What I read in March, part one: Queen of the Night, One Long Thread and Bunheads

Friday, March 30, 2012

Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall
I adored This Is Shyness (reviewed here), and have been looking forward to this immensely. I expected great things, which usually results in disappointment - but not this time. The entire time I was reading this, I was imagining it as an awesome graphic-novel-styled film - the setting is so ridiculously brilliant, and Shyness becomes even more magical in the sequel - the cardboard forest! the Queen of the Night's manor! the velodrome! I would very much like to steal all of Leanne Hall's wonderful ideas (when I finished reading I was very sad to have to return to the real world). So much inventiveness! Often I stay away from sequels and series, because the way each novel relies on each other means it isn't as conclusive and whole a reading experience as a standalone novel, but Queen of the Night works perfectly on its own, and (dare I say this!) is perhaps even better than This Is Shyness. It starts slow, but it gets brilliant as it progresses. There are scenes near the end that are everything I wanted Inception to be. Former Kidd, Blake, is my favourite character - she's smart and sweet. The hellcats seem awesome (so little detail!). I sincerely hope there is another book coming. The Doctor and the Gentleman have to have a showdown or something. I can't believe this hasn't been turned into a movie or graphic novel yet (or at the very least a three-part miniseries!). You would be very wise to check it out. I didn't even talk about the plot there, did I? You don't really need to know about it. Just go get the book.

One Long Thread by Belinda Jeffrey
The publisher's blurb sums this up very succinctly: When divorce rips Ruby Moon's family apart and tragedy traps her twin, Sally, in a cocoon from which she might never escape, Ruby learns that love is never simple. A beautifully written and very much character-driven story. My favourite scenes involved Ruby's grandmother, Pearl, who is my absolute favourite character - she lives in Tonga and makes silk and is very relaxed about everything. The opening chapter of the novel (which I so wish was somewhere on the internet so I could share it with you!) is gorgeously written, and extraordinarily sad. I did find the romance somewhat unnecessary - perhaps there is a rule I'm not aware of that all YA novels must have romance? But the familial relationships are dealt with in a very realistic manner. What this novel lacks in plot it makes up for in wonderful writing. Ruby is endearing and gorgeous, and your heart breaks for her.

Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Moving beyond the very unfortunate title, this is a lovely little book. Slow-paced and character-driven, it centres around Hannah Ward, a 19-year-old dancer with an elite ballet company. She begins to question her dedication when she meets a quirky university musician type and thinks about having an actual life. Reading about the author, it's apparent that it's highly autobiographical, and the detail about life as a professional dancer is really what brings the most interest to the story (their hatred of the Nutcracker, for example, and the obsessive exercise, and the competitiveness, all very convincing). How self-centred the protagonist is becomes a little tiring, and the extra romance is pretty much superfluous, but it's sweet and engaging all the same. I'd recommend this to dancers and those interested in dance, and perhaps if you are just looking for a nice, easy contemp YA read. It pales in comparison to the previous two novels, but it's also not emotionally draining in the way that devastatingly good novels are. Which you need in a book sometimes.

Quotes for Writers, part four

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"‘One thing that always worried me,’ she said slowly, smiling at Warren, ‘there is so much in the world to read, so much to learn, if you once got seriously started how could you stop?’"
- Joyce Carol Oates

"Don’t cast sidelong glances, and compare yourself to others among your peers! (Writing is not a race. No one really “wins.” The satisfaction is in the effort, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any.)"
- Joyce Carol Oates

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
- Sylvia Plath

"If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write."
- Stephen King

"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment."
- Hart Crane

"Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any."
- Orson Scott Card

"What writing practice, like Zen practice does, is bring you back to the natural state of mind…The mind is raw, full of energy, alive and hungry. It does not think in the way we were brought up to think-well-mannered, congenial."
– Natalie Goldberg

"The most essential gift for a good writer is a
built-in shockproof shit-detector."
- Ernest Hemingway

"There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment."
- Anonymous

"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."
- Ernest Hemingway’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, read by John C. Cabot (United States Ambassador) December 10th, 1954

"The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand."
- Wislawa Szymborska, The joy of writing

"Detail makes the difference between boring and terrific writing. It’s the difference between a pencil sketch and a lush oil painting. As a writer, words are your paint. Use all the colors."
- Rhys Alexander

Originally posted here two years ago. Photos collected from Tumblr and We Heart It, sources since lost (if you know any original sources, let me know).

