Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why YA is Like Middle School

I've noticed in the past few weeks since the initial WSJ kerfluffle about dark YA that there seems to be at least one minor kerfluffle like that every week.

The good thing about that is that I get to use the word "kerfluffle" a lot.

The bad thing is that YA authors and readers always have to be on the defensive. It's like being the nerdy kid in middle school, always waiting for somebody to say something mean to you. And really, I've already done that once, no need to do it again.

And what do you do to make bullies on the playground go away?

Ignore them.

Yes, of course there are times we should speak up. The ones we keep defending ourselves against are the vocal minority after all. There are definitely times when we should make ourselves heard, because our opinions matter too.

But you know what? I think that our point has been made. The thousands of tweets and blog posts about #YASaves show that YA is important, that it has changed so many lives for the better and that it is a worthwhile genre. Thousands of heartfelt posts, against a few prominent and disgruntled articles.

You know what, YA community? You rock. I think YA authors and readers are some of the nicest, most creative, and most wonderful people. I love being a part of this community - it is a wonderful and supportive and kind community.

Keep on being awesome. Never forget that we are doing this because we love it, and that is something that matters far more than any nay-saying article ever could.

As for the nay-sayers:

Of course you are entitled to your opinion. So are we. Now, excuse me, I'll be on my merry way.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

TBR List of DOOM

I noticed yesterday that my To Be Read list is growing terribly long. Not only do I have library books all over my room, there are so many new releases coming out this year that I can't even stand it.

Some books I'm looking forward to the most are FOREVER and THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater, LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins, and SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi.

What is on your TBR list? And, for those of you still in school like me, how do you plan to deal with homework when all of these exciting books are going to be getting in the way??

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's in a Name?

I don't know about you guys, but I spend a loooong time thinking up names for my characters. For me, the vague idea in my head isn't really a person until he or she has a name attached, and I have to be very careful about those names because once they're there, I find them almost impossible to change.

I went through some epic name changes with the werewolf novel between this draft and the last one, mostly with minor characters (for some ridiculous reason I gave Rose (whose name was originally Roslyn, called Rose) and her family very Germanic names. And they were still French. I know. Silly me), but that was still hard. Avar was also originally Avar's nickname - his original name was something similar but very complicated and Armenian, which even my Armenian friends couldn't pronounce. So... that had to go.

But character names are important. They often set up the personality of the character, and they have to match the setting and time period of the story. (Right now I have a plot bunny character who really wants to be called Caroline but I'm not sure I'm going to let her; I can't think of names that would go well with it for the other characters in that setting.)

The tricky part is coming up with names for your characters that are unique but not ridiculous. Even if you write historical fiction, nobody wants every girl character to be called Mary, right?

Fantasy and sci fi novels tend to get a bit silly when it comes to names. I can think of two popular books with very nice male leads with utterly ridiculous names, which to me spoils the fun a little bit.

To me, it's finding a balance between the unique and the normal, and even more importantly finding a name that fits that character. Even though Rose was originally just her nickname, she's still been Rose from the very beginning of this crazy story of mine. And it takes a lot of time - I've been known to spend hours surfing through baby names sites to find the perfect names for my characters. But finding a good match is worth all that time (and on my favorite name list, the baby names page on weddingvendors.com, all the popups) to find a good match.

Here is Hank Green's guide on naming, which, though meant for baby names, also works quite nicely for characters.

(I am quite fond of 6 - spell like a normal person. My name is spelled correctly, and yet because there are so many weird ways to spell Caitlin, I still have to spell it out for people EVERY TIME. Although it was a bit weird, Libba Bray (in BEAUTY QUEENS) and Natalie Standiford (in CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS) get major points for spelling Caitlin right. (The sister in Libba Bray's GOING BOVINE was also named Jenna, which is my sister's name. Libba Bray is clearly sneaking into my head and stealing my names. Clearly.)

How do you guys go about naming characters?

(Also, apparently I wrote about this over a year ago, but it bears repeating.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Impossible Dream

It's a lot later in the day than I usually blog, and it's because I've been debating all day whether or not to say anything about this. It has been rejection central in Caitlin-land lately, and really, has been for a long time (although it has been super-concentrated of late) - everything from auditions to internships to colleges to queries and manuscripts to jobs.

We've all been through that. We all know what that's like, and we're told time and time again that the dream is worth it, that we have to soldier on through all those rejections, and look! Even J. K. Rowling was rejected a zillion times, you can do it too!

And we know. I know. Because it's true. Because I know that the dream is worth it and I will only ever get there if I can stick it out through all of this.

