Pinterest Tips for Writers

| Monday, April 30, 2012
Today's Tune: Breath of Life

I'm rapidly becoming addicted to Pinterest. As if I needed another social media site to get addicted to, BUT WHATEVER. It's still a relatively new site, so people are still exploring and unlocking its potential. It's a fantastic site for creative minds, not only because of the visual stimuli, but because the medium itself can be used in any number of creative ways. So! I thought it might be helpful to write up a Guide to Pinterest for Writers.

First, a few general tips and tricks for new Pinterest users!

Here's a brief rundown of Pinterest etiquette. As with other content creation sites on the Internet, it's considered very rude to copy something someone else posted (text or image) and repost it as though you're the original poster. Don't do that. If you like something, Repin it. It's also frowned upon not to cite your source for an image properly. If you pin an image, try your best to make sure you're pinning it from its original source -- not Google images, not an unrelated blog, not a random Internet site. If you can't find the original source, that's okay, but do make at least a little effort to give the original artist/creator credit. Pinterest will give credit automatically as long as you pin from the original site. If a site has disabled Pinterest from pinning its images, don't be a jerk and copy/upload the image anyway. Generally speaking, Don't Be A Jerk and you'll be fine.

Pinterest is fairly simple to use. You can create boards in a number of different categories (Food, Weddings, Photography, Travel, etc.), then you add the Pin It Button to your Bookmarks Bar, then you surf the web and find images to add to your boards. Easy! You can see three of my boards in the image below. These happen to be an "Art" board, a "Women's Apparel" board, and a "Travel & Places" board.

Another tip for you: you can set your board's cover. If you don't set it, the cover will change with every new picture you upload. If you have a particular Pin that you especially like or think is representative of the board, set it as the cover. Very easy to do. Just hover over your board's current cover, click the "Edit Board Cover" button, and set to the image of your choosing.

Third tip: hashtags! Pinterest has them, too. If you're familiar with Twitter, then you're probably familiar with hashtags and how they work. Same principle. Hashtags make it easier for people to search for Pins. Simply use the hash/pound sign (#) plus whatever word/phrase fits your image.

Fourth tip: get creative with your description copy, but don't forget to make your images searchable. I tend to use my image copy the same way I use Twitter... to be irreverent and silly. It's a way to make your content interesting in addition to the images you're posting. However, don't forget that most people who don't know you will find you via searches. If you want to be found through a search, make sure your description contains something about the image. You don't have to use a hashtag for this, but hashtags do trend, so keep an eye out for popular ones.

Fifth tip: you can Pin videos, too! Videos are a fun way to add music or multimedia to your boards.

Now that we've gone over basics, let's talk about how to get a little more creative with your Pins and Boards!

If you're a casual Pinterest user who just tends to browse and Repin what your friends are posting, that's fine. It's actually probably better for you in the long run, because it means you're putting less time into the site ;) If you're an active user who likes to seek out new content to add to your Boards, you might want to experiment a little.

Experiment #1: Make your Boards more visually appealing. You can do this by creating themed Boards, creating a specialized Board cover, making sure all the Pins on a Board are visually congruent (same color, pose, style, lighting, etc.), or by using a Pinterest hack like this one created by VitaminCr.

Experiment #2: More themed Boards. Many users create simple boards such as "Food I Like" or "Pretty Dresses." These boards are fun and full of great images, but they're not very specialized. Dial it in and create a specialized Board. Many of my Boards tend to be photo journals ("Life in the North Bay Area," mainly populated with my own photography) or have very specific themes ("Alfred Hitchcock Halloween Wedding," because how cool would that be). Whole Foods does a lot of great specific Boards, and they throw in health tips and recipes while they're at it.

Experiment #3: Encourage followers to get involved by making up games or other involvement opportunities. You can create Boards where you're the only contributor, or you can add additional contributors. Maybe you can create a joint venture with some of your friends. Book clubs! A visual Round-Robin storytelling session! Simon & Schuster created a Board dedicated to the various contests and sweepstakes they hold. Think of new ways to involve your followers in your Pins.

Ultimately, we're storytellers. With the rapidly changing world of technology and multimedia eBooks, Pinterest is an exciting tool to use and play with in order to expand our traditional storytelling mind. Tell a story with your Boards! Be creative! And above all, have fun :)

Are you on Pinterest? How do you like it? What do you use it for? You can find me there as maybegenius!

