Thursday, February 11, 2016

on writing: why ya?

The other day I was talking with a friend. I shall not be sharing the name of said friend. In fact, being that I'm a storyteller, it's possible I am completely making up said friend in an effort to give validity to this blog post. Or maybe I was struggling with how to approach this topic and thought, 'hey, what about saying a friend asked me all these awkward questions verses a troubling amount of people have been asking me questions that are a wee bit worrisome?!' But I ain't tellin', thus you'll never know for sure.


Said friend -- having first picked their jaw up off the floor after finding out that the book I'd been talking about writing for five long years was in fact an actual book and had been published -- asked me some interesting questions.

And while I don't feel I need to defend myself or my writing, I do think there is some merit to discussing my friend's questions in a public forum. You see, since publishing, I've noticed a trend in the way people -- specifically adults -- react to my declaring I write YA contemporary coming-of-age. In fact, it's gotten to a place where I feel a little ... ashamed. Like it's some kind of dirty secret I should hide. Thus, in an effort to cleanse myself of this feeling, I've decided to air these questions out and hopefully put them to rest. Or open up a can of worms that's about to explode in my face. Only time will tell.

Question One: Why write YA? Isn't that cheating?
Right out of the gate my friend came out swinging. This question completely stumped me. I've never thought to question why a mystery writer pens mystery stories nor considered their choice of genre cheating. And it was in this moment that I realized something shocking and concerning, there are those who believe some genres aren't real or important. Thus to some if you tack YA onto a book suddenly it's not worth reading and could even be viewed as cheating. Instead of answering the question, I asked 'well, why not YA?' To which my friend stated, 'well, YA is for kids and it's not about real life.' Now, I'm not sure what my friend's childhood was like, but let me tell you, some of the most turbulent and heart-wrenching years of my life were spent between the ages of seven and eighteen. As I was too shocked to respond, they barreled on ahead with this next gem.

Question Two: And by writing YA aren't you limiting your audience? Don't you want adults to read your book?
Now as an avid and eclectic reader the thought of not reading a book based on genre or sub-genre or whatever other label is being thrown at a book has never crossed my mind. I know just as many adults who love reading the Percy Jackson series as I do kids. In fact, I started reading the Percy Jackson series based on two recommendations from adults and then I got a few more adults and a handful of kids hooked on them as well. But before I could shake myself out of my stupor and answer, my friend continued.

Question Three: You're just writing YA because it's so popular and marketable, aren't you? 
This was the part of the conversation during which I pondered why we were friends and how I could easily exit the conversation without maiming another human being. Not bothering to wait for a response, my friend plunged ahead.

Question Four: Not to mention, why such a boring sub-genre? Coming-of-age is run of the mill, everyday life, and uninteresting crap. Don't you want people to be entertained? 
Clearly not. Clearly by writing a YA contemporary coming-of-age novel, my main goal in life is to a. bore the hell out of people while b. writing a book in the most popular genre all while c. alienating all the adults on the planet thus d. limiting my audience and oh yeah e. cheating. Once again, I was gobsmacked. However, the next question woke me up.

Question Five: Why not write a different genre? Something worth writing?
Here I did speak up. And I'll share my answer.

I have in fact written other genres. I've written a story about a man in his late thirties who's a recovering drug addict and is struggling to put his life back together. I've written a fantasy novel set in a circus featuring a ghost, a murderer, and an old man with dark secrets. I've written a story about a woman whose possessed by an alien that makes her kill her husband. I've also written a story about a vengeance demon who goes around killing for the sport of it.

There are more, but Ashley's story was the first to ring true. All The What Ifs was the first time I thought, 'AH-HA. I've got something here!' And I didn't think about the genre or marketability or if I was cheating or who my audience would be. All I thought about was getting her story right and making it worthy of her. Everything that came after that was arbitrary.

And if there are those who don't want to read All The What Ifs based on the genre or the sub-genre or whatever personal feelings and opinions they bring to the table that's totally, completely, 100% right and good and valid and their prerogative. Not every book is for every person. It's just a fact.

But to say one genre is better than another or one story is worthier of telling than another ... well, that's a dangerous and slippery slope and it's what most concerns me about my conversation with my friend.

