A BLOG FOR READERS AND AUTHORS OF MTV BOOKS
Monday, May 31, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
In a similar way, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (not just ANY crappy old Star Wars movie, mind you, but specifically the first two that came out) are two of my favorite movies ever, but I don't consider myself a fan of science fiction. I love them because of the sexual chemistry between Han and Leia, and because George Lucas researched how to write a captivating story before he wrote these stories, and it worked.
What interests me in a story is the plotline itself, attention to writing, chemistry between the characters, a sense of humor PLEASE, and a happy ending THANK YOU. If you want to do that with vampires, that is okay with me. But I would never, EVER pick up a book BECAUSE it had a vampire in it, and I find that way of thinking very foreign.
So I guess it makes sense that my adult paranormal manuscript making the rounds in the publishing industry right now is romantic and funny. Whether it would pass muster with die-hard paranormal fans, I don't know. And maybe it won't find a publisher because of that.
I'm finding the current paranormal craze difficult to navigate. It is hard to go into a bookstore to sign your new release and have the bookseller tell you you're not on the featured table simply because your book doesn't have vampires in it.
But this too shall pass. In the 1990s when I was first trying to get a book published, Goosebumps were the craze, and the very limited YA sections of bookstores contained almost nothing else. (Today we probably wouldn't even consider Goosebumps YA--they would be Middle Grade.) I kept writing YA romance, and finally in 2005, the market and I met.
We will meet again.
Monday, May 24, 2010
For this discussion I’m going to lump fantasy and paranormal into one category, mainly because I don’t think there’s a clear boundary between them. And some of what we refer to as paranormal crosses the line into science fiction, too.
Unlike many of my MTV sisters who’ve weighed in, I’ve read quite a bit of paranormal fiction. Some of my reading came about because I taught middle school. I’d hear my students talking about books they loved, and I had to know what the buzz was about. I read the first Harry Potter because my sixth graders said I “had to,” but I read the rest of the series because I was hooked. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are believable teens facing real teen problems. They struggle with their classes, relationships, and bullies. They just have the added distractions of fighting evil forces and trying to save the world.
The way I see it, good writing is good writing. If the characters are well drawn and the plot pulls me in and holds my interest, I’m a happy camper. Barbara struck a chord with me when she mentioned the series Angel. I am a huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, Angel, and more recently Supernatural and Reaper. These TV shows are rife with vampires and demons, but what I enjoy is the juxtaposition of horror and humor. The characters—good and evil--are cracking wise even when they’re fighting for their lives. The Harry Potter books are filled with humor, too, with talking portraits, a nearly headless ghost, and a willow tree that knocks around anyone who gets too close.
I read and enjoyed Twilight, but not enough to continue the series. I agree with Jenny on this--Bella was too whiny, and it seemed as if she swooned on every other page. And I thought swooning h been banned for at least 100 years. Besides, as a matter of principle, I never get involved with a man who is prettier than I am. Bella might want to give that some thought, too.
Before I hop on my metaphysical broom and take off, I have to mention my absolute favorite teen fantasy/paranormal/science fiction of all time—Lois Lowery’s The Giver. This is a book with compelling characters, a fascinating plot, and an ending that had readers arguing and speculating for years. As I said before: good writing is good writing.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Oh, this is a complex, even loaded, question for me. I'm really, really picky about paranormal. It (along with sci-fi and fantasy) has never been my favorite flavor of reading. I don't like made up names and critters that I have to stop and think about while I'm reading because I like a thread of reality to weave throughout what I'm reading to serve as a touchstone.
But here's the irony: I really love a lot of the paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy that you find in television and film. I guess it's because I'm so highly visual, I relate better to it when I can see it. But again, it's somewhat loaded because I don't like the fanged/furry/scary just for the sake of having a Critter of the Week—my favorite kind of paranormal has psychological underpinnings that can then be related back to the "real" world.
Take the television show Angel for example: it wasn't just a show about a vampire. It was a vampire cursed by Gypsies with a soul. Talk about implications. Having to fight the baser nature of the beast within. And because Joss Whedon is a mean SOB this way, he then added the twist that if Angel ever consummated a relationship with his soulmate, said soul went bye-bye and he reverted back to being Angelus, badass vampire extraordinaire. (Who was more fun than earnest, brooding Angel, but that's another post altogether...) The fun of Angel wasn't in the critter of the week, but rather in how he navigated this return to the land of the living after nearly a century of keeping himself isolated from people.
