Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What I Want From Readers of My Writing

I've sent a few stories and poems to various friends and family over the years. Sometimes I'll ask, er, plead with them to comment on it. Questions, comments, anything at all is welcome!! Yeah, I don't usually get that many comments back. Not what I'm looking for, anyway.

So what kinds of things do I want to hear about my writing from my readers ("readers" in my case means "family and friends")?

Compliments

First of all, I want to hear what the reader liked about that piece. Not only is this nice because it gives me a self-confidence boost, but it gives me an idea of what worked the best in my story. It's also fun to see if the reader's favourite lines are the same as mine. (As it turns out, usually they aren't).

Questions

I want to make sure what I wanted to come across in my story came across clearly enough. If the reader is confused and isn't getting it, I need to fix that.

Critiques

Obviously, this is really important. What isn't working? What do I need to fix? It's always good to get a second opinion. Sometimes I just can't tell whether something works or not, or if it's just in my head. That's where another person's perspective comes in handy.

Feelings

This is one thing I really love hearing - what the reader was feeling while reading my work. Whether they were sad when this happened to that character, or whether they were shocked when that happened. I want to know what's going on inside the reader's head. I feel like these are the kinds of things big authors hear from their fans sometimes. :)  I don't know, these things are just nice to hear. Also, again, it helps to figure out what works.



Nit-picking

Hmm... I kind of feel nervous putting that on this list. Do I really want people nit-picking my work? For those who don't what "nit-picking" is... it's when you get down right to the tiny little details. (It's a phrase used often in my choirs, right before concerts :D). What I mean by nit-picking as far as critiques go, is that I don't just want an overview of "this was good, this was bad". I want my work to be completely analyzed, and thoroughly. This would be ideal, anyway.

However, I don't always want my work to be read with critiquing it in mind. Sometimes I just want people to read my work. It's funny, actually. Depending on the work, I'll send them to different people. One of my friends is excellent for providing the reader insight, without the critiquing part. I can always count on her to tell me her feelings on the work. Another one of my friends is an excellent critique partner who knows more about writing than my other friend does. I'll send her stuff I want to be critiqued thoroughly. Then another one of my friends I find loves poems, so I'll send her the poems I write sometimes. Um... well, that was a rabbit trail if I ever saw one. There really was no point to that.

Anyway!

What do you want from the readers of your work?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Are We Missing the Point of The Hunger Games?

So. Maybe I'm just crazy, or maybe I'm just looking waaay too deep into things like I always seem to do. But, I don't know, I get kind of annoyed when I see tons of stuff about "Team Gale" or "Team Peeta" or just in general the obsession over the supposed romance present in The Hunger Games. I can't help but think that, by focusing so much on the romance, we're missing the point.

The first time I read The Hunger Games, I was horrified. It was horrifying to think about kids being forced to kill each other. That same feeling came back when I was watching the movie last night. Is it not sick that all these people from the Capitol are cheering, laughing, being sucked into the TV story of the Games when these kids are going in there to kill each other?? How can you not be thinking that there's something really wrong with this society,  where the main entertainment is an annual war between kids?


Source

There's a John Green quote, that's referring to the difference between lying and writing fiction, that I like. It highlights something about fiction that I like (and that I don't think my non-fiction loving father will ever understand).

"...The other big difference, I would argue, is that lies are attempts to hide the truth by willfully denying facts. Fiction, on the other hand, is an attempt to reveal the truth by ignoring facts."  (Source)

Fiction can be used to reveal the truth. I think different types of books do this in different ways. Contemporary novels, for example, can reveal truths about people and individuals. Dystopian novels have such potential in this area, I think. They have the potential to awaken people to the realities of our world today.



Yes, The Hunger Games is fiction. But today's society's obsession with entertainment and reality TV is real. Violence and war in this day is very, very real. Heck, even kids killing each other is a reality in some places around the world. Lots of dystopian fiction shows us things about our world by extremizing them, or even just incorporating realities into fiction. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Feed by M.T. Anderson, and others.

It just makes me really frustrated. How can you read books like The Hunger Games and not think beyond the romance?? How can you not ask questions like "how far-fetched is that, really? Could it happen? How different are we really from the crazy entertainment-addicted Capitol citizens?" and then answering them with things like "You know, maybe it can happen. Maybe it is happening. Maybe we're not that different."

The Hunger Games is so, so much more than the romance, or the stupid "love triangle". Dystopians should, I think, make us wake up to harsh realties in our own reality, our own society, our world today. They should make us think. Every book should make us think. But I think (whoa, lots of thinking... haha) that the relationship in The Hunger Games, or any book, should not be our focal point.

What do you think? Are we missing the point of The Hunger Games?



