Book Design is Completely Underappreciated – AKA, I Only Notice it When it’s Bad

I recently read to book called something like “The Land of Starbeams and Moonlight” (not actual title btw). The flowery title was accompanied by a dark cover of a woman lying on the ground in a Pretty Dress. At this point the Pretty Dress cover is familiar to anyone who reads YA, and, intrigued, I bought it.

Turns out the title had nothing to do with the book or its story. The lady in the pretty dress didn’t at all resemble the protagonist, who, as a citizen of authoritarian dystopia with problems supporting its population, would unlikely find herself lounging about in evening wear. As such, I instantly forgot the name of the book and when I went to google it midway through reading it, I had to go and look up the title. I had literally no idea what it was called. Seeing the cover again, I was again surprised – it was basically like seeing it for the first time I recognized it so little.

Obviously, these are bad things. You want the title and cover to grab your readers but you also want them to remember them once they buy the book. I picked up this book expecting one thing and getting another – in my case, I was mostly ok with it, but in another who knows. It shook my confidence in the book, and I read the rest of it feeling more like an editor or reviewer rather than someone just reading for pleasure.

Advertisements

Writing Music, Or A Lack Thereof

Writing music is an eternal question. Sometimes all I want to do is close Chrome, open iTunes, fill myself up with music and write.

However, what typically happens about ten minutes after this is that I realize my mind is being clogged up and I rip out the earbuds and discover how blissful silence is. But inevitably, the next time I go to write I find myself back in iTunes, carefully constructing a playlist of the perfect ambient tracks believing that this time I’ll actually listen to the whole thing.

I cant listen to music while I write. It distracts me. Not just the words, because I normally go for trance or ambient music – 7+ minutes of instrumental synth – so as to leave my mind uncluttered. I think the reason is that I listen to music primarily as writing inspiration. Basically, I don’t have inspirational writing music, I have inspirational plotting music.

More or less all the time I spend listening to music – walking to class, home, driving – is spent plotting. I don’t like just listening to music to fill up space, if music I like is on I’m thinking about character and mood. I think it’s this that has made me unable to listen to music while writing.

What about you? What are your perfect writing songs or artists? Do you listen to music while writing at all?

Trends in YA: Vampires – AKA, My Twilight Origin Story

I am done with the words ‘paranormal romance’ and all that accompanies them. Specifically, Vampires.

Vampires are complicated.

Vampires are complicated.

But why rag on vampires? People already know they’re on on the way out if not completely tired by now (I just googled an article called ‘why Vampires refuse to die’ and it was from all the way back in 2008). Twilight is over, vampires are over.

Or should I say, vampires as a trend are over. Vampires as plot devices, I fear, will remain eternal (I apologize, Dracula and Anne Rice fans. Vampires don’t do it for me).

When vampires were a trend, people liked to talk about what they ‘meant.’ What ‘vampire’ was code for. And then zombies became en vogue, and everyone wondered a) what zombies were now culturally coded for, and b) what supernatural being would become the new face of cultural critique. A popularly accepted view is that vampires, and specifically romantic vampires – especially the ‘good’ ones that refuse to drink blood, are metaphors for resisting sexuality and protecting the conservative, virginal principles of our (always) female protagonists.

Honestly, I think the vampire’s draw as a trend had less to do with their narrative potential and more with wish fulfillment (He’s a super special vampire but he picked YOU because you are amazing) and Twilight copy cats (even when they end up better than Twilight).

‘Vampire’ is also quick shorthand for powerful alpha male who’s also attractive and mysterious and the whole immortal and supernaturally strong fighting machines lets a normally tame YA or Romance book have some big action scenes without the lead love interest being a thug who starts fights. It’s no accident that 99.9999% (actual statistics, definitely) of recent vampire books feature vampires devoid of traditional vampiric traits – inconvenient (and, if your dude has to be hunky and mysterious; kind of lame) thing like burning in the sun, sleeping in coffins or turning into a back.

