Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taking it Back, Waaaay Back

In my YA PET PEEVES post, I mentioned two of the things that bother me are an MC having a classic novel as their favourite book and an MC with a 60's/70's or 80's band/singer as their favourite artist.

The way I figure it, there are at least two reasons authors do this:

a. They want to pay homage to a book/musician that they love.

b. They don't want to date themselves.

I'll deal with dating yourself next week on Write Away Wednesday, but today, I'd like to look at how to insert your favourite stories and music into your novel without making me (and possibly other readers) want to gag from the unlikelihood/genericness of it.


I mentioned in the same pet peeves post that there is a type of teen who takes pride in loving a (semi-)obscure 60's or 70's rock band. If your character is that type (usually emo) then it's fine to have them love THE RAMONES.

My first year in Japan, I had a co-worker who was a - well, none of the nouns are publishable on this blog- so I'll just desribe him. He was the type of guy who was smart and was happy to shove it in every one's face. The guy who used words that noone else understood, and then made you feel dumb by saying, "Everyone knows that 16-letter SAT word!" and not bothering to explain. The type of guy who would say a Japanese word in a room full of English-speakers and not translate. (You have no idea how tempted I was to speak to him in French, Spanish and Italian all year.) WOOSAH!

Anyhow, that type of guy often also loves a band/book that is decently acclaimed but not popular with their contemporaries. They will also categorically explain to you why their favourites are "objectively" the best and why you're an idiot for not seeing it. (I don't reccommend this character, unless you mean for people to hate them.)


Really, really, love the soundtrack from FLASHDANCE? Don't just make your MC a fan. Make it a subplot. Have the MC starring in a remake of FLASHDANCE by the failed ballerina-cum-high-school-drama-teacher. Or entering an anniversary contest where they have to make a video to SHE'S A MANIAC.

One caveat is that simply having the MC do a book for Lit. doesn't mean she quotes Dickens all day.


Did you love music from 50 years ago when you were a teen? I'd think not. So why should your MC? Maybe there's an emotional attachment. Maybe her Mom died in a fire when she was 7 and one of the few possessions that she left behind was THE BEATLES' GREATEST HITS, which was in her car's CD folder. So now the MC listens to The Beatles every morning as she gets ready for school and every night as she does her homework.


One of my favourite musical references in a book is found in Lisa Descrochers' PERSONAL DEMONS, when something happens on the corner of First and Amistad. If you love THE FRAY's HOW TO SAVE A LIFE as much as I do, you'd catch the reference and squeal like a little girl. If you don't like The Fray or don't know who they are then the reference sails uneventfully over your head.

Please use this sensibly and don't tell me that the MC's life was like "a hard day's night on a yellow submarine," because I will laugh until I turn blue- and that's pretty hard considering my race.


There's absolutely no reason an adult can't be a fan of a 60's band. So have the parents or the teacher or club supervisor or someone else in the teen's life constantly shrieking THE SUPREME's biggest hits.

There you have it: 5 ways to pay homage to your favourite music and books. Can you think of any others? Are you guilty of the "I only love the classics" MC? What do you do to put a different spin on it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Being a Writer: Beachbody Style

Maybe you've heard about Beachbody. They're one of the biggest stakeholders in the excercise/diet/fitness industry and boast such programs as P90X, Turbo Jam and Hip Hop Abs. But we're not here to get in shape- even though 9 out of 10 Claire Dawns will tell you my blog is great mental exercise.

I use a lot of Beachbody products so I come into contact with their motto a lot.

Decide. Commit. Succeed.

I think it's a great formula for any sort of success. Especially as a writer. So for the next couple weeks I'll be talking about how to get your writing life in shape with Beachbody.


When do you become a writer? It's a tough question. But let's look at some other fields first for comparison purposes.

When do you become a waitress? I don't know what the norm is in your country, but for me I think the number of waitresses with professional training in food services is still not the majority- especially outside of the hotel industry. So, I'd say you probably become a waitress the day you take your first order and serve it to the customer.

When do you become a lawyer? In many professional fields, it's a qualification that determines whether or not you can use the title. Whether or not you have a job, or are practising or even intend to practise, you become a lawyer when you're admitted to the Bar (or whatever equivalent your country has). It's the same thing for other high academic professional fields: accountants, doctors, etc.

In some fields, it's works either way. You become a plumber by working in a plumbing company or by taking a plumbing course.

Now, let's look at writing. When do you become a writer?

Some people will say you're a writer when your book gets published. But you as a writer don't do anything on publication day, all of your work comes before hand.

Some people will say it's when you get a book deal. Ditto. Your book has probably still got a lot of edits between then and publication, but you've brought it far enough that a publisher is interested in it.

Some people will say it's the first day you sit down at a keyboard or pick up a pen with a story in mind. But in that case, every body who's ever written is a writer.

So, when do you become a writer?

Chalene Johnson of Turbo Jam says, 'It's mental, just decide.' And I agree. You're a writer when you say you are.

For years before I became a writer, I thought of being a writer. When I was really little I loved reading, but I first wanted to be a scientist. Eventually, as I think every book-lover does, I thought about being a writer. It was a fuzzy 'some day in the future' sort of dream. Sometimes I wrote as a kid, mostly poetry, as well as essays for school. I didn't even attempt a novel until I was about 15. (Only 15 pages in, I quit. I have the attention span of a gnat. Wait, no I take that back- a gnat's attention span is actually pretty long.)

As a teen, I had an incredible desire to be more practical. My natural yearnings are all towards 'immature' concepts like doing things I love, which is why I ended up being the only person doing the semi-random combo of French-Computer-Management at A Levels. (We only take 3 subjects plus general paper in the final years of secondary school.) But instead of going purely for the things I loved (like writing) I tried to find practicality within them. Like I love Management theory, so I aspired to be some kind of manager, even though I despise decision-making and actually being responsible for other people. And when I moved on to study languages, I aimed for teaching, even though I suck at discipline.

I never stopped writing- poetry at least- and a strange side effect of studying French and Spanish was being involved in the student government of the Faculty of Humanities and the University where I got to run and participate in Poetry Slams. I still considered writing completely impractical, and therefore a "childish" pursuit. But it could be that thing in the background that got me through all the miserable moments of practicality.

In 2008, I discovered nanowrimo, the 30 day novel-writing challenge. some of my friends from Canada and Scotland who happened to live nearby in the backwoods of Japan were doing it. And I thought, what the hey. I've always waanted to write a novel. And I have a job, which I'm required to be at 35 hours a week, but which only actually calls for 15 hours or so of actual work. And in all those hours when I'm not working, I'm sitting at a desk, staring at a computer. Since I never have desk jobs or jobs with down time, it seemed like the universe had aligned itself with the specific intent of having me write a novel. Perfect.

Nano is like a drug. After eating, sleeping, breathing your novel for 30 days, there's bound to be some residual effect. I started following Nathan Bransford, discovered Marsha and Natalie's blogs, and eventually started a general blog of my own, intending to focus one of the days specifically on writing. Some time between completing nano and the first year of writing my blog- a two year span- writing stopped being a thing to do in the background and moved into being THE thing I want to do, with everything else in the background.

Sometime in that two years, I decided I was a writer.

Having a Baby Changes Everything

Remember that slogan from Johnson and Johnson? Obviously your sleep pattern will change. Your ability to just go wherever and stay out for however long will change. The amount of free time you have will change.

But if you think about it logically, there are some things that change even though it's not absolutely neccesary. Some people change their lives so that they are a better example to their kids. What was good enough for them, is not a high enough standard for the kids.

