Saturday, April 30, 2011

And the Winner is....

I look very pale in this video. A trick of the light, I assure you.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU everyone for entering. This was so much fun, hopefully I'll do another soon.



Thursday, April 28, 2011

Abuse in YA

Hello hello out there. Today is the second last day to enter for your chance to win a stunning copy of A TOUCH MORTAL by Leah Clifford. Tell your friends. Tell your friends' friends. There's no reason that you should miss out on this contest.

So, recently I started reading Stolen by Lucy Christopher. (Ignore the side-bar that says I'm reading Chime. I will get back to it. Someday...) Anyway, in it the main character, Gemma, is kidnapped by a man named Ty and brought to Australia. Throughout the book, despite the fact that Ty is a kidnapper, has serious mood-swings, and does some pretty shifty things, I was rooting for him. I loved Ty. He wasn't a villain to me.

So why do I have such a problem with other characters (most usually love interests) who show similar traits?

Let's back up a step here. The problem I want to talk today is abusive/unhealthy relationships sometimes portrayed in YA. It's most noticeable in urban fantasy/paranormal. It's easy to take a character who is humanity-impaired and made him "sexy" and "dangerous." Push it a little further and he (Sorry ladies, most of the time it's the male love interest!) may get her "hurt" and needs to "protect" her.

Our target audience is teenagers 12-17. And let's face it, most of our readers are girls. (Something that needs to be improved, but that's another rant for another day.) Teenage girls, for the most part, love that element of danger. Of mystic. Of intrigue. Danger only adds to the romance. It adds tension and it's hot. Just take a look at the shelves of your YA section. Girls like dangerous bad boys.

But there's an invisible line that I think a lot of authors don't pay attention to.

That line goes from protecting to stalking.

From trying to keep someone safe to isolating them from friends and family.

From sexy and dangerous to mood swings and fights.

Abuse doesn't always take the form of some scary man punching the poor, defenseless girl. It takes other forms, quieter forms that we sometimes miss in real life and in fiction. It takes the form of verbal abuse (Ever heard the one where he insults her to keep her away?) to mental manipulation ("I was just trying to protect you! You know I love you.") to over-protecting, stalking and possessive behaviors. ("I saw you go out with him. What do you think you were doing?!")

I love dark and angsty boys as much as the next person, but in urban fantasy and paranormal it seems easy to call behavior that we would never tolerate in real life "protecting." It's easy when the MC's friends and parents get concerned for the guy to grit his teeth, obviously in turmoil, and say, "I'm dangerous. There are things after me. I was just trying to protect you!"

This is dangerous, because it paints an image of how relationships should be to teens who have little to no experience with relationships. The last thing you want is for girls to think that a guy who mentally manipulates her, calls her stupid, and tries to keep her away from her friends or other boys is the way it "should" be.

Despite all this, I love unhealthy relationships. I love the strange, the different, the twisted. I loved the Marbury Lens and I can direct you to my post all about Cartman from South Park. But the thing about these unhealthy relationships in urban fantasy and paranormal (And other genres, yes, but these are the most prevalent) is that the author portrays these actions as normal. Worse, they portray them as healthy.

I have no problem with unhealthy relationships, but honestly authors, be honest. If you're going to write about an unhealthy relationship, then don't hide it. Be proud of it. The reason I loved Stolen and the relationship between Ty and Gemma is that there was no attempt to hide the fact that it was screwed up and completely unhealthy. If the author, or the characters admit, or however you want to make it apparent, I will stand behind the unhealthy relationship. You could go the traditional route where the guy and girl literally beat each other and I could still support it, so long as you don't try to make it seem right.

Abusive relationships should be explored in YA. Nothing should be off-limits for YA (and if you write it right, nothing is.) But when you lie to your readers and say "This is normal" that is NOT acceptable.

You wouldn't show a girl killing herself because she's obese and portray it as normal, and that anyone fitting these characteristics should kill themselves. So don't do it with abusive relationships.

