Taking a Break

| Monday, October 22, 2012
Hey dudes -- I've decided to take a hiatus. Life took a turn (a good turn! a starting a new job kind of turn!), and I need to dedicate bandwidth elsewhere for a little while. Probably two weeks or so. I'll be back with new content soon. Take care!

 

The Poignancy of Media for Youth

| Friday, October 19, 2012
Today's Tune: Hell + Bliss

Once upon a time, the Internet told me I should watch a show called Adventure Time because it was funny. As someone who's never strayed far from media for kids and teens, I gave it a shot. I liked it a lot. It WAS funny. So I kept watching. I found myself enjoying the writer's approach to the show -- they found a near-perfect blend of storylines suited for their younger audience and humor that could appeal to an older audience, and they did it without trying to forcibly rope in adult viewers.

So anyway, I got interested and invested in this show, which is usually irreverent and very silly, and then started noticing themes that were surprisingly moving given the general tone of the writing. I say "surprisingly," but really, this sort of content isn't a surprise to me. Children's and YA media proves, time and time again, that it has the ability for incredible plotting, deep characterization, and nuanced exploration of the human condition.

But, of course, it's not "real" literature.

Hannah Moskowitz just wrote a blog post about why she reads and writes YA, where she touches on the way certain folks will ask kidlit/YA writers when they're planning on writing REAL books, or talk about all the ways they think kidlit and YA just just not very deep, you know? (She also made a really good point about the sexism apparent in the preference for uber literary novels).

The attitude that media for youth can't possibly be meaningful or important is old. Very old. There's always been this sort of idea that anything commercial, or written for kids, or something that isn't a Very Important Literary Novel is worthless fluff for lesser minds. Something to pay the bills with, perhaps, but certainly nothing worth taking seriously or feeling proud about.

And while watching a show like Adventure Time, I could certainly see folks like that wrinkling their noses and thinking, "ugh, what mindless drivel." Because at the end of the day, AT is a show written for young people, and everyone knows young people can't appreciate nuanced themes like passion or loss or death or societal struggle or politics or personal journey. That sort of stuff DEFINITELY can't be spliced between scenes of someone beating someone up with their butt and power-crazed penguins.

Except when it can.

While watch Adventure Time or reading YA or enjoying other media for youth, you'll notice that it can drop poignancy and FEELS on you out of nowhere. As silly as AT is, it drops hints of depth and tragedy. The colorful land of Ooo is actually a post-apocolyptic world where our hero, Finn, is the last human being. We see hints of sadness and loneliness in multiple characters. Most recently, (SPOILER ALERT), the ridiculously inept Ice King was revealed to have had a deep relationship with another character; a relationship that was ruined and forgotten about when he went mad from the crown he wears. Over the course of one episode, a character generally regarded as a goofy weirdo achieved a great deal of depth and a hefty dose of tragic backstory.

This is the power of writing for young people, and why so many adults still find enjoyment reading/watching these stories. Writing for youth allows for experimentation, humor, not taking yourself too seriously, but still turning out incredibly moving, emotional, human stories. THIS is why true-blooded kidlit and YA writers roll their eyes when someone implies their writing isn't useful or interesting or "real." Because we know how very real it is.

Which isn't to stay there aren't some stinkers out there in the realm of youth media, because there sure are. But there are stinkers in every category and genre. Just as it's silly to pretend the duds don't exist, it's equally silly to act as though duds are all that exist.

The ultimate goal of any writer should be creativity and innovation, in whatever form that happens to take. Be it the Great American Novel (as Hannah says) or a weird show on Cartoon Network. Poignancy is not limited by youth. Relevance is not hindered by age.

Mistake youth for vapidity at your own risk, is what I'm saying. What say you, readers?




Post Number 400

| Wednesday, October 17, 2012
It's my 400th post! I wish I had something groundbreaking or exciting to post today, but alas, I'm running a little dry at the moment. So I'll take this opportunity to direct you to the sidebar, where you can find a list of my ten most popular posts.

I also want to say thank you. Thank you for reading, sharing, and commenting. Thank you for making this blog feel so successful and rewarding for me. You guys are the best :)

I'll hopefully have something a little more substantial for you on Friday. See you then!