When you have big changes in your life, they affect all the other facets of it.
When you decide to be a writer, everything changes as well. You stop writing only when the muse refuses to be ignored. Now you also write when the muse is only half-awake, when she's on leave, and even when she's curled in a ball in the corner laughing at you pitiful attempts. You spend time actively building a network of writers on blogs, twitter and writer forums. You try to improve your craft. You learn the industry. You wonder if you should go on that vacation, or if you should use the money for a conference. Or if you should turn the vacation into a solitaire writer's retreat in an exotic locale. You re-prioritise, because even though you'd love to go to that party, your fingers are on fire and you just have to get down these couple chapters. You take your Kindle to restaurant outings with friends, because heaven forbid there should be any downtime for reading and you not have something to read. What? That last one's just me, huh?

So, where are you? Have you decided yet? Say it with me.


Monday, August 29, 2011

The Whole World but Me

Ever feel like the whole world is doing/loving something, when you're either totally lukewarm about it, or despise it vehemently? It happens to me so often, I wonder sometimes if I fell off another planet.


Coffee doesn't seem to have the same effect on me that it does on most people. It doesn't make me sit up and open my eyes, or if it does, that's not enough to cover the fact that it tastes absolutely vile. My dislike of coffee is particularly apparent in the novelling world, where authors are always on about their morning shot or chugging a jug to stay up and get that scene right.


In fact, my non-response to coffee extends to all the caffeinated stuff. I spent two years at a US military and the philosophy was basically: you can stuff yourself full of carbonated beverages, as long as you stay awake in class. But even when I was chain-drinking Mountain Dew- the most potent non-Coca Cola thing on campus- I would fall asleep. I've even managed to fall asleep while STANDING ON PARADE!

When I'm sleepy, I will fall asleep. That's just how it is. Weirdly enough, I'm also a periodic insomniac. Go figure.


One of my best friends is always trying to get my right to be a female revoked because I despise cheesecake. And chocolate cake. And icing. I'm not really a fan of cake in general. Or ice cream, especially if it's not rum and raisin or a crazy Japanese flavour. So when I see movie characters get depressed and down a tub of Haagen Dasz, it does nothing for me. I'd much rather have Muesli.


Also not a fan of spicy things. I think I don't like foods with strong tastes. When I lived with my mother, I'd sometimes eat plain ramen or plain spaghetti and she and another best friend would accuse me of not having taste buds.


I can't explain this one. I just don't like milk, which is why I don't really like ice cream, because it melts and tastes like milk. I get most of my calcium from cheese, or masking milk in other foods like omelet.


The first non-food entry is to proclaim my hatred of all things 'i'. iPhone, iPod, iPad. I guess I feel like it's more technology than I need. And I feel like there's someting else less hi-tech or that I already own that does everything the 'i' stuff does.


On the same note, I'm not a big fan of smart phones. I don't need to spend my day in chat rooms, when I'm faced with real people who I can really chat with. My cell phone here is a Disney phone, which gives me the cool advantage of having an @disney email address. Like most phones in Japan, you can read books on it, scan bar codes, convert currencies, look things up, etc. I use my phone to send and receive calls and messages. All else is just fluff to me.


I like blogging, and I'm just getting into twitter. I also have a personal facebook page. But sometimes I feel like there's just too much network-y stuff in the imaginary world and not enough in real life. So when people tell me that I need to get on [insert social media here] I'm like, not gonna happen. I blog because I enjoy it. My twitter is 99.9% professional. And facebook is to stay in touch with the other foreigners in Japan (since were so sprawled all over) and friends in other parts of the world. I'm not on facebook to spend all day on WhateverVille. And I don't tweet to tell you about all the inane nothingness in my life. That's not to say that I won't occasionally do either. But that's occasional. And I don't need more than the blog/twitter/facebook combo to do it on.


Money is strictly a means to an end for me. So money in the bank is never worth more than a trip to a country I love, or better yet one I've never been to. Apart from an absolute obsession with Adidas, I'm also not worried about brand names. And even though I love Adidas, it only extends to things it's relevant to. Like I'll be Adidas sneakers, because I want proper foot support while running. But I couldn't see myself owning Adidas perfume (perfume is another thing I can't stand, that lots of chicas go for) or Adidas toothpaste, because there are very many other brands that will do exactly the same thing for half the price.

How about you? Is there anything the whole world seems to be caught up in that is so not you? Are you totally accepting of it, or do you struggle with it? Do your friends and acquaintances try to drag you over to the dark side?

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Universal Teen

I mentioned last week that one of my stories is featured in the WRITE FOR TOHOKU Kindle e-book. (Go buy it and help the Japan recovery effort.) That stroy is about an experience which reminded me about the similarities in humanity despite how different individual cultures.

As a teacher in/ resident of Japan I get to see a lot of the differences between the teens here, the teens in America (I lived there for a couple of years and all), and the teens in Japan. According to culture shock theory, when you first go to a new country, you notice all the differences, but after a while, you start to see similarities.


One defining factor of teenager-hood is how close teens are to their friends. The most important person in a little child's life is probably their mother or another member of the family. Adults are often closest to their significant others. But teens are almost always closest to friends their own age- especially school friends. I see this all the time in my schools. Maybe, it's even more true in Japan than in the West. In Japan, you're a part of your "group". As an adult, that's your company. But as a teen, that's your school.


After the All_Japan High School Female Hockey Finals. As, you might guess, this team didn't win.

Teenagerhood is full of all these times and things where you have to push yourself to the limit. In my island, we sit an exam at 11 (ish) to decide what secondary school we'll go to, which in turn kind of decides the rest of our lives. In Japan, my kiddies have an exam at 15 for high school. It's not so bad out here in the bush, but it's probably super competitive in places like Tokyo and Osaka. All over the world, teenagers must puch themselves with great grades/sports/extra-curriculars to get into college.

But sometimes you lose. Princeton can't take a million applicants. All the teams can't win the championship. Sometimes you get really close and then you fail.

And the sort of heart-wrenching disappointment that comes with that is universal.


Two of my favourite students have dropped out of school. Not my school- I only teach up to middle school. But they went on to high school and only lasted a year. High school isn't mandatory here, but most people tend to go in the country areas. Anyhow, these two kids turned up at the festival today. They've both got their hair died this bright brown, almost orange colour. One of them has an earring and wears his hair host-style- you know the super-styled Japanese man-hair.

I remember some of the people who didn't continue onto 6th form (16-18 yrs old) at home doning this exact same thing. Like I'm not doing school, but I'm cooler than thou.


The idea for this post came to me at a dance festival at one of my elementary schools. The teachers, parents and I are all dancing. All the elementary students are playing the drums for the dance. And pretty much every student who's passed through the school in the last 6 years, and is now in Junior high or High School is on the sidelines.

The JHS/SHS students don't come over and dance. They don't watch. They sit in their own corner and chit-chat.

And that reminded me of something I've seen teens do all over the world. Put in the effort of getting dresed and leaving home, only to completely ignore an event when they get there. Seriously, if they wanted to chill, thye could chill anywhere. I have no explanation for this, and I'm pretty sure I did it as a teen too.

So there you have it, just a few of the things I've seen in the two hemispheres, and therefore assume to be fairly universal among teens. What's a defining act of teenager-ism in your mind?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review and Giveaway-34

As I mentioned before, this will be the last regularly scheduled giveaways. That doesn't mean there won't be giveaways from time to time. As I looked through my options for today's giveaway, I realised there were several books I hadn't got to give. And I want to. So, stay tuned...

First, last week's winner of



Congrats! Email me at muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com with your full name and address.

Now, for today's giveaway.

