Friday, April 29, 2011

Diversity in YA Tour!

Next Saturday marks the start of the Diversity in YA tour, an awesome event featuring twenty-five authors who write about characters of diverse ethnicities and sexualities, appearing in six cities across the U.S. My lovely author Francisco X. Stork will be part of the Boston lineup on May 12, and I'll be moderating the New York panel on May 14, where my lovely author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich will also appear. Huge, huge props and kudos to Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo for organizing such a terrific lineup and effort as a whole -- making the change happen that they want to see in the world. Please come out and support everyone!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writers: What Are Your Rules?

Want to know a secret?

Everyone who buys Second Sight gets not only the book, not only my never-before-published talks on character, principles of plot, and voice, not only my full list of Twenty-Five Revision Techniques in one handy place, not only some so-terrible-they're-funny pictures of me -- but, at the very end, a link to a secret page on my website where I'm compiling more resources like the ones in the book. While this does include links to all my past talks and a quasi-index by subject to this blog,  these resources aren't just things that I've written. Rather, it's craft stuff that I find all over the Internet that I think writers should read. I've basically indexed Jennifer Crusie's website, too, and I should do the same for Nathan Bransford, and then there's this great post by Erin Murphy on how to define success . . . I like having this page as a list of all the resources I return to again and again; having it available to Second Sight readers is just an added bonus for everyone.

Anyway, I started a new section tonight called "Other People's Principles." Basically, I'm trying to put together a list of all of those "Rules for Writers" articles by various famous writers, for instance:

I always love reading these and occasionally adopt a rule or two for my own, though at the same time, I think those principles are best applied to the work of the writers who espouse them. . . . Contra Monsieur Leonard, sometimes books need prologues. Anyway again, in looking at this list, I realized that everyone I have on here is a writer of adult fiction, and indeed the only people who tend to write these kinds of lists are writers of adult fiction, because generally writers of children's and YA fiction aren't accorded the literary respect that would lead to their being asked "Hey, what are your rules for writing fiction?" by a major media outlet.

And you know what? That is stupid, because God knows the children's/YA world has as many smart writers with interesting principles as the adult world does, and indeed the peculiar nature of writing fiction for children and teenagers should require our principles to be more interesting than, say, "Don't use adverbs." (Which is a good principle, but one that needs to be thoughtfully qualified, as it can lead to deadly dullness.) (And you see what I did there . . .)

Anyway again again, I'm asking:  Authors of children's and YA fiction:  If the New York Times came to you and asked you to write a "Writers on Writing" essay like Mr. Leonard's, what would you say? What principles, large or small, guide your storytelling? What are your ten rules for writers? I'd like to know, and I bet other writers would as well. And I think it's a fascinating exercise always to dig down and find your unconscious lodestones. . . .

So, if you want to participate, feel free to write up and post your list of principles on your blog/LJ and put the link in the comments below; or, if you don't have a blog/LJ, you can write the principles themselves in the comments. (If you're reading this on Facebook, please click this link to post the comments on the blog post itself and not in Facebook comments; that way everyone can read them.) I will be excited to see what people say, and I hope all of us can learn new things from one another.

Thank you for your interest and participation!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If You Like It, Then There's Only One Thing You Should Do.

So last Saturday morning, James and I decided to go for a run around Prospect Park, as we often do on weekends. We got dressed in our running clothes, and I noticed he was wearing a jacket over his long-sleeved shirt and exercise pants. "Aren't you going to be hot in that?" I asked, since it was sunny and the temperature was in the fifties.

"I can just tie it around my waist," he said.

I shrugged, and we locked up the apartment and set out for the park. We stretched on the plaza just behind the farmers' market, then ran along the north side of the park with our respective iPods. (That day I was listening to the greatest hits of Bruce Springsteen: "Badlands," "Thunder Road," "Hungry Heart.") I was still transitioning back to running outside after the winter's treadmills, so I was determined to complete a whole loop without stopping to walk.

One of my very favorite places on Earth

As we ran down the west side hill, James said, "You know, I think we should take this cross-country route my brother showed me." I said sure, and we turned left on the road that cut east through the park above the lake. As we approached the first bend, he said, "Let's go up this hill."

I said, "No, I want to do the whole loop."

He said, "You really should see the view from the top."

I said, "No, I've seen it before, come on."

He said, "It's a shortcut, just trust me on this." (Which I didn't, because I've been running around the park for at least as long as he has, and I knew that running up Lookout Hill was no shortcut.)

But we went up the hill, with me grumbling at climbing the stairs. ("It's good for our glutes!" James said.) The path switchbacked to the west, and I said, "You do realize that we're going backwards now, right? Not the direction we want to be going?" He just nodded and encouraged me to keep running. We went over a terrace and ended up at the circle on top of Lookout Hill, the highest point in the park. I figured we'd go round the circle and run back down to continue the loop.

