Friday, October 28, 2011

Does YA Give You Body Dysmorphia

I recently finished a YA contemporary novel, a well-written coming-of-age story about a girl standing up for what she believes in and finding out who she is. I enjoyed the book, but the part that bugged me was her love interest: the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, preppy, built, cute boy. The most generic 'boy' stereotype across all media. And the girl protagonists in these stories usually believe they're dull-looking, yet still manage to attract the attention of the cute boy.

Why are these characters always so good-looking?

Our culture has a serious body image problem with no cure in sight. TV, movies, and magazines inundate us with impossible standards for male and female beauty: blonde, skinny, six packs, big boobs, long legs, no body hair, chiseled chin, etc. Women have it 100X worse than guys. In Hollywood, guys like Seth Rogen, Kevin James, and Woody Allen wind up with women like Katherine Heigl, Amber Valetta, and Diane Keaton. Guys can be schlubs, but women must always be stunning. Men have it rough, too. Every female-targeted romcom has the women ending up with some lockjawed, ripped dude. This has been going on forever. I know that. But why are books, especially YA novels, embracing these stereotypes, too?

TV and movies are visual media. They use hot actors to attract paying customers. Books don't need to use that trick. Readers don't pick up a book (with the exception of romance novels) because it's about attractive people. And if they start reading the book and find the main character isn't gorgeous, they don't automatically put it down. Teenagers are particularly insecure about their looks. I spent way too much time on my hair in high school; no wonder half of it's fallen out! Teens are bombarded all day by images of supposedly ideal body types. Why do we perpetuate those body types in YA books? Not all girls are attracted to the hot/dreamy guy, and not all guys are into the Heidi Montag look. If that were the case, then only supermodels would date. People have different ideas of what they find attractive. We should strive to write characters that have physical quirks to them - like actual teens. Let's not try to recreate a CW show. I'm sure readers will love your book even if the boy of your MC's dreams has unruly hair or a bony chest. And guy readers won't throw a book across the room if the girl love interest has blemishes or love handles. Don't save all odd body features for your side characters. I worry that many female protagonists in YA novels suffer from Laney Boggs syndrome: they think they're so ugly when it's glaringly obvious to the reader/whole world that they are total knockouts.
In Tina Fey's book Bossypants, she said that most successful shows centered around normal-looking, even slightly unattractive, casts. Friends was the exception. The casts of Cheers, The Office, Seinfeld, 30 Rock, and CSI among others are not filled with models. Whereas how many series with sexy casts got canceled?  *cough*Coupling*cough*

Believe it or not, there have been successful books with protagonists who don't fit the beauty mold. Skeeter Phelan of The Help was tall, lanky, flat-chested, and had embarrassingly frizzy hair. Katniss Everdeen had few discernible female features. She was kind of described as looking like Sandra Bullock in the first half of Miss Congeniality. Even down to the hairy legs. I know that readers love pining after the same guy/girl as the MC; that's part of the fun of reading a book. But you don't have to make them generically attractive. Create your own form of sexy. Leave the generic body types to Hollywood.

What do you think, readers? Is there a body image problem in YA?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Social Media Overload

Recently, Google+ opened the floodgates officially and now everyone can join yet another social media site. For months, I've seen other bloggers talking about Google+, putting the link in their sidebar, etc. A co-worker tried to sign me up for Google+ over the summer. I asked her why should I sign up for G+ over Facebook. "G+ is awesome. You can put people in circles." That wasn't reason enough for me. I told her plain and simple that I would only sign up for G+ if all of my friends left Facebook and joined. I'm such a trailblazer! I have nothing against G+, but I don't have the time or energy to join ANOTHER social media site. I'm already on Facebook and Twitter, and that feels like more than enough.

