Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Silver Phoenix" by Cindy Pon


Reading Silver Phoenix made me realize something: I don't like journey fantasy. You know, as in 'heroes venture from place to place facing various characters, situations, and dangers along the way'? It always feels disjointed, especially when you know the characters you're meeting in this one chapter are never going to appear again. I much prefer books with complex, interwoven plots and large casts of secondary characters that I can actually get to know--something you don't really see in "Adventure of the Day" style books.

That was probably my biggest issue with Silver Phoenix. I just didn't care. There were only three major characters who got more than a few chapters' worth of screen time, and out of those, I only liked one. The protagonist, Ai Ling, was rather unmemorable. (Though I do appreciate a girl who unashamedly likes food.)  Her love interest was broody and dull. And the third one (aka the one I actually liked)? He dies. Too early. Even the major villains hardly made an appearance, and when they did they were defeated far too easily.

The bland adventure and characters were even more of a disappointment, considering the richness and beauty of the worldbuilding. Silver Phoenix is a Chinese-inspired world, and full of intriguing mythical creatures. I just wish it had all come together better (as opposed to "Hey, I wonder which monster we're going to fight today?)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How I solve writing-related problems

1. Put off writing for several days. Dick around on the internet. Eat a lot. If I have a good book, read it.

2. Realize that the book I'm reading is boring, I'm no longer hungry, and the websites I compulsively check aren't updating.

3. Open up word document. Read last paragraph.

4. Remember why I stopped writing. (AKA, identify the problem--not sure which scene to use, backstory starting to drag, etc)

5. Post a thread on Absolute Write asking for advice.

6. While waiting for people to post replies, mull over the problem on my own and come up with a solution.

Friday, January 25, 2013

YA and "Flexibility" + How to Increase Female Presence in Adult SF/F

When I left middle school, my genre of choice was adult SF/F. This is still my favorite genre, except that now my reading lists include many more YA titles. I am still debating whether or not I am a YA writer, but what I do know is this: most of my online presence is YA-centered.

Because one thing I like about YA is its flexibility. Since there are no genre boundaries, readers have more opportunities to become exposed to different varieties of fiction. And writers have more opportunities to cross genre lines.

But that's not the only reason YA is more flexible. Perhaps a bigger element is the target audience. With more readers growing into YA (and some growing out of it) the core audience is constantly shifting--which means that YA is much more easily able to adapt to change. (The fact that it's a newer category helps, too.)

I went to a few critique meetings with local SF/F writers. Most of them are in their forties (at least) and it's weird to think that many of them have been reading SF/F since before I was born. Earlier today (read: a few minutes ago) I was talking to someone on Twitter about how women have difficulty breaking into SF/F genre and culture (outside of urban fantasy). And a big reason for this is the fact that the same people have been reading, writing, and publishing in the genre for such a long time. That, and the fact that it's somewhat of a niche audience, which means it's very difficult to convince fantasy publishers to take risks.

This is where YA comes in. Right now, YA is the most profitable genre on the market. This is a good thing. The books that become successful in YA are the ones that will end up crossing over into adult shelves. And when adult SF/F publishers see more female-centered books becoming successful, they will be much more open to allowing more of them to exist.

BUT, this change will be slow. Publishing is a slow business, and it will be even slower if all female writers abandon adult genre fiction in favor of more gender-balanced YA. So how do we speed up the process of giving women an equal presence in all market?

Simple. Buy more female-friendly books IN THOSE MARKETS.


Want recommendations? When I first started reading adult SF/F, I didn't know which authors or books were considered the most popular--I just picked up books that sounded good. As a result, I discovered Green Rider and A Sorceror's Treason. It's been about ten years since I read these books, and I can't say what I would think of them if I read them today, but as a teenager, I absolutely loved them.


And what about the Otherland quartet? This is one of my favorite series. One of the many reasons for this is because of Renie, the protagonist. She's probably one of the strongest female characters I've ever seen, and that's without having kickass fight skills or magic powers.




And finally, I should probably mention Who Fears Death. I'm not sure I would consider it entirely feminist, as the love interest is controlling and falls well into asshole territory, but there are other elements that I love about it--like how it acknowledges that women enjoy sex and that it's possible for a girl to sleep around and still be loyal and heroic.      
       

