Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Chicon 7

Everybody is emphasizing the “Chicon 7” name rather than saying “WorldCon Whatever.” In fact as you can see I have forgotten the WorldCon number. Did you know the first Chicon was in . . . wait for it . . . 1940? And that one of the guys who organized that first Chicon is actually here as a guest of honor? (Sorry, but I don’t remember his name and he doesn’t appear to be listed as a guest of honor in the program, though he was certainly treated as a guest of honor at the opening ceremonies). I started counting decades and gave up in disbelief. He looks very spry for a guy who has to be in his nineties. I told my brother I would say I hope to look that good at ninety, only this is an SF convention and actually I hope to look roughly like I just turned thirty when I’m ninety. Where’s that anti-aging medical miracle? Hello? I’m waiting . . .

Okay! The only panel I went to on Thursday was on researching and writing Alternate History and I went to it because a) It’s moderately interesting to me, b) it’s definitely interesting to my brother, Craig, c) my brother’s friend Ken Hite was on the panel. Craig and Ken and Mike Schiffer wrote a couple of alternate history gaming supplements, which are well worth reading just for the sidebars about the alternate histories, even though I have never been into gaming. Funniest comment: Ken said, “When you ask yourself, How would this be different if this guy was a vampire? And then you start researching what would have happened . . . halfway through you’re suddenly like, “My God, this guy WAS a vampire!” : ) Can’t you just see that happening?

Mary Robinette Kowal was also on that panel. She wrote SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, which I’ve sort of meant to look up for a long time. She said she had been reading epic fantasy, and then she was re-reading PERSUASION, and she thought: Is it possible to write an intimate family drama that is also fantasy? She said she hopes she isn’t giving away too many spoilers if she says that at the end of the book, PEOPLE GET MARRIED. She was a great panelist, so I went ahead and dropped that one on my wish list so I won’t forget about it. I mean, I love Jane Austin. It’s just tough for someone to write in-the-style-of because being compared to Jane Austin? Tough row to hoe. You know what else Kowal wrote? THIS, whichis hilarious. Also, just a reminder in case that name sorta-kinda rings a bell: She wrote “Kiss Me Twice”, one of the very good novellas that made that category such a challenge to vote for for the Hugo.

Also! Just mentioning: of course I’m sure a lot of us are foodies by inclination, but not by opportunity or budget. I mean, there aren’t any foodie restaurants within eighty miles of my house, and if there were, I couldn’t afford to eat at them very darn often. But of course Chicago is quite a foodie town and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so Craig and I and Mike and his wife Linda all went out to this place called Vermilion? Which advertises itself as “Indian-Latin fusion”? (Just try to imagine that, right?) We all ordered one or another of the tasting menus. Mine included:

Blue Corn Crusted Scallop with Calabasa Goat Cheese Puree
Kerala Shrimp Patty with (a VERY sharp) Cucumber
Duck Vindaloo on Arapa with Pomegranate Molassas
Mysore Lamb Chop with Minty Red Onions
Street Bombay Chaat with Mint Cilantro Water
Lobster Portuguese (this turned out to be in a very nice coconut-milk sauce) with Coconut Rice
Kadai Sweet Potatoes (with fenugreek and other spices)
Chimichurri New Your Strip Steak
Mango Flan
A pudding-cake type of thing with pistachios
A death-by-chocolate type of thing with strawberries

It was amazing and very Indian with a little Portuguese and stuff. The waiters were wonderful and explained every dish with great enthusiasm and whisked the dishes away and brought clean silver in a surprisingly unnoticable way. It was quite spicy, but not TOO spicy. The flavor combinations were so complex! Araene from THE FLOATING ISLANDS would have loved it even more than I did. But it would definitely not be for, say, my mother, who would have needed way milder flavors.

So, my first panel’s not till ten thirty this morning (Friday), but we’re going to try to get back to the convention hotel by nine. Stuff to do, places to go, huge huge huge dealer’s room to explore . . .

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Writing Dialogue —

So, you have two choices when you’re writing dialogue. No, wait, three.

a) You can write good dialogue.
b) You can write bad dialogue.

I bet that seems like it exhausts the possibilities, doesn’t it? But no, because

c) You can write dialogue incorrectly.

Starting with the most trivial case, one you don’t see all that often actually in print, unless maybe this kind of thing is more common in self-published books, which seems possible:

c) Incorrect dialogue.

“You can’t really think that’s likely?” She asked. “I mean, considering what we know about his pet vampire pterodactyls?”

I see this in student narrative essays sometimes. Even if a student gets how and when to demote periods inside quote marks to commas, it’s less obvious that when you use a question mark inside quote marks, but followed by a dialogue tag, it is also demoted to comma status, sort of. ANYWAY, it doesn’t end the sentence. The dialogue tag ends the sentence, so that tidbit should go like this:

“You can’t really think that’s likely?” she asked. “I mean, considering what we know about his pet vampire pterodactyls?”

I trust you see the lower-case “she”, right?

Any book published by an ordinarily competent publisher should be free of this kind of error, which is why you can pick any book off your bookshelves to see how to punctuate dialogue correctly. But look at this:

“You don’t have to retire,” Von protested.
“I do,” Eva rejected the compliment. “And if Liege Monitum doesn’t make me an offer soon, I will have to retire here.” She smiled. “You would keep me?”

And also this:

She took his face in her hands. “Promise me that you will be here? Promise me that you will dance with me?”
“I don’t know, Eva,” Von squirmed. “Liege Monitum may not want that.”

Do you see what’s wrong with these tidbits? Eva rejected the compliment and Von squirmed cannot in any way be substituted for Eva said or Von said. They are complete actions, not dialogue tags, but they are being used as dialogue tags. This is wrong. This is incorrect dialogue. In both these cases, there should have been a period rather than a comma inside the quote marks.

Unlike the vampire pterodactyls, I didn’t make these tidbits of dialogue up. This is from THE COURTESAN PRINCE, by Lynda Williams, which I’m reading now. There are things I like about this book, and I think I will finish it (I don’t finish any book unless I really do like it), but I already know I won’t keep it. Dialogue errors is one of the main reasons. Even though there aren’t a lot of errors, I keep mentally rolling my eyes when I hit things like the above and this is not conducive to a smooth reading experience.

b) correct but bad dialogue, type one

I’m a big fan of adverbs, compared to anybody who thinks NEVER USE ADVERBS EVER EVER EVER THIS MEANS YOU is a rule to live by. I think adverbs are a perfectly respectable part of speech, thank you. But here is a bit of dialogue which shows why so many writers turn against adverbs:

“I know we can’t do anything right for you, Ann,” he said, “by definition. But there is something I want to be sure you know before you go.”
“Flying is bad for my health,” Ann said sarcastically.
“Of course, but I didn’t mean that.” He looked down into his big, gentle hands.

