Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I HEART YA #7: Dishing Up Male Protagonists

Suze Reese

Unlike Suze Reese, I actually felt like this wasn't all that hard.  But then, if you include Harry Potter, it means you're not really being that strict about what's YA.  But if we're saying YA-age male protagonists, Christopher Chant and Miles Vorkosigan are my (current) top 2!

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Who doesn't love Christopher Chant and his cocky certainty that he is right about everything, and even when he realizes that he's wrong, he's still right.

And Miles!  Midgety and with cracking bones, he occasionally has bouts of self-doubt, but not often.  He knows he's a genius.  And when he's in a clinch, he's the smartest dude ever!

So basically, I have the opposite preferences about my male protags.  I don't want humble, I want cocky.  I want super smart.  I want confidence.

Basically, I want the same thing in my male protagonists as in my female ones.  I want people who know who they are, who are light on the angst, and as smart as hell.

You know, the same sort of things I like in my friends.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

RTW #118 Celebrate Black History Month!

This Week's Topic:

February is Black History Month and it's also the month of Valentine's Day. So let's show some writerly love by answering the following question: Who is your favorite African American author or fictional character?

I'm not going to try to be all indie or original here, I can't be, because my answer has a memory attached, one of those powerful ones, when a book just comes up and smacks you in the face and all you want to do is hang on.

I was pretty much just a kid, but I had heard about The Color Purple, it was already well known when I was born, so that's not a surprise.  But I picked it up, expecting it to be much like all those other important books that aren't actually very interesting, and it grabbed me by the throat and never let me go.

Celie felt like a real person, not just a character, and a real person who was more than half made up of me.  Everything that happened to her was so brutal, and yet it was couched in language that let it slip past your shock and disgust and hit right into your heart.  And Shug Avery, mmm, let's just say I was there every step of the way.  For someone who's life and upbringing could hardly be more unlike my own, Celie was just so much like me.  I understood her, not from some great act of understanding on my part, but because I couldn't not understand someone who I had been there with, in the writing, drawing me in, and opening up those moments of hard bitter and sometimes delicious experiences that I could only live through vicariously.

So, as a double dose, fave character Celie, fave author Alice Walker.  Because though I loved the character, it was because the book was so good.  The writing, now that was unforgettable.

And I am so trolling everyone else's blogs for recs!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I HEART YA #6: Female Protagonists, Tough or Over Easy?

Suze Reese
When I'm looking for a great female character, I'm not looking for the Platonic Ideal of "The Female Heroine."  I don't want to take someone's character and see how close she gets to being like the ideal, because there is no ideal.  I don't want spunky, tough-as-nails, strong-and-sexy, cute-and-perky.  I don't want a stereotype.  I want a CHARACTER.

One of my all time favorite female characters is Cimorene, from the Dealing with Dragons books.  Cimorene isn't one of those Supergirls who can do anything: fight like a pro, spell like a sorcerer, read Latin like a scholar.  She's a princess who's not all that interested in princessy things.  She wants to learn.  So she does.  And maybe she's not a great swordswoman, nor a powerful magician, or a gourmet chef, but she is intrepid, and she can make a vat of cherries jubilee.

I think Cimorene's great because she's smart and funny and interested in interesting things.  And she's not super human either, she just makes the most of what she has, and is always willing to learn something new.  Admirable as well as awesome.  How can you beat that?

There are a hundred female characters I adore: Susan Sto Helit, Cordelia Naismith, Harriet Vane, Flora Poste, Claudine, Pippi Longstocking, Sophie Hatter, and many who never got their star turn.  But to bring it back to YA:

Mosca Mye.

If you haven't read Fly-By-Night, here's a short rundown of the premise (cribbed from a Goodreads Review):

"Mosca Mye, orphaned, black-eyed and stubborn and addicted to the written word, burns down her uncle’s mill (accidentally,) releases a con man from the stocks (on purpose,) and flees town with only her homicidal and loyal goose Saracen as a companion. And thus begins Mosca’s adventure in a city that is a political hotbed of unrest, where people are rarely what they seem and loyalties may change at the drop of a hat. Mosca only wants to find her place and follow her love of the written word, but she will soon find herself a pawn in a political intrigue that has many sides. Only her fierce ingenuity (and Saracen’s loyalty) will be able to help her make it out alive."

