All posts in April 2011

Gentle Reader, I haven’t forgotten you!

Still editing, as you can see–typing my comments in at this point. Apparently I didn’t much like this paragraph. I started to copyedit it, then circled it and wrote “UGH” over the text.

Indeed!

Review of Starcrossed at some point this weekend is coming, lovelies. Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten you.

Marianne Elliot Said 1957 – 2011

It’s funny which deaths affect you.

Poly Styrene died last night. I haven’t really thought about her in years. I first heard of the X-Ray Spex when I was twelve or thirteen, going somewhere in my sister’s car. The car was olive green with a cloth ceiling that was falling in. She’d put checkered contact paper along the sidewalls to make it look like a cab. It smelled like motor oil and rust.

My sister was a Riot Grrrl. She made zines (which I was not allowed to read) and mixed-tapes and the hissing sound of the tape deck of her car is all mixed up in my memories of that time. I can’t tell you the exact day that I heard it, but I have a feeling that “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” was my first Styrene song–the little squeaky girl voice shouting up from the tape deck as we drove down route 22, going somewhere. I was probably embarrassed–a thirteen-year-old’s hazy awareness that she’s listening to something dirty.

I wouldn’t rediscover the X-Ray Spex until I was sixteen or seventeen. I was already punk by then (thank Johnny Rotten’s short-lived TV series RottenTV, a summer spent torturing my mother with my own favorite tape, God Save the Queen), had started going to local shows and learned how to skank. I wore either a chelsea or a mohawk, a dog collar, torn fishnets, bright hair. You know, the usual.

One night, my friend Matt’s uncle drove us to the Princeton Record Exchange. We walked around for awhile. I saw Matt pull out a familiar LP–Germ Free Adolescents. “Hey, I remember that!” I said. We briefly bickered over who would buy it. He didn’t even have a record player (I had both my ancient Fisher Price one and a stereo I’d bought from the Salvation Army), but in the end, he won. He saw it first. I pouted and sulked, went home, and got on Napster.

The next day I went to school with “I am a poseur” sharpied to my forearm.

Because I was a poseur, of course. It was the turn of the new millennium in suburban New Jersey and I was doing my damndest to look like it was 1977, cutting up my T-shirts and safety pinning them back together. I knew that just as well as the kids who teased me knew it, but it was a way to feel ownership over how weird I was, and I liked it, too. The bright colors (a few kids shouted, “Hey! Rainbow bright!” at me in the hallways, and I just smiled). The craftyness. The Dollar Store lipsticks in blue and green.

Poly Styrene helped me take ownership of that. Yeah yeah, I said, sure, I’m a poseur. But so was she and so are you. What was I supposed to listen to, Powerman 5000? Anyway, this–this look, this music–made me happy. I figured that counted for something.

There was something about her–something that spoke to teenage girls in a way that the boy music of our own eras just didn’t. I hope that girls continue to discover her, that she’s always this spot of bright new wickedness and ownership. I hope she continues to make them feel thrilled.

Guest Post over at The Book Lantern: A Writer’s Education

Up at the Book Lantern blog, I have a guest post that answers the immortal question, “Should I get an MFA?”

There were good things about my time spent in my MFA program. I had a fairly relaxed schedule, wrote quite a bit, and made many good friends there. My professors were caring and dedicated and always well-intentioned. And I had the opportunity to take other classes at the University, including critical coursework in young adult literature and science fiction.

But I can’t deny the conflict I felt as I became increasingly dedicated to both YA and genre, as I spent my  summers trying to learn how to write speculative fiction even as I was told that I wouldn’t be able to take fiction workshops unless I refrained from embracing these speculative elements in my workshopped writing.

I should probably note here that I’m talking fairly broadly about MFA programs here; I know that there are a small number of programs focused specifically on writing for children (Hollins is one) and at least one writing program (an MPW, if I recall correctly, at a school whose name has escaped me) focused on commercial writing including genre writing. But from everything I know about MFAs, these are the exceptions, rather than the rule, and so it feels fair to give writers interested in writing YA a head’s up that this may not be the path they’re looking for.