Eighteen things I have learnt about writing & life in eighteen years

Saturday, March 24, 2012

  1. In the grand scheme of your life, numbers are never as important as people make them out to be (your marks in high school, for example). Numbers like how much you weigh are totally irrelevant.
  2. External circumstance will not bring you self-confidence or happiness, no matter how many people tell you how brilliant you are.
  3. The process is just as enjoyable as the result.
  4. Most people are fairly indifferent to you. This isn't a bad thing. You can live your life however you like, and most people won't mind.
  5. The most important thing in writing is to write what excites you, what you are passionate about, what you would love to read, and to enjoy it. Publication only complicates this.
  6. Everyone has a different perspective, and everyone has stories only they can tell.
  7. There are a lot of good and kind people in the world who want to support you and see you succeed, and these are the people to spend time with and focus on, rather than trying to change the minds of your detractors.
  8. Maybe creating something that will outlive you is not the purpose of life. Maybe just enjoying life and being a good person is.
  9. A supportive and loving and fun family is the best thing anyone could wish for.
  10. Getting enough sleep is very important.
  11. It isn't hard to be nice and make life easier for other people. Smiling requires a minimum of effort but makes you feel a lot better.
  12. Public speaking is really not that hard or terrifying.
  13. Being judgemental doesn't get you anywhere.
  14. The internet can be a wonderful thing, in small doses. The physical world is even better.
  15. Writing is maybe not the single greatest profession in the universe (dance and music and curing disease and lifesaving are all pretty wonderful), but it's a pretty special one. Words have a lot of power. Fan mail is the greatest.
  16. There are always a lot of things to be grateful for, even when the current task seems insurmountable.
  17. There is no one proper way to live life, and no matter what you do you will be missing out on something. There are infinite possibilities and opportunities available to you, and it's not necessary to conform and live the way everyone else seems to live if you don't want to.
  18. Kindness and respect and compassion (for everyone and everything) will always be more important than success and money and book smarts. Sometimes I lose track of that.
(Feel free to share your own writing/life lessons, or a list of your own - one thing for each year of life! Unless you are about eighty in which case feel free to cut that down a bit.)

Quotes for Writers, part three

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
- Ray Bradbury

"Readers, after all, are making the world with you. You give them the materials, but it’s the readers who build that world in their own minds."
- Ursula Le Guin

"For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die."
- Anne Lamott

"The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create."
- Chuck Palahniuk

"You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it."
- Neil Gaiman

"Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes the day happier."
- Kathleen Norris

"If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it."
- Anais Nin

"The best decoration in the world is a roomful of books."
- Billy Baldwin

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head"
- Anne Lamott

"Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write."
- Natalie Goldberg

Originally posted here two years ago. Photos collected from Tumblr and We Heart It, sources since lost (if you know any original sources, let me know).

If real life were a YA paranormal romance novel...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