More recently, I was hooked on the now-cancelled Flash Forward. (Really ABC? You thought lizard-people were more interesting and worth bringing back for a second season? Feh.) I mean, think about that concept: a mysterious group engineers a global blackout whereupon people flash forward to their future selves and what they see (or don't) drives the plot forward and triggers character development. This is the type of show that's far more in keeping with what I love about the genre—the meaty psychological stuff that really messes with the characters because I am all about the character torture.
Jericho, Miracles, Farscape, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes—all shows I love where humanity and character development are at the core. It's no mistake that my favorite overall season of the revamped Doctor Who was 4, with Donna as the Companion—she humanized The Doctor in ways we'd not seen to that point.
I'm also a fan of a lot of anime that has paranormal elements—Witch Hunter Robin is my favorite of these. It has phenomenal character development and tremendous storytelling that starts out feeling like it's episodic in nature, but then, about halfway through the series, you realize it's developed into this huge arc and things that felt like little throwaway lines and gestures actually have deep-seated implications. That's my kind of storytelling. Simple concept that evolves into something bigger, but in such a gorgeous, organic manner, you don't even realize it until you're completely sucked in and strapped down for the entirety of the ride.
However, coming back to books, it just seems that in the current flood of paranormal, very little of it engages me as a reader on those fundamental psychological and emotional levels. It, unfortunately, feels kind of superficial and it leaves me feeling... like I want more.
As a writer, you can imagine that I would find the idea of taking on a paranormal as monumentally intimidating. If I can't find what I want in what's already out there, what makes me think I could come up with something that would satisfy my lofty standards as a reader? That doesn't depend on a creature of the week or a fancy, made up vocabulary?
But... isn't that why a lot of us started writing? Because we wanted to create the kinds of stories we want to read?
And on a far, far more shallow level—another reason I've never taken on writing paranormal is because in today's market, paranormal is almost synonymous with series and the thought of taking on a series makes me want to curl up in a corner, sucking my thumb. I know myself as a writer—the idea of being roped into a series for however long it would go on makes my rebellious soul stamp its feet and shake its wee fists at the heavens. Not to mention, the world building—even if you set a story within the "real" world, you have to establish rules for why things are the way they are in your version of it and... and...
Well, you get where I'm going, right?
But the Girls in the Basement (you know, the ones who sit in the background and chatter and give you more ideas than you know what to do with?) they have a twisted sense of humor where I'm concerned. They don't care that the idea of a paranormal fills me with dread.
They gave me one anyway. More Urban Fantasy than anything else and it's really, really cool. But still—
*insert heartfelt whine here*
It's slow going, because I feel like I'm learning how to write all over again, but the Girls, they won't shut up until I at least give it a try.
Wish me luck.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Like, Jenny I am a big fan of realistic fiction and that is what I've mostly gravitated to my whole life. I will admit that I've never read any book from the Twilight series or Harry Potter. There are just so many books on my reading list and those were not on my top. I certainly might read and (love) them someday but for now I have plenty of other books on my nightstand that I'm dying to dig into.
I will say that this past year I have read three paranormal books and really LOVED them all. First was Jeri Smith-Ready's Wicked Game, Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth and Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver. They were all so well written and it's the characters that really drew me in.
Also, the manuscript, Graveyard Shift, that I just completed is what I call a reality-bending book. It is set in the real world but has one element that deals with spirits. I had so much fun writing this book because I loved being able to stay in the real world and just bend the rules slightly.
I'm a strong believer in write what you love and love what you write! There are certainly plenty of books out there for all different interests. So happy reading!
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
But ENDLESS SUMMER is a different story. It will be published by Simon Pulse in eleven days (!!!) and I did not get advance copies, so I will not be able to send books to bloggers until it’s already in stores.
A few months ago I was feeling a lot more confidence in ENDLESS SUMMER than FORGET YOU. ENDLESS SUMMER is the sequel to THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, which came out in 2007. I wrote the sequel because readers asked me to. It’s the only sequel I’ve written, mainly because in general I don’t like sequels. Too often it seems the author poured everything she had into the first book. By the second book, the characters have nothing left to achieve. So I thought about this sequel for three years before I finally wrote it, and I’m very proud of the result.
The copy that will go on sale also includes THE BOYS NEXT DOOR in the same volume. This means it is an Extremely Large Book, about 600 pages, and it has a beautiful cover.
I’m hoping, and I think Simon Pulse was hoping when they designed it, that it will really stand out on a shelf full of black-covered paranormals. In short, I hope that even with no advance reviews, readers will judge a book by its cover.
