Listen. Think. Speak. Write.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shelly Watters' 1st Page Contest

I am posting the first 250 pages (a prologue procedes, but I typically do not include it in queries) here for critique as part of Shelly Watters' First Page Contest. Feel free to critique away.  I am open. 

Title:              FIGMENT
Genre:            Middle-Grade
Word Count:  60,000

Friday, June 24, 2011

How to win when you lose

At some point I’ll get over my need to post about failure and rejection—most likely after a little success. For now, the topic is still fresh in my mind.  I’m constantly trying to put perspective on both life and writing failures. 
I have already admitted to being a goal-setter and a list-maker.  I probably still have notebooks somewhere in the attic detailing everything I planned to accomplish in my life.  I am also just a teensy bit (read enormously) competitive. My biggest competitor is myself. As I mentioned in another post, I set arbitrary goals for myself, which are often a little unrealistic, and I’m a damn sore loser.  
Last weekend I competed in my first 5K race. In the days leading up to the big day, I kept shrinking my goal time, and I increased my desired placement in my age group from top 10 to top 5. I failed.  I ended up 6th. 
This weekend my daughter competed in her dance nationals.  She might be slightly (read almost exactly) like me. When she missed one move in an otherwise spectacular team performance, she cried in the dressing room after. However, she did teach me something as well. She never told me what her goal was for her solo (and yes, of course, winning isn’t the most important thing, and the emphasis is on fun, but remember she’s like me—goals and competitiveness are in her blood). After she received a platinum rating and a 4th place ranking, she was so giddy and such a natural high, I never would have guessed she had actually failed her goal. It turns out she was going for 3rd.  One away, just like me.
One person’s failure is usually someone else’s success. No brainer, right?  If someone else wins, I lose.  It’s more than that, though.  Other people are out there setting goals. Whatever I achieve that I perceive to be a failure might be exactly what another person would have considered success. 
I still believe in the goals, though.  I will continue to set them to high.  I will probably fail a lot as a result. Disappointment will follow.   Maybe I can teach my daughter not to be so hard on herself and maybe I can learn to find joy in the failure, too.
If you need some inspiration, here’s a little bit of Shania, just because I love her.  You watch.  I’m going to go run because next year, I’m going for top 5.
Today is Your Day

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On being a reject

Rejection sucks. Not a particularly new or profound thought, I know, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately. The query process is filled with exceptional highs and lows. From what I’ve read, I’m pretty sure it only gets worse from here.  Some weeks are great—requests for manuscripts and positive feedback give me hope that it’s possible to achieve my goals.  Unfortunately, for every good week, a bad one follows when I am certain I’m wasting my time on writing altogether. I had a particularly disappointing week rejection recently, and I'm still rebuilding confidence.
Rejection and I are old friends.  A person would have to be in cave far away from civilization to get to be my age without facing esteem-crushing blows from multiple fronts.  I’ll probably never get over not being selected as an R.A. in college. Unfortunately, practice doesn’t always make perfect.  Then again, maybe it is possible to become an expert at rejection.
One of my summer session public speaking students reminded me that there are plenty of examples of highly successful people who have faced rejection.  In her speech, she cited the famous case of the Beatles’ Decca audition, which they were ultimately refused because guitar bands were losing steam. Here's one of the songs they played during that audition.

I also follow the blog, “One Hundred Rejections” which provides stories of famous authors who’ve been rejected and quotes advice from many of them.
I try to draw inspiration from these stories—not that I’m reveling in the failure of others, but is a reminder about the power of perseverance. Perhaps, more importantly, I remind myself that I may never be like Stephen King or Kathryn Stockett (The Help).  My rejections may not lead to success, and while that’s not a pleasant thought, all the clich├ęs are definitely true. Any hope of success begins with putting yourself out there.
So, no, this week’s post is not a new message, but sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly beat up by the process or by life in general, it’s a reminder I need.  At least I’m still here risking, learning, changing.
Inspire me.  Name a time you were rejected and it stuck with you.  How long did it take you to "get over it?"