  • You would only ever have to go to school if it were important to the plot. Basically, whenever you were in class, a meeting with an amazingly attractive paranormal beast (a half vampire half angel, perhaps) would be inevitable. Of course you would still get excellent marks despite never studying.
  • Everyone would be gorgeous! Super attractive! Not just you, the beautiful yet intelligent hero of the story, and your mythological love interest, but everyone else, too. There would not be a single person alive without glowing skin and excessively long eyelashes and great manes of shiny hair.
  • You would be in a love triangle. Perhaps even a love quadrangle. You wouldn't be able to walk down the street without a half a dozen people and werewolves falling in love with you. You would of course find this very annoying.
  • You would have a Quirky Best Friend whom is always there for you despite you frequently ditching them to hang out with Sparkly Vampire Man. Quirky Best Friend may or may not later turn out to be an Evil Beastie.
  • Life would be pretty consistently thrilling. All the time you would be going to dangerous places and being saved in the nick of time by the love of your life. Which, by the way, you're probably going to meet the love of your life when you're sixteen or seventeen. And they'll probably have all sorts of super powers but you won't be able to be together because you're just too different! (Don't worry! It'll work out! This is a novel! It must have a happy ending.)
  • Every crush you think is unrequited would definitely be requited. Unless you are a secondary character who is a mere mortal (or Quirky Best Friend) in love with the stunningly beautiful protagonist, in which case you've got no hope. Sorry. Maybe you should try an Indie Romantic Comedy. Might have better luck there.
  • Everyone would always be declaring their undying love for everyone else! All the time! After a week of knowing them!
  • Almost everyone would secretly be a mythological creature. They'd have special systems for keeping their vampirism and so forth from being revealed to their human neighbours. Like coffins in the basement, and breeding rabbits for food. They're ethical vampires, of course. But not that ethical. I mean, really. Bunnies! Those poor little bunnies.
  • If you were a human being who couldn't fly, or didn't have super strength, or the ability to teleport, and you didn't hunger for human flesh or blood or brains, then you'd probably be in the minority. Luckily you'd have plenty of super-powered friends to fly you around and protect you from the Evil Baddies who hunger for your brains.

Pretty much, we need to figure out a way of transporting ourselves into a paranormal romance novel. It'll be awesome! Though probably a bit dangerous if we aren't main characters...

(Originally, this was a guest post for the brilliant Brisbane City Council Libraries' website, ibrary.)

Various TV shows I am obsessed with, namely The X-Files

Thursday, March 15, 2012

When I'm procrastinating taking a break from rewriting/writing/researching furthering my education/employment opportunities, I find watching TV shows on DVD to be a bit more relaxing lately than reading a book. This is mainly because really good books make me sad, because I wish I had written them or were the sort of genius person that could write similarly, and books that are lame or mediocre annoy me because why did I waste an afternoon reading that? Whereas I watch a ridiculous TV show (and they have to be on DVD because 1. I can't stand ads; and 2. I can't stand not having resolutions to cliffhangers immediately), and an episode takes about 40 minutes and they don't generally make me feel like an inferior writer.

Also, I pretend that technically everything counts as working, because life is inspiration for writing! Watching TV is giving me ideas! I am becoming a better writer by the minute, and I don't even have to write. (I am very good at rationalising.) I have previously stated I am not a fangirl, so perhaps obsessed isn't the right word in this instance. However, in terms of sheer ridiculousness (which is my favourite of all things), The X-Files is a most excellent series. Also, it's finished, which means no annoying wait for the next season to come out.

This is why I like it: aliens! hello! Also bad 90s & early 2000s clothing, melodramatic acting, the continual use of 'the government covered it up' in the place of a conclusive ending, and it becoming steadily more unbelievable as it progressed. I have a top ten and everything (Bad Blood, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space', Humbug, Field Trip, Dreamland, Dreamland II, Hungry, X-Cops, Hollywood AD - all of the humorous ones). There's another episode which does not make the top ten, because I don't really like it, but it has a concept I do like - Milagro, wherein a writer's character comes to life (this is terribly spoileriffic - the character is also a killer. If my characters came to life, they'd all sit around and angst and be quirky and become quite irritating after a time, but they certainly wouldn't kill anybody).

Other shows I like: Supernatural (makes me want to write stories about demons and beasties and so forth!), True Blood (again, ridiculousness, I love it), Arrested DevelopmentChuck. This is a condensed list. Also I am in the middle of Kolchak: The Night Stalker which is a ridiculous 1970s series about a reporter hunting the supernatural. The supernatural is usually just a guy dressed up as a werewolf or a vampire or a zombie, throwing people around. It's great, as you can imagine.

I should really go work on my novel. Tell me what TV shows I should watch next! (Also, tell me you love the ridiculousness of The X-Files, too. The Smoking Man: best character ever. But not really.)