From Goodreads:

Manhattan It Girl Riley Swain is no pudgy wallflower. She's brash, bold, fashionable, and yes, fabulous. Riley has no qualms about kissing her best friend's crush, or bribing her dad's lawyer. But this spring break, Riley's dad and wicked stepmother are shipping her off to New Horizons, a two-week fat camp in upstate New York. And it's miserable: like military school without carbs. But then Riley gets to know adorable Eric, who sees beyond Riley's tough exterior. Soon, Riley might just realize that maybe it's not her shape that will change at New Horizons. . . but her heart.

My take:

I'm always complaining about how any "other" character always has to have an issue with being "other". Finally, a book with a fat chick who's happy. (Please note: I'm not a phat and proud type who thinks morbidly obese is fine, but Riley isn't morbidly obese.) Riley is fabulous. In a "nothing in the closet is last season" sort of way. She's the sort of person who you always notice when she walks into a room. She's strong-willed and (mostly) knows what she wants. Fantastic character!

I did have a fairly major issue with the book. There is quite a bit of "Edward Cullen" creepiness going on. And somehow, all that stuff is even more creepy when it's not a vampire doing it. That said, the difference between a sweet obsession and a creepy obsession is a fine line. And frankly, if someone was like that to me, I'd probably ignore the creep factor. (Sadly.)

Tell me your favourite strong, secure (preferably YA, but not necessarily) protagonist.
Open internationally, followers only.
Open until Wednesday, 11.59 pm EST.

Good luck!

PS, Literacy day coming up and the next contest has to do with that...
PPS, Anyone know where to find the Mr. Linky things so people can sign up with their blogs, a la blogfest style?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why there's Sex in my YA

In all the contemporary YA I've written, sex comes up. It's actually a major premise and a theme in MS1 and MS5. (Oh my gosh, I sound so cool with 5 WIPs! WOOT!) Why do I make sex take a front seat in my YA, especially when it's such a hot topic, and often controversial for conservative watchdogs?

Because I think in our Western society, sex is ALWAYS an issue.

Even where it's not overt- think about how many things tie in sexiness when that really has nothing to do with it. How many times have you seen cars, beers, food, etc advertised using beautiful women in suggestive clothing?

Alright then, let's talk about sex, baby. Here are some reasons I think sex is always relevant in YA.

(Listen to what the say at the beginning. So appropriate for the sex in YA discussion. And there's the rap in the middle about STDs. Maybe they should make all parents and teens watch this vid! lol)


Some adults file their sexuality away in a closet. But that's so much harder to do as a teen with hormones spilling out your eyeballs. (Seriously glad I wasn't a boy, so I never had to deal with inappropriate rushes of blood to inappropriate areas of my body.) With the raging hormones, situations escalate quickly. A simple brush of fingers and your blood temperature is through the roof.


Everybody's talking the talk. Even if their friends are all virgins, they're theorising about it. And sex makes its way into even casual conversation. People are boasting about all sorts of things.


All this talk (and the fact that sex is all over the other entertainment media) naturally leads to sex taking up space in your imagination. What's it really like?


A signficant other or close friend might actively put pressure on a teen. And even if noone purposely tries to convince them, the pressure of just knowing that all their friends have "crossed that finish line", can make a teen feel like they should too.


Whether or not to have sex is probably one of the biggest, most agonising decision a lot of teens face. If you choose not to have sex, then that's something that defines you and plays a role in your life.


And of course, there's the Judy Bloom-esque concept of two teens deeply in love and just wanting to take their relationship to another level.


At the end of mandatory schooling (16 in Bim), I was a virgin. I can't say if that's rare for Barbados or not. I think we're a little freer with our sexual ideals, living somewhere at the intersection of African culture, remnants of slave days, and Christianty. Among my friends, however, it wasn't the norm.

Despite the fact that I was a virgin, I had a HORRIBLE reputation. It's all very explainable. When I was 13, I had a completely innocent non-sexual relationship with an older teenager. One day we were walking somewhere and a classmate saw us. Out of nowhere, I'm the subject of all these rumours. The weird thing is that I was just walking down a road, not even holding hands, with this guy and 2 of his friends and 1 of mine. And somehow, people got images of inappropriacy from it. It was like a scene straight out of the 16th century. (Good thing we didn't do SCARLET LETTER in English Lit!)

For the rest of my school life, and even after, these sexual rumours coloured my life. It went through a few stages. First there was rampant denial. Then there was amusement at seeing what rumours people could come up with. Eventually, I got jaded enough that I stopped caring about my reputation at all. If people are going to say you did something, why bother to SEEM like you're not doing it? And furthermore, why bother NOT doing it?


From my experience, whatever a teen's stance on sex, they come into contact with it. In my personal life, sex haunted me for YEARS before I even went near it. YEARS! Sex shaped my teenage years. Having to live through that reputation and still hold my head high, give me a strength I still need in the face of detractors sometimes.

Still, it's important to consider how you represent sex in YA. As a teen, there's so much misinformation. If you're writing YA, you have an opportunity to show sex in a beautiful pure light, as the dark issue that it can be, or just matter-of-factly. The only thing you need to be careful about is not to be preachy.

I won't support any argument that says universally that sex is not a concern and shouldn't be in YA. If it's an issue you find even moderately common in secondary and high schools around the world, then it's an issue that belongs in our books.

(Just in case you wondered, this concern doesn't seem to exist in Japan. Sex outside of marriage/as a teen isn't really frowned upon. I wonder if sex isn't something that Buddhism and Shinto speak to. Even if it is, Japanese people are a lot more lax in practising religion. Children outside of marriage are really frowned upon though, so in the event of unplanned pregnancy, people either get married, or abort. And when you couple that with how uncommon oral contraceptives are the abortion rates are higher. There's no shame or moral dilemma to abortion either. It's just a fact of life.

Needless to say, sex is pretty much a given in Japanese high school romances, and possible in real ife Japanese high school.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Women's YA

I write YA, but I'm open to the possibility that some day I'll also write women's fiction. There are certain topics you just can't deal with in YA. And no, I don't mean things like suicide (one of my fave YA books is about suicide: Jay Asher's TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY), rape, murder, etc. They are all fair game in YA these days. So what can't I deal with?

Well a teen can't really:

Feel like they're stuck in a dead-end job
Be a jaded divorcee
Feel like they've been a failure for the last 25 years
Do anything for the last 25 years
Jet-set around the world when they get sick of being in one country (unless they're a Gossip Girl teen)
Just drop everything (legally, they're required to be schooled somehow)

It got me to thinking, since I'm not a fan of the execution of adult books: Why can't Women's fiction and YA fiction meet in the middle?

If we look at why people, particularly women, prefer YA then we also see why they don't read adult/women's novels. Here's some of the reasons I came up with:

1. High School. Some people miss their school days. I loved school and I'd rather be back there right now. Ironically, I don't read YA for high school. The Caribbean school system is based on the British system and very different to the US system.

2. Lack of gratuitousness. If you're going to have sex or violence in YA, it's in there for a reason, not as a spice.

3. Possibilities. Life is full of possibilities at that age. You can be anything- do anything. As Natasha Bedingfield once sang, "Today is where your book begins/ The rest is still unwritten."

4. Pace. In children books, the emphasis leans more towards telling the story than revelling in the craft. Children are less forgiving of slow pace, so you'll be hard-pressed to find half a page of description. In fact, the description is almost always mixed in with some action or interior monologue or something.

5. Proximity. For me, MG stories are told like you're there as a part of the adventure. YA ones are like you're the MC or their best friend. And adult tales are like you're watching things unfold on a screen. A side effect of YA (for me) being the closest proximity to the MC is that a reader also feels what the MC feels, and so YA provides the most powerful emotional connection on a 1 to 1 (MC to reader) level.

6. Voice. There may be voices in adult books that are as strong as YA voices. I just haven't read them yet. When you feel a character, you FEEL a character. (Ew, no groping!) Maybe that's why YA books are "so love it or hate it". I feel lukewarm about adult books so much more often.