Mosca is tiny, and like the creature she was named after, always watching out for a swat.  Her greatest strengths are her wit and her ability to read, a highly uncommon ability in the Fractured Realm, and she is endlessly good at wriggling out of a pinch.

Oddly, if I were to say what I all my favorite female characters have in common, (to create a Platonic Ideal, *gag*)  it would be that they all feel real.  They aren't magically good, or smart, or competent.  They are good and smart and competent because they work hard at it.  They also all know exactly who they are.  Although the bildungsroman is lovely and popular, I'm not all that interested in the story of 'finding out who you are,' because it's kind of a futile search.  I like girls who are confident in who they are, and would rather shake the whole world than change to better fit another's opinion.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

That's YAmore & Hot in Here Blogfests

Is it Getting Hot in Here?
So, I tend to forget about Valentines Day, just generally, unless something hilarious happens (like last year, with my roommate, and her 'not-boyfriend' making a superfancy dinner with flowers and chocolate covered strawberries, and her calling me out for referring to him as her boyfriend, when, in the morning, he was her boyfriend.  So silly.)  But in my morning blogtrolls what did I discover but not one, but two blogfest/hops where you post a short romantic/kissing scene.  Having been depressed about not writing, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to type up one such scene that has been sitting in my notebook for a few weeks.  So I did!

That's YAmore!

I really enjoyed reading the other scenes!  Some were just cute, some very romantic, some clearly out of awesome Sci-fi or dystopians.

So here's mine!  (Maybe a tad long)
From my Contemporary Fantasy YA, working title: Catarin.

It's sort of in the middle of everything, too much to explain, so I hope it stands up okay on its own.

Shivering was what woke me, shivering so hard that I felt my chattering teeth would crack, splinter my jaw, send shockwaves through my bones. 
“Easy, easy.”  My skin burned as something warm touched my hand.  I couldn’t see who it was, my eyelids frozen shut, a rime of ice interleaved with my lashes.  I could feel fur surrounding me and warm breath against my face.  The ice melted, cool water, like tears, running down my cheeks.  I blinked, everything a blur, and then I could see Saisea, leaning over me, cupping my frozen hands in hers. 
“Don’t you ever do that again,” she hissed.  “Don’t you dare leave like that.” 
I stared at her, feeling nothing.  Her eyes flashed like an animal’s in the torchlight, but they were still the color of mottled, dirty ice.  “Why do you care about what happens to meat?”  
The words came out poorly, my lips and tongue too frozen to flex into the correct contortions, but she understood me.  I could tell by the flinch, the ugly twist to her mouth that bared her too sharp teeth. 
“I saved your life!” 
“For what ends?”  I struggled to sit, but couldn’t.  I wanted to grab her, shake her, shake her hard enough to force out the truth instead of just lie after lie.  “What do you want of me next?" 
I was shivering again, shuddering.  My eyes stung with hot tears.  She stilled, and then sank, kneeling on the heap of furs, leaning close, threading her fingers through my hair, tucking the stray strands behind my ear.  “Just get warm,” she whispered.  “You can curse at me all you want then.” 
The heat of her body had started to crack the numbness of my own, leaving behind nothing but a painful ache.  Her lips quirked, and she moved even closer, eyes lidded, her breath hot and humid against my neck.  “There’s one way to get your blood flowing quickly.” 
“No,” I hissed. 
Saisea twitched open the lowest button on my shirt, tracing a fingertip over the small patch of skin she bared.  “You need heat, body heat, and I can share.” 
She could share, could she?  My hands were still dead blocks of ice, and as she leaned over me, making short work of the rest of my buttons, I slid them up under her shirt, pressing them against her hot back. 
“Gah!”  She arched into me, struggling to get away from the sudden cold, but I clung tightly, her skin burning my hands.  She hissed in a tight breath of air, regaining control.  She lay where she had fallen on top of me, the weight of her torso grounding me, her legs, in tight leather breeches, interwoven with mine.  She laughed quietly.  “Bitch,” she murmured. 
As if I could ever compete with her for that title. 
Then she kissed me, her mouth like a furnace, breathing heat and life in through my lungs.  She cupped my face, moving against me as she shifted to get a better angle, as if she wanted to devour me from the inside out.  
Keeping my arms wound tight around her back, I closed my eyes, and I let her.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Blog Award Post

