Monday, January 31, 2011

The Twilight Effect - Writers Debate the Influence of Teen Fiction

When I wrote the first post on the last year titled The Stephenie Meyer Effect attempting to get to the bottom of why writers seemed so up in arms about the writing in the Twilight books, I never expected to uncover issues with the content.

It was the comment from Jasmin Elliot (a Tweep, writer and English Lit grad student) that got me mulling over the ethical responsibilities of how authors portray YA characters.

So, in honor of Jasmin’s kick-it-off-etness I’ve decided to use her comment on the original post as our opener.

I'd encourage you to give real consideration to her thoughts, tell us what you think in the comments, then tune in tomorrow for the first contributing viewpoint.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Disclaimer: In a genuine effort to open a dialogue around the ethics and responsibilities of writing fiction for teens, I’m allowing guest contributors to express their views without interference or moderation. Therefore, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent my views and opinions. If you’re not sure – ask. I’ll tell you.

November 28, 2010 @ 1:49pm - Jasmin said...

I've read the entire Twilight series several times over. I am a writer and an English Literature graduate student.

And I hate this series. I hate it with a consuming passion that has become the focus of my academia. I've spoken on Twilight at three conferences now and I don't intend to slow down.

I hate the saga not because it's badly written and popular. Plenty of things qualify under that umbrella.

I hate it because it is marketed to young women and has extremely backwards and damaging messages about how teenaged girls should expect (and want!) to be treated by men. I hate it because so many uninformed adults -- and mothers -- don't seek to interrogate these notions with adolescents, because they're just so glad they're reading, and they either don't know or gloss over the worse implications of the text because they are pleased with its message of abstinence.

What I hate about Twilight is that its level of media saturation means there are a lot of girls who to varying extents look at Bella as a role model, and I think Bella is an extremely dangerous role model to have if a girl is meant to develop a healthy sense of self-worth in her interpersonal relationships.

So. Is it as easy to read as it is to eat a potato chip? Yes, and I will admit to often enjoying novels that are that simple. But I reserve my right to hate a narrative that wants us to adore a guy who rips the engine out of his girlfriend's truck so she can't go to see her best friend.

Jasmin Elliot!/JasmineElliott

Jasmin raises some interesting issues. What do you think? Comment here and come back tomorrow for the next contribution!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Teen Debates, Self Editing Tips & Published Author Insights - Oh My!

I'm excited!

This week I'm kicking off the responses to last weeks post regarding the influences (good and bad) on young readers of YA Fiction like the Twilight Saga books.  (Strap in folks, we got us some doozies!)

Next week I'm returning with some more Self Editing Tips to help us all tighten, polish and sparkle for 2011.

Then (Drum roll please!) we'll start our first series for 2011: Published authors will respond to "What I wish I'd known before I signed a publishing contract..."

Stay tuned (and feel free to tell your friends),


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Nine Rules of Writing Well

1.  Do not put statements in the negative form.

2.  And don't start sentences with a conjunction.

3.  If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

4.  Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. 

5.  Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.

6.  De-accession euphemisms.

7.  If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

8.  Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

9.  Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Stephenie Meyer Effect, Revisited - Strike Two

I want to do a series of blogposts outlining a handful of perspectives on how current YA literature helps and / or harms young people, using specific examples from recent bestsellers. 

If you're interested in contributing, please keep reading.  If not - stay tuned for a (hopefully) roaring debate to come!

So it turns out I did a poor job of explaining what I was doing in the previous post.  Thanks to those of you who stepped up and asked for clarification (and offered to be involved anyway).  Hopefully this is clearer:

Last year I did a blogpost regarding my surprise at the (sometimes) strong negative reactions I received from writers when Stephenie Meyer or the Twilight Saga were raised.  The previous post focused on the writing aspect. 

I understand, on a technical level, why writers are dissatisfied with the Twilight book(s).  In fact, I agree.  However, I found the love-story between the hero and heroine compelling, and continue to enjoy it even when my internal editor is clearing his throat.

The thing that surprised me was some of the strong opinions regarding the content of the books. 

