jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
Once upon a time, I wrote fiction for adults. I'd be more specific and tell you what kind of fiction it was, only ... I can't, because my stories were always tricky to pigeonhole. Which was all well and good, as I'm adverse to pigoneholing generally in life. Except, if I wanted to be taken seriously by agents and whatnot, I needed to be able to tell them where the stories sat in terms of genre.

The genre freedom within the Young Adult market is one of the things I love about it, and one of the reasons why I now write Young Adult fiction.

'Young Adult' is, of course, an age category, not a genre in the way that 'crime', 'chicklit', 'fantasy', or 'literary' are. In fact, the entire Children's book market is subdivided by age, not genre. Which means you'll find historical novels shelved alongside horror, sitting beside high school romance, beside high fantasy. And, more importantly as far as I'm concerned, you'll find single books which offer a glorious mash-up of all four. And no-one minds.

There's always been such freedom in Young Adult fiction (and Children's fiction more widely) to throw together whatever bundles of oddness you feel like writing. It's immensely liberating for both writer and reader.

The book I'm currently reading is a good example. On the face of it, 'Cuckoo Song', by Frances Hardinge is a changeling-child story set in the 1920s, yet it's also gothic and fantastical and literary. If it was written for adults, who knows where it would be shelved, or whether it would even be published at all, or rejected as 'uncategorisable'. However, since it sits in the Young Adult age range, it has no such concerns. It can be precisely what it wants to be and still find an audience.

It's just as well, since MoulderingBook is a Gothic, Poe-esque story set in a historical period that never really was, with sort-of Steampunk nuances, and an Addams Family undertones (thanks for that contribution to the list [ profile] readthisandweep!) Since it's for the Young Adult age range, its fluid identity doesn't matter. I'm free to simply keep writing and let it be what it wants.

I hope the Young Adult market doesn't ever feel the need to start pigeonholing by genre within itself. Long live genre freedom!
jennygordon: (Water Lily)
Why three things? Well, because I've just has such a great weekend, there's simply so much to talk about.


1. I love my local library. My home town has such a fantastic library service that when I dropped into the local branch on Saturday, in 10 minutes flat, I found eight books to borrow and two more to buy in their 10p sale. The majority of those books are from the Young Adult shelves, as it's time I got back to reading the new releases and popular sellers out there, to update my knowledge of the current market.

2. I realised I haven't baked since moving into my current home, so I decided to find out if the oven knows how to. Turns out it does. I made teabread using rosehip tea. (Rosehips are full of vitamin C, so I could convince myself the big slab I had with my afternoon tea was good for me!)

3. Once my chores were done, I settled down at my PC in my sun-bathed study and typed up 5K more of the handwritten words of MoulderingBook, which was a record for one day's session. It only leaves a couple more thousand to type up, then I can return to writing new stuff.

So, the job for today is to tackle the final couple of thousand and then to find my way back into the story before this headache I can feel brewing kicks in.
jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell Butterfly (purple))
Recently, a couple of people have asked me why I write novels for Young Adults (i.e. young people, broadly between the ages of 12-18). I give one answer to the question in my FAQs section, but here’s another.

Back in the late 1990s, I worked for a large branch of Waterstone’s (the biggest bookselling chain remaining in the UK). I ran the Children’s Department. Now, the late 1990s was a time when the YA market was only just discovering itself, and not many books were published that specifically targeted that audience. Struggling to fill the shelves of my YA section, I decided to run an experiment. (Back then, booksellers had a lot of freedom in what they stocked in the sections they ran).

Remembering the sorts of books I read as a teen, both at school and for my own interest, I visited the adult sections of the bookshop (fiction, fantasy, crime and so on), and moved some copies of the books there to my YA shelves. Books like The Lord of the Flies (Golding), Walkabout (James Grant Marshall), The Hobbit (Tolkien), Animal Farm (Orwell), books by Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Mingling these with the relatively small numbers of books that were being published for YAs, I kept an eye on my sales figures over the next 6 months with interest.

And you know what?

NONE of the books I introduced to the section sold.

Yep, that’s right – NONE of them. And that’s despite the fact that they were selling at a normal rate from elsewhere in the shop.