7. Premise. Maybe it's a result of the possibilities clause, but YA premises are just so much more wide-ranging. (I'm going to throw out that unexplainable buzz phrase, "high concept".) What if a part of your society revelled in watching you fight to the death? (Hunger Games) What if you were a regular, non-descript girl and an impossibly sexy supernatural guy fell for you? (Twilight) What if you started to fall for your dead sister's boyfriend? (The Sky is Everywhere) What if you were an average Jane and you decided to get back at the evil hierarchy of pretty/popular people? (half the cheerleader/jock movies or books in the history of the world- lol)

8. Inexperience. Some YA plots depend on this. A lot of the romance-y bits in YA have misunderstandings where I would have just told the guy stuff flat-out. (Maybe that's just me though. I was like that as a teen too. lol) Also, plot twists happen as a result of bad decisions.

9. Issues. Even though YA plots are fast-paced, many of them deal with huge issues in great depth. Weirdly, in adult fiction, it's often either issues or pace. As a reader, it seems that you can't have both. Maybe this is the biggest reason I don't read adult fiction- many of the literary books get all bogged down in Siglo de Oro style (art for art's sake and choose the most beautiful word over the most understandable or most appropriate) and genre books go off on fun tangents without any deeper point.

10. Living the YA life. I don't know how common this is, but it's true for me. Lots of MC's in adult fiction have careers, marriages, kids, and are generally stable. They haven't been through 10 jobs in 11 years. (Yes, I have. Only 5 were full-time, if that helps.) They don't travel very much. And by travel, I mean go anywhere outside work, home and [insert one social activity here]. Maybe some people don't feel like they life "an adult life."


Of the points I've listed (and I'm sure there are more reasons people read YA)the only thing that's absolutely precluded in a book with an MC above 18 is high school. Why can't I write books with inexpericed adult characters, great all-ecompassing premises, and fast-paced, issue-filled plots? Why can't my MC explore different possibilities for the rest of his or her life? Why can't I keep my book pure and not just have sex and stabbing (not in the same scene, of course) just for the heck of it?

Why can't I write a book for the person who, like me, feels like their life is more YA than adult?


There are a few ideas that I want to write that definitely require adult MCs, but by my one sad attempt at an adult book (MS4RIP) taught me that I'm not one for valuing craft over story, or writing "sensible" characters, who are locked into their lifestyles.

If I ever do write women's fiction, it's going to have a YA feel to it.

Somewhere out there (I love that song) someone's ready to tell me there's no market. I beg to differ. In the first quarter of 2009, Twilight sales comprised more than 16% of all book sales.* It's said that almost half of Twilight's readers are adults. Market that!

Here's to Women's YA, and the hope that some day it will exist.

*I think this is an American statistic.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Journey vs Destination

The good news just keeps rolling in!

Congratulations to Dianne K. Salerni, bloggy-bud and one of my first interviewees on the sale of her second novel, THE CAGED GRAVES!

Also, in lesser news, I guest-blogged over at Natalie Whipple's on Friday.

Today I want to talk about Journey vs. Destination.

It all started with one of my best friends who's doing an English Literature degree. His writing is clinical, very academic, which works for him, because, obviously, he's in academia. He said he liked academic writing, because he's good at it. I said, I'm good at academic writing too, but I like fiction because it's fun.

In the course of this discussion, I realised something: I'm all about the journey and he's about the destination. Neither is wholly better than the other. Both have advantages and drawbacks.


One of the perks of being about the journey is living in the moment. If you're more about the journey, then you are satisfied wherever you happen to be on your path. That's not to say you don't have goals, but the fact that you haven't reached them yet is okay. The flipside of this is that if you get too caught up in the satisfaction of the journey, you may not make any progress towards your goals.

A major disadvantage of living for the journey is that you're not particularly inclined to do things that are difficult now. For example, if you want to get in shape, you have to do exercises and eat healthy today. But you won't get any results today. To get around this issue, a journey-ist needs to make sure to keep the day-to-day exciting. Back to the fitness example: a journey-ist could spice up their meals with herbs, exotic fruits and veggies, and different methods of preparation. And they could help their fitness routine, by constantly changing the program or doing exercises that have a social side to them, like playing a sport.


Living for the destination makes working towards your goals easy. You know where you want to be, and you have no trouble doing what you need to do to get there. However, you may find that you're always dissatisfied with yourself. You haven't reached X point yet, so you're not living up to your full potential. To combat this, take a moment to sit and think of all the places you have reached.

The disadvantage of being a destination-ist? You define yourself by striving for goals. When you reach a goal, you barely take a moment to celebrate, before you need a new goal to work towards. You feel like you're nothing because you don't have a BA/BS. You get your first degree, and then you feel like you're nothing because you don't have a Masters. Solution: take some time before you move on, to celebrate the goal you've acheived.

Are you guys more Journey or Destination oriented?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nicknames: Caribbean Context

I'm so psyched right now, because I just met PIKACHU (from Pokemon) in the train station!!! I love this country! (Yes, I'm aware that I'm 4 years old. I'm cool with that.)

Today, I'll be talking about nicknames, Caribbean Style.


In many parts of the world, people with long (and even not-so-long) names, go by a shortened version of their name. Charles becomes Chuck. William becomes Will or Bill. Richard becomes Rich or Dick. Jennifer is Jenny or Jenn. Jessica is Jess or Jessie.

Not so in Bim, and presumably the rest of the Caribbean. If your name is Victoria, you're Victoria. If we call you Mike, it's probably because your name is Mike, not because we've shortened it from Michael. There are a few exceptions: Jennifer still goes to Jenny a lot, and if you ask to be called a shortened version of your name, you will be. But Charles is pretty much never Chuck.


So, if not from shortened names, where do nicknames come from in the Caribbean? Some of them are the pet names parents use before they've named a child. A school friend of mine, Kemal, was called "George" while he was in the womb, and is still George to this day. We even had a Prime Minister called Jon Michael Geoffrey Mannigham Adams and everyone called him "Tom".


As you might have noticed above it's perfectly common for real names which are completely unrelated to a person's actual name to become their nickname. This gives rise to an interesting side effect: sometimes you know someone your whole life, and don't know their real name until you hear their obituary.

This is the case in my father's family. His oldest brother's real name is Dennis. Everyone knows him as "Clyde". Evelyn is "Patrick". Keith is "Johnny" or "Cap" and my Dad, Vernon is "Charlie". In fact, after my grandmother's first husband died, she kept her last name so that all the kids would have the same name. So people from the neighbourhood invariably try to find Charlie Bancroft (his father's last name) instead of Vernon Gittens. lol!


Some people are called by their last names. This is most common with guys. Like a friend from school was Barker. Noone ever uses his first name. It's weird because his sister also went to school with us and we called her by her first name. Even though we don't shorten first names, last names get turned into pet names all the time. Clarke becomes Clarky. Brathwaite becomes Brath. Prescod becomes Pressy. My last name, Gittens becomes Gitts.


Some nicknames come from a physical trait. The tallest person in a neighbourhood or a group may be "Tallies" or "Tallman". The shortest is "Shortman". The fattest might be "Fats". If the guys out on the street are trying to talk to girls they don't know, they'll call the thin ones "Slims" and the fat ones "Thickness". They red-skin (light brown) ones are "Reds" and the dark ones are "Darkies".

On the flip of this is the ironic nickname. There was a man who was 400 pounds (at least). His nickname was Tiny!


Some nicknames arise out of a story about a person. a guy at school brought apples every day, and he became Apples. The nicknames with stories to them can get really crazy. Here are a few examples. I'll give you the story if I know it.