 

The Trouble With Remakes

| Monday, October 15, 2012
Today's Tune: Shadows

Remakes are nothing new in the realm of fiction and film. They can take a classic story and breathe new life into it, update it to reflect modern themes, even explore the original problematic elements and turn them on their head.

However, there are a few instances where drawing upon another work can be detrimental rather than inventive.

1.) Misunderstanding the messages/themes of the original work. I imagine I probably don't have to tell you how many times I've seen a remake of Romeo & Juliet portrayed as a cutesy love story or romantic comedy. It's difficult to work from source material that's been misinterpreted, although there's something to be said for taking a classic story and inverting its tropes.

2.) Borrowing stories from another culture without proper context. If you're going to reinterpret a folktale or classic piece of literature from a culture you're not intimately familiar with, it's extra important to make sure you understand the source material and its context in the culture it invokes. It's equally important to avoid going off of a romanticized or Americanized version of the story. Taking another culture's beloved stories and whitewashing them is very problematic. Likewise, it's best to avoid taking a story that's become a cultural icon for a certain community (women, GLBT, POC, minority religion, etc.) and recreating it for a majority audience. For example: don't remake Hedwig and the Angry Inch by removing all of the queer themes and turning it into a cisgendered story. I have absolutely no idea how you'd manage to do that, but you know what I mean.

3.) Using the original story as a crutch and making few significant changes. The purpose of a remake is to make a story new and fresh in some way. If the only changes are very superficial and the core of the story stays exactly the same, you're just retelling it. Push harder to spin the story in a new light or find a way to make it newly relevant.

4.) Similarly, rewriting the story to the point where it's unrecognizable and using a comparison to the original to gain the attention of that audience. You can't claim a story is based on Homer's Odyssey if it bears only the most obscure reference to the original story. I'm not sure why people do this, but I've seen it happen more than once.

Ultimately, I think retellings can be a lot of fun and a fantastic way to explore different themes using a familiar framework. Many times, I think it's almost more difficult to create a successful remake than a completely original work. You have to contend with purists and skeptics alike. But when they're done well, man, they're super cool.

How do you feel about remakes, readers?



There's No "Pure Genius" Genre

| Friday, October 12, 2012
Today's Tune: True Romance

In case you didn't hear, recently someone else wrote yet another article about what a horrible tragedy it would be for their books to be labeled YA. Because YA is frivolous nonsense full of fluff and teenage girl hormones or something, I don't know.

Hardly the first author to balk at the idea of their book being classified as an oh-so-dreaded Genre Novel. Not that YA is a genre (it is not; it's a category), but many YA novels do fall into the genre classification. It seems like this is something a lot of people struggle with. They don't want their novel to be another disposable one-time read that vanishes into the ether. Who does? They want their novel to be THE NOVEL, the one that gets attention and royalties and fan followings. Something important and meaningful that's reprinted for years to come.

But this abhorrence of genre literature as though it is lesser, as though it's something on the bottom of your shoe, has got to stop. It's fine if it's not your intention to write genre literature. If you're a literary writer, then go for it. No bones to pick here. It's when an author writes something that could potentially work in a genre classification and then GETS OFFENDED when a publisher dares to suggest that their book might work there that it becomes silly.

I'll repeat something here that I posted on Twitter:


To expand: no one is going to make you your own Special Snowflake shelf. If a professional book marketer is telling you where they think your book is most likely to succeed, they maybe know what they're talking about. They're not trying to *water down your genius*. They're trying to sell your book. In order to do that, they have to try and figure out where it might be most successful. Even if you are publishing your novel yourself or through an indie publisher, this still applies. Your book has to go somewhere that readers looking for the sort of thing you wrote are most likely to find it.

I'm not saying this is a perfect science. Sometimes editors and publishers have suggestions for your work that go against the core of what you were trying to convey, and it's okay to say no. But it's equally important to hear them out and understand their reasons before you say no. If you're stamping your feet because you feel like your book needs to be in the *Very Important Works of Supreme Magnificence* section and they're telling you they want to put it in General Fiction, then get over it. If you intentionally wrote something for an older audience and they're trying to get you to age it down to fit in YA, then okay, say no thank you. But not because you think being in a certain section is going to diminish the quality of your work by association.