This is from the same book by Williams. Actually, this doesn’t bother me if you only see it now and then. But if characters are always saying things sarcastically or hastily or nervously or whatever, probably the author should go through and strip at least two thirds of those dialogue-tag adverbs out of the novel. Three quarters. Nine tenths, maybe.

You want to beware of adverbs in dialogue tags where the dialogue itself or the situation makes it plain that somebody’s sarcastic or hasty or nervous. If a car blows up, you don’t have to say it blew up suddenly. Because, hello? That is the nature of explosions? To be sudden?

Where the dialogue and/or situation don’t indicate how a line is spoken, though, you can reasonably have somebody say something gently or sharply or harshly or whatever will draw the right picture for the reader.

Also, when combined with another error, too much variety in dialogue tags, overuse of dialog-tag adverbs really stands out. On just one page of this book, we have characters who:

Pleaded
Asked
Said
Countered
Volunteered
Exclaimed
Demanded
Pointed out

And the only two invisible tags in this list are “asked” and “said”. Any one of the others would be fine, even any two, but because there are so many different words used as tags, they start to catch the eye. And once the reader notices that there are too many different words being used as substitutes for the invisible “said”, this sounds more and more ridiculous.

This particular book is actually not horrible in this respect. It’s actually not horrible at all, which is why I may go on and finish it. But I was thinking about dialogue and so relatively mild overuse of different tags kinda stood out.

b) grammatically correct but bad dialogue, type two

Boring dialogue is just as bad as overuse of creative tags. There are heaps of books with boring dialogue out there, but I don’t keep them, so it’s hard for me to come up with a good example. I’m talking about the kind of dialogue where every line is predictable, where every line serves to convey information but nothing about it surprises or engages or entertains the reader.

Sometimes this kind of dialogue is just used to dump info, where you aren’t having a conversation but a series of monologues, but that’s not necessarily the case. You can have what should be a quick, light conversation and yet every line said is boring and predictable and clichéd.

Info-dumpy or not, this is the kind of writing where you find yourself skimming ahead to see what happens, but you aren’t really engaged in the story or interested in the characters. I personally seem to see this a lot in contemporary mysteries when I’m trying to find a new author my mother will like, which is hard because the old-time mystery writers were SO GOOD stylistically (Rex Stout, Emma Lathen, Ngaio Marsh) that it’s hard for contemporary writers to compete.

Next! The fun part! Want to see brilliant dialogue? There’s so much great writing out there!

a) Fabulous non-use of dialogue tags by Lois McMaster Bujold.

If you’re looking for an example of how to minimize use of dialogue tags, you could hardly do better than Bujold. Just take any of her books off the shelf, flip it open randomly, and you get something like this:

Miles sank into his seat with a groan. “Some bodyguard you are,” he said to Elli. “Why didn’t you protect me from that interviewer?”

“She wasn’t trying to shoot you. Besides, I’d just got there. I couldn’t tell her what had been going on.”

“But you’re far more photogenic. It would have improved the image of the Dendarii Fleet.”

“Holovids make me tongue-tied. But you sounded calm enough.”

“I was trying to downplay it all. ‘Boys will be boys,’ chuckles Admiral Naismith, while in the background his troops burn down London . . .”

Elli grinned. “’Sides, they weren’t interested I me. I wasn’t the hero who’d dashed into a burning building – by the gods, when you came rolling out all on fire –”

“You saw that?” Miles was vaguely cheered. “Did it look good in the long shots? Maybe it’ll make up for Danio and his jolly crew, in the minds of our host city.”

“It looked properly terrifying.” She shuddered appreciation. “I’m surprised you’re not more badly burned.”

Miles twitched singed eyebrows and tucked his blistered left hand unobtrusively under his right arm. “It was nothing. Protective clothing. I’m glad not all our equipment design is faulty.”

“I don’t know. To tell you the truth, I’ve been shy of fire ever since . . .” her hand touched her face.

Okay, he says five lines and she says five. How many actual dialogue tags are in this passage? Not ten. We have “said” once to get the conversational ball rolling. After that, there are no dialogue tags at all. But we aren’t allowed to get lost in who-said-what? confusion, because every time we need a reminder about who’s speaking, we get a movement tag. Elli grinned. Miles was vaguely cheered. She shuddered appreciation. He twitched singed eyebrows. She touched her face. That’s four lines of dialogue with no tag at all and five with a movement tag, and zero confusion.

Plus! Notice the adverb “vaguely”? See how great that adverb is? “Vaguely cheered” is so not the same as “cheered” – we get a way better idea of Miles’ state of mind because of this adverb. And in the next line, Elli declares that the picture of Miles on fire was “properly” terrifying. Then Miles tucks his hand “unobtrusively” under his other arm. See how good writers aren’t the least bit shy of using adverbs? But mostly don’t in dialogue tags.

Nobody I know of does dialogue better than Bujold. The rest of us could only improve by studying her dialogue and trying to consciously apply techniques that I bet she just uses by feel. That was from BROTHERS IN ARMS, btw, but I expect you all recognized it?

a) Snappy, fun, unexpected dialogue by Dean Koontz

The reason I was actually thinking about dialogue is that I just finished the latest Odd Thomas book by Dean Koontz, and this made me go back and re-read all the other ones in the series.

There are five now, incidentally, and the latest one doesn’t resolve any of the big, HUGE questions that are raised by the fourth book, in case you wondered; it’s an interlude rather than any kind of resolution. Just a warning in case you rush out to get the fifth book because you expect a resolution: No. Doesn’t happen. I’m not persuaded Koontz actually knows where he’s going, actually. But the fifth book is still good, though.

Now, one of the reasons I like Koontz is that he is kinda horror-light, if you know what I mean. Things turn out happily in his books. The characters you become particularly attached to never get killed, whereas when the bad guys get eaten by mountain lions (or whatever), they are bad enough you can cheer their deaths. If there’s a dog? It won’t get killed, either. You can just absolutely trust all this, which I deeply appreciate because I really am not a hard-core horror fan.

But the Odd Thomas books are really good, a definite step up from most of his other books imho, and the wit of his protagonist is one big thing that contributes to this. (So is the moral character of the protagonist, but let’s stick to the subject, which is dialogue.)

