Monday, December 13, 2010

TV: It's just another way to tell a story, right?

Oh my goodness. How many times in my life have I heard someone tell young people (or me!) to "turn off the TV and open a book?" Or, you know, something similar?

How many times have you heard that television rots your brain? And then wanted to charge at the person making this claim like a velociraptor at a cocky paleontologist?

Oh, don't get me wrong. I love books. I mean, well, duh, I write books! I have a house full of books! Books are sort of my life. But you know what else I love?


I love TV on DVD. I love that I can use my DVR to record shows that are on at the same time. I love that there are funny shows and serious shows and documentary shows and sci fi shows. I love that there are all these stories that I can watch.

So why does TV get a bad rap? Why do so many of us think of it as a "low" art form, or as a hobby for the feeble-minded? Like, okay, The Jersey Shore exists. I'll admit it. But so does The X Files. So does House. So does Scrubs.

And, yeah, books might be easy to pin as a high art, because you have to read them. But, come on, not to lay the smack down on anyone, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that GOSSIP GIRL isn't particularly literary. (And I'm putting this out there because I'm like 99.9% sure that creator Cecily von Ziegesar would agree with me. I hope.) Does this fact stop jillions of readers from being entertained by the books? No.

Books are a form of entertainment, too. Sure, sometimes books are going to be what I like to call "meat and potatoes" books. SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA -- you know, award-winny types. Entertaining and also enriching. Then there are what I like to call "candy bar books" -- the books we read for funsies and sometimes consider guilty pleasures. Books without many SAT words but with superfluous kissing scenes or maybe epic gun fights. Do these books change your world? Probably not. And that's cool.

So what makes books better than TV? What makes them sacred? Like, okay, there are lots of reasons that books are different, ways that without seeing the pictures on your screen you might have to use your imagination more while you're reading. But have you ever watched an episode of your favorite show and felt just so inspired? Just wowed? The same way you feel after you finish a good book?

TV and books are different ways to tell a story. But when it comes down to it, a story is a story. Why can't we love both, treat them equally, and call it a day? Why do we think certain things can go on TV but "don't belong" in books? Why are books on a pedestal, guys? I want to know.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Walking on Eggshells in Publishing. ALL the Time.

I’ll admit it. I speak my mind. Almost ALL of the time.

I tell bosses what I think. I’m straight-up with my husband. We fight constantly. (It’s a healthy thing in marriage – trust me. J )

I’ve disagreed with a Deputy Secretary of State. To her face.

And I lived to tell the tale. People at work respect me for my opinions.
But most of the time, I’m scared to death to talk about how I really feel about publishing and books on the market.

A lot of book bloggers and reviewers have admitted that they won’t post negative reviews of books.

Why? They don’t want to ruin their reputation.

This year, a book came out that I didn’t really like, but everyone else adored it.

Of course, I didn’t say anything about the book until I was at the American Library Association Conference, where two trusted friends and I talked about how we didn’t think the book was all that much to call home about. 

But we whispered about it. And then we swore we’d never say anything in public. Several months later, I saw one book blogger write about how she didn’t understand what the big deal was about the book.
It was the first time I’d seen this book publicly questioned.

Did I agree with her and say so in the comments section of her blog? Hell no. I didn’t want anyone to know my thoughts on the book. What if I said something about the book and then it damaged my relationship with the author? The publisher? The readers who adore the book?

As an author who’s about to have her debut novel published, I can’t risk that.

Recently, my friend found out that her erotica book had been flagged by Amazon as being not appropriate for kids or something, so readers couldn’t find it using a standard search. Readers had to have a link to find it.

A bunch of worse erotica/porno books are out there, and they’re searchable on Amazon. That’s not fair. 

My friend’s book did not deserve this, so she’s going to battle to get it on the search bar.

I’m all for this, of course. I said, “Where do I light my torch and sharpen my pitchfork?”

