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Month: April 2009

Teenagerhood and YA books

I came across this blog post a few days ago by Shaun Duke I believe: Young Adult Fiction Can’t Win.

I can’t really respond to Shaun because I’m not really sure what he’s saying.  The post mainly made me want to go off on a tangent… what is YA fiction?  Why is it needed?  I think it’s a stupid idea in the first place!

There might be plenty of definitions, but the one that makes the most immediate sense to me is: YA fiction is fiction in which the main character is a YA, a teenager.

Some might argue that the nature of a story’s conflict also makes YA fiction what it is; the plot must deal with teenager issues.  But such a definition makes me cringe.  What in the world is a “teenage issue”?  (To be perfectly honest, I hate the notion of there being a “teenager” stage in the course of human development at all.)

My own teenagerhood

Maybe I just had a very fortunate adolescence, but in high school and college I was more of an introvert (am and always will be really), and tended to hang out with people who shared my interests and were right around as “nerdy” as me.  I never wanted to be popular or look cool or attractive, and that never made me feel lonely.  I never had any peer pressure to do any drugs or drink any alcohol or do anything risky or stupid.  The world of relationship woes is still another world to me.

That said, I still hated adolescence.  But it wasn’t because of drugs or relationships.  It was because of SCHOOL.  School was a lot of hard work that I still believe was mostly absolutely meaningless.  Society just thrusted upon us because that’s the tradition.  It gave me a lot of unnecessary worry and stress, and took away a lot of time that I would have loved using in more useful ways.  I was not and could not be in control of my life, and that’s what made me angry and moody and depressed.  It had nothing to do with “coming of age” or dealing with drugs or relationships or a “changing brain” that people are now claiming teenagers have.  It was just plain old not being in control.

And the only way out of it was to just get through school.

(I still get extremely angry just thinking about how the generations before me could allow something as dismal and pointless (and harmful and depressing) as the current high school educational system to emerge and sustain!  What complete buffoons!)

Still, I’m 23 years old now, and I don’t think anything magically changed within me from when I was 15 or 16 or 17.  Of course, I have learned more about certain things… I can drive a car much better now, I think I can write music and literature better, I can program in Java better, blah blah blah, but nothing has drastically changed inside.  I never “came of age” or learned some mystical truth that made me pass from “teen” to “adult” … I just got through school.

So maybe I didn’t have the normal “teen” experience?  Did I miss something?  What do teenagers really want?  For me, it was just control and freedom.  For others, is it popularity?  Wanting to feel loved?  Wanting this-or-that person to be your boyfriend/girlfriend?  If so, then yeah, I did (and hopefully always will) miss out on suffering over those things, but I don’t think those are just “teenage” issues, those are life issues that all must learn to deal with; there are plenty of adults who still struggle with those things.

Even “being in control” is really a life issue, but getting older and out of school tends to solve it.  (Though never completely!)

Some confirmation bias

I came across this article about an adolescent Bill Gates which stated:

The battles reached a climax at dinner one night when Bill Gates was around 12. Over the table, he shouted at his mother, in what today he describes as “utter, total sarcastic, smart-ass kid rudeness.”

That’s when Mr. Gates Sr., in a rare blast of temper, threw the glass of water in his son’s face.

He and Mary brought their son to a therapist. “I’m at war with my parents over who is in control,” Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the counselor told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him.

Aha!  See?!  Told you so.  It’s about control.  This Bill Gates anecdote proves it!

Conclusion

When I was a teenager, I didn’t care about the age of the protagonist, and I didn’t read fiction to commiserate with a fictional character.  (Not entirely, at least; I guess it’s more about trying to understand your own struggles in different ways, so I don’t mean to say that fictional characters shouldn’t deal with real-world issues.  They should.)  Nor did I much care for the notion of being “written down to” … the notion that there was some adult who could “understand me” and impart wisdom.  One of the first things you learn when you’re a teenager is that adults actually aren’t always all that wise.  (The wise ones will be the first to admit that.)

