Monday, September 22, 2008

What's Your Style-Genre?

In my last post, I talked about the definition/parameters of YA literature.  Now I'd like to consider the whole style-genre question.  (And forgive me if that is a lame term—I just can't think of anything else to call it).  
  • The Edgy Novel — Kudos to all those who write and enjoy this particular adventure, but it's not for me.  Take, for example, the latest news from Candace Bushnell's camp.  Sex and the City for YA?  Editorial Ass launched a discussion about this one, which yielded some interesting responses among the adults who loved the show.  Most, however, are quite dubious about the potential quality of the YA version.  As for me:  Why is this whole "sex sells" mentality seeping into YA lit in the name of the "edgy" novel? I'm no prude, but frankly, it's less about the sex than it is about the bitchy attitudes and lack of emotional morality (and maturity) that gets me.   Is that what makes a YA edgy?  Drugs, murder, homelessness—I don't have a problem with these in YA per se, but what is their purpose?  Is it just for the shock value and all in the name of edginess?  And is the teen protagonist really a teenager or an angsty adult masquerading as a teen?  Books like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak or Jay Ashers Thirteen Reasons Why offer the real deal and tackle tough subjects with authentic voice and sensitivity.  They don't glorify the bitch factor. my soap box, now.
  • The Commercial Novel — This is a tough one to pin down.  Check out a couple of discussions here  and here.  What do you consider commercial content/style?  I suppose it's a book that brings with it automatic merchandising appeal or mass marketing potential.  But does that mean it may not have longevity as part of the literary canon?  Not necessarily.  Is it all a matter of money?  I hate to sound cynical, but in this economic chaos, why would anyone want to publish a book that won't be a huge commercial success? (Okay, now I'm a little depressed...)  What books to you consider "commercial"?
  • The Literary Novel — Is this another one of those, "I can't actually define it, but I know what it is" deals?  Here's an interesting definition courtesy of GreenFrog on the Blueboards: 
    According to my Literary Analysis textbook and professor, "literary" fiction takes a look at human nature and exposes some truth about humanity by the end of it. "Commercial" fiction is written for entertainment value and escapism. Most works fall somewhere between the extreme ends of either classification, but i would say that many of the books in the chic lit, action/adventure, romance and mystery genres tend to be commercial. The works that fall into either camp are often subject to debate. I would claim that Libba Bray's books: "A Great and Terrible Beauty" and "Rebel Angels" are literary pieces. Although they are hugely popular, they have characters that are deep and fully developed, and they have a clear, deep theme. A true literary piece will live the reader with some realization about themselves, about the world and/or about life.
Read more of this discussion on the Blue Boards.  From this I take it that commercial often  skimps on the character development for the sake of a quick and compellingplot.  But is there more to it?  And what about "High Concept"?  

Bottom line:  when you write, what are you actually setting out to do?  After you decide on the story (or it decides on you), how do you view the craft?  Do you pay attention to such external goals as classification or is the thing that drives you the intrinsic momentum of the story itself?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let's talk about YA—What is it?

     After writing 2 YA novels, you would think I would have the answer to that one. I can’t tell you how many people just think of YA as watered down adult fiction or kid lit that happens to have a teenage protagonist. Of course most of these brainiacs never read a book they didn't have to.

     But as writers, we can't escape the question: What exactly is “YA” literature? Who is its audience? What defines it as “young adult”?

     Now that I’m on my 3rd novel for young adults, you would think I might have the answer. But as I’ve found when it comes to agents and editors, "YA" can mean very different things to different people. Let’s start with the basics: The Young Adult Service Division of the American Library Association defines the age range of an adolescent or young adult as ages 10-19.  

