Tony’s Thinking…Watch your language

I once saw a quote that said, “Every age has a language of its own”, and that’s especially true of YA writing. Writing contemporary YA has a peculiar wrinkle to it that I think is unique in any genre: slang.

What about, for instance, the evolution of the word gay.

Happy? Homosexual?

Or by dipping into the wonderful Urban Dictionary, you also come up with “…hilariously immature way of calling something bad.”

So let’s try bad.

Evil? Not good?

How about, “describes someone sexy”

See what I mean?

The words you put into your characters mouths to make them sound contemporary and up to date will do exactly the opposite in a few years time. Are there a lot of YA readers out there who still think something is groovy? Any of them say, Swell, daddy-o?

No. Didn’t think so.

And presumably, you want your story to be around for a while before you retire it to the Great Kindle in the Sky. You don’t want to cause a riot of laughter when your characters are trying to do something serious.

The only exception I can see to this rule seems to be the word cool, which has been around since the 1950s and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Steer clear of the latest celebrities as well. Stay away from saying Someone Bent it like Beckham, or Had a Kardashian. (Being a Star Trek fan, I think you’re talking about are the lizard guys with the spoon rests on their heads – the Cardassians – anyway.)

One of my hobbies is reading Victorian literature – Dickens and Wilkie Collins for instance, and the references they drop in to contemporary characters all need a footnote now.

Think about that for a minute…If you write, ‘Oprah was on the tube’, (that’s a real example, by the way) in a hundred years from now, that’s going to have a little number after it and someone has to explain what you meant at the back of the book. You have to bounce someone out of your story while they figure out what you’re talking about.

And remember your characters voices are always going to be secondary to the story anyway. Show a reader how they act and interact, and their voices are going to be less important. I won’t care if they think something is bad because it’s sexy or gay because it’s bad.

An interesting way of getting round this problem is to invent your own slang and language – even make up your own celebrities. Have a character come up with the profanities as well. This worked so well in the Red Dwarf TV series, they could happily have a character say, ‘Oh Smeg! What the smeggin’ smeg’s he smeggin’ done?!’

Now that’s bad.

Mel’s Thinking…How important is proof-reading?

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Here’s a silly little something for your Wednesday (or ‘hump’ day, which I took completely the wrong way the first time I heard that phrase).

Whenever you find yourself pouring over your own writing, with your eyes blurring and wondering if all this detailed re-writing is worth it, just remember the mistakes people made below and steel yourself to the job at hand 🙂  

From Fortune Magazine via HumorMatters.com:

  1. “Finished eighth in my class of ten.”
  2. “Received a plague for Salesperson of the Year.”
  3. “Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave.”
  4. “Failed bar exam with relatively high grades.”
  5. “Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.”
  6. “It’s best for employers that I not work with people.”
  7. “Let’s meet, so you can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over my experience.”
  8. “I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse.”
  9. “You will want me to be Head Honcho in no time.”
  10. “I have become completely paranoid, trusting completely no one and  absolutely nothing.”
  11. “Personal interests: donating blood. Fourteen gallons so far.”
  12. “Marital status: often. Children: various.”
  13. “I am loyal to my employer at all costs..Please feel free to respond to my  resume on my office voice mail.”
  14. “Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chain  store.”

Read more at: http://jobmob.co.il/blog/funniest-resume-mistakes/#ixzz1yKBc2BAN

Thinking about Cassie…

Mel’s recent post on being surprised by your character

Mel Cusick-Jones

I’ve recently read a review of Hope’s Daughter on Goodreads (view it here) and it got me thinking – in a good way – don’t worry I’m not about to begin a rant about reviews and readers! Instead I was thinking that it’s really interesting to see how readers view your characters once you’ve created them, bundled them into a book and then sent them off into the world. The lady who reviewed Hope’s Daughter wasn’t really sure of what to make of Cassie at the beginning of the book and I’d agree with that – Cassie is rather confused and has plenty of self-doubt to contend with early on 🙂 who doesn’t at that age?

