Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RTW #111 - Top Five Favorites of 2011

This Week's Topic
We're combining today's RTW with Highwayer Sarah Enni's End-of-the-Year blog carnival, and asking:
What were your top five favorite books of 2011?

Man, these questions are always really difficult, because my years are still school-years, and the actual year-end comes smack in the middle of things.  It's really hard to remember back and try to figure out when I read what.  I was hoping Goodreads would help with this, but apparently I'm not good at remembering to mark down when I read a book.  I will do my best.

Thrones, Dominations

First year of grad school, I was desperately stressed.  I hated a large portion of my classes, I was bored, annoyed, too busy to do anything interesting, feeling like I wasn't going anywhere at all.  And that was when I discovered Dorothy Sayers.  I don't even quite remember how, except that I was so bored of podfics, and I needed an audiobook to listen to while I was cooking, and I needed it right then.  And lo, and behold, Whose Body? was up on LibriVox.
I read them all.  By the time I got on the bus to head back home for break, Clouds of Witness was loaded up on my iPod, and I listened to it for eight hours straight.  When I was completely a mess because one of my fellow grad-students was being crazy and terrifying and stalky, I was reading Gaudy Night (also about crazy stalky academics, but these ones at Oxford).  And after Christmas, when I read Busman's Honeymoon, I was so sad, because that was all there was.
I always approach postmortem books with trepidation, and it was a while before I dared to read Jill Patton Walsh's execution of Dorothy Sayers' notes, but when I did I was so glad I had.  She pulls it off, with all the charm and the horror required. 

To Say Nothing of the Dog
I had just started reading the Book View Cafe when this book started popping up on my radar, over and over again, with people praising its humor, its smarts.  I can't really count it, since I read it in October, but I can count Blackout, by the same author, which was just as excellent, though much darker.  I'm leaving this cover up though, because this is where you should start.
If you're looking for a funny, tongue-in-cheek, time-travel tale, full of cats and dogs and Victorian furniture (with plenty of intertextuality, especially to Dorothy Sayers) read it!

Finally!  One that was solidly in 2011!  But, of course, I already talked a bit about this earlier on the blog, so I won't repeat myself.  But it's so incredibly awesome.  Read it!

The Warrior's Apprentice
Another borderline book.  What can I say, I read a ton of books last Christmas that were awesome.  I have distinct memories of reading it while I was home, so I might not have finished it until after New Years, maybe.  But again, this is a series of awesome!  And I think this book is a great place to start.  In fact, for your YA readers who are bored of romance and high school and really want to have an adventure, with space ships and mercenaries and strange planets with incredible cultures, give them this!  Fast and funny, with one of the best main characters ever, there's nothing better, except the sequels!

And for something a little different - wait, just because it's a memoir doesn't mean it's any different.  This is just as fast and funny, a crazy tale of improbably true occurrences.  It's a quick, laugh out loud read.  If you're lonely and longing for just a little more James Herriot or Bill Bryson, this book is in that hilarious vein.

I recommend all of these books unreservedly!  Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RTW #110: Where Do You Buy Books?

This Week's Topic:
Where do you buy most of your books? No one is judging!

Well, actually, I'm judging, judging myself, that is.  After hearing about Amazon's new App (Ursula K. Le Guin has a cutting comment on the topic.)  I've boycotted Amazon for the Christmas Season.  And I've bought 10 books in the last two weeks.

3 from the Local Bookseller (A co-op, that's charming, and can order anything super fast)[ Medicus, The Name of the Wind, Beta Test]

2 from the campus bookstore, [The Dangerous Book for Boys (Audio), Small Memories (Jose Saramago)]

3 from my favorite used bookstore [The Measure of her Powers: MFK Fisher, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Inda]

1 from the newsstand next door to where my critique group meets (all the new mass markets) [The Spirit Thief]

1 from the amazing toy store on the commons that has a perfect selection of all the best kids books. [The Clockwork Three]

Honestly, I'm blessed to live in a town with so many booksellers.  I didn't even have to trek out to Barnes & Nobel!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How LJ Smith Ruined me for Paranormal Romance

I spent yesterday traveling, getting up at 6 to drag three heavy bags all the way across town and get on a bus to Manhattan (5hrs), where I dragged those three bags eight blocks to the train station and then spent another hour there, and then two more hours on the train.  Luckily, I was prepared.  My iPod was filled with books and podcasts and music, and I had my embroidery, and my laptop, and I was set.
Unfortunately, riding the bus in the mornings makes me ill, and the book I was listening to didn't help.

I won't blame the book, because I was already feeling poorly before turning it on.  Let me just say there were werewolves and there was a lot of *intense feelings* of girl for wolf without any real interaction between them at all.

The problem with audiobooks is that you can't skip ahead to get to the plot, so I was stuck listening to this girl as she whined about her family, and whined about her friends, and whined about how no one understood her, except for her wolf, who, of course, never speaks to her.  And it was all very well written, and the girl was very strongly characterized, and the town and side-characters were well-depicted.  And I wanted to puke.  (Again, moving bus, early morning, holiday party the day before.  Probably not the book's fault.)  So finally, I turned it off.

Once I was off the bus and could actually think again, I was wondering why I really didn't like the book.  When I was eleven I had adored paranormals.  I read all the Night World books, I even wrote fanfic for them.  But then I considered further.  I had adored LJ Smith.  I thought her books were great.  (And when I reread one during college, I realized, yeah, the writing is pretty workmanlike, but the plot is fast and funny, and the romance is charming.  What's not to like?)  But I had tried and tried to read other teen paranormal romances and had never been able to get past the first few pages.

Why not?  What was so different about LJ Smith?  And then I remembered:

In the Night World Series, soulmates are built into the world.  They're a plot point.  And they're hilarious.  I will never forget the scene where Ash sees Mary Lynette for the first time, and he reacts, like a cat that's had a bucket of water dropped over him.

He doesn't want this.  This is the worst thing ever.  And even Mary Lynette - she wants boys that are thin, brown, and interesting, not men like big blond cats. (Clearly, I have read that book too many times.  I believe those are direct quotes.)  The insta-love isn't even love.  It's just an intense, inextricable bond.  It's an obstacle.  It complicates the situation.  It allows the attraction and real love room to grow.

