visionaries we see ourselves as.

3.) "Everyone gets down on self-publishing, but there are terrible trade-published books, too." Sure. There's crap everywhere. You might even venture to say that most of everything is crap, because that's just the way greatness works. It's not a common thing. That said, this attitude strays dangerously close to, "If *I* write crap, someone should publish it!"

This isn't to say that your writing isn't good, or that it won't find an audience. Just that this attitude belies a sort of acceptance that because sub-par books sometimes make it through the ringer, it excuses people from trying to make theirs better.

4.) "I write WAY BETTER than the crap they publish." This one always makes me cringe. I always encourage self-confidence in writers. I think it's a very good and powerful thing to believe in ourselves and our writing. It comes across in our attitude and correspondence. However, there is confidence, and then there is arrogance. This is arrogance.

5.) "They have no taste. They're driven by money, they don't care about ART." Uh huh. Look, publishing is a business. YES, THEY CARE ABOUT MONEY. Yes, they publish celebrity books by Snooki because she MAKES MONEY. Making money is one of those evils that comes with business management. However, making money means they CAN invest in unknowns and care about art. And they do. Try to stop looking at all the (arguably terrible) big money-makers and start looking at the smaller, quieter books full of beauty coming out every day. Maybe you should even support them. Supporting the "good" books means more "good" books will be released.


I am absolutely not the sort of writer who's down on self-publishing. I think it's a legitimate option and it's amazing that writers can take their career into their own hands that way. However, I also think it's pointless to simultaneously crap on the "competition." It smacks of bratty two-year-old behavior. Publishing in all its forms is currently evolving and changing every year. This is an AMAZING time to be a writer.

Don't fall into this trap. There's room for all of us in this world.


On Menstruation

| Friday, January 27, 2012
Today's Tune: Skeleton

If you're immediately freaking out at the idea of discussing menstruation, then you need to stay and read this. Don't run away. Don't do it. I will chase you down and bring you right back. This is something that needs to be talked about.

Menstruation is something that's viewed as a big, dirty secret. I've lost count of the number of boys/men I've come across who have absolutely no idea what it is or how it actually works, despite dating many girls/women. I've lost count of the number of GIRLS AND WOMEN I've come across who don't really understand what's happening to their body, they just know it's gross and dirty and something to be ashamed of.

Look: I am not going to sit here and pretend to be Sally Feminist, Spokeswoman of Rejoicing in Your Bloodtime. I know that periods can be terrible. Like, really terrible. I know they can make us feel sick or uncomfortable or alien in our own bodies. But they do happen. They are natural. And the avoidance and "EW GROSS" attitude that a lot of men (and women) adapt around them is ridiculous. There are all sorts of stigmas and stereotypes attached to it. That it turns females into raging hosebeasts for no apparent reason. That it makes them burst into tears because you didn't compliment their haircut. That they eat a lot of junk food and dress in sweatpants and watch reruns of *insert super girly show here* and generally forget how to be sexy and desirable in any way.

Obviously, these are all incredibly sexist stereotypes. It implies that a woman's job is to always be a sexual creature for the pleasure of others and that if she can't be sexual (aka she's on the rag and EW GROSS WHO WOULD GO THERE), then she turns into Frumpy McFrumppants. It implies that one of the biggest differentiating factors between men and women (the fact that we menstruate and they do not) heightens our stereotypical irrationality and bitchiness. Yet, these stereotypes are perpetuated by BOTH sexes. Constantly.

Premenstrual Syndrome is a very real thing. It can cause bloating, hormonal mood swings, cramping, fatigue, food cravings, and all of that. It's silly to pretend that this isn't reality. That said, it is blown wildly out of proportion and is largely misunderstood. Some women experience very severe PMS and need to be treated medically. For ACTUAL MEDICAL ISSUES, not "hurr hurr bitch so crazy she needs Paxil." Others experience very few, if any, symptoms. However, if a woman puts a toe out of line and acts in a way that doesn't perfectly fit with the ideal of the nice, kind, sweet, hospitable woman, what happens? BITCH MUST BE ON THE RAG. ARE YOU ON YOUR PERIOD OR SOMETHING? Never mind that PMS occurs PRE THE MENSTRUATION and most symptoms alleviate when a women is actually menstruating. Misconceptions are fun!