  
So go out and buy these books! Pay real money for them, because that's what tells the publisher that you want more. Read these books and tell people about them. If you like them, recommend them, and if you don't, tell the world why. YA has lots of great books, but they don't have to be your only options, especially when there are hidden gems like these hiding on the shelves and waiting to be picked up.


The Difference Between Sexism and Innocent Sexualization

Look at these covers. Would you consider these covers to be an offensive objectification of the male body?

 

Well, okay. Maybe that's not fair. (After all, our society does have a double standard when it comes to most gender roles.)

But anyway, there has been a bit of controversy lately over Lee Moyer's "fantasy pin-up calendar." (Honestly, I don't know why everyone's complaining about this now. This calendar came out in, like, November.) Long story short, Lee Moyer and fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss decided to create a series of pin-up calendar pictures based off of famous fantasy authors or their books. These calendars were up for sale during Rothfuss' annual Worldbuilders fundraiser, which supports Heifer International.

Of course, given how different genre communities work, this is what you see:

Fantasy fans: Awesome, dude! I want one!
YA fans: OMG so offensive!

*Sigh*

It's not that I don't understand how these calendars might be perceived as "problematic." Obviously, there's a problem with society seeing women as something that exists for men to 'use'--whether for sexual, homely, or baby-making purposes. And the fantasy community is not without rampant sexism--on the internet, at conventions, etc. And maybe this calendar is somehow encouraging that. I mean, isn't this just like showing sexualized women in anatomy-defying poses on the covers of books?

Not really. A book is one thing: when males get to be heroes and have personalities while women do nothing but stand there and look pretty, then yes, we have a problem. But this? It's a pin-up girl calendar. Criticizing a pin-up girl calendar for sexualizing women is like criticizing pornography for, well, exactly the same thing.

But maybe this calendar shouldn't even exist if it's going to promulgate sexism. A very fair point--but one that I have trouble agreeing with. For these reasons:

a) Partially because this is Pat Rothfuss. The same guy who was a part of this awesome photo (GO CLICK ON THIS LINK RIGHT NOW BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME). Although his female characters aren't the best, they are still a lot better in terms of presence and personality than those of many other fantasy writers. That, and my impression from reading his books and his blog is that he is anything but sexist. He regularly recommends books and media by female authors, for example.

b) This calendar isn't exactly taking itself seriously. It's half-fetish, yes, but also half-fun.

c) Yes, it is okay to fetishize the female body (to a certain degree). Why? Because we're human, and humans are animals, and that's okay. Desiring a woman sexually does not mean that you can't also respect her. And just because you love a woman's personality, it doesn't mean you can't also appreciate her body.

Now that's not saying I don't have a problem with this calendar. This is my problem with it: Where are all the men? Surely, the female body isn't the only thing worth fantasizing over. Give me some shirtless, muscle-y men! A girl needs to get her fix, too! (Just kidding. Mostly. It is kind of sexist to objectify one side and not the other.)

If you want to fight sexism in fantasy literature, then write more books featuring well-rounded, realistic, ACTIVE female characters. And when you write a love interest, that person should be more than just a lust object for your reader or a passive "motivation" or "treasure" for your character. (This advice is aimed at authors of BOTH genders.) And when you encounter sexism, harassment, or accusations of "not being a real fan," then don't be afraid to speak out.

But don't get all huffy about things like this. If you don't like the calendar, don't buy it. But don't criticize others for actually admitting that they like looking at boobs.

(And hey, look! At least two out of these twelve women are non-white! Diversity FTW!)

***

What do you guys think? Do you find this calendar sexist? Where do you draw the line between "acceptable" and "non-acceptable" objectification of women?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dear Protagonist

You and I have been together for almost ten years. Over that time, I have gotten to know you very well. I've watched you grow and change and evolve. And despite our differences, I still want to tell your story.

But I would be lying if I said we didn't have a problem. In fact, we have a very big problem.

I have always accepted the fact that you are, well, not a very good person. I know you are selfish, judgmental, manipulative, and dishonest. And I'm okay with that--in fact, that's part of the reason why I love writing you so much.