7 Things I Love About Novels

Monday, March 12, 2012

  1. Everything happens for a reason. In the real world, everything seems pretty random, and a lot of weird pointless stuff happens, and a lot of boring pointless stuff happens. Whereas, in a novel, someone having a weird name is probably vital to the plot! instead of just being an interesting, random thing. Everything is very intentional and well thought-out in a good book. A lot of stuff is just happening all the time in reality, and it takes a lot of effort to figure out what the important bits are - in a book, it's spelt out for you.
  2. There are no inane conversations. This is how I can tell I am not just a character in a novel - 90% of my interactions with other people are the same thing over and over: talking about the weather, talking about how I'm struggling with my book, talking about the current political situation and how the family is and the economic climate. None of these things would come up in a novel! They're not moving the plot forward! Unless I am trapped in a very poorly-written and self-indulgent novel about being angsty and eighteen and having the same conversations over and over again, like it's Groundhog Day.
  3. You can see inside other people's heads. Everyone thinks it would be cool to be able to swap bodies with or shapeshift into another person. I would much prefer to try out how another person thinks and feels and their skills than take on how they look (though that would be very interesting, too). Unfortunately, in the real world, I can't do this. Books are about as close as I'll get.
  4. Boring things can be skipped over. Studying, for instance. Or writing. Always in stories (and films and TV, too) writers spend very little time actually writing, and a lot of time going on wacky adventures and partying and having everyone fall hopelessly and irrevocably in love with them. Why can't this be the real world? Why? Sadly I am not fictional and have to do actual work sometimes.
  5. Reading them helps me get better at writing them. Well, at least I hope they do. Sometimes I can hardly bear to read really brilliant novels, because then I get all sad that I'm not that writer and I don't have their brilliant writing skills and way of seeing the world. But I think every time I read something, be it a brilliant book or a terrible one, I'm figuring out the things that do and don't work in a book, and then incorporating or avoiding them later on, even if it's on a subconscious level.
  6. An opportunity to connect with other people. When I first started blogging, I thought it was the single greatest thing ever - I could talk to the authors of the books I adored! I could discuss these books at length with other infatuated readers! I would no longer irritate my non-reading friends and family member with my endless chatter! I have found that if I think a book is awesome, I tend to think the writer is awesome too (my judgement may be slightly clouded). Even though it's just a bunch of words on a bunch of pages, a novel is a highly personal thing for the writer (generally speaking), and it's pretty amazing the influence a novel can have over readers (think book-inspired tattoos - that's commitment).
  7. Novels are a wonderful holiday. I do like reality. You can touch and smell and taste things. That's pretty good. But when the real world is overwhelming and terrifying (I find having a consciousness to be a pretty scary thing. I'm going to be dead one day, guys! What happens then? I don't know!), or even when it's a bit boring, a wonderful book is a very absorbing escape for an afternoon. And very low-priced, considering how powerful they are.
What are your favourite things about novels? Reality-escaping? Non-stop action? Educational possibilities?

Quotes for Writers, part two

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter."
- Neil Gaiman

"No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good."
- Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

"I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book."
- Barbara Kingsolver

"I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living."
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Locked Rooms and Open Doors (1974)

"‘Write about what you know’ is tricky advice. If I’d followed it, I would never have written 11 books about European vampires, or books about a bewitched family of psychic people. I say ‘Write what you want to write. Write the book you want to read. Write what delights you.’"
- Anne Rice

"Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered?….We still and always want waking."
- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (Harper, 1990), 72-3.

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"
- Henry Ward Beecher

"There’s something delicious about writing those first few words of a story. You can never quite tell where they will take you."
- Miss Potter, 2006

"At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader."
- Alberto Manguel

"At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance—that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be—curiosity—to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got it or not."
- William Faulkner

Originally posted here two years ago. Photos collected from Tumblr and We Heart It, sources since lost (if you know any original sources, let me know).

Teaser Tuesday: Stranger Things Have Happened

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Once I wrote fifteen thousand words of a novel over the course of a few days because the idea wouldn't leave me alone. This was a few months back, and I haven't written a word of it since, mainly due to 1) time limitations (I do have a novel I am supposed to rewrite) and 2) There is a huge gap between where I stopped writing the story and how I think it will end, and I have no idea what to put in between. Perhaps it will work better as a shorter story.

