IWSG—June odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

 Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

I’ve lived and breathed all things historical since childhood. History was always my favorite subject, and I never understood why so many people complain about it being boring and irrelevant. I loved learning about how people lived in other eras—clothes, food, toys, jobs, houses, pastimes, books, cars, world events.

My secondary love is soft sci-fi. It’s the opposite side of the coin from hist-fic, in that it images worlds in future eras. Both genres also require research. If your story is set in the far future, you have to know about all the predicted developments.

I know this is cliché, but I got interested in sci-fi when I discovered Isaac Asimov at age eleven. He had several stories in a book of sci-fi/futuristic stories we read in my fifth grade English class, including the first one. I was so enraptured by these imagined future worlds, I began reading all I could find about predicted future life (houses, foods, space colonies, undersea towns, leisure space travel, holographic movies, etc.).

I’m doing JuNoWriMo again, and got off to a very slow start due to my main focus being checking the updated file of my alternative history. I fully take the blame for not getting back to it at least several months earlier. Knowing I had to finish it by July was exactly what I needed for one final, major push to finish it already, but I didn’t allot enough time for stepping away to lose familiarity and develop fresh eyes.

Thus, even though I did read it through a few times, I found a LOT of little errors that slipped through. Nothing major, but just typos, misplaced words, missing words, things like that. That’s so unlike me. With all my other published books, I went through them so many times I got sick of looking at them, and only found a few tiny things here and there after the fact.

This was a very important lesson learnt, to always step aside for at least a few months before going back in to edit. Even if a book only needs fairly light editing, that can’t be accomplished properly if you’re flying through it under the gun and immediately went from typing the final word to editing. You’re still blind to your own errors.

I also began doing research for my story for the current IWSG Anthology contest. I’ve never written fantasy before, but there’s a first time for everything. Without giving too much away, my story will be set in 737 Japan, during the Nara period (the penultimate era of classical Japanese history). I’m excited to finally write an entire story in Japan, and to go much deeper back into history than I’ve ever gone before.

King Cerdic of Wessex, my 48-greats-grandpap and earliest verified ancestor, 4??–534

I recently discovered I’m a direct descendant of the Medieval Scottish and Anglo–Saxon kings, and would love to write a historical about my awesome 36-greats-grandpap King Alfred the Great. He was a fellow person of letters and scholar.

In spite of my royal lineage, I’m proudest to discover President Washington is one of my cousins. It’s an unbelievable honor to share blood with the father of my country.

Have you ever belatedly discovered a book wasn’t edited as well as it should’ve been? Would you write about one of your ancestors?

Do adults not want to read about other adults anymore?

Warning: Potentially unpopular opinions to follow.

My entire life, I’ve most preferred to write about young people. Even when my characters age into adulthood, I still see them in my mind’s eye as they were in their younger years. With the exception of parents, I only wrote about people around my age until I was in my mid-teens. In fact, my Atlantic City characters were written pretty unrealistically as adults until I was an adult myself! I had such little experience with writing about realistic adults, they inevitably felt like overgrown adolescents playing at being grownups.

I’ve honestly never had any problem with adults reading books intended for a younger readership. If you’re writing about young people, it stands to reason that you need to be familiar with the category. That was actually what helped me to realize I (mostly) really write adult literature that just happens to have young protagonists, instead of books that would be considered YA or MG by most folks nowadays.

If you write a book review blog that focuses on YA, MG, or children’s lit, it also stands to reason you’ll be reading a lot of that. And many books written for younger audiences are so well-written they transcend age-based categories. If a book is really good, we can enjoy and relate to it in different ways at different ages.

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However, I’ve become increasingly off-put by this undeniable trend of adults now exclusively, or nearly exclusively, reading YA and sometimes MG. I’ve seen many people, YA writers or not, outright admitting that’s all they read, and that they don’t read adult books.