Agents love talking about platforms and social media presence. The quality of your writing is first and foremost, but online prowess is not far behind. I worry about this because I have limited mental bandwidth for the internet. I'm on Facebook and Twitter, but I don't use them religiously. I have a blog and blog friends, and try to post and comment regularly. To add Google+ to this list is daunting to me. What can G+ bring to the table that those other sites can't? I don't want to be overconnected. I can't be everywhere. I just have to admit to myself that I'll never be a social media maven. Will that make me less desirable to agents and publishers?

For all the authors who have a strong web presence like John Green and Brent Hartinger, there are plenty who don't who've sold lots of books. YA authors need to be online in some capacity, I think, since that's where their audience is. What do you think is the bare minimum of social media that authors should utilize?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Didn't You Know - All Professional Writers NaNoWriMo

Hello readers! I hope you had a great week! Last weekend, Sarah at Empty White Pages and I did another weekend writing challenge - Columbus Day edition, this time for 10k words. And we both did it! I was completely drained by Monday night, but I'm now 2/3 the way to my writing goal. I may actually hit that mark by Halloween, which a month ago I never would've thought possible. This was the second weekend writing challenge I completed in as many months, and something tells me it won't be the last.

But of course, the writing challenge that all writers are eagerly awaiting is NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Bloggers are already buzzing about the event, preparing their outlines, resting their hands. This year, I won't be participating since I'm knee deep in my current WIP, though I may crash some write-ins.

Many writers view NaNo as a fun exercise, a once-a-year excuse to write like a maniac. However, NaNo is more applicable to being a professional writer than they realize. Produced/published writers need to write fast. They must follow the golden rule of NaNo: always hit your deadline.

The best example of this are TV writers. They are constantly writing because they have X number of episodes that will air. It doesn't matter if they fall behind or get writer's block. Something HAS to air in that timeslot. You need to feed the beast. Last Sunday, I watched this special called South Park: 6 Days to Air. It went behind the scenes of making an episode of South Park. The staff had 6 days until their episode was set to air, and they had no idea what the show would be. It didn't matter. They had to meet that deadline. No excuses. So in 6 days, the writers brainstormed an idea, plotted it out, wrote the script, animated it, voiced it, revised, and combined it all together into a 30-minute episode.

Writers on sitcoms and dramas also must churn out scripts in a few weeks. When I worked in a writer's office for an hourlong drama years ago, the writers had fallen behind with their writing schedule. They'd hit plot roadblocks that took up more time solving than they anticipated. Could they push back the airdates of the episodes? NO. By the end, they were writing 60-page scripts in days. And you thought having a month to write wasn't enough time?

Screenwriters for movies have more time to write, but if studios are waiting for a draft, then they have to write. It's been said that John Hughes wrote Weird Science in two days and The Breakfast Club in three days. Joe Eszterhas wrote Basic Instinct in three days. Kevin Williamson churned out the script for Scream in less than a week. Lots of screenwriters have the luxury to take months or years to write their script, but they are usually not getting paid for it. They write their scripts on spec, and then hope to sell it, just like authors.

And just like authors, once somebody is paying you for your work, they will always impose deadlines. Publisher, movie studio, TV network. Publishers won't wait forever for revisions. As a first-time author, you want to impress them by meeting your deadline. Even for writers who self-publish, they have deadlines, too, set by their readers. Readers devour e-books rapidly, and they always want the next book now. Amanda Hocking famously sold a kajillion e-books in a year, but she put out nine in that span. If she had just written one, then taken a year to write her next novel, sales would have dropped.

So remember when it's November 28th, and you're only at 34,000 words, and you're thinking of throwing in the towel, keep on writing! Don't stop. Think of it as practice on your way to being a  published author. Anyone who pays you will always set a deadline, so get used to it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Young Adult trailer!

For those who don't follow movies obsessively like I do, Paramount is releasing a movie called Young Adult this December about a YA writer who hasn't grown out of her bratty teenage phase. She goes back to her hometown in the hopes of winning back her old high school boyfriend - who's now a husband and father. The movie has great auspices: Charlize Theron, Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman. But I'm not sold on it yet. Diablo Cody is currently scripting a movie version of Sweet Valley High, and I think that's where her perception of YA literature is coming from. I don't think she has any idea how much YA lit has developed since then. I still remain hopeful. Reitman has not directed a bad film yet (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air).