Before my work was published, I never gave much thought to covers. I figured I would write the best book I could, and readers would judge my books on their merit. It was a huge surprise to find that covers can make or break the sale of a book, and authors have little or no say in the matter. That’s why I am so gratified that Danielle and Barbara have such gorgeous covers for their upcoming 2010 releases—and why I am really happy to be published by MTV Books, where they understand that the cover is important to point-of-sale, and it even affects the reader’s perception while she’s reading. It’s unnerving, really, to give up that much control over how people will perceive your work. So when you get a great cover, you rejoice, and trust, and hope.
Still holding my breath, though.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I have one of those minds that never shuts down even when there’s nothing to think about. That’s why I can’t get to sleep and, when I do, why I have all those crazy dreams I wrote about in a previous post. Sleep deprivation aside, a whirling mind makes it difficult to focus on writing.
Which brings me to the value of engaging in mindless tasks. My morning run is a perfect example. My legs, lungs, and heart are working hard, but my brain is on cruise control. I run basically the same course every day, often in the dark, which limits my sensory input. After a few minutes, the rhythm, quiet, and darkness shut off my conscious mind and let my subconscious take over. That’s when my best creative thinking happens.
You don’t have to be a runner to benefit from mindless tasks—any boring, repetitive activity will do. One of my spring projects is to cover the berm beside our driveway with river rock. So far I’ve hauled in and spread three and a half tons of rock, and I have at least two more tons to go. Scooping and tossing rocks provides hours of mindlessness—and days of sore muscles afterward.
Our acreage provides plenty of mindless tasks to give my subconscious a chance to shine. Lawn mowing is one of the best. I pop in my earplugs, rev up the engine, and drive off. An added bonus of mowing is the vibration, which relaxes me even more. There are problems with being too relaxed, though, like running into low hanging tree limbs, woodchuck holes, and bushes I planted just a little too close together. It would also help if I remembered to take my foot off the gas to stop instead of trying to pump the nonexistent brake pedal.
When I get tired of mowing and scooping rock, I pull weeds and plant flowers. And there’s the chore I always put off until last—mucking out the guinea cage. If I wait long enough sometimes Mike gives in and takes over that nasty job.
Whatever mindless task is occupying my mind, I keep my miniature recorder nearby to capture any creative gems before they slip away.
So, do you use mindless tasks to spark your creativity? If not, I’ll be happy to point you to my asparagus bed. By the time you clear out the weeds you’ll have enough material for a thousand-page novel.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
There's been something of a kerfluffle going on around the blogosphere this past week, which makes it different from any other week... in no discernible way, really. But this is kind of an interesting kerfluffle in the questions it raises with respect to fanfiction. Author Diana Gabaldon [OUTLANDER] has some pretty strong opinions on the matter, which is, of course, her right. Especially as it concerns her work. But it kind of didn't end there. She made some pretty broad sweeping generalizations about the writers of fan fiction that were really at the root of said kerfluffle. (Just Google Diana Gabaldon & fan fiction and you'll no doubt get lots of links, but here's the original post.)
My biggest beef was with the implication that fan fiction writers can't possibly be "real" writers. Personally, I think that's a load of hooey. I know many fine writers who have no interest in pursuing publication (for my purposes, publication meaning producing original work for which they're given a contract and royalties from an established publishing company) who nevertheless practice their craft within the realm of fan fiction simply because they enjoy writing and they enjoy playing the "what if" game with established characters.
And here's the thing, I can't exactly point the finger at fan fiction writers and get my self-righteous on, because that's exactly the medium I used to relearn the craft of creative writing after too many years spent in academia. It found that it gave me a framework within which to practice dialogue, situational writing, and a little bit of character growth, within established characters and settings. I only wrote fan fiction for about ten months or so, because it only took that long for me to get twitchy and want to do something that was purely "mine" where I could control every aspect of the creative process and not feel constrained by someone else's work.
Was it right? That's up to the individual, but because fan fiction wasn't just about personal enjoyment, but also something I did as "practice" before moving on to my own work with the intent of eventually being published, I did have a few personal rules that governed my foray into fan fiction:
1) I only played with television characters. To my way of thinking, they were already being written and shaped across episodes and seasons by multiple writers, so mine was just another voice, adding another layer, if you will. I also stayed firmly within their established universe. Crossovers never appealed to me.
2) Yes, I wanted feedback. I'm human and I wanted to know I didn't suck. So I did put my work "out there." Maybe not the smartest thing, in retrospect, given my ambitions, but I was very new to the internet (it was over ten years ago) and all things considered, it was only exhibited in a very limited scope to a very small circle. You won't find any of my efforts on fanfiction.net or any of the other big archives.