Asking the Hard Questions: An Interview with Kody Keplinger

Today’s the first day of a new feature here at the Adventures in Dorkdom blog (yes, I know, I should stop trying to make that blog title happen–deal!). One of my favorite YA blogs, The Book Lantern, has been posting great interviews for about a month now, and I just adored Cory’s interview with Hannah Moskowitz about Moskowitz’s book, Invincible Summer. Reading over it, I realized that this was something I wanted to see more of in the blog-o-sphere: conversations with authors, focused on textual questions about their books and particularly on issues of race, class, and gender.

I figured I might as well be the change I want to be–so welcome to the inaugural interview of the Asking the Hard Questions monthly (or thereabouts) interview series! Today, I talk with author Kody Keplinger about her debut novel The DUFF and her upcoming sophomore work Shut Out.

Just a note: these interviews are meant to enrich your understanding of the author’s work. In keeping with that, Kody and I discuss events that happen at the end of The DUFF. So SPOILERS AHEAD!

Phoebe: You’ve talked pretty extensively on your blog about the importance of teen sex in young adult literature. Accordingly, your debut novel, The DUFF has a sexual relationship at its center. However, Wesley and Bianca’s relationship isn’t always a happy one—in fact, they seem to despise one another at the outset. What were some of the challenges you encountered in writing about an unhappy sexual relationship between teenagers?

Kody: I can honestly say that I wasn’t nearly as passionate about sex-positivity when I wrote THE DUFF a few years ago. Really, it was in the months after it sold that I started to think about my feelings regarding sex and YA literature. Those questions for me began popping up in the editing process, where I seriously started to think about the relationship between Bianca and Wesley. My main concern was that the message here not be, “Casual sex leads to true love! Yay!” Because that wasn’t my point. I worked hard for Bianca to realize that her relationship with Wesley was, in many ways, exceptional because it could have so easily gone in other directions. They have ups and downs, and ultimately the biggest challenge was emphasizing that Bianca had made a mistake in choosing this method (sex) of escape, but that in no way made her a bad person nor did it mean she didn’t deserve a happy ending. Hopefully I was successful.

Phoebe: Bianca sees herself as a feminist. Do you? Would you say that her journey is a feminist journey?

Kody: Bianca sees herself as a feminist at the start of the book, but I don’t think she’s fully grasped the ideas of feminism yet. I know that I called myself a feminist at sixteen or so, but I knew very little of what that really meant. In fact, I’m still learning. Though I would definitely say her journey is a feminist one in that she learns a lot of lessons about girls and sex – for starters, she learns how damaging and wrong labels are. My feeling is that by the end of the book, Bianca is a lot closer to being a feminist – and is a little more open minded about the different points of view feminism contains.

Phoebe: Wesley isn’t Bianca’s first sexual partner, and Bianca sure isn’t Wesley’s. This is a fairly rare choice even in YA where the characters have sex—more often than not, protagonists will be virgins at the beginning of a book. Was the decision to make them sexually experienced a purposeful one for you? What made you go this route?

Kody: I knew from the start that Wesley would be sexually, um, experienced. There wasn’t a lot of thought behind that choice – it was just a huge part of his character and played a huge role in his relationship with Bianca. As for Bianca, though, I actually hadn’t thought about her sexual history until I wrote the first romantic(ish) encounter between the two. Once I really sat down and thought about her character, I realized that her cynicism came from somewhere, and after figuring out that subplot, I knew that Bianca would most likely not be a virgin. This actually worked much better for the plot than if she had been because, to be honest, I think it would be really heartbreaking if this casual, meaningless encounter with Wesley was her “first time.” And in a book that is, on it’s surface, a comedy – that would be too distracting and too upsetting. So I gave Bianca a chance to have had a romantic, loving first time – even if that relationship from the past ended badly. Honestly, at the time when I wrote the book, I had no idea that having non-virgin characters was so rare. It was pointed out to me much later.

Phoebe: Some readers have taken issue with Bianca’s abrasive nature. Do you feel that she’s unlikeable? How does the pressure that female characters, particularly, be “likeable” inform your writing?