Part of the problem was that while nowadays, teens browsing the YA shelves is a common sight in bookshops, back then, very few did. And why should they? While babies, littlies, and mid-grade readers were amply catered for, and had their own sections in the shop, the teen market was hardly catered for at all. As a result of that neglect, large numbers of readers were lost once they grew out of mid-grade, potentially for good, and how tragic is that?!

I was an advanced and voracious reader as a teen, and I straddled the divide from children’s books to adult fiction with little problem. But not all young people are ready to make that leap. And, more to the point, many young people want to read books about people like them, with that same kind of concerns they have; the same sorts of challenges and interests, whether those things are dealt with through contemporary fiction, or through metaphor in fantasy or paranormal realms. They want characters they can empathise with; young people at the stage of life when they are experiencing first love, and changing relationships with their parents and peers. When they are starting to question their place in the wider world. When everything in life is intense and deeply felt, and sometimes it feels like you are the only person in the world to feel a certain way.

I don’t for one second believe that it’s only with the arrival of the YA section in bookshops that writers have begun writing the sorts of books young people want; I’m sure there have long been writers out there creating stories for that demographic. What has changed in recent years is the spotlight focus of the publishing world.

I would be naïve to believe the advent of YA hasn’t been a gift to publishers, but I truly believe that as JK Rowling has been credited with getting a generation reading, the emergence of the YA section in its full glory will be credited with KEEPING young people reading in larger numbers than before it came along.

The Young Adult market isn’t a cynical invention of the publishing world; it really exists. If it were an invented fad, it wouldn’t be so successful, and it wouldn’t have lasted this long and still be growing and blossoming as it finds it feet beyond the paranormal fiction that has dominated it for the past few years. To dismiss it as such is to disrespect not only teens today, but the teens we once were.

Why shouldn’t young adults have their own section in a bookshop? Why shouldn’t there be books written that they can engage with? Why should teens have to leap straight to adult fiction from children’s if they’re not ready to? We need to keep people reading. We need to cater for all reading audiences. We need to remember that not all teens are as we were. And that is another reason why I write for Young Adults.
jennygordon: (Hermit)
In response to my last post, [ profile] readthisandweepsaid, "I'm tempted to ask what would be so wrong about working with what went before? ShadowNovel must still feel good enough otherwise you wouldn't be revisiting it. Because you are revisiting an old story, it sounds as if you may perhaps be reshaping as much as re-imagining."

She's not the only person to ask, so I thought I'd say a little bit about my approach to my new project here (for those of you who might be interested in that sort of thing).

ShadowNovel certainly does still feel good enough for me to want to revisit it, or at least the core of it does. However, the project will very much be a "reimagining", as opposed to a "reshaping" (although you could argue that we're debating semantics here!) for a number of reasons:

1. the original novel was written for an adult audience, and includes some ... er-hem ... rather adult themes and scenes. The reimagining will be for a YA audience, which means thinking about it in a different way, and reworking it appropriately.

2. the original was a mighty 207K words long, and since I want to reimagine it for a YA audience, I'll be aiming for 120K tops, which means rethinking some of the story elements.

3. I completed the original something like eight years ago, and in the intervening time, I've lived some, and I've acquired shinier writing tools, which means I want to step back from the original and approach it a-fresh.

4. But moreover, last summer, I played around with the original text to see how a reshaping might work, and frankly, it felt like cheating. Like a half-measure. And ShadowNovel deserves better than that.

All of which means I'll be doing a lot of thinking about:

  • which story elements should stay in a YA novel of 120K words
  • how to tighten those story elements
  • which new story elements I need to work up
  • how the character arcs might work more effectively
  • how to make the world more cohesive, bearing in mind the shorter w/c

To that end, I've put away the original novel and its many books of accompanying notes, as I've been feeling increasingly burdened by them. The important stuff from the original is in my head, and all the old notes just muddy the picture. As [ profile] edgyauthorcomments in my last post, speaking from experience, "The old stuff can become too much of a crutch sometimes, and often not for the better."

It's a big challenge, for sure, and I'm pretty intimidated by it. It's about finding the YA novel within the adult one. The question I keep returning to is: What is the heart of this story? What do I need to focus on? Once I have that in my sights, everything else is negotiable.

