Books I’d Like to See—Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain

So this is my first time participating in the monthly Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain. I’ve followed this blog chain for a long time, but I’ve never actually written a post for it, because I’m lame like that. But now I’m finally participating, because this prompt is just too good to pass up. For the month of May, the prompt is:

What kinds of published books would you like to see more of?

1. More diverse books that aren’t “issue books”

A couple weeks ago, twitter was taken over by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks project. And it was very much needed and entirely inspiring and really freakin’ awesome. But when people started throwing around suggestions about diverse books, the titles seemed to have a similar theme–nearly all of them were “issue books” that focus on really serious problems in life. Homophobia, racism, religious intolerance, ect.

There’s nothing wrong with issue books. Actually, I love those types of books and feel they’re very much a necessary part of the YA genre. But when every single diverse book is an issue book, it suggests that being diverse is an issue. Which it’s not. Ignorant and intolerant people are the issue, not the diverse people themselves. So I’d like to see fewer books with Diverse Main Characters and more books with Main Characters in Cute or Mysterious or Magical Plots Who Just-So-Happen to be Diverse in Some Way or Another.

Let’s see a Frankenstein retelling with a snarky Asian MC who is always getting her geeky best friend in trouble. Or a Contemporary novel set in France, where a bi girl gets lost from her tour group and stumbles into a mystery involving ancient catacombs. Basically, I want books that incorporate diversity, but aren’t strictly about diversity.

2. More books that feature sick protags who don’t whine 24/7 and/or then die.

Okay, let’s just get this straight–there are a ton of teens out there with chronic illnesses. TONS. And yet they’re rarely represented in YA fiction, and when they do make appearances, they’re usually either annoyingly whiny or dead by the end of the book.

Personally, I have some chronic health issues, and I also have friends with serious medical problems. So I can tell you from experience that most of us don’t spend our entire lives crying and grumbling about our illnesses. We live life as normally as possible, and make the best out of bad situations. And a lot of us actually have a sense of humor about our health problems. For example:

  • When someone I know well asks me to do a physical chore–do the dishes, make dinner, ect.–I’ll say something like, “Oh, so you’re going to make the cripple do it?!” And it’s highly sarcastic and stupid, yet somehow funny.
  • I sometimes walk with this really weird gait because my brain hates me, and I sort of look like one of those peg-legged pirates from old films. So my brother now refers to my handicapped parking tag as “The Jolly Roger” and he talks in pirate-speak whenever we’re parking.
  • My brother and his best friend/my surrogate brother have the “Life Alert” commercials memorized. Those are the super cheesy commercials where old people trip over nothing and then start yelling, “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” My brother can quote those commercials like nobody’s business, and he doesn’t pass up the opportunity whenever I faint.
  • I could go on for a very long time, but I’ll spare you.

So moral of the story is that not all teens with medical problems are whiny. And we’re also not all about to drop dead any second– there are statistically more teens who are chronically ill rather than terminally ill. So it would be extremely logical for authors to feature MCs who are dealing with severe illnesses, but not obsessing over death. And it would also be extremely welcome, because I get tired of having to choose between books with healthy MCs and books with almost-dead MCs.

3. Mythological-inspired fiction not based on Greek myths.

I love Greek myths. Really, I adore them much more than I probably should. But there are also a ton of very interesting, very under-represented ancient cultures out there. Take the Mayans, for example. Their religion was incredibly dark. For example: Suicide was usually considered an honorable death in Maya culture, so they had this goddess named Ixtab who was a patron of suicidal people. Disturbing, right? But also interesting. There’s tons of fodder for novels buried in Maya mythology, and also in the mythologies of many other cultures outside of Greece. (And someone seriously needs to write a novel about Mithraism. I mean, an ancient Roman cult based on Persian beliefs, with underground temples and secret initiation processes? Someone write a book about this NOW.)

4. Novels based in Central/South America.

Like I mentioned in #3, there is so much interesting culture and history in these places, and the geography itself is fascinating. And yet very few YA books are set in Central/South America. It’s such a shame!

5. Non-romantic books.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance. But not everything in life revolves around getting the girl/guy, and I don’t want to be constantly reading about relationships. I’d love to see more books that feature main characters who either aren’t in a relationships, or who are more concerned about life issues rather than boyfriend/girlfriend issues. Also, it’d be great to see more teen MCs who aren’t in a relationship and don’t act like this is a travesty. There are teens out there who don’t date, either because they don’t want to or don’t have the chance to. And that’s okay. Really, it is. So there’s no need for all teen MCs to act like the world is ending whenever they go longer than 2.48 seconds without making out.