Listen to this, from BROTHER ODD, the third book in the series. This is [part of] a conversation between Rodion Romanovich, who is supposed to be a librarian from Indianapolis but certainly isn’t, and the protagonist.

The kitchen offers stools here and there at counters, where you can have a cup of coffee or eat without being underfoot. I sought one of these – and came across Rodion Romanovich.

The bearish Russian was working at a long counter on which stood ten sheet cakes in long pans. He was icing them.

Next to him on the granite counter lay the volume about poison and famous poisoners in history. I noticed a bookmark inserted at about page fifty.

When he saw me, he glowered and indicated a stool near him.

Because I’m an amiable fellow and loath to insult anyone, I find it awkward to decline an invitation, even if it comes from a possibly homicidal Russian with too much curiosity about my reasons for being a guest of the abbey.

“How is your spiritual revitalization proceeding?” Romanovich asked.

“Slow but sure.”

[. . . . .]

With his attention devoted to the application of icing to the first of the ten cakes, he said, “I myself find that baking calms the mind and allows for contemplation.”

“So you made the cakes, not just the icing?”

“That is correct. This is my best recipe . . . orange-and-almond cake with dark chocolate frosting.”

“Sounds delicious. So to date, how many people have you killed with it?”

“I long ago lost count, Mr. Thomas. But they all died happy.”

[. . . . .]

Romanovich’s brow seemed to include a hydraulic mechanism that allowed it to beetle farther over his deep-set eyes when his mood darkened. “I am usually suspicious of people who are universally liked.”

“In addition to being an imposing figure,” I said, “you’re surprisingly solemn for a Hoosier.”

“I am a Russian by birth. We are sometimes a solemn people.”

“I keep forgetting your Russian background. You’ve lost so much of your accent, people might think you’re Jamaican.”

“You may be surprised that I have never been mistaken for one.” He finished frosting the first cake, slid it aside, and pulled another pan in front of him.

I said, “You do know what a Hoosier is, don’t you?”

“A Hoosier is a person who is a native of or an inhabitant of the state of Indiana.”

“I’ll bet the definition reads that way word for word in the dictionary.”

He said nothing. He just frosted.

“Since you’re a native Russian and not currently an inhabitant of Indiana, you’re not at the moment really a Hoosier.”

“I am an expatriate Hoosier, Mr. Thomas. When in time I return to Indianapolis, I will once more be a full and complete Hoosier.”

“Once a Hoosier, always a Hoosier.”

“That is correct.”

The pickle had a nice crunch. I wondered if Romanovich had added a few drops of anything lethal to the brine in the pickle jar. Well, too late. I took another bite of the dill.

Okay, I hope everybody finds that as much fun as I do, but since I’ve read the whole book and know what’s really going on with Romanovich, and also remember all the great exchanges between him and Odd Thomas, I have advantages. Trust me, though, the interplay between these two characters adds such pizazz to this book!

You can also see that out of nineteen lines in which somebody speaks, there are only four real dialogue tags – three using a plain “said” and the other an equally plain and invisible “asked”; none using adverbs. There are also two movement tags. The other thirteen lines I’ve quoted don’t use tags at all, but it’s always crystal clear who’s speaking. Partly this because of grammatical conventions – ie, switching paragraphs between speakers – and partly it’s because the two characters’ voices are so utterly different.

Not only are the voices distinct and distinctive, but also very little in this exchange is predictable and boring. Anybody see that line about Jamaicans coming?

Personally, I loved the bit where Romanovich says “I will once more be a full and complete Hoosier.” He’s a great character with a wonderful voice. Plus, hey, cake! Which I will just remove some of the suspense and assure you that the cakes are not poisoned.

Okay! That’s enough, I’m sure! Go forth and pay attention to dialogue! Me, I’m going to go re-read something by Lois McMaster Bujold now.

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So, this time next week? WorldCon!

Or should I call it Chicon? Frankly I find it confusing to have two different legitimate names for this convention.

Anyway! WorldCon is in Chicago which is SO CONVENIENT because it is a) within driving distance and b) my twin brother lives in Chicago and will be attending also, which will be great!

So, I’m on three panels:

1) Designing Fantasy Animals and Monsters — Friday at 10:30 AM. I asked to be on this panel because, and I know this doesn’t come across in my writing, but I have a master’s in animal behavior and evolutionary theory. So I will enjoy this panel very much! Plus I could easily just go gaze at my personal library and note down 20 or so books on the behavior of various animals that are both good and also intended for a general audience, so I hope panel attendees will find that helpful.

SO MANY BAD FANTASY WOLVES, I CAN’T STAND IT! I actually don’t mind a writer using symbolic wolves, but when an author thinks he or she knows what wolves are like (or wolf-dog hybrids) but actually doesn’t, it drives me batty.

In case you’re curious: wolf-dog hybrids usually don’t have nearly as much wolf in them as they’re advertised as having, but the more wolf a hybrid has in it, the more likely it is to be: extremely skittish and shy, extremely traumatized by being re-homed or subjected to a new environment; extremely difficult for strangers to handle; extremely difficult to train; extremely prey-driven; extremely dominance-driven; extremely unpredictable; and quite dangerous. All of these traits are likely to be worse if one of the parents was a German shepherd, which is NOT AT ALL LIKE A WOLF behaviorally. (An actual pure wolf is much more predictable and much safer to handle, but still very shy, very hard to re-home, very prey-driven, very dominance-driven, and very difficult to train.)

Now, how much does that sound like the wolf-dog hybrid in RA MacAvoy’s latest book DEATH AND RESURRECTION? Or the wolf-dog hybrid in SM Stirling’s DIES THE FIRE series? Why, not at all! Because people have absolutely no idea at all what real wolf-dog hybrids are like! Which I am used to, but detest.

Excellent wolves are shown in Kelly Armstrong’s werewolf books, btw. Several of my friends from grad school independently commented about how good her wolves are, how much like real wolves here werewolves are when they change shape. They’re such a pleasure to read about!

So, off that soapbox!

I’m also in a panel on Essential Worldbuilding at 7:30 PM on Friday night. I felt like I had something to say about this because I really do know pretty much what my worldbuilding influences were for my more recent books. Got some writers I really admire on that panel, too!

And the last one I’m on is a panel on Write What You Don’t Know — the panel description includes: “We’ll discuss how a little research and common sense can give you just enough background to really write what you don’t know.” I read that and thought: A little research, exactly! No need to spend a year reading everything ever written about China if you want to write a book set in China! So I have suggestions about what to do instead.

