Monthly Archives: July 2013

YA lit & the quest for belonging

Many of the popular YA books right now seem to draw readers in who want to belong somewhere. I didn’t fully realize it until I finally got around to reading “Divergent” this morning. People keep telling me it’s great and I’d love it, but there are so many books in my to-be-read stack that I wasn’t motivated to try it until I found it it’s being made into a movie. That means my students are that much more likely to read (or at least see it), so I should know about it, too.

I’m already over 200 pages in.

It’s good. :)

But, the thing that made me think about the “belonging” aspect has to do with the groups of people in the book. Characters are part of one of five factions where they are expected to exhibit the main trait of the group: Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (courage), Erudite (wisdom), Candor (honesty), or Amity (kindness). The two that have been described the most in the book so far are Abnegation and Dauntless; the Abnegation faction lives a very simple life, with grey clothes and plain meals, while the Dauntless live in a crazy pit place full of jagged rocks and tattooed people.

It immediately made me think of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, where students are sorted into one of four different Houses. More people are familiar with them than with the factions, but I’ll list and describe them anyway: Gryffindor (courage), Ravenclaw (wisdom), Hufflepuff (kindness), and Slytherin (…powerful? My first reaction was to type “douchebags” but I guess I should try harder). Each House has a very different feel in where they live and how they decorate, with Hufflepuff down in a badger-like cozy den and Ravenclaw up in a tall airy tower, all in the colors that tie to their House.

I think one of the huge draws for Harry Potter was fans who sorted themselves into the House they most desired. As far as marketing goes, that was a godsend, because money poured in thanks to merchandise like scarves and wall banners representing one’s house (Ravenclaw forever!).

Obviously the Divergent-world factions parallel the Harry Potter houses fairly closely. Then there’s the Percy Jackson series, where demigods (children with one Greek god/goddess parent and one human parent) are sent to Camp Half-Blood and placed in the cabin of their Greek parent. The same themes are reflected again–Athena as the goddess of wisdom, Aphrodite as the goddess of love, Mars as the god of war, etc.–and the cabins have a very different atmosphere depending on what the attached god rules over.

Those are three enormous YA franchises, and like I said, I think the idea of belonging is big here. The teenage years are where we seek our identity, try to figure out who we are and what are goals are, and solidify what we value. So if you can be proud of relating to Gryffindor/Dauntless/Zeus, then it’s a tangible way to show people (and yourself) how brave you feel and how much you value strength and courage. It’s easy to choose who to root for, who you don’t respect, and identify who feels the same way as you. That provides a strong sense of belonging which can be important during the tumultuous teenage years as children seek independence and begin to pull away from their parents–they’re losing one way place they belong, and need another. How are they going to define it for themselves? Wrapping their values and the traits they take pride in up in a “go team!” mentality like the factions/houses/etc. do is an easy way to start working through a not-so-black-and-white issue.

This is why reading is so important. This is why we need libraries to stay in our cities and fiction to stay in our schools. Even if kids aren’t conscious of what’s happening as they read and connect with characters, it’s happening just the same, and it helps them grow.

Which worlds do you relate to, dear readers?

Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw

Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw

The Ravenclaw label makes a lot of sense, considering how much I value reading, intelligence, wisdom, common sense, and thinking. I “belong” there. :) I’d likely be in Athena’s house too, and to follow the theme I’d be Erudite. However, I don’t like the power-hungry description they get in the books, so I’m not sold on that yet. I don’t want to lead, I just want to read. I still have over half the book left to read, and then need to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy (if the third book is even out yet), so maybe I’ll have a better idea later!

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Revisions

Basically all I’ve done with my life the past few days is attempt to revise Copper according to feedback I’ve been getting from my rejections. (I love non-silent, non-form rejections. They’re my new favorite thing, next to the gummy bears that I use to bribe myself. “Oh, you worked an hour? Have 3 gummy bears! That was 12. 15. STOP IT, CATHY.” Also a new favorite thing: Sylvia Plath’s quote “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try”).