But other people told her, “Don’t worry about it! Don’t say anything. Don’t rant about Amazon!”

My first thought was, “Well why the hell not? She wants to sell books. She should be fighting this, not ignoring it.”

Going further, sometimes famous authors/editors/agents act a bit mean online. I’ll admit I’ve stopped following a few of these people after watching them humiliate wannabe writers online. Okay, so maybe the author doesn’t know all the “rules” of querying, but do you have to call them out personally in front of your thousands of followers?

I know someone who deleted their Twitter account after being humiliated by some agents.

And instead of authors standing up and saying, “Whoa. Was that really called for?” everyone either 1) Ignores it, or 2) Laughs along with the agent.

Me? I ignored it. And that makes me ashamed. But I can’t really risk it, you know?

And then a month ago, a Twitter friend, who is represented by a great agent at a different agency from mine, and I were chatting about how now that we have agents, we rarely get good honest critiques of our work. Before I got an agent, readers and friends and critique partners ripped my work to SHREDS.

Now, it’s either that 1) People think everything’s perfect because we have agents, or 2) They are scared to question us because we have agents, and they don’t want to upset us and hurt our relationships.

I think this is total bullshit. If I critique a book/pages by someone, I tell them the God’s honest truth about how I feel, because if I lie and coddle them, what’s going to happen when they finally send the book to an agent and editor, and the agent/editor comes back and says exactly what I said? (This has happened before.) You’d be pissed, right?

You can take my advice or leave it, I don’t care, but I feel like I owe you an honest opinion.
I feel like people owe me an honest opinion.

Sure, I might hate you for five minutes, but then I’ll probably learn from whatever you said. And then I’ll thank you.

If everyone is too scared to say what they think, how will we ever weed out the good from the bad?

I feel like society is already on information overload, information coming from all different sources and angles, and it completely confuses people and makes it harder to think.

Is publishing like the Stalin era? We’re so afraid to say anything wrong because we’ll be sent to the PUBLISHING GULAG?!

What say you guys?

Have I gone too far?

Does everyone hate me now? J

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"A taught thriller"

This, to me, sounds like a way you might describe someone's butt, not someone's book. But that is probably just me.

Last night I finished reading REVOLVER by Marcus Sedgwick. Have you read it? I would classify it as a taught thriller (of the non-butt variety). It's an historical novel about a family living in the arctic circle, dealing with a major crisis. It is very intense, though I think the intensity is written extremely well for the target audience of this book (which I would put at probably 12 and up).

The book is written almost like a play - a one room drama with some flashbacks. It's short, concise, full of psychological action, and it's very easy to read. I recommend it, and not just because I want more people to read it so they can talk to me about it.

One thing the book made me think about is writing with minimal description and how, when a book is well done like REVOLVER, I finish it actually "seeing" the world better than I would have had there been detailed descriptions of every nook and eye twitch. My brain has filled in the nooks and eye twitches on its own and for this I am grateful to Mr. Sedgwick. Grateful that he trusts us to create the world in our own minds, with only a little guidance from his words.

This trust that the author has for his reader is another reason why REVOLVER reminds me of a play. When you write a play, people don't like it when you write in too much direction. Don't write in the script that the actor stomps into the room and shouts angrily, let the actors read your words and figure out the emotions for themselves. Often, in books, we are not given this leeway. Every minute feeling and action is laid out for us in a buffet of words. Sometimes this works (in something dated but beautifully ornate like Gone With the Wind), but often it steals power away from the reader.

I don't think writers think they are stealing power from their readers, and I don't think readers realize their jobs are being subsumed by too many words. Until a reader pulls out a book like REVOLVER. Suddenly, the world comes alive, with limited prose, and it is a wonder to behold.

I especially appreciate this authorial trust in children's books. Let the kids create the world as you take them on a tour. To me, A WRINKLE IN TIME is famous for this. I read it as a child and saw so much vivid detail, that when I read it again as an adult I was shocked - shocked - at how much of that book had been devised by my own wee brain.

