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Glorious Summer Reading

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Sun-bathing Girls in Brittany by Moric Goth via Wikimedia Commons

Sun-bathing Girls in Brittany by Moric Goth via Wikimedia Commons

What makes summer such a great time for reading?  Leading up to summer, even the most trivial magazines and talk shows have a column or segment on “Great Summer Reads” or “Fun Beach Reads.”  As children, we’re all given a handful of books to read over the summer, some more interesting than others.

There are so many other vacation seasons during the year, but for some reason, summer wins as a time to read.  Perhaps it’s because the warm, lazy days lend themselves to sitting in a lounge chair on the beach with a fun read propped up next to a yummy drink under a sun shade.  Perhaps it’s because summertime, as a child, was so carefree that we long to bring that time into adulthood, even through just a few hours reading something escapist.

Something about summer is a little bit magical.  The books you read in summer, on vacation, when it’s warm, seem somehow a little more than they would otherwise.  As a kid, I went to Girl Scout camp in the summers, and my camp had a library of sorts, really just a collection of book crates.  At age 9, I was already in love with books, but I had never read any classics.  In our camp library, I ran across a copy of Little Women (it was an abridged version – I was pretty young, after all).  I devoured that book; I fell in love with Jo and all her sisters, and it ignited in me a desire to read more books that weren’t just about other elementary-age kids.

Which books have been your favorite summer reads?  What do you think makes summer such a great time to read?

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Authenticity in YA Fiction

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Child Soldier Drawing - Novel Conclusions writing blog - writing tips - authenticity in writing YA fiction

Child Soldier in the Ivory Coast, Africa, by Gilbert G. Groud via Wikimedia Commons

Orson Scott Card definitely caused a stir when he published Ender’s Game in 1977 with a young child being trained as a battle mastermind, away from his parents and any true parental authority from age 6 onward.  Very few books up to this point treated any character under the age of 14 as a character whose thoughts were to be taken seriously.  Why should a child represent humanity?

In an introduction to a reprint edition of Ender’s Game in 1991, Orson Scott Card tells us,

Never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child.  I felt like a person all along – the same person I am today.  I never felt that I spoke childishly.  I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires.  And in writing Ender’s Game, I forced the audience to experience the lives of these children from that perspective – the perspective in which their feelings and decisions are just as real and important as any adult’s.

Although there are definitely inauthentic parts of Ender’s Game (psychologically damaged and chauvinist much?), Card went out of his way to prove that children take themselves seriously even when adults frequently don’t.  This is one of the primary things that separate YA and MG (middle grade) books about youth from adult books written about children/youth; in the YA and MG books, the protagonists are acting in the here and now.  These youthful protagonists have real emotions and real issues; we as writers must treat these issues as such.  If we do not, we risk losing our readers.

Having spent years working with kids, both in my time teaching and in my ten summers at a girls’ overnight camp, I can absolutely attest to the idea that kids and youth have real emotions, desires, and issues.  The primary difference between them and us is their lack of experience (and their frequent desire to hide that lack of experience).

What we as writers must learn to do is write the truth right there on the page; it should ring with emotional integrity.  This can be harder than it sounds.  In Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole reminds us that

Teens have a very sensitive BS-o-meter.  So for the YA market especially – even though this applies to all kidlit – authenticity and truth are paramount.  If something is cheesy or irrelevant, teen readers will not hesitate to declare you a poseur.

What are our takeaways?

  • Be authentic in your writing.  Write truth.
  • Treat your characters’ issues like they matter.  If they don’t matter to you as the writer, they certainly won’t matter to your readers.

What else do you think is frequently stereotyped with youth protagonists?  Do you have any favorite authentic youth protagonists?

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How Can I Help Debut Authors? And Why Would I Want To?

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Transparent - Natalie Whipple - Debut Author 2013 - Novel Conclusions writing blog - writing tips

Transparent via nataliewhipple.com

Today is a very special day.  Today is the day that debut author Natalie Whipple’s book Transparent comes out.  Transparent is about a girl with the power to become invisible whose mob boss daddy makes her do crazy stuff – and she wants to escape.

What makes Natalie Whipple so special?  Well, as of last summer, I hadn’t written much of anything that wasn’t work-related in about 7 years, since I graduated from college.  At first, I wasn’t writing because I was teaching, and teaching in a bad area is an 80-hour-a-week job.  Later, I wasn’t writing because I had gotten out of the habit.  Last summer, I ran across Natalie Whipple’s blog, and I realized how much I really missed writing.  She inspired me to write again (Side note:  I’ve been following her blog since last summer, but I don’t comment on it frequently because of how often the Captcha ate my comments in the past.  Boo Captcha).  Although my current work in progress is far from finished, it is thousands of words more than it might have been if I hadn’t been re-energized by Natalie’s blog.

