Monday, September 27, 2010

Do we write for ourselves, our audience, or our generation?

Hannah Moskowitz had a thought-provoking post some weeks back at her blog about whether the YA community has gotten too insular...I don't agree with all of it, but I gotta love Hannah for getting me thinking. I love a good juicy blog discussion.

One of the sub-discussions that popped up was whether we should, or do, write for ourselves or for our audience.

So, I was just reading a book of interviews with children's writers from the library (AuthorTalk). The book came out in 2000 and I think the bulk of the writers were born in the 1930s. I mean, obviously if you're going to be one of the few selected for interviews in a book representative of the genre, you're going to be somewhat of a classic in your own time, so these aren't whippersnappers like me. (That may have been the first time in my life I used the word "whippersnappers", and I have to say, I never noticed what a fun cadence that word has.)

A recurring theme I noticed with these writers is that when they were young, they didn't see a lot of books about kids like them, whether it was because of race, or class, or because they lived in a big city, or whatever. These writers, and others like them, shaped the next generation of children's literature, the stuff I read as a kid in the 80s, where lots of kids lived in New York or Boston, and there were Jewish kids and black kids, and kids with really down-to-earth lives, money troubles, divorce, etc.

Of course, since I grew up with those books on the shelves, AND old books like Betsy-Tacy and Emily of New Moon and My Father's Dragon and Doctor Dolittle, it all blended together with little sense of How Far We'd Come, and meanwhile, I wondered where the books I wanted to read were. Like, why were fantasy books always set in pseudo-Medieval England? Why were they incredibly lacking in influence from other cultures or time periods? Why were disabled characters always either aggravatingly cheerful or just plain aggravating with a big fat lesson at the end? And we won't even get started on race. I mean, sure, books about other races existed in the mainstream, which was an improvement, but they were awfully pigeonholed...we still have this problem, but it gets better with the years. And gay characters? I didn't even know what gay WAS until I was like...nine or ten. This seems unbelievable now, and yeah, my childhood was SORT of isolated, but I did read teen magazines from the time I was nine and I recall no mention of gay teens at that point. (When I did find out, it wasn't from books or magazines either, btw, it was a documentary on PBS, probably about AIDS.)

I won't lie that one of my motivations in writing was to write books with the things I perceived to be missing from the stuff available, to reflect the world as I saw it, even in a fantasy novel. I was writing, in part, for my generation, the kid I was and the kids my friends were.

And, in fact, diversity was certainly not my only aim. One thing I desperately wanted to read about was HOT BOYS. I had trouble with that as a preteen and young teen because I liked skinny, artsy, sensitive boys who had angsty pasts and maybe some conflict but were still reasonably good guys, whereas most romance stories, whether for YA or adults, seemed to run more toward jocks and alpha males or bad boys. When anime came along, it blew my little mind because apparently Asian cultures and I agree on boys. Anime and manga are rife with the kind of boys I like. But I still dreamed of writing about them myself, in books.

Now, of course, I'm an adult and there is a new generation reading these books that I and others have written, and I've noticed there are other writers tackling very similar types of themes, characters and settings to the ones I always wanted to read. I can't help but think a lot of the current crop of new writers was born in the 70s and 80s and they must have thought some awfully similar things growing up. No doubt, the kids reading our books are seeing something missing. I don't know know what it will be yet. So, do I always write for my audience? I do listen to readers, but let's face it: probably not. But whatever the gap is, it's for them to fill, in the next decade or two or three. In the meantime, enjoy the relative hot boy diversity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Read your non-fiction, kids

Just as I was once shocked to learn that not everyone has huge bookshelves in their house, I am sometimes surprised to learn that many readers don't read nonfiction, except for school. (I'm sure there are also many nonfiction readers who don't read fiction, only I don't know them because I dwell in the fiction world and they're probably not reading my blog.)

I LOVE LOVE LOVE non-fiction. Always have. My childhood library, mind you, was a wee thing. It was built within my readerly lifetime and nowadays the small building is bursting at the seams with books, but when I was a kid, it was new and there was plenty of room. There was one stubby aisle of children's fiction. Children's non-fiction was lumped in with adult non-fiction, and that section was more like seven aisles, so it became my habit to wander down every aisle of children's fiction and the non-fiction every time I went to the library and pick up whatever caught my eye.