There's a quote I love and it goes a little something like this:

I'm not going to defend my book to my friend. I'm not going to defend my choice of genre or sub-genre or any of that jazz. But what I will defend is every writer's right to be treated with respect whether they write YA, erotica, political thrillers, fantasy, self-help, or whatever the case may be. Writing is hard enough without dictating to authors that there are better genres or more worthy stories. Writing is a place for hopeful and struggling dreamers. It's a place where all should feel welcomed and all should have the chance to give this crazy life a try. Once we start defining what stories are worth telling we limit the potential for greatness and possibility. And what a shame that would be.

So write, my friends. Write about mysteries and kissing. Write about heartache and first loves. Write about zombies and ghosts and faeries and axe-murderers. And don't let anyone tell you it's not worthwhile. It's all worthwhile. It's all welcome to the party. It's all a thing of beauty.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ang reads: the February 2016 edition

2016 is underway.
As I posted last month,
I'm making it a goal to blog about the books
I've been reading at least once a month.
Let's recap, shall we!

Here's my GoodReads 2016 Reading Goal:

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Angela has read 0 books toward her goal of 50 books.

Books read in January:
(links to reviews on GoodReads)
Holidays with Jane: Trick or Sweet published by Indie Jane Press
Black Wood by SJI Holliday
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Book One by L. Frank Baum
Attempting Elizabeth by Jessica Grey

Now, I know y'all are dying to hear what my favorite book was last month.
Truth to be told, I suck at picking favorites.
So you'll have to wait for my 2016 year end wrap up to get a straight answer.
However, I will say that there wasn't a book I read this month that I didn't enjoy.
I'm thinking that's a win-win all around.

Books I'd like to read this month:
The first is a book a great bookish friend sent to me last year.
i. am. ALL. the excited to finally read it.

The second is by a wonderful author friend of mine.
I loved Wind Chime Cafe hard
and look forward to this beautiful sequel!

And the last is the second book in a classic series.
One of my reading goals this year is to read all the Oz books.

link to goodreads

Annnnd on that note!

1. Whatcha been reading?! 
2. Quick: tea or coffee?
3. Heard of any good books you're dying to get your hands on?
4. Have you read Oz? 
5. What does love got to do with it?


Monday, January 11, 2016

on writing: the beta/writer relationship

This morning my bestie, partner in crime, and the better half of my brain-brain -- two bodies, one brain -- wrote this post about her journey while I wrote All The What Ifs. It's made me nostalgic and reflective. I can't help but stand in awe of the last five years -- FIVE FREAKING YEARS -- and the journey we took together. From that first fate filled afternoon back in 2011 when I sent her a silly daydream that had been nagging at me, to now when I'm a published author, and all the places in between, I'm humbled by the experience and her commitment to me.

Overtime our lives changed in good ways and not so great ways. We lost loved ones. We laughed and cried together -- both in person and through text messages. We hugged and swooned and bonded a million times over as we sought to give Ashley the story she deserved. And while I wrote the words, Kim loved each and every one of them. And man, did she put up with a LOT. From reading the same scene countless times in the same afternoon because I made one small tinker to a sentence, to countless emails and texts filled with self-loathing and doubt, Kim's faithfulness to me and Ashley never wavered.

She is my ideal reader. She is my first reader. She IS what made All The What Ifs a good story. And her role is key to my journey.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor. It can feel pointless and often it's hard for a writer to see the forest through the trees. Which is why having beta readers is pivotal. Without Kim and her willingness to take this journey with me, All The What Ifs would not be complete.

But it wasn't just Kim who helped me shape All The What Ifs. Over the last five years, I've had the honor and privilege of working with thoughtful, honest, and encouraging betas and my wonderful editor Miranda Boers. I've also crashed and burned with just as many betas. Truth be told, it was my fault for not establishing clear boundaries and guide lines. For not speaking up and making sure we were both on the same page.

Here's what I've learned -- through trial and error -- over the last five years makes for a great beta/writer relationship.

