Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Seventh Grade Book Reports: A Rant

Back in seventh grade, my English teacher had a three step method she liked us to follow for book reports.
1. Describe the book without giving the end away
2. Give it a star rating and 
3. Say who you'd recommend this book to.
After sitting through a few hundred books reports, I learned to hate that last step.
"I'd recommend this book to people who like action because there's a lot of action in it."
"I'd recommend this to girls because it's got romance."
"I'd recommend this to mystery fans. Because it's a mystery."
"I'd recommend this book mostly to younger kids, since I forgot we had reports due until last night and just blazed through a Magic Tree House book."
Sometimes when I read through "serious" book reviews, I get the uncanny feeling that I'm back in Ms. Howard's seventh grade class. 
"I'd recommend this book to younger readers, because it's a YA book."
"I'd recommend this to Harry Potter fans because it's fantasy."
"I'd recommend this to science fiction readers. Because it's science fiction."
This is fine if you're a twelve year old with better things to do than homework. This is fine if the only people who will ever hear your review are bored kids doing math worksheets under their desks while your lips flap. But from a semi-professional book review? I expect better.
The genre and age range should be apparent from your description of the book. There's no need to call out your audience like that. They know when they're invited. Also, just because someone belongs to a group, like an age bracket or a fandom, doesn't mean they'll like anything that fits under that umbrella. All teenagers don't want the same books. YA is a big, diverse category. A girl who likes sweet contemporary romances might not like gritty fantasy. The same goes for genres. I adore time travel novels. That's science fiction, but the scientific elements are often underplayed and there's an emphasis on the historical. I do like science-fiction-in-general, but I won't speed off to Barnes and Noble just because a reviewer thinks some biopunk book fits under the same umbrella.
It takes a certain level of experience to sift through good and bad reviews. But it certainly helps when they aren't written like seventh grade book reports.

Monday, December 8, 2014

So, When Are You Getting Published? My Pet Peeve

Last week, I was in Hawaii. Be jealous. Be very jealous. While sitting on a beach doing a whole lot of nothing, I struck up a conversation with two women sitting next to me. We talked about their kids, their husbands, their careers, and eventually, one of them asked what I like to do for fun.
"I love writing. I have three blogs and I write books for fun."
"How many books have you written?"
"Five, and I'm working on my sixth."
"Oh, really? You've got five books published?"
"No. I've got five books sitting on my computer taking up storage space." 
She promptly lost interest and went back to talking about her children. 
I get this a lot. You'd think my age would turn people away from this question, but it doesn't. Do people ask eighteen year old artists when they'll have their work in galleries? 
When I was twelve, I thought I'd be this child prodigy who got published at sixteen and paid all my college fees with book royalties. Ha! That didn't happen. I didn't finish a book until I was fifteen years and eleven months old. Two years and four books later, I'm still not published. But I'm happy where I am. 
Publishing brings an enormous amount of pressure. I'm not talking about deadlines and editors. Authors have to travel for book signings and school visits. They have to stay active on social media to increase readership. I'm not ready to put in that kind of time and effort. I'm content to hole up in my bedroom and vomit words onto paper. 
Some people do publish young. There are the big names, like S.E. Hinton, Christopher Paolini, and Mary Shelley if you want to go back that far. Kody Keplinger wrote The Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend in high school. She signed with an agent at seventeen and it hit shelves when she was nineteen. That was four years ago. This February, you can see it on the big screen.

Still, most teen authors can't be Kody Keplinger. Usually when I come across a young writer, they've self published their work as ebooks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it's not what I want for my stories. With unpublished writers, the writer part matters far more than the unpublished. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Top Six Non-Princess Disney Heroines

Disney is best known for their princess franchise, which has kept heroines like Cinderella in the public imagination more than decades after their creation. But what about their other leading ladies?
1. Megara

Her song "I Won't Say in My Love" is a childhood favorite, falling just behind "Be A Man" from Mulan. She's sassy, elegant, and manipulative. Plus, I always thought she looked like a pillar. Slender and lined. She actually is a princess. In the myths, she's a daughter of King Creon.
2. Alice
She's not royalty at all. Although in the sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, she becomes a queen. She's got the grace and class of a princess and holds her own with the Queen of Hearts. Some early Disney Princess products included her, along with Tinkerbell, who eventually gained her own franchise.
There she is! 
3. Kida
I loved Atlantis when it came out, because crystals! Explosions! Princess with weird white hair! This sci fi film doesn't fit well with Disney's fairy tale image, so it's largely forgotten. Kida wasn't included in the franchise. Either because her outfit is too minimal (hey, Ariel, I'm looking at you) or she becomes a queen at the end (Elsa, Elsa).
4. Melody
If I have to be honest, this is my all time favorite princess movie. The Little Mermaid made me want to grow fins, but Return to the Sea showed me that maybe, just maybe, a human girl stood a chance of becoming a mermaid. They did release a doll and a computer game to go along with the video, but Melody died off there. She didn't join her mother in the franchise. At thirteen, she's younger than most of the other princesses. Having a child around would make Ariel look older. Plus, Return to the Sea was just a direct to video sequel. Few people remember her today.

5. Lilo
I think I liked this so much because Lilo is a little girl, not a young woman. As with Melody, this is probably a factor in her exclusion. The Disney princesses are often criticized for their mini waists and airbrushed supermodel features. Lilo, with her chunky body and potato nose, is a refreshing take on the average Disney heroine.

6. Jane Porter

Jane, along with Meg, was originally considered for the franchise. She's not a princess, but if Pocahontas and Mulan make it in, so can she. After all, she is Queen of the Apes. Jane doesn't let jungle living knock the proper English lady right out of her, but that doesn't mean she's above a romance with her jungle-dwelling man.