Although many who read the previous post were proponents of Meyer / the books, some were not.  They raised the following concerns:

"...extremely backwards and damaging messages about how teenaged girls should expect (and want!) to be treated by men."

"I don't want my girls ever thinking it's okay for some guy to disable her car or watch her sleep."

"[It preaches]: Sex is bad, everyone should love each other, but not too far."

" If we reverse the gender roles of Twilight, we get a story of the guy who...seduces the teacher."

" [Re: a message received from a friend of the writer] ...His own adult daughter was a victim of an abusive boyfriend who had very similar MO to the male characters in "Twilight" (from what I have heard). The man was eventually arrested and convicted and is serving time..."

Honestly, these comments shocked me a little at the time.  Was that how others saw this story?  It certainly didn't line up with my point of view.

It got me thinking about the ethics of writing for teens, and the difference behind the eyes of a mature 30+ woman writing a fantasy story, and a sixteen-year-old girl, ripe for first love, reading it. 

Are there other bestselling YA works out there that raise these kinds of issues for readers?  What should we do about it? 

So, here's what I want to do: I want to put together a blogpost with several perspectives outlining ways YA literature can help and harm young people, using specific examples from current bestsellers.

If you have a strong opinion about the CONTENT of the Twilight books (or other bestselling YA literature) and would like to write 300-400 words outlining your perspective, please comment here or email me on, noting your interest, along with a summary of your position.

Let's put the debate out on the table.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What Do You Think: The Stephenie Meyer Effect Revisited

We had a fabulous conversation last year about the noticable reaction in writerly circles when Stephenie Meyer / the Twilight Saga are mentioned.  It was one of my top posts and great fun to hear from so many people.

There were some interesting issues raised about the content of the Twilight books - particularly in reference to power-plays within romantic relationships.  It all got me thinking: 

I'm planning another blog post on the influences and ethics of YA books. 

I want to make sure all sides of the debate are heard.

- If you are interested in weighing in as a counterpoint voice on the influences of YA fiction:

Please read the previous post then email me with a summary (300-400 words) off your perspective as you'd like to expand upon it in a post (just avoid swearing if possible).

- If there is an issue in your mind that was raised by the Twilight books, or another current bestseller:

Please comment or email me and I'll try to make sure it's addressed.

- Or just comment on this post with questions you'd like to see raised and discussed. 

The questions could touch on any issue within the realm of YA fiction, ethics, publishing and / or author responsibilities.

I'm listening!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Generate Inspiration

Inspiration - that ethereal muse we all need, wish for, dream about (or dream, period). But what about when it escapes you? How do you find something that usually creeps up unbidden, and grasp it?

How do you pursue a seemingly ethereal experience?

Before I answer that question, a disclaimer: What I'm about to tell you is purely my personal experience and advice. If you take it, you only have me to blame. Consider yourself warned.

There are a series of movies I watch which, when taken as units of filmic-currency are little better than so-so. But, they tell a story I adore. The chemistry between the main characters is palpable, and it never fails that every time I watch one or the other, I walk away itching to get to my keyboard and start writing.

Despite their less-than-impressive objective achievement, they inspire me.
So is that it? I just pop in a movie every time I need to be inspired?

No. See, after giving this some serious analysis, I realized something important:

It isn't the movies themselves that inspire. It's the feelings they generate in me.

The truth is, I know if I watch these movies one too many times I'll become inured to the feelings they stir in me. The story will become stale. My attention will wander - and inspiration with it.

The key to finding inspiration isn't in identifying the vehicle. It's in identifying the feelings.

What makes you feel creative? How do you feel before you get that irresistible urge to start writing? Excited? Afraid? Sexual? Happy? Sad?

For me the answer is "sensual". Anything that gives me the romantic shivers, impresses emotional security, or wallows in the love of a good man for a good woman. That's the feeling I want to grasp and hold onto.

That's my inspiration.

So, what am I saying? Simply this:

Take the time to understand yourself. Know what makes you tick - and specifically what makes you want to write. Then keep a constant vigil for anything that fits those criteria.   