How can we help debut authors like Natalie Whipple?  And why do we want to?

Spread the word.  Tell your friends, ask for it at the library, post about it on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/etc., or even blog about it.

Buy the book within the first 3 months it comes out.  This seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating: if it’s an author you really want to support, actually buy the book.  The first 3 months are when publishers are watching.  Pre-order it or buy it in the store.  And then write the review afterwards.  Remember that buying it in a brick and mortar store does more for the author than buying it online.  If you buy the book in a store, that store is more likely to stock an additional copy or two – and shelf space is at a premium.  Shelf space is free advertising for books that they don’t get elsewhere.

Why should we support these hard working authors?  We should support them because good books need a leg up.  There is only a certain amount of publicity budget available at publishing houses these days (and even less budget available for many self-published and indie authors), and mid-list authors with great books can benefit from a few extra recommendations ever so much.  Getting the word out about authors and books we love is paying it forward.  Every single mention counts.  I’ve heard John Green got to where he is because his books spread virally before he made it big.

But, you say, there are so many!  Well, just pick a couple you’re excited about and spread the word.  Here’s a few sites to encourage your imagination:

What other advice would you add about supporting debut authors and their ever-so-fabulous debut novels?  Where else have you seen debut author listings online?

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How a Book is Born

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Today is the day for a short post.  Galley Cat over at mediabistro.com recently shared this oh-so-fantastic infographic that absolutely deserves more blog love.  You can find the origin of the infographic over at weldonowen.com.

My favorite part of this infographic is that it is never ending; no matter where you are on the chart, you can end up with a book about goat farming (or publish a novel).  What would you add to this chart?  Perhaps a section on self-published books?  Perhaps a section on unicorns?

How a Book is Born infographic - Novel Conclusions - writing blog - literary blog - writing tips

How an Idea Becomes a Book via weldonowen.com

What Do Your Fears Say About You?

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Vincent Thomas Bridge - San Pedro - fear - character motive - Novel Conclusions - writing blog

Vincent Thomas Bridge via Wikimedia Commons

What do your fears say about you?  About your characters?  How do your characters react when they’re afraid?

This past week, I had to go to a restaurant in San Pedro for a work event.  San Pedro is the hub of the Port of LA/Long Beach, the largest port area on the west coast and home to the Vincent Thomas Bridge.  I freaked out a little on the way there when I saw the words “Vincent Thomas Bridge” on the directions.

I’m not normally afraid of heights, but this bridge FREAKS ME OUT because it is so high and so curved.  It feels like you’re looking over the edge of the horizon into nothingness.  It is 185 feet up at its highest point (egads!!!  That’s like 15 stories!).  I avoid it.  Avoiding it is not usually a problem since I rarely go down there, but I couldn’t skip this event.  I told myself I would get in the middle lane and grit my teeth and be done with it.  Fortunately, when I looked at the directions more closely, I realized I was just passing by the bridge.  At the event, my coworker A, who is more afraid of heights than I am, told my boss R and me (only half kidding) that she was going to turn around and not come if she had to drive over that bridge.  R, on the other hand, said he’d been really excited when he thought he might get to go over the bridge (at this point, A and I both gave him looks of horror).

This got me thinking about fear and how we react when we’re afraid.  My coworker A, my boss R, and I all had different reactions to the same event, having to drive over this crazy bridge.  A was planning to turn around and go home; I was going to grit my teeth and push through; and R was going to enjoy it.  How someone reacts to something shows us more about them than if we were just to say, for example, she’s afraid of heights.

In Jurassic Park (spoilers ahead, y’all), Michael Crichton uses fear to reveal traits about nearly every character.  Early on, after T-Rex shows up, the lawyer runs away and leaves the 2 kids all by themselves.  This underlines for us that the lawyer is a cowardly punk, and it also makes it more impressive when Dr. Grant comes to the kids’ rescue.  Crichton used this T-Rex experience to not only show us more about these 2 characters (the lawyer and Dr. Grant) but also to use the lawyer as a foil for Dr. Grant.  Later on, we see how greedy creep Dennis becomes impatient when he’s afraid – talking too much, driving erratically, and eventually bringing on his well-deserved demise.  We also come to find game keeper Muldoon is calm and collected in the face of fear; it becomes even scarier for us as the audience when the raptors have trapped Muldoon, the consummate tracker.

