Thursday, June 20, 2013

Busy Behr

I often feel like instead of having right and left hemispheres of my brain, I have two personalities with very different agendas. My writing personality wants me to become one with my desk chair and write and write until my mind is quiet and I'm so exhausted that I can fall asleep and by the time I wake up, all of my query letters will be answered. (And since we're dreaming here, the answers would all be positive. Of course.)

My other personality is the one that is a normal human being with relationships and a home and a dog and a real life to attend to. Most of the time, Real Life Dani trumps Writing Dani, but sometimes, like this morning, Writing Dani wins. I woke up today and even though I have a list of things to do on my calendar, I just had to sit down and re-write a chapter. I'm in the process of converting Safira's story from third to first person - a HUGE endeavor, especially since I don't have one but THREE first-person narrators. I got through most of my chapter this morning and had so much fun, but this is the first time in over a week that I've worked on my book. Here are some of the things I've been up to:

A few weeks ago was my birthday. My sister was in town at the time, which was really one of the best gifts I could have gotten. Also while she was here, we went to Santa Cruz Island, one of the Channel Islands where my book takes place. I've been to Anacapa Island before and wrote about it here. Santa Cruz was so much better, though, because we actually got off the boat and roamed around the island for a few hours. You would not believe the views from there. Those islands will forever be one of my favorite places in the world, matched only by Monterey and Big Sur, which are just across the water on the coastline the islands face.

Derek gave me some coral charm peonies for my birthday - my favorites - plus he got me a really unique gift. You see, there are these parrots that live in Pasadena. They're the farthest thing from native. In fact, there isn't even consensus on where they came from. It is bizarre to be walking the dog and sometimes see bright green parrots flying and squawking overhead. The best theory is that the birds are a hybrid species created by a group of tropical birds that were released into the wild after a local zoo closed in the early 20th century. The point is, I love them. They're adorable and strange and I feel happy whenever I see them. So Derek found an artist on Etsy who makes needle-felted birds. Derek sent photos of the parrots to the artist - in England - and she custom made me a Pasadena parrot, which Derek gave me for my birthday.


On the housing front, I ripped out a crappy linen closet in the downstairs bathroom and then painted the whole thing a deep ocean blue. I'm also re-painting the handrails on our two staircases. The rails themselves were a dirty beige color and the bars supporting them were shiny black - ech! I painted the railings a crisp white enamel - so they won't chip and will clean up easily - and the bars a dark gray called Dragon's Breath. And finally, we got back a piece of art that we left at a local shop to get framed over a month ago. It's a letterpress map of the Channel Islands - you can at least pretend to be surprised - and it is glorious. The fireplace is now my proudest corner of our house.

And finally, last weekend my sister and I flew from opposite sides of the country home to Michigan to surprise our mother. My parents have been married for 35 years now and my dad decided not only to throw a huge party, but to make it a surprise for my mom. I panicked like crazy before surprising my mom, but I was actually calm during the party and had a lovely time.

*holds up mug of coffee*
A social life is good, but here's to a long summer in which Writing Dani wins most days.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Feminism is for Everyone

This post is about strides forward for feminism, but I really meant the title of this post when I wrote it. It boggles my mind when men are critical of feminists not just because those men usually have no idea what feminism is about (if you don't know: it's about women having the right and the freedom to make their own choices), they are also oblivious to the fact that feminism benefits them. Feminism benefits everyone because it's about tearing down gender stereotypes and expectations and freeing people up to be whoever they want to be. If you're a guy and you dislike the fact that most women expect you to hold open the door for them, feminism is for you. If you're a guy who dislikes the expectation that you play and enjoy watching sports, feminism is for you. If you're a guy who gets mocked for being too feminine for any reason at all, feminism is for you.

Feminism is for everyone. It destroys nothing but cruelty and oppression. If you want to be a classically masculine man, feminists won't stop or mock you. One of the manliest characters I know is Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec. Not only do a lot of feminists like him - including moi - he himself is a feminist! It's actually more difficult to be a classically feminine woman in a world where feminists are making progress than a classically masculine man. Some feminists judge women who like to cook and clean and wear high heels and change their last names and have babies and be homemakers. But that's wrong because feminism is about choice and as long as women are the ones who are deciding what to do with their lives, it shouldn't matter to anyone else what they choose.