I started out as more of a fiction reader and started moving more toward non-fiction in my early twenties, and then back a bit more to fiction again when I became serious about fiction writing. My favorite books ever are fiction, but my home library is 75% non-fiction.

My favorite non-fiction books have always been about history or other countries, particularly about some aspects of people's every day lives. This has shaped who I am as a person and a writer. I haven't been to another continent, and I grew up in a pretty small world. I didn't realize as a kid I was learning to think in global terms and notice patterns throughout history because of the many many books I read. In the past five years I've read about how airplanes work, the history of fairy tales and children's books, archaeology, the Age of Enlightenment, manners around the world, blindness, Romantic poets, Chinese foot-binding, immigrants and Ellis Island, the Masai people, the Chicago Worlds' Fair, early European explorers in the Americas, remote tribes in South America and Asia, three generations of a Japanese business family, the Mafia, conjoined twins, the Hindenburg, and the history of food; housework; Publix grocery stores and Woolworth's. I've traveled, via book, to Japan, Victorian England, 18th-century France and Italy, New York City, India, Russia, Mongolia, and Maine, and I've learned a little more about Isaac Asimov, Helen Keller, Sylvia Plath, Tasha Tudor, Louisa May Alcott, Colette, Frederick the Great, Charles and Emma Darwin, Lord Byron, Madame Pompadour, L. Frank Baum, the Romanovs, Horatio Nelson, the Mitfords, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, eternal favorites L. M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jane Austen, and the Brontes.

For fantasy writers especially, I think it's good to read non-fiction...whether you're interested in animals, food, rock formations, castles... You can bet you'll use it for world-building somewhere. Fiction is great, and I read tons of it, but non-fiction lends creativity and authenticity to fiction, and I don't just mean the reading you picked out for targeted research. Sometimes it's the random book you picked up on the fly that turns out to be just the thing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deadlines and me

I've been pretty accomplished lately. I sent off my story, "The Airship Gemini" for the Corsets and Clockwork anthology, and I passed 60,000 words on Magic Under Stone. It's probably going to be 75,000 words in the first draft (which makes it my Longest Thing Ever, not including Alfred and Olivia, which is 81k, but grew very slowly and comfortably over many revisions) I see the end in sight.

Last month, however, and during many other months of the summer, I was in despair about how I would get these things done by the deadline, especially with all of June and half of July occupied by pretty much rewriting Between the Sea and Sky. That crushing, OMG I'M GOING TO DISAPPOINT EVERYONE AND GO BROKE CAUSE THESE BOOKS WILL NEVER EVER BE DONE, despair. I was stuck in both contracted thingies, and that short story that sounded like a fun little thing when I signed up for it had seemed to grow into a very intimidating task as I worked on it.

As it turned out, I turned in The Airship Gemini early, and I'm not sure when Magic Under Stone is supposed to be due (my contract says November, but usually my editor seems to give me a different date), but unless someone tells me otherwise I gave myself a self-imposed deadline of November 2nd, because I'm going on vacation on the 4th and there is no better feeling than finishing a book and then leaving town! It appears I will definitely make that. Even allowing for getting stuck on the end.

My agent had a post today about the pros and cons of accepting a multi-book deal, which is similar to a topic I've been pondering lately--do I work better with or without a deadline? There were times earlier in the year when I just couldn't wait to be free of a deadline. I was thinking how I get SO stressed about them, I take them SO seriously even when the deadline is ages away (maybe because I never had any formal education with papers due? no experience forcing myself to do something and turn it in on time? or maybe because I'm just an over-achiever in certain areas), and how I hoped the next thing I sold would be done already.

Of course, now that it seems I'm going to make my deadlines without any problem, I wondered why on earth I was so worried. Deadlines are kind of great! They keep me on task so I don't flit around from project to project (as I am wont to do), and it's kind of awesome to be paid for something before you even write it.

