Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tidbits of teen (YA) culture

I love to read Young Adult (YA) which mean I also love to write it, though I feel so out of touch with today's teen culture (outside of the books I read!) that for my writing I stay away from contemporary YA, feeling a lot safer in historical and historical fantasy.

But my 16 year old stepdaughter decided to stay with us for the school year, so suddenly I've been getting a lot more contemporary teen culture than I ever bargained for! (Her friends are always coming over, not to mention all the stuff she shows me on Facebook and YouTube). So maybe I'll venture into contemporary YA for my next book, which is Science Fiction. SF doesn't have to futurisitc; you can have it in a contemporary setting, like I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore.

Here's some fun things from my stepdaughter that *might* show up in a possible contemporary YA story.

Newish teen vocabluary. I've noticed her saying "burn" a lot with a nice sarcastic flair. As in, "That girl is trying so hard to win her ex back. Burn!"

New superstitions. Whenever she drives through a yellow light, she smacks the sun visor. It's a good luck thing, she tells me. (let me state a caveat, by "new" I may be refering to "new to me.")

Wal-Mart Games. Okay, we live in a small town, and the only place open ALL NIGHT is Wal-Mart (though she does have an 11pm weekend curfew, ahem). Anyway, Walmart is popular hangout for teens - with the traditional cart-racing still high on the popularity list, but there's all sorts of other games, many to do with rearranging merchanise (oh dear). (just re-arranging. No stealing, she assures me).

Star tripping. (forget the cow tipping and the snipe hunts) (you can google it- fortunately, unlike some kinds of "tripping", this one's legal.

Arm workout. For a fashion-concious teenager, they get a great cardiovascular workout by flipping through clothes racks at lightning speed with one arm while quickly accumulating piles of clothes to try on in the other arm.

Teen formal wear. My daughter is going to the Homecoming Dance, so she and her friends pooled all their formal wear resources (owned and borrowed) and had a dress party for everyone to pick out their options. Startled by the current teen trends in formal dresses, I decided to look up a couple big stores online to see if these were, indeed, current fashion options.

Amazed by the - um - babydollish sort of trend of these clothes (and the tie dye/spilled paint effect!), I forwarded this picture to a friend my age to get her opinon.

I loved her response: "Oh my word.  Um… Speechless.  It looks like little girl dress up stuff minus the wings."

Just for fun, I had to post a picture of what my prom dress looked like (though mine was peach colored). Can you guess the decade?

Now, for the girl who wasn't so hung up on modesty, my decade also had teen formal dresses that looked like this:

It was so much fun looking up dresses online, I am half tempted to have a "Teen Prom Dresses over the Decades" blogfest!

So tell me your favorite teen tidbit, contemporary or otherwise.

And check out Sophia Richardson's 30 loglines in 30 days blogfest (I'm in!) (you don't have to post 30 loglines, it's not hard at all)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When infodump works

One of the first things you learn as a writer is what infodump is and why it's bad. Infodump is especially bad to have in your first chapter, along with too much of it's slightly more respected cousin, backstory. The advice you hear is to avoid infodump by weaving the background information in slowly and in small bits, or weave it in by showing, not telling.

I think I've noticed a trend toward spare writing, these days, too. If you can say what you need in a paragraph, great; if you can distill it down to a couple sentences, even better. Spare writing, well-done, is a marvel. Here's one of my favorite examples, from The Hunger Games:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

On the other hand, right now I'm reading Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley.

Completely opposite of spare writing, but McKinley is still a best-selling author.

Here's the first paragraph:

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages). If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once  week, because if you didn't, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water. (It didn't have to be anything scary or unpleasant, like snakes or slime, especially in a cheerful household - magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself - but if you want a cup of tea, a cup of lavender-and-gold pansies or ivory thimbles is unsatisfactory. And while the pansies - put dry in a vase - would probably last a day, looking like ordinary pansies, before they went greyish-dun and collapsed into magic dust, something like an ivory thimble would begin to smudge and crumble as soon as you picked it up.)

This is arguably infodump. Not even backstory. Not even a single character's name, or any hint of a hook. And this is a loonnnnnggg first paragraph, with lots of showy parentheses and em-dashes. And the world-building goes on for pages, with the first character's name not even being mentioned until page 9 (and it's not even a primary character).

Yet, I LOVE it, and others do too. It's got a certain voice to it, definitely some charm, and an intriguing premise: a country so infested with magic that the resulting oddities can entertain you for pages (even without any characters, because the magic is itself a character).