So you see, that's why it's a "reimagining", not a "reshaping".

BTW, thanks for asking, [ profile] readthisandweep, and thanks for reading my waffle all those of you who do. Thinking in writing like this helps to concrete things in my own mind, so it's immensely helpful.

jennygordon: (Gargoyle)
Okay, so I have a question:

Why is it that adult fantasy novels tend to be so looooong?

I mean, I know there's generally some world-building to do, and — especially when it comes to Epic Fantasy — lots of characters to deal with and a big old story to wrestle into place. But seriously, do they really need to be so looong?

After all, take a look at YA Fantasy. When we're talking "otherworld fantasy" as opposed to urban/paranormal, there's often just as much worldbuilding to deal with, just as many characters and plot pieces to juggle as in adult fantasy. And yet, YA Fantasy, by its nature, usually manages to do this in under 130K words, and often far fewer.

Personally, I've learned heaps from studying how YA Fantasy can to be so slimline, and yet still tell a big, satisfying story, and I reckon writers in the adult Fantasy market could learn a thing or two as well.

So, what have I learned? Well ...

  • be concise in description. Just because the grass is purple and the cities are made of crystal, you don't need to expend ridiculous wordage to conjure it.

  • let you reader experience the world as your characters experience it. Only share minutiae of history, politics, geography, flora, etc, if the characters know them. Otherwise, simply let the characters inhabit the world.

  • question how many characters you really need to tell the story. Can you condense your cast of hundreds to a pertinent few?

  • equally, be concise in your plot. What's the story at the heart of this book? Ask yourself if you really need a wealth of subplots or a decade of questing, or battles to tell the tale at the heart.

  • and if you do need all of the subplots, then perhaps some of them belong in a book of their own; a different book where you can focus on them and explore them properly.

I know not all stories can be condensed, and I know it's sometimes glorious for writers and readers alike to wallow in a great, big book. I get it, I do. For instance, I can't imagine Jacqueline Carey's 'Kushiel's Dart' being reduced from its huge size. The story truly does require that much space, and Carey is never indulgent when it comes to description, backstory, or any of those other typically word-padding areas. On the other hand, NK Jemisin's 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' manages to create and strange, complex world, and equally strange and complex characters in under 110K words, when it could easily be far bigger.

In some ways, much of the modern adult Fantasy genre has come to define itself by the great length of its novels, but I do find myself wondering how often vast length is really necessary, and how often it's simply self-indulgent on the part of an author.

As a writer of YA Fantasy, I like to see it as a delicious challenge to tell the huge, epic stories living in my head in a manner concise enough to suit my proposed audience. It forces me to be economical in my writing and in my story decisions. It draws in my storytelling eye to focus on the elements that really matter.

And no, I haven't yet created a world where the grass is purple and the cities are made of crystal. Interesting idea though. You wouldn't be able to play racket-ball against the wall out your house for fear of shattering it!
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
On perusing the adult Fantasy shelves in my local bookshop, it seems to me that - depressingly - the market is still dominated by two things:

1. male authors (writing male characters), and
2. epic fantasy (either "the invaders are coming; to war, to war!" or, "the invaders have been and now everything's gone to hell, to hell!")

(NOTE: I'm excluding the Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance subgenres here, where female writers and female protagonists are much more common).

Now, while there are certainly some fine writers amongst those books, neither of these things particularly appeals to me, which is why I've generally read around the fringes of fantasy, rather that in its heartland.

As a girl, it's desperately frustrating for me that the heartland of fantasy is still dominated by men writing about war in some form or another. For a start, it only bolsters the cliched stereotype of fantasy fiction, and for seconds, there are so many more story tropes to explore in Fantasyland.

For instance, I hear that Mark Charan Newton's new series will be Holmesian detective fiction set in a Roman-type fantasy world. And then there's Patricia McKillip's work, which is sometimes referred to as "domestic fantasy", because she tells stories on a much more intimate scale. That's not to say she doesn't include "epic" aspects. In 'Song for the Basilisk', for example, the protagonist ends up bringing down a tyrant. The difference is, there aren't any great battles, because it's the protagonist's personal quest to right the wrongs done to his family, and he's a musician, not a warrior.

