Search This Blog

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why I Wasn't Surprised by Miley

I try to keep my finger on the pulse of YA culture. What are teenagers doing these days? What and how are they thinking? What do they like and dislike? How do they talk? What is important to them? I've been a teacher for several years, so observing them has been pretty easy, and even though I'm no longer teaching full time, I'm still teaching a creative writing course and keeping in touch with my students. As a YA novelist, I think it's very important to keep up with "what the kids are doing." A couple of things this week have made me rather thoughtful about YA culture, especially from the perspective of someone who writes for a YA audience, so I figured my blog was as good a place as any to ruminate on them.

I wasn't surprised by Miley Cyrus's performance at the VMAs. While everybody else seems to be sounding off in shock, awe, dismay, and disbelief, I watched the performance (for the record, not live, but on YouTube) and thought to myself, "Yep, that seems about right." I don't mean that sentiment in any sort of condoning sense. It was vulgar, and the use of children's motifs in sexual ways ought to disturb and infuriate anyone with any sense of morality. What I mean by it is that Miley Cyrus merely followed her pop star trajectory to its logical conclusion - self obsessed, convinced of her own perfection, impulse driven, and hyper sexualized. These things are the markers of YA culture at its worst, and they feed and are fed by the natural inclination of all young people to be self absorbed. These are also all the things I have kicked back against in my writing for young people. Along those lines, I found a great article this week that perfectly articulates what I try to do when I write my books. It's a very short article and worth a read (click HERE), but the gist of it is that young people need to be encouraged to look outside of themselves and to see that they aren't the center of their own little worlds, but rather they are participants in a world much bigger than themselves. I love this quotation from the text: "One way to display a higher opinion of children than the popular fashion is to address them as members of the human family and not as a special class of self-worshiping mirror-gazers." (Zach Franzen, "Get Children Outside - Of Themselves). I will always try to drive this point home in my stories, no matter what I am writing. I don't keep my finger on the pulse of YA culture so I can regurgitate back to them what they already believe and are doing, I do it so I can know how to encourage them to be better people. It is important for young people to know they each have unique, God-given gifts and abilities, and that they are important as individuals, but concurrent with this, they need to be encouraged to focus not just on themselves and how they can make their own lives better, but on others and how they can use their gifts and talents to serve other people. I try to avoid doing this didactically, but it should be clear in all my currently published books that selfish behavior results (ultimately) in bad things happening. If this is a message we can drive home to our youth, perhaps we'll have fewer Miley Cyrus's running around in the future. 

*For the record, I should note that I don't in any way believe it is only young people who are inclined to selfishness - it is a malady, rather, of humankind. I'm merely addressing young people since they are my target audience. Furthermore, I believe that young people, more so than adults, have a much greater capacity for great acts of love, heroism, and kindness. What I see in young people is the potential for great good and for great evil, and also a great potential to change. This is why I think children's and YA literature is so important - because it addresses the formulative years when almost anything is possible. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Multiple Personality Disorder?

This fall I will find myself in a unique position - a position in which I have never been before. I will be working on two novels simultaneously! Wait, wait, wait, some of you are thinking right now, aren't you always working on multiple ideas at a time? To be sure, yes, but I've never seriously worked on two novels at once. It's one thing to gather ideas and take notes, it's another thing entirely to sit down and write to a deadline, and that's what I'm going to be doing. I have to say, I'm relishing the challenge, although I'm also wondering if, in the end, I'll feel plagued with multiple personality disorder. Authors tend to get so immersed in their writing that they become their characters, or at least one of them, so working on two novels with two very different protagonists and two very different story concepts is going to be interesting. The first book, and the one that will obviously take precedence, is the last book in The Gateway Chronicles, The Bone Whistle. The second book, due shortly after the manuscript for The Bone Whistle is due, is Breeder, the first book in my upcoming dystopian trilogy. So an added challenge here is that I will be pulling all the pieces together on one series while putting all the pieces out on the next. I think it's going to feel a bit like playing two games of chess at the same time - one I'm just in the process of winning, and one I'm just starting to play. The Bone Whistle, too, is contemporary fantasy adventure, while Breeder is futuristic dystopian romance with a touch of science fiction. Aside from the speculative nature of both mixed genres, these books are going to be very different! Not to mention that I'm playing around with the idea of writing Breeder in first person present tense, and The Bone Whistle, as with all the books in The Gateway Chronicles, is in third person limited omniscient past tense. Multiple personality disorder indeed. But truly, I am looking forward to it. I think it will be a treat to be able to go back and forth between stories and characters, and I think it will help my brain to stay elastic, as it were. A brain that is never challenged grows stagnant over time!

Some of you who have been following my adventures for a while may be wondering how I can possibly have the time to write two novels at a time this fall. Well, I'm happy to announce that I'm making the leap to full time author! I will no longer be teaching history at my school, although I am retaining just one creative writing course. I will always have a passion for bringing young people along in their writing endeavors, so teaching creative writing just three hours a week is an important thing for me to continue doing. Aside from that, I will be caring for my boys at home, writing, promoting, traveling, and speaking, and I think it's going to be wonderful! And yes, I do have time to write two novels.

