Monday, August 13, 2012


Hello Reader!  Since I'm writing about teenagers, and I am currently wading my way through those awkward years between adolescence and adulthood where everyone expects me to know what I'm doing as if I'm an adult and then laughs at me when I talk about what I want to do as if I'm a teenager, I figured it would be a great idea to talk about one of the central issues that come up in YA fiction: parents.  And our relationships with them.

With that name, how do you think his momma treated him?

YA fiction either puts the parents and adults in the backseat as buffoons, untouchable gods, or condescending asshats.  The teenagers at the center of the story either rebel, or rebel, or rebel against these authority figures because...well, what else do teenagers do but complain, break the law and cry about their crush not giving them a Valentine's Day Gram.  To put it lightly, this is all very cliche and awfully silly.

Going to school with a ludicrous variety of kids, I've seen the gamut of parenting styles.  You've got the uber hippies who sneak pot for their children, and you've got the Asian tiger-moms who stuff napkins into their purses every time they visit a restaurant.  You've got super successful kids who never once in their life did anything wrong or got yelled at or got into trouble with teachers, either because they were sheltered beyond belief - or they were simply just good, motivated, hard-working kids.  On the other hand, there are kids who are constantly in trouble with their parents, butting heads and getting into conflict, taking their frustrations out on their bodies with vengeful tattoos and awkward piercings, yet still get better grades than you ever will and are wildly successful.

OMG I hated the Muslim guy's arc...why do we always have to impregnate someone to be "relatable"???

When did Degrassi ever address those kids?  Stereotypes are really easy to write about.  Could be because the majority of the characterization work is already done for you, but it's also because authors are in a naturally lazy profession.  You're sitting at home, either with pen & paper or on a laptop, writing down words and stringing together paragraphs into a story.  There's no heavy lifting involved unless you're fond of using absurdly giant pencils, there's no sweating from back-breaking manual labor unless you enjoy moving around reams and reams of scratch paper, and there's certainly very little dirty work involved unless you have a penchant for ripping apart your felt tip pens and pouring the ink all over your face every time writer's block comes knocking.

No, that's still not right.  Stereotypes sell.  Yes, that's better.  When you read interviews with agents and publishers, they want the next new thing.  To better handle the uncertainty of the public's fickle tastes, they want what's already worked beforehand.  This is completely understandable.  It's also lulled writers into complacency.  Especially when it comes to parent-teenager relationships.

I really need to learn how to put .gifs on here...

I don't blame any one television show or novel *cough* Degrassi *cough* *cough*.  I blame authors who can't think of new ways to get things done.  I'm not saying I'm some writing messiah with a innovative writing style that will blow people away - although if someone ever says that about me I'll grin so wide you can see my wisdom teeth.  All I'm saying is that I'm noticing a problem, and when I walk through Barnes & Noble I don't see anyone trying to fix it.

All you ever see are bumbling buffoons of parents.  Honestly, the best parent-kid relationships I've seen in YA fiction are in Harry Potter.  Everyone rags on J.K. Rowling for not being a literary genius, and yes her writing isn't top notch Charles Dickens fare.  But her relationships, the characters' interactions with each other, these are miraculous.  With very little literary prowess, she manages to blow us away with real feelings and emotions and everything in between those two synonyms.  The relationship between Ron and his mother is fraught with overbearing love and wisdom oft-ignored.  Molly Weasley is not a bumbling fool, but neither is Ron a brazen idiot.  Dumbledore is basically Harry's grandpa, and he's always looked to as a source of wisdom and confidence - he is not an authority figure to brush up against rudely and without any motivation other than to move the plot along.

TOO SOON!  TOO SOON!  *sobs in the corner*

You'd expect YA fiction to take a page from the wildly successful J.K. Rowling and her awesome character relationships.  Instead, they decide to settle on this general, very narrow tidbit of wisdom: there will never be another Harry Potter so why try?  They'd much rather go for the small game like the Hunger Games (Lord almighty why does Katniss' mom suck that bad?) or Twilight (Bella's dad is like a teenage boy who decided that having a mustache makes him a man).  These relationships suck, and the parents exist as filler - they had to pop out of something right?  Disney really knows what's up though.  They avoid all of these problems altogether and just kill the parents right from the get-go.  Brilliant people, Disney.  Just brilliant.