Does that help? Hmmm… Then we have the age breakdown:  
  •      Early adolescence (Elementary or Middle School or grades 5, 6, 7)
  •      Middle adolescence (Junior High or grades 8, 9, 10)
  •      Later adolescence (High school or grades 11, 12)

It’s all clear, right? As lead…

     Now I could get into a history lesson about how adult literature was hijacked for teenagers before we had a legitimate YA classification, or how decades ago a wise librarian set aside a section of the library specifically for young readers or even the various accounts of which author first set out to write specifically for teens.  But I won’t.  Suffice it to quote a little piece from Donna Niday’s ENG 394 class at Iowa State:
Definition of a Young Adult Literature: Literature written for and marketed to young adults. Young adult literature is usually given the birth date of 1968 with the advent of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. Other forms of literature prior to this date may have had young adult protagonists (such as Huck Finn), but it was usually intended for an adult audience. Characteristics of a young adult novel usually include several of the following:

(1) a teenage (or young adult) protagonist
(2) first-person perspective
(3) adult characters in the background
(4) a limited number of characters
(5) a compressed time span and familiar setting
(6) current slang
(7) detailed descriptions of appearance and dress
(8) positive resolution
(9) few, if any, subplots
(10) an approximate length of 125 to 250 pages

Check out an Australian's take on the subject here.   Or this one from a Stanford scholar. 

     As a matter of craft, I need a firmer grasp of things. Yeah, I have a story that I simply must tell, but how I tell it is key. So where do I start? Is it the voice the separates the YA from the MG or the adult? Is it length? Is it depth or breadth of ideas? Vocabulary? Sentence structure? Do I have to write in first person? (which I don't do) 

     And what about style-genre (for lack of a better term)? Edgy, Literary, Commercial, etc. How do you classify your work? When it comes to selling your masterpiece…to an editor, agent, or the readers…this is can be an important moniker. How conscious of your style-genre are you? Do you balk at the need to validate your work with a label like “literary” because you don’t want to be presumptuous? When you begin the first draft, is your goal to make it edgy? Is there one right way to do it? It can be a bit overwhelming.  Take a look at this discussion on TheCheers.  We could spend weeks discussing the cultural implications of YA subject matter.  But that's for another time.  

     So, when you are crafting your YA masterpiece, what drives your style the most?  

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Word is Out! (...and so is the book)

Ghost Hunk's book has hit the shelves.  Yes, you can now pick up a copy of The Porning of America by Carmine Sarracino and Kevin Scott at your local bookstore or on Amazon.   To get a look at their thesis, check out our hometown newspaper's interview here.  If you have children, especially young girls, this is a must read.  (Okay...I'm only a little biased here.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11

It's almost the same crawl it was 7 years ago.  Sitting here, going about my morning routine, then watching these horrifying events unfold as MSNBC replays the events of that terrifying day.  This time, however, it's like slow motion, a brutal, bone-chilling crawl. You know what's coming.  You know you can't stop it.  All you want to do is pray—as if you could change it.  

Just as in 2001, I cannot tear myself away from the television.  Disbelief as thick as the smoke pouring from the towers and the pentagon.   My brain just cannot unhitch my eyes from the TV. Why?  Why do I want to go through this again?

So I never forget.

At 8:42 am in 2001, I was getting my 4-year-old ready for preschool while my 7-month-old was getting some extra sleep in her crib.  I flipped the TV on for a quick breakfast-time cartoon before Ghost Son and Ghost Hunk took off for their school day.  And there it was.  Something so incomprehensible.  At the moment, it still looked like a freak accident.  But before my men left the house, the second plane hit, and there was no longer any question about how this happened.  But still, this had to be an isolated event, right?  And just as the boys were heading out to the car, the pentagon was hit.  Oh my God...

And while Ghost Hunk was heading off to school after dropping our son at preschool, the first tower fell.  It just disappeared from the skyline.  I cried and prayed.  Unexpectedly, Ghost Hunk came through the door, still stunned and numb, unable to take himself to the university just yet.  When I told him the first tower had fallen, he didn't really understand.  But as I stood in the shower, the bathroom door flew open and there stood GH, his face wet with tears. "It fell down!  It just fell down!  They're both gone!"  He understood, now.

I know history tends to objectify such events, at different rates—by years, decades, or centuries. As each epoch passes, the impact of the incident seems more distant, less personal.  I wonder how long it will take for 9/11 to seem less personal.  And I know it effected more than New York, more than America.  The Western world took this personally.

For all those who have been more closely affected by this tragedy, those who lost loved ones and the precious souls who left us that day, we still pray, we still cry, we still remember... 

Monday, September 08, 2008

Call me paranoid, but...