Life as a Yo-Yo

| Friday, April 27, 2012
Today's Tune: Oh No Not Another One

We all like to think we're special. It's only human. We're each the star of the movie called Our Life, where everything that happens is uniquely tied to us and bursting with personal meaning no one else can see.

For a lot of us, our specialness was acknowledged and encouraged from a young age. Parents, teachers, peers, strangers on the street... they noticed something about us sparkled, and they heaped praise on us. That thing might have been, I don't know, creative writing. Our stories in school came back with big, shiny A's. The teacher read them aloud to the class. University professors wrote notes about our cleverness and literary prowess. The other students in our writing circle fell over themselves to tell us how incredible our weekly submission was. Maybe we were published in a magazine. Maybe our short story received a glowing comment from a big-wig in publishing.

However the experience differs, at its core it always stays the same. We're good writers. No, we're excellent writers. Always at the head of the class, always the most advanced writer in the room, always feeling like we're ready for the next step. Words are easy, and friendly, and beautiful.

But no matter how great you are, no matter who told you that you had the good stuff, one day we all reach a wall. Eventually, if we honestly want to pursue writing, we hit that point where someone says, "No, not good enough. Go back until you're better."

The first time this happens, it can be incredibly jarring. A lot of us immediately slip into an egoistic, sensitive place. Wait. Wait. Don't you know how good I am? Everyone says so. Everyone. What's wrong with you that you can't see it, too? Often this sort of bluntness doesn't hit us until we're out of the safe haven of school and peer support. It's especially biting if we've managed to garner some nice comments from professional writers, agents, or editors. It's that first indication that no, everyone is not going to think gold falls from your fingertips. And it hurts.

This is the place where writers often diverge in the wood. Some writers bite their lip, blink back tears, and keep walking down the brambly path. They accept that this probably isn't the last time they'll hear their work is flawed, but they'll learn to live with it in their own way. Others will be so affronted, so offended, so sure of their own brilliance that they'll denounce anyone who says a cross word about their beloved work and fall back into the haven of people who lavish praise. These are the people who claim publishers can't recognize "real art" and agents are the Devil incarnate and people who write negative reviews are REALLY MEAN AND ALSO DUMB and et cetera. Still others will decide they can't hack it and will put away their writing hat and walk back the way they came.

None of this is a commentary on trade vs. self-publishing, by the way. In case anyone thought that was where I was going with this. Learning to accept criticism and the drive to be better is not something only obtainable through large publishers. Arrogance and demanding PRAISE ONLY isn't exclusive to the self-published.

It's just hard. It's hard to go through life close to the top with our writing awards and confidence only to hit that wall and realize we're caught in a crowd of other people who are just like us. It's hard to be number one for so long and suddenly realize you're only one of a thousand. Ten thousand. A hundred thousand. It's a very yo-yo-esque sensation, especially when you get up another rung on the publishing ladder and realize there are still a dozen more rungs to go.

There are always a dozen more. It's a magic ladder. An evil magic ladder.

It's really no wonder we're such an up-down bunch. This path is full of soaring highs and crippling lows. We'll get lots of brambles in our shoes and it's gonna hurt. But those bright beams of sunlight shining through the trees and the beautiful brooks we stumble across along the way make it worth it. And if that's not good enough, there are other paths to take.

Lucky Number Sleven Seven

| Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Today's Tune: Devil Inside

I don't usually do memes, because I haaaaate having to pick recipients (THE PRESSURE AAARGH), but this one's kind of fun. My lovely critique partner Brooke tagged me.

I can't really share an excerpt from TICK-TOCK, but I can share from one of my current WIPs. Neither are up to 77 pages yet, so I went with page 7 of the manuscript.


1.) Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP.
2.) Go to line 7.
3.) Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.
4.) Tag 7 authors.
5.) Let them know.

So... here we go. From Page 7 of THE SEA BLEEDS SALT.

Mr. Collins points at me, hate in his eyes. “You better watch your smartass daughter, Dusyai. I have half a mind to lock her out if she’s even a second past curfew again.”

“Half a mind is right,” I say.