All of this is goofy. Utterly goofy. Many women continue to feel sexual while menstruating. We experience frustration, sadness, and anger due to the events happening at the time, not due to the state of our uterus. We do not become a barren wasteland of femininity. Some of us continue our lives in the face of discomfort, pain, and stress. Some of us don't get periods at all. People don't ever consider how potentially hurtful and nasty it can be to make a period comment to a woman struggling with infertility or gender assignment or hormonal balance issues, do they? Not that period comments aren't generally nasty anyway, but you know what I mean.

What's my point in all this? I think menstruation is something that's all too commonly glossed over in fiction. I'm not suggesting that we include it if it doesn't fit the story at hand, just as we don't normally include using the toilet or showering unless it's relevant to the plot. But we should work on the attitude of avoiding menstruation because it's GROSS and ICKY and NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT THAT. Teenage girls are already menstruating, or they're getting ready to start. There is no better time to establish the foundation that their period is NOT something to be grossed out or ashamed about. This is part of their lives. It helps to explore the themes and metaphors of discovering sexuality and womanhood (or even the emotions involved with NOT having one's period normally and how that can make them feel).

I mean, avoidance is a common thing. Can't deal with periods in a romance because EEEWWW SO NOT SEXY. Can't deal with it in adventures because the girl's fighting evil, she can't be bothered with PERIODS. There are vampires in a high school who GO BONKERS WHEN THEY SMELL BLOOD, but ew ew ew let's not talk about the school full of menstruating girls because that's sooooo nasty. Come on. We can man and woman up about this.

I remember being ten or eleven years old and reading ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET for the first time and being completely floored that these characters were talking about periods like normal girls. They asked each other what it was like. They shared their stories. They felt worried and excited and scared. I was on the cusp of puberty! I could relate!

There's so much rich material to be explored in coming-of-age stories, if only we're willing to let go of our hang-ups and stereotypes. And again, I'm not suggesting we include menstruation just to make a point or if it doesn't fit with the flow (har har) of the narrative. Maybe I'm just asking us to think critically about our own perceptions and guilt issues and annoyances about menstruation and look at the way we are (or aren't) portraying it in fiction. Even something as simple as rethinking period jokes ("Ohmigod, Jodi is being such a bitch, is she on her period?") is a start.

What say you, readers?


Rookie Mag

| Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Today's Tune: Make Me Stay

So I just discovered this:

Rookie Mag


I'm kind of in love with it. It's an online "magazine" for teenage girls, and it's wonderfully written with humor and heart and amazing. Read some. You'll like it.

Breaking Down: THE FIFTH ELEMENT

| Monday, January 23, 2012
Today's Tune: When 'You're' Around

Let's talk about one of my favorite movies of all time: THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

I do a lot of comparisons between literature and film, which can be problematic for a number of reasons -- they're very different mediums with very different "rules" -- but at their core, they're both methods of storytelling. Studying one can certainly help you understand the other, or teach you to think outside the creative box. If you've been studying writing for a while, then you're probably aware of the three-act structure and how it relates to both film and writing.

And now I'd like to skip ahead and talk about WHY I LOVE THE FIFTH ELEMENT SO MUCH and how I think a lot of what they do right in this film can be studied and applied to our own storytelling. They certainly do some things wrong (ridiculous skimpy outfits for young females that make no sense for functionality and occupation WHHYYYYYY), but I'd like to focus on the "good" parts.


Worldbuilding

THE FIFTH ELEMENT knocks it out of the park here. "Worldbuilding" is one of those nebulous terms that's often thrown about in speculative fiction, and it can be difficult to nail. This film is a great example of how to do it right. We get a defined sense of how this futuristic world differs from our own socially, technologically, politically, economically, and more. The makers of this film considered everything from fashion and style to interracial (and interspecies) political relations and military practices. Granted they're often unrealistic and silly (AGAIN WITH THE LADIES' OUTFITS), but attention was paid in order to create a breathing world.