Kody: I think there is a difference between “likable” and “relatable.” Is Bianca likable? Well, I think so. Is she relatable? Yes, I know so. The fact is, not everyone is likable all the time. Characters that are always seem unrealistic to me. I always think of Parker Fadley in Cracked up To Be by Courtney Summers. Parker was definitely not always likable – but I LOVED her. I related to her so much, and I cared for her so deeply. I think part of why I loved her was that she could be so mean, make so many mistakes. Real people aren’t perfect, and characters shouldn’t be either. So, when I write a book, I definitely think about how relatable a character is, but if sometimes the character isn’t likable? I think that’s totally okay. But that’s just my taste, perhaps.

Phoebe: Class seems to be an important component in The DUFF. Wesley’s a rich kid and Bianca comes from a fairly modest background (her father is a manager in a retail store). Were you conscious of these class components when writing The DUFF? Did Bianca’s relative poverty, or Wesley’s relative wealth, have an impact on how you wrote them?

Kody: It wasn’t really at the forefront of my mind when I wrote. Personally, I grew up in some degree of poverty. We made it by just fine, but after taking a few sociology classes at college, I realized, “Whoa, we really were poor.” But, you know, most of my community was. We had a few wealthy kids, but looking back, they were very much “middle class” rather than “rich.” I just didn’t know it then. I just intended to write a realistic scenario – a mostly lower middle class small town with one or two rich families. (Wesley’s big house is actually based on a big house in my town that I always wanted to go inside because it seemed so out of place next to all the tiny houses near me.) Bianca is somewhat aware of the class differences, though, in some scenes in her home, which was intentional because it seemed natural. But, to answer your question, no – it wasn’t actually something I consciously intended to address.

Phoebe: Your next book, Shut Out, is a contemporary reimagining of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. For those readers unfamiliar with Lysistrata, it’s a comic play about a group of Greek women who withhold sex from their husbands in an attempt to end the Peloponnesian War. Much of the humor of Aristophanes’ work was based on Ancient Greek attitudes about sex, which saw women’s libidos as insatiable. In light of our modern attitudes—which usually cast men as the sexual aggressors—was it difficult to adapt this work for a contemporary teenage audience? How did modern mores change your approach to the source material?

Kody: What’s great about Lysistrata is that the story works either way. Whether the attitude is that women are insatiable and therefore this strike is a trial for them or that men are insatiable and therefore this strike is something they must combat. But the book deals a lot with attitudes toward gender and sex. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that the characters in SHUT OUT spend a lot of time discussing views on sex and societal attitudes. My idea was to set Lysistrata in a modern day high school and use the scenario of a girls strike to tackle all the different outlooks on sex, labels, romance, and desire. It was definitely a challenge, which is why the book is a reimagining – looser than a retelling – of the source material, but it was also really fun to explore all the different ways this strike could be seen – from the Greeks outlook to modern America’s.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Kody! I love how your own growth toward sex positivity and maturation as a feminist mirrors Bianca’s. Just a note, if you’re an author whose work I’ve reviewed, and you’d like to be interviewed, feel free to drop me a line at phoebeATphoebenorthDOTcom.

Late Night Teaser Tuesday: Revision and Revenge

Just a little teaser from the last quarter of my book. In revision, I’ve been going through and adding a lot of scenes to the second half, trying to slow down the sloppiness break-neck speed. I like these new scenes–they feel luxurious. In drafting this part of the book, I felt like I was on this long slide toward the inevitable end, and so I didn’t take the time I really needed to examine my main character’s mental state. Here, Terra’s voice shines nicely.

Silvan knew my body, but he didn’t know my true self, not really. If he had really known me, then he would have known how I was transforming, turning to stone, hardening against him. But he didn’t. He just kept pressing kisses against my collarbone and drawing his soft hands over me. He took my laughter and my goose bumps to mean something deep and true. But the only emotion running beneath my raw, ravaged skin was a murky concoction of guilt and anger. The guilt was for using him this way, for selfishly taking advantage of his body’s small pleasures. The anger was for what he was doing on behalf of the Council.

Despite his cock-eyed smile, no matter how warm and pressing his fingers, he’d reaped the harvest of my mother’s death: power, and plenty of it. Silvan was complicit. And he would pay.