But then again, what do I know?  I'm no best-seller.  Here's an excerpt between Sheba, Briok's mom, and her son.  This takes place at the grave of Briok's father.  It's the first time he's visiting it, since he was in a coma when his father was officially buried.  His mother takes him, and tries to console him after he learns that he is half-human and the last Magna Beast.
              After several minutes without moving Sheba took pulled Briok away and looked him in the eyes.  “Do you know why I think you can handle this?”  She smiled and turned to rest her back against the statue.  “Proteus told me what you did, that night.  At that café, when you decided to disobey me and your father.”  She pulled him close to her.  “Briok, you jumped in front of a bullet.  You didn’t know that you were the Magna Beast, you didn’t know that you would probably heal.”  Briok continued to look away from her, but signs of life began to show.  He was fiddling with the grass, pulling at it in tufts.
            “I wasn’t thinking when I did it,” he finally spoke.  “And you’re my mom, you’re supposed to believe in me.”  He pulled his head up, “You're supposed to say all these great things about how amazing I am and support me.”  
             “Briok, you know your mother,” she stopped his hands from pulling at the grass, 
“If you do something wrong, I’m not afraid to tell you.  If you weren’t so wonderful, I 
would tell you.”  She laughed, “You risked your life.  You should be proud.  More than 
that, Briok you proved that you’re a man.  I’m proud to have you as my son.  You don’t 
listen to me, but I’m still proud.”  She hugged him.  Despite his dour mood, he returned her  
hug, burying his head in her shoulder

Like always, let me know what you think.  Until next time then.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Learning to Let Go

Hello Reader!  As I'm drafting query letters for agents and really analyzing the meat of my novel, I frequently come upon an unavoidable fact.  My novel has very little believable science fiction.  A lot of the technology I employ isn't nearly as well researched as something like the Hyperion series, my alien species fall into the two arms, two legs trope of most genre fiction, and while I love the superpowers my main characters have there's little concrete explanation for them.  I rock back and forth from fantasy and sci-fi, often in the same sentence, while expecting my readers to manage the tonal shifts.

Because of this glaring weakness too ingrained in the story to truly rectify, I focus on its strength: character relationships.  Now I'm not saying that the novel has good character relationships, I'm not that boastful.  You can be the judge of that.  I'm just saying that relative to other aspects of the novel (like the sci-fi tech and fantasy elements) it's a much stronger element.  These relationships, between teenagers just starting their adolescence, are of course fraught with angst and melodrama.  But they're also informed by my life.

When you're a teenager, every problem in the world seems like the apocalypse.  You feel alone in trying to stop this immense silent doom that no one else understands.  Sure some of you may not have felt that, and good for you.  La dee da.  But either way, the whole teenager thing provides good drama to write about.  There's nothing like the raw emotions of a fourteen year old to propel a plot.  The problem with me using this aspect of my life, my adolescence, to inform the adolescent relationships in my novel, is that I don't know much about my adolescence.

Yes, this is my rage face.  Beware.

It's not fair to say that I had it stolen from me.  It was very much a two-way street.  But for five years I was best friends with someone who, at the end of the friendship, revealed that a lot of important things that had happened between us was a lie.  A lot of those important things involved my relationships with other people. A lot of those important things involved how I thought I was perceived by others.  A lot of those important things involved how I perceived myself.

I can't begin to tell you how fucked up I was because of it, because I don't know the extent of the damage.  I have no idea how far those lies actually spread.  But lord did it make me angry.  A sort of wrath overcame me, a debilitating rage that I couldn't control.  I know when it comes on too, but it's like a drug.  I always felt better after I roared at someone.  More than once I've alienated and freaked people out by screaming at them like this.  People who care about me and like me.


But who really does like and care about you?  That's the takeaway I got from those five years.  It's all ephemeral, these feelings and warm-hearted grins people give you.  It can go away in an instant, because if you're not careful you'll let yourself get caught in a trap of trust and vulnerability built on lies and social niceties.  Betrayal is around every corner, a wraith ready to prey upon all the good feelings you desperately want to hold onto.

Of course, that's all of my vengeful bitterness talking.  None of that is a healthy way to live.  But the kind of clarity I have about the issue now only happened when that best friend came back into my life.   And told me that all of the lies revealed to me, all of the exposed deceit, all of the torturous arguments that turned me into a blithering lunatic, were fake.  That it was all done to let go of me, because this best friend didn't see any other way to cut off the unhealthy relationship.  DRAMA.