Except Marceline. Of course the one exception (that I can think of) to my generalizations lies in Adventure Time, show of a generation. Marceline is moody and attractive like a modern vampire, but also terrifying as balls and of the turns-into-a-bat and burns-in-the-sun variety.

Marceline: adorable to terrifying in 4 seconds

Marceline: adorable to terrifying in 4 seconds

 

Honestly, I never really like vampires. I mean, I read Twilight right when it came out, ie, I purchased a used copy on amazon after seeing it in a Scholastic Book Order Catalogue (of the kind you got in school, where you’d check off the books you wanted on a list, send them a check and then three weeks later you’d get to school and there would be a pack of books on your desks – it was AMAZING), received an second hand ARC copy and of course, loved it immediately.

I admit it, in 8th grade when I first read Twilight before all the hoopla I thought it was the shit. I was into it. To be fair, this love waned fairly quickly. By the release of New Moon I purchased the sequels more out of irony and bitter-ender devotion rather than with my original glee. A few years ago I sold my original Twilight ARC on ebay and made $115. A high point in my life.

whoa

Here’s a signed copy that recently sold for $650.

Origin story aside, despite my initial enjoyment of the Twilight books, I never sought out any of the many paranormal romances published to cash in on Twilight’s huge success. I think the reason my 13 year old self responded to Twilight had less to do with the fact that it featured vampires and more with the following:

a)    Bella is ~a nerd! so clumsy! so relatable!~ but everyone loves her anyway, so it’s definitely wish fulfillment which I wasn’t yet immune to

b)    Twilight was an intense love story (as in, it’s true love right away, no real world concerns, etc) but also very chaste and uber earnest

c)    The stakes, too, are intense. Like, wow, she’s almost dying. And not in some completely dumb, Romeo & Juliet way. While now I roll my eyes at such melodrama, at 13 I ate it up.

d)    I had read virtually no romance before it.

To illustrate how different my 8th grade literary tastes were, my favorite book series at the time was Micheal de Larrabeiti’s The Borrible Trilogy, a 70’s era British trilogy about runaway orphans who turn into Borribles, kids with pointy ears who can live forever if they stay true to the non materialistic Borrible life. It’s super violent (the plot of the first book is that in retribution for invading their territory, the Borribles assemble a team to murder the 7 leaders of this other tribe), dense(my copy is a 700+ page omnibus) veeeeery English(there’s basically a translation guide in the back for us yanks). For a time I was very proficient in English slang.

Image

A selection of Borrible covers, including the omnibus version (first left), the one I knew and loved and broke the spine of repeatedly

tl;dr, these books were my favorites at the time, and had absolutely nothing to with anything adjacent to Twilight. Also, an opportunity to wax rapsodic about a weird ass, if little known, series.

I DIGRESS. My brief love affair, for whatever reason, didn’t result in a love of all things vampire. Or, in general, other paranormal romances. I think the closest I came (and it’s a pretty weak comparison) is when I picked up Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series in 2008 or so. But the vampires in the TMI series are ornamental, not the main draw.

This may be heresy, as, like I’ve mentioned, I’ve read very little in the way of Vampire teen lit. No Vampire Academy, nothing P. C. Cast, no Blue Bloods, no… whatever else there is. I’m not intrigued. Maybe there’s some supreme vampier epic out there (um, Dracula? Come on, self) that demonstrates the narrative potential of vampires, but I remain uninterested. In fact, when I learn something is vampire – adjacent now, there had better be some twist in there (of course, by now, the twist would be that modern vampires behave like their traditional counterparts with the burning in the sun business) for me to indulge it at any level.

What do you think? Are vampires still a worthy guilty pleasure or cultural metaphor? What Vampire masterpieces am I drawing a blank on?


When am I Supposed to Stop Reading YA? AKA, Is the Difference Between Literary Fiction & YA Itself a Fiction?

I used to wonder about this when I went to bookstores and inevitably wound up in the YA section, picking up books featuring ladies in elegant gowns and swirling text on the covers. As I’ve gotten a little bit older, aka moving from ‘teenager’ to ‘young adult’ to ‘twenty something’, I wondered if other people there could tell that I was shopping out of my demographic.