Characterization

ROOB-EE ROOOODDDDDD. There are no two-dimensional or boring characters in this film. Everyone, no matter how small their part, is given a personality and quirks. Who can forget the thief wearing the hallway picture hat and his goofy little dance? Significant attention was paid to people's past, occupation, and culture when building their character. The priests are traditional and always try to do right. Ruby is the epitome of spoiled celebrity. Even Corbin's mother, who we never once see on screen, is given enough personality that we know what sort of person she is.

Action, Action, Action

THE FIFTH ELEMENT is non-stop entertainment from go. There's always something high-octane going on to propel the plot forward and entertain the audience. I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to write MOAR EXPLOSIONS into their manuscripts (although I'm rarely opposed to a good explosion), but there's a valuable lesson here. Never. Let. Your. Audience. Get. Bored.

Active Protagonists

LeeLoo is a quintessential Action Girl well-versed in the art of waif-fu, but she makes it work because there's more to her character than neat fight scenes. She's passionate. She's emotional. She cares and protects. She is literally the key element to this film. Without her, the universe would be engulfed in blackness. The plot doesn't happen to her -- she IS the plot. Corbin's a bit of a reluctant hero, but when he finally decides to step up, he really steps up.

Interesting Villain

Gary Oldman's character, Zorg, is anything but ho-hum. He's snide, he's funny, he's ruthless, he's pompous, he's afraid, he's greedy. He's motivated by something other than MWA HA HA HA. This is so, so important in building a villain that really works and doesn't make the audience want to roll their eyes. Villains who do evil things "cuz I can hurr hurr hurr" or "cuz i've lost my mind hurr hurr hurr" are boring and static. Give them a motivation. Hell, make them sort of LIKEABLE.

Humor

I'm one of those writers who believes that humor can be injected into even the bleakest and most tragic of situations. And humor is HARD to write. It's easy for me to write an emotional scene. It's much more difficult to write a funny scene. THE FIFTH ELEMENT is absolutely teeming with humor. These characters are facing the destruction of the entire universe. People die. Things seem hopeless. And yet the writers are never forget to keep humor up their sleeve.


Heart


We can never forget that in order to write (or film) a truly great story, we have to make our audience care. They have to be able to get behind our characters and want them to succeed. Sometimes the goal of saving THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE is big enough. And sometimes the thing the audience cares most about is that the characters are happy and loved. Whatever the heart of your story is, make sure you deliver.


What have you learned about storytelling from YOUR favorite films?


SOPA, Piracy, and Writers

| Friday, January 20, 2012
Today's Tune: Brain Stew

I apologize for not posting on Wednesday, but I was going dark in protest of SOPA and PIPA like every other sheepish nerd on the Internet. I'M SURE YOU WERE CRUSHED BY MY ABSENCE. If you're unaware of SOPA and PIPA, I highly recommend you run a Google search and read up.

As for why I even care, I will refer you to this blog post by Chuck Wendig. That's why I care. He brings up a great point: of course authors would be all anti-piracy and junk! BOO to people who illegally download our books and stuff! But I don't really buy it. I'm just not convinced that a significant amount of authorial (and other creative) income is siphoned away by Internet pirates. I also tend to subscribe to the argument that people who pirate entertainment were never going to BUY it, anyway. You don't pirate something you intended to pay money for.

I mean, I know in my hypothetical youth when I used to hypothetically use this hypothetical program called Napster, I didn't hypothetically download albums I intended to buy. I hypothetically downloaded music from little-known artists and discovered a lot of new music that way. If I liked it, THEN I bought more. Or I bought tickets to see their shows. Now that I am past my broke college student days, I either listen to Spotify or I purchase the music I want to listen to.

I mean, this is classic marketing. You give a track or a chapter or a clip away for free. Some people will take the freebie and walk away. Some people will enjoy the freebie and throw some money at you. Some people will enjoy the freebie, but not enough to throw money at you, so they'll go download it illegally. Again, those people were never GOING to give you their money.