Maya,” my parents say together this time.

I shut up and Collins points the muzzle of his gun at the girl. She’s surprisingly calm, staring into the barrel like there’s nothing in there that could possibly frighten her.

There you go! Fun times. Guns and whatnot. As far as tagging, I'm marking the seven most recent followers of my blog. Here they are:

1.) Leigh Covington
2.) Jessica Salyer
3.) Fiona
4.) Emily
5.) Suzi
6.) Linda
7.) M.C. Eging

World Book Night 2012

| Monday, April 23, 2012
Today's Tune: Fluorescent Adolescent (cover)

It's April 23rd, 2012! Know what that means? It means it's the USA's very first World Book Night.

If you're not familiar with WBN, you may want to take note and mark your calendars for next year, because it's an amazing event. World Book Night began in the U.K. and has been so successful that they decided to try it over here in the US this year as well. It's a collaboration between publishers, authors, printers, booksellers, and more to create a special limited-print run of 25-30 different titles, which are distributed FOR FREE to volunteers around the country. Then, on a specified night (April 23rd this year), the volunteers get their 20 free books into the hands of light readers or non-readers. The goal is to encourage literacy and reading for those who may not normally consider themselves "readers."

It's an awesome event. This year, the participating publishing/printing organizations and individuals donated 500,000 books to be distributed by 25,000 volunteers in 5,000 American cities. And that's not even counting the folks doing the same in the U.K.!

The volunteers are distributing the books in all kinds of fun and generous ways. Some are donating the books directly to an organization, others will be setting up in high-traffic areas and handing their books out. I decided to give my books to a local continuation high school this year. My bookstore got some bonus boxes, so I'll be giving out 20 copies of The Book Thief and 20 copies of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to the students. I'm actually probably doing it RIGHT NOW AS YOU'RE READING THIS.

My pair of WBN giver boxes, full of books!
Special Edition copy of Oscar Wao

I'm so excited to participate and spread the world about this awesome event. With any luck, it'll become an annual thing. Be sure to follow the #wbnamerica tag on Twitter to see where all the books are going. I hope you'll participate next year if you aren't already!

Maintaining a Busy Life

| Friday, April 20, 2012
Today's Tune: Love You Madly

Earlier this month when I asked for blog topic suggestions, Mrs. Silverstein was interested in hearing what "busy" looks like to me and how I deal with it. Sure!

Currently, I'm feeling pretty consistently busy. I work full time, I write when I can, AND I'm planning a wedding for August. Trying to fit a few out-of-town weekends in there somewhere, as well. So, suffice to say, most weeks in my life are feeling pretty full. That doesn't mean I don't have ANY downtime, it just means that when I do have downtime, I usually end up spending it completely tuned out to the world around me because OMG JUST NEED TO REST.

As I've been delving into wedding planning and knocking out my to-do items, I've definitely noticed that some of the suggestions in my bridal books are very applicable to the rest of my life, including my writing. The two things I keep finding myself going back to? Prioritize and keep lists. So. Very. Helpful. Especially when you have a tendency to turn into a stressed-out scatterbrain like I do. I can never depend on myself to just *remember* things if I have too much on my plate. I need reminders.

List and schedule-keeping are absolutely key for me. I'm a procrastinator by nature, which, oddly enough, ties into my perfectionism. If I never start it, then I can't screw it up, so it will remain perfect inside my brain! Yeah. Not so good for getting things done. This is where scheduling comes in. I have to create a plan of action and stick to it. I work from 8-5 every weekday. If I'm going to write in the evenings, I have to decide that I get X amount of veg-out time for television and internetting, Y amount of time for taking care of dinner, and then I'm going to write from *this time* to *this time*. If I'm feeling really run down on a particular day, I don't overextend myself. If I'm too tired, I say, "Okay, only 30 minutes of writing tonight." And that's what I do, unless I happen to get into the zone and feel a burst.

I also find it helpful to set a deadline for myself. NaNoWriMo is a very productive writing time for me because I'm under an imposed deadline, but if left to my own devices with "all the time in the world," things don't get done. Because I have all the time in the world. So, in order to motivate myself, I need to set deadlines. Draft completed by this date. Revisions done by this date. It's good practice for when I'm (someday, hopefully) under contract.