So I think the whole idea of YA fiction is just a stupid emergent property from this whole “teen culture” that’s been created by a society that infantilizes and seeks control over their youth for far too long, and it’s really not needed at all.  (Or at least the need has been artificially created.)  Teenagers can enjoy any book they want, and I wouldn’t mind it if the YA market vanished completely.  Books with adolescent main characters could of course still be written, and it’s probably only natural that younger folks would be more attracted to those stories, but those books don’t have to be an entirely different subset.  We don’t have “twenty-ish fiction” … fiction about adults in their twenties for adults in their twenties.  Likewise with “thirty-ish fiction” or “senior fiction” … but those stories are still out there.  Every main character has an age.

Eh… so there’s my rant.

By the way, check out Robert Epstein’s book The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen.  Not sure he’d necessarily agree with my opinions, but it was some more confirmation bias for me when I first came across it.

Also, here’s a Wikipedia article on what confirmation bias is, in case you’re curious!

Whining about composing woes

It’s been quite a busy week.  I don’t have a full-time job yet, but I have a part time job at our local library, and I’ve had to work pretty much every day this week.  Plus we have company in the house, some family members in for a visit, which is nice!  But it does make the non-working hours busier than usual.  (And I’m trying to be quieter at night, instead of popping popcorn and watching TV at 2 AM as I often do.)

I’m finally working on some new music, which is of course really fun.  Not sure what I’ll call the piece yet, but I’ll think of something.  It’s about 3 minutes so far.  I hope to put it on my album.  The weather has been really hot here (in the 90s), and my parents don’t use the air conditioning enough in my opinion, and I have found it’s hard to compose when I feel too hot.  Quite annoying.  So I turn my desk fan on, but it’s noisy, so I can’t orchestrate things quite right unless I turn it off, and then I get too hot again.  Isn’t that just terrible?!  Also, I need new headphones.  I have some nice Sennheiser wireless headphones, which are awesome for just about everything, except composing.  The bass is too loud with them, and when your computer plays really loud or soft sounds, it automatically lowers or raises their volume.  I think that’s great for movies and games; there’s nothing I hate worse than a loud noise suddenly piercing the ears (and most of the time you don’t even notice it).  But it’s not good at all for orchestrating.  It also almost sounds like they add a tiny small amount of reverb to everything, which is also annoying.  Lastly, they’re wireless, so they’re never really completely noise free, which, again, is really only a problem when composing.  So I need even better, more expensive headphones for composing.  (The reason I love the wireless headphones so much though is that normally I always break headphones by messing up their wires.  I roll the chair over them, yank them, twist them, tangle them… for most purposes, the wireless headphones are the best solution.)

Haven’t been up to much else lately.  I still won’t have much free time this week either.  Boo-hoo.

House spoiler: Kutner may return…

WARNING: HOUSE SPOILERS BELOW!!

READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT SECRETS REVEALED

Kal Penn regrets his decision leaving House, and now wants his character, who committed suicide a few episodes ago, to return to the series.

“It wouldn’t be difficult,” Penn stated.  “House is a brilliant doctor.  He could easily find a way to bring Kutner back to life.  Or if Kutner just came back to life spontaneously, it would give House and the other characters a really fun case to solve.”

Penn also expressed interest in having Kutner be the patient for every episode of the next season.  “It would be a great story arc,” he said.  “Having the same patient for every episode for an entire season would be really innovative, and I am prepared to take on the challenge.”

But series producer David Shore is not comfortable with Penn’s request.  “We’ve outraged fans enough,” Shore said.  “The best thing we can do for now is to keep the dead characters dead.”  Shore also said he isn’t ready to turn House into a fantasy series just yet.  “Maybe by season nine or ten we will start to see some magic,” Shore said, “but for now we are going to see how many more truthful hardcore scientifically-accurate episodes we can produce.”

Other actors on the set also expressed disinterest in having Penn return.  “I’ve gotten so used to him being gone,” Hugh Laurie said.  “It would be weird having him back again.  I wouldn’t know what to say.”

But that doesn’t mean all doors are closed for Penn.  A dead character named Amber will soon make a few appearances as Dr. House’s hallucinations.

“If Kal would like to play a hallucination or a dream memory, we could probably work him in,” Shore said.