A romance that starts with an obsessive love bond between two characters is a lot like an epic fantasy that begins with the world already having been saved.  There's nowhere to go, no stakes, no excitement.  Now I'm sure that there are plenty of people who like to bask (*cough*wallow*cough*) in the purity of magical love.  But not me.  And I've been spoiled, by LJ Smith, who writes a love story that manages to be a natural outgrowth of learning to like and to trust.  (And has humor.  Honestly, humor can make things so much better.)

When I decided to read grown-up romance novels, I couldn't make it past the first few pages of even the most highly recommended ones, until I found Shannon Donnelly.  All of the characters, even the antagonists, were likable and interesting.  And the romances evolved out of scenes where the characters connected and grew to understand each other.  And they were also hilarious.  (Hilarious Regency Romance, that's the way to go.)

In the end, I think this all comes down to 'show, don't tell.'  I want to watch people fall in love.  I want to see that process where you look at someone once and can't find anything worthwhile there, and then each time you see them thereafter there's something new that alters the way you perceive them.  Don't tell me they're in love.  Don't beat me over the head with their pure and inexplicable bond.  Show me that they connect.  That moment when one suddenly understands the other, and sees them, with all their flaws, as beautiful and real, now that's what I call swoonworthy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What kind of reader are you?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.
Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Damn, they got me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #109

This Week's Topic:
What would be the ideal holiday present for your main character? 

My poor dear MC, just wants to get home.  Unfortunately, I, as the author, will be heading off anyone going in her direction with any sort of vehicle, teleportation device, seven-league boots, and definitely NO PRINCES OR HORSES ALLOWED, or the story will never happen.

But if you want to give her a gift she'd really appreciate...

A vacuum.

Actually, I think my critique group would really appreciate it too, because then she'd finish the cleaning, and we could finally get on with good stuff!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #108

This Week's Topic:
How far would you go to get published?

We writers can form quite an attachment to our characters and stories. But we also know publishing is a business, and sometimes to make it in said business--to really build a career from it--we have to bend a bit. How far would you go to break into the publishing world?

1st - Jumping on the trend train
2nd - Switch to a well selling genre
3rd - Minor revisions requested to sign with an agent
Home - Major revisions requested by an editor

So, being wonderfully and purely unpublished, I am free to muddle around as much as I like.  And I'm muddling away.  No one is going to ask me to jump on a trend or switch genres, and I'm not going to.  I'm not planning to ever even try to write YA contemporaries, because honestly, high school was kind of boring, and when I was in high school, the last thing I wanted to do was read about high school.  And yet, I've written things that could totally be classed as YA contemporaries, (if they hadn't been quite so explicit).  I've written paranormals.  I've written fiction about a noir-style mermaid world.

For 1st and 2nd base the important thing is to keep in mind the difference between being given a prompt and being told what to do.  I love getting prompts.  Sometimes they catch my imagination and I end up with a 30,000 word novella before I noticed that I started writing.  But I hate being told what to do.  So if an agent says, hey, I've got this contract for a cool fantasy-mystery about demon-fish and I think you're the girl to write it.  I will say, hey, send me the info, I'll check it out.  They say that constraints are the best way to work your imagination, and I agree.  The smaller the focus the bigger my ideas get.  (And of course, the bigger the field for maneuvering in the fewer ideas I have.)  But if anyone tells me, "hey, if you aren't writing paranormals you'll never get published," I will bridle in annoyance and set out to prove them wrong.
(Notably, the only prompt that consistently leaves me cold is Vampires.  I have nothing to say about Vampires.)

For 3rd and Home, really, they're par for the course.  There will always be revision requests.  If it will actually be better for the book, then I'm down with it.  If it's something that rubs me the wrong way, like de-gaying or whitewashing a character, I might fight that.  If it's just something that will be a lot of work?  Well, writing is a lot of work.  Better get on it.

Right now, I'm totally sure that my book is going to be awesome, and as soon as I finish making it so, everyone else will agree.  :D

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #107 Best Book of the Month

You know, I've been doing Road Trip Wednesday for a few months now, and I have always had a very difficult time with the 'what's the best book you've read this month' question.  I've skipped it, I've evaded it, because for me the meaning of 'best book,' doesn't mean the least bad of books, but the number one book of all the ones I enjoyed.

(I should probably write out the semantics for this, where if the denotation of [[thoroughly enjoyed book]] is empty, then [[best book]] must be empty.  But I won't.)

But finally, November!

For book club we read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I found readable and okay, but not excellent or satisfying.  And then I read Medicus by Ruth Downie.

This was an excellent book.  It was hilarious, complex, intriguing.  I loved all the characters: Ruso, Tilla, Chloe.  The setting was awesome, visually and socially compelling.  Roman Britain is a really cool place, and Downie brought it to life with the perfect details.  But the plot, oh my, the plot is what keeps those pages turning and turning.  (And for all the FYAers, I found this incredibly swoonworthy, an 8 at least.)

Basically, I can't recommend it enough.  Check it out!

Friday, November 25, 2011

What YA Fantasy Means to Me...

A particular famous author once said, after reading a short story of mine, that some people just have YA voices.  After about a year of struggling to write a dark, gritty adult novel (which, in the end, was probably a thriller, only I had never read any thrillers, so I had no idea how they worked), and another year of being depressed about not wanting to write, I decided to write a book that I would like to read.  To do this, I made a list of all my favorite books, which quickly started to trend toward fantasy books with children as the main characters.  Why was I trying to write literary fiction (and failing) I wondered, when that wasn't what I enjoyed reading.

I had been a fantasy reader as a child: Edgar Eager, Patricia Wrede, Diana Wynne Jones.  But when I had finished the Juveniles and wanted something new with a little more meat and depth than the latest Choose Your Own Adventure, I peered into the adult fantasy section and didn't find anything that matched up at all with the books I had read before.  I read Xanth, because it was funny, and did occasionally have an interesting idea, and I adored the On a Pale Horse series, even though I was not entirely prepared for the rape and death and sticky adult situations that I found there.  But I wasn't interested in epic tales about a farmboy with a destiny, or in stories where a culture's sexual mores is the obsessive focus of the author.

Then I found Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett was everything I was looking for as a young adult reader.  All of my favorite J-Fantasy authors had been smart and genre-savvy.  They wrote stories about stories.  They made jokes aimed at readers.  They used fairytales and classic adventure stories as jumping off points to tell wonderful stories of their own.  They were stories written by people who loved books for people who loved books.  And Terry Pratchett was the same.  He wrote books about ideas, with stories, and humor, and intertexts and worldbuilding that brought the ideas to life (sometimes as anthropomorphic personifications.)