Even though I'm waxing on about schedules right now, I also have to leave myself room for flexibility. If something unexpected happens -- dinner took longer than I thought, or I decided to watch an extra episode of television (it happens) -- I need to be able to adjust and not just wig out and walk away.

Then come the lists. If I have a dozen different things to do, it's easy for me to start feeling panicky about it. It's much more calming for my mind to see everything out on paper as items I can complete and cross off. True, a big list feels really daunting at first, but once I start chipping away at it, I can convince myself it's not so bad. And then eventually it ISN'T so bad. I do this for all sorts of things -- wedding stuff, chores, bills, revisions.

Now come the priorities. All my bridal books tell me that you can't make everything your number one priority, or 1) you're not going to be a happy person, 2) nothing will be right, and 3) there just isn't enough of you to stretch to everything. Same applies to day-to-day life and writing. You have to decide what's most important, what needs to be done soon but not immediately, what can be put on the back burner, and what you might need to let go. There unfortunately aren't enough hours in the day to do everything. Create a priority list and stick to it. If blogging is at the bottom of the list, then you need to let it go for the day. You can come back to it when things calm down.

Of course, all of this is completely dependent on your own personality and time constraints, but this is what works for me. What works for you?

On Being Me

| Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Today's Tune: 32 Flavors

There have been many times throughout my life where I've wished to be anyone but myself.

Sometimes I want to be the quiet one. The studious one who's made of smarts and clever ideas. Who cares not for the ins and outs of social cues, but only for the world in her own mind.

Sometimes I want to be the bold one. The one who does not give any of the fucks and who isn't afraid to tell you that your bullshit is getting on her last nerve.

Sometimes I want to be the activist. I want to care so deeply and be so brave that I would give everything I have to cross oceans and warzones to make a real difference.

Sometimes I want to be the beautiful one. That effortless being that floats through a room and commands everyone's attention without even trying.

Sometimes I LIKE to work on my bitch face.

Sometimes I want to lose myself in a book and not have to worry about this dinner or that party.

Sometimes I want to be the life of THAT PARTY.

Sometimes I want to scream and cry and rage and tell you to fuck off when you tell me to calm down.

And then there are times, when the world feels right and the storm twisting inside my chest settles...

Those times...


Just sometimes...

The only person I want to be...

is me. And that's where my happiness lives.

What about you?

Some days...

| Monday, April 16, 2012
Some days, you just completely forget to plan a blog post for Monday. I'M SORRY. Here's a ridiculous Pentatonix video for you to watch! They're amazing! I'll make it up to you on Wednesday :)

Click here for a direct link.

Writing Heroes

| Friday, April 13, 2012
Like many writers, I have several writing heroes who I look up to and aspire to be like. Their books shaped me when I was young, inspired me to write, or spoke to some core part of me. When I look at the authors I admire most, I can see how they helped mold me into the writer, and the person, I've become.

Madeline L'Engle should be a given. I was in maybe the fourth grade when I first read A Wrinkle In Time, and I feel like that book is the one that forever impressed a love of speculative fiction on my mind. It was so fantastical and different and nerdy. I remember this book teaching me about the fourth and fifth dimensions and being so thrilled that it didn't treat me like a know-nothing little kid who didn't care about the entirety of time and space.

Neil Gaiman's books came to me later in life. I started with Sandman, then moved on to his short stories, then Stardust, then Good Omens, then his work for children. I relished in the delicious darkness of his narratives, wondered at his descriptions and characters. Such wit, such color, such dedication to the human interaction with both hope and pain. The way he takes a simple idea and turns it completely on its head and builds an entire twisted world around it enchanted me.

J.K. Rowling, naturally. The Harry Potter series grabbed me from the start and never let go. She showed me what truly immersive characters and worlds really are. Every character had a story, a purpose. The world was so vividly drawn that I have never wanted so desperately to be invited into anything else in my life. I am not a crier, but those books wrenched great, ugly, heaving sobs from me.

Christopher Moore for his wit alone. Humor is fantastically difficult to write. A lot of people can pull a smirk or a chuckle out of me. Few can make me literally laugh out loud at the words on the page. Moore is one of the latter. Lamb remains one of my favorite books of all time, not only for its unapologetic humor, but for its heart. The antics of Christ and his best friend were hilarious, but they were also deeply moving. Would that I could be so clever one day.