Many times, a trend is so pervasive someone isn’t aware of taking part in it because of social contagion. Take, for example, the explosion in first-person present tense and alternating narrators/POV characters. Of course I don’t think everyone doing that is deliberately, mindlessly following a trend. But when you’ve seen so many examples, it does start to influence you. A lot of younger writers admit they think past tense and third person are stuffy, boring, and outdated, or don’t think books can still be written that way!

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Of the YA published within the last 10 years or so, I most enjoy graphic novels and novels in verse. I also love contemporaries with a gritty, urban setting, like the late great Walter Dean Myers’s books. I’ve been sadly disappointed in a lot of the YA historicals published in the U.S., and really didn’t click at all with any of the other genres I had to read for my YA Lit class.

I’ve revisited a number of books I loved when I was younger, and many times was left wondering why I ever loved them so much. Maybe it was because I now read more as a writer than a reader, but it’s also due in part to how those books are written for a younger audience. Adults want different things out of a story than children, preteens, or teens.

So, yes, I do find it kind of weird and creepy how adult women are openly swooning over fictional teenage boys, announcing crushes on them, feeling fluttery over their kissing scenes, and declaring themselves Team So-and-So for books with love triangles.

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I’m an adult, and never had the type of high school experience often depicted in YA contemporaries. I never dated or went to parties and dances, and didn’t want to. I barely even went out socially with my peers, also by choice. And forget taking part in current pop culture!

How can you relate more to a bunch of high school kids when you’re in your thirties? Don’t you want to read about other adults, with adult concerns, in a writing style meant for adults? There’s certainly a valid time and place for those kinds of stories, just as not all adult literature is going to be Crime and Punishment or Don Quixote. However, we all need a balanced diet, and too much of any one thing isn’t good for us.

I’ve also seen a lot of adults who start talking like characters in YA contemporaries. It’s really embarrassing to hear a thirtysomething soccer mom regularly saying, e.g., “All the things!” “All the feels!” “All the whatevers!” Their real-life writing style is often indistinguishable from that of an actual teenager!

This feels like deliberate cognitive stunting, avoiding engaging with writing intended for adults. Having a favorite or preferred genre (books, movies, music, artwork) doesn’t mean you should exclusively consume it. It makes us better-rounded when we sample from other buffets.

Top Ten Tuesday—All About Romance Tropes/Types

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s topic is All About Romance Tropes/Types. I decided to split the list, with half the items being tropes and types I hate, and the other half being the antidote I love to see in their places.

Hate:

1. Instalove. Enough said!

2. Awesome, perfect, amazing first-time sex, whether it’s the first time for both parties or only one of them. Of course it can happen, but not nearly as often as the romance industry wants to lead us to believe.

3. The man ALWAYS being older in an M/F romance, esp. when the female lead is barely legal. Can we please have some more realistic, appropriate age differences, or at least a thoughtful exploration of the dynamic an age difference can create?

4. Rape and domestic violence (NOT to be confused with consensual BDSM!) being presented as romantic, swoon-worthy, excusable. When a female character in a romance has had a tragic past including rape or domestic abuse, it should have an original angle, and not dominate her entire life or storyline. I’m far from the only person who hates the “rape as character development” trope seen in so many movies, TV shows, and books!

5. The headless, hairless bare chest on the cover. It’s even worse if this kind of cover also includes a crotch shot.

Love:

1. A couple who’s been friends for a long time before becoming lovers, childhood sweethearts, or a couple who’s already together when the book begins. This kind of road to happily ever after, or happily for now, is so much more interesting and realistic than instalove.

2. Realistic, awkward, fumbled first-time sex. I can see an awesome first-time scene if one of the parties is already rather experienced, and the virginal partner is very emotionally ready and open to being a student, but even in that kind of instance, it’s still the couple’s first time together. What worked with previous partners might not work with the new lover, and there’s a whole new dynamic if this is the experienced lover’s first time with someone s/he loves instead of a purely physical act.