Pratchett doesn't write adult fiction or young adult fiction.  He writes fiction, though never without a core of truth.  And honestly, though Edgar Eager and Patricia Wrede and Diana Wynne Jones may have 'young adult voices,' or even juvenile-type voices (probably not DWJ, who has an incredible range of writing styles that vary from J to Adult without ever losing their content), I think all of these authors are writing the same genre: smart fiction.

For me, YA fantasy is what I read when I was a young adult, what I still read and adore.  It isn't distinguished by dragons and princesses or by wizards and elves.  It is marked by the simple quality of being a story about an idea, and pulling it off like a kick-ass champ.  A story without an idea, without a core quality of meaning, isn't YA fantasy for me.  It's some sort of angel-romance, or necromancy-adventure-thriller hybrid.

Now, some of you might be thinking, seriously?  Your definition of YA fantasy is absurd.  It is neither YA, as its usually defined, nor does it fit any sort of definition of fantasy.  (It's non-compositional!  Sorry, linguist joke.)  But I don't think that's true.

Okay, these days YA is defined as 'from the perspective of a person of the ages 15-18 ± 1 year, depending.  But that's the publisher's perspective.  For a librarian, the person in the trenches, interacting with the readers, a YA book is a book middle-school and high-school aged kids will want to read.  Although everyone touts the self-absorption of young people, not everyone wants to read about themselves (or the prettier, whiter version of themselves).  Some of them want to use reading to encounter something new and amazing.  Isn't that a decent definition of YA, something a young-adult would want to read?

And of course, fantasy is caricatured as one of two things, either a Tolkein-derivative (which tend to give Tolkein a bad name, since he was doing something strange and astonishing and new with the oldest stories), or a paranormal (i.e. a murder mystery where people can be sexier than normal humans).  Is this fair?  Of course not.  But when arguing for the purpose of fantasy, I've often heard it said, that it's a place where you can explore ideas without the arbitrary constraints of realism.  So that's my definition of fantasy, an exploration of ideas that has relinquished arbitrary constraints such as no magic, no dragons, no gods.  But it needs to ask the questions "What is magic?  What are dragons?  What are gods?" then it's fantasy.

As this has become a saga, and although I could go on about how this is the type of book I want to write, but it's a lot harder than I thought it would be, etc, etc. instead I'm going to bring up The Book Cellar's YA/MG Fantasy Reading Challenge.  The goal is to read 10 fantasies released in 2012, and review them.  Note well, that I will be reading and reviewing with the goal of finding books that fit my definition of YA Fantasy, and that should, therefore, be awesome.  I'm excited and ready to get started!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advice on writing from... Psychologists?

First of all, THIS is a brilliant and inspired paper about a psychology experiment on writing.  The author, Bob Boice, challenges the pervasive notion of creative geniuses being wildly manic and deeply struggling, tearing their hair, vituperating their work, producing page after page in a flood of productivity.  Or, as he calls it "creative illness."

For Boice there are three 'goals' of the act of writing.  1) Productivity, 2) Creativity, and 3) Mental Health.  To examine these things and their relationships with each other, he set up an experiment where he evaluated two groups of young professors, all of whom were required to write and publish to keep their jobs.  One group had a moderate writing style.  They would sit down to write regularly about three times a week, never work for more than ninety minutes, and make use of plans and outlines.  The second group followed the binge-writing model.  They had more irregular writing habits, but when writing would often stay for up to twelve hours, and not so frequently use plans and outlines.

Shall we guess how these people ranked in their productivity, creativity and mental health?  For productivity, slow and steady wins the race.  The moderate but regular pace was able to produce more pages of quality high enough to be published.  Th binge writing pace was not high enough to produce the work required to keep their jobs.

In creativity, the regular writers had more ideas that were relevant to their work.  They also could get to work more quickly and not have to reacquaint themselves with their projects.  The binge writers did not think about their work in the off-hours, and were therefore less engaged and less usefully creative.

Mental health had the most distressing results of all.  Moderate writers would feel positive before they wrote, positive after they wrote, and positive for the next few days as well.  Binge writers would feel negative and apprehensive before a writing session.  Then during it they would report instances of euphoria as well as make faces indicating annoyance and frustration.  It would take a little while to come down, and then they would drop into unremitting depression a day or two afterwards.

As Boice sums up in his conclusion, a lot of his results are supported by advice in all those books on writing by writers.  It is supported by the story of Joseph Conrad.  (If you read any section in this paper, read the little narrative of Conrad's life and writings).  It is supported by the comments of Dickens on his own work.  His results are good advice.

So, what is the advice we can take from this interesting study?

1) Try to write regularly.  If you don't have time to sit down and write every day, take a little time, while doing other things, to think about your project.  Meditate on it.  Enjoy it.  The next time you sit down, the ideas will be fresh and percolating in your head.

2) Word counts are probably not the way to go.  Neither, though, is time limits.  Sit down when you are scheduled to sit down, and think about your project, even if you just doodle stick figures of your characters.  If you get tired, stop working, do something else.  Your best, most productive work, isn't going to be twelve hours a day.  Do not be ashamed to stop working.

3) Outlines and plans are 'on-task work.'  If the writing isn't coming, do something else that's on task.  Then use your outlines.  (Not slavishly, as Lois McMaster Bujold says: "The writer should always reserve the right to have a better idea.")  Creativity takes time.

4) Relax.
I mean, seriously.  Relax.  If this article shows anything it's that people who stress themselves out about their writing don't write as well.  This is kind of obvious.  It's the same on tests.  If you're really stressed about a test, it's harder to study and harder to focus when you're actually doing it.  If you go in there confident and positive, you're more likely to do well.  If you enjoy writing, not to the euphoric stage, but are generally happy about having gotten a chance to sit down and write at all, you'll be more productive, and less inclined to mania and depression.

