Bologna is the New Vampire!

Today officially ends the 2010 Bologna Children’s Book Fair and in case you have not been checking the #BBF10 page on Twitter as often as I have, here are two trends I’ve noticed that I think are worth discussing.
Trend, the 1st – Death to Vampire Romances!
Every year, agents, publishers, and writers try to come up with the new “it” trend that will finally put vampires back in their coffins (at least for a while). It’s true, vampires have been “so five minutes ago” for a couple years now, and yet the industry just can’t shake ’em. However, given the responses from Bologna this year, it looks as if publishers finally have had enough. Once the last Twilight movie is released, I think everyone will take a much-needed breather, and in the meantime, some of contenders as “New Reigning Supernatural Thingy” are werewolves, zombies. angels, clones, and mermaids.
Truthfully, I don’t think anything is ever going to be the “new vampire” because no matter what comes next, vampires will find their way back. They will always be sexy, mysterious, and the most human-like for writers to show ranges of emotion and acceptance into society (or a high school). But I agree that writers and publishers need to give it a rest. Just not eternally. 
Now, you all know I love me some science fiction and fantasy, but personally, I’d love to see more realistic young adult fiction make a comeback. This overwhelming amount of YA fantasy, as huge as it is, is a relatively new concept. YA as its own genre in general is pretty new, and I remember the few books that were available to me as a YA-er had a huge impact on my life. They were about teens like me going through everyday situations at home and at school just like me. The supernatural is fun and can draw heavy parallels to real life, but there’s something about reality that, in my humble opinion, just can’t be beat.
Trend , the 2nd – Middle Grade is the new YA
Something else I was very excited to see come out of Bologna was that a lot of publishers are looking for middle grade fiction. I don’t remember any book that called itself a middle grade when I was ten or twelve. Instead, I just went straight to the “Teen” or “Young Adult” section at my local Borders and called it a day. Looking back, some of those R.L. Stines could have been called MG, but that term just didn’t exist yet. Neither did the word “tween.”
Middle grade is not my favorite genre. Those tween, and slightly younger than tween, years are tricky and mysterious to me, so I tend to stay away. However, I am excited about this potential rise in MG because I think it is a very important genre. There are about 8 bazillion children’s books to choose from and about the same amount of YA. Tween years don’t get as much love, and with nothing to read that speaks to you, what do you read? (The answer: video games.)
Another reason I think MG is so important is that, even more than the YA crowd, the target audience for MG are of more impressionable ages. Young enough to still believe everything the adults tell them, but old enough to think that being around said adults is, like, the least cool thing in the world. Simultaneously independent and dependent, they are pre-pubescent children without the luxury of being young enough to act like a child. 
At twelve, I was an angsty little thing, wearing all black and pretending to be depressed. By fourteen, I was pretty much cured of this. Is it a coincidence that I was cured the very year I was old enough to read books written for me again? Think about it…
The point is, books matter. With each year of teenhood being different from the last, there need to be books written for all possible age groups. Otherwise the terrorists win.

Post-wrap up question: What trend, supernatural or otherwise, would you like to see take over MG & YA lit this year? 

By the way, Hemingway Heroine has a really great Bologna round-up that’s worth checking out too!

More Than Just Whiskey & Luck

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! I know Wednesday is usually Story Time here, but I thought since it’s the day of the Irish, I’d leave today open to talk about our favorite Irish writers. (Story Time will be moved to Friday!)
My favorite Irish writer is Roddy Doyle, who is probably most famous for writing The Commitments, which was turned into an equally awesome movie. But Roddy became one of my faves after I read A Star Called Henry, followed almost immediately by The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha. His writing is as beautiful, sad, and funny as his characters. Also, his name is very fun to say out loud.
Two other contemporary Irish novels worth checking out are Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson and The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. Both are dark and funny, but in different ways. Eureka Street is a more satirical look at the religious and political conflicts that still exist in Ireland. The Third Policeman, however, is a bit more trippy as it takes you on a cyclical walk through what is basically Hell, but in Ireland. Also, if you’re a Lost fan, you may remember seeing O’Brien’s book on Desmond’s nightstand. Not a coincidence! I suspect that Lost was heavily, heavily influenced by O’Brien mind-bending and oftentimes frustrating tale.
So before you go off to listen to U2, perfect your Michael Flatley jig, and then cry into your pint of Guinness after reading The Dead, tell me who your favorite Irish writers are. Then I’ll let you go enjoy happy hour 🙂