What I found most interesting was that the reviewer found Cassie more interesting once she got onto her placement and began to interact with Balik. I’m not sure whether I intentionally wrote it to work in…

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30 Days of Hunger Games…Inspiring Fans

I’m sure most authors and readers are familiar with fan fiction, where readers who love a particular book, author or characters develop their own stories based around them. I’ve read some great fan fiction from Harry Potter to Twilight – people really commit and invest serious time and effort to producing their writing. Like every publishing phenomenon The Hunger Games has spawned its own versions of fan creativity, from artwork to writing, videos to music. Some of the most interesting pieces I’ve come across are posted here for your enjoyment 🙂

Fan Art

Fan Fiction.net   The Girl on Fire   Hunger Games Fan Fiction

You might also like author Mel Cusick-Jones’ dabble in fan fiction, posted on the blog as part of our

30 Days of Hunger Games event features: Prim’s Diary and Peeta’s Reaping Day

30 Days of Hunger Games…Our own Capitol

So…when The Hunger Games was our Book of the Month in January, one of our regular contributors, Em, didn’t get chance to post her review before the end of the month and so now – as part of 30 Days of Hunger Games – her thoughts finally make it to the blog…

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Like many of you, I didn’t just read the Hunger Games trilogy, I devoured it! When I had to put the books down to do mundane things such as going to work or sleeping, I was left wondering what would happen next, how would it all turn out, who would Katniss choose and so on and so on.

Then, when the final page had been turned I was left with that satisfied but sad feeling I often have when I’ve finished a set of books that I love, knowing that there isn’t another one to look forward to….until I remember that the film is coming out shortly, so that should appease me for a while!

However, unexpectedly, I was also left with a new set of questions.

Not ‘what next’, and ‘how will it end’, but some rather broader questions, the most worrying of which was this;

In the Hunger Games world……who are we?

Of course, we all want to be Katniss, Gale, Peeta, Finnick (Oh – I loved Finnick!)….the heroes of the piece, the protagonists, the ones we have followed, cheered for, cried with, grieved for and celebrated with throughout the books. But the Hunger Games, like so many other modern books, whether intentionally or otherwise, poses much greater moral and social questions than we may realise at first glance.

As was no doubt the intention, I was repulsed and amused by the people of the Capitol – their selfish shallow attitudes, their materialistic focus, their utter indifference to the suffering of the people in the districts who fed, clothed, served and provided for them, so long as their needs were met. And yet, on closer reflection, how are we as a society so different? In the ‘developed’ world, we take a lot for granted – that there will be food on the shelves, petrol for our cars, products in our shops – we live in a world of plenty….and how much thought do we give to where these things come from? For many years we have exploited the workers of less developed countries and societies in order to keep up our supply of things we don’t need, and luxuries that most of them could never hope to have.

Obviously we as a society haven’t a Hunger Games to convict us as the repellent creatures we see in the novels – that kind of voyeuristic bloodlust is thankfully not tolerated in our society…at least to that extent! But how many of us see the warring, the starving, the struggling on the television, and turn a negligent eye to it….as long as we are ok, it seems very far removed.

Whilst we all want to aspire to and empathise with the heroes of the piece, how many of us felt any empathy for the people of the Capitol? Very few I would expect, and rightly so – their portrayal as weak, petty, frivolous beings doesn’t inspire empathy….but maybe, just maybe, it should inspire a little self- reflection, and the need to be a little more aware of what is going on outside the walls of our own ‘Capitol’.

Mel’s Thinking…It’s Not That Easy Talking About Yourself

“Are you animal — vegetable — or mineral?” the lion asked Alice.
Who am I? It probably sounds like a weird question, but as soon as you start doing interviews or telling people about yourself and why you wrote a book, it definitely needs some thought. And it’s not that easy to answer.
I’m sure potential readers don’t want to know that I prefer dogs to cats, drink tea not coffee, can tidy but not clean…or maybe they do? Perhaps it would give some perfect insight into my writing. Then I have to decide on whether to go with *serious face* professional author interview or something lighter…am I funny, or is that only in my own head?
You can see from the number of questions I have – I’m really not sure who I am when it comes to writing about myself. I think everyone has so many personality facets it’s hard to decide which ones are relevant when you’re asked to write about yourself. It gets even harder when you’re used to focusing on what characters do and how they behave, rather than yourself. I’m sure of my characters, less so of myself it seems.
Is it just me – or do other authors find this pretty hard too?