So yay!  Four solid, experimentally supported pieces of advice to help you with your writing.  Write on! Don't succumb to creative illness.  Be like Dickens.  For him, writing was something that could help him through stressful times in his life, it didn't cause stressful times in his life.  And Dickens' productivity and creativity are, honestly, some of the most impressive ever to have existed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1)Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. And honestly, for the first 200 or so pages of it, I really did. It had all the elements of a good story, an engaging main character: I loved Karou's pettiness. I didn't love her unearthly beauty. (Too many beautiful people with no other descriptors, well it's kind of boring. I figured it was a sign of her supernatural origin, but still, boring.) awesome setting: Prague! I want to go to Prague, and Marrakesh. Well developed side characters: Zuzana was really the best character in the book. She was great, and I loved Issa, and the scholar ridden by a fallen angel. Even when Akiva showed up and started being cringe-inducingly stalkerish, I was good, I was happy.

And then Laini Taylor takes a gamble, and she bets it all on one of the primary fantasy mistakes, and she loses every point she gained previously.

It's the same mistake that Libba Bray made in a Great and Terrible Beauty. It's a common mistake, and it shows a lack of understanding of the genre. The Marbury Lens, no matter how angry it made me, did not make this mistake, and that was why it was effective. There is one primary rule of writing 'two world fantasy' and it is simple.

Rule 1: If your story takes place in two realms, one magical and one unmagical, the magical one must be just as real, just as well described, as visually stunning, as emotionally gripping as your unmagical world.

If this rule is broken, you are no longer writing fantasy.

Laini Taylor has an artistic mind. She has designed a world with two moons, with a caged city, with creatures of every look and shape and size, and every glimpse of it that we get in the first 200pgs is alluring and exciting. And then the wishbone breaks, and we are treated to everything we've waited for, the world, the power, the romance, and it's all empty.

Let's go back through the list at the beginning. An engaging main character: well, no. Karou is gone, and Madrigal, who replaces her, is a stock Cinderella, whining about how no one understands her because she's beautiful, when in truth, she has been incessantly cruel and aloof because she does not understand the prejudice in her own society. (The prejudice itself is unnerving. The idea that a rebelling slave society would want to look more like their former masters is nauseating. If they were just an underclass sure, but they're murdering each other. The wolfier the better. Animal is beautiful! Issa seemed to understand this. Why doesn't anyone else? Maybe Taylor is trying to suggest that Madrigal does, but the fact that she is of high human aspect makes it ring with the overtones of a white person going to a black person and saying "I know you're starving and your life sucks, but you have to stay true to who you are. Even though it would be easier to get a job and save your family, you shouldn't even think about maybe wanting to be white. Your identity is more important than your life.")

Awesome setting: rooftop, road, scaffold, dungeon, glade. The visuals have all disappeared. Maybe Madrigal isn't an artist, but she isn't blind. All we get is the dress, and honestly, a pretty dress is a pretty dress. It's not interesting.

Well developed side characters: Nope. Chiro is a cipher. Wolfie-boy is a caricature. But honestly, even the main characters are poorly developed in this section.

Romance: Well, no, actually. Even in this world Akiva and Madrigal are just soulmates. They don't have a particular reason to like each other. They never fall in love. Akiva is just Madrigal's 'essential penis'. Ah well.

If I had beta-read this book, I would have said, 'okay, those last couple chapters in the other world, they need to be cut. Make the wishbone memories a dark and tangled flashback. Build the emotions, cut the dancing, cut the Thiago backstory, since it's not really that interesting. The truth is, allowing an enemy spy into your city and between your legs is being a traitor. Her execution is well deserved. Make it Karou who's experiencing it, not Madrigal. Don't give the game away. Revenants, sure, great. Magic is pain, fine. Leave the mystery, evoke the suffering.

I read a lot of reviews that said 'the last 150 pages sealed the deal for me. They took an okay book and made it great.' So I was expecting more. My friends who also read the book for the book club were also stunned by the thinness of the fantasy world. But we are all savvy YA fantasy readers. We don't read YA Contemps and angel books. So yeah, we have high standards. If you're new to the 'two world' genre, then maybe you'll be impressed by Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but I formalized Rule 1 when I was a kid, and Laini Taylor left me cold.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #105

I have to say that actually, I had pretty decent book selections in my English classes.  I pretty much liked every book I was assigned to read.  (Catcher in the Rye, not so much, sorry K Peacock, and The Scarlet Letter was kind of deadly).  My hugest issue was that it took SO LONG for us to finish a book because they assigned a chapter a week, even in honors classes, that by the time we reached the end, I had forgotten the beginning.

So basically, I think there's room for plenty more:
The Greengage Summer, Rumer Godden - murder and maturity
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
Regeneration, Pat Barker
Bellweather, Connie Willis - Kids need this one
Poetry by Yates, ee cummings, Dickenson, Matthew Arnold
Plays and Musicals by David Mamet, Sondheim, Oscar Wilde

For middle school - Only You Can Save Mankind, Terry Pratchett; Kidnapped RL Stevenson; Captain Blood, Sabatini; Ivanhoe, Scott; A Connecticut Yankee, Twain.
I would do a segment on international mystery novels, with everyone reading a mystery from a different country/region and then making projects comparing them.
Let them do Ovid, stories from the Heike, the Ramayana, the ones with a lot of blood and honor.  I'd do a project on Joseph Campbell and let them write their own hero myth.

Basically, I think the most important thing you can learn in English is how to laugh out loud when you're reading, how to yell and cry and be engaged with books that are just honestly good books, not ones that people say are classics, but the ones people read because they love.  You should be able to get enough out of language that you can say, oh yeah, I love Shakespeare, he's hilarious, because you're good enough at reading that you get all the jokes.  English class should be an opportunity, not a punishment.  And students should be allowed to ask for the kind of stories they want to read, and be given stories that they'll enjoy, but might not have found on their own.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Underlying Meaning of NaNoWriMo

So on the YA Highway weekly roundup there've been a lot of anti-NaNo posts.  And honestly, I don't really care one way or another about it.  It's just a crazy thing that took off.  But I think jumping down too hard on one side or the other is missing the point.  NaNo works really well for some writing styles and not others.

Style's NaNo is good for:

The Perfectionist - Have you ever written chapter 1, then re-written it, then re-written it, then written it again, and then finally realized that it hasn't gotten any better?
A lot of times, if you don't know where you're going, you have no idea what you need to do to revise something to improve it.  And sometimes you can't know where you're going until you've gotten there.

The Wannabe - "I could write a novel."  "Then why don't you?"

Unfortunately, both of these styles are a lot more visible from the outside, and sometimes you feel a little vindictive when you suggest NaNo to these people.  Maybe this time they'll actually write something instead of offering the same chapter for critique over and over again, or maybe they'll realize that actually they don't have what it takes.

