Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Myth of Happily Ever After

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read Allegiant and/or don’t want to know what happens, do NOT read this post! You've been warned.

Real life isn’t a fairy tale, and I believe that literature is allowed to reflect that. In most fairy tales there is a happily ever after, at some point after the main characters get past all their scruples and are together/engaged/married, and ta-da! Happy.
But in the real world, that’s not how it works. Marriage is not the finish line, but a starting point at a life together. And for many people, marriage is not the end goal, but maybe a career or friendship or travel or something else entirely. There will not be a point in life when everything comes together and from that point on, life is good. There will always be bad mixed with good, which is what makes life interesting.
A happily ever after is hard to come by in real life. So why do we require it in our fiction?
I understand that some people want an escape. That’s why we read books that take us to fantasy worlds or far away galaxies or the distant future when no one’s heard of the United States. We read about wizarding wars, Hunger Games and the quest to destroy the one ring in an attempt to escape from our everyday routine of work, eat, sleep.
The worlds to which we escape are not perfect. We wouldn’t want them to be! So, why do we want the endings to be perfect? Why do we require a happily ever after?

"As a reader, I don’t feel a story has an obligation to make me happy. I want stories to show me a bigger world than the one I know… Basically I would argue that books are not primarily in the wish fulfillment business. " –John Green

I was about 100 pages from the end of Allegiant when the dread starting creeping in. Suddenly, the end was upon me, I knew I was reading toward it, and I was afraid for what it would hold for Tris and Tobias. Apparently, I was right to be worried.

What Tris did for Tobias, Caleb and all those she left behind, was noble. It was brave, self-sacrificing and a little crazy. It was Tris. I truly believe she was the only one who could have fought her way into the Weapons Lab and I know she was the only one who could fight the effects of the death serum. In the end, it was a difficult irony that she survived the serum that would have killed everyone else just to be killed by one enemy with a gun.
Yes, life is unfair. Sometimes literature is too. But I know that Tris is the only one who could have completed it all, so that Chicago could be reborn as the fourth city. Don’t get me wrong, I was heartbroken the moment her mother came for her. But I kept reading and when I finished I took a step back and realized something important. In sacrificing herself, Tris saved numerous lives, she rescued a city from the brink of destruction and she pushed back on inequality.
The end of Allegiant was a different kind of ending. It was not a happily ever after, but a thought-provoking closure that was hard to swallow. It was elegant, powerful and (obviously) controversial. However, the lack of a happily ever after will not make me love Tris and Tobias, the Divergent series nor Veronica Roth any less. Because the ending was a reflection of real life. Every now and again, we need some real life in our literature. Occasionally, we need some reality in our escape.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teen Books-to-Movies 2014

With the release of Catching Fire next month, I thought I’d dive back into the teen book-to-movie realm. Here are four more YA books that will be movies in 2014! And don’t forget to check out my previous posts on teen books-to-movies (last OctoberApril), as some I’ve highlighted previously (such as the much anticipated Divergent) are not out yet!


Seventh Son (published as Last Apprentice)
Release Date: January 17, 2014          Status: Post-Production

An 18th century adventure story centered on young Thomas, who is apprenticed to the local Spook to learn to fight evil spirits. His first great challenge comes when the powerful Mother Malkin escapes her confinement while the Spook is away.

Why I’m Excited:

Because this movie adaption flew under my radar, and I’m surprised to learn its release is almost upon us! Even though I haven’t read this series, I’m sure it’s something I would like and the cast line-up is definitely something I like. Ben Barnes was particularly intriguing (read = HOT) as Prince Caspian, and I’m excited to see him as the hero of this tale. Also starring in this fantasy flick are Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges. Even though the trailer is a little over-the-top for my taste, the effects look great and the story interests me enough to get me to the theater.


The Fault in Our Stars

Release Date: June 6, 2014          Status: Filming

Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel's other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.

Why I’m Excited:

Because I’ve been following John Green’s videos (via Vlogbrothers) and his tweets from TFIOS set! This is by far the movie I’m most looking forward to in 2014, and not just because of the fantastic cast (Is Shailene Woodley the teen book-to-movie sweetheart or what?) but also because of the involvement of the author and the care of the crew. Even though I’m unsure the movie will live up to the awesomeness of the book, it certainly has the potential! I’ll be heading to the theater soon after its release!


The Giver

Release Date: August 15, 2014          Status: Filming

In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the "real" world.

Why I’m Excited:

Because this book was monumental for me growing up, and I’m hoping the movie adaption will be mystical yet simple. The Giver was my first dystopian book, before I even know what dystopia was. I have to admit I’m skeptical about Taylor Swift, but the rest of the cast (Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Jeff Bridges, Alexander Skarsgard) is full of star power. I have high expectations for this one, and I hope they are not dashed when I make the trip to the theater!


If I Stay

Release Date: 2014          Status: Pre-production

A chronicle of a fatal car accident involving 17-year-old musician Mia and her boyfriend.*

Why I’m Excited:

Because this book is unconventional in its plot, so I’m intrigued to see how it will translate on screen. It could be wonderful, or it could go the way of other teen book-to-movie flops. Of course I’m hoping it’s the former, because I love this novel (and everything else Gayle Forman’s written). Chloe Grace Moretz is signed on to star as Mia, which will put some force behind it as filming begins. I’m curious to see who is cast as Adam, as that is currently not listed on IMDB. It’s too early to tell, but assuming this hype is there and the trailer is decent, I will head out to the theater for this one!

 Please Note: The movie descriptions are courtesy of IMDB.