Yes, I actually called the cops last night, terrified that I would either find one on my front step or at the other end of the phone informing me that Ghost Hunk had been mugged or totaled his car or something.  Why? you may ask.  Because I called and called all day and could not raise the man on the phone!  Not even to say goodnight to the kids!  If any of you know Ghost Hunk, you may think that he's just being the absent-minded professor as usual.  True, he is every bit that stereotype (except that he's really cool, too!  A very low geek factor).  But it was a Sunday.  And he never misses saying goodnight to the kids.  And he's 5 states away!  I had no one to call to say, "hey, have you seen my hubby today?"

I'm not the nervous type...well not in that way.  But I've got a basement drain that's plugged and two kids who are really riding the sunless train to depression as we wait to sell this house and join GH.  Not to mention...I gotta write!  Somewhere between the vacuuming, lawn mowing, house dusting, meal making and kid wrangling, I have to find the energy, time, and motivation to sink my teeth into my WIP.  

Hurry up and wait is the mantra of my powerless life, right now.  AAAGGHHH!  Yeah, ghost kids, I know exactly where you are.  I've finally got myself into a rhythm and took a little time to work on my writing.  But worrying about Ghost Hunk just fired up that creative, let-me-think-of-a-million-tragedies part of my brain.  Get a grip, Ghost Girl!  

Well, as it turns out, Ghost Hunk was home all day.  With 9 "missed calls" and 3 voice mail messages on display, you would think his cell phone actually had a purpose other than creating and uncomfortable lump in his back pocket!  Apparently, he had flipped off the ringer and forgot.  I new I would be proven a bonehead after I called the cops, but when I haven't spoken to the man since Saturday night, and it's past bed time on Sunday night and he hasn't called to say goodnight to ghost kids...can you blame me?

All right, St. Joseph.  Do your work.  Get this house sold so we can be one, whole family again...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My Southern Wish List*

First, let's begin with All the News from HolyCrap Creek:

Athens, GA— Police arrested a woman who they said mooned motorists after she received a ticket for jay-walking. The 23-year-old and a friend had both been drinking and were disorderly, according to Athens-Clarke police. An officer noted in his report that the woman did stay within the crosswalks while shaking her butttocks. The arrest was for misdemeanor public indecency.

~USA Today, September 2, 2008

Yep, this is our new territory. Gotta love it! Of course there was a time when many counties in the South were dry...even in the 1980's. At least if you can stay in the lines, you can skip the extra jay-walking ticket!

Ghost Hunk left for Georgia again this morning and we are all in a funk. We took the kids to school together, though Ghost Daughter insisted that she'd rather ride the bus. However, the rare opportunity to introduce her daddy to her awesome 1st-grade teacher quelled her frustrations. Ghost son had to fight back tears. I think his teacher thought he (the teacher) was in trouble...the look on his face when he saw both Ghost Girl and Ghost Hunk coming down the hall, probably looking a little stressed ourselves, said "Holy Crap! I see trouble!" Poor guy. We just wanted him to know that Ghost Son wouldn't be himself for a couple of days.

Now for the wish list. As I was daydreaming about finally making the inevitable move and joining Ghost Hunk, I realized that there are a whole lot of details that most certainly have escaped my vast reservoir of knowledge about the world because, let's face it, my world is apparently flat and it ends at the Mason/Dixon line. So here are a few things I need:

  • A good book about gardening in the Southern States—an absolute must since I like to grow things outside, especially veggies and low-maintenance flowers. (I kill most indoor plants...we won't even go there!)

  • A good book about the wildlife in Georgia. (As we discovered at the PA Renaissance Faire this weekend, Anoles shall hereafter be referred to as "baby dragons").
  • A guide to trees in Georgia. (other than peach and pecan, of course!)
  • And even though I would love to maintain the fantasy that bugs don't live in the South, I should probably be aware of whatever creepy-crawlies wend their way through the subterranean mecca that will be our crawl-space. All advice appreciated.
  • Cook books all about Southern Cooking.
  • Any information about absolutely essential amenities that I should demand when looking for a new home in the South.
  • Any other indispensable knowledge/advice that a Yankee absolutely must take Down Yonder. 

And for all my new friends in the SCBWI Southern Breeze chapter, I'm looking forward to meeting all of you and taking part in some fabulous events.

For now...back to cleaning and and packing...trying to and packing...