But there are some times when it hurts more than others. There are some times when it all seems pointless, in spite of all the advice, all the reassurances. There are some times when I feel like I am standing in a glass bubble, screaming for someone to notice me, to give me a chance, just one little chance, just let me TRY - and yet no one can hear me.

We all feel like that. I sure as hell feel like that, especially lately. Sometimes, it all piles up and I realized that while people tell us that we're going to get rejected and it's going to hurt and we just have to keep going, no one can tell us just how much it will hurt. Just how hard it is to keep going sometimes.

And just now, I was editing, soldiering on as usual, and something popped into my head. What I am striving for is the same thing my characters are striving for - the impossible dream. That thing they can't reach but damn it, they are going to try and get it anyway, because they have to, because what else is there to do?

Because this is who we are. It hurts to get rejected, to wait, to spend countless hours editing a manuscript more precious to us than gold and that no one might ever read, but we do it anyway.

Since I'm a musical theatre geek times twelve, that thought came because I was reminded of this:

And the world will be better for this / That one man, scorned and covered with scars / still strove, with his last ounce of courage / To reach the unreachable stars.

That is what I'm doing. That is what each one of us is doing as we spend hours writing, polishing drafts, perfecting query letters, praying over our inboxes. We are each trying to reach our own unreachable star. We are each living our impossible dream. And we are each making the world a better place for it.

And in spite of all the pain, it is so, so worth it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Editing, Step Two: Research!

I have not yet actually reached Step Two in my editing process (I think I will start this weekend) but here is what I plan to do:

I got three more books on the French Revolution from the library. I'm going to comb through those, the books I already have, and my notes from class, to familiarize myself with the little details that will (hopefully) make this a solid story.

I'm probably irrationally excited about research. I was even able to find a book we'd gotten an excerpt from in class, and that is definitely going to be fun to read. Hopefully it will all go together smoothly!

I also intend to make up a list of Big Picture editing goals, things that I can look for and try to fix as I read through my manuscript. Things like "more and better worldbuilding" and "making sure all the facts line up with the fiction" and "character motivations." Good stuff like that.

How do you guys begin your edits?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Light in YA

So the Wall Street Journal kerfluffle is beginning to diminish (some noteworthy things to look at are NPR's fantastic article, the many many brilliant posts and blogs under the #YASaves tag, and the parody #YAKills tag. Hilarity!), but there was one more thing I wanted to mull over.

The article laments the lack of ANY lighthearted YA fiction. This is completely false. There is light YA, and there should be light YA. Like I said, the darkness is important (and even in the lighthearted books there has to be SOME measure of darkness... otherwise there would be no plot).

But sometimes after English class, when we read HAMLET and ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and MACBETH and HEART OF DARKNESS and THE SUN ALSO RISES, all sorts of grim and violent and depressing stuff, it's time to turn to something fun. Sometimes we just want something fun to read, and there are plenty of books out there that fit the bill.

I'm not saying that these fun books are "lesser" because they might not have big weighty issues in them, because that isn't true. Some of them have even appeared as Printz honor books. Fun and silliness is important, because there is darkness in the world, and we have to face that, but we have to learn to laugh, too.

So. Here is a list of some good old lighthearted YA. (At least, the ones I can think of.)

2. AIRBORN - Kenneth Oppel
3. ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS - Stephanie Perkins
4. LET IT SNOW - John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle
5. AVALON HIGH - Meg Cabot
6. SONG OF THE SPARROW - Lisa Ann Sandell
7. EAST - Edith Pattou
9. SORCERY AND CECELIA - Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
10. NOBODY'S PRINCESS - Esther Friesner
11. PRADA AND PREJUDICE - Mandy Hubbard
12. DEVILISH - Maureen Johnson
14. GOOD OMENS - Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
15. THIRTEENTH CHILD - Patricia C. Wrede

What are some lighthearted YA books that you would recommend?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA Saves

I'm sure by now all of you have heard of the article posted by the Wall Street Journal, condemning today's YA books as nothing but darkness and something teens should be protected from. (Today they posted a rebuttal, which is better, but it and the YA community still don't quite see eye to eye.)

That article made me angry. It made me so angry that I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. I love YA, and I have loved both reading and writing YA for years now. The YA community is filled with friendly, intelligent, wonderful, and talented people that I have had the privilege of getting to know.

YA is always deemed lesser. Questionable. Something not to be trusted, in spite of how well YA is doing. In spite of how many people love it. It's hard enough to receive rejection letter after rejection letter, wait endlessly for internship news that never comes, but to have people who think that my dreams are somehow lesser because it involves fiction for teenagers? Not. Cool. And articles like this do nothing to erase that stigma. They add to it.