3) I never, ever pretended these characters were in any way mine. Meaning I tried to stay true to the characters as already established. I tried to use clues that the show writers seemed to be leaving for the viewers on which to base my "what if" scenarios. Or I played fill in the blank, writing "missing scenes." But always, always, I tried to respect that I was only playing in someone else's sandbox with their toys.
4) I never, ever thought my work was the equal of the original creator or that I should be considered as some sort of "professional writer," simply because I had written fan fiction. I was a writer, but not a professional.
I think where fan fiction writers kind of get themselves into hot water is when they start feeling as if their work is somehow the equal of the original creator and that they somehow are entitled to the same measure of respect or acknowledgment. And thing is, they're not. I'm not saying that with respect to craft, they might not be equal (heck, in some cases, they may well have surpassed the original-- I've certainly seen examples of fan fiction that's better than the original, but that's neither here nor there). However, so long as they are playing with someone else's creation without their permission a fan fiction author is not and never will be considered the equal of the original creator. And for the love of all that's holy, don't go up to a published author and say that your fan fiction is better than the author's. Yes, I've seen that happen and the response wasn't pretty.
Which actually leads me to my next point: most authors don't want to hear from fan fiction writers about the work based on their material (it's actually a legal liability); most authors are actually pretty darned offended by it and too many fan fiction authors don't respect that. They desperately want to be seen as a peer, but the only way for that to happen is to leave fan fiction behind and establish yourself as a writer of original work. Or somehow find a way to make the fan fiction pay off for you-- it's actually great practice for screenwriting or for writing licensed novels. (Or even for finding a way to put a new spin on a classic. *ahem*) Seriously, I think it was my background in fan fiction, in part, that allowed me to think outside the box when taking the idea of Carmen and crafting it into the story for STARS.
These are just my opinions and frankly, it's not something I expect to deal with any time soon. I think there are some genres that lend themselves far more readily to fan fiction than others. (Sci-fi/fantasy, most definitely) But given my history with fan fiction, it's definitely something I take into consideration.
I can honestly say that if someone felt compelled to create fan fiction based on any of my work, I definitely wouldn't want to see it. Again, the legal liabilities coupled with the fact that I'm wicked protective of my characters and it would probably bring on a case of Hulk! Smash! Rage! if I were to see any examples of them behaving in a manner in which I never intended. Which makes it kind of ironic, I know, that I even delved into fan fiction, but it was actually writing fanfic that started developing those defensive feelings of protectiveness. I wanted to have my own characters to play with—my own situations—and I didn't want any other influence beyond that of my own twisted imagination.
As a final note, yes, I still have a few of the word docs on my computer and they are appropriately cringe-inducing, but you know, at the same time, I can see glimmers of the writer I was going to become, so one thing I'll never say about fan fiction is that it's a waste of time.
What about you guys? Anyone been faced with the question of fan fiction with respect to their work? How do you feel about it?
I attended the second annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival this past weekend and it was amazing. Over 5000 people walked through the door from 10am to 4pm and every single kid received a free book. There were over 100 authors/illustrators there ranging from those who write board books to middle grade to young adult. In the photo above from left to right is: me and the super talented: Michelle Zink, Jennifer Hubbard,Neesha Meminger and Megan Frazer.
My table was nestled between Jan Cheripko and Aimee Ferris. Besides being authors, Jan works with at-risk youth and Aimee used to be a dive master—so cool!
I was also on a panel called Common Ground: Connecting Teens through Books & Music with authors, Michelle Zink, Maryrose Wood and Megan Frazer. We each read a scene from our books and played a snippet of a song that inspired us to write our novels. We even have our play list up on iTunes of the songs that we selected for the presentation.
I stayed in Hudson for the weekend and my hosts, local teachers, Val and Karen were amazing. I was ready to move in! Authors Ellen Jensen Abbott and Anne Haywood Leal, also stayed with me. We hung out late into the night chatting on the porch and drinking local wine.
On my drive back to Boston I stopped at a cemetery in Columbia County that was the perfect setting for the manuscript I’m also done writing, Graveyard Shift. I took many photos of the graveyard. It felt a little strange being there all alone on a bright Sunday morning but a girl has to do her research!
So why attend a book festival? I love chatting with readers, writers, teachers and librarians and there’s no better place to do this than at a book festival. You should definitely check this festival out next year. It will be on May 7, 2011. Don’t live near Hudson? There are plenty of book festivals across the country, just check which one is coming to a town near you. Happy reading!