Friday, March 29, 2013

This Weekend for Me

For days, I've seen equal signs all over Facebook as people change their profile picture to support "equal marriage" (or same-sex marriage, whatever you want to call it). I've also seen those in opposition post links to articles and all sorts of things, including plus signs and division signs to mock the equal signs.

I've stayed out of it. The fact is, my opinion on the subject isn't completely cut-and-dry. But that's neither here nor there. The fact is, it's yet another dividing line.

And then today, I'm on Facebook and someone posts this picture:

It's a cop in Texas who shut down the road to save a chihuaha. (Full story here.)

That's what this weekend is all about. It's not about fighting over who is stomping on whose rights. It's about trying our damnedest to be the cop while realizing we are the chihuahua.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why I Review YA Fiction

Keep reading--you'll see why I chose this pic...
This is sort of a continuation of my last blog post, which in large part was about whether or not as an author I ought to be leaving negative reviews of books by other authors. First, I want to point out a few things I didn't mention in that post.

The negative reviews I leave are pretty much just on Amazon and Goodreads, there for people to see when they are researching a book already and trying to decided whether or not to read it. I don't make a point of driving people to my negative reviews so they can get an earful about a book they had never even heard about before. I don't even post them here for the most part. Yes, I've written a few posts about books I didn't like, but they tended to be rather big, well-known books already, and my tiny opinion is easily lost in the sea of reviews both positive and negative. I do, however, try to drive people toward the books and authors I love, by posting reviews here and tweeting the links to my positive Amazon reviews.

Now, yesterday I found myself giving more thought to why I feel I really do need to continue reviewing books I don't like. You see, I finished a book that about drove me crazy. The teen protagonist was portrayed as shallow in a situation that necessitated true depth of character. The story involved very--VERY--I mean, really, really VERY--serious subject matter, but the teen protag was more concerned with her clothes and being quippy with her friends.


The author of said book has been writing no longer than I have, and yet she's signed with a very large press. You may say, "Well, see, you're jealous, Kat."


If I never, ever get signed with a big press I still want them to STOP producing dribble like this. There is a lot of talent out there. There are books that handle topics like this perfectly, books that are written with such incredible skill and care. And yet, the YA market is getting filled with more and more junk.

I want to stop being subjected to books that:

  • Portray teens as shallow.
  • Dumb down the language so I feel like I'm being talked to like I'm a four-year-old. (Or alternate between a too-adult voice and a childish voice.)
  • Tackle 87 different "hot button" issues in one book and handle none of them well.
  • Are written by adult market authors trying to join the bandwagon of YA.
  • Are written by any author who seems to have never met a teenager in their whole life.
  • Are written by authors who couldn't relate to teens even when they were teens themselves. (Read author bios, folks. Seriously.)
  • Think that a few current slang words and pop culture references make the book YA when the writing has nothing like a YA voice. (BTW--having your character say "chah" for "yeah" doesn't make them sound like a teen, it makes them sound like Crush from Finding Nemo.)

Also, from some recent surveys I've taken online about pet peeves in YA fiction, we readers would very much like no more:

  • Stereotypes. (Dumb jock, perfect cheerleader, ugly/shy nerd girl, etc.)
  • Dramatic romances.
  • Love triangles.
  • Mary Sue characters as protags.
  • Parents/adults who are idiots.
  • Characters who lie with no real motivation. (One of my top peeves, btw, and one found in the book I just finished. As was the parents/adults as idiots thing, which I think tied together.)

Oh, and we need MORE GUY PROTAGONISTS. Please. As a GIRL who loves to read, I'm begging for this.

I think that about sums up my thoughts for today. BTW--if you do want to follow my reviews on Goodreads, just CLICK HERE. I welcome follows, fans, and friends!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jumping off the Tightrope of Public Etiquette

imagesA writer friend used the phrase "walking the tightrope of public etiquette" in an email a while back. I will momentarily stay on that tightrope and refuse to give their name. Hopefully they will forgive me for stealing their phrase if I keep their anonymity. 

