Saturday, June 25, 2011

I Want One

I really want one of these laptop covers that looks like an old book. I think this is a bloody genious idea.

I only have two small complaints. One is that the title of these books is very cleverly the name of the company that makes them, which is Book Book - and if you don't know who the manufacturer is, it kind of leaves you with the impression that whoever designed them doesn't speak English as their first language. My second complaint, which is the bigger one, is that they cost $70-$90, which is a long way outside of my budget.

I'm thinking I'll make my own, if I can work out how; I think in the end I'd like it a lot better if it was one of a kind.

Anyway, just thought I'd share.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I was reading Terrible Minds when I came across a link to this article in the Wall Street Journal, which made my blood a little boily.

For one thing, I think the author is getting confused about what a young adult is; she indiscriminately switch between the terms adolescents and children, as if authors of YA fiction are out there giving their books away to five year olds.

I'm not saying everything that's on the market labeled YA is good. Hell, a lot of it is awful, poorly-written crap that I wouldn't want to line a hamster cage with, for fear the hamster might read it and lose IQ points - but that usually has more to do with poor grammar and syntax and overused story lines than it does with the content being too dark or explicit.

One of the things that caught my eye is the assertion that 40 years ago, young adult fiction didn't exist. Heinlein's Red Planet came out in 1949, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel in 1958. Those are only two examples from one author - but I think Mrs. Gurdon is right in the sense that, 40+ years ago, young adults didn't have a great deal of special fiction - because they were considered mature enough to deal with the same ideas and themes as old adults.

What I find really funny is that, right after the bit that draws attention to the past (I'm honestly not sure if it is meant to point out the good old days, when controversial YA fiction wasn't available, or highlight a misguided past when young adults didn't have their own genre), there's a little sidebar thing with Books we can Recommend for Young Adult Readers - that, I get. If you're going to write something tearing down what you seem to be claiming is the vast majority of YA fiction, it only makes sense to point out where the wholesome stuff can be found. The funny bit is that the sidebar goes on to list Books for Young Men and Books for Young Women. I'm sorry, I thought we were done with the 40 years ago thing... is that still going on? And then, of course, if you read the descriptions of the books they're suggesting, the first one is described as gruelling and is set in a post-apocalyptic world, the next one is about WWII - I'm thinking neither of those are on the light and fluffy side.

My favourite part of the article (and by favourite, I mean the part that brought me the most joy through its sheer ridiculousness) is the very end :

... it may be that the book industry's ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young... The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives.

to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives. Yeah. Publishers and their agents are out in the world right now, stopping kids on the streets and saying, "This is about freedom of expression. And you'd better read this, because if you don't, you're condoning censorship. In fact, anyone who doesn't read dark, gritty fiction is a Nazi. Read this book, or I'll beat you to death with it."

Alas, literary culture is not sympathetic to adults who object either to the words or story lines in young-adult books.
Here's a thought for parents who are anal about what their teenagers read/parents of actual children who read YA stuff: DO SOME RESEARCH. It is your job to take care of this stuff. If you have a kid who is allergic to peanuts, you don't demand that stores stop selling them, you teach your kid to avoid them. If you, for whatever reason, believe that certain writing is going to be somehow harmful to your offspring, you need to take care of that from your end.

I know, I know, I'm ranting. I just hate the idea of the next generation being wrapped in any more bubble wrap than it already has been.

I think I'll end it there. If I think of anything else, I'll add it - and I may go back and edit this when I'm a little calmer, but for right now, here it is, 100% censorship free.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

When It All Comes Together

Athena, I was going to comment on your post, but Google hates me. So instead, I'm just going to mention here that I blame reality TV. Especially American Idol and its variants.

But that's not all that I want to talk about here. No, I'm here to brag a little bit and also, hopefully, share a little bit of infectious glee and get some stories. What I'm talking about is that glorious, shining moment when you first see the shape of your story.

Hopefully it's happened to all of us - a sudden revelation that explains to us how characters or objects are important, how the middle's going to hold up or how the ending is going to play out, what a certain character's motivations are, or just what the theme is (which can help you make decisions about everything else). Whatever it is, it's that corner piece in the puzzle that makes all the others seem to just slot into place with ease. After this realisation, your plot begins to make sense, and your story becomes a coherent whole. You finally know where you're taking it, or rather where it's taking you, and now you have a road map. And all that's left to do is write it.

Or maybe that's just me. Since I'm a bit of a pantser, I tend to start at the beginning with a clear idea of how it should end - but no idea of why the ending seems to work so well or is so important - and a few major events for the middle. Then I write until I get stuck. Then I go looking for inspiration and waste hours and hours and hours on the internets. I'm getting better, though - I used to waste years on the internets when I got stuck. My daily writing quota is helping.

When I get really, truly stuck, though, when my enthusiasm for a project is scraping mud off of the bottom of the ocean and I want to give all of my characters a ding alongside the ear, when I'm seriously considering moving on to the next project but for all the time and effort I've invested in the current one, that's when I go out and mow the lawn. Or shovel snow. Or sweep and mop all of the floors. Something mindless and menial, that will occupy my body and leave my mind free to wander, to connect the dots on its own without me sticking more information into it or tweaking everything it offers up. Usually, I find I know what I'm doing from the very start on projects with any amount of staying power. I just usually don't tell myself.

This happened to me recently. My apocalyptic urban epic fantasy with the elves and stuff has had two major revisions recently, and I was quite pleased with where it was going, until just a little while ago. Then I got mired in apathy and couldn't quite seem to dislodge myself. Finally, I gave up and read a quite excellent book on plot instead. (It was "Plot", by Ansen Dibell, if anyone's wondering, and while it would likely have confused someone just starting out, I think I knew what she was talking about when she wandered off into the vaguely mystical aspects of writing.) The book was very inspiring, actually, and helped me realise that I was trying to write it from the viewpoint of the wrong character.

But it wasn't Ansen Dibell (and yes, that's a pen name) who made the whole thing cohere for me. No, that was going out to mow the lawn and giving my subconscious time to throw up that brilliant flash of light that made the whole thing make sense. I realised that a revelation that I thought was going to be quite important and part of the endgame was actually necessary for the middle, and not as important as I thought it was. Suddenly, the whole story made a lot more sense, and I realised what I was really trying to say.

So what I'm wondering is, do you guys get those flashes of light too? Or do you actually outline? If so, how do you figure out what's going to happen in your middle, and how do you decide what's going to be important beforehand? Does the story ever change shape while you're writing it? What is your favourite part of the writing process? Share, please!