Here is an excerpt! It's written from the perspective of a girl called Andy. She's very organised, particular and logical. She catalogues her entire life. She's an aspiring scientist. She's a big fan of rationality and predictability. Her grandmother is her closest friend, and her exact opposite (crazy and fun and unpredictable), and the novel begins with her funeral, and occurs over a span of an exceptionally weird 24 hours in Andy's life. If I keep working on this I will come up with a better title. Tell me what you think.


How strange to make up someone’s face and dress them in their best clothes when no one will ever look at them again. Perhaps this is just a tradition left over from ancient times, like the Egyptian kings and queens thinking that all the treasures in their tombs would go with them to the afterlife. Maybe in the future, when everyone in our society advances to the level I am pretty sure I have evolved to now, we will be a bit more realistic and bury human bodies under crops or something, because I hear they are a very good natural fertiliser. I would not mind eating food that has been fertilised by people who are already deceased, or people eating food fertilised by my corpse. As long as no one was specifically killed for fertiliser and no one ate a stray limb, I feel it would be fairly all right and a lot more sensible than what we are doing currently.

‘I want to be a cremated so I can’t come back as a zombie,’ Grandma told me once.

‘Cremation is terrible for the environment, worse than burying people. It causes a lot of pollution,’ I told her. ‘And also urns are a bit creepy. I always see in movies that people accidentally eat the ashes or something. Apparently it’s common.’

‘I’ll be dead! I won’t care about the environment. I don’t care a whole lot now, to be terribly un-PC. I’ll be cremated and you can paint me into a portrait of myself.’ She tilted her chin up and placed a hand underneath, gazing up at the wall clock of our kitchen thoughtfully. ‘Make me look like a fascist dictator, would you?’

‘That’s even creepier and I can’t paint.’

‘You’ve got plenty of time to learn. Miserable people live forever – you’re stuck with me until I’m at least a hundred.’

I don’t know whether or not Grandma was serious about this, but she didn’t have anything in her will about it, so Mum is burying her and having a big church ceremony. The part where everyone gets drunk at the wake in an RSL is probably the only part Grandma would actually agree with and, if she were here, enjoy.

Of course I have a will and very detailed wishes, kept in my filing cabinet, but I cannot legally file them until I am eighteen. If I die between now and then, everything goes to my mother and she will probably bury my body in a casket like she has done with Grandma, and that is not very environmentally sustainable, is it? Eventually we’ll run out of places to bury people and wood to build coffins.

Grandma did not live that long, by the way. Grandma lived to seventy. This is statistically significantly lower than the average lifespan of a woman in this country. That is four times the age I am now. Grandma could have had a quarter life crisis when she was my age. Sometimes I am thinking I am having a quarter life crisis or a fifth life crisis, and then I remember that I feel like this all the time, and I probably felt as if I was having a fourteenth life crisis when I was five. I don’t think I knew a lot of fractions then, though, as bright as I was.

Grandma is looking at me from the cover of the pamphlet in my hand. I gave this photo to the funeral director. It is her face and shoulders cropped out of a group photo – she hated being photographed, we do not have a single photo of her on her own – and she is smiling and shiny-eyed and it’s a nice photo and I think that is the photo she’d pick, if she were here. I have a photo album on my computer labelled ‘Photos to use in the event of my disappearance or death for print materials and other paraphernalia’ to avoid Mum having to go through the difficult selection process while grieving or searching for me. Someone will have to know my password in order to get onto the computer, though, and they will also have to know to go to the right subfolder. I have to put these instructions in my will.

This is the logic I am using: If I am prepared, this will not happen to me. Bad things always happen to people who think that bad things will never happen to them. If I think that bad things will happen to me and am always prepared for every negative outcome, bad things won’t happen. This is not science but I wish it was because then I would be invincible. Unfortunately, the universe does not work this way.

Inside the pamphlet, there are the hymns, there are the prayers, there’s my name. We’re most of the way through. I focus on little blocks of time, always, to keep going. If I think of everything at once – my whole life, or two hours of Grandma’s funeral – it’s too big. I like this schedule. Five minute reading, ten minute speech. Funerals have an order that death does not have, like it’s trying to make up for it. I don’t even need this. I got my closure the other day. I have seen Grandma dead, and I have known her my whole life, and I am much better at remembering her on my own. I am trying to be present in this moment but there are too many thoughts in my head. Grandma would whisper, ‘Come back to us, Andy,’ if I got too far away in my head. She could tell. She would be amused. But she is not here. I wish I could at least believe in her being here figuratively. That would make it easier.