This brings me to my second thought, which is that in the Young Adult market, fantasy fiction is dominated by female writers, female protagonists, and intimate rather than epic stories. (Again, I'm excluding Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy here, and concentrating on "otherworld fantasy").

Once again, "epic" is present in novels such as Kristin Cashore's 'Fire', which concerns nations at war; in Leigh Bardugo's 'Shadow and Bone', which is in the "light vs dark" vein, and in many others. Yet without exception, these stories are more concerned with their character's path and growth as a result of the wider warring, as opposed to the warring itself.

Undoubtedly, a lot of this difference between YA and Adult Fantasy is due to their target audiences, but my question is this: If female readers are being won over to fantasy in their teenage years, surely supporters of the fantasy genre want to keep them reading fantasy once they move over to the adult shelves. But where are the kinds of fantasy novels they've come to love amongst the male-orientated epic quests? Where too are the female writers of adult fantasy?

Alright, alright, I know there are female fantasy writers out there, and some have even emerged from the shadows of their male counterparts. I also know that books with male protagonists can be perfectly rewarding for a girl to read. My issue is the on-going skew in the market. For every one female author, there are a dozen hairy blokes!

It seems to me that a pretty large trick is being missed here.

Which is why I've decided to start a revolution!

Let's get more girls writing the kind of fantasy fiction that appeals to girls (of all ages). Let's hold on to the female audience who fell in love with the YA fantasy novels of Kristin Cashore, Shannon Hale, Rachel Hartman, Megan Whalen Turner and SJ Maas, and give them books to love on the adult fantasy shelves. Let's throw wide the doors of Fantasyland and show the boys how much more there is to explore!

Who's with me?
jennygordon: (Hermit)
I've recently been noticing around Blogland, particularly in US agent and editor interviews and blogs, that folks are saying there's not much of a market for high/epic fantasy at the moment. Which is to say fantasy set in an entirely imagined world, as opposed to paranormal orurban fantasy, which is set in a version of our world in which various mythical/folklore creatures are real. While interest in paranormal and urban fantasy remains keen, despite the market being flooded with them, few people are showing much appetite for high fantasy.

Then, at the weekend, I read an article in the UK-based Mslexia magazine in which agents and editors excitedly extole the renaissance of fantasy and SF (Sci-Fi to the ininitiated). In particular, they cite work coming out by female fantasy and SF authors as being exemplary.

So, what's a girl to think?

Do they want it, or not?

Is there a market for the genre I'm writing in, or is the only place for my stories the recycling bin?

Okay, so the YA field holds slightly different views, and my writing is aimed at the YA/Crossover market (although there too, it's urban and paranormal fantasy that dominate), But still. Maybe the situation is different on either side of the puddle ...

Even so, I think the answer is simply this: the only thing I can do is continue writing what I love.

There are few things anyone can control in the fickle and unpredictable literary world, so what's the point in fretting?

Okay, so urban fantasy is huge right now, but even if an urban fantasy novel is picked up for publication today, it could be at least a year, or even longer, before it hits the shelves, and by then, the market will likely have moved on.

I'm certainly not saying anything new here, and the advice, "Write what you love", is given time and again. For me, this differing of views I've recently come across only serves to underline it.

So, here's to writing what we love!
jennygordon: (Clematis)

Don’t you love it when a book grabs a hold of you so firmly that it sucks you completely into its world? I remember spending entire days as a child curled up in my bedroom utterly lost in a book (often upside-down with my legs propped up a wall). The real world spun on about me, mealtimes came and went, and I cared not a whisker. The book, its characters and their adventures were all that mattered. I lived their story along with them, and emerged gasping and replete at the end, wanting nothing more than to turn back to the first page and lose myself in that book all over again. 

I want to write books like that myself: stories that readers inhabit so entirely that time passes without them noticing; stories you want to live in. In fact, there aren’t that many authors gifted with this magic, which makes it even more precious when you come across one who is.

I’ve recently re-read Laini Taylor’s ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: UK Covers

It's the third time I’ve read it in the past year, and I actually hesitated before starting it all over again because, although I’m a great re-reader, three times in the space of a year is a lot even for me. I decided I’d use this third pass as research, switching my writer brain onto full and paying attention to what Laini does to make the book so delicious.