There are so many wonderful and kind and generous people blogging and offering congratulations that I seem to have been overwhelmed with blog awards in the last, what is it, two, three months that I've been writing these posts.  I have been avoiding dealing with them, since I didn't feel like I had enough time to give them the effort they deserve.  But I think they've reached critical mass.  And as I'm supposed to be grading homeworks, any excuse is a good excuse, so here are the awards.

(2 of these)

Thanks to the super cool and interesting Donelle Lacy for
The Kreativ Blogger Award
The Rules:
1. link back to the one who gave you this award
2. share 10 random facts about yourself
3. pass the award on to 6 other people

And The Liebster Blog Award (for blogs that deserve more attention, which is super sweet.)
The Rules:
1. Post this award on your blog.
2. Thank and link to the person who gave it to you.
3. Pass it on to five bloggers who have less than 200 followers.
4. Comment on those five people's blogs to share the good news.

And thanks to the infinitely friendly and charming Susan Francino and Tyler-Rose Counts from The Feather and the Rose for The One Lovely Blog Award.
(Which, OMG, needs to be passed on to 15 people.)
And for The Liebster Blog Award too!
(This one had an extra rule.)
5. Share 5 things about yourself.

Basically, I am feeling the love.  It's really super, though undeserved.

So, sharing things about myself... uh...

1. I had a couple questions about my current WIP, so I'll give a hint or two.  It's about Princesses, and a good 3/4 of the princesses in the story are based off of some of the awesome people on my old Rugby team.  :D  (Totally kick-ass princesses.)

2. I can be a huge wimp when it comes to books (or movies, or anything actually).  Sometimes I'll be reading and I'll start to get that panicked feeling that something awful is going to happen.  My heart will start pounding, and I'll be blazing through the pages, not even breathing.  And then I'll peek at the end, just flip to the last page and scan for the character's name, just making sure they're not dead or anything.  (I peeked at one this morning.  No guarantee that the character wasn't dead, but she was talking at least, so I might be able to hang in there.)  The first time I ever did this was in 4th grade with Bridge to Terabithia.  It... didn't work out all that well, as you can imagine.  I don't think I've ever quite recovered from that.

3.  It's more important to me that people enjoy reading my writing than that they thought it was 'artistic' or 'literary.'  I love writing action, and 90% of the fanfiction I wrote was romantic, but I don't think I could ever write series mysteries or thrillers or romance novels, because, though I want to entertain, I don't have anything to say in those genres.  If I'm going to be talking for 100,000 words, I had better have something to say.  (I think I said everything I have to say about romance in my fic.  That well has run dry.)

4. I moved 7 times while growing up and spent my formative years in graduate student housing.  After studying linguistics I realized that this meant I have no identifiable accent and rampantly promiscuous grammaticality judgements.  I also hate moving.

5. I don't consider myself a raging anglophile, but my favorite thing to do while I'm cooking or cleaning or painting is listen to Dramas or the News Quiz on BBC Radio4Extra.

6. My Crit Groups is full of amazing funny people, and after ripping each other's work to shreds we go out for coffee, and talk talk talk.  I especially like hanging with the two Mystery writers, but they read all the new gritty mysteries and thrillers, and I've really only read the old ones, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle.  But I'm the resident expert on the Cat Who mysteries (RIP Lilian Jackson Braun), because neither of them will touch a cozy with a cat on the cover with a ten-foot pole.

7. Right now, I should be grading or doing propositional logic.  I'd rather be writing, but I don't have the mental space to get anything done.

8. Once someone commented on one of my stories, telling me that I had to be male because I wrote so much fighting and such odd romance.  Although it involves a couple of (unfortunate) stereotypes, I was always really proud of this, because the commenter was wrong, and it meant that I was doing things differently.  Doing things differently has always been a mark of pride with me.

