Two People You Might Meet in Fiction

Fellow #1: Hi, I’m a scoundrely rogue! The heroine will meet me first and be put off by my bad manners.

Fellow #2: I’m a polite and respectful gent who’s not afraid to express romantic interest in the heroine.

Fellow #1: Soon, though, you’ll learn that I have a HEART OF GOLD! This means that I’ll do something brave and self-sacrificing, but I still won’t stop being rude and inappropriate. Don’t worry, though – the heroine will come to find it charming.

Fellow #2: Meanwhile, my kindness will be revealed as a ruse. I’m actually straight-up evil. Doesn’t that make the first guy look good?

(Honestly, though, I see these two types so often that it starts to make me mistrust any male character who actually seems . . . well-behaved. Kind of unfortunate.)


Have you guys been checking out the amazing tweets with the #VeryRealisticYA hashtag? It’s a beautiful mix of things that would make terrible books (goodbye, exciting plot; hello, actual high school experience) and things that I’d love to see in more books (not everybody is white, straight, and gorgeous? MIND BLOWN).

A few of my favorites:

I mean, the random nameless town guards have been training for years, and look what the villain did to them!

For all those books that make their teen protagonists “deep” and “interesting” by making them be into classics and snooty about modern stuff.

Oh hey, my actual life.

See above, my actual (teen) life.


Yes please. More of this, please.

Would read.


“I don’t care if the government needs to be overthrown, it’s a school night and you are not going anywhere!”


Courtesy of all the girl-centric YA thrillers I’ve been reading at the gym lately, and of my amusement at this list of signs you are a YA protagonist and this list of ways to know you are in a gothic horror novel.

How to Tell if You are the Heroine of a YA Thriller

You have just moved to a new town. You moved here either to attend boarding school or to start over with one of your parents after something distressing happened to the other parent.

People react strangely when they see you for the first time. Everyone in your new town either hates you or is irresistibly fascinated by you. Instantly.

Your town is on the coast. It’s not a beachy, touristy coast. It is a gray coast composed of sharp rocks. Sharp, angry rocks.

Teen girls drown off the coast of your town at unusually regular intervals.

A member of your family has died tragically, but you don’t know much about the circumstances. A brooding boy your age might know more about what happened, but when you ask him about it, he only smolders.

Whenever you ask someone else a question, they gasp, stare at you round-eyed, and whisper, “Don’t you know?

You are practical and intelligent. Your single remaining parent is hopelessly incompetent. You basically parent them, which is difficult if you are, in fact, at boarding school.

The brooding boy seems to show up just absolutely everywhere. You are attracted to him, but also concerned that he might be a murderer.

Everyone is secretive except for you. Everyone is also gorgeous except for you. Which is to say that you do not look like the blonde, gossipy bimbos at your new school. Not that you’re judging. No, you definitely aren’t beautiful, except in the sense of your looks having character, in the sense of being classically beautiful. But in a really self-deprecating way, and you never think about clothes.

You read, but only the classics. You love to read, but not in an openly enthusiastic way. In a mature, boring way.

For a teenager, you sure don’t spend much time in class.

You don’t sleep at night. You wander around, glimpsing things out your windows that are distressing but difficult to interpret.

Seriously, is that brooding boy stalking you?

The brooding boy cannot be stalking you, because someone so handsome and interesting surely couldn’t care less about you. It is a coincidence that every vertical surface you pass within five feet of seems to have him slouching against it. Watching you. With his icy blue eyes.

You cannot stop following in the footsteps of the last person to tragically die here. You spend a lot of time looking out over the ocean, the wind whipping at your hair, which you never bother doing anything with because that would be shallow.

The killer is after you. Maybe if you could just leave well enough alone, you wouldn’t have attracted their attention.

You cannot leave well enough alone.

What I Want to Know Is . . .

So, when you talk about events that take place in a book, you use present tense, right? As in, “Howl throws a magical hissy fit and there’s green slime everywhere.” But what is the protocol for describing your reaction to a book’s event? Sometimes, it works okay to put your reaction in present tense: “It cracks me up when Howl throws that magical hissy fit.” (Though is it me, or does that sound slightly weird? As if I’m saying I crack up every time it happens, when it only happens once in the book? Although, of course, I’ve read Howl’s Moving Castle like twelve times, so I guess that “gets me every time” could be appropriate.)

In other situations, though, it comes out very strangely: “I’m startled when the guitar explodes.” That makes it sound like I’m startled now. But if I’m reviewing or talking about a book, and I describe the book’s events in the present tense, it doesn’t seem right to suddenly shift to past tense for a sentence to avoid this: “They rush back into the castle. Then the guitar exploded, which startled me.” It’s maybe even worse to shift within a single sentence: “They rush back into the castle. Then the guitar explodes, which startled me.”

I suppose a simple solution would be to put everything into past tense – “They rushed back into the castle. Then the guitar exploded, which startled me” – but I remember learning at some point that this was Not the Done Thing for describing events in books/movies/etc.