Beware crossroads demons...they like to kiss.

When something this jarring happens, you can go one of two ways.  Either you believe the person, thereby changing everything you've ingrained in yourself for years, or you can disbelieve a person and restart the same arguments you thought you had put to rest years ago when you refused to speak with the person ever again.  Believe, and change yourself, or disbelieve and get wrapped up in all that shit all over again.

I did neither.  I chose not to care.  I chose to accept the notion that I may never know the truth about that part of my life, and just be okay with it.  There's a point where you just get exhausted by hate.  And it's at that point, when there's nowhere left to go, that you just build your own damn street to drive on.  It's that kind of lucidity I want to bring to Briok and his relationships.  Ultimately, Briok's tale is a bildungsroman - a coming of age tale.  But a lot of syfy coming of age tales involve blatantly supernatural confrontations with evil.  It's really cool to read, and I'm guilty of lapping them up just as much as the next person.  But they aren't real, or relatable.  They're just cool.

This pedo clown monster came from Stephen King's mind.  Ya.  Swallow THAT.

What if there was a sci-fi/fantasy hero who dealt with evil not just on a supernatural scale, but on a very personal one too?  What if the true villains of this character's story weren't the evil aliens who want to kill him, but the untrustworthy friends who push him further and further towards bitterness and cynicism.  You and I, we aren't defined by our confrontations with Gollum, or the Dark Lord, or the happy-go-lucky best pals we can sometimes cross paths with.  We're defined by how we deal with bad things happening to us, and whether or not we came out of those situations whole.  No matter the genre, our shitty relationships with people (and yes, our great ones too) should be reflected in literature.  And not in the creepy, pseudo-pedophile way Stephen King does it.  Here's the weekly excerpt:
            “What are you talking about?”
            “What do you mean what am I talking about?  It’s a great idea!”
            Briok sat in his seat, gawking at Proteus.  For his part, Proteus had a crooked grin plastered to his face in an attempt to convince Briok.  “Water?  I’ve been playing football and violin all my life.  What makes you think I’m going to suddenly change everything and do Water?”
            “You’re not going to be changing everything.  You’ve got the body for it!  Besides, what else are you going to do with your free time?  Young prince lessons?”  Proteus turned to Carma, who was busy flirting with Evron Tennyson from afar.
            Proteus rolled his eyes in disgust, “Will you stop eye-raping him and help me out here.”
            She turned around scowling, “What?  He doesn’t want to play, leave him alone.  Besides, I don’t see why he shouldn’t keep doing violin.  You’re really good at it Briok.”
Until next time then.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Hello Reader!  Welcome to the first of multiple blogposts on world-building.  What is world-building?  Click that link and you'll find out.  But a quick and dirty summary of the concept, is that sometimes in Syfy literature you've got such fantastical concepts that they wouldn't fit into the already present world around us.  So you have to build a whole new world around your concepts, justifying them, explaining them, giving them context so that the reader can feel immersed in your story.  And so you don't look like a damned fool for putting proton cannons in the 18th century.  Even if it's a really cool idea that the Revolutionary War was fought with laser guns.

George Washington vs Zombies, a movie I'd pay to see.

What's the essence of world-building?  In fantasy, there are certain rules to world-building that you can't really break.  Science and technology are scarce.  Men must have beards.  If they don't, they're either smarmy weasels or elves.  And swords have to be ubiquitous.  If you can, name them.  In science fiction, you've also got a set of rules.  Don't go outside the realm of science, otherwise you'll look really foolish.  You don't have to include aliens, but if you don't have them, have something scarier to take their place.  And set your story in the future, please.

These rules aren't followed all of the time, but if you pay attention you'll see them in full effect in almost every single Syfy story.  Why?  Who knows.  They'are archaic and extremely limiting.  I took a Screenplay class my last quarter in school, and it was very enlightening for several reasons.  But it was also extremely restrictive.  When going over my plot and my story - for that class I decided to adapt my novel into a screenplay - the TA of the class decided that I could not have the world that I had built.  It would simply be impossible to sell to an audience, much less producers who would be buying my work.

Sometimes I want to punch Syfy authors in the face.