Someone recommended looking at Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat!” screenplay advice and adapting it for books. You can download his beat sheet for yourself here. He has the last page at 110, but I changed it to 100 and subtracted all the other pages a little bit to fit. That way, it works in percentages instead of page numbers, and I can load a draft onto my Kindle, flip through, and see where each “beat” falls using the percentages and what’s happening in the story then. (Another aside: I feel like a salesperson every time I say “my Kindle.” Does anyone mind? Is it more appropriate to say “my e-Reader” or something? Bah humbug).

ANYWAY. That was pretty revealing and gave me some ideas that I hadn’t been able to come up with just staring at the blank pages. My theme takes a little longer to build than it should; the thing that happens 10% in is a catalyst, but perhaps not the strongest one. If I rearrange things, I can switch it out for the stronger one and perhaps pick up the pace as I’ve been instructed. My “bad guys close in” happened at exactly 50% and that felt really rewarding, hahaha! After that, everything was right on pace, but I could use some “stakes raising” just to really beef it up: a deeper “dark night of the soul,” scarier actions from the antagonists, things like that.

The result on my delicate (ha) mind is mixed. On one side of the scale we see excitement and encouragement–I’ve got this! I’m mostly there! I have a salvageable manuscript!–and on the other side we have DESPAIR–OhGodIhavesomuchmoretofixandwriteandripapartandjustmakeitstopplease?

So yeah.

IN OTHER POSITIVE NEWS, I HAVE TRIED SIX DIFFERENT BRANDS OF GUMMY BEARS THIS SUMMER AND WOULD LIKE TO CALL MYSELF A GUMMY BEAR CONNOISSEUR.

I think I’ll make business cards.

If writing doesn’t work out, I’ll always have that.

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Comic Con goodies!

My uncle (-in-law, because he’s Jeff’s uncle, but he’s mine now, right?) went to the San Diego Comic Con this year, and since I’m one of the only readers he knows, I benefited BEYOND BELIEF by his trip.

comicconbooks

LOOK AT THAT BAG FULL OF BOOKS. LOOK AT IT!!!! :D

I’m excited about all of them. There are a lot of good fantasies and YA books in there that should help me on my own writing quests. Uncle Tom even got “Teardrop” autographed for me. :)

But MOST IMPORTANT (the capitals are conveying my intense excitement) in that entire stack is Cress. Cress! I have an advanced reader’s copy!!! I’ve written about Marissa Meyer, Cinder, and Scarlet previously and now I get to read the third book in the Lunar Chronicles series over six months before publication. I feel so excited and blessed and lucky and DID I SAY REALLY EXCITED. (Yes).

front

back

sig

One of the amazing things is the promotional information on the back of the Cress ARC. They spent $250,000 marketing it! They list a few of the things the money went to/is going to, like her author/blog tour, the Comic Con promotion, special reading and library groups… that is insane to me. Just insane.

Don’t worry, I’m not letting it get to my head. I’m still focused on writing all the stories in my head down and hoping they get published so people can read them. That’s enough for me. ;)

I understand the money spent on marketing, since it gets returned in multiplied form by the new purchases. And reading is so important, especially books like this with strong female characters all over the place, that I’m glad the money is being spent. It’s just such a giant and therefore incomprehensible amount that I was very surprised.

Anyway, I’m so grateful to Uncle Tom for the new books–especially his sacrifice of standing in line for Cress as the only male in sight–and SO looking forward to reading each one. I’m only about 70 pages into Cress so far and really loving it.

Next year, I need to get to Comic Con myself!

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news from the front

My life has been a whirlwind of revising and writing–just like I like it!–plus preparation for the next school year. I officially got offered a full-time job at the high school where I long-term subbed. It’s only for a year, but I’m hopeful that it will extend beyond that. I’ll definitely be teaching English, of course, but the grade levels are up in the air… my tentative assignment is 11th and 12th grade, so I hope that sticks.

I did take a break from thinking to go to dog beach and run free in the waves with Benny.

one happy tired puppy

one happy puppy

It was perfect, fun, joyful, and peaceful, but after all of that, he didn’t even want to go home and nap. I thought for sure it would exhaust him for the day, but no. Haha he has the tireless energy of an Aussie.