When the day comes that you're struggling for impetus, draw on an experience that has helped in the past - or a new one you anticipate will create the same feelings. Don't be distracted by the vehicle. Understand that at your core there is a set of emotions that respond and react to the world around you. And some of those trigger inspiration.


Your turn:  Do you know what feelings inspire you?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Using Language Like a Paintbrush

Lynn is a wonderful author whose book "The Batchelor's Cat" is being re-released later this year.

But right now, Lynn is fighting for his health - and possibly his life.  Yet, even in the midst of that, he's got an amazing ability to use words in a way that astound me.

Vivid language.  Some folks got it, some folks sweat for it, some folks... well, let's just say there's probably a reason I write the kind of fiction I do.  Because I can't do this:

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Do You Think: What exactly is an editor's job?

I hear a lot of writers out there poo-pooing authors whose work is deemed amateurish, lowest-common-denominator, or poorly written. 

But the way I understand it, an author only becomes an author when a whole mess of professionals believe in their talent and their story - and give advice, guidance, maybe even directives.  But the author is the writer, after all. 

So, who is at fault when a debut author puts out a book that is noticably lacking in technique?

Where does a debut author's responsibility begin and end?

If an author puts out a book that's panned by critics for technical incompetence, but is wildly successful with readers, who is right? Did the Publisher know their audience? Or did the editor let the side down?

How far does an editor's responsibility extend?


If you've been published traditionally (to me that means a publisher got you to sign a piece of paper saying they'd pay you money for your book, then edited it and released it / will release it), I'd love to hear your two cents.  Please feel free to comment or email me on (I'll happily post your answer with links to your books, blogs, etc).

If you haven't been published traditionally, what are your expectations?  And what do you base them on?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Just Because it Made Me Laugh

Past, present and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

(Thanks to Twitter friends @davidrodansky and @2write2day)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Enemy #1 to a Successful Publishing Career

The reason we're all congregating here at Seeking the Write Life is because we share a common goal: Getting published.  For some of us that will mean going the traditional route, others will ebook, still others will publish themselves.

Regardless, all of us who end up in print face a common enemy: The illegal digital download.

You might think this is a small problem, but I've found a twice-published author who's been willing to get detailed and specific about crunching the numbers, the impact on her career, and her future (or potential lack-thereof) in the industry.

It makes for very sobering reading. 

So do us all a favor:  read the post at the link below.  Don't get indignant for three days, then forget about it - act on it!  Tell your reader-friends.  Above all else, don't see yourself as the exception to problem.

Remember the Golden Rule, because one day this could be you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is Your Writing Good Enough to Break the Rules?

THIS IS NOT A REVIEW.  Now that we've established that...

I don't usually use specific books as examples of a point, but this book has had me chewing over the issue of 'rules' in fiction writing since I first picked it up:

The book is Caroline Overington's Ghost Child (you can find it on Amazon here). 

Ghost Child is the story of the manslaughter of a five-year-old boy in his own home. It is so rife with conflict, tension and suspense, I couldn't put it down. Overington drew me through the story with overlapping narratives that pressed the fascination and horror deeper with each page.  It was done so skillfully that I didn't immediately realize the first half of the book (approximately) kept me asking question after question.  The second half of the book kept answering them until, finally, I reached the end and closed the cover filled to brimming with equal parts grief and satisfaction.

Now, I have to tell you straight: I love the cover of this book, hate the title, knew nothing about the author and only picked it up because it was recommended to me by someone whose taste in books I trust (score one for word-of-mouth marketing).

But here's the thing:

The story is told.  From page one to page end, it's told (not shown!) in the truest sense of the word.

And (get this!) it switches Point Of View every single chapter.  True, the author returns to a couple of central characters more than once, but still... 

From a technical perspective, this book breaks two major bastions of the debut novelists' stable of commandments. 

I'll admit, there were moments in the early chapters that my internal editor cleared his throat.  (Yes, my internal editor is male... go figure).  But I was so enthralled, he never got past the first syllable before I was entrenched in the story again.

Why?  Because it works.

Girl can write.  She's not a Niffeneger (there were moments of clunk, or past-tense-ity I could have done without).  She's not a Cornwell (having worked for Police myself, I felt the crime aspect could have received more attention to imprint the reality of the situation a little earlier in the book).  But, Girl. Can. Write.