9. Although my main WIP is about Princesses, I can't stop starting stories.  I'm working on a crazy Sci-Fi, a Blacksmith and Dragon tale, a gothic-fantasy YA, and just came up with an idea for a Time Travel MG.  If only I had any time to work on them!

10. Grading sux.

Instead of passing on these awards to, uh, 21 different people, which, though admirable, would kill me,  I'm going to combine the awards into one new award!

1. As Dragons and Tea are my favorite things, award this award to your favorite bloggers!
2. Choose a reasonable amount.  Around 5.
3. If you receive this award, share 5 things about yourself.
4. Link back to the giver of the award.
5. No tagbacks! (Since it's new, I can violate this rule!)

Here are my 5. Note that I suck at reading blogs, so this is a bit of a flail.

Donelle Lacy from a Little Dversion - tagback!
The Feather and the Rose - tagback!
Suze Reese - running an awesome Blog Carnival - go join in!
Crystal - neat posts, go check them out!
Patricia C. Wrede - Her blog is my favorite.  She's got great advice, and it really helped me right when I was settling down to really write seriously for publication.  Read all the back posts!  Seriously!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday # 116: Jinx--that was MY idea!

This Week's Topic:

What SNI were you psyched to work on, but discovered it was too close to something already done?

So, I'm going to go about this the exact opposite way of what was intended.  I have a strong faith in the New Historicism (as Elodie talked about in her response :D) and honestly, I don't think I have the same view on things as a lot of other YA writers do (Re: romance mainly) (And also not the same political views if the horrible primaries news is representatives of Americans in any way.  Please, please let it not be.).  So if you gave five YA writers a plot, a set of characters, and a setting and said "go," you'd still end up with 5 different books.

In fact, while I was trolling the absolute write forums, looking to share my awesome critiquing skills, I came upon one query letter that sparked something in me.  It was about a girl, who's mother had just been left by her father and was responding to it by going out on the town and pressuring the girl to get a boyfriend.  The girl gives in to the pressure.  The boyfriend turns out to be abusive.  And then there was a subplot about a band or something that I didn't exactly understand.

Basically, it sounded like a book I probably wouldn't want to read.  It didn't even have much to do with the query. It was just not my type of book.

But that first moment, the one where the girl has to deal with a mom who suddenly doesn't want to be a mom but wants to be who she was before she got married, that stuck with me.  I liked it.  Then I thought, hmm, let's give the girl a little more agency.  Say, instead of giving in to the pressure, she tries to get her mom to stop harassing her about boys by convincing the new wild-girl to be her fake girlfriend.

Then, I realized, that I really didn't have a plot (adding spies was not helpful), and also that I hate YA Contemporary, and that my characters were unrepentantly boring, and I gave it up.  But although I dislike the way it started to come out, that premise is still intriguing and sparkly, and if I could just give it a spin so it gets going the way I want it to, it could be awesome.

But even though I blatantly thieved it from someone else's hardearned WIP, if I ever finished it, and they got their hands on it, I really doubt they would even recognize the idea.  Execution is everything.  And, well, putting in more lesbians is always a way of making sure your idea really doesn't look like most of the other ones out there.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I HEART YA #4: Spotlight on 2011 Debut Authors

After much perusal of the possibilities, I have picked a 2011 debut that I'm kicking myself for not having picked up.  (Sure, I'm still planning on reading the Night Circus, but everyone's reading that.)

It is:
The Pearl Wars (Skyship Academy #1)

A devastated Earth's last hope is found in Pearls: small, mysterious orbs that fall from space and are capable of supplying enough energy to power entire cities. Battling to control the Pearls are the Skyship dwellers—political dissidents who live in massive ships in the Earth's stratosphere—and the corrupt Surface government.  

Jesse Fisher, a Skyship slacker, and Cassius Stevenson, a young Surface operative, cross paths when they both venture into forbidden territory in pursuit of Pearls. Their chance encounter triggers an unexpected reaction, endowing each boy with remarkable—and dangerous—abilities that their respective governments would stop at nothing to possess.  

Enemies thrust together with a common goal, Jesse and Cassius make their way to the ruins of Seattle to uncover the truth about their new powers, the past they didn't know they shared, and a shocking secret about the Pearls.
Doesn't that sound cool?  And it's about two boys who are enemies becoming not exactly friends!  And I am so into sci-fi right now!