So what do you think? Would you read these types of books? And make sure to check out the rest of the other blogs participating in the chain this month! Here’s the full list:

May 5th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

May 6th – http://www.nerdgirlinc.blogspot.com/

May 7th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/

May 8th – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

May 9th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

May 10th – http://randomofalife.blogspot.com/

May 11th – http://maralaurey.wordpress.com/

May 12th – http://www.fidaislaih.blogspot.com/

May 13th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

May 14th – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

May 15th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

May 16th – http://taratherese.wordpress.com/

May 17th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

May 18th – https://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/

May 19th – http://afoodyportfolio.wordpress.com/

May 20th – http://magicandwriting.wordpress.com/

May 21st – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

May 22nd – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

May 23rd – http://eighthundredninety.blogspot.com/

May 24th – http://www.oyeahwrite.wordpress.com/

May 25th – http://avonsbabbles.wordpress.com/

May 26th – TheUnsimpleMind – [Link to come.]

May 27th – http://thependanttrilogy.wordpress.com/

May 28th – http://www.lilyjenness.blogspot.com/

May 29th – http://sunsandstarsanddreams.wordpress.com/

May 30th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – (We’ll announce the topic for June’s blog chain!)

Advertisements

I’m Looking for a YA Critique Partner!

Well, the title of this post pretty much sums things up. I used to belong to a local YA crit group that was amazing, but the group has since fallen apart for reasons beyond my control. I’ve been dying for another YA CP (or preferably more than one!), and now that my health is doing a little better, I feel comfortable taking on the responsibilities of being a CP. So here’s what I’m looking for in a CP:

  • Someone who is willing to critique works of YA Contemporary and YA Fantasy.
  • Someone willing to read multiple drafts of the same project. (This can get tedious, but I really feel it’s necessary for CPs to exchange multiple drafts. Because let’s face it: Early drafts suck.)
  • Someone who can handle critique with grace.
  • Someone who is okay working with loose deadlines. (My health has a tendency to randomly nose-dive, and when this happens, super-strict deadlines are a struggle for me.)
  • Someone who is tolerant of the darker sides of YA. (My novels tend to deal with dark issues and have profanity in them.)

So basically, I’m just looking for someone who will tear my manuscripts to pieces and kick me in the butt when I’m not working at full-speed. And if you can do this with a happy attitude and a bit of humor, I will love you forever. And in return for your critiquing services, here’s what I have to offer you:

  • I have three years’ experience of critiquing, and I’ve belonged to multiple crit groups, both online and off.
  • I critique very thoroughly and harshly, whether I’m looking at your grammar or your character arcs.
  • I’m also very happy to offer positive comments. (Let’s be honest, every writer needs to hear at least a couple!)
  • I’m always willing to help brainstorm plots, characters, ect. (In other words, I’ll help with your story, whether it’s a seedling of an idea or a full-grown manuscript.)
  • I’ve written six YA novels to date in a bunch of different genres and I read very widely, so I’m very familiar with most genres of YA.

Okay. So if you think we might be a good fit as CPs, please shoot me off an email to OliviaRivers45(at)gmail(dot)com. Include the first five pages of your current WIP as a Word document, and I’ll email you back with my first five pages. We can exchange crits of our first pages, and then decide from there if we like each other’s critiquing style, and if we’d make good CPs.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read all this! I hope to hear from you soon. 🙂

Mental Health and the YA Fantasy Genre

Wow, it’s been forever since I’ve posted here, and I’m sure my poor blog is feeling quite neglected. *pats blog* But after recently reading an indie novel, I was reminded of my YA Fantasy pet-peeve, and I need to rant about it. And what better place to rant than a blog, eh?

I should probably prelude this post by mentioning that I’ve grown up surrounded by mental illness. I have many relatives with conditions such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders, major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. So while I personally don’t have any mental health issues, I’ve become rather sensitive to how people approach topics such as mental illness.

And this leads to one of my strongest pet-peeves in YA Fantasy: When a character from the “real world” discovers magic or other paranormal aspects, and assumes they’ve gone insane. The author then proceeds to send a barrage of unhealthy messages to the reader about mental illnesses.