But I had to jump on (off?) this topic. It's been burbling (yes, burbling) around in the back of my head for a while now. So many questions I've had about what I'm doing as an author. I have worried far too often about whether I should be on the tightrope or not.

The world of writing and publishing is like a giant web. Everyone seems to know everyone, if not personally then by reputation. It's become a very public arena. And writers have to learn how to deal not just with their own agents and editors but with other agents, editors and writers, even those they have never met and probably never will.

This is why I've labored over my decision to review books, especially YA books. What's going to happen if one day my books take off, and suddenly I am face to face with some of the authors I've given negative reviews? Will I be sitting alone in the cafeteria, the one hated by all the populars?

And could those reviews actually prevent my books from ever taking off? Are agents and publishers all putting me on some blacklist somewhere because I gave their client one star? Do they actually notice us small-time authors? Am I going to query an agent someday and be told they can't sign me because I was borderline snarky in some book reviews?

What about readers? Will they turn their backs on me because I wrote a negative review about a book they loved? I've actually asked some Goodreads members that very question: "Would you refuse to read an author's work because they negatively review books by authors you like?" The resounding answer was, "No, as long as they don't get nasty or name-call."

And yet, there are authors who have dealt with this very thing. Kerry Nietz, author of the Dark Trench Saga and Mask, was recently chewed out by a reader for giving an honest review on Amazon. I wouldn't even call the review negative--he gave it three stars for crying out loud and said some rather positive things about it. But the reader got nasty and name-call-y. (The irony is that the reader is also an aspiring writer and if you look at his reviews for other books they are down-right mean.) Did Kerry cross a line? I think not. He has every right to his opinion on that book and wrote a professional sounding review.

I personally think the idea that we can only have positive opinions of other books is wrong. How are we to be respected as writers if we can't be respected as readers/reviewers, only giving out shiny gold stars? Why should we only ever focus on books we love-love-love? As a reviewer--and I consider myself one as I've written 160 reviews on Amazon for mostly books--I feel I have an obligation for honesty, which means sometimes giving a negative review. That's not jealousy. I can attest to that through numerous raving reviews for very popular books.

Another issue is blog posts, like this one about the, um, "publishing" company Jerry Jenkins is starting? Will offering critical views on things like suspicious publishing practices by renown authors put me on the radar in a bad way? I get that we have to be respectful and professional. This is a business, after all. But should an author not be allowed to voice their opinions or observances?

How far do we take, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?"

There's a lot of criticism out there about authors scratching each other's backs. Only giving five-star reviews. Promoting each other even when writing it sub-par. But when one goes the other way, when one decides to review all and honestly, what happens? And why would we avoid pointing out suspicious happenings in our own industry? Don't we want our industry to be the best it can be? Don't we want publishing companies to run honestly and put the interest of the readers first?

I'm not on a tightrope and I don't want to be. I am afraid of heights both literally and figuratively. I consider myself a reader possibly even more than a writer. Yes, more, definitely. Because it's books I love, stories that make me swoon. It's THAT which I intend to fight for and you can't fight on a tightrope.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Feature and a Giveaway

Shorty post today just to give ya a heads-up:

I'm being featured on a site that specializes in reviewing and promoting indie books. It's called Underground Reviews. Great looking site! Go check out my interview HERE.

While you're there, make sure you click on the link for my Goodreads Giveaway. Yep, two copies of Finding Angel are up for grabs.

And if you're too busy (or, too lazy--whatever) to check out the review, you can go straight to the giveaway HERE.

And please, please share the links!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Innovation Doesn't Come in a Box

I had a conversation with a friend a while back. I admit I was griping a bit. Beastie 1 is taking some classes -- yes, we homeschool, but homeschoolers often take "real" classes -- and I was bemoaning the amount of time we had to spend on vocabulary words for two of the classes he's in. He had to look them up, write the definition, write a sentence for each, all placed under the correct tab, with the vocab word underlined. Pretty typical of schoolwork, I know. Something we all had to do in school.