How can we apply this?  We show our characters taking action in the presence of fear.  What actions are they taking?  What does this show us about the character?  How is their objective influencing their actions in the presence of fear?

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Facebook’s Most Read Books of 2012… and the Giveaway Winner!

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I may be a bit behind the curve on this super cool infographic (perhaps you saw this around the new year), but it was so interesting that I just had to share it.  In the past, I shared a list of the most read books in the past 50 years; below, you’ll find something slightly narrower in scope but also fascinating nonetheless, Facebook’s Most Read Books of 2012.

Most Read Books 2012 infographic - Novel Conclusions - literary blog - writing blog - Christi Gerstle

Facebook’s 2012 Most Read Books of the Year via facebookstories.com

I was most surprised by The Great Gatsby’s appearance on the list.  Although the source of this infographic doesn’t philosophize on why some books might be on the list, I wonder if Gatsby made it due to the publicity for the upcoming movie, English teachers hitting it a little more than normal, or just that the book is one of those that sticks.

Giveaway Winner

DRUMROLL…

Random.org gave me the gorgeously round number 575.  This makes Tracy Cembor, with the number 500, the winner of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess!  Congrats Tracy!  You can check out her blog over at tracycembor.com.

Should I Really Read the Classics? AND a Giveaway

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MacBeth apparition - why read classic literature - enjoying the classics - Novel Conclusions - Christi Gerstle - literary blog - writing tips

MacBeth: the Apparition of the Kings by Théodore Chassériau, via Wikimedia Commons

There comes a certain point in your time as a reader, at least for more serious readers, when you decide you should read some classics.  When I was a kid, I wanted to read the classics because it was the smart thing to do (and smart was cool, in my lexicon as a middle schooler – although that lexicon also involved lots of ugly baggy 90s shirts, but whatevs…).  Other people read the classics because they’re curious or because someone recommended a certain book or even just because they have to for school.

When I was at the book signing week before last, I was talking with a couple teenage girls there, and they said they hadn’t really read any classics, that they really preferred girly YA books.  And there’s nothing wrong with girly YA books!  I love me some adventurous, booty-kicking YA heroines.  So why read classics?

For a few reasons:

  1. You can more fully understand the fun books you’ve been reading this whole time.  How is this?  Well, most authors are very well-read and tend to incorporate that into their work.  Take JK Rowling as an example – the Harry Potter series is filled with allusions to works like the Iliad, MacBeth, the Canterbury Tales, and the Bible.  The characters even have a discussion about the meaning of I Corinthians 15:26 (“And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”), among other things, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Other examples of this are the frequent allusions to Tennyson’s poetry and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices series and Suzanne Collins’s abundance of allusions to the Roman Empire and to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in The Hunger Games trilogy.
  2. It makes you part of a unique group. Not everybody reads classics.  You get to be part of the “in jokes,” so to speak, in the literature and book publishing arena whenever people allude to the books you’ve read (and no worries – no one has ready every classical book out there).
  3. It gives you a broader perspective of the world in general.  When could a broader perspective ever be truly bad?  Broader perspectives lead to things like the abolition of slavery and equal rights for women.
  4. It’s fun.  Some classics are just as fun to read as books written in the current era.  See below for a short list.

Easier Classics
A small sampling:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – basically a romantic comedy.  Who doesn’t love Elizabeth and Darcy?
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – love in wartime.  It’s a little sad, though, so advance warning.
  • Candide by Voltaire – a French comedy with adventure, love, pirates, and Turkish chain gangs.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oliver Wilde – a mistaken identity comedy.
  • The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan – a hilariously gossipy comedy, with character names like Lady Sneerwell, Sir Backbite, and Snake.
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare – get the edition that has explanations on every other page, makes all those Shakespearean insults more understandable (and therefore funnier).
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – dystopian fiction from long before The Hunger Games.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY

As promised last week…  If you’d like to be entered into the giveaway for a signed copy of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess, here’s what you do:

  1. You need to already live in the US or Canada (sorry, international folks, postage is expensive for huge hardcovers).
  2. Comment below with a number between 1 and 1000 by next Sunday, April 7, at 9 pm Pacific Time.
  3. In your comment, if you like, answer this question: what’s your favorite classic book and why?  And if you don’t have a favorite classic, what’s one you’d like to read?

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