deborahjross: (Shield #1)
Baycon is my local science fiction convention. It's in San Jose and I'm an hour's drive up in the mountains, and it always seems to be me a good (not to mention thrifty) idea to commute from home. Actually, it's an excellent idea to sleep in my own bed, surrounded by my own cats, and have time every day to get some work done. (Of course, many writers, including myself, bring laptops or netbooks to conventions -- you'll find us in odd corners or up in our rooms when everyone else is partying, pounding out our daily quota of words.)

Commuting from home has its price. It eats up 1 1/2 - 2 hours from my day, and it means a fairly firm departure time and no alcohol. (Twisty mountain roads at night are not a good setting for excessive fatigue.) I've never been much of a party-goer, being (a) a morning person; (b) happily married; (c ) not at all interested in getting drunk. There are parties and then there are parties, however. I've made some wonderful connections, mostly at publisher's parties and early enough so actual conversation was possible. By commuting, I pretty much rule those out. And most concerts, some of which I'd really like to attend.

Speaking of connections, here's a mini report of yesterday, along with The Highlight Of The Day. I had 2 panels -- Women in SF (with Ann Wilkes, Sandra Saidak and Sarah Stegall) and YA Fiction: More Than Blanking-out the Sex (with newly-published YA author Ingrid Paulson, Sarah Stegall, editor Daniel Hope, and Irene Radford). Both had lovely moments and genuine give-and-take conversation. And good moderators. The first panel asked questions like: what is a strong woman character? What is strength? Is it easier for women to be masculine than for men to be feminine? Can we envision sfnal societies without gender bias? One of the first things we did on the YA panel was to dispel the notion that you can't have sex/sexual-thoughts/sexual-feelings in a YA novel. What's the difference between a YA novel and an adult novel with a teen character or protagonist? Will you lose sales if you depict your teen characters using four-letter words? How has literature for tweens/teens/college age kids changed? What's the effect of social media on how YA readers hear about books and how have the ways they're reading changed?

Now for the highlight. After my second panel, I sat down at one of the tables in the mezzanine, where fan tables are set up -- the area itself has tables and chairs and is a general hang-out place. One of the people from the audience, a bright and earnest young woman, was there, and we struck up a conversation. The topic quickly switched from the panel itself to writing and then became one of those magical interactions, a chance to pay forward for all the support and advice I've received over the years. She'd taken time off from her day job to concentrate on writing; I told her how I managed to write either when I had an infant at home or when I held a full-time job as a single working mom. What writing issues she was struggling with; some different ways of looking at them; what makes a good critique group and what she needs from her beta-readers (and how to connect with good critiquers). Books and blogs that have helped me. Connecting with a fellowship of writers.

It was the High Point for me because I love teaching and the conversation was exactly the right one at the right time. Yes, it's ego-boosting to meet hordes of fans (although I have yet to experience hordes) but it's in many ways far more satisfying to have these one-on-one talks where both people are fully present, there's a give-and-take, and I walk away with the certainty that it has been meaningful to both of us. I need to remember that I too was once a beginner trying to figure out this writing business. I've made my share of mistakes, but I've figured out what works for me and I've heard a lot of stories about what works for other people, too. We don't have to re-invent the wheel if we're willing to be generous with our knowledge.

Here's a possibility. See if it works for you.


I've heard it said that writing cannot be taught, but it can be learned. That learning does not have to occur in isolation. After all, when I encourage and educate a new writer, I contribute to there being more wonderful books for me to read!
deborahjross: (Shield #1)
Saturday did not begin auspiciously. The Nebula Awards hotel is in downtown San Jose, which is not noteworthy for the adequacy of its public parking. After visiting one full public lot after another and having various adventures which left the paint of my car considerably worse for wear, I surrendered to the inevitability of having to pay a significant fraction of the national debt in order to leave my car somewhere. However, with the sympathetic reception of my tale of aggravation, I determined to leave that particular episode safely ensconced in the past…at least until I have to get my car out of hock.