If you write any genre, you need to take a look at your characters and their actions. You need to think about what aspect of life your characters are portraying. In my book that's currently on sub, the girl stabs the guy she ends up with, but by no means do I portray it as normal. My male character acknowledges that this is screwed up, and he's screwed up for still wanting her after she stabbed him.

There's dark and sexy in YA. Then there's assholes. Then just plain abuse. There's nothing wrong with writing darkness, just please authors, don't try to lie about what you're writing, otherwise, you're as deluded as the victim in your abusive relationships.



Monday, April 25, 2011

Side Characters are Heroes too.

Thanks everyone who signed up for my easter contest, and hello new followers! :) I hope we can get a few more entries before the end of the week to really spice things up. Retweets are always loved!

Now, in Crash, my current WIP, I have a character that came out of nowhere and quickly weasled his way into a star position. This isn't really unusual for me, as I love side characters and my books tend to write themselves more often than not. But what I'm starting to realize in all my infinite frustration, is that even though he's weasled his way into a star role, right now he's little more than a foil.

I hate foils.

Sure, they're great sometimes, but honestly, in novels, I like to think of each character as their own person. In life we don't have "foils," each person is their own main character, their own star. So I try to make every semi-main character a star, not just my MC.

So how do I do this?

Simple, (although it seems that way even though it took me a while ot puzzle it out.) for a character to stand out, they have to do something on their own. It can be small, it doesn't have to outshine your MC, but have them do something that's still vital to the plot. Of course your side characters all have dreams and motives and desires, so make your characters act on them. They don't have to blindly follow your MC around. It will help expand your story, deepen it, and give interesting subplots. (I love subplots!)

Try it. Find a character who is not insignificant, but has a smaller role but close to your MC. Have them chase their aspirations. Tie it back into the main plot somehow. Maybe they discover something about the villian? Maybe they foil a plan by a rival? Look through the eyes of somebody else to help add to your story. If you're writing in first person, you should be able to pull it off as well. Though we won't see it from the other character's POV, we can have them explain it or show us through other methods.



Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Contest!

Do y'all want to win A TOUCH MORTAL by Leah Clifford?

OF COURSE YOU DO. Just look at that beautiful cover.

So how can you win this fabulous book? Simple, my friends!

Your name will be entered into my trusty-dusty bowl and I will make a video of me pulling out the winning name next Saturday April 30th after the contest ends. There are about a bazillian ways to enter, so there's no way you, yes YOU, shouldn't win.

--> Comment on this post (+one entry)
--> Follow this blog! (+another entry)
--> Follow me on Twitter! (+another entry)
--> Tweet about this contest! (Link to the tweet in the comments and +another entry)
--> Blog about this contest! (Link to the post in the comments and +another entry!)

If you do all of the above, your name will be entered into the bowl five times. YES, FIVE TIMES. Come on, people, you can't lose!

The contest will end at Midnight on Friday April 29th Mountain time. So enter! Enter now!

Go, go, go!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: The Marbury Lens

Jack was just a normal kid on the cusp of summer vacation when he winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is kidnapped. Through sheer will and determination, Jack escapes, and with the help (or hindrance) of his best friend Conner, they inadvertently kill his kidnapper. They put it behind them when they head off to London for their summer vacation, ready to enjoy drinking and no parental supervision. But things go wrong when Jack meets Henry Hewitt, who gives him a pair of glasses that allow him to glimpse a world just beyond their own: Marbury. Jack begins to question his sanity. What's real, London or Marbury? Conner or Griffin and Ben? Nikkie or the war?

Let's just start this review off with: wow. I've always been interested in fantasies that dabble in the idea that, "Hey, this might not be as real as we think it is." Part fantasy, part psychological thriller, Andrew Smith takes the reader through three stories: the story of Jack, the story of Seth, and the story of Marbury. Because of this, sometimes it feels like the pace is lacking. Just as it picks up in one storyline, we move to another and we lose most of the dramatic tension. I didn't mind this while reading and it was only about 3/4 of the way through the book that I was beginning to grow a little frustrated. I wanted to shake Jack and tell him to get over his moping and get back to Marbury, but that is probably just my interpretation.