But Penn doesn’t like the idea of being “just a character in another character’s head.”  He said, “if I can’t come back to life, then I’d at least like to play a ghost.  That way, I could help House solve some cases, and I would never be able to kill myself again.”

Penn also suggested he could come on as Kutner’s long lost identical twin brother doctor.  “Or Fox could just give me a spin-off series about when Kutner was younger and was going to med school,” Penn said.  “I imagine him as a very House-like character, so Fox would probably really like it.  It would be just like House but with different characters, and it would be called Kutner.”

Recently, David Shore has stated he never wants to see or talk to Kal Penn again.

“I will sneak on set and play corpses in the morgue if I have to,” Penn said.  “I just have to get back on Fox somehow.  I didn’t realize how much I really loved being on Fox.”

Why love Susan Boyle? Or anyone?

A couple posts ago, I stated:

Another things that bugs me is that if [Susan Boyle] was a beautiful woman and sang exactly the same way, the reaction might be different. The “triumph” here depends on our prejudice. And then we say our prejudice is a bad thing? Then why do we love getting over it so much?

(And what if she had sung terribly? No one would say “how dare we judge a person based on their singing!” and yet that’s what we do here; we’re still basing her worth on something…)

Today I came across this article, which says:

If Susan Boyle couldn’t sing, Simon Cowell wouldn’t have stopped smirking; the spectators would have kept on snickering; and America’s newest heroine would have gone back to her Scottish village to resume the life of an unmarried, unemployed, ungainly, middle-age woman who lives alone with a cat.

In other words, without what we define as talent, Susan Boyle would be an object of mockery and pity.

“What has Susan Boyle taught us about the way we judge people based on appearance?” I heard some radio host intone on Friday.

My answer: Not much.

… after the rooting’s done, what’s the lesson? That we shouldn’t make fun of odd people because they might have talent?

… the lesson I’d hope we take from Susan Boyle is that people deserve respect, however strange they are, even if they don’t have talent.

Oh, look, someone agreed with me!  Though she makes a larger point of it.  But, YES, I agree!

Which leads me to some questions about this thing called love… what makes one person love someone else, and when is it really love?  Can anyone really love Susan Boyle from just watching such a short video?  And if so, why?  Just because she can sing?  Is there some subconscious pity going on?

Attractiveness

Of course beauty seems to be one of the first requirements for love.  This can probably be illustrated best in the movies; ugly people are rarely cast as lovable main characters.  It’s much easier for audiences to instantly sympathize with someone on the more attractive side.  Even on TV channels for children like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, characters are often seen being instantly interested in other characters only because of their looks.  Isn’t that… extremely shallow?  But it’s natural!  It’s what the human mind is designed to do.  But… certainly that’s not love, is it?  That’s just physical attraction.

It’s obvious most people can get past this, as there are plenty of ugly couples all over the place.  But beauty is still important; I’ve never overheard any husband say “honey, you’re ugly, but I love ya!” nor have I heard any wife say “you’re out of proportion and I wish you looked different but I had to pick someone or I’d never get married!”  What impolite things to say!  So I guess in a sense, we never really get past it.  We only learn to ignore it more.

Intellect and talent

The next thing we are instantly attracted to is talent.  Who has that wonderful voice?  Who painted that beautiful portrait?  Who can play that instrument so beautifully?  Who can blah blah blah do whatever so well?

Isn’t this part of what has Susan Boyle’s audiences in tears?  Is this love?  What is this?  I suppose this is partly some sort of admiration, and partly some sort of wanting to have the talent yourself, but not in a terribly envious way, perhaps more of a subconscious desire.

When you ask people why they love their spouses, they’ll probably list some cliche traits.  Wait a sec?!  Are they saying that love is based merely on a list of traits?  I doubt it… there’s something more that can’t be expressed in words I suppose… or is there?  Is the act of love actually a pretty shallow act that only feels deep, like putting a mirror in front of a mirror?

If this isn’t love, what else is there to base love on?  I guess common interests?  Common beliefs?  A balance between interests, beliefs, talents, and attractiveness?  It’s gotta be something, doesn’t it?  If it wasn’t anything, we’d fall in love with rocks in the streets!