But there is a limit--because when I look back at this most recent draft, I realize that your thoughts and actions make you more than just "unlikable." In fact, sometimes I feel like you're an outright sociopath. Selfish is one thing, but do you even care when other characters are in mortal danger?

I'm not saying you can't be selfish, or that we need to do away with your cold utilitarianism. But if I'm going to let you out into the world, you're going to have to prove to me that you can occasionally care about other people--even if it is in a grudging and condescending sort of way. Your story arc calls for something, well, more, and at the rate you're going, there's no way anyone's going to believe your transformation.

So let's work on this some more. We'll go through your thoughts and maybe find some ways to be more sympathetic and considerate of other people's feelings. It shouldn't be that hard, right? (After all, you are an empath.)

Love
-Yael


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Things that bother me for no good reason at all

This post is going to make me very unpopular, but I'm going to post it for no reason other than the fact that I feel like it.

Note: I am NOT writing this for the sake of telling people to "stop doing these things." Everyone has his or her own style of thinking about their writing, and I have no problem with that.

Yet, for some un-explainable reason, these three things kind of bug me when other writers talk about them on their blog:

1. "Casting" your novel:

This is probably because people who "cast" their novel always pick really gorgeous actors and models, and most of the time, these people look significantly older than the characters they're supposed to portray. Yes, yes, I know that this is what Hollywood does, but I would think that, as writers, we could be a little more genuine.

That, and if my novel were ever turned into a movie, I wouldn't want super-famous people playing my characters--I would want unknowns. That way, when I'm watching the movie, I'm not thinking about the cover of Seventeen magazine--I'm thinking about the story.

2. Book trailers:

Hey, if book trailers are actually a successful method of advertising your book, then hail to them. But I don't really understand this: books are more of an imaginary medium, whereas audiovisual media is more concrete. It just seems weird to use one to advertise the other.

(Not that I dislike all book trailers. I like the more artsy ones, like Maggie Stiefvater's. But I can't stand the ones that attempt to look like movie trailers (ie, Cassandra Clare's book trailers). The acting is usually tacky and sub-par. And I hate background voice-overs.)

3. Blogging about your playlists

Notice that I don't have a problem with making playlists. I will even confess to having made my own list of tracks that somehow remind me of The Temple Well. (Though I don't listen to it very often--or anymore, since the computer with all those songs died last summer.) But I feel like "playlists" are a very personal (and sort of a guilty) thing for me, and it's weird when other people list them on their blogs (or in the actual book). Just because you associate those songs with your story, doesn't mean others will. Plus, the addition of "background music" to your book just seems sort of...emotionally manipulative, I guess.


I guess there are two sides to this argument (well, it's not really an argument, more of an opinion)

A - Art should be without boundaries; there is no reason we shouldn't combine words with audio and visual media.

B - Your book isn't a movie, so stop treating it like one. If words (or words and pictures, as in the case of graphic novels) aren't sufficient for you to tell your story, then you need to improve your writing skills.


Thoughts? (Feel free to disagree. I'm not trying to shame anyone for the way they write.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dilemma of a procrastinator

I wake up and can't write because I'm too sleepy. I go in bed and close my eyes without letting myself fall asleep, because I have to teach a class tonight. (Ick.) I tell myself that I will have more energy if I get coffee. But we don't have a coffee maker, so I will have to go outside to buy a cup of coffee. But that involves getting dressed.

An hour later, I get dressed. But now I already feel more focused, so I no longer need the coffee. But my brain just got all excited about actually going outside. So now what do I do?

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Adult Project review: "Hold Me Closer, Necromancer" by Lish McBride (audiobook)


Goodreads Summary:


Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else. 

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?


***


When you hear the word “necromancy,” you always think of something very disgusting and creepy. So it shouldn’t surprise you when I tell you this book is dark. But it’s also fun and hilarious. What makes this book great is the cast of characters. There are far too many books where the protagonist’s best friends are either stereotypes or set-dressing—not the case with this book at all. Ramon was just as funny and active a character as Sam, Frank was a lovable woobie, and Brooke is probably the best subversion of the “women in refrigerators” trope I’ve ever seen. And of course, I absolutely loved Sam’s self-deprecating humor. Oh yeah, and who wouldn’t want a snarky little girl as a spirit guide or a neighbor like Mrs. W?