Smith's characters have a quiet way of coming alive. I think the greatest thing about this book is the relationship between Jack and Conner, and to a lesser degree, Jack and Ben and Griffin. Even though Jack is a cynical character, he gains a lot of sympathy through his relationship with Conner. Their contrasting personalities really complement each other, and my favorite parts of the book were when they were interacting in some way.

Smith's writing style is blunt, to say the least. If you're a big fan of description and flowery writing, this may not be your cup of tea. Though since Jack appears to be more of an unobservant character, this is possibly a reflection of how he views the world. The repetition of phrases that Jack uses doesn't become stale, but in fact really shows how Jack copes with all the things that are happening to him. You'd think after four hundred pages of "Freddie Horvath did something to my brain and I need to get help" it would be obnoxious, but somehow he managed to make it tolerable.

I think the only thing I had a huge problem with was his resolution. I promise I will be as spoiler-free as possible while I'm talking about this. Seth's story came to a close that I really enjoyed. The Marbury storyline did come to a close, but not in a way that really felt finished to me. And Jack's storyline was completely unfinished. Throughout most of the book, he struggled with the differences between Marbury and the real world and the fact that he really couldn't have both. Despite this, at the end of the story he doesn't seem to have any answers. It felt like his story could have gone on forever as it was, with his struggling, going back and forth and getting sicker and sicker, alienating more and more people in the process. I felt like, since his entire story was chaotic, he needed a more definitive end to put things back into balance.

Regardless, the Marbury Lens was a fascinating read, and I recommend it to anyone who has a bit of a tougher stomach. It's definitely a "boy book" so if there are any guy readers who have a hard time with YA, introduce them to Jack's world of chaos and mystic. They won't be disappointed.

Overall: 4/5 stars.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gay Teens in YA and the Media

I've been thinking on this topic a lot and I thought I'd really like to do a blog post on it. I know in America gay teens have a little bit of a harder time coming out and dealing with their sexuality, and there is some tension in some places more than others. I'd love to talk about the bullying issues and suicide rate among gay teens, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I don't have any real experience with that.

I live in Canada, and I grew up with gay kids. I went to school with them, I played matchmaker, I dated girls. And even though I grew up hearing about all these horrible things that happen to gay kids, I never saw any of it. I'm not saying it doesn't exist or that kids in Canada don't struggle with it just as much as the kids in the US, it just wasn't part of my world. But the kids were.

When dealing with coming out, I think the greatest problem (besides our parents, because there is always fear of disapproval from parents, no matter what) was that it was just a "phase" we were going through. As if, even though she was looking at that girl and he was longing after that boy, they'd just wake up the next morning and boom, it'd be gone. And then the humiliation of going up to your friends and having to tell them, "Actually, I'm not gay." Because then comes the stigma that they were a liar, a sheep, trying to get attention. And that stigma was way worse than being gay or straight.

So, as I was in Junior High and surrounded by all these kids who were gay or bi or transgendered and who were trying to figure each other out, I began to ask, where's the drama?

There was drama all right, but no more than any other kind of drama. Kids gossiped, as they always would, and there was hate, just like there was hate for any other kind of relationship. And it just became part of my world. When I first started writing, I wrote gay characters. They were part of my world too.

So you can understand my confusion turning on a TV and opening a book and finding absolutely no hint of gay characters and culture.

And I started to wonder, am I the freak? Why doesn't anyone else hang out with gay people? Where were all the gay people?

The media, especially, is pretty bad for this. In YA, we see more and more gay characters beginning to show up. Some that deal with the quintessential "gay problems" (parents kick you out, bullying, ect.) and some that don't. But frankly, I think we need to see more of this. The hatred for gays in the US and Canada and around the world won't go away if we quietly ignore it. Most hatred for gays is bred in the household, where parents pass their prejudice onto their kids. You can't tear open the household and force people to believe what you believe, and that's not what we're trying to do. But if a kid is told time and time again at home that gays are bad, but when they go outside they read about them in books, see them in tv shows, are exposed to not only gays but the ideas that gays are normal, then that's what's going to make an effort to change people's minds.