As a consequence, I caught only the last part of the SFWA Business Meeting, and I wouldn’t have been able to report on what transpired anyway, it being SFWA-Sekrit. However, during the discussion of pirate websites, a couple of points arose that bear repeating and are nonspecific enough that nobody is going to track me down for indiscretion. If your traditionally-published books appear on a pirate site, notify your publisher, who are, after all, adversely financially affected and often have the legal departments, etc., to deal with it. Also, some of these sites do not actually sell pirated copies of books – they are scams for collecting credit card numbers. This latter notion boggles the mind with its likelihood.

Fast forward through lunch and various conversations to the panel on Writing For Young Adults (with Leah Bobet, Sarah Beth Durst, Steven Gould, and E.C. Myers). Herewith my notes:
Read more... )
Don’t be boring (especially for kids). Write well if the subject matter is difficult, and make sure every element is there for a reason. This advice strikes me as being rue for all fiction.

E.C. and Steven were asked if they got any push-back for being male YA authors; the common perception is that YA assumes a female protagonist in the same way science fiction has in the past assumed a male protagonist. Writers have been told there is “no market for boy books with romance,” at which the audience snickered.

Regarding how much information to convey, kids are used to gaps in understanding and trust that eventually these gaps will be filled in. This seems to be one of the differences between YA and adult fiction, as adults already have an accumulation of knowledge and are less tolerant of the unexplained. “Expository burden” is the accumulation of unexplained material that the reader has to “carry’ through the book; before you load more on, resolve some by Making it Clear.

If your book has something controversial, make sure it’s not in the first few pages of the book, since these are the ones parents are apt to scrutinize to determine whether their child may buy/read the book.

Categories (like the division between YA and adult lit) change over time.

One of the challenges in YA is “getting the parents out of the way” in order to give the kid protagonists agency. Healthy, intact families are rare and hence, present both difficulties and rewards.

Notes on Writing The Other (with Saladin Ahmed, Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu, and Kim Stanley Robinson): Use primary sources whenever possible; be aware of the “thickness of filter” and immediacy that are often lacking in secondary sources. However, secondary sources can be valuable for providing context and explanation (i.e., of elements assumed/implied in primary sources).

If you’re writing about a literate (or oral but later recorded) culture, seek out poetry and memoirs as especially powerful portrayals. Find “a voice that’s not your own.”

Why is writing the other valuable – for the author? For the reader? Ken Liu pointed out that an outsider’s perspective can illuminate that of an insider, provided the power imbalances are not too great. Saladin Ahmed commented on the power of stories to counteract prevailing (hateful) stereotypes on an individual-reader, if not a broad societal level.

Aliette de Bodard discussed the dilemma of how much information to include. Overload leads to confusion vs “watering down a culture and selling it for parts.”

There is a tropism toward the fantastic and a desire for, not fear of, the other.

Ken Liu mentioned that class distinctions are important in the US but are not treated the same as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Related to the commonly held belief that we are an upwardly-mobile society?

Age is an “otherness,” not only from other people but from ourselves
deborahjross: (Default)
Over on the SFWA website, author Malinda Lo has put together an introduction to writing for middle grades and young adults. The first part is a general introduction and definitions. Here's what Amanda Rutter, editor at Strange Chemistry, the newly launched global YA imprint of UK-based Angry Robot Books, says:

“Middle grade is very much about the external, in my opinion. The protagonist reacts to external situations and events, which leads to adventurous stories, and there is little time spent in the characters’ heads. Think books like Percy Jackson and Skulduggery Pleasant. On the other hand, YA is often much more introspective, and the protagonist exerts their influence on the events in the novel. Think first person perspective and lots of use of the word ‘I’. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule!”

Those of you who write for these age groups, what do you think?
deborahjross: (blue hills)
Book View Cafe member Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so. It’s not on purpose, mind you – it seems her path involves overturning the apple cart, collecting new information & varieties of apple seed, and moving on. The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories.

“I’m interested in how people respond to unusual circumstances. Choice interests me.  What is the metaphor for power, for choice? In SF it tends to be technology (good, bad and balanced) while in Fantasy the metaphor is magic – who has it, who wants or does not want it, what is done with it, and who/what the person or culture is after the dust has settled. A second metaphor, both grace note and foundation, is the need for and art of healing." She adds, “A trope in fantasy is great power after passing through death. Well, at my crisis point, I didn’t die.  That means that I’m a wizard now.  Who knows what I may yet accomplish?”