I have been happy to see that 2013 has so far been a good year for feminists, especially in regards to publishing. I can't say I've seen a whole lot of change, but I've heard a lot of good conversation, and that's the first step. Below are two of the wonderfully hopeful things I've read lately. Maureen Johnson's article in particular made me feel like I could hang up my feminist shoes because she's got everything under control. (I didn't hang up my shoes, but it was wonderful to have that feeling.)

Maureen Johnson's grand experiment with gender and book covers

Delilah S. Dawson's blog post about sexism in sci-fi/fantasy publishing

Narrative Modes

I've been going kind of bonkers lately in regards Safira's story. A while ago, I decided to re-visit it because I read some things that made me think the market might be more ready for this story than it was a year ago. Of course, I didn't intend to query again without massive revisions. I read through the story and identified its weak points and the things I wanted to change. But before I actually start revising/re-writing, I need to make a decision:
Do I tell this story in first-person or third-person?
The internal debate regarding this issue prompted me to make a pros and cons chart. Ta-da:

The examples in the table are some of my favorite books and/or some of the books I've read most recently, i.e., I didn't think very hard about them. Of the examples, The Night Circus is the book whose structure I think would most naturally fit Safira's story. However, I've heard complaints from more than one reader that they found that book to be confusing because of the structure. Personally, I loved it because you got to see the action from the right angles at the right times, but the purpose of this debate is to make my book fit well within the market for which I'm writing it, and that's YA.

There are a few interesting things to note from my chart. One is that the examples of 3rd person multiple narratives I came up with are mostly adult SFF books. Actually, all of them are with the exception of His Dark Materials, and that series kind of defies classification.

It seems to have become a trend for some YA books to be written with two alternating 1st person narrators, e.g., Legend and Across the Universe. Ally Condie's latest work Reached - the last in the Matched series - even alternates between three narrators. I've been told many times that the preferred voice of YA is 1st person because teenagers like to relate intimately to the main character and they have difficulty juggling multiple perspectives. I've always had my doubts about the latter of those arguments, and the trend with multiple perspectives suggests either that teenagers are getting better at juggling multiple perspectives or, as I suspect, they were quite good at it all along.

Another trend I've noticed in YA literature is that many YA writers whose books are single first-person narratives have been writing novellas within the same world as their novels but from a different character's perspective. They often call these "Book 1.5 of the series". Here are just a few examples (images will take you to Barnes & Noble's website):


What this tells me is that either the author has a desire to switch perspectives to show the reader things they couldn't show from the original perspective, or that readers have a growing desire for this type of narrative. If these authors are writing novels and novellas that alternate between first-person perspectives, then what's wrong with just including multiple perspectives within the same book?

The crux of my fear is that the examples of alternating first-person perspectives I have given have almost all dealt with only two different characters' perspectives. However, Safira's story will require three at the very minimum, and I would like to write up to five. Granted, five isn't half as bad as Game of Thrones, but that book was written for adults, and I do think George R.R. Martin's tendency to have a dozen or more focal characters in one book would test the patience of many teenage readers.

Here are my options as far as I see them:
  1. Write in third-person and dance around between focal characters as much as I want, but sacrifice voice and intimacy with narrators.
  2. Write in first-person with five different narrators, a risky method for which there is no precedent in the YA market (that I know of).
  3. Condense my narrators' chapters into "Books" a la Breaking Dawn or The Mists of Avalon. It should be less confusing to remember who the narrator is if they only narrate once or twice within vast sections of the book instead of jumping around between chapters, but it might be difficult to create a good, linear narrative with this restriction.
  4. Cut out two of my focal characters and narrow it down to three first-person narrators - this is the absolute minimum for Safira's story because of simple geography. This method should make the book more palatable to the YA market, but while I wouldn't miss one of the narrators I would cut, I would really miss the second one because she's a hot mess and so much fun to write. However, among my beta readers, she was only perceived as a so-so character, and her portion of the story is small enough to narrate through one of the characters I would keep.
It's been good to write this post because I've managed to get all of my thoughts about this debate on one page. I've been going back and forth on this for days. My CP Poppy read two version of the same chapter written in different modes and she liked both. My husband Derek says all of my proposed modes would work and I just need to commit to one and start revising :-/

I'm going to keep thinking.