You don't have to write about gay problems. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Some kids go up to their parents and say, "You know, I think I'm gay" and their parents accept them at the drop of a hat. No big deal. I'm not saying don't write about gay problems, because they are real and that's a terrible thing, but you're not going to change anyone's mind by talking about the negativity brought by those who don't understand. The way you're going to change people's minds is to paint gays like normal kids. Who don't get beat up just for being who they are. Who don't go home wondering if they'll get kicked out. Who don't want to kill themselves because they think God made them "wrong."

Just write kids.

If you help bring gay characters into the light, even if they're side characters or barely mentioned, then you really help to show kids who are struggling with their sexualities or living in a hostile environment that this is okay. It's normal. Maybe it's not a huge thing, maybe you're not changing the world overnight, but it's the small things that matter.



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sharing is Caring: Groupthink

Hey everyone. I thought I'd share the first chapter of a novel that I started and abandoned. Reading over it again, I think I might pick it up eventually, but I figured I'd post it here to see if anyone thought it was worth pursuing.

It's a YA sci-fi, currently untitled. I wrote it, so there's a language warning. Enjoy.

This is how it ends.

He’s running because he can, even though he knows they won’t catch him. These are his woods, his back country, and he knows them better than he knows himself. Each sharp breath stabs his lungs and his heart pumps battery acid through his veins. There are shouts and sirens behind him. The police are closing in.

And he throws back his head and laughs, because if he’s going back, he’s going to enjoy these last few moments of freedom.

He skids down a ditch. Branches cloaked in shadow tug and tear at his clothes and he lands in a puddle of mud. It sucks him down, but he manages to get a grip on a root and pulls himself up to freedom.

A gun fires and something too heavy and fat to be a bullet whizzes past him. He ducks under another branch, leaping over a fallen long, and then another shot is fired. A bean bag hits him dead in the back, throwing him from his feet.

Lights cut through the night, casting leafy shadows across him. He scrambles to his feet, but he doesn’t get far. His lungs feel as though they’ve exploded in his chest. He gasps and gulps air, but he’s done. His muscles cry ‘no more’ and he sags against a tree, defeated.

When the police arrive, he realizes they’re all there. Veola, Mom, Jasper, even Craig. They all watch him with those soulless eyes, faces devoid of emotion, devoid of life. It’s a sign they’re under Groupthink’s influence. He can’t believe he missed it before. That empty, dead, freakin’ zombified look. The Groupthink look. He can hardly believe he used to be one of them.

“Give us the Bug, Kyle,” a policemen orders. Guns are aimed at him and he wonders if these men would actually shoot, if Groupthink—a lousy computer, for fuck’s sake!—is that afraid of him.

He holds the flash drive high in the air, clutched tightly in his fist. “Don’t move!” he shouts, as if that would stop them. Every single pair of eyes looks to the flash drive at once. “Mess with me and I’ll… I’ll…”

What? What more can he do? He’s in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere with no chance of escape.

His mother’s already crying. “Please, Kyle. Groupthink is good. Groupthink helps us. Please don’t hurt it.”

And that is it. Because his mother is not a crier. She’s a strong, amazing woman who he’s looked up to for years. And Groupthink changed all that.

“Don’t you see what this is doing to you?” he shouts. The guns train on him, and he’s just had it. The past few months flash before his eyes and he just stops caring. They can shoot him right where he stands and he wouldn’t care, because at least he got the chance to live. He isn’t giving that up for anything. “Groupthink has turned you all into puppets! Groupthink was supposed to take away the bad, but it got rid of the good as well. You can’t live without sadness. Without anger. Without jealousy.”

He stares into a field of blank faces. They’re puppets. They only feel what Groupthink wants them to feel.

Which means if these men shoot him right now, his mother would probably nod and say it’s for the best. If he dies now, no one will care, because Groupthink won’t let them care.