In the year 3096, on Earth, you would expect a post-apocalyptic society that's torn apart by perpetual struggles for resources and plagued by disease.  Or a utopian civilization hellbent on keeping a lid on just how screwed up everything's become.  Neither idea is very appealing for a story, and not just because both are excruciatingly cliche.  They are also really unrealistic.  How many times did people like Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley warn us of our impending doom?  And it didn't happen.  Look at the Cold War.  Everyday, Americans were told that they could be blown off the face of the planet.  And it didn't happen.  Because it works, and it sells, Syfy authors give very little credit to humanity.

But look at us.  We've survived plagues, we've survived genocides, we've survived famine and wars and bloodshed and nuclear crises.  We are a hardy bunch, worse than cockroaches and more resilient than we expect.  So what if we did end up in a apocalyptic war against invading aliens who have superior technology, strength and numbers to us.  And instead of being utterly destroyed, we end up in a détente.  The aliens, their plans and reasoning unknown to us, get a portion of humanity's land and in exchange they lay off the whole command and conquer bit.  So now, instead of a really droll and overdone plot about humanity FIGHTING BACK, you can have something far more nuanced and interesting: humanity struggling with peace.

I've basically revealed the bare bones of the world in my novel.  The wrathful Howlas invaded Earth around 2020, inciting a war that was only eventually stopped by the Decadent - the frightening use of a dozen well-placed H-bombs near the planets atmosphere, setting off a chain reaction that decimated the Howlas' forces.  Over the course of the next one thousand or so years, the Howlas and humanity's allies (Nymphs, and sometimes the Hyths) would clash with each other.  Halfway through that period, the Mags enter the fray, coming out of hiding to fight their ancient enemies the Howlas.  It all ends in the Fourth World War when the Howlas, the Mags, Humans and Nymphs all come to a stalemate.  From there on out it's an uneasy peace for 26 years, which is where the novel starts.

Now that's a world I'm interested in, and not just because I wrote it.  Seriously.  How does society function, when you've got a thousand years worth of cross-species intermingling going on?  Where do the basic functions of society like money, culture, holiday celebrations, education go from there?  How is segregation dealt with?  How is language dealt with?

Can humans and aliens fall in love?  Without the gross implications of alien sex?

I guess a really immediate way to relate to this kind of world is to look at Mass Effect.  Yes, the video game does have some elements of the whole "aliens are way better than humans and we're all just shitty shitheads who can't do shit", but overall it's a great portrayal of a society that has fully integrated - to the best of its ability - humans and aliens.  They have wars and they have drinks together.  They don't all speak the same languages, but they've all got the same problems - more or less.  So keep that in mind when you read the bit of world-building I try for here.  Let me know what you think in the comments!
            Residents of The Cliffs gathered along the enormous stone staircases and balconies, children flitting in and out of open apartment doors chasing each other with water pistols and handfuls of sand.  Each apartment was connected to the other through a complex web of tunnels that had been blasted into the stone.  Navigating them could take a lifetime, since very little technology was integrated into the city. 
            Laughter filled the air, one of the few times that the atmosphere was ever festive.  The Cliffs had been designed long ago as a welfare city for Atlantia, but the project had never been quite successful.  A din of music and various quartets vying for a simple coin or two to pay rent or worse mixed in with the general hustle and bustle.  Cars upon cars kept pulling up to the sandy sidewalks, dropping off families as the driver went off, looking for a half-decent spot to park, some of them yelling into cell phones, others yelling at the dog to stay in the car.
Branching off from the Speedway that ran throughout the country, a road led straight into a gorge bound by two cliff faces.  Etched into these monoliths were apartments and shops, an entire cityscape bustling with life.  The Cliffs, as the gorge was called, opened up onto a gorgeous harbor that was normally filled with small ships, rafts and surfers. 
            But today, the sandy shoreline was bursting with families rowdy teenagers who had come to see the Annual Water Exhibition held between Atlantia Upper School and its vicious rival Magna Boulevard Magnate.  The atmosphere was ferocious.  It was always warm in the Cliffs, as if the harbor was a trap for heat from the sun.  This seemed to elevate the tension that was already high between the rival teams, with even their mascots – a shark for Atlantia and a lion for Magna Boulevard – coming to blows.
Is the length too long?  I'm trying out this new thing where I end each blogpost with an excerpt.  Let me know in the comments!  Until Next Time Then!