So, now I have three books sold and two have been bought before they were written. I've also done two decently involved revision letters. And the short story. I'm a lot more acquainted with the deadline than I used to be. Will it be a little less scary next time I'm stuck under deadline? I'm not sure, really, if that fear ever goes away. But I also know that stories always work themselves out. So I guess I'm pretty comfortable with the deadline (unless it's really tight...I know how fast I's fast, but not CRAZY-fast, and I think it would be awful to force myself to work faster than that). Still, I'd be pretty hesitant to sell a book without, at least, a strong vision for it. I've stuck *fairly* well to my Magic Under Stone proposal, and thank goodness for that thing... Sometimes when I was flailing, I would read it to calm myself down. "I do know how this is going to end...just keep writing from point A to B to C and you WILL GET THERE!"

Other writers, feel free to chime in! Do you love or hate deadlines?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

And the winner of the Mermaid's Mirror, Matched and Paranormalcy ARCs is...!

Angie Frazier!

(For pete's sake. I just sent her that picture of Oscar from her interview last week! I could have bundled them!! LOL)

Thanks for entering, everybody!!

I spoke at a homeschooling event today about unschooling. It wasn't a huge event but I think I had a really good crowd considering the size...maybe 10 people at the peak. I was nervous though...small crowds are hard, I think. I think my speaking skills are decent. But this made me wish they were better still. The kind of person who can liven up a tough crowd or really engage a small one. I'm not there yet, but I think I'll get there with experience.

Dade thought there was someone there who had been at my signing earlier in the year. Oh gosh, I hope that's not true and there wasn't someone there I should have recognized! I'm so horrid with faces. It's embarrassing. Sometimes really embarrassing. Once when I worked at Sears, this customer asked me if we had meat grinders. In the one minute or so it took to go ask my coworker if we had meat grinders, I forgot what the person looked like. Utterly. I think I remembered their gender. That was it. So I had to go around asking every man in the vicinity if they'd been asking about meat who looked totally different from one another, men of different ages and races. *sigh*

Oh, and the real kicker was, the meat grinder guy seemed to have left.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mermaid-y Interview with L. K. Madigan and Giveaway of The Mermaid's Mirror, Matched, and Paranormalcy!!!

I have a treat for you today: an interview with L. K. Madigan, author of Morris-award-winning FLASH BURNOUT and the upcoming THE MERMAID'S MIRROR (releases Oct. 4th), which is a lovely story with very real contemporary characters and a magical underwater world that I already want more of. I asked her if she'd talk mermaids with me and not only did she say yes, she threw in two ARCs for me to give away, PARANORMALCY and MATCHED! I'm giving away those two and an ARC of her new book, details after the interview.

I know why I was drawn to mermaids when I was a little girl and ever since (at least, I have some theories...psychologists may differ...) but why were you drawn to mermaids?

This is a great question, and I’m glad you asked, because I really had to search my childhood memories. My fascination with mermaids has been life-long, so it took me awhile to pinpoint the beginning.

I believe I can trace my mermaid-love back to a vintage View-Master reel of Hans Christian Anderson Tales, one of which was “The Little Mermaid.” Not the Disney version … this was long before the animated film. (If you don’t know what a View-Master is, you can read about them here: They were invented in Oregon! I had no idea.)

Those images appear amazingly low-tech now, but when I first saw them … they were mesmerizing. The mysterious underwater setting combined with the poignancy of Anderson’s tale left an indelible impression on me.

Interviewee note: Lisa actually bought this reel on eBay when I interviewed her and got her photographer friend, Brian McLernon, to use all of his super close-up gear to turn them into visible images. Is this not the coolest interview ever? Thank you, Brian!

You first wrote about mermaids when you were eight years old with a 78 page manuscript called Mermaid's Fun. 78 pages is a LOT to write for an eight year old, I must say. And even as an adult I know this book has gone through some evolution. How have your fictional mermaids in general and this story in particular change over time?

The mermaids in my childhood manuscript sounded a lot like my sister, my friends, and me … except they possessed tails and the ability to breathe underwater. The mermaid who most resembled me was, funnily enough, a princess!