“It ends here!” he yells, and then he takes the flash drive between his fingers and snaps the brittle plastic and metal.

There’s a sputter, a spark, and a sound that makes him wonder if the flash drive just cried out in pain.

The crowd before him shifts. Blank faces turn down into mirrored looks of rage and hatred. Their eyes trail from the broken flash drive back up to look at him. He steels himself for the inevitable, and even though he knew it would come to this, he’s scared.

In those final moments, he can swear his brother is standing with him. Zac’s hand on his shoulder, his calm, amused tone ringing in his ear.

“Looks like you’re up shit creek without a paddle. What are you gonna do about it, Tile?”

Not much I can do about it, he replies to his brother’s imaginary voice.

“You going down a martyr?”

“Yeah,” he breaths aloud to the voice in his head. “I think I am.”

“Good choice.”

One of the cops fires and the force throws him back against the tree. His head cracks against the bark, and suddenly everything is a hell of a lot lighter. He knows this is the end—always knew it would be—and maybe he’s okay with that.

This is how it ends. It’s hard to say when it starts, because there are so many details in the way.

But it should go something like this.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Note to Aspiring Authors

Hey y'all. A writer that I know who has found success in publishing has recently decided to hang up her quill and hat because the stress of the industry are too much for her. I've always been the blinding optimist (despite my black blog-scheme) and my response to giving up has always been "Don't give up! Keep going!" I'm stubborn as stubborn can be and very ambitious, but when I heard about this it gave me pause.

I think a lot of writers, once they start down the querying path, are waiting for success and expecting that success to bring them a little relief. It's hard to do what we do. We struggle through draft after draft, query after query and when we do start down on this path (querying agents, on sub to publishers, waiting for release dates ect) we expect a pay off. We say to ourselves "Once I get that agent, then I'll be happy. Once I get that publisher, then I'll be happy. Once I get ten good reviews, then I'll be happy." But the reality of the business is that's simply not the case.

I started my journey to actively pursue publication three years ago last march. I'm not saying, by any standards, that I'm the expert in this. But I do have a few years experience without being so far along the line that I've forgotten what it is to write without the pressures of the business.

When I wrote before I started pursuing publishing, it was very freeing. It was extremely isolated, so I shared my writing with whoever I could. Posting it online, joining classes, giving it to people who seemed interested. And pursuing publishing really helped me for that. Suddenly I had people reading my query letters, agents looking at partials or fulls, beta readers destroying my pages with their little red pens. It gave me a chance to get out there. But, it also added a lot of pressure to the situation. Suddenly, it wasn't about just writing whatever I wanted to. It was writing something good, something people would enjoy, something that was worthy enough to recieve attention by industry professionals.

In came the Stress.

It was as though I felt a literal weight settle onto my shoulders. In fact, I can still feel it there. Writing, though I had always intended to pursue publication, turned from something I did for me, to something I did for everyone. I'm not saying I was trying to impress everyone at the cost of my own artisic values, I was just trying to be better at what I loved. I was pushing myself to be better at every turn, because this is what I wanted.

Nothing changed when I signed with my agent. That pressure of "Go, go, go." didn't stop. There was no "release" when I got my agent, because suddenly I had reached a new leg of the journey, a new goal to look forward to. The pressure was still there. And it will still be there when I get a publisher, and my first book's out, and my second, and so on and so on....

And you know what, I'm okay with that. I like the pressure that comes with this business. It keeps me going. It makes me feel like this isn't something I'm doing flippantly. It's my job, and I like it that way.

But there are a lot of writers who hate that pressure. Maybe they can handle the stress of managing their own business or the pressures of a high powered office, but this kind of stress, the weight, they hate. And those are the writers that, I find, say to themselves, "I'll be happy when I get an agent. I'll be happy when I get a publisher." And so on, forever and for eternity. They're never happy, because each milestone doesn't relieve their stress.

That feeling doesn't go away.

So if you're a writer who hates querying, who hates the waiting and the stress and the scrutiny of this business, you have to ask yourself, is this really the right place for you?