Of course piracy sucks. Of course it's infuriating to spend all this time and energy and WORK on something and then have someone push a button and take it without paying for it. But it's something I'm personally choosing not to worry about. 1) I'd drive myself to frothing rage, 2) I was never going to see that money anyway, and 3) at least they're reading my work, I guess. Maybe next time they'll pay for it. (Spoken like someone who already has a book out lololololol what am I doing).

There are always going to be people who care. Those are the people who will support you monetarily. There are always going to be people who are selfish and lazy. Those people are never going to give a crap about your arguments about how they're DESTROYING CREATIVITY and TAKING FOOD OUT OF YOUR MOUTH. They don't care. They just want stuff. Personally, I feel like it's better to focus on the people who care.

I don't think anti-piracy legislation is overreachingly wrong or stupid. I think there's some merit to the idea that creative projects should be shared whether there's money exchanging hands or not, but I also understand that this is how a lot of people make their living and it is, at its core, stealing. I just think it's better to handle it with a more steady hand and established methods, rather than a panicky KILL IT WITH FIRE sort of approach.

ANYWAY BLAH BLAH BLAH LOL WHATEVER.

Have a nice weekend, dudes!


Jackson Pearce on Being A Writer

| Monday, January 16, 2012
Soooooooooo I totally didn't plan a post for today. Oops.

Here's a video of Jackson Pearce talking about Being A Writer. I hope you enjoy it in place of my brain fuzz.



Direct link if embed isn't working.

Permission to Feel Your Feelings

| Friday, January 13, 2012
Today's Tune: Permafrost

I'm getting a little personal today. Some of you may be able to relate, some may not. I don't know. But it's something I want to talk about. And this is my blog so deal with it.

Let's discuss the squelching of feelings. I don't know if this is obvious in the way I post, but I have A LOT OF FEELINGS. Of course I do. I'm a Virgo, an optimist, a passivist, an artist, a sensitive soul, and all that blah blah blah. Which translates to: lots of feelings. I can occasionally get very silly on the Internet, but I don't often expose those SERIOUS EMOTIONS in their raw, unwashed glory. Most of my posts tend to err on the side of critical analysis or humor. I think about things before I post. I think about them so much.

I didn't used to be this way. I used to be that person who would react immediately and emotionally to things. Sometimes it was well received. Sometimes it bit me. Over time, I learned to keep my feelings more buttoned-up and not display my heart so openly on my sleeve. At least, not in public.

But there are things that happen in the life of writers. Things that we keep close to the chest and end up feeling massively guilty about. And I wanted to come out and tell myself, and anyone reading this, that having feelings is okay. It is okay to let emotion come in and wash over everything and nestle inside. It's what you do with that emotion that matters.

This is mostly coming from someplace I'm sure at least a few other people can relate to. Back in The Before, I used to get the weirdest sensation when someone in my blogging/Twitter/forum/whatever writing circle would achieve a publishing milestone. When someone announced they signed with an agent, or got a book deal, or sold rights in 20 countries, or had their novel optioned to be a film, or whatever whatever whatever... every time that would happen, I would feel panicked.

Don't get me wrong. I was honestly and truly overjoyed for them, and would tell them so. I'm not the sort of person who will put on a big smile and go "OH YAY CONGRATULATIONS" unless I absolutely mean it from the heart. But that joy and excitement never quite cancelled out the creepy little goblin who would come in the back door of my mind and whisper his creepy little words.

"What's the matter with you? Why isn't it YOU making this post?"

"You may as well quit now. You'll never get there. That person has skill and luck you'll never have."

"You'd better hurry. All the spots are going to be taken soon. That's one less agent, one less editor's list spot. Soon it'll be too late for you."

"Pffffft, look at you, loser. That person is 21. TWENTY-ONE. And they have a three-book deal. Give up now, you 28-year-old failure."

"You want that. You want that so badly. You can't have it. They have it, you don't. You suck."

