Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Books Week: Looking for Alaska

September 26 - October 3 is ALA's Banned Books Week

From the ALA website:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

Why was this book banned or challenged?

A sexual situation between two characters was labeled pornographic by parents who felt students at Depew High School in New York who felt it would cause children to engage in immoral behavior.

John Green responded in a vlog, he explains why the scene is not pornographic and the point of the characters being in the situation they were in.

My Review:

Looking for Alaska is full of quirky characters, which are my favorite types of characters because I don't know anyone who doesn't have a quirk.

Pudge memorizes famous last words.

The Colonel memorizes geographic capitals.

Alaska is mysterious, funny, and trying to figure out how to get out of the labyrinth of suffering.

John splits the book into two parts: Before and After. This separation worked for me because I think many of us separate our lives this way. We see ourselves in the Before, then something happens that changes us forever and we are in the After.

Like John said in his vlog, there is no substitution for emotional connection. Sex doesn't fill that gap. Pudge goes looking for the Great Perhaps and somehow finds it in a dismal, tiny private school where the rich kids and the poor kids are in a constant prank war. He not only finds The Girl and himself. He finds life.

The thing I loved about Pudge's decision to leave his family and few friends for boarding school was that it was selfish. Sometimes being selfish is what needs to be done. People become unhappy and let themselves get into a routine that eats away at them, convincing themselves they can't change anything. But Pudge leaves because he knows that is what he needs to do for himself. So there is a time and place for selfishness, and in the beginning Pudge uses it wisely, and in the end he doesn't. Looking for Alaska shows us how one choice changes everything.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"A Fictional Halloween" Challenge

Heather at The Secret Adventures of WriterGirl and Chelsea from The Page Flipper are both planning on being Katniss from The Hunger Games for Halloween. Heather has decided to make it her Official Blog Challenge to the blogging community that we all dress as literary characters this Halloween.

You can read the entire post here. Spread the word!

Lucky for me, I finished my Caterpillar from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland costume last month. Yeah, I know what my costume is going to be a year ahead of time.

Who are you dressing as? Even if you can't dress as a character, who would you dress as if you could?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Scariest Month of the Year

October is going to be a themed month on the blog! Since the best part of October is Halloween, the month will be filled with posts about spooky things. Each week I will feature posts on a different supernatural being.

What supernatural beings would you like to see featured?

So far I'm thinking:


You all can send in stories about times you've had encounters with ghosts, if you believe in that.

I want to feature vampires from other cultures. We need more vampires that remove their heads.

Let me know your suggestions for other themes and if you'd like to expand upon the ones I have listed. Any suggestions for books and authors I should be looking at?

If you'd like to be a guest blogger, let me know. You can talk about whatever you want that has to do with Halloween and/or the supernatural. That includes books, folklore, history, movies, music, recipes, costume how-tos, personal stories.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Victoria Hanley Interview

Victoria Hanley is the author of fantasy books for young readers and young adults, and how to write books for teens, as well.

I recently reviewed Victoria's latest novel, Violet Wings, and asked her for a interview. Victoria agreed and her is the result! Hope you all enjoy it.

You can read more about Victoria and her work on her website and at her blog.

What was your inspiration for Violet Wings? You mentioned Oberon and Mab, did you draw upon Shakespearean plays?

For me, a novel always begins by listening to a strong character who lives in my imagination. So I credit the main character, Zaria Tourmaline, for my inspiration.

In Violet Wings I enjoyed mixing traditional lore with original ideas about the fey. I’ve read—and loved—Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and isn’t it interesting that the name “Oberon” has been used for the King of the Fairies in other works even before Shakespeare? My fairy queen is nicknamed “Mab” like the one in Romeo and Juliet, but I’ve given her the full name of Velleron.

There were a lot of things left open at the end of Violet Wings. Will there be sequels? Can you tell us a bit about what they will be about?

Yes, sequels are planned. The next one is called Indigo Bottle, and forgive me if I don’t say much about it. I’m a little superstitious about revealing books-in-progress until they’re finished. But I will say that Zaria is the main character and narrator again.

I've asked my readers if they prefer good faeries or bad faeries. Which type is more fun for you to write?