The characters in The Mermaid’s Mirror are purely fictional, both the humans and the mer-people. They’re no longer thinly disguised versions of my sister, my friends, and me. :-)

The early version of the book was written for younger readers. Lena, the main character, was fourteen years old, and her concerns revolved around her family and her desire to surf. Once I decided to turn the book into a YA novel, I aged Lena to sixteen. Her concerns also became “older,” centering more on her friends, her boyfriend, and her desire for independence.

Do you have a mermaid book, movie, myth, etc. that is your favorite?

In books, I really love Mary Pope Osborne’s MERMAID TALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD, which is exactly what it sounds likes – a collection of stories from various countries.

As for art books, my two favorites are MERMAIDS, by Elizabeth Ratisseau and SIRENS: SYMBOLS OF SEDUCTION, by Meri Lao. They’re full of gorgeous images and historical literary references to sea creatures.

I confess I haven’t read any of the current YA mermaid books, because I don’t want to be influenced (even unconsciously) by the other authors’ vision of undersea life … so I can’t claim a favorite among them. I will make an exception when YOUR book comes out, Jackie. :-)

In movies, I love “Splash” and “The Secret of Roan Inish.” And come on, who doesn’t love Disney’s “Little Mermaid”?! If we go waaaay back in time, “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” a 1960’s classic with Don Knotts, may have fueled my fascination with mermaids. (I hear they’re doing a re-make of the movie now. Sigh.)

In the book, we learn that the names of the mermaids come from all the waters of the world. Some of them I recognized, like Melusina, from a famous mermaid myth, or Rusalka, after the Russian water spirits. But there were a lot I didn't recognize, and I've even been researching this stuff. Can you tell us the origins of a few of the names?

Some of them came from the Mary Pope Osborne compilation mentioned above. A lot of them came from Greek mythology. I found other names through lots of reading and research.

Here are a few specific sources:

Amphitrite – one of the Nereids (sea nymphs) in Greek mythology; she became Poseidon’s wife.
Merrow – the Gaelic word for mermaid or merman.
Wata – taken from “Mami Wata,” an African water spirit, sometimes depicted as a mermaid.

I loved comparing your mer world to the one in my upcoming novel Between the Sea and Sky. Did you do any particular research for the story, or has it all just been in your head for a while?

I worked on this story off and on for several years, so my undersea world evolved and clarified in my imagination with each rewrite. I read plenty of fairy tales and folk tales, but there’s not a huge amount of lore about sea creatures. Did you find that to be the case, when you were working on your mer world?

Yes. So true! I combed the internet for hours digging up what I could find. My library hardly had anything... It seems that most of what is out there is for little girls, but I know I'm not the only grown woman who still likes mermaids!

I wanted to portray the world beneath the waves as beautiful and mysterious and dangerous – after all, the sea IS all of those things – but also try to address practical questions. How do they breathe? How do they talk to each other? How do they avoid discovery?

It was so much fun to envision that world. Writing feels pretty close to magic, sometimes.

And one more question I must ask because I'm always fascinated by other people's themes--while The Mermaid's Mirror is a fantasy and more of a "girl" book than your previous (contemporary) novel, Flash Burnout, they both share a similar style of well-developed, realistic characters and world. Are there any themes you feel like both books share?

Oooh, another great question, Jackie! Both of my books explore the themes of love and loyalty – to friends, family, and romantic attachments. The main characters’ choices result in believable consequences in both books, I think.

Thank you so much for the interview, Lisa, and everybody pick up The Mermaid's Mirror come October!

Now, if you want to win the ARCs, you get +1 entry for commenting on the post and another entry for posting the following to Twitter:

I talk mermaids with L. K. Madigan: RT @jackiedolamore for a chance to win Mermaid's Mirror, Matched, and Paranormalcy!

Or to Facebook:

I talk mermaids with L. K. Madigan: Click for a chance to win Mermaid's Mirror, Matched, and Paranormalcy!

And then TELL ME in the comments or else I won't be able to keep track and you will LOSE YOUR CHANCE and it will be very sad. The contest is open to the US/Canada (sorry, I can't afford to send three books abroad, it's pricey!) and closes on Friday, September 17th.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is the world getting ever faster, or just kinda moving along?