I'm not the only person with a talking goblin living in their brain, right? ... right?

These doubts and emotions hid between my ribs, curling like teensy snakes around my insides. I'd slip into funks. I'm so glad I had my fiance, because he's one of the big reasons I kept pushing. I mean, at the time I'd get really peeved at him for going, "DO YOU WANT TO BE THAT JERK WHO ALWAYS TALKED ABOUT WRITING A BOOK AND NEVER DID IT?" But it got me moving again.

Here's the worst part about all this: I know better. I know that I don't suck. I know that I'm not a failure because someone younger than me got an agent before I did. I know it is completely ridiculous to think that there are a finite number of spots to fill and once they're full, nope, no more book deals, NOT EVER. I know this! But the feelings and emotions associated with this roller coaster don't go away.

So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to pull a Jack-and-Kate-from-the-first-episode-of-Lost on myself. I'm going to say, "All right, self. Look. It's okay to have those doubts. It's okay to let them in. You go ahead and let them loose for a minute, and then you reel them right back in and say THAT'S IT. This isn't about never having negative feelings. It's about pushing past them. Over, and over, and over."

/cheesy

All that said, I'm pretty happy with where I am right at this moment. I'm a little terrified and a lot nervous and pretty tired and still vaguely neurotic, but I'm happy. And I like happy. So happy stays.

How do you deal with your writer goblins?


The Trouble With Coming Back From the Dead

| Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Today's Tune: Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second


This post has nothing to do with zombies. But it does have a lot to do with characters that come back from the dead.

Do you watch soap operas? Probably not. Neither do I. But I know people who do, and I've seen enough snippets to know that it's not at all uncommon for a character to be killed off and then brought back later in some form. Long lost twin! Ghost! Witch's spell! Time travel! Reanimated by aliens! They didn't really die! Or whatever!

And let's face it, cheesy soap operas are not the only television shows that fall victim to these tropes. Some great television dramas use them as well, to varying effect. Buffy. Lost. Doctor Who. X-Files. When used sparingly and cleverly, this trope can be very effective at surprising the audience or creating a powerful emotional moment. Sometimes a writer is so skilled that they can create an emotional tidal wave even when the audience KNOWS the character is coming back. However, it can also be overdone, which leads to kind of a big problem.

If you repeatedly kill and resurrect a favorite character, their death starts to lose its freshness and emotional impact. It may even become a running joke. Not a good thing, unless a running gag was your intention (Jack Harkness, anyone?).

Television and novels are very different mediums, of course. With television, there's a lot of pressure to maintain ratings, which may in turn cause pressure to bring back a fan favorite who had previously received the axe. That's all well and good for the fans who wanted the character back again, but some of the storyline's integrity and characterization may be compromised in the process.

Think of this example: Series 5 & 6 of Doctor Who (SPOILERS). Rory is repeatedly "killed," only to be resurrected again and again.The first time, his death was emotionally crushing, even though we suspected it was temporary. The second time, it was even more powerful, because that instance seemed like it could be permanent. After he came back again and died again, the emotional investment began to wane. The audience's reaction to a Rory death became a punchline. How will he die this time? No need to get upset, he'll be back.

Now think of Harry Potter. Characters who die remain dead. Think of how visceral, how gutting, it was to lose someone in the Harry Potter universe. If they died, they were gone. Any resurrection at all came in the form of ghosts, shadows, echos of the past. That emotion was real, and raw, and powerful. It never lost its potency. There was a chance of seeing a favorite character again, but as the Resurrection Stone showed us, they'd always be beyond the veil. We, and Harry, could never touch them again.

This isn't to say that Harry Potter does death right and Doctor Who does death wrong. Not at all. There are always risks involved with character death, and there are many tropes to play with and explore. The Doctor Who universe has played with character death in many forms, many of them very successful at resonating with the audience. Likewise, there are those who are critical of Rowling for being so "brutal" and "careless" in cutting down her characters.