Hmmm. Yeah. It didn’t exactly pan out that way!

Once I read those first few words, I was lost again in the story. 

“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed just like another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark – in the dead of winter, the sun didn’t rise until eight – but it was also lovely. The falling snow and the early hour conspired to paint Prague ghostly, like a tintype photograph, all silver and haze.” 


There’s so much to think about in this book, so many delicious characters and such wonderful writing, I would often find myself pausing simply to savour the world on my tongue. Words like this: “each feather like the wind-tugged lick of a candle flame.” 

Go on, try it. Say it aloud. Wallow in the gorgeousness of the image it conjures.

*Sigh.* So beautiful!

The next book in the series, 'Days of Blood and Starlight’, is out in hardback now.


I’ve asked Father Christmas everso nicely if I might have it for Christmas. I’m both excited and trepidatious to read it. Will Laini be able to wrap me up in the story again? Will phrases and descriptions stop me in their tracks with their loveliness? I can’t wait to find out.

How about you? Are there any books on your Christmas list that you’re itching to get your hands on? What have you read recently that has stopped your breath?

jennygordon: (Clock)
So, remember back in the summer while SeaNovel was pickling between drafts, I took a tentative peek at an old fantasy novel of mine - DancingNovel - with a view to reworking it as a Young Adult story?

Well, turns out it wasn't as simple as that - what ever is?!

See DancingNovel, in its original form, was actually a sequel to another nasty, dark adult fantasy. Book One was indeed very nasty and dark, and I had no interest in revisiting it in any form. But - oh yes, you knew there was going to be a but (insert your own joke!) - but, the more I noodled with DancingNovel, the more it began to suspect that if I was going to return to the world of those books, then I needed to revisit Book One first to do the overarching story justice.

Since the beginning of August, I've been immersed in the latest draft of SeaNovel, but all the time, this new project has been simmering quietly at the back of my mind, releasing the occassional delicious smell, like a slow-cooking casserole. And now that SeaNovel is out with my beta readers (*gulp*), it's finally time for me to turn my attention to the pot and discover what has been cooking.

Hmmm ... a castle on a cliff; a stroppy fosterling; ancient voices, and ... oh ... a beautiful amber bead.

Uh oh. Looks like my next project isn't gonig to be DancingNovel at all. Nope. That clever voice at the back of my brain cupboard was right. If I'm returning to the world of DancingNovel, then I need to begin at the beginning and rewrite Book One first.

No leap-frogging allowed!

So, Book One it is.

If I was going to be reworking it in its original adult form, I'd call it NastyDarkNovel. But I'm not - so there! I'm going to be pulling the whole thing apart to find the less nasty and dark YA novel at its heart. And I can sense it in there somewhere.

So, let's just call it ... ShadowNovel. Hurrah!

Excited? Me?

Oh hell, yeah!

Intimidated? Er, yep, that too ...
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

Yep, I've done it! The first complete draft of SeaNovel is finished !!!!!!!!!!!!!


I've had the past week off work, and was rilly-rilly hoping I'd complete the thing. I reached the beginning of the final gallop last week, you see. You know: the point at which you want to ignore the dishes and the actual paying job and the Best Beloved and everything, and just keep on writing and writing until you reach The End.

And now I have!

At lunchtime yesterday in fact.

I couldn't quite believe it. I had a little private celebration that involved hugging myself and clapping and pulling the kind of extreme happy faces you hope never get caught on camera, because they're really not terribly flattering. And then, I wanted to run around telling everyone, only ... well ... there wasn't anyone else at home to tell. I tried ringing my husband at work, but it went to voicemail. So I ran out into the garden and told the lilies and the lavender and the columbine flowers, and then I spied a bumble bee on the Ragged Robin, so I told him too. (He buzzed very enthusiastically.)

And yes, before anyone asks, I did indeed celebrate with chocolate ...
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

It’s everso terribly exciting. Lookie-look. Here’s where I’m at with my WIP (alias SeaNovel) ...

I was so excited, I just had to sit down and draw this visual representation of how well I’m doing.

