Tag Archives: books

7 more “first” questions for LV13

Having entered the Like a Virgin 2013 contest, I am consumed with a fretful anxiety that sets me to pacing in circles and refreshing Twitter, where I am commiserating with the like-minded, over and over again. The blog hop, though helpful, has not been enough to occupy my tormented mind, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. With this in mind, I took the liberty of posing seven MORE questions for you, my peers and competitors, to answer…

1: Who was the first character you came up with? 

2: Who was the first person to read your book?

3: How long did your first draft take?

4: What was the first thing you changed when you started revisions?

5: Who was your first celebrity crush?

6: What are the first TWO WORDS of your book?

7: What was the first book that made you cry?

My answers:

1: Ericka, which probably explains why she transitioned from being “one of the three main characters” to “THE main character.”

2: My husband read the first draft as I went till about halfway through, at which point I realized it was terrible and locked him out of the Google document. The first person to read it all the way through was my friend Sarah, who was an absolute delight because she’d supply me with near-constant commentary as she read. She would make these wonderful comments about the characters and make outlandish predictions about side characters (I.e “I think Alex’s mom is a prostitute.” Spoiler alert: She isn’t.)

3: 17 days.

4: Tons of little things, but what stands out is the fact that in the first draft, I had misspelled “windshield” every single time it appeared.

5: I kind of regret posing this question, because now I have to answer it too! Does anyone remember the season of American Idol from years back, the one where Sanjaya Malakar held on for weeks and weeks despite not being very good? I thought he was all kinds of fine. When he sang “Besame Mucho”? GUSH.

6: “The shattered.”

7: I read a lot of the California Diaries books when I was about twelve. (I had no idea they had anything to do with The Baby-sitters Club until I looked it up just now. Those were before my time.) One of Sunny’s books really got to me because it hit too close to home.

An Addendum to “The Psychology of Abandonment”

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This image has been spreading like wildfire through the online writing and publishing community. Agents and editors post it with sage nods. Writers post it as a warning to others.

However, the graphic only applies to the reasons books are abandoned once someone has actually started reading them. Many books aren’t lucky enough to get past an initial screening process – usually, reading in the description on the back cover or the inner flap of the book jacket and a cursory look at the first page or two. Here’s what usually makes me pick up a book only to promptly return it to the shelf:

1: Any book jacket synopsis that says anything remotely like “So-and-so has it all.” The only thing that could possibly redeem this is a list of unique accomplishments, but what follows is usually a description of terribly bland Middle Aged White Chick achievements. (Husband, kids, flashy job, blah blah blah.) And it’s fine if your character does “have it all” at the beginning of the book, I suppose (though it doesn’t seem like a very good way to start – what happened to in media res?), but for the love of all that’s good, find a better way to describe it. 

2: A description involving the main character returning to their hometown for any reason – high school reunion, wedding, funeral, ailing parent, etc. It’s such an artless, obvious way to make a character literally confront their past. Where’s the creativity?

3: The flip side of #1 – a synopsis that begins by stating that “So-and-so has hit rock bottom,” or any variation thereof. If your character is literally at rock bottom, there are no stakes. You have already told the reader that circumstances will invariably get better, which is boring.

4: A first page that begins with a character’s name. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about things like “Abigail wished she had stayed at home” or “Clark was tired of being here.” Those are fine. What I’m referring to are sentences that cram a character’s full name in, right off the bat, for no good reason; for example, “Isabelle Lenore Givings shuddered as the floorboards creaked beneath her feet.” I’m not sure that there’s ever a reason that a reader needs to know a character’s full name immediately, and if there is, it can surely be done much more artfully than this. This method of opening a book only tells me that the author is way too proud of their character’s (usually ridiculous) name, and it has been included due to self-indulgence. I’m not fond of overtly self-indulgent books.

All of these leave me dropping a book like it’s a hot potato.

Does anyone have anything to add?

In Which Tumblr Users Miss The Point

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(This post contains spoilers.)

This picture shows up every time I look through the #tfios tag on tumblr.

The first time I saw it, I just rolled my eyes and thought “Oh, teenage girls. You so crazy.” (I’m allowed to say that because I was one of them not very long ago – and I do not mean to disparage teenage girls. We’re all a little crazy. Generally speaking, however, teenage girls are a very particular type of crazy.)

But the more I kept seeing it, the more it bothered me.