But as with anything else in fiction, it's important to think about what we want to portray. Death is a metaphor for many things. It's literal for many things. Bringing someone back from the dead is a fantasy. An understandable one, but a fantasy nonetheless. Sometimes we lose the people we love, and it's terrible and angry-making and destructive. Death is a mystery. It's an end and a beginning. There are valid reasons for resurrection, but we should make sure that playing with audience emotion -- or pandering to audience whim -- isn't one of them. That's a cheap out. We can do better.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on death and life and death and life and death?



On the "insipidness" of YA

| Monday, January 9, 2012
Today's Tune: I Will

I'm kind of cheating at blogging today and re-posting something I put up on AbsoluteWrite this weekend. But it's something I'm really interested in! And I want to talk about it more! Yeah. Long post ahead, but I hope you'll read and comment. I'm very interested in your thoughts.

So, Walter Dean Myers (author of MONSTER, HOOPS, and many other books about urban teen life) was recently named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, right? Well, his appointment inspired this article in which a former high school teacher and literature lover speaks against his placement and implies that YA is not and can not be the equivalent of "literature that should elevate."

Originally Posted by Alexander Nazaryan:

"But [Myers'] mission is bound to fail, I am afraid. I thought it then, as I watched boys wrestle between desks over who would read “Bad Boy” or “Hoops” next. I think it now, with Myers having ascended to the heights of the YA world. Because while his own story is inspiring, his books are insipid.

I think that because I am an unashamed, unapologetic believer that the purpose of literature is to elevate. Not to entertain, to problematize or to instruct, but to take what Hamlet called our “unweeded garden” and revel in its thorns. Not to make the world pretty, but to make it true, and by making it true, make it beautiful. All real art is high art.

Myers’ books on the other hand, are painfully mundane, with simple moral lessons built into predictable situations: the projects, prison, redemption."

Basically, the guy is saying that kids reading YA is essentially a pointless exercise that will get them nowhere and teach them nothing of value, and that they should be reading "the classics" in order to gain true value from literature. This is, of course, flawed thinking for numerous reasons, but that wasn't even what caught my eye in this article.

What caught my eye were some of the comments.

Originally Posted by Rigsy:

"I think the phrase, "the purpose of literature is to elevate. Not to entertain, to problematize or to instruct," will be a point of contention. The reason is that the terms are broad, and you left them undefined.

...

My point is that [had you better defined your points,] you'd have covered your ass for the inevitable reaction from the consistently childish YA industry. And if they couldn't pick on that, they might have to present their own ideas for literature, for whatever goals might be considered worthwhile (or those that may be considered unworthy). It would certainly elevate the conversation.

But I get the impression from YA professionals (mostly the writers I've met, and they have been legion), that they don't like to think harder thoughts. Often, they popped over to the YA side because the community has that air of do-as-you-please carelessness. The critics mostly assess work based on whether or not they liked the protagonist. And anyone trying to grapple with the tough questions is pretentious. I get the impression that many of them haven't quite dealt with their own high school experiences, or wish to revisit them now that they're sufficiently strong enough to handle it. Much of Twitter, the blogs, etc, seems to be a population of grown-ups acting like their characters...and let's face it, kids don't like homework."

Originally Posted by Alexander Nazaryan:

"The following comment was related to me (author of the above original post) by Catherine McCredie, a senior editor of young adult fiction at Penguin Group Australia. Her response, in full:

This is (to my ears) a fresh and welcome attack on contemporary young adult literature. Those of us who produce YA literature are used to hearing that too much of it is too dark, but we don’t usually hear it’s too insipid. And I agree that most of it probably is, just as most contemporary adult novels probably are – especially compared with the ancient classics.

As someone whose job it is, in part, to look out for new talent, I search for that manuscript that has ‘the life force’ amid the reams of competent but uninspired writing that we receive, and have rarely seen it. So much of it, like so many people you encounter, is just mimicry.

..."

Note: That last quote is taken out of context, so you should definitely go read the entire comment at the bottom of the comment thread, but the point made here is the one that caught my eye.