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Perception, Perspective, and Backlash

The Twitter world blew up while I was sleeping. I miss everything because I sleep.  A Wall Street Journal article took aim at the current content of Young Adult (YA) fiction. In the world of blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, the backlash was instantaneous, birthing the #YAsaves hashtag and now a more permanent YA Saves Project

So, what's all the fuss? Obviously, readers, writers, agents, and editors felt defensive, and I can see why.  I found myself bristling as I read the article.  Since I came to the party late, I didn't face any initial emotional reaction, though, and I've had time to re-read the piece.  In the end, I can cull some reasonable points from within what I think is fairly divisive and accusatory rhetoric.  Basically, I think the opinion may have validity, but it came across in a way that made people feel attacked and negated import positive outcomes of these "dark" and "grotesque" themes. 

Here are a few points she makes which warrant attention:

1. Parents should monitor the books their kids are reading.  In many ways, I took her article as more of a warning siren to people who may be unaware of how much more graphic YA fiction is today than it used to be.  I'm not opposed to that.  I have two WIP YA manuscripts with very edgy themes.  The thing is, I haven't been a teen in a very long time, and they reflect my own reality then, so I don't think these themes are necessarily far off the mark. However, parents may think that books/literature are inherently fair game, unlike video games and movies, simply because they are published books.  Aren't books always good?  Always a better alternative to mindless activities?  Maybe, maybe not.  At the very least, parents should be sure the books are age appropriate and they should be prepared to talk about potentially disturbing themes.

2. Another assertion posited by Cox Gurdon had to do with the age old question: does art imitate life or vice versa.  She states, "Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures." 

This is where I will take a controversial position and agree with her.  That is, in fact, how all popular culture has pushed the boundaries.  It's pretty much the same thing George Gerbner found in media studies--it's a form of cultivation theory. 

I know we all want to balk at the idea that media, books, entertainment can influence us negatively.  We like to think we're smarter, better critical thinkers, immune to the influence, etc.  But I'll admit it.  I learned a lot from The Best Little Girl in the World. Did the book cause me to have an eating disorder?  No, but I know it escalated things.  

The problem with the WSJ article, though, is that it points blame and then doesn't see any alternative perspectives.  While the content may be dark and it may have some negative influences, is that YA literature does save. These mature themes showcase that teen problems are real.  Rather than seeing this as a reason to attack people who produce the art, it would be good to look at what's going on with our teens. Why is this the reality?

An earlier article from WSJ addressed the same issue in a much different way.  I was intrigued by that one because I'd read all of the articles mentioned. The conclusion of Roiphe's article astutely states, "As alarming as these books are, there is in all of this bleakness a wholesome and old-fashioned redemption that involves principles like triumph over adversity and affirmations of integrity."   

That's the missed component of the most recent discussion.  The themes may be shocking, but unless you read them, you don't know what the ultimate takeaway is, which takes me back to #1--parents do need to know what their kids are reading.

I'd love to hear more thoughts from different perspectives on this.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Feminine, feminist, or both?

I can't help myself.  This week, I contributed to In Media Res's blog.  The week's theme was an American Idol Post Morten, and I wrote about the declining credibility of female contestants, "From Paternal to Patronizing."  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  The other four essays this week are great, and I think they highlight some interesting issues with the current judging panel as well as the show's overall ideological construction.

This week, I also watched the trailer for the latest Still Killing Us Softly documentary from Jean Kilbourne.  I've long been a fan of the video.  I'm struck by the first comment, "It's getting worse."  In the wake of recent legislation introduced across the nation and in light of my own essay on American Idol this week, I'm more inclined to agree with her than not.  I do know that raising issues like this in my classes is hit or miss.  I can have entire classes dismiss it all and assert that feminism is stupid.  It's no wonder when people are so misinformed.  When I watched the Kilbourne video, I read some comments after where men were going on and on about feminist women braiding their armpit hair.  If that remains the image of a strong women who doesn't sell herself out, then I suppose feminism would be seen as bad.

Raising two girls and writing YA fiction, brings all of these issues to the surface in a much more tangible way to me.  I'm seeing it through fresh eyes, and as much as I came to terms years ago with how to marry femininity and feminism, I realize that as a society, we have a long way to go.  It's giving me pause to think through my characters a little more and to consider my parenting strategies for the upcoming years. I feel a sense of responsibility that kind of scares me, actually.

What do you think?  How would you characterize the image of women in advertising? In reality t.v.? What about in novels/fiction?