3. Couples where the woman is older. As a proud puma (woman in her thirties who likes younger men), formerly a bobcat (woman in her twenties who fancies younger guys), three years away from officially being labelled a cougar, I really love seeing these kinds of match-ups. Sometimes an older woman is just what a younger, inexperienced guy needs to get his head screwed on straight and gain valuable life experience.

4. Healthy, mutually respectful relationships, including sexual negotiation and moving at a speed comfortable to both parties. It’s really sweet when someone asks permission for a first kiss, and it makes for a better sexual relationship when the couple discusses and agrees upon things in advance, while their clothes are on. If someone, e.g., has a certain fetish or doesn’t like certain things, the heat of the moment isn’t the best time to first bring it up!

5. A cover featuring the couple but with interesting details to set it apart from other romance covers. For example, a richly embellished purple ballgown, a guy with an attention-grabbing shirt, a foreboding background.

Why I’m not wild about many current YA historicals

Warning: Potentially unpopular opinions to follow.

As I’ve discussed in a number of previous posts, it was a long, slow, challenging process to realize I write adult fiction that just happens to focus on young characters. The perception of the young adult category has changed so much from the time I was a young adult.

With some notable exceptions, I haven’t liked a lot of the YA historicals published in the U.S. within the last 10 years or so, since the YA explosion. The best recent YA historicals I’ve found tend to be published outside of the U.S., like Mal Peet’s Tamar, Paul Dowswell’s The Ausländer, and Anne C. Voorhoeve’s My Family for the War.

So many times one of my blogging buddies, or the reading public at large, raves about a certain YA historical, and I have the exact opposite reaction when I check it out. I often wonder if we read the same book! Probably a big reason I prefer YA historicals published outside of the U.S. is because those books focus more on the history instead of the teen experience. They also have a voice and style that speaks to people of all ages, instead of feeling intended only for teens.

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While I love MG historicals, and a select few YA historicals published in the U.S., I just feel like the current YA style doesn’t fit very well with traditional historical storytelling. I want to read about young people living through history, not young people who just happen to live in the past.

The extreme oversaturation of first-person in YA is also a roadblock for me. First-person absolutely can be done phenomenally well, but historical is a genre which traditionally works best with third-person omniscient for a reason. With so many YAs being first-person these days, the narrators start to run together after awhile. First-person voice also seems rather modern and too personal for historical.

As I’ve mentioned many times, there was no concept of adolescence until really the 20th century. There were children, and there were adults. Some adults were younger and less experienced, but they were still considered adults in the eyes of society. For example, many of the young wives in The Decameron are all of 13 or 14. It’s kind of hard to forcibly bend the story of a teenager 100+ years ago to have the same voice, experiences, and sensibilities as a teen of the modern era!

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Choosing a famous young adult as the protagonist also fails for me. Someone like Joan of Arc or Catherine Howard (one of Henry VIII’s wives) would’ve been seen as an adult by her society and era. (Side note: The cover of Katherine Longshore’s Gilt, the first in a series about the Tudor Court, uncannily resembles the cover of Madonna’s Erotica.)

Many historical writers do give characters somewhat more modern views and behavior than most people of that era had, to try to make them more relevant and relatable to modern audiences. However, I’ve seen a lot of recent YA historicals making characters way too modern (e.g., anachronistic slang, high-society débutantes having premarital sex with the stable boy, lecturing people about smoking, shacking up with a boyfriend of another race).

This leads to the Gossip Girl in period clothes style, like Jillian Larkin’s Flappers series and Anna Godbersen’s Luxe and Bright Young Things series. Any actual history is shallow window-dressing for stories that essentially read like contemporaries. These books also fail because they’re trying to play it both ways. Either you’re writing about teenagers having authentic teenage experiences, or you’re writing about younger adults having pretty normal experiences for their era.

Then we have laughably unrealistic nonsense like Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, where 15-year-old Evie sees nothing of risking her reputation by heavily making out with two legal adult men. She’s not scared of getting caught or things going too far and getting sent off to a Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers!