1. Commitment:
First and foremost, when looking for a beta it's imperative a writer and her prospective readers understand the commitment made on the beta's side and the patience needed on the writer's side. When deciding if you'd like to beta read for someone, the potential reader MUST be honest with themselves and the writer. Do they really have the time to make the commitment to read your manuscript? Will they follow through and send you feedback in a timely manner? Will the feedback have substance to it? Will they make it a priority or hide when they fall behind? Will they keep you posted when life gets in the way and the reading falls by the wayside? Honesty, honesty, honesty at all times is not only important but pivotal on the beta's side. On the same note, a writer needs to be understanding and patience and not take it personally if a reader is unable to keep the commitment or has fallen behind. As a writer we are asking a lot of our betas. We are asking them to make our word baby their priority. They have lives. They have work and loved ones and their own passions and problems. Life happens and we need to be able to roll with it, because as hard as it is to remember, it's truly not all about us and our novel.

2. Diligence:
So you and your beta have honestly discussed the commitment needed and agreed that you can establish a good working relationship. Now it's time for some diligence -- you guessed it -- on BOTH sides. For a beta, this part of the journey is simply stated but time consuming and challenging because it can be boiled down to: just read. Read like your life depended on it. Read like YOU wrote the words. Read, read, and read. Be diligent in communicating with the writer as you hold their hand during the process. Let them know where you are at, what challenges you are facing, and don't be ashamed if you get behind. And my dear fellow writers, be diligent in your gratitude and understanding. Never forget, you are asking a person to take time out of their life to make your work a priority. Often they are unpaid, under appreciated, and rarely given the credit for helping establish your story. Show them your appreciation, they deserve it.

3. Encouragement:
We've reached the moment the beta and the writer have been waiting on -- with baited breath, no less -- for months, your beta has finished reading your word baby! Now comes the hardest part, feedback. Writers' egos are fragile. We're a temperamental people who say we want criticism but really what we're dying to hear is all the parts you loved most. So here comes the handholding and general, 'you're awesome' portion of the relationship. Betas, grab those pom-poms and pepper your fragile writer with encouragement and 'I loved this part so much it hurts' feedback! BUT BE SINCERE. You are not doing a writer any favors by telling them something is good when in truth it stinks. Express to your writer what you think they did right and don't hold back.

4. Honesty:
As a beta, honesty is the scariest part. How do you tell a writer that the use of snot in a scene makes you want to vomit? How do you encourage them while gently letting them know they're head hopping and can't seem to keep their tenses straight? Here's my take on this, by asking you to read a writer is saying they trust your opinion and if they are truly looking to improve, if they truly want your honest opinion then it stands to reason they are dying to hear what they can fix, what didn't work for you, and how you would make it better. Now, this doesn't mean they will always agree. Maybe they really like snot. Maybe they feel the snot sets the scene. So they'll keep it. But it's more likely they never really thought about how disgusting snot -- in general -- is and how using it conjures up unpleasant thoughts and should be forever banned from tender moments between two young lovers. And if a writer is really, truly, 100% looking for honest feedback, despite how uncomfortable and terrifying and heart wrenching it is to have someone pick apart your word baby, they will trust you and respect your opinion which leads to...

5. Respect:
It is pivotal on both ends. Writers, respect your betas. You asked them to read your work for a reason. So when they say something doesn't work or they suggest doing something a different way, don't let that knee jerk reaction of 'what the hell? can't they see what I intended?!' get in the way. Approach all feedback with a keen eye for good advice and try your best to check your fragile ego and your heart at the door. And betas, always remember, what is being placed in your hands is a small piece of the writer. By asking you to read for them, what they are really saying is, 'hey, I trust you. I think you could add a lot to my story. I'm scared as hell and most of the time I don't know what I'm doing, but despite all that, can you help me? Can you hold my hand and let me know if I've made a fool of myself or if this could potentially be something worthwhile?'

In summation:
In the end, betas are a MUST. If a writer is serious about creating a worthwhile tale, they will have to seek out trusted readers to help them shape their story. The beta's job is an important one. It's a job they should take on with a clear understanding of the commitment they are making and the knowledge that they are helping create something. They will forever be apart of the journey. And what an adventure it will be.