But vindictiveness is not what NaNo is supposed to be about.

Styles of writing NaNo is bad for:

The Thinker - Do you contemplate between chapters?  Do you consider your work and still manage to pick up the next section and make progress?  Then fine.  DON'T DO NANO!  If you have a writing style that works for you, then don't mess it up just because everyone else is doing it.  It's like cheating on a test that you've already studied for and can ace.  WTF?

The Cocky Barstard - Unfortunately, this style of writer often comes in the same body as the Wannabe.  "I could write a novel.  Look, I did.  Revision?  Why revision?  I'm awesome."  This is where the big December slushpiles come from.

One of the problems with NaNo is that it started as something for writers with problems and became some sort of self-help cult for the common man.  I often think of Ratatouille here, "Anyone can cook, but not anyone should cook."  Yes, this is the villain's line, but in the end, he had it right.  The ability to be a great artist can appear anywhere.  It's not genetic, it's not even environmental.  Yes, sometimes having a great sense of smell helps, but the one thing you really need to do is care.  Do you love food, do you love art, do you love books?  Do you have a vision that you want to share?  Are you willing to work your ass off?  Are you willing to learn?  To take your lumps and bear up under criticism?  To realize that the world is really never ready for art, but sometimes art is ready for the world?

Underlyingly, NaNo isn't about speed, it isn't even about completion.  It's about overcoming the obstacles we put in our own way, the mental obstacles.  Anne Lamott says, "write shitty first drafts."  She also says, sometimes you lie down on the floor and sob and can't bear it any longer, but then you get up and you get back to work, the work of revision.

So yeah, if you think it will be good for you, do NaNo.  But remember that it's just one step on your path to writerly-enlightenment, one step on a path of incalculable length.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #104

This week's topic:
What are your writing and publishing superpowers (drafting? beta-reading? writing queries? plotting? character creation? etc.) -- and what's your kryptonite?

Look at my favorite superheroes -->
(Maybe it would be a little more of a favorite if that lead guy with the dumbass hood was replaced by his wife, or Ro, or really anyone.  Ignore that.)

What I like about the X-Men is that they are a team.  The Justice League, sure, they work together to battle intergalactic threats, but they really don't need the help most of the time.  They can get by on their own.  Supes, he's got flight, and x-ray vision, and super strength and whatever else you can think of.  Bats, he's got technology and stealth and little boy sidekicks in colorful underpants, and let's not forget Alfred (really, Alfred, I want that).  But the X-men each have one, maybe two, superpowers at the most, and that's a lot more realistic.

My writing superpower is actually a pretty awesome one.  I can get words on the page.
I'm pretty fast, not super fast, but speedy.  I'm dedicated, most days.  But if I sit down and focus, I can write.  And sometimes, I can write a lot.

But that's where the superhero team comes in.  The writing's on the page.  Now I need the other superheroes to swoop down with their awesome critiquing powers, and send me back out the door, armed and ready to fight the beast of a manuscript.  Maybe this is my book, the eponymous monthly magazine about my adventures, and I've always been a bit of a loner, but the X-Men don't let each other go it alone (ignoring truth for the sake of metaphor here).  When I need them, I can count on them to bring their support: Beast's tech, Emma's mind reading, Kitty's stealth.  And the calvary will help me blow all that kryptonite away.

There is always a lot of kryptonite.  I love my plots, but they're not always... coherent.  I love my characters, but someone needs to tell me if they're being whiny lazy brats and should get going and do something.  And sometimes I need a Charles Xavier type to look stern and say 'I know you can be better.  Do not fear your powers.  Truly attempt to exploit every ounce of skill you possess.'

Because the real kryptonite?  (To paraphrase/bastardize the words of JF Kennedy...)

The only real kryptonite is fear.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #102

What kind of writing coach do you need? When you have to coach friends, what kind of coach are you?

(Having spent the last few hours working through revisions, I've come to the conclusion that my mom is the best writing coach ever.  You never really know what you need unless you have it and it's working, and thankfully, it's working so much better than before.)

Build half, not half-ass

The kind of writing coach I need is someone who tells me that I am a good writer, and also tells me that my writing, as it is now, is not proof of this fact.

I can be better.  I can work harder.  I have inestimable potential.  And yes, I can half-ass it and still produce something enjoyable, but it's not as good as it could be, and it's worth it to do everything I can to make it that good.  So get to it!

As a writing coach what I try to do, first of all, is respect my friend's story.  I want to respect what they're trying to do, support them in doing it (because keeping those boys running laps is the hardest part), and try and figure out what sort of advice will be the most useful for them.

Mostly I seem deal with people who want to write, but have trouble finishing a story.  With them, I just cheer.  99% of learning to write is doing it, and if they finish one story, the next one will be easier.  With more advanced writers, I try to offer concrete tips and techniques that might help out in certain cases.  Maybe just pointing out the problem would be better, but offering a possible solution, even if it's not the best, might spark other ideas for fix-its in the author's mind.  So why not?

All I can do is hope that I help.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oh November...

It is the first of November, and as I was paying my rent, I noticed, that it's one of those palindromic days : 11/1/11, which I will take as a good omen for my plans for this month.  November is NaNo month, and yet it is the most painful month ever to actually get writing done.  Also, as I am in the middle of the muddle of revisions, it's pretty obvious that starting a new project, no matter how alluring and enticing, is a BAD IDEA.

However, there's another option:  NaNoReviseMo!
As I am only about 20,000 words into the revisions of a 70,000 word novel, I am perfectly set up to propose a NaNo-style plan of attack.  3000 words a day, I will attack them, revise them, progress fiercely towards the end!

So this November - it's princess month for me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Let's Talk about Love - A Romantic Plot Diagram

In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit it: I read romance novels.  I could claim that I read them with a technical eye, for research purposes, but the truth is, I'm a sucker for a good love story.  I believe that the reason I started reading fanfiction in the first place was because I wanted a plain and simple love story.  The arch literary romances were vicious in their dismal outlook and full of critical irony about feelings.  SF was sex, sex, sex.  If I wanted something that wasn't heterosexual in its leanings it required a secret struggle with interlibrary loan, or suffering through a tale of brutal depression and death.  Where were the happy endings?  

Venturing into the murky waters of the internet was better than even looking at the (vaguely nauseating) bare chested barbarians of the romance section.  Best of all, I wouldn't get caught with an incriminating pink novel.