She knows people.  And in this book you meet a feast of characters, each one so real and unique, it's impossible not to identify with the individual - even when you dislike them.  Each tells the story to the reader as they see it - their own personal piece of the pie unfolded in their own personal words.  Literally. 

As the reader you feel like you're sitting across the table from someone while they tell you (a journalist?  The Coroner?  It's never stated who they're talking to) what they saw.

It's important to point out, this is not a "Help! A murderer is coming!" book. This is a "I feel sick because that sounds like my neighbor / friend / colleague" kind of book.  It's chock full of social commentary, honest prejudice, and shines a very bright light on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the foster-care system.

If I told you what I'd learned from this book, you'd think I'd read an activist's propaganda.

Am I getting through yet? 

This.  Book.  Works.

It isn't perfect, and it isn't Hollywood (i.e. 'pretend' perfect).  It's just good, solid writing.  And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I could never have pulled it off. 

I don't know Ms. Overington's story, or her editor.  But I do know, this was a risky approach.  And because she makes it seem simple, I'm sure a bunch of writers have read this and thought "I can do that!"

But I am not one of them.  Because I'm starting to learn the rules and realize how incredibly hard it is to deliver on them.  Breaking them?  That doesn't just take guts, it takes an inherent grasp of the proper techniques to the point that an author can layer 'good' writing into 'bad' practice. 

I'd highly recommend buying this book and studying it.  It's an example of what a person can do with everything outside the box - after they've mastered everything in it. 

But, think long and hard before deciding the rules don't apply to you. Because if you're going to go your own way you've got to write a better book than the guy who did follow the rules (if you want anyone else to pay you for it, at least).

That's the conclusion I've drawn, anyway.

What do you think?  Do you know 'the rules'?  Do you follow them?  How important do you think they are in the grand scheme of your writing?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

JK Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

A hotpoint for any aspiring author: JK Rowling delivers a funny and moving Harvard commencement speech on why failure is so important:

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nurturing Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love on the creative genius in everyone and how to handle yours.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Ethics of Writing for Children / Young Adults - Part Deux

If you aren't already aware, the Publisher of Mark Twain's classic Huckleberry Finn has decided to remove the 'n' word from the text completely, replacing it with the word 'slave'. (You can read the Chicago Tribune story here). The reason given for this is that many schools / parents are refusing to allow children to read the book in its original form because of the racist terminology.

For a while last night I got my jollies watching people poke fun at the issue.  My personal favorite, which I retweeted several times, was the comment:

"The publishers of Huckleberry Finn are removing the 'n' word from the text to make it less offensive. Also, Moby Dick will now be known as Moby Penis."

But, given the conversation we've been having here recently about the ethics of writing for children and teens, once I got past the laugh about Moby Richard, I found myself saddened and once again riding the swing on the issue.  What's the right call here?  Removing offensive language from a classic so more children can and will read it?  Or leaving the text in its original form so that those who do read it are forced to confront the cultural and historic issues raised by the language and attitudes expressed?

I can see both sides:

On one hand, literacy is on the decline.  I want kids to read this book (I didn't read it until I was twelve and I remember being so surprised that an 'old' book was so interesting).  Anything that gets it into more hands is a good thing. 

On the other, is the book as valuable if the 'hard' aspects of it are removed?  I want kids to be educated and aware of their history - and the implications of the attitudes that underpin some of the language and race issues they will face for the rest of their lives. 

Back and forth, back and forth... I rode the swing until I had this thought:

What is being written now that, in one or two hundred years, will be seen as offensive?  How will our cultural values change in the next couple of centuries?  As a writer, would I want the text changed to reflect the new set of values, or maintained to show later generations how it was here and now?  As a reader, would I want to read a modified version of history?

See, the thing about stories is that unless someone changes them, they're one of the few pieces of history that can move through the ages unscathed.  Cultures and language change, physical items degrade, people die and 'real' history is written by the victors.

Fiction, ironically, is one of the few untouched windows by which we can look into the past.