But as we started around to the left, a man in Victorian dress and spectacles hailed me: "Hello, fair lady!" Cheerful greetings from people in eccentric costumes are not that unusual in New York, so I figured he was some kind of actor doing street theatre in the park, and stopped to hear what he had to say. James slowed down alongside me. The man in costume pulled out a scroll and read from it: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of . . . more fortune!" And he went on to deliver a speech liberally laced with Jane Austen quotes, all demonstrating his avarice. He ended by suggesting that we speak to his friend a little farther on, "Though I warn you--the stupidity with which he was favored by nature guards his courtship from any charms."

I felt both delighted and deeply confused by this turn of events, so I looked at James and said, "Do you know anything about this?" It was his turn to shrug. The next man, in similar costume and with a similar scroll, offered a similar speech, including "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love -- myself."

About midway through this fine peroration on his own charms, my brain started thinking, This has to be what I think it is. Is it? Oh my, is it really? This gentleman concluded by looking around for an additional list of his good qualities. James held up a scroll of his own and said, "Is this it?" The man examined it and said, "No, I think you should read this one."

And James did, quite nervously and sweetly. I won't share everything he said, but he got down on one knee (as mandated by my favorite movie), and he also invoked one of my favorite descriptions of marriage of all time, from John Stuart Mill's On the Subjection of Women, in saying that he hoped it's what we might have as well:
On the contrary, when each of the two persons, instead of being a nothing, is a something; when they are attached to one another, and are not too much unlike to begin with; the constant partaking in the same things, assisted by their sympathy, draws out the latent capacities of each for being interested in the things which were at first interesting only to the other; and works a gradual assimilation of the tastes and characters to one another, partly by the insensible modification of each, but more by a real enriching of the two natures, each acquiring the tastes and capacities of the other in addition to its own . . . When the two persons both care for great objects, and are a help and encouragement to each other in whatever regards these, the minor matters on which their tastes may differ are not all-important to them; and there is a foundation for solid friendship, of an enduring character, more likely than anything else to make it, through the whole of life, a greater pleasure to each to give pleasure to the other, than to receive it. . . . What marriage may be in the case of two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them -- so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and being led in the path of development -- I will not attempt to describe.
And with such a prospect before me, dear reader, I said yes!

James gave me his late mother's engagement/wedding ring, which was just my size; and the last week has been a flurry of informing friends and family, accepting congratulations, and starting conversations about dates and locations for the grand party we hope to throw for those same friends and family. (I'm from the Midwest, he's from the Bay Area, and we live in New York, so we have the entire United States open to us.) The two gentlemen in costume were friends of James's, unknown to me; James wrote the scripts with all the Jane Austen references to please me, featuring characters with defects (greed and vanity) that would highlight his own suit in turn--"classic literary foils," he says. He rented the costumes for them from a shop in Midtown.

Mr. Avarice and Mr. Vanity

And James had to wear the jacket because it carried both his proposal and the ring! (I've forgiven him for making me run up the hill.)

My Weasley and me

Thank you for your good wishes, all!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

"Since the Majority of Me" by Philip Larkin

Since the majority of me
Rejects the majority of you,
Debating ends forwith, and we
Divide. And sure of what to do

We disinfect new blocks of days
For our majorities to rent
With unshared friends and unwalked ways,
But silence too is eloquent:

A silence of minorities
That, unopposed at last, return
Each night with cancelled promises
They want renewed. They never learn.

(N.B. I: Adding this to the other good breakup poems previously featured here: "You Must Accept"; "A Color of the Sky")

(N.B. II: I came across this poem because of the Reese Witherspoon / Vince Vaughn movie "Four Christmases." Seriously.)

(N.B. III: Those who like poetry, children, and/or the combination thereof should check out Greg Pincus's awesome Kickstarter project "Poetry: Spread the Word," which raises money for Greg to go into schools and share poetry with kids.)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Thank You, Jimmy Fallon

I have never seen a complete episode of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," but I now owe him for two of my favorite TV moments of the past year (both of which I actually watched on YouTube, natch). First the terrific opening to the 2010 Emmy ceremony:

And then, from this past Friday, Stephen Colbert singing Rebecca Black's "Friday" with assorted guests (infinitely better than the original):

I love the way the delights just add up and cascade over in both of these videos -- first the cast of "Glee," and then Tina Fey! And Jon Hamm!* And Hurley! Or Stephen Colbert, and then the poker-faced Roots, and then the rapper guy and Jimmy Fallon, then the first mystery musical guest . . . And the performances also embody two of the things I love most about musical theatre in general: a whole community working together in glorious harmony, and the perfect balance between unfettered expression of an emotion and planned-down-to-the-second choreography. Sigh.

* Emily and I were discussing the news that Mad Men won't be back until early 2012, and she posed a terrifying conundrum: What if Season Five of Mad Men and Season Two of Downton Abbey are on Sunday nights at the same time? Which group of complex, lusty, class-driven, fabulously dressed characters would I choose to follow through their complicated, often backstabbing, money-drenched, totally character-driven plots first? I've known the Mad Men people for longer (and there's the whole mystery of who that newly important character actually is deep down that we'll need to discover), but Downton Abbey has both World War I and Bates's wife coming, and all those hats. . . . Sigh deux, with the sincere wish that such a soul-rending choice can be avoided.