If you wrote a good novel, then that novel will be good regardless of the section it winds up in.

I know marketing can suck, especially for people who are completely uninterested in playing the marketing game. But ultimately, marketing has its purpose. It's supposed to find you readers. It's all well and good if your book is put on a pedestal with celestial lights shining on it from above, but is that what's going to get readers to pick it up? Or will it maybe find a better home among science fiction fans?

I tend to bristle a little at the implication that marketing folk are out to Destroy Art, if you couldn't tell! What say you, readers?



Dealing with the Jealousies

| Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Today's Tune: Little Talks

Unless you haven't been paying attention to the last week of publishing news AT ALL, you will know that Lena Dunham recently sold an advice book for $3.5 million. Something about being a 20-something in NYC and dealing with the trials of dating and internships and figuring out your life path. Yes, that's right. One non-fiction book, 3.5 MILLION DOLLARS.

If you're even remotely human and capable of suffering emotions such as jealousy, then I'm sure hearing this news (and other similar stories) sends many thoughts reeling through your head. That's not fair! Ugh, HER? I don't even know who that is! They spent that much money on WHAT? THIS is what they're taking a huge financial risk on?

They're willing to throw literally millions of dollars at this person, but they won't even spare a measly pittance of an advance for my manuscript?

It's okay. Let those thoughts out. Let them leech like poison out of your ears and eyes and mouth. Let them hurt.

And then let them go.

When stories like this happen, it's super easy to let them latch onto your heart and start threading all kinds of negativity and resentment through your blood; sometimes founded, sometimes not. Especially when you've been struggling to let one of your little stories see the light of day for a long time. It's easy to assume that when this much money is being thrown around, it means that there's less money, less time, less space for your book. It's easy to project and think "because they decided to go with this book, mine's getting passed over."

I know. Those thoughts have crept into my head, too. Even though logically I know better, sometimes I can't help but want to scream WHAT THE F*#& into my pillow over and over. When you want something really, really badly and you worked hard for it and it's just not... quite... THERE... sometimes it just GETS to you. It combines into a slimy monster of stress and sadness that hangs out in your chest and makes you want to be snarky and upset all the time.

But you have to let it go.

It's tempting to cling to it like a protective blanket. You can blame everything on it and throw chunks of it at the people who have what you want but (in your opinion) don't deserve it as much as you. It's an ugly, burdensome demon, and it makes you not very pleasant to be around. Plus it smells funny.

I'm giving us all permission to be jealous and sad for a little while. It's okay. It happens to the best of us. There's nothing more human than striving and struggling toward the next peak of your journey, and feeling crushed when you miss the mark. The trick is not to look at the people on different peaks and throw snowballs at them while you scowl and go nowhere.

Yes, celebrities and politicians and randoms and whoever else will be seemingly plucked out of nowhere and handed a big wad of cash along with their shiny book deal. That will always happen. But publishers don't stop buying other books or looking for new talent just because they made a big deal with someone else. This sort of thing is not a this-or-that situation. No one is going to publish another celebrity wank memoir in place of your staggering work of genius. They can and do publish both. And when that green monster threatens to take up residence like a bad cold, flush it out with a few good reminders.

This is a tough business. No one promised you this would be easy, or fast, or perfect. But I tend to believe that for the people who come so close, it's only a matter of time until it's you in the publishing announcements.

How do you guys deal with The Jelousies?

 

How does "sexual content" differ from erotica and porn?

| Monday, October 8, 2012
Today's Tune: Push It

I think I'm just inviting the spambots right in with this post. I turned off anonymous comments, though, so it's fine. Fair warning: if you couldn't tell from the title, this post will contain blunt talk about sexuality and sex scenes in written and visual media. NO PICTURES THOUGH.

Now that we're coming off of Banned Book Week, I thought this would be an interesting topic for discussion. If you follow banned and challenged books, you'll know that books are often challenged for being "sexually explicit," and that there's been a history of people deeming certain books "pornographic" despite the nature of the sexual content. For example: SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, a book in which a young woman is dealing with the fallout and recovery of acquaintance rape, has been deemed "pornographic" by certain parties looking to ban the book. This is problematic for all kinds of reasons, namely that the scene in question is a completely non-erotic, non-explicit rape scene. To refer to it as "pornographic" equates rape with titillating sex.