Just Finished…Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

It’s taken me a while to put ‘fingers to laptop’ (somehow doesn’t sound as good as ‘pen to paper’ does it?) on this book, partly because I’ve found it difficult to separate my thoughts on the story in itself from the split reaction Beautiful Disaster has had among other reviewers (very few people give it a middle-of-the-road rating  – it’s a love it or hate it book it would seem).

Firstly – the story – the characters are certainly YA, although I would honestly characterise them as ‘older YA’ – they are not 19 year-olds in the Bella Swan mould, but pretty ‘real’ from a drinking, partying, first-time-away-from-home, frequently reckless side of things. This is why the synopsis features a clear indication of suitable audience (it did when I purchased for Kindle at least).

Abby and Travis are certainly not perfect individuals – and at times border on having some serious personal flaws – however, (aside from being a fighter for money [Travis] and poker player supremo [Abby]) they are reasonably realistic in their behaviour: they behave quite randomly in their relationship, antagonising each other one minute, then in perfect bliss and harmony the next. I certainly saw a number of similar ‘car crash’ couples like this during my late teens and early twenties, who would veer from one end of the spectrum to another with seemingly endless frequency. Some people will never experience this, or will do it to a lesser degree, then ‘grow out of it’. There are others still who will remain in couplings like these where volatility appear to be the basis of attraction and even the relationship itself.

Abby and Travis quite often lack self-awareness and this drives many of their misunderstandings and subsequent conflicts. But this for me, felt realistic. When you’re really learning about yourself for the first time and what it is like to be away from family influences and your past you do some weird things – that’s because it’s all new. You decide something because it seems like the best thing to do – maybe you think that’s how ‘grown-ups’ behave, or you saw it on TV and want to emulate that behaviour in your own life as you begin to understand where your own morals lie. You certainly get lots of things wrong, but that is the whole point – it’s a time to make mistakes and the right choices, but there’ll always be a mixture of the two.

So for a book rating I’d say 3.75/5 – I enjoyed reading it, got through it quickly and I engaged with the characters. Overall – the book flows well, the dialogue is quick and the dramatic episodes are fun. As a YA romance/coming of age book it works. Yes there are some spelling issues (latter half of the book) but you can see for the majority of readers that doesn’t bother them. The plot is a rollercoaster ride with Abby and Travis veering from one experience to another as they work out who they are and what they want – I liked the uni life and parties the best. The Vegas episode was fine, but it didn’t especially add to the story for me, but I can also see why it was there. Travis and Abby are ‘big’ characters and so you get some spectacular fireworks around them – which you’ll know from other reviews is probably one of the most divisive features for reviewers.

So…the reaction of readers…I’ve read a lot of the reviews on Goodreads before I decided to read this book – I found it interesting how clear the split was: love it (majority), hate it (few, but with a passion it seems). Because of the negative reviews I was quite wary of tackling Beautiful Disaster – I expected incessant misogyny and violence with a dippy female focal point. I did not see it that way.

Travis undoubtedly has some very odd ideas about ladies – but as you are shown throughout the book, the female characters choose the paths they take, they might not always like the end results (perhaps being shown the door after a one night stand without having your number asked for…) but they chose the path nonetheless. I don’t want to get too deep into this – but I do think that ultimately feminism is about having freedom of choice – and the women in Beautiful Disaster have this – they don’t always make the most prudent choices, but they have that ability. As a character Travis begins to see women in a different way, because Abby behaves differently. Things begin clearly black and white, but end up being confusingly – but realistically – grey.

The reality of life is that you cannot change the way a person views the world – someone like Travis perhaps – by telling them to do something. Most people learn through their experiences. We might moderate our behaviour for right and wrong, but it doesn’t always mean that we believe in how we behave.

In the book girls frequently put themselves in a particular role and subsequently get judged on how they’ve behaved. Is it ‘right’ that girls are referred to as skanks, sluts, bitches, etc.? No, it isn’t ‘right’, but it is REAL. Look around at the girl-on-girl bullying and the insults used; look at how girls divide themselves between groups and friends and how we talk about each other. Look at how women are portrayed in the media, in film and in music. It happens and it happens all the time. On several occasions in Beautiful Disaster a character criticises another for using that kind of language, demonstrating that it is not acceptable. It still comes up though, because in reality it comes up every day.