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Recommendation: My Mother Is A French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed Up Life




Book: My Mother is A French Fry and Further Proof of My Fuzzed-up Life
Author: Colleen Sydor
Why I picked it up: The title! I just saw it on the shelf at the library and thought the title was interesting.
Cover: Man, this cover is ugly. That colour of blue just... doesn't work, and whatever that ugly orange thing is, it's not a French fry.

Summary: Basically, the MC Eli is always embarrassed by all the crazy stuff her Mom does (like becoming a French fry) and she blames all of her life's troubles on her. As well, her mother becomes pregnant and Eli has a hard time dealing with that. The story is told quirkily enough that it keeps you interested - and laughing. :)

At the beginning, I didn't like this book. A snarky, cynical narrator gets old after awhile - especially when every other book has one. It gets on my nerves.


However, half way through the book... it grew on me, somehow. The snarkiness was still there, but I just liked it. I liked the entire book by the end, actually.


So you know how there's tons of books out there where the MC learns that there's "hidden depths" to people (like in Don't Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough)? Well somehow this book taught me that lesson without actually having it as part of the story at all. At first, you just think that Eli is rude to her mother because her mother is just a bad mother. Then you realize that's not really the problem, just by little hints that the author gives you and things that Eli does. Colleen Sydor shows Eli's hidden depths. In lots of books the MC has an inner problem with something in their life, but the author makes it clear by saying it in a sentence somewhere in the book. In this book, you find out the truth as Eli's coming to stop denying it and her family and friends are starting to realize it - so you find out the truth along with the characters.


Eli herself grew on me as well. Like I said, I usually get sick of snarky narrators that chatter on about stuff throughout the book... but Eli ended up being pretty funny. There's one part at the end of the book where Eli goes to the dentist and refuses to let the dental hygienist take off the lead apron used when you take x-rays because it makes her feel better. (The way it was written it was funny... I realize the way I'm explaining it is not!). She also dresses up in her mother's French fry costume. Just the way she deals with things... I thought it was funny. She's a different character, and I liked that.


Actually, all the characters were pretty unique and I liked the relationships between Eli and all of the rest of the characters. Good books always have a great cast of characters, I find.


Also.... the author is from the same place I am!! There's references to Manitoba in there!! Haha. :) It's always fun to see places I recognize when most books I read are set in the States somewheres.


Anyway, I would definitely recommend this for younger readers (middle school) and anyone who likes a fun, snarky voice and character-based books.

Oh! So I was looking up Colleen Sydor on Google... and found out that she wrote a kids book that I loved when I was younger... called Smarty Pants! Haha. It's such a funny book. I'm guessing that her children's book writing is why the voice of Eli in My Mother is A French Fry is younger. :)


Links
My Mother is A French Fry on Goodreads
My Mother is A French Fry on Amazon.ca
My Mother is A French Fry on Amazon.com
Smarty Pants on Amazon.com

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interview With Young Author Steph Bowe!

I'm sure a lot of you may have heard of Steph Bowe, the young Australian author of the book Girl Saves Boy. She's also quite well known for her blog, which you can find here. I love her blog posts, they always give me something to think about.

Anyway, guess what? Today I have an interview with her!


You can find some more information about Steph at her about me page here. Now, onto the questions!

Why did you decide to put in the effort to get published as a teen? What motivated you?


I've loved reading and writing for as long as I can remember, and I've wanted to be a published author since I was about seven. I was motivated to pursue that by my enjoyment of writing, and the need to finish stories and share them with people, in the hopes that they would be affected by my writing in the same way I am by the brilliant books I read. At the time I was completing high school by distance, so I had the time to work on my novel, and I was blogging and communicating with lots of writers and readers of YA fiction. Once I had finished my novel (my third novel was the first one published), I figured I had nothing to lose by sending out my work.

How were your parents involved in your journey to publication?

I asked my mum if she would mind if I tried to get an American agent. She has always been aware of my passion for writing, and I had sent a couple of submissions to publishers before (for a previous novel). Apart from that, my family was hardly involved at all - I had mum there to discuss things with, and she met with publishers with me (and of course, before I was eighteen, she had to sign contracts on my behalf) and went with me to interstate speaking appearances. My life as a writer is mainly my own, though, but the support of my family has been very important in giving me confidence to pursue writing professionally.

What have you experienced in the publishing world that adult authors might not have to deal with?


Criticism involving my age (for example 'You were only published because you are young, you're not actually a good writer', 'Teenagers can't write!', etc.), which overall has been quite minor. There is also an expectation from some agents and publishers that because of my young age I would lack professionalism.

How do you think being a teen affects or influences your writing?

I think I haven't had as much time and practice to improve my writing as, say, someone who started writing young and is now forty. But I think the fact that I am the same age as my characters, and often my readers, means I can relate to the emotions and experiences they're going through as teenagers much more keenly than someone who hasn't been a teenager for a decade or more. I hope that my youth makes my writing more honest.

