About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Friday, October 29, 2010

brief thoughts on heroes, YA, and adult fantasy

I'm at a conference and don't have much time, but I was just reading China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, and things are heating up but slowly. It's been an interesting, engaging, simmering start, with no particular direction.

And, aside from being enormously impressed at the descriptions and inventiveness of the story so far, that is what I noticed. All the (effective, enjoyable, successful) YA fantasy I've been reading has a fast start. The Forest of Claws and Teeth, for instance, starts in the title. There's a confrontation involving two main characters (I'm trying not to confuse them with Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow of duPrau's Ember series, but I just did), and then the world falls apart. Fast.

But that's not even the whole picture. What's missing from PSS and other grown-up works (Years of Rice and Salt, Stone Raft) I've read is the dream. In each of the YA fantasy novels, the main character, the protagonist, has a dream. Lina dreams of her imagined city. Katniss Everdeen dreams of keeping Prim safe. Alanna in Songs of the Lioness dreams of doing great deeds as a knight.

And now I'm late for the exhibit hall. Cheers.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

politics, more Shadow Children, and self-doubt

I wanted to share this article I read about Jerry McNerny's (CA-14) opponent in the November election. Harmer is a Tea Party-branded extremist who, according to this Mother Jones article, wants to abolish public education.

I've said it before, but when will progressives and half-way decent people stop - just STOP - writing dystopian and apocalyptic novels that the right-wing then uses as instruction manuals?
  • Orwell, 1984, Dick Cheney.
  • Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, Christian fundamentalists.
  • Haddix, Shadow Children series, Harmer.
See what I mean? I'm sure you could add to the list.

Finished Margaret Peterson Haddix' third Shadow Children series. Good world creation. Interesting characters. Multiple points of view. Short novels. I like the combination, and she's a serious enough writer to make the short fiction format a powerful vehicle for this drama-with-a-message series.

My own writing is stalled. I'm remaking my world. I was struggling with logical inconsistencies that no amount of verbiage was going to effectively paper over. I needed to resolve (and am still working on) how the world got the way it was, to ease readers' suspension of disbelief.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Haddix' The Shadow Children, et cetera

[This entry contains some partial spoilers for Margaret Peterson Haddix’ Shadow Children series and whatever else I feel like writing about.]

Last night I finished the second of the Margaret Peterson Haddix Shadow Children series. Between them, Among the Hidden and Among the Impostors measure up to the word count and time investment of about one Hunger Games or Percy Jackson novel. Still, they’re good reading, with a believable what-if near-future setting, a sympathetic and complex lead character in Luke Garner, and a structure, so far, of one new person to trust and lose in each book.

Luke Garner is actually pretty likeable. He reminds me the most, recently, of Carl Hiaasen’s lead character in Hoot. The problem with both is that they’re a bit too “everyboy.” Hiaasen’s character – I read Hoot two weeks ago – is already anonymous to me. The story stands out because I like the situations he gets into, and the supporting characters are pretty interesting. Officer Delinko is probably the best developed, and as he started out the Scarecrow of Oz (“If I only had a brain!”), any changes in his character were almost bound to be for the better.

Hiaasen is well known as a talented writer, and I enjoyed the book a lot, but it’s funny how the main character doesn’t actually change much, and only the villain, Dana, and the inept adult character, Officer Delinko, either change or retain their memories in my mind a month after reading. I bet it’s not Hiaasen’s fault – I have a pretty spotty memory. The real point for me, as a wannabe Hiaasen, is that the book was enjoyable, but not especially gripping or moving, and since that is what I want to write, I want to observe the differences.

Let me try a list of them. In the sort of YA adventure/fantasy I enjoy most and want to write,

  • The protagonist is treated with gross unfairness (a la Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, or Frodo Baggins).
    The reader shares the protagonist’s emotional commitment to outcomes in the book.
  • The stakes are high – not just social but vital. (This corners me in the adventure-fantasy genre, I suppose).
  • The protagonist experiences increasing setbacks, self-doubt, and danger throughout the book.
  • The protagonist cannot escape his or her circumstances except by confronting the dangers as they mount.
  • The protagonist has a special skill or strength that allows her or him to overcome, but it is not sufficient.
  • The protagonist survives, but loses something important.

Luke Garner is partway toward this ideal. Haddix paints him convincingly into a corner, and then teases us into thinking he’ll get out, only landing him from the mixed-metaphor-proverbial fire. I guess the frying pan was in the corner, or something like that. Whatever the semantics, we follow Lee from bad to worse, to tantalizingly hopeful, to the depths of despair, and a faint but costly glimmer of hope, all in 150 YA (that is to say, short) pages. 

I also just read and really enjoyed Jeanne duPrau's City of Ember. It's so calm compared to the Hunger Games, that I almost didn't think I was enjoying it. What a strange feeling! Every page was satisfying to read, and the characters of Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow are really sympathetic. Maybe it was just my reading, but I felt so much less tension than when reading these other books. 

There's also the problem of having seen the very good movie adaptation before reading the book. Does anybody else feel this way?