Is there a difference between sexual content, erotica, and porn? Yes, I think there very much is.

Erotica and porn have their similarities and dissimilarities. Porn is considered a largely visual medium, though it could be argued that written pornography exists depending on the definition you're operating under. While both contain sexual material intended to arouse and/or titillate, I personally feel there are some key differences. In my mind, pornography is more exclusionary and voyeuristic, opting to take the viewpoint of someone watching people engage in sexual acts from the outside. It's a spectacle, a performance. Erotica, on the other hand, is more internalized and participatory, opting to engage the reader with the act. It's like the difference between watching people have sex from the corner of the room versus actually being inside the mind of one or more of the participants.

This is not to say that there haven't been expertly filmed pornographies in which the filmmaker invites the viewer more intimately into the act, or that there isn't externalized and voyeuristic written erotica. I'm admittedly not super familiar with either genre, so feel free to enlighten me.

Now: how do these differ from sexual content in a book? Well, sexuality is a vital part of humanity. While it's not universally shared, it is something that comes naturally to many people, and most people will experience it at some point in their lifetime. Human beings have a unique relationship with sex; it's not only something to do for pleasure or procreation, but something we use for intimacy, connection, sharing, even power and weaponization. We know that based on our culture and sentience, sex is not just a biological act, but an expression of something that can be wonderful or horrible. It can be lauded or condemned. It can be viewed as a commodity, a shame, a badge of honor, an expression of emotion. The result of the act (pregnancy, STIs, premarital sex, choice of partner[s]) can determine how society views and treats us.

This is why I tend to side-eye people who say things like, "We're just animals and it's just sex; it means nothing" or "Sex isn't something we need to talk about. It's only for certain people in certain situations." We cannot ignore the spectrum of human sexuality, nor can we pretend that sex is completely removed from society and emotional resonance. 

What does any of this have to do with "sexual content?" Well, my point here is that the use of sexual content in a narrative is not always about eroticism. There are many layers to sexual interaction. To view sex through a blanket black-and-white "baser animal instinct" filter is to divorce sexuality from emotion, humanity, interaction, and culture. When all sexual content is viewed as something automatically crass because it involves sexuality, we're ignoring that sex can be an expression of something more; that it can serve to show character growth, personal choice, societal pressure, or any of a multitude of more nuanced themes.

(A quick note: I'm not saying sexuality is the only way to convey these themes or that sexuality is necessary. I just feel it's short-sighted to treat sex as if it doesn't have deeper social and personal connotations, or like it's something that only rutting animals concern themselves with.)

When it comes to YA in particular, growing into sexuality and making choices about sexual expression/health are often big stepping stones for adolescents. Teen sexuality is not all about hormones running wild and rebelling against their parents' warnings (though this is what society seems wired to believe). It's a personal journey that plays a part in figuring out who they are and what they want out of life. An exploration of discovery and heightened emotion. Learning how to interact with each other. Sexual content is often about so much more than sex.

So, for me, this is the difference between sexual content, erotica, and pornography. The latter two are intended for sexual exploration and titillation, though they go about it different ways. The former is a more gray area that uses sex as a medium for character interaction, plot themes, posing societal questions, and more. As such, putting a block on sexual content as a whole is treading on dangerous ground. Every sex scene is not created equal, and when we boil down any exploration of sex to simply "inappropriate porn," we're disregarding all the ways humanity and sexuality intersect.

What do you guys think?




The Things Aspiring Writers Are Good At

| Friday, October 5, 2012
Today's Tune: Summertime

BBBurke suggested that I write something uplifting for aspiring writers, since there's always so much out there about what we're doing wrong and how to do it better. So. Here's that :)

The Things Aspiring Writers Do Right

1.) We understand that we want to do something seriously, and we sit down and dedicate ourselves to it. We write, and write, and write. As we write, we improve. Not everyone can do that. You can't just automatically be good at something, and a lot of people give up when they realize turning their "hobby" into a profession is going to be hard. For all the people who don't give up: you are fabulous. And you're ahead of the curve. Picture this visual: there are 100 people who say they want to write a book someday. Of those 100 people, maybe 50 will ever put a word to paper. Of those 50, maybe 25 will keep putting words down until the have a book. Of those, maybe 12 will edit, rewrite, and improve that book before giving up. Maybe 6 of those decide to send that book out into the world, and maybe 3 of those will try the whole thing again if they're shot down. And maybe, just maybe, you're that one person who will keep at it again, again, and again until you're the one that succeeds. If you're that person, you're at the head of your particular pack.

