February Writing

After not writing anything here for 2 months, I’m back. Or, rather, I want to be back. I feel constant shame about not updating this site often. So, I will try to post as much as I can in February. I have no idea how this will go, nor if I’ll be able to keep the regime. Let alone find interesting stuff to post. But let’s try and see how it goes.

By the way, I am really thinking of turning this site into a writing blog (of sorts). I don’t think I’ll ever share my writing, but I might as well focus the blog on it, with occasional posts about other subjects. (When I say writing, of course, it can be anything, from thoughts about writing to movie reviews).

I guess the blog needs some focus.

Speaking of writing (and reading), you may also find me on Goodreads: Jefflion

NaNoWriMo is Here

That’s that time of the year, folks. NaNoWriMo time. November is a novel writing month, and as usual, it makes me excited. This time, though, I am busy with other things so I honestly don’t have idea how I’m going to accomplish the whole “write 50 000 words in 30 days”. On the other hand, I can’t help but wanting to participate, so… here I am.

I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2010, at a particularly weird moment in my life, when I desperately needed something to uplift me and take my mind off the harsh reality of being an university educated person who can’t find a job. It was just a slap in the face, you know? I needed something to look forward to, something to call my own, an accomplishment of some sorts, and NaNoWriMo provided a perfect outlet. My novel, “A Postcard from Hades” was born there, and it still holds a special place in my heart despite being imperfect and, well demanding more work.

This year, I’m writing in English (good luck to me about that). I figured it would fit the story and it will help me practice my English. I feel passionate about and really invested in psychology behind it, even though I am not completely sure how to build the plot or how dark it’s going to be. (I am not really into dark stories per se – I like to read some of them but I can’t write them well. No idea why).

The first thing I had with this story was a title, back in 2010 or so. The first plot idea revolved around a supernatural girl who can harm humans but wants to avoid it at all costs and her love interest who helps her. Somehow (no idea how) it evolved into a story about succubi and incubi and a complex method of their survival and reproduction. The core of the story, though, is identity and figuring out you are not who you thought you were. There are many things to explore here.

Something weird happened to my custom theme (yes, the one I worked so hard to design and publish) so I’ll use this one until I find something better. It’s not perfect, but it supports custom post formats – we’ll see if the ability to post short tidbits and microblogging-style things will make me update more often. In other news: It was Jefflion’s birthday on September 12th! My site is six years old! Let’s drink to that. :P

My Problems with “New Adult” Genre

readingWikipedia describes “New Adult” as “a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket. The term was first coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009 when they held a special call for “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult’.”

Without going into a long rant about this emerging genre (and whether it’s really necessary or just a marketing fad), I can’t help noticing that yet another genre is defined through the age of its protagonists. While it’s understandable that a book for kids may have an eight year old protagonist, I simply don’t buy the whole age of readers = age of characters (or the good old YA rule: “your characters should be a few years older than the target audience because the kids read up”). In a way, I understand why this is happening, but I think it’s very limiting. After all, you can have a very adult book with a 5 year old protagonist. Also, as much as teens (or readers in general) like to read about characters who are “like them” I do not buy the idea that readers are so narcissistic to only want to read about characters who are in the same position as them. If we go this road it can easily slip into a belief that readers want only to read about people who share their gender, race, ethnic group, sexual orientation… see where I’m going with this?

The problem with YA and New Adult genres is a different one, but it still operates under the assumption – a false one, I’d say – that readers only want to read about themselves. The whole publishing world and marketing operates under this idea, and it drives the industry. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is also another problem when it comes to the New Adult genre. On the surface, it basically deals with protagonists of a certain age and common issues in this age group. The thing is, some of the issues such as sexuality, identity, finding your place in the world – they are all common in the teen/Young Adult group, too. Perhaps not in the same way, but they are present. I have a feeling the emerging new genre only makes a sharp difference at the arbitrary line that is 18th birthday/high school graduation. While it’s true many people’s lives change after high school, it is a transition and not a clear cut.

Having genres so clearly divided is  not productive because once you start thinking about the necessary age you need to give to your protagonists, and about the issues you can (and can’t) explore, it becomes limiting, and it is never a good thing with fiction. I admit, I understand the need that books for children should be limiting in this sense (if nothing else, because of your readers’ reading level) but I don’t see it for other genres, including Young Adult or New Adult.