In college I discovered Karen Kallmaker (and Pat Califia), and I read them with an eager secretiveness, bingeing and then feeling ill after an overindulgence.  I loved me a good romcom, but I had no patience for anything that didn't catch me and keep me still.  But I didn't know why I liked some stories, and not others.  Then I read this blog post.  In it, Shannon Donnelly describes soulmates as “Those people who push all your buttons—they make you grow.”  Someone who knew that and could say it so clearly, well, I had to try her books, and they were wonderful (complete candy, so pleasurable, and short enough to forbid overindulgence).  What she really said in that post was that the plot needs to be driven by the characters, their desires and the conflict between the two romantic leads' desires.

Reading Veronica Roth's post on Insta!Love in YA, I began thinking about the Donnelly post.  What if the romance isn't the main plot?  What if it's a side story?  How do you make it believable?

I don't have any real answers, but I think that it's important to treat a love story as any other part of the plot.  It needs an arc.  In my favorite romances it's the changing interplay between the characters that brings the romance to life.  I know that there are probably a hundred different romantic arcs, and I've read more than a few, but one particular pattern is particularly clear in my mind (and in those of many romcom writers), so, for my own benefit, and anyone who's interested, I'm going to break that one down into A Love Story - the 5 Stages.

(This diagram is based mainly on a story I wrote, which was a re-cast and turn-on-its-head version of the "the bet" trope, as seen in Cruel Intentions, She's All That, etc, and on Shannon Donnelly's hilarious romance A Proper Mistress.  NB.  I'm using female pronouns for both romantic leads, it's probably some sort of statement about the unmarked gender category, but don't worry about it too much, it's just better than male ones.)

Stage 1) "I want something from you."
This one statement can kick off the big game and set the ball in motion all a single swoop.  Our aggressor wants something, and only the pursued can provide it.  Immediately our romantic interests are thrown together and both interaction and conflict emerge.  Of course, the pursued can't just happily give up the object/favor/person desired, and she should probably have a damn good reason not to.

Stage 2) "I cannot believe you just did that."
In pursuit of her goal, our aggressor will inevitably cross the line and act in a way the pursued finds unforgivable.  But this very act is revealing, and the pursued, still offended, learns about the aggressor's character.  Very likely, the aggressor, rebuffed again, learns more about the pursued's character, and may in fact find this stubbornness/resistance/honorability attractive.

Stage 3) "My enemy, my love."  (A quotation from my favorite piece of Klingon love poetry, by Odon)
A battle reveals more secrets than any intimate discussion, and unplanned disclosures lead to unexpected (and perhaps unwanted) understanding.  External events may require the aggressor and the pursued to put away their difference and work together for survival.  (This is starting to sound like a horoscope.)  Bonding moments!  Secrets revealed and confidences maintained!

Stage 4) "Turnabout is fair play."
Here an external force intervenes.  Perhaps the real motivation for the aggressor's initial desire reveals itself.  The aggressor becomes a victim.  The pursued must make a decision to help her or not.  (If she does help, this, of course, only causes more problems.  The aggressor is not usually pleased about being helped.  Power relations are important.)  

Stage 5) "The confession and the gift"
In the end, a choice must be made.  The aggressor must give instead of take.  The pursued must become the pursuer.  The initial desire must be abandoned or fulfilled.  The pursued will offer a gift, and the aggressor must be able to accept it as a token of love and not condescension from someone more powerful.

There you have it!  One possible romantic arc, ready to be filled in with complex characters and excessive drama!  I kind of believe that a love story is no different from a friendship story.  The outline seems equally applicable to both (though dialing down the drama might be good, just so you don't have very upset people wondering why there wasn't any making out).  I'm not terribly interested in love stories that don't spawn from character conflict.  Conflict is all about making a connection.  Without a connection, how can I believe in love?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday, # 102

 This week's topic:

What was the best book you read in October?

I find the 'best book of X' questions to be very challenging, since it's usually out of about 2, and both of them good, but not superawesome.  This month I read 6 books, Ash, by Malinda Lo, which was great, but not best, 4 Cat Who books (Lilian Jackson Braun), which were fun and awesome.  (I realized that I don't read them for the murder mysteries.  I actually don't like murder mysteries.  I read them for the 'revitalization of a northern small town community' stories, which are great!)  And The Book Thief, (Marcus Zusak) which I admired, but didn't love.

So I'm going to go a different way, and talk about a manga.  This month, I read the latest (English release) of Real, by Inoue Takehiko.
I was two pages in before I started to cry.

Real is an incredibly powerful story.  At its heart, it's about basketball, wheelchair and two-legged.  It's also about how the love of something can bring meaning to a life otherwise hopeless.  It is entirely about boys.  It's very real in its male relationships and attitudes, and still, boys can cry and give up, and try and fail to be adults.  And the protagonists are young adults, kids, really, even 17, 18, 19, 20, just trying to figure out how to build a life that's worth living.

Interestingly enough, the most helpless hopeless dude in the book, has full use of all his limbs.  Compared to his friend in the wheelchair, he's far more paralyzed, because he has no place and has no hope for the future.

I was reading the thread on edgy YA yesterday, at AW Watercooler, and it was making me sad and upset, because everyone was going on about, "well, teens experience sex and violence and drugs and shit, so why shouldn't we write about that."  I just feel like it's missing the point.  Real is edgy YA.  But what makes it powerful isn't the grittiness, or the stupid decisions, or the death and loss and inability to communicate, it's about finding meaning and purpose in a cruel world.

I think it's the difference between the sensational and the sublime (Ruskin's use of the term).  The sensational includes all the awful things and goes, "Oh no, they're so awful, isn't this world a terrible place?"  But the sublime doesn't shy away from any of those awful things.  It faces them head on, and says, "Yeah, these are the awful things, and they can show you just how wonderful this world can be, the people in it, their weaknesses and their strengths, beautiful and terrible at the same time.  Awful, in all senses of the word."

Real is sublime.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Editing has taught me about Linguistics

This semester I'm taking a pretty cool semantics class.  It deals with a lot of very interesting complicated subjects that only linguists really worry about, like binding theory, and discourse sensitive referentiality.  To do this we use logic, and logic is basically math.  Now the question that comes up a lot with my phonologist friends who are like, "uh, yeah, we don't really care about that.  We care about sound change." is, "why do you think math is actually useful, in any way, to model meaning?"