And now for the most beautiful thing that I read all day:

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ― Ray Bradbury

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anticlimactic

I received my first rejection from a literary agent yesterday. She advertises herself as someone who has a certain timeframe to respond to queries, and if you haven’t heard by the end, then she wasn’t interested.

That has passed, which means it’s a “no,” but… I don’t have an actual, in-the-flesh “NO” from her. Which means I don’t have my very first rejection letter to, say, frame or burn or anything.

It feels a little wrong!

Oh well. On to the next agent, and the ever-growing Copper Book Two revision/re-write. Urg, I need better titles…

IN OTHER NEWS, I finished “Gone with the Wind,” and was so incredibly frustrated by the ending that I would have thrown the book across the room if it was a physical copy and not an electronic one. I understand why the author ended it as she did, but I still hate that she did it. It’s about 1,038 pages and I adored the first 1,000. I’m going to pretend like the last 38 don’t exist, like when you stop Old Yeller before the dog shooting part. It also felt “anticlimactic” to have Scarlett O’Hara go through so much, and then get THAT ending.

"Guess what, I'm going to make 1,000+ pages of reading and/or 4 hours of movie watching pointless, because I'm a cad." "Oh, well I'll be a selfish b-word and help lead us to such a tragic ending"

“Guess what, I’m going to make 1,000+ pages of reading and/or 4 hours of movie watching pointless and heart-breaking, because I’m a cad.”
“Oh, well I’ll be a selfish b-word and help lead us to such a tragic ending.”

On the plus side, I loved how much history I learned from the book. I feel like I understand the Civil War and Reconstruction much better for having seen it through Scarlett’s eyes.

Here are some quotes I loved from the book, in addition to Rhett Butler’s introduction (which I wrote about here):

“All that was Irish in her rose to the challenge of his black eyes.”

“Bravo! Now you are beginning to think for yourself instead of letting others think for you. That’s the beginning of wisdom.”

“Babies, babies, babies. Why did God make so many babies? But no, God didn’t make them. Stupid people made them.”

“The mantle of spinsterhood was definitely on her shoulders now. She was twenty-five and looked it, so there was no longer any need for her to try to be attractive.”

“Mr. Butler, who bore with equanimity having his tail pulled by his small mistress and his hooves examined constantly, felt that the Creator of ponies had not intended him to put his fat body over the bar.”

There are a handful of others that I highlighted, but that’s all I feel like retyping right now, since I have work to do. :)

If any of you have read (or seen) “Gone With the Wind,” did you like the ending? Or did it fill you with disappointment and despair like it did me?

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a time of mourning

No, this time of mourning is not like when Frisco the dog died. Some people will say it’s not legitimate, but for me, it hurts deeply and I’m choosing to grieve.

My beautiful, faithful, 2009 MacBook Pro is dead.

Two nights ago, it froze, and I waited a long time for it to unfreeze. When nothing happened, I thought a simple power off/power on would be a better decision.

It was not.

My computer is refusing to turn on.

My techie husband tried every trick he knew, and even refrained from getting snarky with me about choosing an Apple product (he is a 100% pro-PC and Android dude*). When the tricks he knew ran out, he turned to Google, and tried every trick that the Internet Population of Techies knew. That was a lot of tricks, and they all failed.

I thought I had my stuff backed up, but I just let my hard drive/MacBook run Time Machine, which the internet is now telling me was a bad idea and I have no idea if 4 years of writing, pictures, and lesson plans are lost forever or not. Yes, I cried, and maybe I should be ashamed, but I’m Really Freaking Sad, you guys.

My biggest disappointment right now, in the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo and waiting to hear back from an agent, is not having Scrivener. I found some typos in Copper Book One that need to be fixed, and I only have a Word Doc of that, so I can’t turn it back into an eBook without Scrivener. Also, the 7,000 words of progress I’d made on the rewrite/revision of Copper Book Two–most of them new words–are probably lost forever.I know that’s not a lot of words in the grand scheme of things, but they were words I was proud of, and I’ll never achieve that same combination again.