And then someone is saying, faintly, ‘Andy? Andy.’

It is not Grandma. That would be nice, to be deluded enough to imagine the dead speaking to me. That would be a comfort. Though it would not make me feel any less crazy. It would probably make me feel crazier. Most definitely. Thank God I’m not hallucinating Grandma.

It’s just Mum. Her mouth widens, like she is attempting a tight-lipped smile, but the edges of her mouth seem as if they don’t know they’re supposed to turn up. She is grimacing. We’re filing out of the church now, family first. Everyone behind us standing and waiting. And I’m looking at everyone as I walk past, shoes squeaking. I don’t really see a point to funerals at all.

On genre prejudice

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A guest post I wrote for Kate Gordon's awesome blog in 2011, reposted here for your enjoyment/ranty goodness. Thoughts on genre prejudice appreciated, so comment away!


Goodreads is not a good place to go as a writer. I mean, I love reviews. I love reading other people’s opinions. I love the idea of the world a writer creates being real in the minds of thousands of people. It’s like a psychic link. You see something in your mind, you write these words, someone else reads those words and they can see it too. It’s magical. Reading is a glorious experience. I don’t even mind my own bad reviews that much – I appreciate people’s viewpoints, and constructive criticism, and everyone has a right to their own opinion. But if there’s one thing that drives me insane, it’s people writing negative reviews and adding – maybe as an afterthought, or even in the introduction – ‘well, it is a book for teenagers’. Or ‘It’s young adult, so I didn’t expect much’.

Please excuse me while my head meets my desk for a brief rendezvous.

It bothers me most when it’s YA people are being condescending about, because that’s the genre I read and write and love the most. And of course we’re all aware of pretentious literary types turning up their noses at science fiction and mystery and chick lit writers, which is ridiculous. Also, the popular fiction writers tend to be the ones with lots of money, and you wouldn’t want to insult John Grisham or Nora Roberts or anyone because they could afford hit men, I imagine. This whole genre prejudice towards YA seems to stem from the fact that people think teenagers are less intelligent than adults, and need books written for them that are simplified, dumbed down.

To those people who write reviews that start with ‘I don’t usually read YA, and after this book I know why’ – quit hating on my genre! Now I would imagine if you are reading the blog of the lovely Kate Gordon you probably like books for teenagers. Maybe you’re a teenager yourself. But if one of these Goodreads ‘it’s bad because it’s YA’ folks just so happen to stumble across this post, there are a few things that need to be said:

  1. A single book does not represent that entire genre. Sure, there are plenty of YA books that I think are pretty average. There are some I think are terrible. But there are many that are beautiful, with wonderful characters and lovely writing, books that make you cry and laugh and think about them for weeks afterwards. Same as you wouldn’t meet me and assume all seventeen-year-old girls are just like me (because they’re not. The world would be terrible boring if they were, and I kind of like being a little unique), you shouldn’t read a single book and then discount the entire genre.
  2. Teenagers are capable of comprehending complex issues, ideas and emotions in real life and in fiction. No good YA writer ‘dumbs down’ their book for a teen audience. Books written for teenagers very often tap into emotions that all of us can relate to – when we’re young almost everyone experiences loneliness and confusion, as well as great joy. This search for identity and purpose is something everybody can identify with. And I think a lot of people like going back and remembering how they felt through their teenage years (though I can’t imagine why – as soon as I’m out of the Dark Tunnel of Adolescence I’m never looking back! Ever!), hence why the genre is so popular.

Look, YA-hating Goodreads reviewers, I’m not trying to convert you to being a die-hard YA fan (though if you’d like to join the club, we’d be happy to have you). I’m just suggesting you read a few more YA books before you diss my genre. Be an informed reviewer. Don’t insult the intelligence of the next generation. And next time you consider writing ‘well, it’s for teenagers, what do you expect?’ know that I am watching. But not really. I’d just rather you didn’t.
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