Still, could something like this get published now? It was published in 2000, 11 years ago, with the author already having a very strong track-record.

Regardless, I'm happy to see a story breaking the rules all over the place and getting away with it. It's good writing. Here's an article that addresses why Spindle's End is good writing even though it breaks so many rules. (Another reason why it might be able to break so many rules is that it's a fairy-tale retelling. We already know the plot of Sleeping Beauty. The reason why we want to read it is to discover new details and twists).

Do you prefer spare writing, or wordy writing, or happy with either as long as it's good writing? 

Hey, for all you potential NaNoWriMo 2011 participants, or anyone else tossing around new ideas for their next novel, Sophia Richardson is considering doing a 30 loglines in 30 days blogfest during October, check it out for more details. You don't have to post 30 loglines - just a few - and just for fun (and to help us get our "idea muscle" in shape for November.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Twibling rivalry and writery

At first it was going to be "Ideas for writing: Twibling rivalry" but I thought writery sounded more fun. Makes me want to read the Jabberwocky outloud: "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves; twibling rivalry and writery did gyre and gimble..." (Lewis Carroll forgive me).

So it's the time of year, with NaNoWriMo less than 2 months away, when I start brainstorming new story ideas. This year I have a science fiction idea rolling around my head (update: what was to become Star Tripped). As I'm brainstorming for my main character, suddenly, I dunno where I got this idea - she has a twin sister.

Twins have always intrigued me, probably ever since the truth finally came out in Return of the Jedi that Luke and Leia were twins.

Or, maybe it's because my favorite part of Sophie Jordan's Firelight is the dynamics between twin sisters - one gifted with an incredibly rare and valuable ability, the other gifted with, um, nothing.  Enter subject of twibling rivalry (which I've heard escalates in the sequel, Vanish). Love these pictures of Jacinda and her twin Tamra - so similar, so different.

Maybe it's because two really good friends of mine are twin sisters, and they did not get a long AT ALL (extreme twibling rivalry) (which caused me a lot of problems trying to be friends with both of them).

Maybe it's because it always intrigues me when I find out some famous person had a twin. Did you know that Scarlet Johannson, Ashton Kutcher, Keifer Sutherland, Isabella Rossellini, Eva Green, Vin Diesel and Gisele Bundchen are twins? Elvis Presley was too, though his twin brother Jesse died at birth.

Oh, yeah, I also have twin daughters.  Fraternal twins, four and half years old. Who don't act like twins at all; they are bonded more with their older siblings than which each other.

Twin dynamics have always fascinated me - actually, any sort of sibling dynamics, because I'm an only child, and have always been curious about that family relationship I never got to experience.

My twins get a long pretty well, so far no sign of twibling rivalry, but based on my experience with friends who were twins, I'm always on the lookout of ways to prevent/mitigate twibling rivalry.

Turns out, from my studies on the subject so far, the problem isn't so much with the twins differences; the problem comes from the peanut gallery: everyone is tempted to compare twins. I've seen this first hand. People always asking me how they are different, how they are similar, pointing out various strengths and weaknesses. It's so tempting to compare them, even justifying it by thinking "she has different strengths than her twin." But this relentless temptation to compare appears to be root cause of most twibling rivalry (as I'm sure it is with most sibling rivalry in general).

So I figure if I'm going to write about characters who are twins, I'd better do it now - soon - before my twins are old enough to come back at me with things like "I just know you were writing about me and my sister in that book."

Here's a Goodreads list of books with twins in them. I was surprised at how few I've heard of and even fewer I've read. Ken Follet has a book called The Third Twin - what an intriguing title! (and right there with my current science fiction cravings). Also, because these kinds of lists fascinate me, here's a list of movies with twins.

What's your favorite book or movie about twins?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Shifting and "Getting Things Done"

Shapeshifting and productivity tools make for exactly the strange combo of myth and reality I love. So the shapeshifting comes in with Bethany Wiggin's wonderful new YA novel, Shifting, which releases Sept. 27. Feel free to skip the "Getting Things Done" mumbo jumbo and scroll down to get more details on Shifting.
In my last post, in which I introduce myself to visiting Campaigners and reveal my worst writing weakness,  I lament on how my procrastination is so bad at times that I'll even procrastinate reading the helpful blog Procrastinating Writers to help me get motivated. I love to write, but revising is not so much fun, so I keep putting it off.