I did feel curious enough about the other panelists on my panels that I ordered several books by ’em. Don’t know if I’ll have time to read them real fast before WorldCon, but I’ll try. Some of them sound pretty good — I’ll let you know how they are when I read ’em.

I already know I love Jacqueline Carey’s books, though I haven’t read them all by any means. And I have read DESERT OF SOULS by Howard Andrew Jones, which is set in a fantasy Baghdad and which I quite liked. But I now also have DRUIDS by Barbara Galler-Smith; THE CLOUD ROADS by Martha Wells, about which I’ve heard excellent things; and THE COURTESAN PRINCE by Lynda Williams.

Plus there are other authors I know who will be there. If I get a chance, I want to swing by one of Sharon Shinn’s appearances and at least, you know, wave.

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Here’s a nice article —

About running a workshop on writing, a subject I’ve naturally been thinking about recently, because, as you may know, I get to participate in a workshop in a month or so at Archon.

Now, Amelia Beamer — who, btw, I hadn’t heard of but she has written a zombie novel called THE LOVING DEAD
“I tried hard to balance between encouraging them and giving them a bit of reality about the publishing industry and how much work goes into a writing career, so that they could make realistic goals about their writing and, hopefully, have a better chance of achieving their goals.”

And most of the feedback she got for the workshop was good, but I’m sure no one is surprised to find that one participant thought she was too negative about everybody’s chance for success. And I’m worried about that, too. Because in the abstract, it isn’t kind to let somebody think their work is just this close when it really really isn’t. But in practice, I sure don’t want to be the one to say This Really Isn’t Very Good, because, you know, ouch.

I have a pretty easy time telling a student, “No, you haven’t been doing your homework, because if you had done your homework, you would be able to do this problem. You may have been gazing at your homework and then getting the answer from the study guide, but that isn’t the same as doing your homework.”

But students aren’t, you know, emotionally invested in their homework, or even in their whole grade, the way a writer is invested in a book. So it’s a lot tougher to say, “No, you haven’t written a book, you have just put a lot of words in a row, but that isn’t the same thing.”

Besides, maybe I’d be, you know, completely, totally wrong. I have specific tastes in books — I like character-driven stories, for example, and in fact I generally really dislike stories that aren’t character driven, but plenty of people don’t share this strong preference and that is why there are non-character-driven books that are wildly successful and get nominated for the World Fantasy Award, say, and I’m all like, What is this? (I’m thinking of a particular novel that just left me utterly cold a few years ago.)

Plus then I think about other articles, such as for example this one by Rusch, where she says:

“Anything can be critiqued. Criticizing something is easy. It makes the critiquer feel smart, and just a little bit superior to the writer. But that kind of critique serves no real purpose, because that kind of critique is wrong from the moment the critiquer picks up the story or the manuscript . . . . Often, I tell writers this: Do not touch this story. Mail it. Everyone in the room liked it but me. Therefore what I have to say is irrelevant.”

And, well, there you go. Very important to keep that in mind: Everybody but me might like this.

Beamer says:

“In my defense, I agonized about how to balance between being encouraging and being realistic. I told these writers that I agonized about what to tell them, and I told them I hoped that they would beat the odds.”

That’ll be me, I expect. The agonizing part, I mean.

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Beginning A Novel: A different take on the subject

Just came across this post by Justine Larbalestier, whom you may recognize as the author of LIAR and the MAGIC OR MADNESS* trilogy.

So, in recent posts, I was really talking about the craft involved in beginning a novel, right? In her post, Larbalestier is talking about the impact of, I dunno, personality? Personal quirks? At least, individual variability in the way a particular author approaches a brand new book.

Larbalestier says:

“For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.

And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.”

And this is all very interesting to me, because — and this is the point I want to make, right here — this is SO DIFFERENT from the way I feel when I’m starting a new novel.

I love beginning a new novel! It flows! It sings! It writes itself! The protagonist walks onto the stage and does things and says things! The world builds itself around the protagonist! All of this deserves that clutter of exclamation points because it is just as easy as I am making it sound!

Most of the time, I barely revise the first pages. Lots of the time, I barely revise the first chapters. That part nearly always works just fine, it only gets polished a bit and then a bit more, but it seldom changes much. (I can think of one exception at the moment, where I went back and added a whole ‘nother chapter on the front of a finished book. But even there the first first chapter didn’t change much, it just got turned into the second chapter.)

Where I bog down, ten times out of ten, is the middle. Especially the early-middle part of the middle. Then it usually (not quite always) gets easy and fun again toward the end.

I thought I’d mention this just because, well, I know you are all aware that everyone is different. But sometimes it is a good idea to really make that point clear. Just to be sure that no one thinks they must be doing it wrong if [Insert Author] says they write this particular way but that’s not how you write. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever that every successful writer does or feels. Except put a lot of words in a row at some point, of course.

Larbalestier also says:

“Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I . . . have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.”

There we can agree. I have currently five — wait, six — novel beginnings of forty to seventy pages each sitting around. And just like Larbalestier, I sometimes have a really hard time choosing one to work on.

Anyway, just found that post interesting! So there you go.

* By the way, this is the only YA fantasy series I’ve ever read where magic seems to be intrinsically, unavoidably, a bad thing. Bad for you if you practice it. Bad for it if you have it but don’t use it. It really is a choice between magic and madness — either you use magic and die young or don’t use it and go mad, I think those were the choices. Not 100% sure, it’s been a while since I read the series, but definitely two bad choices, no good choice. Magic was definitely bad bad bad. Anybody else know of a magic system where the magic is intrinsically a bad thing? In YA?

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Goals vs plans

See, it was my GOAL to finish the current WIP and cut 100 pp before August 20th (classes started today, see, so back to work!). But that was not a PLAN. ‘Cause a plan is kind of a commitment, whereas a goal is just a goal, see.

So! I’m glad to say that I have indeed finished the current WIP! So far I have cut about 60 pp. More importantly, I have done the hard cutting that involves thinking. I cut chapters 5 and 6 entirely and knitted up the raveled edges, connecting the back of chapter 4 with the front of what used to be chapter 7. This required a certain amount of thought, as you can imagine. But we now get to the exciting part much faster!

I would still like to cut about 15,000 words — about another fifty pages — but a whole lot of that will be at the brainless read-and-cut-words level. Very little actual thought. A few changes will need to be made to be consistent with the stuff I changed in the early part, but not for a while and not too much.

Then I will read it straight through from front to back. That will actually be the first straight read-through. Hopefully I will find I like the ms! Although I will be trying to tighten things up a bit more and be working on characterization, that’s the part where I will actually be concentrating on catching all the inconsistent tidbits and fixing them. I think I have a fair knack at this, luckily.