So what do you guys think? Do you know what I'm talking about? Lack of description equaling a richer reading experience? It seems counterintuitive, and yet.... it's true. To me, at least.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Allegra Biscotti, my new fashionspiration.

I don't usually like to write about a book before I've finished it. But you know what? I can't help myself. THE ALLEGRA BISCOTTI COLLECTION by Olivia Bennett (Sourcebooks, 2010) is so freaking stuck in my head that last night while I was getting dressed to go out I was thinking of its main character.

I'm not even kidding. I was putting together a way-over-the-top outfit for my birthday celebration (we went to Sonic for dinner -- yes, THAT Sonic) and I was trying a bright purple mini dress and sparkly shoes with the right leggings and I thought to myself, "What would Emma Rose do?"

That's when I knew: THE ALLEGRA BISCOTTI COLLECTION is definitely one of the best tween books of 2010. When a character sticks with you like that, when you haven't even had a chance to pick up the book yet that day, man, you know it's good.

And I love that this book is about a young entrepreneur. Emma Rose is a thirteen-year-old fashion designer juggling all the craziness of the 8th grade with an accidentally burgeoning career. And, okay, I'm only about halfway through the book, but I have loved every page -- and not just because the pages are decorated with illustrations from Emma's sketchbook. But because Emma is so real, so vivid, so inspiring.

I started making my own clothes when I was in high school, but maybe if I'd read THE ALLEGRA BISCOTTI COLLECTION I would have gotten a head start. And had some serious delusions of grandeur...because the way Emma Rose is headed, whoa, there's no stopping this girl. Gotta love a character that lights a fire in you, that's for sure.

So, with Channukkah in full swing and Christmas right around the corner, I hope you'll give the young girlie-girl in your life some ALLEGRA BISCOTTI. I promise, she'll fall in love just like me!

Oh, and PS, yes it *is* my birthday today. And some of the YA-5ers are on my blog making fun of me. Hop on over for the hilarity.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sex and Sexy Scenes in YA: Let’s Look at it a Different Way

Does sex belong in young adult literature? 

I recently had a lengthy discussion about whether healthy sex between two consenting teenagers, who are in love, belongs in YA or not. Before I get to the main point of today’s post (starring a special guest), here are three constants I have to mention:
First: I don’t know the answer.   

Second: I personally don’t consider young adult books to be for children. I consider YA books to be books for adults, because I consider anyone above the age of 14 an adult in terms of their mind. Sure, they are silly and immature at times, but they think and feel like adults do. The YA genre consists of books written for adults that feature teenage protagonists.

Third, putting YA aside, I think all scenes in a book MUST matter, or they shouldn’t be in the book in the first place.

Last year, I was at a conference where Maggie Stiefvater spoke on a panel about love in literature, and someone asked her why SHIVER had a sex scene.

Maggie didn’t have to answer, because another author – uber cool Michael Knight, spoke up and said, “If you include a sex scene in anything you write, you should have a reason for doing so.”  

Maggie had a reason for doing so (her characters were in love), and I loved Gayle Forman’s thoughts on it (which are put so much more eloquently than I’ve done here).

But getting to my real point.  As I was discussing the positives and negatives of featuring sex in YA, I realized something. 

How often do any of us actually ask teenagers what they want to read about?

Why is it always about what adults want to showcase about sex?

Why is it always about a “message” or lack thereof?

In other words, why is it always about what adults think?

I’ve seen sex in YA showcased in a very positive manner, e.g. – WHEN IT HAPPENS by Susane Colasanti. I’ve seen sex showcased in negative ways, too. TOO MANY BOOKS TO NAME.

So you tell me – what do teenagers want to read about?

If you’re a teenager, what do you want to read about?

If you’re a parent, what do you want your kids to read about?