Don't forget to mark your calendars for the release of The Scroll on October 17th! I've been finished with it for so long that I can hardly believe you all haven't read it yet! To whet your appetite, here's a little sneak peak:

Perry began to deal the cards, acting indifferent. “Hearts, everyone? Someone will need to be on a team.”
“I’ll team with Darcy,” Sam said. “I’m terrible at this game.”
Darcy felt a stab of annoyance. She was ultra-competitive at cards and hated being on a team with anyone. Still, she knew she shouldn’t be so uncharitable toward her best friend.
“You do this every year . . . by yourself?” Darcy asked as Perry continued to deal.
“Yep. Helps me to wind down.”
“You know what doesn’t help me to wind down?” Dean said, and his tone of voice caused them all to look up. Dean lifted his chin toward the window and stood.
Darcy looked out the window and followed suit so fast her chair skittered out behind her and fell over.
Colin Mackaby stood on the other side with his nose almost flattened against the screen. The light from the dining hall reflected eerily off his eyes and washed his face in a pale yellow light.
Sam gasped and backed all the way up to the wall, clutching at Darcy to keep upright.
Colin stared at them without moving, and then he smiled and turned to walk away.
“Oh no he doesn’t!” Perry threw his cards down and charged out of the wing and to the patio door. The sound of Perry smashing into the crash bar echoed in the dining hall. Dean was fast on Perry’s heels, and Darcy and Lewis followed, dragging Sam with them.
They caught up to Perry behind the lodge, just off the patio. He had Colin backed up against the side of the building, his forearm jammed beneath Colin’s chin and his other arm cocked out, fist ready.
“Stop!” Darcy threw her hands out and caught each of them with her magic, forcing them apart.
Perry stumbled backward, looking affronted, and Colin slid a few inches down the wall, never taking his eyes off Perry. He seemed unsurprised that Darcy could perform her magic at Cedar Cove now.
“You broke my sword!” Perry shouted at Colin. “And you tried to give Darcy to Tselloch. She should have let Liontari kill you, you worthless piece of—”
“Perry, stop it!” Darcy shoved him hard. “You’re not helping anything.”
“You should listen to her,” Colin said.
Perry made to lunge at Colin again, but Dean held him back.
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with,” Colin said. He looked at each of them in turn. “It amazes me, how in the dark Pateros keeps you.”
“If you know so much, why don’t you enlighten us?” Dean said.
“You don’t even know how a gateway is formed,” Colin said, continuing as though Dean hadn’t spoken.
“And I suppose you do?” Darcy asked, trying to keep her voice level.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Yeah, I would, actually.”
“Darcy,” Sam said. “I don’t think this is the best way to learn—”
Darcy shook her off. “We need to know, both for Alitheia and for here. If he knows how, maybe he can help us.”
“Why would he help us? He’s working with Tselloch. He’s obviously trying to help Tselloch take over this world as well as Alitheia,” Lewis said.
“He doesn’t know anything,” Dean said. “He just wants us to think he does.”
“Of course I do! I’m part of it.” Colin’s expression became manic. “I’m more a part of it than any of you ever will be. I’m destined to rule Alitheia, not Darcy, not any of you, I—”
“Colin, Tselloch fed me that lie, too—”
“It’s not a lie!” he screamed, and spit flew from his mouth.
“Darcy saved your life,” Sam said, speaking soothingly. “Twice. She’s trying to help you.”
“She’s trying to help herself.”
Darcy huffed and rolled her eyes. There didn’t seem to be any way of breaking through to him.
“You shouldn’t judge her,” Sam said, pointing at Colin.
“If I wanted advice from a dumb blonde, I would have asked for it.”
Perry broke free of Dean’s grip and punched Colin across the face. Colin’s head recoiled against the siding, then he ducked so Perry’s second fist struck the side of the building instead. He crouched, spun, and leapt onto Perry’s back before throwing an arm around Perry’s neck and bringing Perry to his knees with a chokehold. Dean leapt forward and grappled with Colin’s shoulders.
“Do something!” Sam shouted and grabbed Darcy’s arm.
“I can’t if you’re holding on to me like that!” Darcy wriggled out of Sam’s grasp.
“What’s going on out here?” an adult shouted across the grounds.
“Help, please!” Sam waved her arms.
A flashlight clicked on and two men ran their direction. “Boys, break it up! Boys!”
Perry shoved up with his legs and slammed Colin against the side of the building. Colin let out a sharp exhalation of pain, and Dean pried his arms off Perry’s neck and pinned them to his sides. Perry spun, coughing and gasping, and punched Colin across the face again.
Stop, Perry.” Sam grabbed his wrist as he wound back again. “Dean’s got him. He’s done.”