Auto Mac- a mechanic
Zero- he was thinner than 1
Sandfly - small, fast and annoying (field hockey)
Pawn Cow - supposedly pawned his mother's cow to take a girl on a date. lol.
Teno - Scores so many goals, it's like a 100, 10-0 =ten o
Sluggy - Supposedly does everything slow except sex. lol.
Urkel - after Steve Urkel from tv's Family Matters
Iron Pig
Cat - for being sneaky
Fox - for being sly
Big Dumb
Shanno Foot Cockroach
Mice Milk- I don't know the story behind Mice Milk, but the best thing is that there are two ppl with this nickname at my church!

All of the nicknames in that list belong to men. It's comparatively rare for women to get nicknames. I guess in Caribbean culture, the man is more an entity of the entire village, while a woman belongs to her family and her specific group of friends or something like that.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review and Giveaway 33

Someone's having a lucky month!

The winner of MY LIFE UNDECIDED IS...

the newly agented Kate Scott!!!

Congrats Kate!

Today up for grabs is WRITE TO BE PUBLISHED by Nicola Morgan.

Nicola Morgan is the author of more than 90 non-fiction and fiction titles. She is also a freelance editor and she blogs at Help! I need a publisher. Even though she's not an agent, she's kind of the UK's version of Nathan Bransford.

I'd planned to meet Nicola and have her critique my work in March at The York Festival of Writing. The great Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11th had other ideas, and I was still stuck in my town with no train service and gas shortages when the conference started. So when I heard she had a craft book coming out, I had to have it.

I love reading up on the craft, but I must admit, craft books aren't easy to digest. But this one is. Maybe it's because much of the information comes from Nicola's blog, and has been organised into blog-post-sized segments. It might be the simple premise she follows throughout the book too. Wanna be published? Write the right book, and then send it to the right people at the right time.

The caveat is that the book doesn't go into much depth on anything. But it's not meant to. It reads more like a checklist for beginning writers and for those whose work has been rejected. And Nicola knows about rejection, as someone who took 2 decades to sell a novel. (What perseverance!)

I suppose the other caveat is that this book is from the other side of the pond. BUT it's not so much about the publishing wheels, so there's not that much that's strictly relevant to the Brit writers. A good book is still a good book.

Today's rules:
Any comment will get you a chance to win WRITE TO BE PUBLISHED.
Open internationally, followers only until Wednesday 11.59 pm.

Good luck!

PS, Don't forget to check out the final day of Write On Con!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More News

Days after the March 2011 earthquake, some of the leaders of the English-speaking writing community in Japan decided to compile a non-fiction anthology. It's not just a collection of stories, but of our stories, and Japan's stories.

After months of being available only as a PDF, WRITE FOR TOHOKU is now available as a Kindle e-book. Unfortunately, there's no print book at this time.

The proceeds from this e-book go towards the re-building effort here in Tohoku, so even if you don't have a Kindle, consider getting the PDF or downloading Kindle for PC. Every little bit counts.

After going out to the coast and seeing firsthand- a boat on top of the Post Office, a house intact but upside down, car dealerships where all the cars had disappeared and there's just a 40 foot sign making the lot- I knew I had to do something. I would like to go across to the coast and help out more, but it's difficult to get there without a car. And really, the bigger issue for me is that it's depressing. You can only look at scenes like that for so long. It's different when you do that and then you go home. But this IS home. I knew people who were killed. I know a girl who spent her weekend covering up bodies. I could just as easily have been living there instead of here. I want to get back there some time, and do more to help out. But I know it will take a while.

So when I heard about this anthology, I just knew I had to write for it. It's hard being a write in a country where you're barely functionally literate. I feel so useless, and I always feel like I can't use my talents to give back to this land that has given me so much. Finally, here was an opportunity to do something to help.

I'm proud to say I have a short non-fiction story in this e-book. Also if you buy it, look out for stories by some of my writer-friends: Suzanne Kamata, Leza Lowitz, and the stories before and after mine, by Holly Thompson and Brianna Harris. Also spread the word about this e-book, especially to friends who have an interest in Japan. Every little bit counts.

Thanks a lot guys.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First the Good News, well maybe not first...


Sapporo is the capital of the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido. It's my fave city in Japan and maybe the world. (How else can I explain having taken an 8-10 hour trip 4 times in 3 years?) I love the ride up here too. Even though it's long, I sleep most of the way. And I'm always psyched to travel through the Seikan Tunnel, the deepest and longest railway tunnel in the world.

I'm taking a few days to chill out, spend some time with my new MS (not started yet), go to Write On Con, and just relax. This is supposed to be a nice, relaxing, FRUGAL break. Of course, that was before I got to my hotel and saw an announcement that one of my favourite J-groups is having a concert while I'm here. Sigh. I'm fighting the good fight.

But none of that is the good news.

The good news is that Kate Scott has signed with an agent! She's now repped by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Kate was one of the lucky ones who didn't do the whole query bit. She actually met Miriam at a writers' conference. She did a pitch event and Miriam loved it, and read the book in conference breaks, badda-bing, badda-bang, contract.

But don't go printing off Kate's photo and stiching it on a voodoo doll just yet. She may not have had to query, but she's still had to work really hard. I met Kate on Natalie Whipple's blog through her critique partner match-up event. One of the things Kate was looking for in a critique partner was good spelling. That's because she's dyslexic. I can't tell you how amazed I am by that. If I were dyslexic, I doubt I'd have ever picked up a book, far less try to write one.

So head on over to Kate's and tell her 'Congrats!' God knows she deserves it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Height of Immaturity

I hate the word 'immature'. It's so judgemental to me. It's like there's this scale or something, and MATURE is a point on it, and you can't reach that point. But since I get called immature from time to time, I've decided to dissect it.

What's Mature?

To understand 'immature', I think we first have to define 'mature'. From a strictly scientific point of view, mature is the attainment of the fully-developed stage of life. From an adult personals standpoint, it means older than 40. says:

1. grown or developed
2. adult in manner or thought
3. payable

The mature that we're dealing with is the second one 'adult in manner or thought'.

The problem arises with the definition of what is adult. Once upon a time, the grand majority of people lived the same life: get what ever education was available, get married, find a job and stay in it forever/take care of your household, have 2-14 kids, etc. I don't feel like the word 'immature' was assigned to people who didn't follow that path back then, though. I just watched a video about the 98 year old judo-ka who was the first female to be awarded a tenth dan black belt. All those years ago, she CHOSE judo over the traditional Japanese family life. There was nothing immature about that.

These days, it's easy to define adult physically. The number of years you've been on the planet is easily measurable. All things of a sexual nature are 'adult' (whether or not teens do them too). Drinking alcohol and voting are adult things as well. But the absence of these last three (if you're a celibate adult who doesn't drink and has never voted) doesn't make you any less an adult in my mind.

From here, the definition gets harder. I read somewhere that the average American will change jobs 5 times in their life. In fact, lots of adults these days don't have jobs, or are working in part-time positions previously held by teens or college students. The mentality has shifted so that people want to have assets and standing before they marry, so many people get married later. Medical technology is better, so they have kids later as well.

These days, you can't really look at any single profile and say, 'That is what an adult's life looks like.'

And yet, even though the world has changed so much, the general definition of 'maturity' hasn't really. Having romantic notions about loving your job and changing the world, instead of being a reliably-paid cog in the machine at a stable job that doesn't float your boat, is immature.

The grand irony of society thinking you're immature for running away from the well-beaten path into the overgrown forest is that the world moves forward on the backs of people like us. Continents were 'discovered', inventions created, innovations made, by the type of people who weren't interested in status quo. The same type of people they call immature are the reason they can work in a cubicle on the 27th floor in the IT department.