How do you handle this? Am I weird for wondering about it? I guess I write a lot of book reviews . . .

Do Your Parents Know You’re Saving the World?

That’s right, I mean you, character in a YA or middle-grade novel. Do your parents know you’re out fighting evil at this time of night? And/or solving mysteries, and/or romancing and being romanced?

Of course they don’t. Because they’re either dead or wholly irresponsible.

These are sentiments you’ve probably seen before: the pitiful plight of parents in a lot of YA and MG books. My sense is that parental survival rates are up in these stories, but this means that authors have had to come up with other ways to keep those pesky adults out of their kids’ hair. Because a present, responsible parent is unlikely to allow a kid or teen to do dangerous and exciting – or especially romantic – things. Plus, if our protagonist has an adult to back her or him up in difficult situations, that drains a lot of tension. This isn’t to say that NOBODY in the realm of YA and MG has an active, non-clueless (clueful?) parent. It’s just saying that parents like this are approximately as common as two-headed snakes. Which are a thing, you know, but not a thing you see every day.

What struck me recently is that many writers seem to use different professions as shorthand for the ways in which their characters’ parents aren’t there for them. It’s always stood out to me when characters have artist parents, for example, because they tend to behave in a certain way that does not tally with my own experience having two parents who are both visual artists and extremely down-to-earth and practical. Then, I noticed that artists weren’t the only ones being picked on. So without further ado, let’s decode a few parental professions!

Artist – Extremely common. The Artist parent is basically an adult child. She wafts dreamily through life with paint smudges on her face. She loves her child and will occasionally offer emotional support and valuable, if flaky-sounding, insight, but she also relies on others to do basic things for her. You get the impression that, if left alone for too long, the Artist parent might forget to eat. Then, when her hunger became intense enough to prompt her notice, she would discover that the only thing in the refrigerator is a pair of high heels because some fleeting, forgotten impulse inspired her to put them there last week on a bed of now-wilted lettuce. She would consider going to the store for more food, but be unable to find the car keys. Things would not end well. Example: Grace’s mother in Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.

(Note that this is true only for artist parents. An artist love interest will not be flaky, but deep. He will see the world in ways no one else does and have a beautiful soul. Example: Wes in The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, Noah in Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.)

Blue-Collar Worker – This parent is typically a tough-love type when around and awake, but that’s not often, since he works long hours at a menial job and then falls asleep fast on returning home. The book’s protagonist will be grateful and feel guilty that the Blue-Collar – usually a single parent – is working so hard to support them, but is also likely to sometimes be embarrassed about him, and feel ashamed for feeling that way. Example: Thom’s dad in Hero by Perry Moore.

Businessperson – Ah, the classic. Realistic, yet vague. This parent will have an office or, if rich, a study, in the home and also one outside of the home, and will only be seen outside of these two places when traveling from one to the other. The home office will likely be forbidden to others, especially when the parent is not there. If so, it will contain important information that the kid or teen featured in the story will need.

Doctor – Much like the Businessperson, but this parent will either be more sympathetic (if she works long hours because she just care so much about helping people, leading her to come home mentally and physically exhausted) or evil (if she is evil). Either way, she will not be supervising her offspring effectively.

Lawyer – Again, like the Businessperson, only in addition to the home office and work office, he will sometimes appear in court. The case itself is unlikely to actually be covered in the novel, but the Lawyer will be even less available to his child or children immediately before going to court, because he will have to pull all-nighters to prepare.

Politician – This parent is the political leader, or wannabe political leader, of a country, kingdom, or large community of some kind. For this reason, she will be too busy overseeing affairs of state and/or clinging to power and/or running for office to spend much one-on-one time with a kid. She will be aloof and unapproachable. She may also see her child as a pawn. Side effects of having this parent include a desperate need to prove oneself. Examples: Cleopatra in Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Shecter, Claudia’s dad in Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Samantha’s mom in My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. (Incidentally, how great a name is “Huntley Fitzpatrick”?)

Trophy Wife – I do not remember ever reading a YA or MG book that included a trophy husband as a father, so for now will assume this is a women-only gig. This parent is shallow and self-absorbed, and may be manipulating her husband. She is quite likely to actually be a stepparent, one who kind of sketches out the book’s protagonist, who is likely closer to her age than her husband is. If she is into charity work, there will be a slightly bitter contrast between her involvement with her charity of choice and her lack of involvement with any kids or teens living under her roof. Examples: Cassel’s mom in Holly Black’s Curse Workers trilogy, Suzume’s mother in Shadows on the Moon by ZoĆ« Marriott.