In the basic sense, it is limiting because you can’t just have a book that will follow your protagonist from the age 14 to 20. If you want to market your book, you need to either make it YA (and stop at high school graduation) or a general book for adults – but in this case, the tone and voice of your novel must be different. Similarly, you can’t have a mixed group of characters aged 15 (your POV character) to 25. It just breaks the genre rules.

I am sure you can all name some successful books that easily break these rules. But it’s still true that rules exist for marketing reasons and these reasons are not always beneficial for writing itself. They are limiting without a reason. Because God forbid that a teenager might want to read about a character in her 20s.

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The Bechdel Test for Novels?

womenNote: this post is made directly from my reply on a NaNoWriMo thread. I figured my reply was long enough (and hopefully eloquent enough) so I wanted to share it. For full discussion and other opinions, please visit the board.

The board commenter Millie714 made an interesting thread: can/should the Bechdel test be used for novels. If yes, in what form? Namely, is the Bechdel test applicable to novels, how much effort a writer should put into creating characters that represent our world (characters who represent multiple genders, races, and orientations) and if writers should be true to certain settings (for example, predominantly white towns or time periods) even if it means sacrificing inclusiveness.

As a writer who does think about this stuff, here’s my stance on the issue.

I think the Bechdel test (be it original, race Bechdel test, sexual orientation, etc.) is a nice thought experiment when you want to take notice of cumulative works. Such as, all movies released in the US in 2013. You take the list and see how many movies pass the test. I don’t have this list but I don’t doubt most of them will fail. Heck, I bet many would fail even the first requirement (“having two named female/POC characters”) Which is a good indicative that something is wrong and should be changed.

But on an individual level, it shouldn’t be taken as a law or a rule. There are actually many decent movies that don’t pass the test and many bad (and even misogynistic and racist, etc.) movies that do. Personally, I despise Sex and the City and I think it’s full of backwards ideas about sex and gender, but it passes the test.

So I do see the Bechdel test as a valuable tool. Not sure if it can be easily translated to an author’s individual written work, though. First of all, books and movies are different animals. A novel is, for the most part, a work made by one person; movies are, for the most part, a joined effort. In order to have two women talking to each other about something other than a man, all a writer needs to do is to write the scene and put it in the novel. In order to have the same scene appear in the movie, it has to be written by a screenwriter, included by a director, approved by a producer and it also has to survive the editing and the cutting room floor. It just requires more effort and different rules apply to novels.

But yes, I do think people should take the head out of the sand (or their own ass) and look around.

The problem is not having a predominantly white cast of characters in an area that is predominantly white – the problem is that the majority of (published) stories are centered around predominantly white areas and concerning white people only. Whenever something deviates from this “norm” it is labeled either chick lit (if it contains more women than is considered comfortable/acceptable), African-American/POC (if it contains more black people/POC people), gay & lesbian (if it contains more LGBT* characters), etc.

This is why you still have a strong divide between mainstream fiction (that contains just “the right amount” of minority (here including women) characters) and “minority literature”. As long as diverse characters and diverse themes are not normalized and treated as mainstream, we will have this uncanny situation.

For these reasons, I do think it’s important for mainstream literature to be diverse and to include a wide range of themes or characters outside those that often appear and are actually pretty bad (token characters, white saviours, madonna vs whore dichotomy, rape as motivation, lesbians who only need the right guy to become straight, disabled characters with esoteric powers, etc.)

I don’t, however, think a writer should force herself to be inclusive. Especially if her only reason to do so is because she doesn’t want to appear racist and those “angry POC get insulted”. No. If you truly have to be pushed and forced into even imagining a story that might include two named characters of colour/women, then I don’t think you are a writer who can give such stories justice.

So I kind of hope more and more authors will develop a frame of mind that makes them spontaneously envision stories that include diverse characters and themes. Not that they have to be dragged and forced into it.

Also, yes, an author has a right to write whatever he wants. It doesn’t mean he should be free of criticism if he happens to inject his work with sexism, racism, homophobia and other questionable stuff. Seriously, “I want to write what I want, political correctness be damned!” is often a code word for: “I know what I write is unfair and offensive but I am a nice person (honest!) and I really want to write it so I’d like to be exempted from criticism”. It just doesn’t work that way.

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