Since some publishers want YA novels to be cross-over novels that adults will read, do you feel like this factors into the equation at all?

So, since I’m being all anarchist-like and crazy today, I’ve invited my romance author friend Tiffany Reisz to tell us what she wanted to read about when she was a teenager, and how that’s shaped her life as an author today.

So here’s Tiffany!

Matthew Fox, star of Lost, age twelve.
Britney Spears, pop star, mother of two, age fourteen.
Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter, age sixteen.
Johnny Depp, world's greatest actor, age thirteen
Angelina Jolie, Oscar winning actress, age fourteen.

What do all these celebrities have in common? They all had sex for the first time in middle school or high school. 

When Miranda asked me to write a little about what I thought about sex in Young Adult novels, this list was the first thing that came to me. Sex in YA novels seems like a no brainer. Teenagers have sex. Not all of them. But a lot of them. And if you want to write realistic stories for teenagers, you're probably going to have to address the issue of sex at some point. After all, there really is no such thing as a YA Book. Books are books.  The rules are the same whether your stories are about teenagers or million year old aliens--tell a good story and tell it well. Saying you can't have sex in a YA novel is like saying you can't have dinner in a YA novel. Makes no sense whatsoever.

As soon as I hit age twelve I started reading "Adult" Fiction. Some of it had teenage characters in it (Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series) and some didn't (Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead...and A LOT of Star Trek novels.).  I was a teenager reading these books. Did that make them Teen Books? Most of what I read back then had sex scenes. Especially when I discovered historical romance novels. Oh my Lord, my little thirteen year old brain delighted in reading semi-explicit sex scenes. So much so that by age fourteen I was writing semi-explicit sex scenes of my very own. I wasn't having sex then. I didn't lose my virginity until after college. But I was fascinated by sex, the mechanics of it, the power of it, and the joy. 

Yes, I said joy. Sex in romance novels was so magical, so uplifting, so life-altering and beautiful, that I couldn't help but think that sex was something incredibly special. Reading about sex made me take sex more seriously, not less so. When I had my first boyfriend in college, I told him "No sex until marriage." He said, "Fine.”

Anywho, I didn't think of sex as an "issue" in those days. I heard about the "issues" of drugs and AIDS and teen pregnancy. But they seemed very far away from me. They didn't really interest me. I had my nose stuck in a Julie Garwood novel reading about a handsome earl seducing his virginal bride he'd won in a card game or something like that. I hear people talking about tackling "issues" in YA novels. Have these people even met a teenager?

Here's a teenager for you. She's fourteen. She's beautiful. She's smart. And she's my cousin. I took her to see Harry Potter over Thanksgiving Break. The trailer for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader came on. The Narnia books are about God, sin, temptation, the resurrection of the world--BIG issues.  But then tall, dark and handsome Prince Caspian strides onto the big screen. My teenage cousin leans over her friend and says to me, "I want to make love to that man." 

Me too, Kid.  Me too.


Tiffany Reisz's first novel THE SIREN comes out from Harlequin in 2011, and her first e-book novella SEVEN DAY LOAN is out now!  Anyone below the age of 18 - please check with a parent before reading Tiffany's work. :) 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Most Awesome Endeavor

So, if you didn’t already know. Today is the launch of the most awesomesauce Emily ‘s (you all know her as Miss Monday) new project, Dear Teen Me.  She and Miranda (Girl Friday) have started this amazing website where authors are writing letters to their teen selves.  This is going to be an amazing project, and I think it will be really popular.
One of the great things about reading the letters is I think most people will see it the difficulties of being a teenager have little to do with the year or the person.  Adolescence (I hate that word, it’s so high school principal) is a rough time for all of us, and even if our problems are not all the same (anyone else who had to deal with being the only black kid in the entire high school, raise your hand), how we respond to them and how they change us is similar.
I look forward to reading everyone’s letters.  In fact, why are you still here? Go!