You also see that in a role-reversal Travis suffers for his ‘man whore’ label. There is a whole load of baggage that goes with his escapades; a perception that other guys have of him and it frequently derails his early relationship with Abby. How much of the Travis you hear about is real and how much an embellishment? Compare the man you see 1:1 with Abby and his close friends and the Travis that other people see and she hears about?

The violence is another area people seem to have issue with. Beautiful Disaster takes this into quite a lot of detail, because it forms a picture of who Travis is. What book staring an underground fighting ring champion wouldn’t be violent? Me personally – would I date him? Not at all – I don’t do volatile people really and pounding on people’s faces when you don’t agree with them is reasonably out of control from my perspective. Do I like those aspects of his character – again, not really. But if Abby chooses that kind of guy – with all the associated risks and drama, then that’s her choice.

For me the most interesting thing about Beautiful Disaster isn’t the events but the characters. Travis and Abby are both flawed, which makes their behaviour unpredictable. The book is about the flaws and the impact they have on life. Writing a story about these kind of characters is what makes this book different: Travis is controversial because of his behaviour and the extreme lengths it runs to; something that may be hinted at in other YA books, but is taken and developed here. It is laid bare for you to examine. Is there much difference really between Edward Cullen fantasising about flinging Mike into a wall just for thinking about Bella in a way he deems inappropriate and Travis thumping someone in the lunchroom? The raw emotions and desires are there in many characters we deem acceptable, they just have more control.

I don’t think there is a right and wrong with this book – it all comes down to your reaction to the characters. I can see why some people really didn’t like them; I found them interesting more than likeable I suppose. Writing a story about someone who is controversial is something that many authors shy away from, perhaps because we lump together liking a book with liking the main people in it? Whatever the reason I think Beautiful Disaster is interesting for this reason. Difficult characters are something you see more often in ‘adult’ fiction than YA, which still leans towards standard goodie/baddie characters. I’d be interested to see what Travis’s perspective shows, (the book is currently being written I believe) – it might be deeper than people expect.

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On a connected note – Jamie McGuire, author of Beautiful Disaster and several other YA books – will be joining us on the blog in March (hopefully) with a guest post on why she chose to write about a controversial character. So if you’d like to know she has to say on the subject, look out for her post.

Mel’s Thinking…It’s Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

So…it’s that time of year again…Valentine’s Day. But do you love it or loathe it?

It is the one day a year that a cynic will tell you is aimed at charging people lots of money for poor quality food or near dead roses (they’re usually the same ones who tell you Christmas is too commercial) or gushy romantics will bore you to tears with cliche tales of true love.

Personally speaking I’m neither gushy nor cynical about Valentine’s Day, more mildly ambivalent really. Wow, with lukewarm sentiments like those you’d think I was completely heartless 🙂 but I think I must be a closet romantic. When you read a lot – especially YA books which tend to have some romantic element to them, often first love – you see the best parts of relationships. With a story about first love you see all the caution and fear and obsessing over every small detail – trust me, we all do it! And when they make that big jump and go for it? Well, we’re hooked aren’t we.

What’s the difference between love in ‘real life’ and what we read in our books? I believe that the core elements are exactly the same – magnetism, passion, friendship and trust – it’s just that in a novel it all comes in one big hit, whilst in real life it might begin that way but then other things happen to mellow it out so that you can actually consider living too!

So with that in mind – what’s a perfect Valentine’s Day? For me it goes one of two ways – if you’re with someone you care about, just do what you can to make it a special day and remind yourself why you love being with them – it doesn’t really need flowers and dinner, just each other. <- See I can do cheesy!

If not – why not grab a nice treat and settle down with one of your favourite couples and see them fall in love all over again? That sounds like a pretty good idea to me! If you’re stuck for ideas some of my favourites are Katniss and Peeta (in The Hunger Games or Mockingjay), Callum and Sephy (Noughts and Crosses) or Sookie and Eric (in Dead to the World). Of course I also love Cassie and Balik from Hope’s Daughter – but I would wouldn’t I? 😉