Let's not fit history into our current mold.  Let's get intelligent and balanced enough to teach children the real truth about their social history, and have the hard conversations that follow.  Let's teach them that if they adopt what we now see as offensive attitudes, it will hurt them as much or more than it hurts their targets.  And let's admit that we don't always get everything right.  Because one day they'll be in our shoes and consciously or not, following our example.

All of this brings me to the conclusion that in the non-fantastical aspects of my story, I can (and should) be honest about how I see relationships and interactions played out.  But that might mean answering some hard questions - or even figuring out later that I got it wrong. 

Watch this space.

What do you think about the changes made to Huckleberry FinnAs a caucasian female, it's easy for me to say 'keep the historical accuracy!'.  Which side of this debate do you support and why?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

IRREVOCABLE - In Fiction and In Life

Last night I read a succinct description of what ever commercial fiction climactic scene needs:  "Don't just stand there, DO something."

In other words, the protagonist in the story should act.  Not just move around the page, but take final, irrevocable action towards victory.

The author of the book spent some time discussing what makes a decision irrevocable and I was forced to consider my protagonist's finale through new eyes.

- An irrevocable act cannot be undone.  At all:  The hero pulls the trigger on a gun.  That bullet is leaving even though he regrets it a millisecond later.

- An irrevocable act closes a door:  An abused wife has herself sterilized to ensure she'll never bring children into the relationship.

- An irrevocable act requires others to act if they are in opposition:  Bullied Teen posts naked pictures of Popular Girl on the internet - who in turn has them removed and reports Bullied Teen to the Police.

All good stuff, right?  Of course it's good to put my protagonist in situation that forces them into a corner, then watch them fight their way out.  Since I've prepared and equipped them throughout the story, even these possibly awful (but also unavoidable) actions will end in triumph... eventually.

But the whole concept got me thinking - not just about my book, but about my writing life.  The thing about irrevocable acts is that they really are... well... irrevocable.  Sometimes I think we writers make decisions without recognising the definitive step we're taking - or requiring of others. 

So, in 2011 I'm challenging myself (and you) to consider professional decisions under the same microscope - and step carefully. 

- An irrevocable act cannot be undone. At all:  Weary of rejections, Author decides to self-publish novel, then discovers Publishers won't take submissions for a book already in print or they dismiss later writing attempts because self-published work wasn't to traditional publishing standards.

- An irrevocable act closes a door:  Author sends query / submission before the book is cooked to agent or publisher of choice.  Agent / Publisher of choice reads submission, rejects it and dismisses later submissions because they assume the second (or fifth) submission will be similarly undeveloped and they've got other submissions coming from authors whose books are cooked.

- An irrevocable act requires others to act if they are in opposition: Unsatisfied with a form rejection, Author sends Agent an email, explaining at length a) why their book is ripe for publishing; or, b) the agent hasn't understood something that would change their mind about the rejection; or, c) how the agent is unfairly and selfishly withholding notes that might help the author make it right.  Agent not only ignores the email, but blocks author's email address and tells five friends at a conference the Author's name in a hilariously exaggerated recount of the email.

I am simplifying and dramatizing, but think it through.  The only thing we can control is our own actions.  The publishing world is a very small town.  It's worth making sure that each and every step we take in it is measured and wise - even if it means being patient a little longer, revising a little more, or studying harder. 

Just like your protagonist, if you've explored every option and prepared yourself for battle, the final, irrevocable act will equal victory rather than defeat.  And we here at Seeking the Write Life will be clapping you the podium.

Let's make 2011 our best writing year yet!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What Do You Need in 2011?

With the New Year in place and vacation time winding down, I'm turning my attention back to writing and blogging plans for the year.

For me, 2011 will be a year of revision.  If I can get books one and two of my trilogy 'perfect' (ha ha ha...) I'm aiming to draft book three at NaNoWriMo at the end of the year.  To that end, I'm studying revision and writing techniques and planning lots of blogposts on how to write effectively.

But I also want to hit hot topices for my writing friends.  So tell me, what are your writing goals this year?  What topics on Seeking the Write Life would help you achieve your goals?

I'm all ears!