But that was kinda my point. I homeschool my kids so they don't have to do busy work. YES, we drill and practice skills. Of course. Please don't go there. I promise you, I hear a LOT of, "Mooooo-ooom, do I have to?"

But I know my kids, and what their strengths are, and what is actually building their skills and what is making them run in place.

Back to the conversation. My friend commented that the vocab work teaches organization. Yes, I can see that. Although, we could accomplish the same by doing only the ten or twelve words Beastie 1 doesn't know, vs. fifty or sixty he already knows.

Then my friend said something that, frankly, made me change the subject. Because I like my friend, but highly disagree.

"Someday, he's going to get a job where he's going to have to do reports and things he considers pointless. He needs to know how to deal with that now."

Um, yes. He likely will. But really? Now, at the age of twelve he needs to experience what it's like to do pointless paperwork? That's time right now, folks. Time, which once used is gone forever. Time that could have been spent working on other skills--complex skills, things that aren't busy work.

It finally really hit me today what truly bothered me about that statement. I watched a video (which I will paste below) and this is what struck me: It's a "chicken or the egg" issue.

Do kids need to be taught how to do busywork because they will someday be faced with it in the workplace? Or will they someday be faced with it in the workplace because schools drill it into kids that it's a necessary evil? Are all those executives and whoever coming up with reports and assessments and such because our school systems teach that standardized tests and percentiles are the real markers for success?

Honestly, I'm not going to try and answer that question. I'm just throwing this all out there as food for thought. Also, don't take this as me saying the public school system in it entirety is junk. I'm not trying to turn this into a "homeschool or public school?" debate or saying you're an awful parent for not homeschooling.

What I am saying is this: Things sometimes are the way they are only because we've been taught to have them that way. And questioning the status quo is generally the first step in innovation.

So, here's the awesome video that inspired this post:

And might as well throw this one in too:


Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Store Stuff

I went to Barnes & Noble yesterday because I had a gift card to spend there. Yes, I have a Nook and could have just spent it all on ebooks right from the comfort of my own desk. But I happen to love print books as well. OK, yes, I could have ordered print books from the comfort of my own desk, too. Fine, I wanted to browse, in 3D. People still do that, ya know.

Well, sorta. It's limited these days though. You see, the B&N near me is being rather quickly overtaken by "stuff." I've written about this before (not bothering to look up the link) so forgive me if I repeat myself. But why does a bookstore need 27 different kinds of jigsaw puzzles on the floor? Why so many desk accessories? And fandom paraphernalia galore??

I wanted to buy The Paladin Prophecy while I was there. I just got through reading it--library book--and loved it so much I wanted a copy all my own. (You can read my review on Amazon and Goodreads. Same at both, but a person needs choices.)

The book was nowhere to be found. This book is published by a big publisher. It's new. It's getting great reviews. But the teen section of B&N is really the teen paranormal romance section, and slim pickins at that.

Nothing on the shelves by Scott Westerfeld, either. Really? Not a single one of his books? And some of the biggest teen books out there were oddly absent. There was all of two rows of teen books, and most of the books sat face-out. Is that significant? I think so. You can draw your own conclusions.

The trip depressed me. Partly because I made that trip and still had to come home and order the book I wanted online--from Amazon, I tell ya, because I spent most of my gift card on a drawing book and a notebook of blank music paper for my daughter--and then used what was left on the card to buy ebooks from a couple of INDIE authors:

Task Force Gaea by David Berger, whom I met a the Necronomicon.

Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves by James Matlack Raney whom the aforementioned David Berger highly recommended.

On the other hand, it made me feel better about the fact that my books aren't on those shelves, and likely never will be. Not because I'm not good enough to be part of the elite, but because if big press authors aren't there it's no great insult for my small-press book to not be there. AND because....

It really sank in that brick and mortar book stores are becoming obsolete. They're carrying more and more stuff, and fewer books. The one by me never has author signings either--even big names. The personal touch is being lost. I won't have my books on B&N shelves because soon there either won't be B&N anymore, or it will be something completely other than a bookstore.

There was a time when I said I would lay down and demand to buried with the bookstore. Now....