Oh, they each have great appeal, and of course a good story needs both! Good faeries must take on so much danger and darkness, while bad faeries stoke the conflict. Depending on my mood, I enjoy writing first one type and then another.

If you were a faerie in Feyland, what do you think your color and level would be? What magic would you most like to perform?

Ooh, good question. I’d like to be a level two hundred Violet but I expect I’d be a level one hundred Blue. The magic I’d most like to perform is creating portals between Earth and Tirfeyne. I’d love to give out helpful gifts to humans, too.

You were raised without TV and still don't watch it. How do you think not having the distraction of TV has affected you as a writer?

To be honest, I’ve begun to watch some TV lately, and enjoy shows such as “Smallville” and “Eureka.” But I’m glad I was raised without it. Growing up, I turned to my own imagination for entertainment a lot. I’m not sure if it’s due to a lack of TV or not, but I’m extremely focused when I want to be.

Even though fantasy has become more popular and accepted among the mainstream, it still catches a lot of flack. What do you love about writing fantasy and the fantasy genre?

Fantasy stories can say something about this world in a way that speaks to many readers. For example, let’s say I notice that in our earthly society, physical beauty is distributed unequally and ends up being over-valued. (After all, beauty doesn’t have any intrinsic value; it’s what people do with it that counts.) Many wonderful people have average looks but are gifted in other ways; such people often grow up negatively comparing themselves to others who are physically prettier. Then I write a book called Violet Wings. In Feyland, magical ability is unequal and it’s overvalued. So magical ability in Feyland stands in for physical beauty in our world. One of Zaria’s friends, Andalonus the genie, has no magic to speak of, and he’s supposed to think less of himself because of that. But by using his other gifts--intelligence and loyalty and such, he helps to save the day. There’s a point to all this, but it’s not in-your-face; I like being able to write allegorically without clobbering readers over the head with my message. Fantasy is a wonderful medium for expressing just about anything you want to say. If a reader would rather just enjoy the story for the story’s sake, the book still works. If a reader wants to go deeper, fantasy often provides layers of meaning.

What do you not like about the genre, or don't see enough of?

I don’t read as much fantasy as people expect from a fantasy writer. Probably because I spend so much time in my own fantasy worlds, when I have free time to read I like to mix and match from other genres. So I’m not really an expert. Of course I’d love it more people took into account the extra craft required for creating believable fantasy worlds—it really is an art, and it isn’t easy.

What is the best advice you can give to aspiring writers?

Well, I’ve written a whole book on how to write, called Seize the Story. It includes lots of info and exercises about elements of fiction such as creating characters and plots, and writing dialogue and setting. But if I could give only one piece of advice it would be: Ignore trends. Write about what truly matters to you, and never give up.

Thank you so much, Victoria! I actually didn't know that Oberon had been used before Shakespeare. But now I'll be better prepared for literature classes. I love the title Indigo Bottle!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Context 22: What do editors want?

Last weekend I attended Context, a speculative literature convention. They had many amazing panels, and one I found really useful was "What Do Editors Want?" I've put together some notes I took since I know there are several aspiring authors here.

The editors on this panel were:
Paula Guran, Editor of Juno Books
Jackie Gamber, Co-founder and Executive Editor of Meadowhawk Press
Michael Knost, Author, editor, columnist, and publisher
Jason Sizemore, Editor-in-Chief of Apex Publications
Mike Resnick, Author and editor

-Find your unique voice

-Separate your feelings from your stories

Not to say you shouldn't love your stories, but you have to be able to take criticism and consider changes. Editors won't put up with authors who think there work doesn't need revision.

-Read your stories aloud to find and fix awkward sentences

-A cover letter is a handshake; don't let it get in the way.

A cover letter shouldn't be more than a page, if that. Let your good writing speak for itself. Always check submission guidelines, of course.

-It is okay to say "No" to editors

Say "No" if they want to change your story radically or you find you just can't work with them for some reason of another. Eventually, you will find an editor you can work with.

-Editors DO want to discover new talent

-Only list professional sales in your query, i.e., sales $.03/word and up.

I found this piece of advice to be the most useful. Before attending the panel, I thought I had the right idea about submitting stories to smaller publications so I could work my way up. But it does make more sense to polish your writing until it is professional quality.