I think everyone can do it. Anyone can publish a book if they're willing to work hard at it, but sometimes that's not for everyone. If you can't stand the gatekeepers of this business, or the waiting, or having to sumerize your work, then that's a big problem. That is the business. There is no, "I won't have to do any of that after I get an agent/editor." No. You'll be writing query-type pitches and dealing with the waiting for as long as you pursue publication.

I want you to succeed in your writing, but sometimes you have to take a second and ask yourself, is this really the type of career I want?



Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: White Cat

Holly Black's White Cat is a story of cons within cons, of criminals and magic. Cassel Sharpe, the only non-curse worker in a family of workers, opens the book by sleepwalking out onto the roof of his dorm, which gets him suspended from school until he can prove he won't be doing it again. For any normal kid, this wouldn't be a big deal. But for Cassel, it means going back to living with his two older brothers-- one who is a luck worker and the other a physical worker-- Barron and Phillip, and their grandfather, who used to be a death worker. Cassel would probably protest being the only non-CRIMINAL in a family of mobsters and con-artists, but he's not. When he was fourteen, he stabbed and killed the girl he loved, Lila, who also happened to be the daughter of a very powerful mobster. Barron and Phillip helped hide the body, but Cassel's felt guilty ever since. But spending time at home, Cassel starts to suspect something within the Sharpe family is amiss. His brothers are keeping secrets from him, he's losing things, and a mysterious white cat in his dreams is desperately trying to tell him something. Cassel just might be the mark in a con he wasn't even aware of.

The first thing that drew me to White Cat was the premise. I mean, come on. MOBSTERS? Who work with MAGIC? Hells yeah. And in that aspect, I wasn't disappointed. White Cat fills in all the twists and turns of a con, and it's probably what drew me deeper and deeper into reading. The further you read, the more you want to keep reading, because pieces pop up and you want to desperately put them together. The only problem with this, I found, is that was I trying to over-read it. I spent most of the book looking for the con within the con within the con. Turns out there was only a con within a con. It was a bit of a let-down, but I can chock that up to my own overthinking.

Let's talk about Cassel, because as well as being a great main character, I had a few problems with him. As well as being the only non-worker in a family of workers, he also seems to be the most sensitive. He's caring and kind and that's lovely, but I couldn't help but wonder why he wasn't a little bit tougher around the edges. It wouldn't have bothered me, but everyone (with the exception of his two friends from school) were rough around the edges from either living a life of crime or growing up around it. There were some times where the sensitivity annoyed the crap out of me, and I just wanted Cassel to hit back (both literally and figuratively.) Later in the book, when the reason for a lot of his guilt is revealed to be a con (trying to be vague for the sake of those who don't want spoilers!) he still feels guilty about it, almost perhaps more so than in the beginning, which made little sense to me.

Again, this is probably because in a book of cons and magic, I expected a tougher character. This is probably why I had a main problem with the brothers, Barron and Phillip. (Mostly Phillip) I really sympathized with them, for when they showed those rare "brotherly" moments for Cassel. Even the bad things they did didn't faze me, because going into this book I knew they were criminals. Which meant they did bad things. And I was cool with that, as long as their characters justified their actions. And in my opinion, for the most part (and by that I mean Phillip), they did. I guess I feel like Phillip got the short end of the stick by the end.

White Cat's strength lies in its plot, with twists and turns and slowly building tension. I also really enjoyed Holly Black's writing style in this book. She had many short passages, which were sometimes no more than a paragraph. I was skeptical of these short passages at first, but they brought a sense of time passing and reality to the book that I really enjoyed. Her writing is crisp and straight-forward, which is great for a first person narrator.

As much as I complained about the three Sharpe brothers, I thoroughly enjoyed White Cat, and will definitely be picking up her sequel, Red Glove. If you're a reader that loves twists and turns, pick up White Cat. It certainly had enough tension to keep me reading way past when I should have put it down last night.

Final Verdict: 3/5 Stars.