Pity

I don’t think this is often a conscious thing, so not many people will admit to it, or even know they’re feeling it.  It’s something like a deep desire to see someone else succeed because there’s something about them you feel superior to.  An ugly person is the simplest example.  Quasimodo may be a good example, though I’ve only seen film versions of the story.  In those versions, the audience is meant to love the hunchback merely because he is deformed and not a villian.  “I’m ugly!  Poor me!  Love me because you feel sorry for me!”  I think in fiction writing there can often be a fine line between wanting readers to understand and care about your main character’s plight, and wanting readers to just downright pity the characters.

This is why I usually hate movies with mentally challenged characters; they’re so often portrayed as objects of pity, but the screenwriters and directors might not even realize they’re doing it, because it’s coming from their subconscious pity for the characters.  (One film that thankfully doesn’t portray mentally challenged characters as objects of pity is the classic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

Actually, I suppose there are several different definitions of “pity.”  There’s the more “sympathize with, understand” pity, and there’s the more “oh, poor you, I’m obviously better than you and want you to succeed at something because you’ll never be as good as me in this other thing” pity.  It’s obviously the latter I’m blathering about.

This sort of pity is a vile thing and should be avoided.  Trouble is, I think, it’s often subconscious.  We can feel the emotional effects of it without actually feeling it itself.  And what are these emotional effects?  Well… it probably feels like love.

But is it love?

I don’t know

I obviously have more questions than answers.

But I do think it is a bit of an insult to Susan Boyle to love her only because of her singing.  Then again, how could we expect ourselves to be any different?  Our biases are nothing new.  Nihil novi sub sole!  (Is that the phrase?  I can’t remember.)

That said, I still enjoy Boyle’s performance, just as I enjoy movies with attractive people in them.  But Boyle’s performance and “triumph” is not a “wake up call” to our cynicalness nor does it really say anything profound about prejudices.

I’ll pay you to whistle

I’m not really desperate for more melodies to compose with; I’ve got plenty of them (although I haven’t updated my site FreeDailyMelody in while, mostly because it does take time to properly format the melodies, but I do want to get back to updating that site sometime, but who knows if I ever will… I want to write a novel someday too).

Anyway, for my The Worlds Inside project I’m allowing submissions from composers with completed works.  But then I thought… hmmm… what if “non-composers” could get in on the act too?  If someone could whistle or hum an original melody, wouldn’t it be fun to hear what it sounded like orchestrated and developed into a full piece?  So The Worlds Inside will now also accept submissions of just plain old whistling and humming (details here).

I’m working on a little demo to show off what simple whistled melodies can be made into… it’s quite fun.

Rejected and WriteMonkey and Boyle

I got my first rejection letter for my short story No One Was Abendsen today; I’m going for 10 rejections.  I know it will be tough and will take a while, but, by golly, I’m gonna go for it!  Wish me luck!  I’ll submit it somewhere else next week (or maybe even tonight).

I haven’t tried it out yet, but somebody on Twitter linked to a free piece of software called WriteMonkey.  It’s basically a text editor that can go fullscreen so you don’t get distracted by all the other stuff on your computer, like that nice little Firefox logo which is always saying to me “hey, Sean, why dontcha Google somethin’?  Why dontcha look up somethin’ on Wikipedia?  Why dontcha see if there are any videos of Ray Bradbury on YouTube?  C’mon!!”  It would be nice to shut the logo up.  Also, you can have WriteMonkey make typewriter sounds as you type.  Now, come on, if that doesn’t make you want to download it, nothing will.  Typewriters are awesome.  Wish I had a typewriter right here, right now, I’d type all over it!

And now for a few words about Susan Boyle.  Actually, I commented about her on a music forum I often go to, so out of laziness (or efficiency) I’ll just copy and paste what I wrote:

I like the video, and I like the song (a good song to select!), and I enjoy watching these Internet phenomenons emerge.

Though this is may be called a “reality show”, it’s not really. The editors do control the emotions immensely, from the clips of rolling eyes to the music cues. That sometimes bugs me, because the editors are really creating a story for us. But isn’t that what we want? And it works!

Another things that bugs me is that if she was a beautiful woman and sang exactly the same way, the reaction might be different. The “triumph” here depends on our prejudice. And then we say our prejudice is a bad thing? Then why do we love getting over it so much?