Non-Literary Characters

While this blog is generally for the literary-minded, I’ve been thinking lately about characters that are written for the screen, rather than the page. Specifically, for the small screen, because I think we’d be here until the end of time trying to pin down the greatest characters in film. Anyway, I like T.V. My appreciation for a good story and strong characters is not limited to novels; in fact, sometimes I prefer to sit down and witness some truly great television writing instead. (Likewise, sometimes I watch marathons of What Not to Wear, but that’s a story for another time.)
I don’t know if you all have been noticing this, but in recent years, the quality of T.V. shows has gone way up. Shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Lost, The West Wing, My So-Called Life, and Firefly are (and in some unfortunate cases, were) the equivalents of literary fiction. They have depth, complexity, character development, suspense, familiarity, and they do not shy away from heightened dialogue or ideas. Also, like with a novel, you cannot start in the middle.
Speaking more specifically to the characters themselves, I’ve been trying to figure out who I think are the greatest T.V. characters of all-time. I hate coming up with “greatest” lists because everything is so subjective, so I bring you my top five favorite characters (who I secretly consider the best):
5) Ted Baxter, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I know, this is before my time. But, in my opinion, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was way ahead of its time, so it all balances out. Without Ted Baxter, I don’t think we’d have nearly the number of lovable oafs on T.V. as there are today. Since Ted may have been responsible for Phil Dunphy (Modern Family), then for that reason alone, he must be acknowledged.
4) George Constanza, Seinfeld. My love of George ended around season six or seven when I thought he became too cartoonishly evil, but the early years of George represented a perfect combination of New York neurosis and immaturity. He’s not person you’d necessarily like in real life, but you love him from the safe distance behind the camera.
3) Milhouse Van Houten, The Simpsons. With The Simpsons, it’s hard to pick just one. Sure, Homer might be considered the “best,” but Milhouse, much like in his life in Springfield, is vastly underrated and under-appreciated. Inspiration for children of divorced parents and to anyone who’s ever known the pain of unrequited romance (and friendship), Milhouse just wants to be loved. And he is, by me. “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” indeed.
2) The Mayor, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Yes, he was only on for one season and he wasn’t a principal player. Choosing a “best” character from what I consider the “best” show is a bit like choosing my favorite child, but, to me, Mayor Richard Wilkins III was such an amazingly crafted character. The ultimate villain, an instrument of pure evil, and the square father figure who reminds you that good hygiene and manners never hurt anyone. Of Mr. Whedon’s many (many!) brilliant characters, I am always most impressed by The Mayor.

1) Brian Krakow, My So-Called Life. Brian, Brian, Brian. Is there a better character in the history of television? He’s the boy next door who you don’t really want to end up with the girl after all. He’s hardly the lovable nerd, but he can’t be called totally manipulative either because half the time he’s just too clueless. Brian is funny, sad, misunderstood, and real. He’s just, in a word, perfect.

 

Honorable mentions: Liz Lemon, 30 Rock and Sue Sylvester, Glee. These women may be different in personality, but they have this in common: they are strong, funny, and driven, and there need to be more women on T.V. like them.

 

I notice a theme in my most beloved characters. They are all people who are a little bit sad, a little bit hard to like, and impossible not to love. Complexity and originality are the keys of creating strong, memorable characters. How do you approach building your characters in your own work? Are there certain T.V. characters you use as inspiration?