2.) We dooooon't stop belieeeeving and we hang on to that feeeEEEEEeeeEEeeelliiiinnngggg ooooooh sorry. Couldn't resist. But seriously, aspiring writers are often some of the most optimistic, go get 'em, determined people I've ever met. Even when we don't believe in ourselves, we believe in each other. And that's wonderful.

3.) We support one another. I don't know about all of the writing communities, but I know in the YA and kidlit community, we are really big on bolstering each other up and being shoulders to cry on. I mean, this attitude can become a problem if we don't balance it with an equal dose of reality and honest critique, but even so, it's a pretty awesome community to be a part of most of the time. Being able to find real joy in the success of your friends is an incredible thing.

4.) We're willing to have fun and embrace the freedom of the aspiring. Being a real live professional author seems like a shiny star of a life, but there are drawbacks. Being at the mercy of readers or the publishing industry. Deadlines. Requests for something you don't necessarily want to write. Rejections of things you love. Contracts. Pressure to perform. As aspiring authors, we may be rolling around in a pit of obscurity, but at least we're free to take a chance on any project that we like. If it gets rejected, it sucks, but it's not like we have to scramble to whip up something brand new in three weeks because we have a deadline. We get to keep trying at our leisure until we find the thing that clicks.

5.) We are willing to learn. At least, those of us that are flexible and open to becoming the best we can be are willing to learn. We don't assume greatness. We know we're flawed, we know we're uncut diamonds. And we're okay with honing ourselves until we sparkle enough to become brilliant.

What else do you think aspiring writers are good at?

 

Chimera (flash fiction)

| Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Today's Tune: Homeward, These Shoes

So Chuck Wendig is hosting a flash fiction challenge (like he does), and I decided to partake in this round because it's been a while since I've written some flash. The rules for this particular incarnation were to randomly select a topic from three categories (I used the number generator he linked in his post) and include them in a story of less than 1000 words. PIECE OF CAKE LOLOLOL.

This was my challenge:

Subgenre - Science-Fantasy
Conflict/Problem - Assassin!
Element to Include - An Ancient Sword

Below is the story I came up with. ENJOY.

*****

The chimera are anxious today.

A griffin-manticore hybrid paces behind his glass, spitting at me with enough ferocity to leave a smattering of yellow-tinted saliva on the window. I stare into his golden eagle eyes long enough for a low rumble to start deep in the caverns of his chest, warning me to back off. His scorpion tail straightens and shudders. My fingers find the button to release his evening meal and our staring contest is over.

I win. Again.


The kelpie-mermaid and phoenix-dragon are whipped into an almighty frenzy, as well. They must sense something in the air. I shiver as I pass beneath the icy vent leading back into the main lab. Alcohol and iodine sting their way up my nose. I snap on a pair of latex gloves and get back to my research.

An ache is building between my eyes from staring at spliced embryos through microscopes all day. I pinch the bridge of my nose and slide into my chair. My paperwork taunts me, its black scritch-scratched letters reminding me I've an hour of work left to do before I head home. I squeeze my eyes shut and wonder why I do this to myself.


Because it's necessary. Because it's the only way.


The hiss of a door makes me whirl in my seat. There's no one there. I'm the only one left in the lab this late. Still, I swear I heard something. I scan the room twice before returning to work.

I barely have time to register the hairs at the base of my skull standing on end before a pair of powerful arms grab me from behind.


My shriek cuts through the room and raises matching screeches from the chimera.

"Quiet, Meena! It's only me!" The arms release me and I turn to find Bran laughing.


I hit him in the arm. "I've told you not to do that. What if I'd been holding a scalpel?"

He shrugs. "I'd bleed a little and get over it."


When he moves back in, I let him. This time, the arms are gentle, exploring. He smells like redwood and smoke. His kisses are a welcome warmth in this freezing, lifeless laboratory full of creatures so sad they make my soul hurt. I trace my fingers down his torso until I get to his waist and feel the hilt of a sword. My breath hitches.