The first thing that bothers me is this: Augustus Waters dies. They know that. Everyone on tumblr knows that whether they’ve read The Fault in Our Stars or not. Being a very, very literal person, my thoughts are “So, you want someone to make you fall in love with them and then die a slow, painful death? Okay.” BUT I know that’s not what they mean at all and interpreting it as such says as much about me as it does about the ones posting it, so I’ll give a pass on that.

But my concern is this… what exactly is it about the character of Augustus Waters that they’re idolizing this way?

Good looks? Okay, makes sense. Who doesn’t want an attractive partner? No one hopes for an ugly one, that’s for sure. Sense of humor? Okay. Are they just saying they want someone to fall head over heels in love with them like Augustus did with Hazel? Fair enough.

But here’s the thing: Augustus Waters is not the only fictional character or the only real person who is good looking, funny, and capable of loving someone intensely. So why are they idolizing him in particular?

I’m worried that the people posting this picture don’t actually get the character. By elevating him to this status, they are placing him in the Manic Pixie Dream Boy role. That’s how Augustus was at the start of the book, and for good reason. He was trying to be something he wasn’t.

I know I’m taking this too seriously, but it makes me sad to see a great character with a real personality, from one of the best YA books of this generation, reduced so inelegantly to being an “Ideal Boyfriend Material” trope.

Maybe if the image said “Be my Gus,” I’d react a little better…

Should We Mourn the Death of Paper Books?

When was the last time you saw wind?

You’re probably picturing tree branches writhing in an aimless breeze, or long grass flattening to the ground as clouds float overhead in the same direction. You may be thinking of a violent gust that destroys your hairstyle (and perhaps plasters it to your lip gloss), or autumn leaves floating down a suburban sidewalk.

In none of these scenarios do we actually see wind itself, however. We see the results of it, the effect it has on the more tangible things in our world, but not the force itself.

When someone endeavors to write a book – works of fiction in particular, I should say – they are attempting to carry their ideas over the threshold of tangibility. There is a complete world in the author’s mind, a separate universe that no one will ever know about unless the writer allows them to. There are people, planned and understood down to the most minute of details – birthdate, zodiac sign, inconsequential birthmarks – and loved so deeply that their creator must stop and remind themselves “Oh, these people aren’t real.” But no one else will ever love them, nor even know them, unless the author permits it.

Without the dedication and tenacity of the author, the world they have created and the inhabitants of it will never be known to anyone but themselves. Even if the ideas are embodied in text, the results can be unsettling. Once the elation of having completed such an arduous task fades, the author is left with the realization that their ideas, their beloved characters, their entire universe can be condensed into a mere string of oh so many words. The days, weeks, months, or years of hard work and emotional turmoil have given birth only to a file so small that it accounts for just an infinitesimal amount of a hard drive, a grain of sand on a sprawling beach.

Printing it out helps. With the click of a button, the book is pulled out of the technological ether and given a solid form. It can at last be held in your hands rather than just your heart. At first, there is relief in this, and a sense of accomplishment – but soon, the writer will realize that their hard work still, at best, fits into a stack of papers no more than two inches thick. The size of it is cruel – it belies the scope, the importance, of the words it contains.

But, however paltry the magnitude of a printed work may be, it still offers some solace. It is the proof of hard work, the evidence of a difficult task completed – it is the portal through which the imagined world can achieve reality.

And this, I think, is why the e-book revolution is being met with opposition and sadness. The demand for paper books is decreasing, and our precious works are more and more often condemned to stay in the very ether from which they came. The frequency with which our stories will be granted a tangible form will decrease until the practice is unheard of. No ink, no paper, no special editions to decorate our shelves. All that will be left are the stories themselves.

But the stories are all that we ever truly needed. You cannot see the characters. You cannot live in the world formed in your mind’s eye – but they are perfectly tangible nonetheless. Just like we cannot see the wind, only the effects of it, we can see the effect of a story. We feel what the characters feel and puzzle over the meaning of the narrative, just as the blades of a windmill turn.

Books do not need to be validated by paper binding. It does not mater what conduit is used to bridge the gap between our world and the world of fiction, as long as that bridge is crossed. The proof of a story’s significance has never lied in the number of pages it occupies. It has always, instead, dwelt in the effect it has on a reader. Everything else is an illusion, that, in this day and age, serves little purpose other than to ease the writer’s insecurities.