Admittedly, these thoughts didn’t last long because I quickly decided that I didn’t care. And honestly, what does ‘YA’ mean as a book category, anyway? Obviously it doesn’t work well as a rating system – there’s plenty of sex and drugs and violence and language and what have you in YA – and obviously isn’t a singular genre. Yet there is something clear cut and distinct that separates YA from from its fancypants cousin, Literary Fiction.

In trying to come up with key differences, it seems that the only real concrete one is that YA books feature teenage protagonists and Literary Fiction – well, sometimes does? What about The Lovely Bones? I mean, you could make a kind of YA argument for that book, but I’ve always thought of it as more literature than YA (and I actually don’t know how it’s categorized, so maybe this isn’t a good example). I’ve read plenty of broody novels about children and teenagers found in the Literary Fiction. Could it be instead be true that while Literary Fiction can be about anyone, YA books basically have to be about teenagers?

This seems likely. Have you ever read a YA book that featured an MC over, say, 23, or followed their teenage protagonist into adulthood (not just in the epilogue)? If I have, I have forgotten it. Books like Beauty by Robin McKinley, a retelling of Beauty & the Beast which features an adult (well, 18 or so year old) Beauty, might occupy a murky place between fiction and YA fiction but for the most part, YA is about teens only.

I was thinking about this difference recently because of the book After The Ending. It’s a kind of post-apocalyptic, post-world ending epidemic novel that features two female best friend POVs who are trying to find each other and survive in this new world. The plot also turns supernatural and there is romance of a sort in the book. Did I just describe a YA novel?

Technically, no, the book follows 26 year olds who are women, not girls. I’ve seen the authors say they want this book to be a kind of genre bender, being a dystopia style book featuring adults. But when reading the above description, didn’t you automatically think it was YA? Partially because of the post-apocalyptic trend flooding the market theseyyt6 past few years, partially because it has an action heavy plot without being strict genre? I did. And reading it, the two main characters remained young women in my mind, even though attempts to differentiate this book from YA are made through a lot of language and sex.

So dystopian/post-apocalyptic action novels seem to be the property of YA. What else? Most non erotic vampire books. Moody but smart coming of age romance involving high schoolers. Really, a majority of books about the under-20 set.

I’m mostly satisfied with this distinction because it seems accurate, yet I maintain some doubts that this is the main factor in dividing YA fiction and Literary Fiction. Because if Literary Fiction can feature pretty much anyone as an MC but YA fiction should usually be a teen, what separates the Literary teens from the YA teens?

Forgetting everything else, Literary Fiction and YA just feel different. If this is a created feeling of difference, it doesn’t matter because it influences you anyways. I admit, when I think of Literary Fiction I think of New York Times bestseller lists, book reviews by intelligent people with multiple degrees from premier institutions of the liberal arts, contemplations of the human condition and apathy.

This isn’t fair. Really, it only accounts for a small piece of the Fiction Pie (yum?). What about the mystery/thriller genre, where the author’s name in big block text takes up half the book cover? Or Romance, or so called Chick Lit? If I’m speaking honestly, I feel like the main difference between these latter categories and their YA counterparts is that – I’m going to say it – the ‘adult’ versions seem much more boring.

Even as I type the word ‘boring,’ covers of literary fiction I’ve enjoyed float through my brain (what about The Night Circus?). So I think this is mostly just me. Mystery/thrillers, especially those in an unending series, do gangbusters in the charts and are very popular. But to me they, as a genre, hold no intrigue. A YA novel with a mystery in it, or with pulse quickening action scenes and other tropes common to thriller, however, will catch my eye. The same goes for Romance and any number of Fiction subgenres. But still, you have mystery/thriller genre books written in YA.

Is the difference between YA and fiction as simple as “it seems YA and thus it is?”

If so, my desire to shelve my YA habit as I move farther and farther out of being a Young Adult myself is going to disappear.