Now I have to use Google Docs on my phone, and that gets incredibly frustrating. Every time the internet cuts out, I can’t type anything, and I can’t find the “tools–word count” option on the phone app version. Whenever my husband isn’t home, I can use his laptop (he’s out with his brother right now, which is the only reason I’m able to manage this blog post), but his work gave their full-time employees a 4-day workweek for the summer. Normal wives would be ecstatic, but this writer wife who just lost her $1,000 laptop is a little frustrated because that’s one less day of access to the other house laptop.

I know I should be thankful that I have a laptop and a phone available (and yes, paper and pen too, though that has never been a prolific option for me), but I’m still depressed. It feels like back when I was a teenager, wanting a car. I had to get a job to get money for a car, but I needed a car to get to a job. Now, I’m trying to sell my writing, which would allow me to afford a new laptop, but I can’t effectively do my writing without a current laptop.

And if there’s one thing I’ve found, it’s that Other People don’t give a crap about my sorrow. I’ve heard lots of “first world problem” jokes (the easiest way to spot a total a-hole is see who drops that line a lot) and only barely kept my fist back from punching those dudes in the face. I wish my laptop was fixed or that I could afford to just jaunt out and purchase another one, but neither of those are current possibilities, and therefore my summer just got a whole lot more complicated.

So yes. I’m in mourning. I’m sorry if you don’t care either, dear readers, but I hope there’s a handful of you out there who understand my pain.

* Once upon a time I had a non-Apple laptop–a Dell Inspiron PC of some sort–and it died after 2 years, losing a metric ton of my schoolwork. We resurrected that and I got 2 more years out of it; however, a French security man on the Chunnel thought it was a bomb and I was detained, because it was a piece of junk and there were literally wires sticking out of it. In the 4 years of this MacBook’s life, it has never before died nor caused me to get yelled at by an angry Frenchman who thought I was trying to explode things. I’ll stick with Apple, thanks.

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the busiest bee

Woo!

What a week. :)

I have been RESEARCHING like a fiend because I want to kick this writing thing into overdrive, and become an author. I already knew what my opinions on traditional vs. self-publishing were (the TL;DR is “self-publishing isn’t for me”), but with my happy Pitcharama results, now I have to form an educated opinion on small presses, too.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about who my favorite authors are, then researching who their agent(s) are (or were) and who has published their books. That was informative, if only because there was almost NOTHING in common among all of those great writers (in regards to their representation and publishers… the “great writing” commonality is a given). So now I have a solid idea of who to send query letters to… and I did send one off last week! Hopefully it’s strong. I wrote and re-wrote it (from the rough draft that I’d already prepared a few weeks ago) before finally forcing myself to just hit “send.” We’ll see… if I haven’t heard back by July 15th, I can assume it’s a “no” and keep moving forward.

I’m really pleased with where Copper’s first book is right now. Pitcharama gave me a deadline to stick to–I really, truly work better with deadlines–so I have a version of the manuscript that includes all the revision notes I ever wrote to myself after endless re-readings. Of course…….. about two seconds after sending out the first five chapters, I found a typo. “Vase” instead of “vast.” Urrrrg. But that’s the only one I’ve found so far, so hopefully that isn’t devastating. No, let’s be real, it is devastating, and if it’s found by anyone who currently has my manuscript I’m going to melt into a black hole of pure embarrassment. But I carry a pretty handy-dandy rope ladder in my imagination for times like these. <– (Cathy has not been getting enough sleep)

ANYWAY. Now it’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and for the first time ever, I won’t be writing something new. I’m  going to take this month to revise, which in this case is mostly rewriting, the second book in Copper’s trilogy. I changed things around in the original ending that have enormous impact on the entirety of the second book, so… here we go. I’d like to have a much stronger rough draft at the end of this month than I got out of April.

So yes. Although I’m sure rejections are coming my way, I’m still feeling positive and confident. It might be years yet, but it’s coming. My extremely stubborn Dragon Taurus self is not going to give up!

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