Finally I will go through and deepen character arcs. Sigh. That is in fact something I always work really hard on, and I always wind up going through multiple times and thinking hard about things like: is this enough of a relationship between these two characters? Really? Does this other character change and grow from the front to the back? Really?

That is the stage at which I get both bored with the ms and unable to judge it; that’s when I finally send it to my agent. Her fresh take on it is SO VALUABLE, I can’t even tell you. Then usually one or sometimes two revisions after that.

Can’t wait to tie this one up with a bow and send it off. I haven’t worked too hard and thus am not feeling like I need a break to whittle down the TBR pile — I’ve been reading fiction right along and actually the TBR pile is amazingly small, only about forty books left on it — but in fact I have another ms I really want to pick up as soon as I’m done with this. So! New goal: to have this one sent off to my agent by the end of the month. Actual plan: to do that not later than the end of September.

If I get started on my other new ms. by the beginning of November . . . maybe I can actually get that one finished over Christmas Break? That would be great! (But it’s not a plan. It’s not even really a goal, till I see how it moves after I pick it up.)

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Quick link —

To a new favorite book review blog!

Naturally, this blog — Into The Hall Of Books — caught my eye because of Asheley’s review of HOUSE OF SHADOWS.

But it’s not just that the review is positive! No! (Though of course it is, or I would hardly link to it, right?) It’s also that it’s splendidly well organized and easy to follow! Which, for a fairly complicated book like H of S, is pretty impressive.

I particularly like the way Asheley underlined the important character and place names, and the way she broke the post up into different sections: The Characters, The Story, The World. And I PARTICULARLY liked the second on The Romance: “There are no swoons in House of Shadows”. Making that clear is a real favor to readers, these days when half of all fantasy (two thirds? Three fourths?) is very, very heavy on the romance.

And I liked the list of tags for Who This Book Would Appeal To at the end.

I’ve been reading other entries in this blog lately, and really, very good thoughtful reviews. Plus entries that made me add books to my wishlist, like I needed to expand that. I’ll definitely be stopping by Into The Hall Of Boooks regularly after this.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

More On Beginning a Novel

While we’re on the subject of beginnings, check out the first page of THE PEACH KEEPER by Sarah Addison Allen:

The day Paxton Osgood took the box of heavy-stock, foil-lined envelopes to the post office, the ones she’d had a professional calligrapher address, it began to rain so hard the air turned as white as bleached cotton. By nightfall, rivers had crested at flood stage and, for the first time since 1936, the mail couldn’t be delivered. When things began to dry out, when basements were pumped free of water and branches were cleared from yards and streets, the invitations were finally delivered, but to all the wrong houses. Neighbors laughed over fences, handling the misdelivered pieces of mail to their rightful owners with comments about the crazy weather and their careless postman. The next day, an unusual number of people showed up at the doctor’s office with infected paper cuts, because the envelopes had sealed, cementlike, from the moisture. Later, the single-card invitations themselves seemed to hide and pop back up at random. Mrs. Jameson’s invitation disappeared for two days, then reappeared in a bird’s nest outside. Harper Rowley’s invitation was found in the church bell tower, Mr. Kingsley’s in his elderly mother’s garden shed.

If anyone had been paying attention to the signs, they would have realized that air turns white when things are about to change, that paper cuts mean there’s more to what’s written on the page than meets the eye, and that birds are always out to protect you from things you don’t see.

But no one was paying attention. Least of all Willa Jackson.

What a charming book this one turned out to be! It’s the first one of Allen’s I’ve ever read, and really delightful, all about friendship and family loyalty and what it means to be adult and the bonds we feel to the past. Especially friendship, an emphasis I always appreciate. I’ve already ordered another of Allen’s books, THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON, because this one was really a pleasure. I think a guest poster over at The Book Smugglers recommended it, but I’m not sure. But I’m grateful for whoever drew it to my attention!

It’s also a story that falls into an unusual category: magical realism. This is a world where the saying that digging up one secret releases others isn’t just a saying, and where you’re not quite sure that the old tale in town about bottles filled with fog couldn’t be literally true. I really enjoy magical realism, which I first encountered in A WINTER’S TALE by Helprin. I loved that book, but Allen’s book is more approachable and has such appeal and charm, not to mention very sweet romances.

Also, not to belabor the point from the previous point, but see how this story starts? So gently and softly, even though the second paragraph sets up tension and also assure you that this book really is fantasy, which isn’t obvious, btw, and I was kind of thinking it was contemporary when I picked it up off the TBR pile, but it’s not, quite; and I thought it might be a mystery, but it’s not that either – quite. One curious little detail is that the protagonists never do find out the truth about the thing that happened in the past and that’s driving the story now – isn’t that interesting? (The reader does find out, but not the protagonists.) But the way the secret stays hidden ties into the theme of friendship and loyalty very nicely.

Also! I just read GUNMETAL MAGIC by Ilona Andrews, and if you like paranormals, you probably already know this, but Ilona Andrews is one of the best in the game. Is, are, whatever – you know that’s a husband-wife team, right?

This one features Kate’s friend Andrea Nash as the protagonist. For snappy dialogue and fun situations and a couple of GREAT practical jokes – I’m so tempted to give away the thing with the purple carpet, but I won’t – anyway, this is a great story. The story also offers a couple of very nice little tidbits about hyena behavior that are actually based on reality. Though that bit about how hyena siblings fight and kill each other, I don’t think that’s accurate, btw. Hans Kruuk never mentioned anything like that, and van Lawick provided anecdotal data which would tend to imply the reverse – strong friendly bonds between siblings. But the thing about hyena cubs digging dens too small for adults to fit into in order to get away from potentially deadly adult males is absolutely true.

Plus besides the stuff about hyenas, we get an Olde English Bulldogge! Nobody even knows that breed exists except me! And Ilona Andrews, apparently! I LOVE the way these authors know their dogs! So unusual!

Anyway, if you’re thinking about picking up a paranormal, this is a great choice. If you’ve never tried paranormals, this series is a good place to start, but I’ll just add that the first book is okay, the second better, and the series really hits its stride after that, so be patient and pick up the first three before you make up your mind. And the other series, the Edge series by the same authors – also quite good.

Plus! GUNMETAL MAGIC itself is long enough you don’t feel cheated, but – and though this is mentioned on the back cover, it was a nice surprise for me – as a bonus there’s also a hundred-page Kate Daniels novella at the back.

Let’s look at how GUNMETAL MAGIC starts:

Thud!