(And what if she had sung terribly? No one would say “how dare we judge a person based on their singing!” and yet that’s what we do here; we’re still basing her worth on something…)

Even as I type this, I hear other people in this library talking about Susan Boyle! That’s some fame! I will be hoping that she stays true to herself and that this sudden fame and attention does more good and inspiring things, and that it doesn’t become the annoying beast it can often be.

Good luck, Susan!

Isn’t that nice?

I have nothing else to say at the moment.

A magazine of music albums

Hope you had a good Easter!  I had a nice Easter here, complete with too much candy eaten at once.  Yum.

When I was in college, I submitted a few short stories to a magazine and I thought: “Gee, it sure would be nice if I had somewhere to send my music for editors to buy … but, alas, there are no music magazines like there are literature magazines.”

Now that I’m out of college and I have the time, I’m going to pursue this.  It’s not quite ready for “prime time” yet, but if you’re a fan of my music and/or a composer yourself, I’d love to know if this looks at all interesting:

http://www.wizardwalk.com/theworldsinside/

The concept of The Worlds Inside is to create a series of music albums that are treated like a magazine; a series that listeners subscribe to and receive a constant flow of new and outstanding music on physical CD albums.  The Worlds Inside allows listeners to easily discover the works of new talented composers by featuring multiple fresh composers on each album.

The The Worlds Inside also gives composers an opportunity to sell their music.  The composer pays nothing to get their music on an album and available in online stores.  This allows a composer to do something with his work when he doesn’t have enough material to create a full album on his own and doesn’t want to wait.  Finally, because the space on each album is shared by multiple composers, the talents and audiences that each composer brings helps “advertise” the talents of others.

Lastly, The Worlds Inside encourages the creation and sharing of new inspirational cinematic music.  So often it seems organizations and institutions striving for “new” music seek more “avant-garde” works.  While we certainly have nothing against such institutions, The Worlds Inside shows that there is still much more to say with the traditional tonal palette.

I’m still working on the details of the business plans, but I’m also rubbing my hands together with excitement…

Anyway, I’m going to keep it “rabbit week” for one more week since it was just Easter.  Any suggestions on what noun next week should be?  (I just do it for stupid fun.)

Self publishing is stupid

I was reading the following article on CNN.com: More authors turn to Web and print-on-demand publishing.  The article stated:

When she was turned down by several traditional publishing houses, Genova decided to follow a different route: self-publishing via Web-based companies

Turning to the Author Solutions self-publishing brand, iUniverse, Genova published her book for $450, a cost that included an ISBN — the International Standard Book Number that uniquely identifies books — and the ability to sell on Amazon.com.

Months later, after receiving positive reviews … and a favorable review in the Boston Globe, Genova’s book was picked up by Simon & Schuster and is in its 12th week on The New York Times Bestsellers List.

There are probably a few other success stories like these, where an author self-publishes a book, then it gets really published, and the authors sells a lot more.  But I’m sure it’s rare, probably more rare than just having your manuscript accepted by a traditional publisher in the first place.

So, no, self-publishing isn’t really stupid… what can be stupid is what people might expect it to do for them.  Despite the allure of the success stories, you’re probably not going to sell very many books to strangers.  (I imagine it’s much easier to sell to friends and family, who’s interest in reading your fiction would come more from knowing you.)  You’re not going to get it picked up by a traditional publishing house.  It’s not going to get a slew of good reviews from strangers.  It’s not going to make you rich.  (In fact, even getting a book published the old-fashioned way probably won’t make you rich either.)  Don’t expect these things.  And don’t say you don’t expect them while secretly expecting them.

I think it’s wonderful that print-on-demand gives everyone the opportunity to at least try getting their rejected material out there.  It’s nice to have that back door and to not have to completely depend on some editors’ or agents’ opinions.  But it’s stupid when writers put all their eggs in one basket, when they put all their dreams in one book.  Don’t expect your first novel to get traditionally published.  Or your second.  Or your third.  While you’re trying to sell one, get started on another and just keep going.