Lois Lowry, who I will forever love for giving me The Giver. I read this book before I knew what dystopias were, but I knew the moment I finished it that I would be a lifelong fan of them. I read this book fairly young, maybe nine or ten, and it took the floor out from under me. Not only were there twists that made my eyes go wide, but Lowry trusted me to be able to handle the hard things, like death and pain and ambiguity. I can't thank her enough for that.

Bruce Coville and his SF/F romps of hilarity and soul. These were the books that had funny names like I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X and Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, but those silly titles belied deeper themes, like kindness and fear and what it means to be human. Several of his short stories and novels have stuck with me for a long, long time. Coville has a way of taking ridiculous situations and turning them into something that speaks directly to your innermost spirit.

Barry Hughart didn't publish many books, but he did publish my favorite book of all time: Bridge of Birds. Think of The Princess Bride, then add several layers of mystery, a heavy dose of Asian-based fantasy, and an ending that will make you feel ALL OF THE FEELINGS. My life goal is to pack this much amazing into one novel.

Philip Pullman is a man who respects art and young people and intelligence. His stories are so carefully crafted, his worlds and characters so well thought-out, his philosophies so deep, that I can hardly stand it. He inspires me to think. Always think.

Kurt Vonnegut's dark sense of humor combined with his undeniable love of storytelling makes him a huge favorite of mine. His tales are off-the-wall, strange, and powerful. He knew how to structure plot and how a story is supposed to function, and then he did these wacky things that made me go HOW DOES THIS WORK. It just does.

Tamora Pierce gave me strong-but-tender-hearted girl warriors and magic users and law enforcers. She showed me characters who experienced sexual feelings without making it either A REALLY BIG DEAL or a shameful thing -- it was just sex, natural and simple. It was like she could look inside my head and see the fantasies I had, then she made them come to life. I wanted to be different, I wanted to be strong, I wanted to talk to animals, I wanted respect, I wanted cleverness, I wanted to cast spells and use swords and be awesome. I'll never forget THE IMMORTALS series and how much I related to Daine.

Who are some of your writing heroes? Why have they impacted you so?

Arizona, Mexican-American Studies, & Book Banning

| Wednesday, April 11, 2012
One of the books removed from classrooms
Today's Tune: The Quiet Ambient

I can't imagine anyone hasn't heard about the issues going on with Arizona and Mexican-American studies yet, but if not, here's the gist: in January, the Tuscon school district had to halt its Mexican-American courses and remove a number of its books in order to avoid losing significant state funding. Essentially, the district was strong-armed -- either they stood by their nationally-acclaimed ethnic studies program and lost $14 million of desperately needed state funding, or they abolished the program. Books referencing overthrowing the government or racial segregation were also removed, which is pretty damn indicative of the mindframe this is coming from. The proponents of this law claim that framing historical events in "racial" terms in order to create a sense of solidarity results in groupthink and victimhood.

Basically, if you're reading between the lines, the implication is that Mexican-American students learning about their history of oppression and civil rights might, you know, get upset about it. And if they get upset about it, that might turn into anger at THE WHITE MAN. And the white man doesn't want that. Oh no. Therefore the answer, naturally, is to get rid of any courses or books that might make young Mexican-Americans want to, I don't know, take political action. Maybe vote for Latinos instead of Old White Guys. That kind of thing.

It's okay for people to get upset about their history of oppression, America. It's a reasonable response. It amazes me how people never seem to notice that the knee-jerk reaction to people who are starting to get upset and make changes is immediate silencing. Shhhhh, shhh. It's clearly these BOOKS AND LESSONS that are making you upset. It's okay. We'll just put those away, because we wouldn't want you to feel like a victim. If you feel like a victim, it's your own fault, really. YOU get to choose if you're a victim, silly. It has nothing to do with actually being victimized and, I don't know, having some power-hungry old politicians take away your schoolbooks because they decided it might make you too rowdy.

Actually, I'm lying. It doesn't surprise me at all that people in power want to hush anyone who starts to question that power or take action toward making them share it.