68,000 words out of a planned 90,000!!!! That’s only ... *gasp* ... another 20,000-ish words to go. And, more to the point, plot-wise, the gallop to the end is in sight.

I’ve blogged before about how I don’t use wordcount as the be-all and end-all of tracking progress with my writing, and you can see at the edges of the page the other elements I like to keep in mind to ensure I’m on track. On the left is a breakdown of the classic structural elements of a book, and a note of how long(ish) each section needs to be for this particular WIP. The descriptors are from this incredibly useful article from the Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing blog.

The scribbles on the right-hand-side note that during the first section, up to the 30K mark, I did a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and re-writing ... and I mean A LOT!!! And then again at the 48K mark, when I reached a point where I realised I needed to go back to the start and alter things all over again. It means that the WIP up to the 48K point is in at least the 8th version. Some of those versions are very short, while others are far longer, depending what I realised I needed to change.

I’m actually realising that it’s part of my writing process to spend around the first half of a book yoyo-ing to and fro, as I find it impossible to move forward in the book until I have what has gone before in a reasonable state. I’m not a writer who can just note any aspects I need to change, then go back and fix them later. I need my solid foundations, otherwise I know my word-tower will end up collapsing around me, and the characters will just stand there tapping their feet, refusing to do anything other than stare at me.

Mind you, all this revising I’ve done so far doesn’t mean there won’t be many more versions once this draft is done. Oh no! These on-going revisions are only a part of the process. Once I have a completed draft, I’ll be heading straight back to Square One and staring all over again (after a suitable break during which I shall thoroughly rinse out my brain). Which is actually one of my favourite parts of the entire process – the revision stage, not the brain-rinsing one!

And wow, it’s really not far off now!

I started this WIP in November 2011, and you’ll see that I’ve noted a tentative “End May” to complete it. Yes, well, I don’t think I’m going to meet that goal, but never mind. If I stand on tiptoe and squint really hard, I can definitely see that finishing line.

All I need to do now is calm down and get the hell on with it ...

jennygordon: (Hermit)

A while ago, I posted about the two HUGE dark fantasy tomes I write way back when. I talked about the vastness of my world-building and the unwieldy dimensions of the two novels. And reading them really was like eating a great big bar of dark chocolate all in one sitting – WAY WAY TOO MUCH!!!!

The trouble is, whenever I think about those novels, I remember all the time and energy and love I put into writing them. I remember all the things I learned about writing in the process. And I remember characters who were fun to write, juicy plotlines, vivid settings, and I wonder if I have to retire them to the archive after all.

Every time I have this thought process, it cycles back around to the same two questions:

  1. If my work is picked up for publication, are these the stories I want to be my first books?
  2. Do I want to return to that world, those characters, those plots again, 4 years after I left them behind?

The answer in both cases is a resounding NO!!

However, there’s a little corner of my brain that’s still reluctant to let them go entirely, and I’ve recently found myself wondering what if ....

Specifically, what if I were to extract certain characters, certain plot threads and rewrite them in another form.

A Young Adult form, for instance.

I can see a way in which it might work, and I can feel a seed of excitement at the prospect.

Not now, obviously, since I’m still deeply immersed in SeaNovel, but maybe ... perhaps ... one day ...

So, I’m intrigued. What are your thoughts on resurrecting old work, or parts thereof? Does there come a time when you simply need to let it go and move on to something new, or are there arguments for sometimes having another stab at it?

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

Lookie-look what I came across the other day ... it’s pictures of a Hodder and Stoughton UK party that was themed around Laini Taylor’s wonderful YA novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (they’re her publisher over here in UK-land). 

Part 1 

And Part 2 

Isn’t it ... AMAZING?! 

Just imagine your publisher theming a party around your current novel. Or, even better, just imagine the launch party your publisher might lay on for your new novel. 

No, seriously, just imagine .... 

Because I did. 

So, I have a question for you: 

If your publisher - okay, some of us don’t have one of those yet, but this is wish-time, so who cares? – So, if your publisher laid on a launch party for your current WIP, or the one you’ve completed most recently, themed around that novel, what three essential props would need to be present? 