Another thing that bothers me is how some people market themselves (like following me on Twitter).  In general, here’s what books I buy:

  • books that are already famous
  • books by already famous authors
  • books by authors I’ve read and enjoyed before
  • recommended books from people or podcasts I trust
  • books with really interesting covers and a really interesting blurb on the back (very rare!)

Books by people I know is not on the list (people I know really well should give me a copy for free).  Books by people who are following me on Twitter is not on the list.  Books by former English teachers is not on the list.  Books with extremely bad covers, as if they are drawn by middle-schoolers, which they sometimes are, only encourage me to laugh at the book and open it with the expectation that it will be stupid and worthy of mocking.

So, if you’re self-publishing, be careful marketing yourself.  I hate it when authors use adjectives to describe their own work, like “A heartwarming humurous tale of a brave knight…” or “A magnificent surprising story of a poor girl…” or “An eye-opening philosophical mind-bender that will change your religion…” STOP IT!  Just tell me what the story is about and I’ll think of my own adjectives for it.  Why in the world do some writers think that for a moment I’ll believe their self-promotional adjectives?!  Leave that to reviewers.

Don’t directly invite anyone to read your text.  Only hint at it, and let interested potential readers explore it themselves if they want to.  That way they won’t feel like they’re doing you a favor, or some social chore.  And don’t take it as a personal insult if someone you know well isn’t interested.  No one should have to be interested in your work just because you know them well.

Lastly, consider giving your story away for free online.  Podcast it and put up the text.  Then, when (or if) people get into the story and they want a physical copy to keep, they’ll pay for your self-published book.  That way they know what to expect (and, again, they won’t feel like it was forced upon them).

DO look into a pro-artist for the creating a cover; don’t just get your niece who draws with colored pencils to do it or your friend who’s done some fiddling with PhotoShop… invest in someone who can really make it catchy and professional.  Also get someone to edit it, and be sure to ask strangers for critiques; there are some services online in which you can get free critiques.  Family and friends probably won’t be as objective when reading your bad writing.  I’m guessing the biggest reason first novels are hardly ever published is because the writing just stinks; writers need practice like in any other art.  (Another reason is the subject is probably stupid… if you’re not a celebrity, no one wants to read your memoirs.  I don’t know why so many writers want to write about their lives.  Of course things that happened to you will influence your plotting and writing, but use some imagination!!)

Anyway, I probably shouldn’t be talking because I’ve never even finished writing a novel in the first place, and I certainly haven’t been published!

I think I just get tired of dippy self-promotional marketing.

Random stuff

I thought David Lubar’s Guide to Literary Fiction was hilarious.

I agree with this article on how to recognize bad writing advice.

Fineas Blinn’s Sorcerer

Hello April.  We meet again!

My short story No One Was Abendsen has now been critiqued quite a good many times and I’ve gotten a lot of good and helpful feedback, so hopefully this weekend I’ll be working on a final draft, and on Monday or Tuesday I’ll send it out to a publisher.  Wish me luck!

Then I need to work on another draft of my novelette Dreamgiver and hopefully try to get some more critiques of that before working on a final draft.

Currently, what moments I can spare for fiction writing I’ve been putting into my novel on textnovel called Sorcerer, which somebody recently commented on saying:

fantastic! Waiting for the rest, let’s keep ’em coming

Why thank you! 🙂  It’s an exciting story to write so far.  It’s mostly dialog; I’m keeping descriptions to a bare minimum.  If I ever finish it, I might go back and embellish it a bit, but maybe not… the lack of descriptions and details really keeps it fast paced I think, but perhaps at the expense of the readers’ immersion.  Oh well, I’m keeping details and descriptions really light for now.

On textnovel I use a penname: Fineas Blinn.  The Fineas comes from the last syllable of my last name and mixed letters from my first name.  Blinn I just made up out of nowhere because I think it sort of goes with the rhythm and sound of Fineas.  Then I got to thinkin’, hmmm, Fineas Blinn sounds a bit more catchy and memorable than Sean Patrick Hannifin, doesn’t it?  Maybe I’ll try using Fineas Blinn as a penname when I submit No One Was Abendsen to publishers.  Not sure yet, but it’s tempting…

There is nothing else I really have to say right now… I need to get back to doing some musical things here soon…