"Man, I must be good," he teases.


My eyes are on the scabbard attached to his hip. "Why are you wearing that in here?"

His grin slips away. "My father ordered it moved to a safe house. I'm leaving tonight. That's actually why I came by."

"Is it?" I whisper, my gaze never leaving the intricate leatherwork of the scabbard. It's singing to me.


It's the only way.

Bran holds me close. "I'll miss you."

His heart beats against my neck. My pulse answers.


I close my eyes. "I'll miss you, too."

Before I can think, before I can stop myself, I've pulled a serpent fang from my lab coat pocket and pierced his chest.

"What --" He stumbles away from me, looking incredulously between the fang and my face. The poison drops him in seconds.


His eyes are spilling a thousand emotions as I kneel to remove the ancient sword from his belt. I pull it from the scabbard, wincing as I see all the notches that have been chipped from it.

I put my hand on Bran's cheek, which isn't fair. He can't push me away.


Tears shred my voice. "It shouldn't have been you. Never you. Your father made this choice when he stole it from us. This power was never meant for cutting magic to pieces and stitching it into monsters. He's cost the world so many of its protectors. His repayment is his son. I'm sorry."

I brush my lips against his forehead. It's cruel, but I can't leave him to die without love.


The chimera clatter in their cages, screaming for blood. I flip the switches for their doors before I go. He'll feel nothing. The poison I chose will ensure that, at least.

With the sword strapped to my back, I leave this clinical place of mismatched horrors for good. The moon wraps me in silver and my sorrow burns right through it.


 

What exactly is "edgy" writing?

| Monday, October 1, 2012
Today's Tune: Four To Six

Ah, edginess. The age-old goal of many a writer -- to plumb the depths of the human psyche, to push the envelope further than it's ever been pushed, to walk the line between gratuity and art. Or maybe it's seeing how far you can stretch the reader's tolerance for violence and sexuality. Or maybe it's just doing something everyone told you not to do. Or maybe it's something with prose?

What does "edgy" mean, anyway?

A lot of YA writers seem to ask the question of how "edgy" they can be in YA. There have been many lengthy discussions about what constitutes edgy fiction and how far a writer can go. Over the last decade, the bar has pretty much been abandoned and the rule of thumb has become "as long as it's done well, anything goes." I mean, we have books about incestuous relationships and pedophilia and kidnapping and rape and eating disorders and drugs and serial killers and extraordinary gore and pretty much anything you can dream up at this point. Edgy isn't exactly the catchphrase it used to be.

Even so, I constantly see writers pop into YA discussions to ask if it's okay for their YA novel to have sex, violence, swearing, drug use, etc., or if that will make it "too edgy." This has become what "edgy" means to most people -- something that might be considered questionable content. In reality, this is a very simplistic view of edginess. For something to be edgy, it needs to push boundaries and attempt something risky. Sex and violence in YA is, in general, not risky. It's pretty common.

Personally, I feel like the term "edgy" has become something of a buzzword without much weight behind it. You know, like when someone in marketing throws a bunch of terms like "brand equity" and "ROI" at you in the hope that you buy what they're selling (literally). I'm in marketing. Believe me, I've heard them all. When someone's like, "I've written a REALLY EDGY book," they probably mean they wrote a book with some blood and sex and swearing in it. Not very specific. Essentially meaningless, really.

Which isn't to say I don't think "edgy" can be reclaimed. On the contrary. Instead of this watered-down idea of edginess that's just throwing some guns and marijuana into a manuscript and calling it good, we should hail back to what made the original edgy books edgy. Originality. Experimentation. Exploring difficult topics in powerful and nuanced ways.

Really, what "edgy" implies is being on the edge of something. It's like balancing on the edge of a cliff. If you're standing on the solid ground where a hundred other feet have stood, you're not on the edge. If you take a running leap off into space (go too far), you're not on the edge. It's finding that center of gravity between pushing against the expected and doing something different. Edgy isn't doing something you think will check the "scandalous" check-box and make people clutch their pearls. Edgy stretches the boundaries of the ordinary and takes balanced risks, and those risks aren't always with the content.

What do you think, readers? What does "edgy" mean to you?




 

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