I can't go on too long about this sort of thing or else I just get mind-blowingly angry about it and devolve into laskdhf7^T*&STFius4fsf, but I highly encourage you to read about what's going on in Arizona school districts. There are articles and opinion pieces here and here to get you started. You should definitely read more and research on your own if you're so inclined.

I hate that this is happening. I hate that the books Mexican-American youths can see themselves in are being taken out of their hands and replaced with more European/"American" history because... apparently white history isn't based on race? Or something? I don't know. Multicultural books are difficult enough to find in the first place, and now they're being boxed up and tucked away in storage. Oh, some copies of some of the books are still available at the library? Well goodness, that's sure nice of you. Buttheads.

People don't do this kind of thing unless they're afraid. You don't take away books unless you're afraid of the ideas the books are inspiring. This is happening because people in power are starting to see change they don't like. Well, I hate to break it to them, but you can't stop change. You may be able to put up road blocks and hold it off for a while, but you can't make it go away. This isn't a small section of the population anymore... and that's exactly what scares them so much.

Anyway, I'm getting to the good part now. If this situation bothers you as much as it bothers me, please consider supporting organizations like the Librotraficantes (translated to "Book Traffickers"). This is a mobile library run by volunteers who are trying to get books about Mexican-Americans and their history back into the hands of the students who need them. You can donate time, money, possibly even books. I wish this organization didn't even have to exist, but I'm so grateful that they do.

What say you, readers? Thoughts? Rants?

Legend of Korra & Boys Wanting "Boy Things"

| Monday, April 9, 2012
Today's Tune: With Love, Vincent

To start us off: if you are an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan and you have not already heard, the first two episodes of the new Avatar series, Legend of Korra, are available as a FREE DOWNLOAD from iTunes. And if you never watched Avatar, you should watch this show anyway because it looks full of promise and seeing the first series is not a requirement. Although you should watch it anyway because srsly REALLY GOOD and also it will ground you in the world a bit better.

Next: I've seen the first two episodes, but since they haven't officially aired on television yet, this post will not contain spoilers. Rather, it will be discussing the show in a generalized way and incorporating a larger topic. And that topic is:

Boys, apparently, have nothing to read these days, particularly in the YA section. All of the books, apparently, are written specifically for girls and about girly things that boys just don't find interesting. The protagonists, apparently, are all females concerned with romance-y elements, and it's all about... well, I don't know, okay, all I know is that it has to do with girl junk. It seems that boys no longer want to read once they hit puberty because the well of "boy books" has dried up. Either that or they jump immediately to "real/serious/exciting" adult fiction and bypass YA entirely.

A lot of people make these claims. The marketing research tends to support the claim that boys aren't big YA purchasers. The claim is not unfounded, and I'm not saying it is. However, I do think this issue is a lot bigger than writing more "boy books" that specifically cater to boys and "boy things," and I also think that it's kind of... well, BS. I think a lot of boys WOULD be interested in books with female protagonists and "female issues," just as women have always found ways to relate to male protagonists and "male issues." Unfortunately, I think society is teaching them that they shouldn't while simultaneously supporting the idea that they deserve special books just for them because OF COURSE it's understandable that you don't want to read about GIRLS, Junior. WHY WOULD YOU LOL.

Before I start repeating arguments that have already been made, let me just direct you to this blog post by Saundra Mitchell wherein she says pretty much exactly what I'm thinking.

And I'm kind of hoping that no one pipes in with WELL WHAT IF PEOPLE JUST DON'T *LIKE* ROMANCE, HUH? YOU CAN'T MAKE PEOPLE LIKE THINGS THEY DON'T LIKE! This isn't about forcing people to like romance novels. *I* don't generally enjoy romance novels, although I've been known to read and like them on occasion. This is about 1) the assumption that female authors using romantic tropes are automatically writing "romance novels" while male authors using the EXACT SAME TROPES are not, and 2) boys who won't pick up books by or about females, regardless of content... or whose parents won't pick up those books for them.

And 3) the fact that I think boys can, do, and will enjoy and appreciate female characters and stories about the female experience.

Which brings me to the Avatar series.

When Avatar: The Last Airbender came on the scene years ago, it was a runaway success. Wildly popular among young, old, female, and male audiences alike. The title character of the series was a 12-year-old boy, but he was far from the only significant character on the show. The female characters were treated with such care, given such personality and power while still remaining undeniably female. And boy watchers? They noticed.