Sometimes I’d gaze deep into his black eyes, find myself reflected back in them, and think, You are so stupid. You have no idea. I know that’s not fair. I’d always kept secrets from him, after all, not only the assassination, but the wine-dark dreams that still came to me every night. When he kissed me, I closed my eyes and imagined smoother lips, thought of a lithe, long body pressed against mine, and not his. I thought of snow, and the wild perfume of summer flowers that came even in the white-swirled night. I was always naming them in my head, even as I stood by Silvan’s side in the archives. I faked a shit-eating grin when the woman read out our bloodlines. But the only thing I heard was Magnolia Virginia, Syringia Vulgaris, and of course the names of a thousand roses.

To be fair, I was never really with Silvan, even when I stood right next to him.

So I should forgive him for believing me when, one night, as he tangled his big fingers through my hair, cupping the crown of my head in his palm, and said to me, “My parents want you to come to supper tomorrow night. Captain Wolff will be there,” I gave a sweet smile and said, “Of course. I’d love to.”

Even as the bile rose in my throat.

Attack of the Plot Ewoks

Hi guys, I’m still editing. I’ve gotten some helpful (and labor-intensive!) advice from the Interrobangs which has temporarily stalled my forward progress as I go back and make things more awesome.

Sigh.

Editing is hard work. I’ve mentioned that. Have I also mentioned that it’s dry and unfun and boring? Well, it is. I hate you, editing. Go curl up and die.

What I like is writing. And, also, brainstorming new ideas, and figuring out plot threads and untangling things and crafting them from the murky darkness that is the pre-written ether. Or something. Basically, what I love most about writing is playing with ideas.

To that end, I’ve had a bunch of plot bunnies since I’ve been editing. If you’re not a troper, fan-fiction fan, or dork, you might not know what I’m referring to. Basically, plot bunnies are fun story ideas that take over your brain and breed like rabbits. Here’s what’s rattling around mine right now:

  • Middle grade alien invasion tale. Latchkey kid must protect little sister from alien attack. Think a modern spin on John Christopher’s Tripod books, or a teen version of the movie version (phew) of War of the Worlds. Also, mech suits. Because, why not?
  • Artsy ripped-from-the-headlines-YA-fantasy. This is an old story idea that I mentioned to Sean and he said would probably net me a Newbery (nah–I’d have to kill a character for that). Because it’s an ancient idea, I’ve previously played with it as a poem sequence and also a graphic novel. Essentially, psychic kid is kidnapped a la Steven Stayner and other children. Only he shares a psychic connection (maybe) with his sister left behind. She envisions him in a Neverland-esque fantasy world as a way to cope with what she sees. Then one day, he’s recovered, and the family must deal with the fallout. This would be great, except I only have a premise, really, and not a plot. Which is a problem.
  • Daughter of Earth sequel In my own Neverland, Daughter of Earth is part one of a duology. This is a stupid way to envision a book that you plan on querying, so I try not to think too much about the sequel, as much as I want to. And it seems dangerous to talk about. All I’ll say is it’s Romeo and Juliet meets Enemy Mine.
  • Alien cult cyclopean horror unhealthy love story. My most recent bunny. Teenage boy is moved to rural area by his quirky mom. Meets a girl who is in a cult. Only the cult is ALIENS. Slow-building terror. Non-traditional families. Want to write it right now.

You might notice that a good number of these plot bunnies contain aliens. Call them plot ewoks, if you want. I love aliens. I was talking to Sean about this the other day (man, if I had a dollar for every time I said that). He theorized that atheists or agnostics (which is what I am) are attracted to cosmology because it reassures them that there’s life beyond ourselves even if there’s no afterlife. Maybe that’s true. I know this: I find the idea of space-based sci-fi with no aliens unbearably terrifying. It’s why I have never, and probably will never, give either Battlestar or Firefly a fair shake. No matter how funny, the idea of a world where mankind is all alone just makes me kind of nauseated.

So I fill my universes with aliens. Human aliens. Starfish aliens. Lovecraftian horror aliens. Aliens. They help beat back the existential angst. Or something.