These comments naturally made me do the squinty side-eye, but I don't know that I think they're entirely unfounded. This is how people outside the YA community view it. They look at (some of) us and how we act and respond to criticism of our work or genre, and they see a tightly-knit group of grown-up children who like to stick their fingers in their ears and go "la la la" after they pat each other on the back.

This is something I think about a lot a lot a lot. I write genre fiction. I am under no illusions that I'm writing the next great work of literary nirvana or anything. Even so, I do want my work to be literary. I want it to be elevated. This is exactly why I buck so hard every time someone (usually not a writing/publishing professional) tells me they think my writing is too "high" for teenagers. No, it isn't. I wrote it that way on purpose. Because I think teenagers deserve and can handle elevated language and themes. So there.

I want to be told if my work is not as good as it could be. I want it to be better. I want to eventually write something that will shut the mouths of all these people who think literature written for youth is this immature, lesser, invaluable thing.

And because of this, the comments above make me cringe and make me angry, but I don't think they're entirely off the mark. This is why I get so upset when the YA community behaves in the way of the recent (and past) Goodreads and blog war debacles. Because that kind of stuff just proves these people right. Unless we can show them, not just tell them, but SHOW THEM, that we are capable of handling criticism like professionals and adults, then what they're saying holds water. This is why I think it's important for us to learn to think critically of ourselves and our community and not fall into the trap of isolation and surrounding ourselves with yes-men.

At the same time, I think it's dangerous to get into specifics about which books are "quality literature" and which are "insipid." Obviously, that is highly subjective and NO ONE will agree. Nor should they. Not everyone is at the same reading level or has the same reading needs. I admit I tend to fall on the side of intellectualism, but even so, I acknowledge the value and merits of what most people would call "fluff" fiction. Not everyone wants or needs a complex brain workout with their literature. Reading is reading. There should be something out there for everyone.

Okay, now I'm totally rambling and this post is WAY WAY WAY TL;DR and I apologize. But I thought it'd be an interesting discussion topic to bring to the table.

So. Thoughts?


HEY ASSBUTT.

| Friday, January 6, 2012
Sometimes life gets a little nuts and you feel like your brain's been cooked and then cut into slices for someone to eat on rye toast, so writing a blog post is lower down on your list of things to get done than it usually is.

NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT.

Anyway, here's a funny video that has left me laughing all week. Obligatory warning: contains a mild curse word (duh), some brief fantasy violence, and sorta spoilers for the fifth season finale of Supernatural. But it's very funny.



Direct link here if the embed isn't working.

The Best Writing Advice I Can Give

| Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Today's Tune: Mr. Pitiful

This is the very best, truest writing advice I've been given and will probably ever be able to give: Listen to your own truth, but don't block out everyone else's.

Like all of the other writing advice blog posts out there in Writerland, this one has been repeated over, and over, and over. And I'm repeating it again.

You are your own best judge of what you're trying to do with your words. You cannot possibly follow every rule and insider tidbit you're fed. It's not possible, because so many of them contradict one another. You have to figure out which writer ideals you admire most, and why. Study them. Understand what draws you to certain styles of writing. Then branch away and follow the letters wherever they lead you. This is your journey. No one can tell you how to walk or where to go or how long to try or if you should give up.

But. But.

Do not become arrogant or bitter. Do not ignore the basic building blocks. Do not discount the advice of those who walked before you out of jealousy, or spite, or ego, or whatever. Listen. Always listen. Just because you listen doesn't mean you have to agree, but you should always know why you disagree. None of us are beyond learning. Not a single one of us. If you believe you are the most talented, that you need no guidance, that you already write on par with the greats before you? Then I hate to break this to you, but you are at the beginning. Not the end.

There is no "right way" here. There is no enemy, except perhaps ignorance. If you are always open to growth, always ready to listen, always willing to learn, then you will become better. And then you will become good. And then you will become great. And then you will become legendary.

Even if it's only to one person.

Even if it's only to yourself.

I think it is so, so desperately important to believe in yourself, your craft, and your voice. But I think in order to do that, to truly get to that place, you have to learn and remain open to learning. Knowledge never limits us. It only helps us understand.

So listen and decide for yourself.