But on top of this semi-rational definition of adulthood and maturity is one more thing you have to contend with: personal preference. Let's take two women: they're each proposed to by a smart, stable, good-looking guy with a good job, who has a nice car, owns a bit of land, and has a great future all lined up. There's only one problem. He doesn't make her heart want to jump out of her chest.

Woman 1 will say to herself, " He's a nice guy. He's got all the things women fight for. He'll make great babies. I'm 30 years old. I won't get another chance. The mature thing to do is to marry him."

Woman 2 thinks differently. "I can't marry someone who doesn't make me want to explode because I can't hold all my adoration in. But he's perfecct. All my family and friends love him. And he does nothing wrong. And he's got everything. They'll all think I'm crazy to give him up, but I want my marriage to fill me up, not empty me out. The mature thing to do is ignore what everyone else will say and follow my heart.

If Woman 1 and Woman 2 were friends, they might each survey the other's actions and call them immature. But looking back at their logic, whether or not you agree with it, you can see how they each make sense. How they've both struggled with this decision and had to make a sacrifice to move on. There's nothing immature about it. In fact, what the word immature really means is 'different'. Different from the path I would have taken. Different from what society expects.

I get called immature a lot- even by well-meaning close friends. I believe in things that well-meaning 'sensible' people think only belong in fairy tales. I went to the top secondary school on an island that is often voted as having one of the best education systems in the world. And then I went to the hardest college to get into the US. That makes it even worse. People expect even more of me. While many of my secondary school classmates are doctors, lawyers and accountants, I'm floating around as an unqualified teacher. Granted, I'm in Japan, and I've seen 6 of the 7 continents (still trying to figure out the Antartica bit) and I've worked on a passenger submarine, all of which makes me a way cooler topic of conversation that 99 % of them. But I'm still classed as immature. It kind of drives me crazy. Because I'm not.

For many years, I struggled to stick to a path that I despised, but others dictated I be on. I tried to combine what I wanted with what society said I should go after. I looked for ways to be stable and make money in fields I loved. But in the end, it wasn't for me. I don't care about money. I'm not inclined to spend my life living in one country (clearly). I don't want to feel like life is a mathematical equation. And it took incredible willpower to walk away from what the whole world seemed to be pulling me towards. All those things that I could be so good at it for a while until they made me crazy with misery. It STILL takes willpower not to just bow down and do what they think is right. And for me, the choice to be who I am, despite everybody else IS maturity.

That's not to say immaturity doesn't exist. If there'd been a third woman in our previous example and she'd chosen not to marry the guy, not because she didn't love him, but she had a list of pre-requisites a mile long and refused to be with a guy who didn't fold his sock this way or wasn't able to make lasagne, I'd think she was immature. Because if you have a list that long, noone's going to fulfill it, and you really are living in a fairy tale if you think someone will. But 9 times out of time, when people are quick to throw out the word 'immature' what they really mean is, 'that's not the path I think you should take'.

Now that I think about it, it's difficult to judge whether someone else is immature, because you can only really tell if you know both the action and the thought process behind it. So next time you feel tempted to use the word, think it out for a sec. Is that person really doing something immature, or is there a possible reason why they're just being different to what you'd expect?

It's Monday, that's what's on my mind.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Caribbean Context: Drinking in Bim

*Bim is a nickname for Barbados.

I don’t know what the drinking age is in Barbados.

That probably sounds crazy to Americans who went out on their 21st birthday and got sloshed because they were now allowed to do it legally. Strange that I know the legal drinking age in America, but not Barbados.

It’s not because I don’t drink. I’m generally reasonable about drinking. But admittedly alcohol doesn’t seem to have the same mental effects on me, so I can drink or not drink, it doesn’t matter.

The reason I don’t know what the drinking age is in the land I grew up in and am a citizen of is because no one's that bothered about it. In America, there’s all these weird associations with alcohol. It’s a taboo, and a privilege, and there’s a certain mystery and illicitness to it. There’s very little of that for us.

Mount Gay Rum (cutout + random guy)

In many households in Bim, alcohol is never off limits. I’ve been consuming alcohol from before I can remember. That’s not to say that parents put Mount Gay Rum (the oldest in the world by the way) in baby bottles. It’s just never restricted. At weddings and Christmas there is rum cake. It’s like fruit cake with a million times more raisins and a couple gallons of rum. Seriously, I’ve never heard of another cake that doesn’t go bad. The most that happens with run cake is that it dries out. And the solution for that? Douse it in more rum. (I’m so not kidding.)
Rum Cake- also known as Black Cake or Great Cake

Most parents will also let their kids have a sip of their beer/stout/wine. When I was a kid, my mother used to make Red Stripe floats and offer me a taste. I always refused because I despise milk. And shandy- which is fruit juice like lemonade or sorrel mixed with beer and has an alcohol content of 1-2%- is considered a soft drink by adults. And some parents will let their teen kids have shandy once in a while.
Sorrel plant

Sorrel Drink

Sometimes, alcoholism isn’t seen as a problem, especially where it doesn’t lead to another problem like domestic abuse, or drunk driving. People will say casually, “Oh he does get blind drunk every Fridee night,” just like they were talking about the fact that it rained 3 days in a row. So long as you aren’t a burden on society, no one really cares if you drink yourself into a stupor. That changes a little depending on your social rank. Middle management will have a harder time getting away with stuff like that.

Because drinking is neither restricted nor taboo, we don’t “wild out” the minute we tick over to being legal, nor do we have to get someone to buy us liquor for our illegal forays into the drinking world. And because we’re not going crazy about alcohol, there’s less need to police it. Many bars don’t ask for ID, especially outside of Bridgetown, although clubs will, but I think that has to do with things other than alcohol. In many "country" areas, you can literally send a 7-year old to the corner shop for a bottle of rum. (There is a law about how old you have to be to buy alcohol, but in small districts, the shopkeepers often know everyone in the neighbourhood. They know who that kids parents are. And you can bet your bottom dollar the kid won't touch it before they get home. Also this will only happen at the corner shop. I can't see it flying in a supermarket.)
Rum shop/corner shop. The rum shop functions like a bar, but people also hang out there in the day. And it also sells a few other supplies- some food, some cleaning supplies, the sort of stuff you might need but not feel like going all the way to asupermarket for. Except for the upscalest of the upscale neighbourhoods, there's at least one rum shop within a 10 minute walking distance of anywhere there's more than 2 houses.

I don’t think we have drinking games either. I learned all the drinking games I know in America and Japan (and on a trip to India with Americans and Brits). I guess you could say drinking is less of a destination, and more of a journey? In Barbados, the verb to drink is like a helping verb, it goes along with another verb. So you drink while watching Rally (car racing) or while liming and chatting with friends or in a fete slow-grinding on somebody or in the rum shop discussing politics like you’re a former Prime Minister. But you don’t ever just drink. And it never feels like the objective is the drinking.

It’s one of the most prevalent things in YA novels that will remind me that the story takes place somewhere else, because that’s just not us. We weren’t having parties with enough alcohol for a colony of mermaids to swim in. Heck we weren’t really even having parties (we had fetes or limes- but that’s another CC post for another day). So the drunken party when you have an empty house? Not likely. And that’s not to say we’re a bunch of goody-two-shoes. Teens will take advantage of being unsupervised in Bim, I just think that alcohol is a way less likely choice than all the other things they could be getting into.

P.S. A friend who used to own a bar in Barbados, tells me the drinking age is 18. I'm pretty sure I will forget that in a week. Like I said, people don't harp on it too much.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review, Giveaway -32

The winner of one copy of



Natasha Areena!

Congrats Natasha! Email me your full name and address at muchlanguage(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll get it right to you.