Must go and find this book.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

RTW #115 Best Book of January

The Demon in the HouseA Posse of PrincessesEthan of Athos (Vorkosigan Saga, #6)
Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best FriendLeviathan (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)
Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic, #2)

Cetaganda (Vorkosigan Saga, #5)
Doomsday Book

Lordy, lordy, do I love break.  I read this pile of books from Jan 1 to Jan 22, and on the 23rd, classes began again, and I haven't read a book since.

(I also reread Ella Enchanted during that time, for research purposes.)

But how can I choose between them?
I found Code Talkers to be interesting and historically satisfying, but it wasn't a great book.  It was just a great way to tell a true story of a whole group of people that needed to be told.  It was totally worthwhile, but not the best book I read in January.

I enjoyed Demon in the House, because it was silly, and crazy, and got me back into the world of High Rising, which I missed.  But I wanted to kill Tony by the end, or at least box his ears thoroughly.  And Laura was a bit more of a wet blanket than usual, so no, though enjoyable, not the best.

Posse of Princesses was also 'research.'  I did enjoy it very much.  The characters were a mix of identifiable for kids and identifiable for adults, which allows a few in-jokes that might have been jarring when I was younger.  I liked that it used solid Shakespearian-style tropes to tell the story, and that the girls got to save the day properly, according to the rules of the world, and not breaking them.
But all in all, it didn't leave me with that !zing of realization and knowledge that I require of a best book.  (It did not !zing as much as The Paper-Bag Princess, (also research) which was hilarious and brilliant, if not entirely sensical.)

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend was lovely.  It made me cry.  I reviewed it, talking about how the first time I was like 'oh yeah, this is real High School, not TV High School.'  I thought it was great.  But... it could have been better.  The writing was solid, but it wasn't always entirely clear.  It could have been sharpened for more emotional depth.  But it was great.  :D

Ethan of Athos was good, but it definitely felt like it had been published in 1986.  It felt like it could have been cutting edge at one point, though already in a campy sort of way.  If we assume that an all-female culture will turn into warlike amazons, it makes sense that an all-male culture will turn into a group of communes that prize fatherhood above all else.  I liked it, but the end, which didn't really resolve the ambiguous morality of some of the characters, left me feeling a little unsettled.  Telepathy really is a bit unnerving, when you get down to its real-world implications, and though a closed race of telepaths could function, their ability to be abused by non-telepaths or abuse non-telepaths is always there.  I would have liked a little more resolution in that area. 

Leviathan, I enjoyed, but like a lot of books these days, the cut off ending, making it clear that it is only the 1st part of 3 without the satisfaction of a real book, was frustrating.  I can't really say what I think of it until I read the other two, as this seems to be only a teaser.

The top three of the books I read this month have to be Across the Great Barrier, Cetaganda, and The Doomsday Book.

Across the Great Barrier was unlike any of the other books I read.  You wouldn't think so, what's more pedestrian than MG fantasy?  But Patricia Wrede isn't afraid to break all the rules.  She breaks the rules of History, and she breaks the rules of narrative.  It's the middle book in a series, and it feels like there's something building, but it also feels like a real journal of a real person, who's a little bit special, but not terribly special, who doesn't particularly want to change the world, and is willing to face problems as they come, not look for the overarching thread of them all.  I really enjoyed it, but she's built up so much to take on in the last book, that I can't judge until I see if she pulls it off.

Cetaganda was brilliant.  If I had to say my favorite book of January, it would be this one.  It was a perfectly plotted and paced mystery, that relied upon the reader gaining an understanding of an alien culture (clearly based on Heian era Japan).  It was the perfect blend of Mystery and Sci-Fi, and Miles Vorkosigan is the best hero ever.

The Doomsday Book is a frigging TOME, 600 pages, two interlocking narratives, and a heartrending story of life, death, reality and hope.  It's a time travel story set in a future that's more like the past and set in a past more real than your own reality.  I admired and adored it.  It made me miserable and gave me hope.  It contained power and meaning, and characters that I loved, even after they had been lost.  So yeah, this was the best book I read in January.  Others were good, but few had the guts to make them worth comparing.