One of the fandom's favorite characters is a young female Earthbender named Toph. Originally, the creators of the show had planned to make her a well-muscled teenaged boy, but they eventually decided to invert the trope and go with a petite pre-teen girl. It may have been a risky move, what with boys apparently being turned off by girl characters who act like girls, but it was a move that resulted in some incredible feedback.

The boys liked Toph. No, the boys LOVED Toph. Many listed her as their favorite character. Many wanted to dress as her for Halloween! True, Toph was a tomboy, but she also had distinctly female issues and fears. She wanted to be respected by her family, and simultaneously missed them despite their reluctance to let her do her own thing. She worried about being pretty. She could dress as a lady of the court and behave accordingly. She flirted with and crushed on boys. And you know what? Boys. Still. Liked. Her.

After the wild success of The Last Airbender, Nickelodeon has revived the world of Avatar with a brand new storyline. However, they've made some changes. The protagonist and her peers have been aged up -- they're now 16-18 instead of 12-15. The overreaching scope of the world and the heavy traveling of the original series has become a steampunk-y city full of new adventures. And? The protagonist is a girl. You know what this means?

It means that while the original series had a distinctly Middle Grade epic adventure feel to it, this new series is likely to feel a lot more like... Young Adult. That tricky area where boys apparently get lost and lose interest in hearing about girl protagonists and their girly issues.

But the funny thing is, the male fans of the original Avatar do not seem deterred by this. They are not rolling their eyes and going, "Ugh, a girl." And Korra is, I can assure you, a girl. She's a skilled fighter who promises a lot of high-octane action scenes and fight sequences, but she is undeniably female in her speech, mannerisms, and behavior.

I will grant that I have only seen the first two episodes of the series, and I have no idea the direction future episodes will take. Still, if this first taste is any indication, it will be an incredible and enlightening journey. The Avatar creators have a knack for inclusiveness and mindfulness in their characters. I do not doubt they have great things planned for this show.

What does this all mean? The creators of the show were careful to indicate that the Avatar cycle tends to run male-female-male-female, so Korra's sex came as a surprise to no one. The original series set up the world, its rules, and the fandom's investment in the characters. Now they're delivering a show that people are already lining up for. But will this change anything? What will young men take away from this?

I'm already predicting arguments about how Avatar is more adventure-action based, and this is what appeals to boys and will overshadow the fact that Korra's a giiiiirl. However, all of the action will not change the fact that Korra's coming at this experience from a female perspective. There are plenty of YA novels with female protagonists that contain action and adventure, yet there's still the insistence that it's the femaleness of it, the fact that the narrator's a girl, the girl-centric worldview, that distances male readers. So which is it? They can "forgive" a female protagonist in a cartoon, but not in a book? Or maybe we're all looking at this the wrong way. Maybe this is and has always been about character, worldbuilding, and strong writing, not the sex of the protagonist. And maybe people are all subconsciously assuming that female protagonists indicate a lack of those things, and/or projecting that on young boys.

I hope this is a move that will help marketers, boys, and society in general realize that boys can and will go bonkers for a female protagonist and her female perspective. I hope this is a step toward breaking down the idea that boys simply can't find any way to relate to girls. Even the very "boy" based original series did not shy away from romantic storylines, and I doubt this show will, either.

I'm actually curious to see if there's a noticeable drop in male viewership with this series. Time will tell.

You'll be hearing more about this from me as the series progresses and breathes, I'm sure ;) In the meantime, what do you think? Will you be watching? If you're male, has Korra's sex had any impact on your desire to watch the series?

IT'S A TRAP: Mean Sluts Girls

| Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Today's Tune: Heart

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. Sometimes even the worst writer "traps" can be pulled off with style in the right hands.

But they're usually a bad idea. MOVING ON.

IT'S A TRAP!: Slutty Mean Girls

Mean girls are a topic I've written about before, here and here. Before I go further, let it be known that I don't think we should abandon the Mean Girl trope. I actually kind of love the Mean Girl trope. I use it. I think it can create great tension and character growth.