At its core, there’s nothing wrong with a character mistakenly thinking they’re experiencing things outside of reality. If I stumbled across a wardrobe-portal or a sparkly vampire, my first assumption would be that I was hallucinating. It’s totally natural for humans to try to find logical explanations for illogical events.

But my pet-peeve arises not from this insanity trope, but from the way it’s usually handled by authors. In most YA Fantasy where this trope is used, one of these three things usually happens, and seeing all three of them isn’t uncommon:

1. The character never tells any authority figure what’s going on. This is usually done out of shame–they’re so horrified and embarrassed by their “hallucinations” of paranormal events, that they refuse to tell anyone about it.

2. The character vehemently tries to deny that anything is wrong. Once again, this is usually a result of shame and embarrassment. Instead of approaching the “hallucinations” from a logical standpoint–they need to get help, they need to see a doctor, they need to make sure they’re safe–the character refuses to admit that their “mental illness” is potentially harmful to their emotional and/or medical well-being.

3. When the character discovers that the “mental illness” is actually the result of real magic, they’re instantly relieved. It doesn’t matter that a demon is chasing them, that a werewolf is trying to kill them, that their family is in danger from a vengeful witch. To the character, all of this is preferable to having a mental illness.

These three things send terrible, potentially damaging messages. Essentially, the author is teaching the reader that mental illness is something to be horribly ashamed of, and it should be kept hidden whenever possible. Which is totally, utterly, completely untrue. If you talk to any credible psychologist, they will explain that mental illness isn’t something brought on by personal weakness or deliberate intent. In fact, mental illnesses are just like physical illness in many ways, including that it’s not the “fault” of the patient. And in many cases, mental illness is technically a physical illness on a more microscopic level. The physical lack of certain hormones, proteins, and chemicals in the human body often cause mental illnesses, and many of these deficiencies are related to genetics.

Yet these authors ignore all these facts. Maybe they’re not intentionally spreading a horrible message, but they are. And worse, they’re spreading it to an audience of teens, who often don’t know enough about mental illnesses to differentiate between true and untrue statements. Not only that, but teenagers are also notoriously prone to low self-esteem, which makes it easy for readers to embrace negative perspectives of mental illness. And if this isn’t bad enough, there’s the fact that a huge percentage of mental illnesses begin to show symptoms in the teenage years, and this is a vital time to support a person with mental illness, instead of bad-mouthing their condition.

I know a lot of authors don’t write this trope with the intention of sending a harmful message. I know most of them don’t even realize they’re doing it. But that doesn’t change the fact that mental illness needs to be approached delicately and thoughtfully, whether in a Contemporary Romance novel or an Urban Fantasy. Genre doesn’t matter–mental illness should never be inserted into a book carelessly. It’s not just some convenient plot point or an easy way to ramp up the tension; this sort of illness is a challenging reality millions of people face, and it should be treated with the utmost care and respect.

Okay, so that completes my ranting for the day. Phew! I’d love to hear your personal opinion on mental health in YA novels. How delicately do you think it should be treated? And can you think of any novels that handle the subject exceptionally well?

Why Age isn’t Relevant to Publishing

Yesterday, I did a blog post about how age is relevant to writing. That post got me thinking about another misconception many teens have: They believe age is relevant to publishing. This misconception seems to come in many forms, but the most common versions I’ve seen are:

  • So what if my novel has 1,200 grammar mistakes? And so what if I can’t spell? Everyone should still buy my book, because I wrote it when I was only thirteen!
  • It doesn’t matter that my book costs an outrageous amount! I’m still going to become a bestseller, because I’m only fourteen.
  • It’s totally okay if I write snarky replies to every negative review I receive! After all, I’m only fifteen, so readers shouldn’t say anything negative about my book in the first place.
  • Obviously, I need to spam everyone on the internet about my book! And I need to include my age every single time I mention my novel, because the most important part of it is that I’m only sixteen.
  • It’s okay if my writing isn’t nearly as good as most authors! Considering I’m only seventeen, it’s really good, so everyone will still buy my book.

And my response:

No, NO, NOOO, NOOOOO, NOOOOOOOOOOO!