For me, a launch party for my current WIP would absolutely have to have: 

  • A wind machine
  • Pebbles (okay, I’m cheating a bit, because really it should be sand, but, y’know, sand and wind machines ... not such a good idea!)
  • Glass fishing floats. 

What about yours?


Nov. 25th, 2011 08:34 am
jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)
Have you ever got to the end of a book and then had to go straight back to the beginning and read it again?

I just have.

Why?  Because, as well as being a storming good read, this particular novel is packed full of lessons for me, and I wanted to make another pass with my writer’s head on, so I could absorb all the things it has to teach me.  And they’re many and varied, and include:

  • How to incorporate folklore elements in a way that is not twee; instead, they’re exciting and relevant, gritty and real.

  • How to write about everyday magic you can reach out and touch.

  • The power of found knowledge.  It’s the old “show, don’t tell” chestnut, but here, it’s turned into an art form all its own.

  • The power of the spaces between the lines; the place where the reader gets to fill out the picture and continue the story for themselves.

  • And most important of all, this book has reminded me of something it’s too easy for me to lose sight of, and that’s the importance of being the writer I am, not the writer I think I should be.  (I have a feeling I might have more to say about this at some point).

The book that's teaching me these lessons, and reminding me of others besides, is The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater.  It’s marketed as Young Adult fiction, but really, there’s nothing else like it out there for Young Adults at the moment.  Or for adults, come to that.  It’s a powerful, mature piece of storytelling, and if you haven’t already discovered it, then I recommend you do so.

What about you?  Are there books you’ve read over and again for the lessons they teach you as a writer, a reader, or even simply as a human being?

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

The weather in the UK has been glorious for the past couple of weeks.  In all honesty, it’s rather worrying, as it’s unseasonably warm and dry for April – April Showers, anybody??!!  But I confess, I’ve been enjoying the warm, sunny weather, and have spent some idyllic hours out in the garden, sitting beneath the lilac tree reading and writing and thinking.  And one of the several things I’ve been thinking about is what it is that attracts me to write Young Adult fiction.


For most of my writing life, I’ve been a writer of adult fiction, yet in recent years, I’ve discovered a growing love for the wonderful work that’s been coming out of the Young Adult market.  My writing has always been sprinkled with magic (though not literally, sad to say); while I’ve written dark fantasy too, what I’m most draw to write about is the contemporary world where the magic that lives just out of sight for most people seeps into the lives of my characters.  I don’t mean the usual urban fantasy tropes of vampires and co.; what I’m drawn to are the more obscure figures of folklore, and I like to leave the door open in my fiction for the reader to believe, or not that the magical elements are real, as they choose.


Now, I’ve been calling this ‘magic realism’ for a number of years, although it’s not strictly that, and one of the problems with writing this for adults is that it doesn’t neatly fit into any of the genre types out there.  Which brings me to why I’m so attracted to writing Young Adult fiction these days.  Although some genre divisions are beginning to emerge, Young Adult is still generally classed purely as ‘Young Adult’, with all kinds of genres mashed-up together on the shelves.  And so much of what’s on those shelves blurs the boundaries between what the adult shelves would class as fantasy/SF and straight fiction. 


I love this.  Blurred-boundary fiction is exactly what I’ve spent my writing life producing.  And here’s a genre where it’s become an accepted, and even normal form.  Why is it that adult fiction has to be pigeonholed to the degree where it’s albeit impossible to find a niche for the same sort of thing within it?  Surely I’m not the only person in the world who would read Boundary-blurring fiction for adults.  I love the flexibility of YA publishing and its audience, the open-mindedness, the no-holds-barred liberality (is that even a word, or am I making things up in my enthusiasm?!) 


So there you have it, that’s why I’m having such fun writing YA fiction.  Fiction where anything is possible.  Long live the Blurred Boundaries.


What about you?  What is it about your chosen genre that draws you to write within it?

jennygordon: (Bluebells)

A couple of weeks back I posted my thoughts on the use of description in novels.  It seems to be a topic that's been on other people's minds too, and a week after I posted, agent Mary Kole posted something similar (and far more eloquently than me!)  It's all got me pondering, and I've realised that it’s actually reading YA fiction that has ruined me for lengthy passages of description, as well as teaching me many other lessons about making every word count. 


