Monday, December 27, 2010

Are you afraid of the dark?

There's an interesting discussion at The New York Times about the trend toward darkness in YA fiction. Why are teens so interested in civilizations gone horribly wrong, in the remnants of destroyed worlds? Why are they so fascinated by vampires as to make the creatures eye-rollingly ubiquitous lately?

Well, my first response is that many teens aren't. I see plenty of customers who want fiction that's more like their lives, or who want fantasy that's not quite so gloomy. One customer picked up Jennifer Donnelly's much-lauded time travel story Revolution and implored, "It doesn't have any vampires, does it?" Trends are trends, but for every Thing that's Everywhere, there are people in search of something different.

That said, the doom-and-gloom stuff is indisputably popular among teens, and that's hardly unique to the past few years. The Times discussion raised some good points about escapism and about working out things that are "dark" in the real world. But I think sometimes it's simpler than that. Sometimes, teens just really want to feel that they've moved beyond the elementary material. And when you get right down to it, reading is probably one of the better ways to feel badass.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To do: 1) Shop 2) Wrap 3) Be awesome

A teenaged customer brings a copy of Paper Towns to the register.
Me: Ooooh, John Green!
Her: I know, I love him. I'm getting this for my friend.
Me: Do you watch the video blog he does with his brother?
Her: Yes!!
(Both of us: thinly veiled Nerdfighter squee.)
Me: Okay, if you could sign your receipt here... and, um, would it be really cheesy if I said, "Don't forget to be awesome?"
Her: No! ...You just kind of made my day.

The youth is out there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We walk the line.

How subtle is too subtle? "It's a hard line to walk," a writing friend said recently, "because it's all obvious to me."

I feel the same way. Though I don't write complex mysteries, at least not yet, there's virtually always something to figure out. Characters learn things about themselves and about their relationships with those around them, and I want readers to have the chance to say, "ahah! I knew Hortense had it coming!" or "Yes! Called it! Snydley is a good friend who should be treated better!" (No, I am not writing The Adventures of Snydley and Hortense, but I think I'll continue to pretend I am for the purpose of examples on this blog.)

Anyone who's watched a TV show with me knows that I'm a proponent of "show, don't tell" as a major rule of storytelling. I'd much rather have Snydley come unexpectedly to Hortense's defense than say, "No matter how many times Hortense left Snydley to make snow angels by himself, he was always there for her." But how strong or frequent do hints have to be for readers to pick up on them? Does the answer to that question change depending on the age of the intended reader?

What do you all think? Snydley is waiting patiently for your response. (Hortense is too busy obsessing over her Facebook status.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Early decision

Seventeen years ago today, I made a major life choice: I was going to be a writer. I'd been floating this career idea for a few years at that point; I liked books a whole lot, and loved the idea that books could be my job. The pencil-to-paper aspect had given me some doubts; readers who've seen my handwriting will not be surprised that learning to write was a struggle, and we didn't have a computer, so that option wasn't on the radar. But by this point, "write" had started to mean more than "form letters, and for Pete's sake, make them neater."

December 16, 1993 was the day everything clicked.

The assignment was to write a review of the stage version of Heidi we'd seen the day before. I started with a minor point (if I recall correctly, a graduate of our school had been in the play), and had a great time finding ways to connect it to other points until I'd said everything I wanted to say. It was like a game, and on that assignment, I felt like I was winning. Yes, I said to myself, This is something I can do. I think I will be a writer.

Yes, mathematicians, I was most definitely a kid, though I would've told you adamantly that I was a preteen. But only the details of my career plans have changed since then. Knowing I was going to be a writer affected the way I read, spoke, thought, joked, and played with words. It affected the way I listened to music and the way I interpreted the events around me.

I imagine I'd eventually have come to this decision with or without that one-paragraph assignment in Mrs. Anapolsky's class. But as it turned out, today is kind of the birthday of something I can't imagine my life without.

I celebrated by doing revisions.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Hunger Games and the teddy bear

Our kids' section contains a larger-than-toddler-life teddy bear, which for some of our youngest customers is the main attraction. It gets hugged, sat upon, rolled upon, and generally abused with the best of intentions. But this morning, it sat neatly on the rocking chair. (Thanks, closing staff!)

Enter a boy somewhere between ten and thirteen. He grabbed The Hunger Games off the shelf, looked around for a seat, and sat down on our ursine friend. "You can move the bear if you want," I told him. He shook his head and opened the book to the middle--where he'd left off last time, I guess--and continued reading until the end. He stayed with the book long enough that I'm convinced he wasn't just checking it out.

That right there, that's early adolescence. It's a time when you can feel compelled to finish a book about teens forced by the government to rip each other's throats out, while simultaneously feeling compelled to sit on a teddy bear.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wanna overanalyze?

At some point in the novel-writing process, I found myself staring at a line of dialogue, asking, "Should she say gonna or going to?" That led to more questions: Do all the characters say gonna or going to? What about the first-person narration? What about wanna and want to?

So I made a list. Under want to and going to, I listed most (but not all) of the adult characters, as well as a child character who's probably not up on the latest slang. Wanna and gonna were for everyone else.

This morning, my friend ctrl+f and I sought out all examples of such language with the intention of making them abide by these rules. And I found that they don't work. Emotions make a difference. Who the listener is and what the speaker thinks of the listener makes a difference. A character who gets excited easily is not going to slow down and say to a perceived new friend, "What are we going to do at recess?"

This novel is not gonna keep to the list.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanks, Jeff Kinney. Thanks, Lauren Myracle. Thanks, Dav Pilkey.

Lately, I'm noticing a lot of parents and other gift-givers looking for something light and enjoyable to give to the young readers in their lives. Take today:

-A set of parents unaccompanied by their children asked me to direct them toward Captain Underpants.
-An aunt who seemed to know her nieces and nephews well was delighted to find The Fashion Disaster That Changed My Life for a fashion-oriented preteen.
-Two parents of normally-somewhat-reluctant readers--one an elementary-aged girl, one a preteen boy--came with a question that's gotten super-common: "What would you recommend for someone who loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid?" One walked away with The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, the other with Big Nate: In a Class by Himself. (The fact that it's not obvious which was which says something to me about the wide appeal of semi-graphic novels.)

And you know what? I wouldn't call any of the above books cringe-worthy, junk, or teeny-trash. There's a place for that kind of book, too, but isn't it nice that so many books with plot and character development, books that don't treat anyone as an idiot or a sex object, have found ways to appeal to kids who just want something fun to read?

I guess I'm still Thanksblogging a bit, December or not. So sue me.