Writer – You’d think they’d get off easy in novels, wouldn’t you? After all, studies show that nearly one hundred percent of novelists are writers. But no. The Writer parent – a very common parent type – is a combination of the Artist parent and the Businessperson. He has only one office, which is at home, and rarely ventures outside of it. He cares about his progeny, but doesn’t often put in an appearance to prove it, and is likely to be more than a little whimsical and impractical. Example: Auden’s father in Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. And, come to think of it, Remy’s mother in This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen. It’s like Sarah Dessen hates writers or something.

I would love to see some kind of study on the most popular parental professions in YA and MG books. Do you have any others to add to the list?

My Kind of Holiday

It has come to my attention that today is Appreciate a Dragon Day. (Although really, shouldn’t every day be?) So, I had to think about some dragons that I appreciate. Want to know which ones I came up with? No? Oh, okay. PSYCH, you’re hearing about them anyway! (Deep inside, you know that’s what you wanted.)

  • The various dragons kind enough to appear in my own writing, mostly in Rabbit and Cougar. Without them, the Dragonfolk would have to really rethink their culture.
  • Kazul of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, because she appreciates the value of a “captive” princess that won’t run away and can make cherries jubilee. Reading this book, I had no idea what cherries jubilee was, but I wanted it.
  • The red dragon of the Bone series, because those. Ears. Just Google him, okay? “Red dragon bone” should do it.
  • Smaug in the upcoming second Hobbit movie. (Revenge of the Hobbit? The Hobbit Strikes Back?) Because he will be voiced by Benedict Cummerbatch, and he will be playing opposite Martin Freeman, and it will basically be Sherlock, but with a dragon. Be still my heart.

How about you? What dragons do you appreciate?

Drive-By Blogging

Hello all!

Just thought you should be alerted to a couple of things. One, a cool contest that could win your short story publication in an anthology put out by HarperTeen, and two, Figment, the writing site to which this contest alerted me. (If anyone’s curious, my entry in the anthology contest – a fantasy called “Foxhunt” that’s a bit of a departure from my usual style, but was fun to write – can be read here.)

And three, there exists a website that matches book covers to bathing suits. So that your swimsuit can match your beach read. It’s AT LEAST as awesome as it sounds.

In case you wonder about the tags: I refer you to my story on Figment. ;P

The Eyre Affair

I recently read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. (My book group discussed it yesterday. Discussable it definitely is.) Some spoilers to follow, I suppose, though nothing too dramatic.

What struck me was a bit that probably piques the interest of most writers who read the book: Mr. Rochester’s description of what it’s like to be a character in a novel.

Mr. Rochester and the others do not lead a linear existence, but live the story in an infinite loop. Their lives aren’t linear even within the loop: they experience their part in the whole story simultaneously all the time, but each character can choose where to locate the majority of her/his consciousness at any given time. Naturally, Mr. Rochester spends most of his time hanging out at the parts of the book when he’s happy with Jane.

As far as free will, the characters seem able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t contradict what’s written. They have to do and say what it’s written that they do and say, but they can do anything else when they’re offstage, especially when the book’s narration is limited (e.g. when the narrator of a first-person story can’t see them). This becomes especially interesting when combined with the fact that the whole simultaneous-experience-infinite-loop thing means that they know exactly what’s going to happen all the time. They have to make the same mistakes every time, no matter how they seethe about it inside. They’re much like actors.

My reaction to this was almost exactly the same as my nine-year-old self’s reaction to seeing Toy Story. “Hey, that’s cool!” segued immediately into, “Hey, I wonder what mine would be like if they were alive like that!”

Naturally, one doesn’t write books picturing the characters this way, unless maybe one is writing highly experimental meta-type fiction. Even in The Eyre Affair, which kind of IS exactly that, the characters aren’t written this way. But if the characters in your novel did live, and lived like this, what would it do to their psyches? If they knew everything that was coming, which parts would they relish, and which would they dread? How would their feelings during different scenes change if they knew everything that was going to happen? (I see some villains feeling very bitter as they deliver their triumphant speeches, and a lot of characters mentally rolling their eyes as they muddle through romantic misunderstandings that they actually understand completely.) What might they do differently during their off-page time? Perhaps most interestingly, where in the book would different characters focus their consciousness?

A lot of questions about characters’ lives aren’t answered in The Eyre Affair. What’s it like to have backstory that you never technically experienced, because the whole of your existence takes place over the course of the book? When you’re offstage, can you do all kinds of death-defying things because you know you can’t die given that you appear later in the novel, or are you simply blocked by the fourth wall from trying such things? When the POV is close enough to include thoughts and feelings of one or more characters, are those characters constrained mentally and emotionally as well as physically to the plot, and how does that work? I may actually read the sequels just to see whether more of this comes out.

A Fantastic Quiz

For my Popular Materials class, a partner and I presented on the fantasy genre. To kick off our presentation, I handed out a quiz I’d written – not to be collected or graded, which might have gotten me assassinated, but to show classmates that they already knew more about fantasy than they might have thought.

(About certain kinds of fantasy, anyway.)

The quiz was so popular with my classmates that I thought I’d post it here.