With the limited wordcount of YA fiction, authors need to be extra mindful of using the right words in the right place, and don’t have so much wriggle room for lengthy flourishes that writers in other genres do.  They have to write economically.  But tighter writing and limited description doesn’t mean foregoing lyricism in your writing, as Maggie Stiefvater, author of Shiver, Linger, Lament and Ballad demonstrates.  Rather than flooding the story with description, the touches of it she uses are so beautifully expressed that they stand out and remain in the memory, in a way that lengthy tracts of description often don’t.  Equally, Suzanne Collins shows how to effectively world-build with broad brushstrokes in her tautly-paced dystopian novel, The Hunger Games, and its sequels.


Carrie Ryan, on the other hand, successfully incorporates tense, terrifying storytelling with a slower pace of narrative and more introspective viewpoint characters, without ever succumbing to flabby writing and losing her readers’ interest.  Her The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves make the bleak world of her zombie-raddled future utterly compelling reading.


Effective world-building with a minimum of wordage is also achieved by Tiffany Trent in her dark paranormal Hallowmere series, set in an alternative nineteenth century America.  Equally, Jennifer Donnelly so majestically conjures a similar period in her historical novel, A Gathering Light, that I learned a huge amount about the era through the story, purely though her characters’ interactions with their world.


In all of these YA authors’ work, and many more besides, the words and scenes are chosen carefully and written with precision, with no sentence going to waste.  And all in 120K words or less.  I’ve certainly learned an enormous amount about precise writing through reading some of the superb YA fiction out there at the moment.  After all, with such limited wordcounts, these authors need to write tightly in order to have room to tell the actual story.


How about you?  What have you read recently that has taught you a valuable writing lesson?  Whose work do you admire for the craft of their writing?

jennygordon: (Peacock Butterfly)
It's that time of year when people look back at the trends of the previous year and forward to what might be the trends of the year to come, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon, mainly because I have a question to ask.  But first ...

Some of you may already have seen Scholastic's list of 'Ten Trends in Children's Books from 2010', but if you haven't, they noted:

  1. The expanding Young Adult (YA) audience: More and more adults are reading YA books, as the audience for these stories expands.
  2. The year of dystopian fiction:  With best-selling series like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, readers can't seem to get enough of fiction that suggests the future may be worse than the present.
  3. Mythology-based fantasy: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series set the trend – and now series like The Kane Chronicles, Lost Heroes of Olympus and Goddess Girls are capitalizing.
  4. Multimedia series: The 39 Clues, Skeleton Creek and The Search for WondLa are hooking readers with stories that go beyond the printed page and meet kids where they are online or via video.
  5. A focus on popular characters – from all media: Kids love to read books about characters they know and recognize from books, movies and television shows. Titles centered around those popular characters (like Fancy Nancy, David Shannon's "David," or Toy Story characters) are top sellers.
  6. The shift in picture books: Publishers are publishing about 25 to 30 percent fewer picture book titles than they used to as some parents want their kids to read more challenging books at younger ages. The new trend is leading to popular picture book characters such as Pinkalicious, Splat Cat and Brown Bear, Brown Bear showing up in Beginning Reader books.
  7. The return to humor: Given the effects of the recession on families, it is nice to see a rise in the humor category, fueled by the success of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Dav Pilkey's The Adventures of Ook & Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, and popular media characters like SpongeBob, and Phineas & Ferb.
  8. The rise of the diary and journal format: The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is the most well-know example of this trend, but the success of Wimpy Kid is leading to popular titles such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dork Diaries, The Popularity Papers, and Big Nate.
  9. Special-needs protagonists: There is a growing body of literary fiction with main characters who have special needs, particularly Aspergers Syndrome and Autism. Examples: My Brother Charlie, Marcelo in the Real World, Mockingbird, and Rules.
  10. Paranormal romance beyond vampires: The success of titles like Shiver and Linger, Beautiful Creatures, Immortal, and Prophesy of the Sisters shows this genre is still uber-popular and continues to expand.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Ally Carter have been having fun compiling their own list, as well as predicting what they think will be the trends in YA books for 2011.

Which brings me to my question ... )


jennygordon: (Default)

January 2016



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