 (Before I go any further, I should clarify something: In most cases, I don’t mind if teens self-publish unprofessional books. Most of these teens don’t market their books, and only publish them to share with friends and family. Personally, I think this is 100% okay.)

What’s not okay is when teens seriously market an unprofessional book. When this happens, teens expect strangers to pay money for a low-quality product, and the results are often disastrous. Not only does it make the individual author look pretty terrible, but it gives a bad name to other teen authors. And when all this bad stuff strikes, the teen author almost always uses the same excuse:

But I’m just a teenager! What else did you expect from me?

Quite simply, I only expect one thing from authors, whether they’re teens or adults or toddlers: I expect professionalism. Simply put, all the misconceptions I listed above usually result in an unprofessional product and author. And this leads back to my original point: If you’re going to act like a professional writer, you have to realize age is irrelevant to the process of publishing. The only way age ever impacts publishing is if you use is as a feeble marketing gimmick or an excuse–both of which show a lack of professionalism.

So what makes a professional writer? Personally, I think it’s a myriad of things, and none of them have to do with age. I believe some of the most important aspects of a professional writer are:

  • They don’t use marketing gimmicks.
  • They have nice-looking covers.
  • They don’t constantly spam people with their buy links.
  • They gain positive reviews the honest way.
  • They put out well-written, well-edited products.
  • They price their books reasonably.
  • And, most importantly, they respect their readers.

Alright, I’m done ranting for now. Do you agree that age has nothing to do with publishing? And what do you think makes a professional writer?

Why Age is Relevant to Writing

Let me start this post by saying that I think teen writers are pretty darn awesome. I feel slightly awkward saying that, since I’m a teen writer. But I’m not talking about myself right now. I’m talking about the community of teen writers, both online and off, that has more passion than I thought possible.

That being said, I see a lot of misconceptions haunting teen writers. I did a post of all the ways adults misunderstand us, so I figured I’d better make things fair and do a post about how teens misunderstand themselves.

I believe teen writers aren’t all that different from adult writers in many ways. However, I do see a giant misconception that floats around the heads of many teen writers:

Age has absolutely no impact on writing.

I’m not going to point any fingers, but I’ve seen a lot of blogs/websites/people say this. And every time I see it, my initial reaction is, “Whaaaat?” Simply put, this just isn’t how I see things. I know I’m the odd-man-out, so I figured I’d take a moment to break-down my thoughts.

Basically, my thought is this: Age has a HUGE impact on writing.  

Like most writers, I cringe when I look back at my old writing. But I cringe about something different than most adult writers. For me, it’s the drama that’s the worst part of my stories. Everything–and I mean everything–is painfully dramatic. A typical scene in my first novel goes something like this:

MC wakes up! *GASP*

MC goes to school! *GAAASP*

MC meets up with best friend! *GAAAASP*

MC and best friend gossip! *GAAAAAAASP*

And I’m not the only teen writer to have this sort of issue. In fact, it’s the most common problem I’ve noticed in teen writing: The characters’ emotions are extremely unbalanced. Sometimes teen write over-done emotions (like me), and sometimes it’s the exact opposite. Either way, the writing comes off as immature and naive. I think the reason for these unbalanced emotions is simple: not enough life experience.

If you think about the typical adult, they have a ton of life experience to draw on for their writing. The day they finally graduated college was probably the most relieving day of their life. The day they proposed to their spouse was probably the most nerve-wracking. The day their first child was born was probably the happiest. Ect, ect, ect. These experiences give adult writers an easy way to relate to the trials of their characters.

Now think about teens: What emotional experiences do we have to draw on? Pretty much nothing in comparison to adults.

Quite simply, most teens haven’t lived long enough to truly grasp the essence and impact of emotions. I know I’m one of these teens; even if my life hasn’t exactly been easy, it’s nothing compared most adults. Because the goal of most novels is to draw emotions from the reader, teens are put at a huge disadvantage. How can we convey emotions if we don’t even understand them?

This is why I say age has such a big impact on writing. The older we get, the more life experience we have to draw on. But, until then, we’re left in this awkward stage of trying to rip emotions from readers that we don’t truly understand.

So this leads back to a conclusion I came to years ago: Teens are at a disadvantage when it comes to writing. But the good news? We’re young. If we keep writing consistently, we’ll have years of writing experience by the time we hit twenty-five. And, if you combine that with the life experiences we’ll have at that point, it’ll make a kick-butt combo.