My head hit the sidewalk. Candy jerked me up by my hair and slammed my face into the asphalt.

Thud!

So you see, sometimes you really do start in the middle of the action. After my last post, didn’t want to leave everybody with the idea that you never do this. There’s this tiny little prologue, disguised as a couple of paragraphs of a newspaper article and clearly meant to orient new readers, but I think the authors are expecting most readers to be familiar with their world and characters, and I suspect they are right. So they jump right in with a series of action scenes before we start to develop the important personal dilemmas and relationship stuff that form the heart of the story.

On the other hand . . . ever hear how you aren’t supposed to start a novel with your protagonist waking up from a dream? Because actually, the above snippet IS a dream, and then Andrea wakes up. And it’s a great scene, because she’s tucked in the closet and holding a butcher’s knife. Sleepwalking to get a butcher’s knife probably does not count as the sort of dream that bores people! Which of course is why it works to start this book.

I’m very sensitized to beginnings just now, somehow!

Also, btw, just cut chapters five and six in their entirety from my WIP. Wham, there goes 16,000 words in one fell swoop! Not sure how much of it will go back in as I figure out how to connect the two disconnected ends again . . . but I think most of it will stay gone.

Man, this revision stuff. Can I just hire somebody else to do it?

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Beginning your novel

Okay, this is going to be a long post. Hope it’s also interesting!

HOUSE OF SHADOW, as many of you probably know, is my sixth book, by which of course I don’t mean the sixth I’ve written, but the sixth to hit the shelves. Of my published books, it was the . . . um . . . third I wrote. (It went to Orbit in a package deal with the first Griffin Mage book; the other two Griffin Mage books were written afterward even though they were published first).

Of all the books I’ve ever written, HOUSE OF SHADOWS was the tenth. (At this point, I’ve written . . . let me see . . . sixteen books. Wow. I didn’t realize until this minute I’d written so many! More about that in a minute.

I’m going to be helping with a writer’s workshop at a convention this fall, and the entries I’ll be critiquing just arrived in the mail yesterday, and that’s made me think more than usual about the process of learning to write.

At any convention panel, if you ask a roomful of attendees who all is writing a book or thinking of writing a book, most of the hands go up. Today, when it’s so easy to throw a book up on the internet to sink or swim, I think it’s more important than ever to think about learning to write. About the craft of writing. About quality. About what makes a story sing. Which, in my more optimistic moments, I think I have managed to do, now and then.

Like so many other things worth doing, writing is a craft you learn. All the raw native talent in the world won’t let you whip off a great book, or even a publishable book, the first time you open up your laptop and start hitting the keys. Unless you’re Heinlein, and even he didn’t do it with a novel (or a laptop, obviously).

What I got in the mail for the workshop were novel fragments: the first twenty pages of each novel. As it happens, these beginnings of novels are not very good. They do seem to me to show promise, but currently they do not appear to me to be publishable (in the old sense of acceptable to publishers) (and by that I mean that I would not expect them to succeed if they were self-published, either).

What flaws are evident in these beginnings of novels? As it happens, they share exactly the same flaws (which is also interesting, isn’t it?).

It seems to me that there are four major constituents of a story: setting, character, plot, and style (which includes craft). People frequently seem to forget style, but I think it is the foundation on which everything else is built.

What the novel fragments sent to me have, or appear to have, is plot. What they lack is everything else – though it seems to me they could be improved.
After thinking about this, I went down to my own personal library, where I pulled ten books off shelves. These were not my ten personal favorites or what I think are the ten best written or any kind of top-ten list. I chose them because each of them strikes me as similar in setting to one or another of the workshop entries while also illustrating something that seems to me to be lacking in those entries.

Then I typed up the first couple of page of each of these books. In case you’re interested, I chose two books by Steve Parry, one of Tanya Huff’s Valor series, one by Patrick Lee, one by Ilona Andrews, one by Judith Riley, two by Barbara Hambly, two by Gillian Bradshaw, and one by Susanna Clarke. (I may not use all these in the workshop.) (Also, I now see that this is eleven books. Whatever.)

What I want to focus on during the workshop is how experienced authors establish setting and character in their very first pages. I am pretty sure that one piece of (common) advice my workshop attendees have taken to heart is Start by setting something on fire. In other words, start in media res. Start in the middle of the action. Do not, for God’s sake, start with your character waking up, or driving somewhere, or staring into a mirror.

And that may be good advice, generally. But you know how Patrick Lee starts THE BREACH, one of the best SF thrillers I’ve ever read? Like this:

————

On the first anniversary of his release from prison, Travis Chase woke at four in the morning to bright sunlight framing his window blinds. He put his backpack in his Explorer, left Fairbanks on State Route 2, and an hour later was on the hard-packed gravel of the Dalton Highway, running north toward the Arctic Circle and the Brooks Range beyond. From the crests of the highest hills, he could see the road and the pipeline snaking ahead for miles, over lesser ridges and through valleys blazing with pink fireweed.

The trip was not a celebration. Far from it. It was a deliberation on everything that mattered: where he stood, and where he would go from here.

The console showed an outside temperature of fifty-nine degrees. Travis lowered the windows and let the moist air rush through the vehicle. The height of summer here smelled like springtime back in Minneapolis, the scent of damp grass just freed from snow cover.

—————

Look! Travis woke up and now he is driving somewhere. We are emphatically not in the middle of the action. How much internal dilemma and scenery description does it take before we get a glimmer that something exciting may possibly be on the way? Twelve paragraphs – about four pages. And the first hint of trouble?

He woke with a quickened pulse, aware that something had startled him, but unable to tell what, exactly.

But a storm has come up, and he thinks that’s what woke him up – it might have, too, for all we can tell. There are quite a few more pages before stuff really starts happening.

Then things build and build and build and OMG you have no idea. Starting so quietly only makes it more effective when Lee starts to turn up the pressure. Did I say this is one of the best SF thrillers EVER? It totally is.

But look how Lee does something a beginning writer often seems to have trouble with: he builds his world up around the protagonist, layering in sensory details to draw the reader right into the story. This is totally crucial. And if you’re writing a kind of more out-there SF or a secondary world fantasy? The farther you are from the contemporary world, the more important it is to build the setting.

