Tuesday, November 25, 2014

YA Philosopher Thinks About Books

Sometimes it’s the really bad books that make us think. As I was writing a goodreads review it started to take on a life of it’s own. Not wanting to bore everyone there I thought I’d move it over here and bore you lovely people. Beware, long rambling post ahead!

I’m starting to see an interesting dialogue stream running through YA. A girl (or boy) discovers on their 16/17/18 birthdays that they are something unique. They are almost completely unprepared for this destiny but cannot avoid it. It typically catapults them into a cause they were unaware of previously and is vitally important to the future of humanity. Also they will cease to age, remaining forever young and at their prime.

Being really philosophical today I've been wondering about this. I'm not sure, but I don't remember this dialogue in YA when I read it a decade ago. What about this appeals so strongly to teens and to adults? Does it tap into Millennials fear that we are not as special as our parents told us that we would be? Having taken from ourselves the destiny of being part of the generational wheel (we typically spend our twenties focusing on our careers and other aspects of our lives) are we all seeking something that would give us the same sense of responsibility? In a special mission are we hoping for some way to avoid the mundane portions of life that all of us eventually fall into regardless of our choices and remain forever young, blazing and triumphant?

It doesn’t hurt that our culture has a fear of aging that has morphed into a billion dollar business. The adults that read it aren’t immune- they too wish for eternal youth, especially if eternal youth looked like Lupita Ny’onga! When runway models are all teens we fear that as soon as the hips spread and the first wrinkles show our beauty will behind us. As women we are often judged by our looks and those are the first things to fade.

It could also be that we're tapping into our own inherent belief that something is out there. We have these lives- the power of choice- and yet are unsure what to do with them. I think a part of us hopes that there really is something worth sacrificing it for. We all want a belief to dedicate ourselves to. Without clear directions we find a fantasy with a very specific set of stakes and the ultimate victory at the end. How can these written words not be appealing?

Honestly, I don’t know why we read what we do, or what makes a trend. But it’s interesting to think about it. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jennavier Recommends: The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

I’m pretty sure you didn’t think you’d see a self help book on this blog! I didn’t either. But when a book is amazing what else can I do but recommend it to you?

Sometimes a book comes at exactly the right time. I found the Soul of Money as a footnote in Brene Brown’s excellent book The Gifts of Imperfection. Knowing my own struggles in my relationship with money it seemed like an excellent book to read. My problem was that I’m wary of self-help books. I’ve found that I’m easily swayed by a persuasive speaker, even when the message isn’t that great. Luckil this time I picked quality.


The Soul of Money talks about the thing we’re afraid to talk about- how and when money is an extension of ourselves. Twist challenges the prevailing wisdom of money and gently shows the reader that more isn’t always better. I especially love how she debunks the myth of scarcity by showing that there really is enough to go around. She challenges readers to approach the world with the mentality of sufficiency to guide them. Sufficiency means having enough for our needs and not constantly focused on having more. I loved the perspective of kindness I saw here. She has compassion for those who have nothing but also for those who have everything. She tells us the truth about how money can’t solve all our problems, but living true to our principles can.

Twist’s book is about money, but it can apply to so many other things as well. For me it targeted not just my fear that I would never have enough money, but gave me the ability to see how my fear of living without love is hobbling me. I didn’t feel bludgeoned by her message. The words were kind as well as profound. It left me not only seeing money in a different light but also with the hope that I can teach myself better habits.

If you’re curious about different ways of living, you should absolutely check out this book.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I Don’t Do Writing Contests

I feel like this blog sometimes becomes an endless list of what I don’t do as a writer. As strange as it sounds, I think the learning process is like that. There are a dozen do-not rules I’ve come to understand for every do.

One thing I tend to love is a good contest. I’m competitive and I’ve always been proud of my writing skills. I like the deadline to work towards and often the specific things I have to include in the story. It’s a challenge to make something work. The problem is I also have a tendency to focus on these contests to the exclusion of all else.

In the beginning I told myself it was okay because it was something to put in queries to interest agents. After all, I have a sum total of nothing interesting to put in the ‘me’ paragraph on queries right now. But really, these were probably just justifications. Unlike writing a novel most contests want short stories. These are stories that take a couple weeks to write and another week or two to polish. I’d usually hear back in a month about whether or not I was accepted. I’ve been writing novels for over a decade and I still don’t have an agent or a published work under my belt. A couple of months to hear back sounds great.

But those were months that I didn’t write. It took several bad contest experiences in a row for me to realize that I was wasting time that should be spent on novels. It’s not that any of those contests were bad, but for most of those stories it’s time I can never get back.

So I’ve sworn off instant gratification and I’m working on my novels for the long haul. How about you?