This isn't a writing post, this was just a dumb history-geek musing that was keeping me awake last night for some reason. (Actually I think the dark chocolate I ate at 1 am was keeping me awake, the weird swirl of thoughts was from the stimulant. Bad idea.)

I had this conversation with my dad last week about how technology keeps advancing all the time and how the world keeps moving faster and faster. I think about this sometimes and it's really terrifying, because it seems like if the world keeps accelerating, pretty soon we're just going to explode or something.

But we were talking about what an advancement actually consists of. Is a faster computer every week truly the world getting faster? I sort of feel like it really only counts as a true advancement if you have trouble imagining life without it. Like, I was born in 1982 and spent the first fourteen years of my life without really experiencing the internet, but now I can't imagine life without it. It seems astounding when I think how my mom used to plan a vacation using Mobil Travel Guides. OMG! Nightmare! Ditto cell phones. I still barely own a cell phone--it's a pay-as-you-go piece of junk that usually sits unused in a pile of papers--but I'm SO used to OTHER people having cell phones that I also have trouble remembering what we did before they came along.

But, I don't consider faster internet really much of an upgrade. I mean, sure, it's hugely important, but if we suddenly all had to use 14.4k modems, my life wouldn't be utterly destroyed. We'd go back to more mailing lists and message boards than Twitter and such, and web pages would have to become less fancy again, but it wouldn't completely change life as we know it. It's sort of like if we all had to drive Model Ts. Yeah, they kind of putter along and probably everyone would learn more about car repairs, but you could still get around.

So in my lifetime I really only see the personal computer (I don't remember my family not having a computer, but they came into general household use when I was alive), internet, and the cell phone as the life-changing inventions of my time.

I still think the early 20th century was the most accelerated point in history. If I'd been born in 1900, it would be 1928 now, and I would have seen movies, the automobile, the radio, the telephone, widespread electricity, quite a few major innovations for housekeeping like the washing machine and vacuum cleaner (might not seem as important but it had a huge impact on women's lives)...Some major medical advances, too, I guess. I'm not as up on my medical history. Sanitation, certainly. The toilet came into widespread use at this time, and baths! The airplane I'm not sure counts until people actually began to use airplanes to travel regularly. I think it would be more of a shocker for a child of 1950 to go back to 1900 than a child of 2000 to go back to 1950. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's about the same because kids would go nuts without video games these days or something.

Or maybe inventions are just more subtle and complicated these days so we don't notice how much is going on. I don't know. I do always wonder what the major innovations of the next few decades will be. I'm guessing they will be in green technology. I hope so. I *think* we're nearly maxed out on communication technology.

Thus concludes a very random post.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Writer dreams; or, every night is like playing the lottery

I think every book I've written has benefited from my dreams. In Magic Under Glass, for instance, Annalie's curse came from a vivid dream I had some years earlier about a cursed prince. I say dreams are like playing the lottery because you certainly can't count on them to help you, but once in awhile you'll get an unexpected gift, and it can be extremely valuable.

When a helpful dream does come along, its effect can be almost miraculously potent. I've been working on Magic Under Stone and there is a character in it who is new to the book. He's actually (at least, as of this first draft) the secondary POV along with Nimira, so he's pretty important! He has an interesting situation and I WANT to know him, but I didn't feel like I really did.

The other night I had a dream where I was semi-in his shoes. The setting was all was modern, kind of like those weird Fushigi Yuugi stories where the cast of hot boys from ancient China are all oh-so-conveniently reincarnated in modern-day Japan. But because I briefly WAS him, I got some insights into his personality and his background that I didn't previously have. When I woke up suddenly I knew him in a new way. I've been clamoring to write about him ever since this dream, whereas before it was just sort of "meh".

This isn't the first time such a thing has happened by any means...but the nature of these dreams never fails to amaze me. I've had any number of bizarre character dream experiences. Sometimes I get hit with a whole new story out of nowhere, other times, like with the dream just described, I am walking in a characters shoes and getting to understand them in a way I never could while awake. One time I even woke from a nightmare, calmed myself by thinking of my stories, went back to sleep, and had a continuation dream where my characters saved me from the threat.

Does everyone dream like this? Or is it because I sleep too much?