And look at how Lee’s doing characterization right from the start It’s not a coincidence that Travis is heading to this really deserted, isolated, demanding country, or that he’s planning a route that’s going to avoid any chance of meeting anybody. We know something about the main character just from this choice. Plus, right away we get told this big thing about the main character: he’s been in prison and now he’s trying to figure out where to go with his life. Lee tells us this, but he’s showing us the protagonist’s sense of being stuck and his sense of alienation from normal life through the protagonist’s actions. That’s followed up with paragraphs like this:

What future did he see among [his family]? Even to the few who could understand and forgive what he’d done, he would always be the brother who’d spent half of his twenties and all of his thirties in prison. Twenty years from now, in the eyes of the next generation, he’d be that guy. That uncle. You could only get so free.

Right from the beginning, Lee is showing the reader this guy named Travis who did something – what? – something bad enough to be in prison for fifteen years. We have no clue what, but we know we’ll find out. We’re really interested, we’re drawn in. It doesn’t take an explosion to grab us, we’re already there. We can wait a few pages for the action to start.

But besides that, besides showing us this one character, Lee’s also showing that he understands the way people are, that he gets what it’s like to be that guy, the guy who’s an ex-con. We’re all nodding: Yeah, that’s true, that stuff about you can only get so free, it would really be like that, that’s just how a guy in Travis’s shoes would feel. This story is going to feel real because the author knows how to put real people into a book.

And the writing itself is deft. Lee is showing craftsmanship. It’s not just grammatically correct – though it is – it’s just good. If you read the first few pages carefully, you’ll find a fragment sentence – but you’d never notice it if you weren’t looking, because it fits the rhythm of the writing. And there is a rhythm to it. That’s important. Lee’s prose sounds good to the ear.

Look at the first two paragraphs above. You know how many words are in each sentence in that first paragraph? 24, 37, and 27. Now look at the second paragraph: 5, 3, and 18. Five and three! Look how much impact those short, punchy sentences have after all those long flowing sentences before. You don’t have to stop and analyze the writing to feel the punch, nobody’s going to stop and analyze this! You just feel it.

Style is so important. A feel for the language is so important. And we don’t have to worry about that with Lee. We know that in the first page, we can feel it. We can trust this writer. He’s going to tell us a story and we’re going to relax and let him take on his roller coaster ride.

Now, there are things that can go wrong with a book that starts well, obviously. Plot holes (I had a pretty serious suspension-of-disbelief problem with this very book), characters that are annoying for one reason or another (The woman needs to be rescued again? Really?). Maybe the plot is a bit too predictable. (Now, that’s not a problem with Lee!)

But that sort of thing is definitely not what an aspiring writer should be thinking of when thinking about how to write a novel that works. And definitely not when trying to hook an agent in those first couple of all-important pages. That writer should be thinking about building setting and character. And while it’s important to have a plot that flows from the beginning straight through the end, with good character arcs for the important (and maybe secondary) characters, it’s even more important to think about style and developing a feel for language.

For that last, the hardest and most crucial foundation on which absolutely everything else is going to rest . . . well, you learn to write by reading. And then by writing. I recommend Francine Prose’s book READING LIKE A WRITER, who makes a case for the importance of craft that ought to persuade anybody.

Now, at last, in case you’re interested and in order to illustrate the learning process, here’s the list of novels I’ve personally completed, in chronological order by date written, with comments.

The Ghost Trilogy was a secondary-world adult fantasy that actually, now that I think of it, might actually be YA. (So right from the beginning I was writing right on that border. Huh.) Anyway, while it’s not actually terrible, I have very little inclination to put this trilogy out as it stands. When I went back and looked at it not so long ago, I liked quite a few things about it. But it reads like . . . well, like . . . a first novel.

This trilogy represents roughly 1500 pp (about 500,000 words) of practice and that’s what I want to emphasize: this was great practice, but nothing I’d really want to see on the shelf. Plus it would not have been a good idea to get all ambitious about selling it because it’s long (every book is over 150,000 words and that’s far too long for most first novels) and because the books aren’t self-contained. If I’d really been committed to selling it to a publisher, I would probably have been really disappointed. But I never sent it out, so that was fine.

I learned a huge amount from writing this trilogy. I want to make that crystal clear. I learned how to punctuate dialogue – I remember going to my shelves and taking books off at random to see how punctuation was handled. I learned how to signal the reader about who’s saying what in dialogue. I learned how you can substitute movement for a dialogue tag. I figured out what tags besides “said” work for me. I learned it’s okay to use adverbs if you want to, including vague adverbs like “very,” if you do it right. (I do use fewer now than I used to, but I’m still not shy about using adverbs.)

I learned bigger things. I learned how to compress time: “Three weeks later, she rode at last out of the frozen pass.” I learned how to handle a “crowded room” scene, where more than two people are interacting. I learned that if I’m patient and let the story unroll in my head, suddenly the dots will connect and the plot will emerge. I learned to finish a novel.

There were some things I didn’t learn from writing this trilogy. I didn’t learn correct, standard grammar: I knew that already. (Thanks, Mom!) I didn’t learn that tension needs to ratchet upward: I knew that already, too. (Doesn’t everyone?) I didn’t learn how to describe a scene: description has always been the easy part for me. I didn’t learn how to beat a plot out of thin air when I have a deadline: that came later and was not much fun.

I think that probably every aspiring writer has things he or she is just good at and things he or she needs to learn by actually, deliberately figuring them out. I think you learn to write by reading and then by writing.

Okay! After the fantasy trilogy came an adult SF duology, though again I now see that one important character is more a YA type of character. Anyway, for this one I was playing around with the interaction between instinct and culture and that worked as an SF story, not as a fantasy story. (This is the only thing I’ve ever written that actually draws on my background in animal behavior and evolutionary theory.)

I now think the ideas in it are great and the plot is serviceable and some of the scenes are good, but overall I really don’t think much of it. When I re-read bits of it a few years ago, I was not happy with it. This duology – which I wrote as a single book, but would have had to break in half – it’s 218,000 words, for heaven’s sake – is in my opinion not as good as the fantasy trilogy. I would never put it out without huge, serious revision.

After that I started an adult fantasy novel that really was solidly adult and not YA. It started in this world and moved into a secondary world (it’s a portal fantasy). The pov character is a psychiatrist. I loved the part I wrote, about a novel’s worth of pages. It was ambitious and interesting and I thought it was worth finishing, but it not finished and it was clearly going to be oversized, so I put it aside and wrote –

THE CITY IN THE LAKE. The whole idea was to write something short and self-contained and good enough to sell and in fact really good. CITY succeeded on all counts and is sometimes still my favorite of all my books, depending on my mood. This was the first book with which I seriously tried to hook an agent, at which of course it also succeeded.

I’d read a useful piece of advice in there someplace, which was: The minute you send out your first book, start working on your second. So that was when I wrote –

LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS, the first Griffin Mage book. The idea was to write a second book that would appeal to the same readership as CITY. (I don’t know how well that succeeded.)