What editing has taught me about linguistics is that sentences are incredibly, incredibly perverse.  Sentences really are a lot like mathematical formulas.  A sentences is a complex combination of variables (like pronouns) and functions (like verbs).  And when you hear a sentence, or read one, you fill in all this real-world knowledge, like, where you are, who you're talking about ,what words usually mean, what words possibly mean, how nouns and verbs relate to each other, etc, etc.  And if the sentence is well constructed, all these crazy calculations take you exactly where the author wants you to go.  You get a meaning.

But there is always some variability in this process.  When we learn math we learn things like order of operations and how to combine fractions and the meaning of e and the meaning of ^2.  And these are complicated irritating things that we are all universally taught, hopefully clearly, and have to memorize and consciously apply repeatedly before they become at all easy.  But they're consistent.

When we're processing language, when we're looking at a sentence: a language formula, we use a method of solving it that we learned basically by accident.  We learned it by virtue of growing up as speakers in a speaking environment.  We learned it because our parents spoke to us and expected us to understand.  If our parents had locked us in a closet and never spoken to us, we would not have any ability to solve this formula.  But we do.  However, everyone puts language together differently.  People who speak the same language don't have vastly different grammars.  They have generally overlapping vocabularies, and basic sentence structures, but not everything is going to be the same.  Luckily, we can adapt and learn new things as we meet new people.

The other problem is that written text and spoken speech are not precisely the same.  Speech is learned naturally, has immediate corrections and interactions.  Written texts are supposed to be interpretable by a simple decoding of signs to sounds.  But writing isn't speech.  Writing is a way of modeling speech, it models not only the words, but the context in which the words are said.  It models reality.  And we learn this, also, with practice.  We read, are read to, have parents or teachers who help and explain, until we get used to it.  But speech and writing are not the same.  With speech, you can ask and say, "hey, did you get that," and your interlocutor can say, "uh no, I didn't get that at all," and you can say, "okay, I'll try again."  With writing, you get one chance to get it right.

Now this was a long digression into language acquisition, and reading acquisition, but I did have a point here.  What I'm trying to say, is that language is a way of modeling the world.  It's not as formal as math, due to its method of acquisition and development, but it is just as precise, and that is the relevant thing about sentences.

Think of a sentence as a formula, not some abstract sort of change of state functional programming sort of formula, but as an engineering calculation.  Formulas, you want them to be simple.  You want there to be direct correspondence between your measurements and your numbers (compositionality, lets call it.), you don't want anything extra.  But that doesn't mean you only look at the big important numbers.  You need the little fiddly ones too.  You need friction, and gravity, and air pressure, and wind speed.  You might need weather, and temperature, and rate of decomposition of your materials, depending on what you're trying to build.

Sentences are exactly the same.  Okay, sure, you need the core meaning.  You need the participants.  You need the verb.  Then you need all the fiddly stuff, like the context: tense, voice, aspect, mood.  And you need to know, that every tiny piece of this formula that you're spitting out as if it were easy, as if it were natural, is important.  Every choice you make, by inclusion or omission, will become part of the formula, and will change the result, maybe just slightly.  But slightly in engineering is a bridge that can survive a windy day and a bridge that falls apart.  Slightly in writing, okay, it's not life or death, but it can be life or death to the power of your prose to keep a reader's attention.

So, when you're editing, don't be fooled by the ease at which words spill from your lips or your fingertips.  Humans are amazing at online processing.  With writing, every word counts, and sometimes it counts more than you could ever imagine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say, that this book started slow. I didn't like it at first. I didn't like the writing style. It was too plain. It dragged. Each moment was a moment, like a raindrop, landing with a thud and a tiny splash. There was no river, no flow to the words. And everyone had said how much they loved it. Everyone was so fluent in their adoration. I thought, okay, clearly this was over-hyped. I've read war stories before. I've read about WWII, and WWI, Pat Barker and other things that I've adored in their inescapable beauty and brutality.

This wasn't that kind of book.

It wasn't supposed to be that kind of book.

This is a story about people who are not given the privilege of choice. They are just people. They act, like people do, because of complicated, murky reasoning, and necessity, and obligation, and because they're people. There is so much good and evil swirling around in the world, but in the end, there is none of those things in the characters in this story. There's cruelty and kindness, but none of it clean, none of it alone. And these people, they are powerless and helpless in the face of the words that control their lives.

I never, ever doubted that this book was skillfully written. It was almost too skillful, too artfully real and artfully false. It was carefully, so carefully constructed to be real. I can't say I loved it. But I loved what was inside of it, once the shell cracked and let us into the meat inside. I loved the accordion, and the apples, and Jesse Owens, and the colors of the sky. And really, once I hit the halfway point, this book got moving, and I did not want to stop.

So I get it now. This is a pretty damn good book.

This was the part that hit me where it hurt though:

"'Don't punish yourself,' she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing."

It reminded me of a post I had read recently, one about fear. Writing, this woman said, was about delving deep, so deep, into the things that terrified her most, not spiders and snakes, but real things, like abuse and cruel negligence. This book feels like that. I cannot believe this was an easy book to write. It's precise, upsetting, control is a sign of that. It's a book that stares the truth in the face, and does not flinch. Maybe it doesn't look too hard, but it doesn't look away.

"Words are so heavy."

But there's never been a book before where I frowned at it, and told Death that he should stop making jokes. He's not funny.

So, it's pretty damn good. I believe it now.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #101

This Week's Topic:
What's your numero-uno reason for writing?

I have stories to tell.

That's the real reason.  People have often given me slightly odd looks after reading stories and said things like, "I would love to be in your head for a little while."  But for me, I love being in my head.  I love that feeling when a story idea starts to creep.  And I want to tell the stories, so I can enjoy them fully, as well as other people.

The question can actually be taken in a lot of ways.  What's my reason for sitting down and plying pen to paper or fingers to keyboard at any moment?  What's my reason for sitting down and moving forward on my revisions, trying to beat a novel into publishable shape?  What's my reason for wanting to be a writer, for wanting writing to be a major, important part of my life?

The Abduction of Rebecca
Although one of my reasons is that I have stories, that I love the feeling of linking ideas together, of turning a scene, of coming up with a perfect pinpoint metaphor, writing, as a goal, is also very important to me.  In a way, it has to do with why I never read contemporary YA as a young adult.  The real world is disappointing.  It's full of problems.  And it seems impossible to actually be the sort of hero who can change things, who can change people.  The scope of our ability for independent action is so constrained.  How can I touch people?  How can I reach people?