"Getting Things Done" by David Allen (also known as GTD) is a cult classic apparently on-par with the Atkins Diet as far as popularity, but I only just started learning about this productivity system (and with a lot of reservations. After all, the Atkins Diet didn't work for me).

But right away, as I started implementing GTD at my day job, I started thinking "hey, maybe this will help me with revising my novel, too." 

I am not a type A personality, so I have some concerns about using GTD for anything to do with writing - even revising. The thought of reducing my stories and dreams and creativity down to a bunch of lists seemed akin to dying a slow, crumbling death.

But here's David Allen's take on GTD and personality types:
From all my years of working with probably every type of reasonably healthy and effective person, I’ve noticed no particular bias of style that “favors GTD” more than any other.  Of course, the real question inside that:  What is GTD?  If you think it’s about organizing lists, then of course the left-brainers may fall in step. If you say, on the other hand, it’s really about the most effective way to produce and maintain clear psychic space, then the “creatives” will most resonate.  Eliminating static appeals to everyone, in his/her own way, and for his/her own reasons.... it opens vistas and catalyzes thinking. Could it be that GTD is truly on the nerve of the larger integration of yin/yang, creator/destroyer, right-brain/left-brain, linear/associative polarities?
Opens vistas and catalyzes thinking? - and claims to improve productivity? Sounds like something fiction writers could use. I actually did find a few blog posts from writers, like this one,  who have tried the GTD method, with what I'd call "reserved optimism."  I plan to give it a try.

Now, away with the ugly P words (procrastination and productivity) and on to pure fun with a dash of suspense:

Shifting, by Bethany Wiggins

Maggie Mae lost her family when she was six, and has been moved through dozens of foster homes, never lasting longer than a year at any place. Within a month of high school graduation, she's being forced to move yet again, with her only possessions in a single duffel bag, a few hand-me-own clothes.

But the kid's got spunk. At her first day of school, she meets Bridger - gorgeous, well-dressed, obviously rich - and he hesitates when asked to show her around the school. As she compares herself to him, she thinks: 

I wouldn't want to be seen with me either. "I don't need any help, Mrs Carpenter. I can show myself around," I said not taking my eyes from Bridger's. 

"I don't mind," Bridger said halfheartedly, running a hand through his hair.

"I don't want to be seen with you. It might tarnish my image," I replied, tucking my hair behind my ears. It was easier to go to school when everyone thought you were a loner because you chose to be, not because you were dirt poor and dressed all wrong. 

The book tempts you to think Maggie is going to experience a Cinderalla-like reversal in fortune. Her latest foster-mother, Mrs Carpenter, is eccentric but wonderfully kind and supportive. She even manages to accept Maggie's shapeshifting abilities without freaking out. 

And the girl can shift into a cheetah! - how cool is that? In fact, the cover for the ARC I got to borrow had a picture of a girl facing off with a cheetah, and I was a little sad to see it didn't make the final cut. The snake on the final cover is a bit misleading, I think - makes me think "Medusa" and Maggie is nothing like that at all.

The requisite hawt guy, Bridger, left a sour first impression, but then he switched gears. The thing I loved about this book is its twists and turns are always unexpected and it's always switching gears. This is no Cinderella story. Maggie's got a tough road to follow and no fairy godmother to help her (though there is a brief, hilarious fairy scene in the story. I wiiiiiiissssssshhhhh I could give you more details). 

Bridger is both Irish and Navajo (neat!) and he takes his turn playing a rich snob, a scoundrel, a player, and a friend. Sometimes you want to kill him but he and Maggie definitely keep you flipping through a pages at record speed to find out what's going on - between her secrets, and his.  

Another great thing about this story are the Navajo friends Maggie makes at school and at the  restaurant she works with. The references to Navajo culture add an interesting touch to this story. The story also involves an old abandoned mine that will truly send chills up your spine. Shifting definitely has some deliciously scary horror elements to it and one of the most horrifying high school scenes I've EVER read.

Thank you Elana Johnson for setting up the ARC tour for this wonderful book so I could get a sneak peek at it! Also, thank you Bethany Wiggins for being one of the first people to comment on my blog, back in April of 2010. I've never forgotten it - never discount the power of a comment.

What animal would you choose to shift to, if you had the choice? (depending on my mood, I'd pick an eagle, dolphin, or unicorn) (Yup, that's me, always coming back to mythical creatures). 
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