A Tale of Two Starlets

It was the best of publishing; it was the worst of publishing…

This week we learned of two new celebrity book deals. Both deals involve former Disney starlets who became hot messes. The difference between the two is that one (Hilary Duff) just sort of went through a “Take that, Disney!” phase, whereas the other (Lindsay Lohan) is pretty much the reason the phrase “hot mess” exists.
Now, everyone groans and rolls eyes when celebrities get book deals. And not without reason. To real writers, it’s like a slap in the face, and being on the side of writers always, I have to agree with that sentiment. Celebrity memoirs are easy because even if the celebs can’t write, someone will do it for them the way someone does everything else they’re unable, and unwilling, to do in life. Publishers, meanwhile, pay big money for these literary equivalents of E! True Hollywood Stories because, somewhere out there, millions of people will buy them. It’s gross, I know.
Lindsay’s upcoming memoir is exactly why writers, and industry types, shudder in fits of disgust (and in the case of the industry: self-loathing). The life of Ms. Lohan can be summed up as thus: Talented. Beautiful. Cocaine. Rehab. Sort of Good Looking. No Panties. Anne Heche-style Lesbian. Rehab. Oh God, Why Do You Look Like That? 
And yet she feels America (nay, the world) needs to hear her story. Says Lindsay: “It’s going to take a while, all my life experiences. I started writing it a year ago. There’s a lot to put down, you know?” We know, Lindsay. Writing is hard.
I joined Team Lindsay when she was about six-years-old and on the underrated, and now deceased, daytime soap opera, Another World. I’ve been disappointed ever since, but Hilary Duff, meanwhile, just annoyed me. Sure, I wasn’t young enough to really care about Lizzie McGuire by the time she came on the scene, but I still appreciated whatever Lindsay, and her awesome red hair, was doing.
So, when I saw that Hilary Duff was signing with Simon & Schuster to publish a YA series, I thought it was a case of another bored celebrity thinking, “Oh hey, children’s books are easy, right? I’ll do that!” (I’m looking at you, Madonna!). Imagine my shock when I read that her upcoming series actually sounded pretty solid, and that she was working on a nonfiction book about children of divorced parents.
Says Hilary: “I’ve always loved the escape of a great book, especially one that features a strong, inspiring female character you feel you really understand.”
Wait. I have no snarky comeback to that.  She sounds intelligent, articulate, and excited about getting young people to read. How dare you pleasantly surprise me, Ms. Duff?
I like being proven wrong (sometimes) because I tend to be pretty steadfast in my opinions, and there is a lesson to be learned here: not all celebrity book deals are created equal. If you can call “celebrity books” a genre, then like any genre that gets tiresome after a while (cough:vampireszombiesJaneAusten:cough), there still can be a few that slip by and feel OK (cough:AbrahamLincolnVampireHunter:cough).
Or put more simply: It is a far, far better thing that Hilary does, than Lindsay has ever done; it is a far, far better book that will be published than Lindsay has ever known.

Now Why Didn’t I Think of That?

I’m going to be honest. Today’s blog post is basically  an excuse for me to talk more about how much I loved, and envied, my dear friend’s (and soon-to-be-ex colleague) dramatic interpretation of analyzing a query letter. It is called Query Snark: A Play in One Act, and it reveals the ridiculousness of the querying process through the work of The Beatles. It’s the combination of these two things that make me jealous I didn’t think of it first, so all I can do now is share it with as many people as I can and reluctantly attribute its credit to her.

But, of course, it also got me thinking of what else I envy, creatively speaking. I don’t mean in the sense that I wish I had the idea for The Da Vinci Code so I could make tons of money, though that would have been nice. For example, one of my favorite authors is Kelly Link. If I had to place her in a genre, I guess it would be “magical realism,” but let’s put labels aside for now. Kelly Link, to me, represents the perfect combination of wit, fantasy, pop culture, and an “under 40” appeal that still sounds wise beyond its years. She is how I would write if I had the talent; therefore, she tops my list of “Dah! If only I could’ve written that!”

What out there have you read (or watched) that made you say that? I know I went with an entire author, but that’s only because I can’t even count the number of lines, paragraphs, or even word choices that I’ve read and thought, simply, yes.