I'm not someone who is trying to put a message in my books.  I'm too ambivalent about everything to proselytize.  But even from my small experience with writing fanfiction, the responses I would get, the people who would tell me how a new piece I posted made a shitty day better, or thanked me for giving something they could turn to when they were going through a tough time, it was such an amazing feeling.  It was like, "yes, this is something I want to do.  This is something that's worth it."

So yeah, the heady sense of power.  That's good too.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Your Zeitgeist is Inconsistent

Although theoretically I've written four novels, I'm still new to the editing process.  Novel 1... didn't really get edited at all.  Novel 2 had a tight deadline, and so I cut and clipped and tried to edit, but in the end, had no idea what I was doing.  When I finally went back to revise, I got tangled up in the mess and nearly drowned in it.  Novel 3 underwent a huge amount of revision.  And, in the end, I still think that to make it into something coherent, I'm going to have to rewrite about half of it.

So basically, I have not had a huge amount of success with revisions.  This is particularly problematic, because I'm the sort of writer who plunges in and muddles around until I get where I'm going.  Sometimes I get to a lot of other places first.

I spent a long time trying to work out the logic of Novel 3 until I had sorted it out perfectly.  Then, as it was 140,000 words I cut 40,000 words.  Then I looked at it again, and realized, although it was perfectly logical, and not too long, as a story, it didn't make any sense.  This isn't something that's supposed to happen!  It really rocked me.  One of my readers had said "your zeitgeist is inconsistent."  I didn't know what do do with that.  What did that mean?

In the end, I think it meant a lot of things.  But one was that I didn't know what I was writing about.  I had an incredibly complex plot, a herd of characters, two worlds full of settings.  But I didn't have a reason.  I didn't have a goal.  (I also had too much of everything else.)  My main character did what he needed to do, but he didn't change.  There was no metamorphosis.  It was just the crazy train.

Part of my approach to novel 4 was to know what I was writing about.  Princesses!  And gender, and class, and risk, and expectations, and... well, maybe I wasn't all that constrained.  (Pirates!)  But I had themes.  I had a character arc form my MC (stubborn and rejecting to stubborn and accepting).  My plot was going somewhere, without a lot of wandering around in the forest.  I wrote in 1p past tense, keeping the voice intent and upbeat, so the feel wouldn't change wildly.

I was confident it would be awesome, and would be perfect, only needing a tiny bit of rethreading and polishing before it would be ready to send out.  One reader read it.  She loved it.  It was fast and funny.

Then my mom read it.

You know, usually they tell you that if your family tells you its wonderful, and you believe them, you're an idiot.  I don't think my family will ever tell me anything is wonderful.  My dad doesn't read my work, but still tells me that it would improve if 'you didn't have the aliens land on the beach' i.e. if I wrote realism and not fantasy.  This is not helpful, and I ignore him.  My mom, on the other hand, reads carefully, and marks up, until every page is a horror of pencil scribbles.  (She does this to her students too.  She has practice.)

She also let me know when she got bogged down and bored, and when she was annoyed, and when she didn't understand what was going on.  I also have a critique group, who are really good at telling me about flow of information and overall structure issues.  Dealing with all of these different types of criticisms is difficult. I like to formalize everything, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Basically, I think it breaks down into three levels.  Sentence level (or, the Beautiful Language level), Scene structure (is there conflict, is there momentum, does this make sense), Book level (how do your scenes flow?  Are we arcing in the right place?

There are also three aspects of these levels.  Plot threads (Where are they?  How do they build and intertwine?)  Characters - (is character x unconscious for too long?  Have we lost track of x?  Is y's dialogue distinctive enough?)  Background (too much, too little?  In order?  enough depth?).

Trying to pay attention to this entire matrix of complexities is no simple job.

More adventures in editing later on.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #100

What has your writing road trip looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Having been known to love an extended metaphor far too much, I find the idea of the writing road trip really compelling.  My writing journey started out high up in the mountains on a bumpy dirt road, Palo Colorado Rd, perhaps, where I could look out and see the ocean, but the twists and turns of the canyon below were hidden from view.  And back then, I wasn't even looking for the road.  I wrote because I liked it.  Professionalism, publication, revision, they had nothing to do with me.  They were on the shore, I had my head in the clouds.

But in college that road took a turn down the mountain and I plunged downwards, bumping around, going in circles, picking up speed, nearly driving over cliffs multiple times.  And then I hit the bottom, and thought okay, I'm good.  I can really do this.

That was only the entrance into the pitch dark canyon of brutal reality.

But finally I can spy the light shining down on Highway 1 as it twists along the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  And though it may be a long drive and an uphill climb, beating a manuscript into actual publishable shape, I've got the top down, and the wind is in my hair, and I'm happy driving.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #99

 This week's topic:

What supporting character from a YA book would you most like to see star in their own novel?

I'm going to go all out with this one.  Being a fanficcer at heart, I know that at least if there is a character I thought was short changed and would have loved to know more about, I would go and hunt down the fic for them.  But sometimes even that recourse would fail.

Sometimes it didn't: 

Janine Kishi was super awesome.  She was smart, and interesting, and tried to be helpful (Apostrophes are important!).  I always wanted to know more about her, what she was doing and what was going on in her life that her self-absorbed little sister just ignored.

Shockingly enough, I wasn't the only one.  But this other person thought: you know what would be even better, if Janine was a mutant and went to Xavier's Academy. (See fic here)

So that's what I'd like to see, Janine's Super-Smart Mutant Adventures.  Or even if she wasn't a mutant, she clearly needs a bigger scope than Connecticut.  I could see her as a James Bond sort of character, saving the world from evil, with Science!
Janet Chant is another character I wanted more of.  Stolen from her own world into a world with magic by her evil double, choosing to give up her family to a girl who needed it more... These are interesting things!  And I want to know what happens next!  

 (Saiorse Ronan as Janet/Gwendolyn)
You're not supposed to be able to stay in a different world for too long.  When she grows up will she have to go back?  What will she do with her life?  Is she ever going to fall in love? 
 I don't suppose we'll ever know.

Edited to Add: Janet Chant is from the book Charmed Life, by Diana Wynne Jones.  It's... possibly my favorite book, YA or not.)