* This description is not an accurate representation of the book’s plot, and therefore I’m guessing it will not be accurate for the movie. However I’m sure when more information is available regarding this adaptation, IMDB will be updated. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Books by the Banks: Focus YA

Yesterday, I attended Books by the Banks in Cincinnati! This was not only my first visit to Books by the Banks, but my first book festival overall. Cue the milestone marker! It was a great festival to have as my first, as it’s intimate, accessible and free.

Of course, I went for the YA authors. There were 17 of them! By far the largest number of YA awesomeness that I’ve been in the presence of. After perusing their tables and chatting up some, I attended a few panels, the last of which was YA Fiction in a Flash. The YA authors in attendance gave us the down low on their fabulous books, which was followed by a Q&A session. 

From left: Emma Carlson Berne, Jody Casella, Cinda Williams Chima, Liz Coley, Lorie Langdon, Carey Corp,  Lisa Klein, Maureen Lipinski, Rebekah Crane, Mindy McGinnis, Jennifer McGowan, Tim Mettey

Here’s some wisdom I gleaned from that session:

On Being a Plotter or a Pantser
I know the first line and the last line, but the rest is a mystery. –Mindy McGinnis

I only write scenes I want to read. –Jennifer McGowan

I don’t outline the ending, because if I know how it ends, I might get bored with the story. –Maureen Lipinski

I start each novel with an outline, but as I get more confident with the story, I become more of a pantser. –Lisa Klein

I like the process of discovery. –Cinda Williams Chima


On the YA genre
Nobody knows what the next big thing is until it happens. –Cinda Williams Chima

YA is read by all ages because teenagers are interesting. –Mindy McGinnis

You feel your teenage years so wholeheartedly, which may be why adults read YA. –Rebekah Crane

Being a teen isn’t easy, and if you think it is, then you have no business writing for teens. –Cinda Williams Chima

On Revision
Revision is a completely different skill set than writing. –Carey Corp

Step away for six months, if you can. When you finish a draft, you’re too emotionally invested to edit, which is what needs to be done. –Mindy McGinnis

Never let anyone tell you there’s only one right way to go about this. Writing is hard enough without trying to shoehorn yourself into someone else’s method. –Cinda Williams Chima

Wade through the first draft crap to get to the gems. –Rebekah Crane

On Reading
Becoming a writer changes your relationship with books. –Liz Coley

My mentor is any author whose books I’ve read, as I learned to write through reading. –Mindy McGinnis

On Being a Writer
Up until the third grade, I used to get in trouble for daydreaming, but now I get paid for it. –Cinda Williams Chima

We are told not to read reviews, but most of us do anyway. –Mindy McGinnis

Listen to your own voice. –Liz Coley

Write the book that you were meant to write. That gives you the biggest chance at being successful. –Cinda Williams Chima

Author Pavilion

This is an annual event, so you can bet that I’ll be back next year! Thanks to all the authors (not just the YA ones) that participated and thanks, Cincinnati, for being awesome!
DISCLAIMER: This post in an unofficial account of the YA Fiction in a Flash panel at the Books by the Banks event with the aforementioned authors on October 12, 2013 in Cincinnati, OH. The views that I present in this article are my interpretations of the event and are not direct quotations of the author’s comments. These paraphrases do not necessarily represent the opinions of these authors or their publishers.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Lesson of Shitty First Drafts

I used to think that writing was about getting it just right, the first time. I used to think that writers spouted genius and edits were just to hone their ingenuity. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but over the past month I’ve learned the lesson of shitty first drafts. And now I’m taking it to heart.

"Writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts." –Anne Lamott

It all started with NaNoWriMo 2012, because no one can write 50000 words in one month without most of them sucking. In that month, I wrote simply, without flare. I used common words and cliché phrases. The point was to go back and change it later. However, I didn't get that far. Even though writing a full draft with an inciting incident, character growth and a climax was a great accomplishment for me, something funny happened in December. I realized the story that I wanted to tell wasn’t in the words I had written. The characters were right, but the plot wasn’t.

So I set it aside and didn’t pick it back up until spring, when an idea sprang (hehe) into my head unannounced. It took me months to rewrite the plot. I went through numerous outlines and utilized at least three different outlining methods. And once I got close, I realized there was only so much plotting I could do before I just needed to write. Write the story, following my plot outline but not stringently.

"You have permission to suck, temporarily." -Chuck Wendig

This is when the NaNoWriMo lesson returned. I had thought the NaNoWriMo style of writing was for November only. But that’s not true. This technique can be used all year, as long as writers remember one important thing: these words are not permanent, and they shouldn’t be.

Because first drafts suck. They’re bad, ordinary and likely unreadable. That’s the case with most writers (not that I’m aware of someone who spouts brilliance on the first try, but they could be out there.) The point of a first draft is to get the words down. Just as the point of a second draft is to edit. Re-read and re-write. Re-draft whole paragraphs. Move things around. Do major plot shifts. Add new scenes. Edit. EDIT. EDIT!

Brilliance happens when you have the words to craft. When you’re just about ready to throw the whole draft in recycle, it starts to make sense. It’s not like an epiphany, all at once with angels and puppies and an uplifting tune in the background. It happens slowly, building momentum as you rewrite.

"Making a difference always comes down to momentum." –Jeff Goins

Or at least I hope so. I’ve felt inklings of that momentum as I power through my first draft, but I haven’t reached the everything-makes-sense-thank-goodness stage yet. More on my plan for NaNoWriMo 2013 later this month, but right now I’m writing crap. Editable crap. For the rest of October, I’m practicing for November.