As with any character, the Mean Girl can be poorly done, and she often is. She functions as a foil to the protagonist, but often only in the most superficial possible ways. The protagonist is sweet and virginal, so the Mean Girl is a nasty-mean slut. This is a poor execution of a foil. A character foil is not the exact opposite of your protagonist, though they can (and should) have some opposing qualities.The point of a foil is to accentuate qualities in another character, not just be the "bad" to the main character's "good." Like John Watson to Sherlock Holmes. The best antagonistic foils are often characters who were presented with similar options to the protagonist, but made different choices and became the person the protagonist decided not to be. Think Harry Potter and Tom Riddle.

Anyway, the particular subject I wanted to address with this IT'S A TRAP! is the tendency to 1) make the Mean Girl a cardboard cutout of vapidity and cruelty, and 2) accentuate her "badness" by making her slutty, tarty, flirty, scantily clad, etc. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, bullies are boring when they're jerks for no reason. Yes, some people act nasty for no discernible reason, but it's so much more powerful when you understand the reasons behind the behavior. There's a certain attractiveness behind giving your bully-ish characters a human side. Cordelia and Spike from Buffy. Draco and Snape from Harry Potter. These are characters who are bullies on the surface, but house much deeper waters that makes them oft-beloved among their respective fandoms.

Because, let's face it, people love redemption. It's confusing and thrilling to be able to cheer for the "bad" guy as well as the "good" guy. Or girl, as the case may be.

Now, about that whole bad girl = slut thing. I'm sure you've read all the arguments about why this is awful and harmful before, so I'll be fairly brief. Frankly, it's not okay to use sexuality to define a girl's "goodness." When we do this, we are giving credence to the idea that a girl who expresses herself sexually is somehow wrong. Dirty. Bitchy. Slutty. Mean Girls are often portrayed as flirting with anything male, wearing "slutty" or ill-fitting clothing, and using sexuality as a weapon. When the "good" protagonist is portrayed as virginal and unwilling to "give it up" quickly or without proper commitment, it sets up the stigma that having sex makes you a bad person. That you can't be both sexually active and responsible, or kind. That you can't maintain a monogamous relationship, or that your character is in question if you decide to take more than one partner.

This is harmful to the overreaching psyche of the collective teenage girl. What are these young women supposed to think when the pages of books are filled with virginal "good" main characters and skanky, manipulative Mean Girls? What does that mean for a 16-year-old who just started having sex with her long-term boyfriend? What does that mean for the girl who's had sex with several partners and still dares to consider herself a good person? What does that mean for the girl who wants to have sex but is terrified that doing so will make her a slutty, nasty, mean, bad girl?

How To Avoid This Trap

Fairly easily: humanize your Mean Girl. Make her a real person, not a source of overzealous snark and jealousy intended to make everybody just LOVE the protagonist by comparison. Push harder.

Also keep in mind that sexually active teenagers exist, and they are overwhelmingly regular kids who are just trying to figure life out. We should be mindful of the message we're portraying with our character choices. Abstinence or sexual activity is a personal choice that depends entirely on the individual, and characters should reflect that. Are these characters who would choose to abstain, or who would choose to have sex? Neither choice automatically makes them a good or a bad person. It just makes them a person.

Open Post: Suggest Topics You Want to See!

| Monday, April 2, 2012
Today's Tune: Abraham's Daughter

Sooooooo Happy April! I'd talk about how I can't believe it's April already, but complaining about the speedy passage of time is so overdone, so we'll just pretend that I'm totally fine with the fact that this year is already a quarter of the way over (omgomgomgomg).

I write about a lot of things on this blog. Writing and publishing, obviously. Pop culture. Television and film. Feminism. Nerd stuff. My life. I like to think you all keep coming back because you enjoy those topics and not because of the free juice and cookies.

Oh. You didn't know about the juice and cookies? Oops.

ANYWAY, I thought I'd make this post an open suggestion box kind of deal. Is there a topic you'd like me to cover? A series you'd like me to update? A book you'd like me to review? Want me to create a photo journal of a day in my life? Suggest away. I like to give the readers what they want!

Other than that, how're you all doing? Tell me about YOU. How's life? How's writing? How's the fact that Spring's finally here? I'm in full support of Spring, to be honest.

Have an awesome week! Let me know what you'd like to see on the blog! MWAH.


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