What do you hope your readers get out of reading your book, Girl Saves Boy?

First and foremost, I hope that they enjoy it! There is lobster emancipation and garden gnome theft, and it's always nice to read a book that makes you laugh. I hope that my story is real enough for the reader to escape into for a few hours. It's ultimately a novel about the loneliness and uncertainty of being a teenager, and I hope if the reader relates to that, it helps them feel a little less alone. This is pretty much the goal of everything I write. There is an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that sums up what I love about reading and writing pretty succinctly: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

What does life look like for you in the near (or far) future? Any new projects?

I'm editing my second novel at the moment, have just finished high school, have a few festivals and school appearances ahead, and am working on first drafts of three more books (I am easily distracted!). Lots of writing and adventures ahead!

Thank you so much, Steph, for the interview!

You can find Steph Bowe at her website, Facebook and on Twitter @stephbowe. If you want to check out her book, you can find it here on Goodreads.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Movie Trailers and First Chapters

A few weeks ago I finished reading the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I'd picked it up because of the hype, but mostly because a friend recommended it to me. After I finished, I decided to look up the movie trailer, just because I was curious.


My first impression of the trailer wasn't really a good one. I felt like it didn't really tell me anything. It just showed a bunch of pictures and random clips. I kept on waiting for the trailer to show me a reason why I should watch the movie, but... nothing. I'm sure part of the reason for this is because it's based on a book, which will automatically draw people in, but still. I felt like the trailer should have showed me more of a reason to watch the movie.

Here's where I started to make the connection between movie trailers and (what else?) books. It is absolutely essential that you draw readers into your book. This should happen in the first few pages or at least the first chapter. The first chapter has to unveil a reason for reading the book, whether it be to find out what happens next or because the characters are awesome.

Now there's also the problem of giving too much away in the first chapter. Just like the movie trailer for Fly Away Home did. I remember one time I was over at someone's house and we were going through movies to watch on someone's TV or something, and they had trailers we could watch. Since Fly Away Home is an awesome movie, we watched the trailer. After, everyone joked that we didn't need to watch the movie because it had basically given everything away.




Obviously, you don't want to do that either. I guess most authors don't give EVERYTHING away in the first chapter, but I think this could also count for doing an entire first chapter on backstory. What's wrong with going through the entire movie in the trailer from start to finish is you've left nothing for the watcher to figure out, which is a lot of the fun of watching a movie. Or reading a book. You want to let your readers figure stuff out, make them use their brains. It is a lot more fun, and makes a book way better in my opinion.

Now... looking at a completely different trailer... um, Despicable Me (it's the first one I thought of)...



This trailer gives a bunch of reasons for watching the movie... the characters, the comedy, to see what's going to happen with Gru and the little girls. It also doesn't give away everything that happens in the movie, like the Fly Away Home trailer did.

So like trailers, books need to give the reader a reason to be there, a motivation for reading the book. This motivation will differ from genre to genre and from book to book, but I think it needs to be there. Maybe the cast of characters is why we should stick around. Maybe the gut-twisting suspense. Maybe the romance. Maybe, just simply, to see what happens next. But there has to be a reason for the reader to be there, otherwise they're just going to put the book down.

What makes you keep reading a book? What spikes your interest in the first chapter? What in a movie trailer makes you want to watch the movie?

Friday, March 2, 2012

21 Minus Blog Tour!!!

UPDATE: Finally have the official rules! Go here to fill out the form to win AWESOME PRIZES!!! :)

Hey, everyone! Guess what? 21 Minus starts TODAY!! :)

Here is a description of 21 Minus by Anna Waggener, the organizer of this awesome blog tour:

21 Minus is my attempt to bring together a group of fantastic young writers, all aged twenty-one or younger, and let them tell their stories via questions asked by their peers.  It will also feature some great giveaways (including an ARC of GRIM!) and should be lots of fun all the way around.

Now I am going to interview a young writer and let them tell their story... I am interviewing Mariah Irvin. You can find her blog here. This was a different kind of interview for me to do, because we didn't actually have direct contact with the interviewee - all the interviews were done through Anna, so it was all very secret... but that makes it fun! Anyway, on to the questions.



Mariah's blog header. Isn't it cute?
 What is the main reason you read? What is the main reason you write?

I can answer both parts of the question at once: because it makes me happy. They're both a huge part of my life and one without the other feels almost unnatural to me. I read to be a better writer and I write to be a better reader.

If you've moved away from reading YA, why? If you haven't, why not?

I read literature to switch things up sometimes. YA writing can be so emotional and engrossing I can walk away feeling completely drained, which, in a way, I love. There's nothing like YA, I love it and that's why I write it. But if I need a break or I want to study writing styles I'll switch over to my other love, classic literature.