It’s hard to say how I felt about Douglas. If you’re looking for villains that are relatable, then you should probably look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for the kind of villains that are so cold and evil that they fill you with a scary evil dread, then look no further! (He wakes up a dead man and forces him to re-enact his own death! You can’t get much more evil that that.) As for the love interest…well, she’s likeable enough, but very underplayed. Even though she’s supposed to be hot-headed and a kickass fighter, I didn’t really get to see that until the end. From the way the other characters described her (and the way she described herself), I assumed she would jump at any opportunity to escape or attack her opponents, but when opportunities arose, she remained passive and well-behaved. If the author really wanted us to believe she was a badass, she should have done a better job showing it.

This book is not without plotholes, and the narration is kind of weird (first-person for Sam and third-person through everyone else’s point of view). I also think this book might have been better if the werewolves were cut out, as their portions of the story were very cliché and info-dumpy. But the awesomeness of the characters and the combination of darkness and humor still made this book a great read.

Note: I don’t recommend listening to this book on audio, as at least two out of the three narrators felt too old to be narrating the thoughts of 19-year-olds.

***

Full list of New Adult Project reviews

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sequel Anxiety

You know those moments when you read a book and really like it? And then you get excited because it's the first in a series? And then you finally get your hands on Book 2, and even though you can't wait to dive in, there's a small part of you that's a bit nervous.

This is the thing about sequels: You're always more excited to read them, because you already know the characters and/or you're curious to learn more about the world, but they usually end up being not as good as their predecessors. There are several reasons for this. A big one is that, in debut series, the second novel is always the hardest, because it's the first one where the author has to deal with deadlines. Another reason is that some novels weren't meant to turn into series. If Book One is a complete, ends-tied story, then Book Two has to start from square one. That was the case with Red Seas Under Red Skies (sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora)--with some simple adjustment, it could have existed without Book One. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not sure.

What I can say is that the sequels that work best are the ones that don't come after standalone books. I'm talking about series like Otherland or A Song of Ice and Fire. The individual books in these series are essentially big chapters in one enormous book. When I read A Clash of Kings, I didn't feel like I needed to compare it to A Game of Thrones. Rather, I felt like I was right back in the first book.

That's not the case with the book I'm about to read: The Crown of Embers, the sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I really liked the style and worldbuilding in The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and that was enough to make me want to read the sequel. But do I think it needed a sequel? Not exactly. It stood alone really well, and I would have been equally excited to pick up a book Rae Carson wrote that wasn't about Elisa. That doesn't mean I think this book will be bad, because I don't. (I think it sounds a lot more exciting than the first book, actually.) But that doesn't mean I'm not at least a little bit nervous.

So we'll see where this goes. Maybe I'll even like the sequel better. (After all, I always did prefer Lord Hector to Humberto. *wink*)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Recommendation: "Chime" by Franny Billingsley (audiobook)


Chime is a beautifully-written book, with a complex protagonist whom I absolutely loved. Susan Duerden does an excellent job at capturing Briony's perceptiveness and snark. I loved both Eldric and Rose, I loved the unique character of the Swampsea (this quaint and mythical village has better worldbuilding than most of the books on the YA shelf), and I really appreciated how the romance developed gradually.

Probably the one issue I had with this book is that it suffers from "Other Woman Syndrome." But that's more of a "global YA" issue than an issue with this particular book, as the "other woman" phenomenon actually worked well within the book's plot.

The beginning was also a little slow, but if you can get through it, then this is actually a very beautiful story.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Recommendation: "The Spirit Thief" by Rachel Aaron



The Spirit Thief is the kind of book for people who like their fantasy “fun.” Most second-world fantasy is very heavy and dark, but The Spirit Thief is an exception—it’s more light-hearted than most books, but the characters and plot are still interesting enough to make for an enjoyable read. The world-building is also very unique. Magic works through “spirits,” who inhabit every creature and object. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of this magic system is also a deterrent to the book, as it results in a lot of info-dumps.

The relative lightness of this book means it’s not quite memorable enough to fall onto my “favorites” list, but I enjoyed reading it and I’ve already bought the sequel.

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