Then write.


Why I Love the Wounded Jackass

| Monday, January 2, 2012
Today's Tune: Baleen Morning

Pacey Witter, 15-year-old me adored you.
Heads-up: this post will contain some spoilers for the television show Veronica Mars. If you are uninterested in being spoiled, skip that part.

If you shamelessly watch teen dramas and paranormal shows like I do, there's a good chance you've come across a certain sort of character. He's sometimes known as a "Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold" or that guy who masks his SECRET PAIN with sarcastic quips and occasional douchebaggery. I like to call him the Wounded Jackass.

And I looooooooove him.

Now, I don't think I've made it a secret that I'm not especially fond of male romantic leads that are serious jerks. Not like secret sweethearts with a tough shell, but honest-to-goodness condescending assholes. And I'm not going to lie, sometimes this character strays dangerously close or starts out that way (LOGAN ECHOLLS, I'M LOOKING AT YOU). I really think this guy has to be handled just right to stay on the side of sympathetic character rather than super-creep. Even then, he's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

I'm also hard-pressed to think up female examples of this character. I'm sure they exist, but they're very rare. Which is unfortunate. It harkens back to the double standard that says men are allowed to put on their bitchface to mask their pain and they're just being understandably (and attractively) broody, whereas if a woman does it, she's just a bitch and no one wants to be around her. Uncool, gender double standards. Uncool.

Oh, Logan. You cut the line real close.
So, if I'm so anti-belittling jerkwad, why do I embrace this character so readily? Why am I all about the characters whose rough exteriors and sarcastic smartassery belie their tragic, tragic little wounded souls?

Because it is so, so human. We all put on masks and draw up our defensive walls to cover our insecurities or soft spots. I can appreciate a good Moat of Sarcasm. And let's not pretend that it isn't the secret wish of a lot of girls that their crush's teasing and jackassy ways are just hiding the gentle soul they'll reveal to us when we've sufficiently breached his defenses. Also, comic relief.

There's a fine line in the sand between a character who's just kind of a smarmy wise-ass and a character who lets his nastiness truly shine. I mentioned Logan Echolls of Veronica Mars earlier, and man, is this a character I have a love-hate relationship with. At the start of the series, we're really set up to loathe the guy. He doesn't tease. He's mean. He's cruel. Even when (SPOILERS) something begins to bloom between him and Veronica, his characterization is never easy. Yeah, he's got daddy issues. Yes, he tries to be a better person (eventually). But he never completely loses that jerky dark streak, and eventually Veronica has to walk away.

These guys like being in cars, I guess.
And that, I think, is what saved the character for me. He's not perfect. He's not full of sweetness and light at his core. And the title character eventually refuses to remain romantically involved with him and his self-destructive behavior. Logan tries, he does, but it's not enough, and the show wasn't afraid to let the relationship come to a messy end. That's real. That's true. Like Veronica, part of us still loves Logan, but we know he's not right for her.

Dean Winchester of Supernatural is another one of these. All of his smartass jokes can't always hide the fact that he's hurting. A lot. I can't help but love Dean. He's done some horrible things, yet he's still so sympathetic. We understand. He pushes people away because he's so afraid to lose more of the people he cares about. He's afraid of failing. Supernatural is a little different in their approach in that they build a brother-brother relationship dynamic, rather than a romantic one.

These characters are human. We can relate. We love them because we see all their sides. They differ from other jerkass characters because if they behave in a way that crosses a line, other characters call them on it and react accordingly. There's none of this excusing abusive or cruel behavior. When Pacey blows up at Prom and verbally berates Joey, she dumps his ass. When Logan does something Veronica finds inexcusable, she dumps his ass. When Dean crosses a line and says something he can't take back, Sam beats the crap out of him. The characters grow. They learn. Sometimes they change. They get over themselves and apologize or try to be better.

If only people could learn from their mistakes in real life, eh? If only we were willing to walk away from them until they wised up... if they wise up.

Do you find this sort of character appealing? Why? Who's your favorite example? Bonus points if you can give me a female example!



 

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