How important to you is a book's cover, blurb, or review when convincing you to pick up a book and read it?

The blurb or review is pretty important, especially if I've never heard of the book before. A lot of the books I read come from recommendations from friends that have read the books and liked them, so if I'm going to pick up a book on a whim it's really got to sell itself! I'll usually read the first few pages, too, to get an idea of the voice and plot. Covers, though, I don't really care that much about. Yes, my eye will be drawn to a pretty cover, but a plain cover won't convince me that I shouldn't buy a book. I remember in 2009 I picked up "The Hunger Games" without a recommendation and the blurb had me interested right away, but the cover wasn't my favorite!

What does your handwriting look like? Do you think it matches your personality?

I can have really nice handwriting when I try, but most of the time it's stuck somewhere between print and cursive. When I think about it, I guess I could say that that resembles my personality; the things I put a lot of effort into usually turn out nicer and more worthwhile.

Where have you been that has given you the most ideas/inspiration for your writing?

It's funny, because I've done a lot of traveling, but I'm not writing anything right now that's based on a location I've been to, because usually a lot of my ideas come from everyday things. But, I went to China last year I started imagining all the things I could write about it. Someday, I'd like to write a historical novel about China.

What do you have to say about movies based on books?

I've probably had just about every opinion on this topic humanly possible at one point or another! I love working with cameras and interpreting words on a page into another medium. But even though movies allow so much more accessibility to those words, I always feel like something is missing. To me, it's like the book and the movie are completely separate things, so I'm able to fall in love with both, but never in the same way.

If you had to describe your latest WiP in one word, what would it be?
 
Escape.
 
Great interview, Mariah!

Now here's some places you should go... click here to go to Mariah's blog and find out more about her, and read the interview that she did for 21 Minus. Also go here to check out the awesome list of prizes Anna has for the giveaway, and then go here to Anna Waggener's blog to get all the information about the blog tour and giveaway - how you can win prizes, etcetera!

(So it turns out Nick Hight interviewed me! If you want to check that out, click here).

Have fun learning about all the other awesome young writers!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Has a Negative Review Ever Convinced You to Read A Book?


I have begun to notice that pretty much EVERYTHING is subjective. Almost everything is affected by a person's own opinions, moods, beliefs, background and what have you. (I totally just had to look up the phrase "what have you" to make sure I wasn't making it up and to figure out if it was one word or not).

For example, here is a conversation I had my with my friend Monday night. We were talking about making muffins together:

Strawberry muffins... tell me they do not look yummy!

Friend: What kind of muffins should we make?
Me: strawberry!!!
Friend: EWW
Me: What? Why! My mom said her friend made them once and they were really good!
Friend: That sounds... EEW!
Me: Why? Don't you like strawberries?
Friend: yahh

I still think my friend is not justified in thinking strawberry muffins are gross (I mean, she's never even tried them...), but this kind of shows how affected we are by our own ideas and opinions and just basically who we are.

So. This also applies to books. (HA you never guessed that I would say that, right?? Haha.) I have figured out that I like certain types of characters way more than other types of characters. I really don't like dependent, scared, hesitant characters that don't really know much. I absolutely fall in love with really clever, independent characters. For example, in the book Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (amazing book, by the way) my favourite character, hands down, is Dustfinger. I adore him. He's one of those clever, sort of goes-by-his-own-terms type of character that I like. I think this is also the reason that I liked the character Katniss in The Hunger Games, and the character Eugenides in The Thief, Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner.

To be honest, until recently, I had no idea that it was me. I just thought lots of writers wrote really bland, annoying characters but as it turns out, I just wasn't interested in the characters because of me - who I am and what I like as a person.

That being said, different things will attract a person into reading a book. When I'm wandering through the library, my eyes usually go to the covers (and spines) that are unique, bright, and different. I tend not to be attracted to the darker, spooky covers or the covers with girls' faces on the front. It also depends on what I'm in the mood for. If I feel like reading romance, I look for titles and covers that hint that the book is a romance.

Whoops... kind of getting off track. Back to... different things attract a person into reading a book. That is why I think when reading a book review, different things will stick out to different people. Just like while I'm in the library, certain covers or titles attract me, certain things said in a review will attract me to a book.

SO that brings me to my final point... because of all this, has a negative book review ever convinced you to read a book? I can see it happening if, I don't know, the reviewer says something like "The character was just way too clever for me, I didn't understand them" (this would only be for me, obviously) and then I would be like... well, I like clever characters... maybe I should read that book.

So? Has a negative book review ever convinced you to read a book? If not, do you think it's possible that one could? What do you think?

Also go here for information on the 21 Minus Blogfest and Contest that I'm participating in... it starts tomorrow!

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