Bottom line: I’m sick and tired of historicals featuring typical YA contemporary characters who just happen to be plunked into the past. I’m also tired of books with very adult situations being passed off as YA just because the characters are teenagers.

Why I’ve cooled on the NA marketing category

In loving memory of Curly Howard (Jerome Lester Horwitz), who passed away 65 years ago today.

Over the last almost six years in the writing blogosphere, I’ve met a number of New Adult writers. I regularly participated in a seemingly discontinued weekly Twitter chat. I regularly visited and commented at the now-inactive New Adult Alley blog. I did a group presentation about NA in my YA Lit class. This was definitely something I supported.

I’m far from the only person who’s cooled on the idea of NA as a category, as much as I once believed in its great potential. Some of these reasons include:

1. NA Alley has changed its Twitter handle to NextLit, in addition to discontinuing their weekly chat and no longer blogging.

2. With some notable exceptions, and in spite of the somewhat greater diversity of genres a few years ago, NA is dominated by contemporary romances. While there’s nothing wrong with that genre, that’s not how you successfully pitch a new marketing category to the wider public.

3. Related to #2, many read like YA with slightly older characters and sex scenes.

4. Where’s the actual adult coming-of-age experience NA was supposed to represent? You know, going to university, graduating, finding a first apartment, getting a first job, navigating a first serious relationship that’s not the entire focus of the book?

5. Many writers who once proudly waved the NA banner have stopped querying or classifying their books as NA. They’re now simply adult lit. Sometimes they age the characters down to make it YA.

6. While I’m much more enthusiastic about the indie movement (both small publishing houses and self-pubbing) than traditional publishing these days, many agents and editors have said they no longer consider NA, or would make writers age the characters up or down.

7. Not enough representation of other kinds of early adult experiences. Where are the stories of going right from high school to the working world or the military instead of university? How about getting married and starting families instead of taking part in the hookup culture? The entire world isn’t bourgeois!

8. NA doesn’t seem to work with certain genres. While this may contradict #2, an adult character’s age doesn’t really matter in a genre like sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery. What does it matter if the protagonist of a high epic fantasy is 21, 26, or 32?

9. Do we really need yet another excuse to prolong adolescence? As compared to 50+ years ago, the average twentysomething of today isn’t in a longterm job, married, or a parent. It’s more common to go clubbing and bar-hopping every weekend, hook up instead of seriously dating, and work crappy jobs.

10. Related to #9 and #8, historical doesn’t really seem like the best NA genre. While we shouldn’t aspire to only read about characters who are similar to us, it also might be harder for modern-day twentysomethings to relate to characters living as and being treated like full adults instead of overgrown teens. More on this in a future post.

11. This delays readers from graduating to full adult literature already. Once upon a time, there were no stepping-stones. You just started reading books from the grownup section of the library and bookstore. I started reading Hermann Hesse at 14, and began reading Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, Chekhov, and Turgenev at 16. I never thought I had to only read about people my own age.

12. There’s enough of a problem with people over 30 exclusively or almost exclusively reading YA. I have no issue with adults reading YA or MG, but I’ve become increasingly off-put by this trend of adults who won’t read books about other adults. More on this in a future post.

13. I dislike age-based categories in general. While I agree general labels exist for a reason, there are often nuances within them. The definitions have also shifted drastically over time. Many books written for children in the 19th and early 20th century are now shelved as adult classics, while many books classified as young adult in my day are now shelved as MG. And how do you pigeonhole a book which ages the characters over 5+ years?

14. It’s kind of patronizing to call the 18–25 range “new adults” instead of simply adults, period. It’s like helicopter parenting in loco parentis.

15. Many NAs have become repetitive, indistinguishable, cookie-cutter.

NA really did have awesome potential, and I’m sorry to see what’s happened to it. There certainly is a market for books about characters in that age range, but I no longer feel that needs a new, separate category.