What do you think?

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In other news, my writer's group read the first 6 chapters of my WIP and loved them! I've never gotten such a positive response from them. It was the inspiration I needed to continue plugging along with the second half of my book. Woohoo!

New Years Resolutions

Last week, I was home in NJ celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) with my family. September feels more like the start of a new year than January. School's starting up, new TV shows are premiering, the Oscar season is beginning, summer's over. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated the exact opposite way of New Year's Eve: no partying, no drinking, and all the action happens during the day in temple. Because the holiday falls so closely to my birthday, it gives me added reason to reflect on what I've done this past year. Another year gone by, and what progress have I made? 

I have made significant strides professionally and personally, but with writing, I feel like I'm in the same place I was a year ago. Each year, I keep saying things will be different. This year, I want to mean it. I realized that my big issue was not following through, not seeing my WIPs through multiple drafts. And this year, I intend to change that. I am currently working on manuscript #3. Will this be the one that lands me an agent and/or book deal? Who knows. But this will be the one that I keep revising and will eventually query. I'm not fixated on what the responses will be. I just want to get to that point already. I've read lots of author stories about writers querying too soon. But there are some of us that wait too long, crippled by doubt. This year, I will get over my fear of rejection and just send the darn thing out. And if it's a pile of rejections, then so be it. At least I'm in the game.

I am currently halfway through my WIP. Sadly, it seems that I will not participate in Nanowrimo this year. I'll just be finishing my first draft by November. Nano and I are just not meant to be. Which is a shame because I've always been so excited by it. So maybe this year, I'll sneak into a writing session.

Are any of you participating in Nanowrimo? Have any writing resolutions?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I'm Back! With Books!

It's like I fell off the face of the earth or something! I have not blogged in two weeks, and truth be told, I haven't even checked my blog in a few days. *Hangs head in shame* I missed the Second Challenge from Rach Writes and have missed out on tons of your great blog posts. To the writers in my group, I apologize for not checking out anyone's stories and not participating. For the past week, I've been home in Jersey visiting family and friends and celebrating Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish new year, which I will write about in another blog post.

While I was home, I visited a friend up in Boston for the day. We went to a book sale her library was having. But this was not just a little shelf on wheels with some 1980s pop fiction on it. This was a mega sale. Thousands of popular books on sale for twenty-five and fifty cents apiece. Or a whole shopping bag of books for $8. The library didn't open until 1pm, and there was already a mob waiting at the front doors by 12:45. It was like Wal-Mart on Black Friday. It was a great feeling, seeing people still excited about books. I said I was only going to get a book for the bus ride home, but I wound up with much more! I absolutely have no self-control around discounted books. My friend nearly cleaned out the children's and YA section, and is creating a library at her church's youth center. Here are the books that I gorged on and lugged back to Chicago. My suitcase came to 48 pounds!

A suitcase (half) full of books!

I was supposed to get a kindle this month, but obviously that's not happening. I've been hesitant to make the purchase, not because I'm such a fan of physical books, which I am. But a majority of books I read are taken directly from the bookshelves of friends. I love borrowing books and recommending mine to others. With a kindle, you can't do that, at least from what I've heard. When I go over someone's house, one of the first things I do is peruse his/her bookcase. I take pride in my bookcase, too. A bunch of the books I bought I've already read and thoroughly enjoyed, but I never owned a copy. Now I can reread and lend out my favorites. I will probably get a kindle sometime in the future - they're easier to read on a crowded subway car. You only need one hand! But for now, between these books and the ones I bought at Borders before they closed, I am set.

What about you readers? Kindle or Physical books? And do any of my books pique your interest?