The problem with that article is twofold. The first is that the mom shown at the beginning of the article did not even bother to look past the covers. I cannot imagine anyone going into a bookstore and not being able to find one single thing that would suit their tastes.

Because here's the thing. Not all YA is dark. Not all YA SHOULD be dark. Yes, darkness has an important place (more on that later), but so does fun. People need books that are lighthearted as much as they need books that will make them think (my favorites are books that combine the two). Fun is important. Not everyone wants to or feels ready to read books about rape or suicide or drugs. And that's okay. That is completely and totally okay. It's great that there are parents who are concerned about what their kids are reading, and whether or not they can handle it. What is NOT okay is for someone to say that because their child does not want to read about the issues of death or anorexia or incest, EVERYONE'S children should not read about those things.

Something the first article leaves out completely (and something the rebuttal is strongest in) is the idea that it is important to talk with your children about the things they read. I talk to my mom about books all the time. If parents are concerned about reading materials, don't simply say no: TALK. Talk about books, and the things they're saying, the things they mean. Talk about the darkness in them, and the lightness too. In instances like this, communication is key.

The other thing that bugs me about the article is that it writes the darkness in YA off as depravity, when that is so far from the case. The darkness in well-written YA books does not exist to be dark. It does not exist for shock factor alone. Any dark book, YA or otherwise, is trying to get out of that darkness. To make things better, both for the characters and the reader. The point is not to linger in darkness forever, but to move beyond it, to heal.

This is where the real strength of both YA as a genre and as a community shines through. It took twenty minutes for the tag #YAsaves to become one of the top trending topics on Twitter yesterday, and it was still going strong this morning. In response to the first article, authors such as Maureen Johnson, Libba Bray, Robin Wasserman, and Hannah Moskowitz prompted us all to write our responses and tell us how YA has helped us. There were thousands of responses, everywhere from "YA helped me to become more empathetic" to "YA kept me from committing suicide."

There is darkness in the world; the article bemoans the fact that today's YA is nothing like the sweet, Judy Blume-esque fiction of days gone by. And you know what? There was darkness then too. But now, we're not afraid to speak up about it. We're not afraid to write about it, because these dark issues are things that teens face every day.

I was lucky - I AM lucky. I have a wonderful, supportive family, I was never bullied or abused, I did well in school; I lead a safe, sheltered life and I am so grateful. Dark books for me teach me to empathize - they show me worlds beyond my own and help me to relate, help me to understand. And for the people to whom such darkness is a reality?

It can - and does - help to show them that they are not alone, that they have hope, and that they can get through it.

I write YA in the hopes that someday, something that I love will make someone else happy. That one of my books will make someone laugh or make their day or make them think. And yes, there is sometimes darkness in what I write. Because there is darkness in the world, and we should not try to hide it.

Because those dark and terrible YA books? They often have moments of stunning beauty in them, and the light of those moments shines all the brighter for the darkness they had to overcome first.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Editing, Step One: the Waiting Game

Since I will soon begin editing A Bridge to War (which desperately needs a new title - if anyone has any brilliant ideas for a title that sounds equally werewolf-y and French Revolution-y, please throw them at me. I will be exceedingly grateful), I thought I might share some of my haphazard editing process with you, in the hopes that it might be useful to someone other than me.

I am currently in the middle of step one - not doing anything. I am not opening the manuscript. I am trying to think about the manuscript as little as possible (this is always tricky). Ignore the manuscript! Do it!

I'm going to be doing this at least till the end of next week, and while it might seem like a waste of time, I think it's terribly useful. The longer I go without looking at it, the more distance I can get from the manuscript, and that way I can edit more effectively. If I start editing now, there will obviously be some things I know I need to delete or change, but for the most part, I will just think ALL OF THIS IS FABULOUS WHY CHANGE IT EVER?

The distance provided by waiting a few weeks to edit allows me to do what we in the writing department like to term "killing our babies." Those cute or interesting scenes that don't do what they're supposed to? You have to cut them or fix them, no matter how much you like them as is. And letting the manuscript sit for a bit first makes this a little bit easier.

This is also a great time to read. Read a lot. I have Jennifer Donnelly's REVOLUTION next on my to-be-read list, so of course I'm hoping to get a few things from that book to weave into mine (it helps that she provides a source list. The history minor in me was delighted). Reading a lot during the wait-it-out phase of editing also lets me get out of my own head and my own style, soak in some other writers' methods, and then later see what I can apply to my own manuscript.

So that is step one of my editing process: leave it alone, and read a ton.

How do you guys start out your editing?