What is the working title of your current book? Spirit Tracks

Where did the idea come from for the book? It's the third Alfreda novel, about how her family ships her off to fabled Cousin Esme's school for young wizards to get that pesky need for ritual magic under control.

What genre does your book fall under? It's dark fantasy for ages 8-108.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oh, that's hard. The actress who could have been Allie has grown up. Now? Who do you think? My friend Mike Moe could be Allie's father, and Claudia Christian could be her mother. Diane Lane could be Esme -- beautiful, professional, enigmatic, everything a wizard should be. Jodie Foster could play Marta, I think! And the Asian wizard in Spirit Tracks could have been George Takei in an earlier incarnation.


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A young wizard discovers that you can survive fantastic change.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Excellent question. Haven't decided if I will offer it to NYC or not. Will discuss with my agent after it's complete.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of this manuscript? It's not quite finished, and too long, ARGH!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Allie was unique when she came out -- if anything, Night Calls and Kindred Rites were "Little House on the Prairie with werewolves and vampires." Check out those two books -- if you like strong, grounded, very brave heroes, whose stories take place in an alternative early North America, Alfreda might be the teen for you.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? Jane Yolen talking about an anthology for young adults that she was opening for submissions. My subconscious sent me the image of Allie hanging a woven braid of garlic over an interior door. It was such a strong picture I thought I'd swiped it from somewhere.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It has magic, humor, sentient magical creatures, spirit guides, and a touch of romance. Oh -- and a cat decides that Allie belongs to HIM. We also get great food!

No matter how this book is going, I plan to get Night Calls and Kindred Rites into ebook next year. So progress is happening.

In the meantime? Fires of Nuala, the first of my SF series The Chronicles of Nuala is on sale at Book View Cafe, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The queen of thieves meets the mutant king, and the planet Nuala will never be the same again. Far future science fiction driven by character and culture.

You can reach all formats through Backlist eBooks.
deborahjross: (Default)
Read the Margins - Inventing the Asian American intellectual culture of tomorrow!

This gives me hope: "I absolutely did not set out to write a lesbian Cinderella. I thought it was going to be a straight story. And that’s probably because I have a lot of internalized heteronormativity in me. It didn’t occur to me that a lesbian Cinderella was even a possibility until my friend pointed out that the character really didn’t like the prince, that she liked this other character, who happened to be female. The realization that the main character liked another woman was extremely shocking to me. ... I didn’t think anyone would want to read a lesbian Cinderella. Luckily, I happened to be wrong. My experiences with Ash have made me much more confident in writing queer characters and saying, who cares that the majority expects characters to be straight? And it’s much easier now for me to do it."
deborahjross: (Default)
Hooray! My review of Marissa Meyer's CINDER is up - on the LA TIMES OF BOOKS!!!!!

http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?type=&id=752&fulltext=1&media=
deborahjross: (Default)
Here's my friend Cecil, who I met at Launch Pad 2011 Astronomy Workshop, talking about writing YA.

deborahjross: (halidragon)
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija, I have received my dystopic YA novel concept from the random generator here:

Twitch: Heterosexuality has been banned and the government controls sex.

What do you think? Should I write it?
deborahjross: (Default)
Literary agent Janet Reid on why she refuses to apologize or feel like a second-class person for reading, representing and selling YA books. She comes up with a great list of the reasons so many of us think YA books are important and why we love them:

Cause in the world I live in, kids are people too, and reading this kind of "crap" is how they learn to be people in the real world.

Cause YA is about kids learning that bad stuff can happen to good people. If something bad happens to you, it's not cause you ARE bad.

Cause YA is about kids learning to be brave.

Cause YA is about kids learning to affect their own lives, not just be affected.

Cause YA is about kids failing, and not giving up.

Cause YA is about being able to read about fearsome frightening things, and come out on the other side unscathed.

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Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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