I'm going to be discontinuing the weekly giveaways at the end of August. Honestly, it's a bit exhausting. I have to read up to 3 books each week to figure out what to giveaway. I have to write a review. Or contact an author, get a response, and write an interview. And then there's actually imputting addresses and ordering prizes. I knew it would be tiring, but I promised myself to stick with it if I had a lot of interest. But most weeks, it's 5 or less entries.


There's another reason why I'm discontinuing the weekly giveaways after August. I have some really, really special I'm going to do in September. One lucky, lucky person- follower or not- will have the chance to win HUGE. And YOU, my fantastic Honey-bunches, are going to get to choose who that person is. STAY TUNED! Something wicked, this way comes!


Firstly, the cover blurb is awesome. You immediately get a taste of Brooklyn Pierce. She makes bad decisions- except not really. I mean you wouldn't think having a party would end in burning down a model home, right?

Brooklyn is so convinced that everything she touches will turn to mush that she decides to put her entire life in the hands of her blog readers, and promises to follow whatever decisions they make. It actually takes quite a while to get to the whole "start a blog" bit, and normally I hate when books do that- advertise something on the back and then there's a whole chunk that doesn't do it. Except Brooklyn's story pulled me in so completely that I wasn't impatient.

Add in a stellar supporting cast- a best friend that's a bit of a twat, the requisite super sexy love interest, a new friend and a crabby old lady- and you've got yourself a winner!

Like Brooklyn, I make a lot of bad decisions. To win this week, tell me:
What's your relationship with decision-making? Do you like it? Do you make good decisions? How do you react to the bad ones?
This week is followers only.
Contest is open until Wednesday 11.59 pm EST and international as per usual.

Good luck!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

YA Pet Peeves

Today, on Write Away Wednesday, a few of the things that bug me in YA novels.


There's nothing wrong with a teen whose favourite book is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, but I feel like it's all too prevalent in YA novels. I mean, I was legendary as a child for the number of books I read, and my faves were all contemporary stuff like Encyclopedia Brown and The Baby-Sitters Club (so not even kidding). I went to the top academic school on the island, and I can't think of anyone who's favourite book was a classic. Even my bff- who loves a bunch of literary stuff and all things Tolkien these days- was reading bodice-rippers in the teen years.

I kind of feel like making a teenager do anything = making them hate it. There are a few books that I read in school that meant nothing to me then, but I'm all into the deeper meaning now. There are so many great YA books these days (YA didn't exist as a category in my day) that I can't imagine such a large percentage of teens overlooking TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER and THE HUNGER GAMES and ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and picking a 200 year old book as their fave. Also, I wonder how many teens HAVE favourite books, between teenage indecision and being so busy with school and a social life that there's not that much time to read.


It bugs me whan a main character loves writing, especially where it's not important to the plot or the mechanics of the story. Once again, stories about writers are overdone, and not just in YA. There are so many other hobbies they can have which will colour them in all sorts of interesting ways. Oh, and photography is also out, unless the plot is about them taking a picture that starts a scandal or something.


I'm sorry but I happen not to know any teens whose favourite band is The Beatles, or who only listen to Elton John or Michael Jackson or Sade. As a teen I was really into all of those, but I was a weird kid. And none of them was my favourite group either.

One exception to this rule is the "rebel without a cause" kid who purposely picks some obscure hard rock band from the 60's to love. Or something like that.


Is it just me, or does it feel like 90% of the time a girl likes a boy in YA, he likes her back? Never is it: girl likes boy, boy has never thought of girl before, but she's cool, and he starts hanging out with her. Seriously, I can not think of a single time that happened. And I feel like I saw that a lot in my teen life. Heck, I feel like I see it a lot now.


I am so tired of love interests that everyone agrees is the hottest guy/girl in the school. There's about a zillion things wrong with the implied message there, but I'm not even going to touch that. I'm more interested in the fact that I don't think most people go for the stereotypically hottest guy in the room. We all have our preferences, and often we find people sexy and our friends are like, "he's aiight," or even, "ew!" On top of that, I don't know if there is such a thing as "The Sexiest Guy." If you lined up Brad Pitt, Willy Monfret, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Taylor Lautner and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and told a bunch of teenage girls to run screaming to the sexiest one, they wouldn't all go to one guy.

I can find something sexy in 99.9% of guys, even if it's the tiniest thing. And my characters are like that too. The last MS I completed, the MC's best friend constantly laughed at her because the guy she was cruching on was a "broomstick". But the MC thought that was sexy.

Are there any trends in YA novels that really drive you up a wall? How do you feel about the ones I mentioned?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What It Takes

“If I had the will and the talent to go with the eye and the ear, I could grow up to be a writer.” –Richard Price, Foreword to Hubert Selby’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

I think a lot. If I’m not actively doing something else, I’m thinking. Sometimes I’m being philosophical, looking for rhyme and reason in morals and ethics. Sometimes I’m imagining people and their lives and loves and their very different worlds. One of the things I think about a lot is what it takes to be a writer. So when I stumbled across the Richard Price quote, it felt right. Yes, I thought, that is exactly what it takes.


If you’re here- on my very writing-focused but featuring the occasional detour blog, then you probably have the will to be a writer. The will to write is the easiest part. Every now and then, an article surfaces reminding us that 1 in 15, 10, 5, people in America or wherever else wants to write a book someday.

The will to keep writing is a bit harder. It requires ignoring the Am I Crazies, turning a blind eye to the fact that your friends and family are going further/getting more out of life, wading through the swamp of mush on the days (or weeks or months) when your brain refuses to cooperate. It requires picking yourself off the floor when a brutal (intentionally or not) critiques slays you. But it’s like Carlisle Cullen always says, if you really want it you must “find the will.” (Yes, I just quoted a sparkle-pire. Problems?)


Talent is a toughie. You’re born with it or not. That can be discouraging if the writing doesn’t flow out of your fingers in perfectly woven threads, but there’s a couple of silver linings you can look at.

Firstly, talent is natural, but skills are practised. A person may have a talent for dance, but without lessons and practice, they’ll never be a prima ballerina. In the same way, a writers first attempts can (and probably will) way below the level of the polished products they see on the shelves. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you don’t have talent. Talent is a raw material. In the same way that most people don’t just drink 2 eggs for breakfast, but will add some seasonings and heat to make omelette or scrambled eggs, you need to apply a little time and effort to your natural talent to get to where you want to be.

Secondly, writing is subjective. We hear that thrown around a lot, and it sounds like a cop-out, but if you can think of a bestseller or classic that you don’t like, then you know it’s true. I help one of my best friends sometimes with his school work. He writes in a very precise style, and all his work feels overly academic for me, no matter the topic. I wouldn’t purposely pick up a book like that, but there are books out there praised for using precise language.
There are readers who like hearing words liks sahara, cyan, and maple instead of the word brown. There are readers who like their fiction to read like a law brief. There are readers who like description at a minimum. Others like fast-paced action. Emotion. Plot twists. Settings. There is a reader for every style of writing.


A visual artist uses his eyes to take in what’s around in. Then he passes the picture through the filters of his brain and his style, and uses his medium to represent what he saw. A writer does exactly the same thing, but his medium is the word.

The most obvious thing writers need to be observant about (to me) is setting, mainly because this is the most obvious and often extensive description in a book. You need to see exactly how that particular plant moves in a storm wind, or how the floor plan is for the cubicles in a massive IT firm. But it’s also important for a writer to see actions. Being observant about the way a person reacts when they’re surprised, angry, in love, noticing little moments, seeing things in the background, all of these can be transferred into your writing.