But I still loved the adult fantasy novel I had started back before CITY and I went back and finished it in a huge rush, 250 pp or so in 19 days, the fastest I’ve ever written anything. It was a very intense experience. The revision, which for months I referred to as The Never-ending Revision from Hell, was intense in a different way. The effort yielded the TENAI duology, which, however much I loved it, did not find a place with a publisher. (“The writing is beautiful, but we feel it is too innovative and we’re not sure it will sell . . .”) (Yes, that is an accurate summary of a couple different responses.) This is a duology I will eventually bring out independently, if I have to. I do not, however, want it to be the first book I bring out myself. I love it too much to make it the subject of that kind of fumbling experiment.

Then I wrote HOUSE OF SHADOWS. My YA editor at Knopf didn’t think it was YA – she’d rejected CHANGING WINDS, too – but my agent placed both with Orbit, so that was all right.

Determined to write a story that would unquestionably fall on the YA side of the line, I read a dozen or so YA fantasies and then sat down and wrote THE FLOATING ISLANDS. My Knopf editor loved it, so all was well!

Meanwhile, my editor at Orbit wanted a sequel to CHANGING WINDS, so I wrote fifty pages of two different books and sent them to her and said Pick one. She loved them both, and that’s why the Griffin Mage Trilogy is a trilogy and not a duology. Of course one turned into LAND OF THE BURNING SANDS and the other into LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH.

And that covers all the books currently on the shelves, right? That makes thirteen novels total. What about the other three? I don’t want to say much about them until I have something solid to announce, but I will say that I do expect all three to be published eventually, including my current WIP, which I just finished in the sense of OMG the revision make it stop.

And that’s the complete list to date. Sixteen. Wow.

So that should add perspective when I say: don’t fall in love with the first book you ever write. If it’s great, that’s splendid! But that’s the exception, not the rule. A million words of practice, that’s the rule. Don’t eat your heart out if your first book doesn’t garner much interest. Maybe you shouldn’t press forward with it. If that first novel was actually just a learning exercise, that’s all right. Focus on setting, character, plot, and most of all the craft of writing. Then write another book. If you have any kind of feel for the language, chances are good it will be so much better. My advice is: wait for that one before you push for publication.

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NPR’s Best Every YA list

You know what I think about NPR’s Best Ever YA list?

1) It was obviously a pure popularity contest, with no consideration for whether some of the hot titles of the past couple of years can possibly hold up over time;
2) Just because kids like something and frequently read something, doesn’t mean it’s YA;
3) Just having a young protagonist doesn’t make something YA.
4) Removing Ender’s Game because it is “too violent” is insane, if you’re going to include The Hunger Games and (God help us) Lord of the Flies.

I argue about points two and three all the time. I’m not saying you’ll never convince me otherwise, but no one’s done it yet.

And regarding the first point, I get that it may be difficult to assess whether a title will hold up over time unless you have a time machine. But, I mean, Twilight? Really? Are we going to argue that Fifty Shades must be great literature because after all it represented 20% of all book sales this year? Porn sells: that’s not news, but it doesn’t mean it’s great literature.

I have to admit that there are a LOT of titles on NPR’s list that I haven’t read. Like, more than half. Wow, who knew? Well, but I never used to read contemporary YA. Plus, of course, when I was a kid, YA wasn’t a category the way it is now and I wasn’t shoved toward YA books particularly.

It strikes me that there are definitely some on the NPR list that aren’t YA. These include:

Lord of the Flies
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Call of the Wild
Dune (I mean, good lord above, who would call DUNE a young adult novel? ???)
The Lord of the Rings
The Princess Bride
Flowers for Algernon (Give me a break!)
Anne of Green Gables (too young; definitely MG rather than YA)
The Uglies (ditto, imho)
And Ender’s Game wasn’t on there, but if it had been, imo, it’s not YA either. (I argue about that all the time.) But not because it’s too violent, whatever that means — because it just isn’t. It’s too slow, too big, too complicated, and does not “feel” YA. It just doesn’t.

Also, obviously some titles that made the list are not, shall we say, of the quality we would hope to maintain on a list of “Best Ever” titles of anything. Twilight is the obvious one here. If there are any other frankly bad books on the list, I don’t know what they are.

Obviously the list is highly and inevitably biased toward titles that everyone has read; ie, really popular titles or titles assigned in high school – and yes, I get that quite a few people must have enjoyed reading Lord of the Flies, for some reason, or it wouldn’t be on the list. But, wow, did a lot of titles get left off that deserved to be far, far above Twilight. !!!

Here are the titles that I totally agree with:

Harry Potter series (Rowling)
Hunger Games series (Collins)
The Dark is Rising series (Cooper)
I Capture the Castle (Smith)
The Last Unicorn (Beagle), which actually I’m not a hundred percent sure I agree it’s YA, but okay, we’ll go with it.
If I Stay (Forman)
The Enchanted Forest series (Wrede)
The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown (McKinley)
The Trickster series (Pierce)
The Chrestomanci series (Jones)

Remember that I haven’t read the majority of the titles, though! Nevertheless, in a just universe, the following titles (in no order whatsoever) would certainly have made it onto that list:

Power of Three and Dogsbody (Jones)
Protector of the Small series (Pierce)
Beka Cooper: Terrier (Pierce)
Sorcery and Cecilia (Wrede and Stevermer)
Marelon the Magician (Wrede)
A Certain Slant of Light (Whitcomb)
Girl of Fire and Thorns (Carson)
The Scorpio Races (Stiefvater)
An Alien Music (Johnson)
The Changeover (Mahy)
The Truth Teller’s Tale (Shinn)
The Attolia series (Turner) — are you kidding me? How can this not be on the list?
Tombs of Atuin (Le Guin)
Wrinkle in Time (Le Guin) – did I just miss it? Shocked this isn’t on there.
A Fistful of Sky (Hoffman)
The Sunbird (Wein)
I Am Not a Serial Killer series (Wells) – I know that it’s not usually considered YA, but to me it clearly is.
Tomorrow When the War Began series (Marsden) – again, how can it possibly not be on the list?
Airborn duology (Oppel)
Moonflash (McKillip)

And, for contemporary titles rather than genre, no list can possibly be correct unless it includes:

The Sky is Everywhere (Nelson)
Almost Perfect (Katcher)
Five Flavors of Dumb (John)
Catalog of the Universe (Mahy)

Comments? Any other “MUST INCLUDE” titles?

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