**Oh, and because now I can say it was good for SOMETHING here’s the last thing I ever wrote for a contest. It’s a piece of flash fiction I wrote for the Machine of Death anthology. It wasn’t accepted but I had a great time writing it!**
           Elizabeth sat in the food court at the bustling LA mall, smelling the distinctly Hollywood scent of a mixture of tanning lotion and tacos. 
            "What now?" Elizabeth cut across Erik in his story telling mode, going on again about his shoot in the tropics.  It was long enough ago that his tan had faded, leaving his chiseled abs the same pasty white they’d always been.  Sandra wasn’t any help.  She was still pouting about having lost out on the part of an Arab princess to a girl named Candy with a inch long brown roots and an obscene boob job.
            "We could go tanning," Janelle suggested.  She was playing with yet another new hair style complete with waist length extensions and thick bangs that made it so she couldn't see.  The way she twisted it around her fingers was begging for people to notice it.
            "If you tan any more your skin is going to turn into plaster," Eric said. He was more beautiful than the others, and might even have been talented. That gave him rights that the other couldn't even aspire to.
            "Fine," Janelle said. "You come up with something."
            Eric didn't rise to the bait. Either he didn't want to put in the effort or he couldn't think of anything. It was Sandra who spoke up.
            "Why don't we tell fortunes?" Sandra had gotten really into the part of the Arab princess. The character was supposed to be a brilliant astrologist unable to reveal her brilliance due to her sex, but Sandra had confused astrology and astronomy. The stars control over her life had resonated so deeply in her she'd gotten her new tattoo, a giant Capricorn. She'd meant to be a symbol of her new found conviction, but most people thought it was Cam the Ram from Colorado State and shouted the team motto whenever they could make out the tufted head peaking over the low top of her shirt.
            "Why bother with that?" Janelle asked, still with her panties in a twist over the remark about her skin. "They have that new machine that can tell you how you're going to die."
            "It's not how we die that matter," Sandra said, “but how we live."
            "I've never used the Death Machine," Elizabeth said.  She was feeling different today, almost like something horrible was coming.  She was beginning to suspect her chances of becoming famous would only become a positive number with plastic surgery and a great script.
            "Me neither," Sandra admitted.
            "Chicken," Erik said. This was just up his ally. "It'll change your life. Mine told me that I would die of a drug overdose."
            "I’m going to die in a car wreck," Janelle said, then added defensivly.  “It could be exciting!”
            Eric looked at her pityingly.  “Maybe.”
            "It could be worse," Janelle said. "I could have to get old and gray and settle down with kids and stuff!"
            "How can you be so calm if you know you're going to die from drugs?" Elizabeth asked curiously.  “You do them all the time.”
            "He's accepted his fate," Sandra said.
            "That's right," Erik said. "I always meant to live my life to the fullest.  Besides, they always come true.  Why try to avoid it?”
            "I'll do it with you," Sandra said spontaneously and tried so hard to look noble, but she was too excited to carry it off.
            "Alright," Elizabeth said, feeling nervous butterflies in the pit of her stomach. What if it was something really bad?
            She was led almost unwillingly to the booth. MACHINE OF DEATH was printed in scary looking letters on the outside of a booth that was the identical twin of the one next to the Gap that sold cheap pictures.  She wondered if her manager would care if when she died.  Probably not. 
            "I'll go first," Sandra was even speaking up, losing the breathy voice she thought of as her trademark. She slid into the seat. "Now what?"
            "You place your hand in the machine," Janelle said briskly, every line implying that no breathy voice could hide the fact that Sandra had less brain power then most spoons. Sandra nervously put her hand in.
            “Ow!” she yelped.  “It bit me!”
            Erik rolled his eyes.  “It’s just taking your blood.  That’s how it gets the reading.”  "How long does it take?" Sandra asked, just as the machine spit out a small card. The small piece of paper read Hollywood.
            "Oh wow," Sandra said, her eyes wide.  “How perfectly in tune that is!  Hollywood, the sum of my life and death.”
            Elizabeth grabbed Sandra’s hand.  “You could run!”  Fear for her friend made her lose her carefully crafted sexy slouch.
            "No I can’t," Sandra said. Tears still glittered in her eyes, but she raised her chin bravely. “I'd rather live my dreams then live forever and never experience life!" The three of them all seemed to glow with the brilliance of the young, beautiful, and tragic.
            "My turn," Elizabeth said, now kind of excited.
            Elizabeth couldn’t help wondered what kinds of germs were on the needle. Was is ever cleaned? She was probably going to get an STD.  The machine made a little noise, and spit out her card. She couldn't make herself grab it. It felt too much like talking about her intestinal issues in public to read her own death prediction. Before she could even think of taking it back to her apartment to read in private Janelle snatched it away and flipped it over.
            "Old Age," Janelle read.
            "You’ll be one of those withered old ladies with humps," Erik said in shock.
            "I just read about this actress from the 70's that died of old age," Sandra said. "She was found a year later. She's mummified! Can you imagine, mummifying in a house in California, with your neighbors not even knowing your dead?"
            "That won't happen to you," Janelle said. "You can get cats.”
            “Yeah, that might work,” Erik said.  “When your cats start eating you people will probably figure it out."
            "Oh my gosh," Elizabeth said, trying not to vomit. "Please stop."
            "Too bad," Janelle said. "There's no room for old people in Hollywood."
            With that she was already out of the group. Doomed to live a long, full life unaccepted by her glamorous peers. The others drifted away, leaving Elizabeth alone.  She  hugged herself closely, trying not to cry.  Why, oh why did she have to have such a bright future?