As the eye is to setting, so is the ear to dialogue. A surprising (to me, anyway) number of writers struggle with writing dialogue. Some write in a way that people would never speak. Some write exactly as they do, which seems like a good thing at first, but do you realize how many times a day we say words like’ um’,’ yeah,’ ‘like’, etc? Some dialogue feels like it’s been inserted for the sake of having dialogue or to disclose backstory in a thoroughly unnatural and unlikely way.

The aim of dialogue in novels is not to represent the world exactly as it is, although that is a choice you can make. Instead, dialogue is meant as a break from the narrative/description, an opportunity to have characters interact, and a summary of important things that are said, among other things. Use your ears to hear how people really interact, and then use your filters (brain and style) to give that back to us a la novel version.

To a lesser extent, the ear is also useful in bringing description to the page. Every setting sounds different. Rush hour New York sounds like blaring cab horns, 6 am in countryside Barbados sounds like roosters and the neighbours shouting at their kids that if they have to tell them to get out of bed one more time…


I really like this equation for what it takes to be a writer, because many people include desire/motivation and talent, but I think that an ability to see, hear, and think about the world in depth and differently is important where any writer of fiction is concerned.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Every single one

Warning: There’s a Bible reference in here. It’s not meant to be religion-inciting.

In one of the anti-dark YA arguments I read a while back, the writer claimed that dark YA was catering to a small minority of teens. I won’t get into whether or not that's true, because I don’t think there’s any way to know for sure how many American teens are struggling with issues like rape, self-mutilation, abusive relationships, etc. And if you consider that the majority of books in most Western or English-speaking countries is American, then it’s even less possible to collect data on all those teens.

I’d like to deal with something else that was not said, but insinuated in that article. The concept that it’s okay to lose some along the way.

Four years (or so) ago, before I came to Japan, I was teaching in the Barbadian school system. As I’ve said before, in Barbados we go to secondary schools (JHS+SHS) according to the marks we get on an entrance exam. There are 6 top schools, a bunch of middling schools, and then a few schools with students who really struggle with academics. I taught at 3 schools. 2 were in the top 6, one in the bottom group, and of course, I also went to the top school on the island. So I’ve seen a fairly wide range.

At the lower school, I went in expecting certain things, but there were still things that shocked me. One day, I had to deal with an incident of a sexual nature involving a girl, and two older boys, because a girl from my form (homeroom) caught them, and because the incident took place in my classroom. The Senior Teacher that dealt with the matter gave the kids a slap on the wrist. I freaked, because in my mind 11 and 12 year olds don’t do these things, and if they do, they don’t them in classrooms at lunch time. As a rebuttal, the Senior Teacher told me a story of a girl who’d grown up in an area known for prostitution (even though it’s illegal) and had arrived her first day of school with a price list detailing how far you could go for 25 cents or a dollar! The story only accomplished half its purpose. I understood what I was dealing with, but I didn’t agree with his so-long-as-its-not-murder-let-them-alone approach.

When I moved to the first top 6 school, I expected things would be different, and ended shocked by how many of the same problems existed. One girl had just come back to school from having a baby by a guy who used to try to chat to me when I was her age. In other words, this guy was older than me and she was 16. (In Barbados, 16 is legal, but most guys over 20 think it’s kind of ew.)

While I was in my stint at that school, a former student attempted an armed robbery, and ended up killing someone. And many of the teachers told stories about how bad he’d been in school. But during a conversation with the librarian, who was younger and less jaded, it occurred to me how much teachers ignored troubled students.

At the lower academic schools, they acted like certain things were a given and ignored them. At top 6 schools, they acted like there will always be a few to slip through the cracks, and ignored them. There’s this story in the Bible where the people are all “Jesus, Dude, why you be hanging with all dem unclean losers and shiz?” and Jesus is like, “Yo peeps, y’all ain’t messed up like dem. Pun a real, dey needs me like crazy.” Or something like that.

I feel the same way about the kids.

Firstly, I don’t feel that you should just ignore them/wait for them to get kicked out/nod knowingly after they become self-fulfilling prophecies. And secondly, I feel like the “bad” ones need us more.

There were 3 kids in a class I taught at one of the top 6. They’d all repeated a year. I was particularly close to one of them, and he used to tell me how X and Y teachers were against him. Sadly, I believe he was right. Everyone expected him to fail. So I made it my mission to make him succeed. I was only there for a term, so I can’t say we made leaps and bounds of progress. I left Barbados after that school year to come out to Japan, and when I went home for Christmas, he had quit school and was conducting a van. I can’t go into all of what that entails here- maybe I’ll do a Caribbean Context post on it later- but suffice it to say, that people who work on ZR’s and vans are generally thought of as undesirables and shunned by certain much of society.

Obviously, I can’t say for sure that he’d have stayed in school if I’d been there. But I can say that it’s not easy to even try to succeed when everyone thinks you won’t. When small successes are not met with, “Congratulations,” but instead, “Oh! You managed to eke by this time?”

I still worry about that kid. The fact that he quit school in a society where education – free all the way up to certain Masters’ degrees and Doctorates- means everything means that he’s potentially going to be working in that sector forever. Whenever or not he ends up in the criminal end of the spectrum, he’ll be judged as one. Because we let him slip through the cracks. As we do so many others.

Sex, criminal elements and education are just a few of the considerations. There are so many things that teens struggle with: depression, eating disorders, drugs. We can’t just write them off because they aren’t as close to perfect as we’d like. Who decides where the line is where we stop caring? Would they still keep to that line if it was their own child or sibling or friend who was falling below it?

There’s another thought that sticks in my mind from that conversation with the librarian. What if the person the former student had killed had been some relative of one of the teachers? What if they could have helped him, and maybe he’d have taken a different path, but now their favourite uncle was lying 6 feet under? Would it still be a lost cause in their mind? Or would they wish they had tried?

I’d want to know that I’d tried.

I’m not saying that anyone should bend over backward for people who logically don’t deserve it. But I don’t think we should go to the other extreme of purposely turning a blind eye, ear and every other body part. It’s okay if we lose some along the way. It’s inevitable, really. But it’s never okay to lose them on purpose.

It’s Monday, that’s what’s on my mind.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review and Giveaway- 31

Hey guys!

Did you miss me??? I missed you. But being offline for 6 days has worked wonders. Even though I worked 14-18 hour days at the conference, I feel more relaxed. Go figure.


The winner of last week's giveaway of



Sidrah! It's on the way, Sidrah.

This week's giveaway is...

Massive fail on my part for not getting to this book sooner. I came late to the Courtney Summers party. I read SOME GIRLS ARE last October and even though I loved it- despite generally not being a fan of cheer-leader books- I still didn't pick up another book by the author.

CRACKED UP TO BE follows Parker Fadley, the perfect student. Only now she's not so perfect. She's taken to drinking, her grades have slipped into the abyss, and she's shoved her boyfriend out the door. The book starts with her trying to mend her ways just enough that they let her graduate, but not so much that her friends and family want to associate with her.

It's confusing at the start, because you're not sure what happened. All you know is that Parker has been drunk before. Including at school. In fact, while the main story is what is happening now, the story that I couldn't wait to unravel was the one in the past. What happened to Parker to make her like this?

This week we're going to play a little differently. :)

To win a copy of CRACKED UP TO BE:
Please send me a list of your ten books for inclusion in the 100 books Every Writer Should Read. (Your list will also make you eligible for that giveaway.)
If you've already sent me a list, just leave a comment saying that, and I'll count that as your entry.
OPTIONAL: Pick up an extra entry by spreading the word (blogging, tweeting, facebooking) about the 100 books, and comment to say you did. You can also comment on the 100 books page with the linky for an entry into that contest.
Contest open internationally, to everyone including non-followers.
Contest closes on Wednesday at 11.59 pm EST.