Tuesday Tidbits

Playing a bit of catch-up today! A few things of note:

  • I (lightyears after the rest of the YA world) finished MOCKINGJAY! Holy moly — a breathtaking ending to a breathtaking series. And I mean that quite literally. I frequently had to unclench my blanched-white fingers from the pages and remind myself that oxygen intake is, in fact, an advisable activity. Definitely more thoughts on that to come. (The series, that is. Not oxygen intake. I don’t have much more to say about oxygen intake other than: yay, breathing!)
  • YA Highway is hosting an awesome¬†ARC giveaway. Ooh, what I wouldn’t do to get my hands on WHERE SHE WENT…
  • The inimitable Nathan Bransford is holding his quasi-annual first paragraph contest, and offering some seriously spectacular prizes.
  • Because I apparently can’t go more than five minutes without mentioning THE HUNGER GAMES in some fashion — film adaptation news! Debra Zane, who cast BREAKING DAWN, has been hired as casting director. I do not envy her job in the slightest — she has a lot of fans to try to please!

Back to regular scheduling tomorrow!

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The Week In Review — Making Readers Care

This week, I blazed through CATCHING FIRE and began flying through MOCKINGJAY. (NO SPOILERS, PLEASE rule still in effect!) I also began considering the possibility that my own WIP may not be a stand-alone. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what keeps readers devoted to the same world, the same characters, book after book after book.

Writing is a strange pursuit. It’s often solitary to the point of comic stereotype — see the ever-hilarious Kiersten White’s recent thoughts on the craziness of writers — yet its ultimate goal is to entertain, edify, or otherwise please the public. Writers spend vast swaths of their time alone, crafting sentences and paragraphs and books that they hope will be read by as many people as possible.

Like Tinkerbell needs applause, writers need readers. So what do writers have to do? They have to make their readers care. It sounds almost insultingly simple, but then again so is the act of closing a book and setting it aside. A book is perhaps the easiest piece of cultural entertainment to give up on. Walking out of a theatre production or even a movie has a social stigma attached to it; it’s at the very least considered rude and is a statement generally reserved for the most offensive or problematic of works. True, a radio or iPod can always be switched off, but music is still everywhere — emanating from grocery store loudspeakers or trickling out of your neighbor’s apartment. Museum entrance fees are often expensive, so patrons are likely to feel obligated to stick around long enough to feel the price was worth it. But books? Even if bought as opposed to borrowed, they tend to be relatively affordable. They’re generally read alone, and to set one aside is to risk disturbing no one except perhaps the cat curled up on your chest.

Persuading a reader to voluntarily give up his or her time, then, is no easy task — and that’s just for one book! Holding a reader’s attention for two or three or seven books (we all bow down to you, JK Rowling) is a truly inspiring feat. And there’s no magic formula — what hooks one reader may utterly bore another.

For me, though, it all comes down to the characters. Lovely, lyrical prose, like that of Ally Condie in MATCHED or Maggie Stiefvater in SHIVER and LINGER certainly encourages me to keep reading, but I wouldn’t have torn through any of those books on the merit of their eloquent writing alone. Breathtaking suspense, like that expertly crafted by Suzanne Collins in THE HUNGER GAMES and its sequels, inarguably rivets me to the page, but would have rung hollow on its own. What truly kept me clutching these books like they were the last pieces of sustenance on earth was how the characters made me feel. I positively ached for Cassia, Grace, Katniss and those they loved; I was desperate to know how things would turn out for them. I remain desperate, in fact — and that is the power of a series filled with compelling characters.

What keeps you glued to the page?

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The YA Way — Love Triangles

(That lovely image [from Shakespeare In The Park’s Twelfth Night] was found here.)

Bella, Jacob, and Edward. Laurel, Tamani, and David. Cassia, Ky, and Xander. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. (With a healthy dose of I HAVEN’T FINISHED MOCKINGJAY SO PLEASE NO SPOILERS! attached to that last trio.) YA lit is positively filled to the angsty brim with love triangles — and, I must confess, my WIP is no different. Almost from the moment of its mental inception, INSERT CREATIVE TITLE HERE included two love interests for my MC. When I got deeper into the actual planning stage and reconsidered this choice, not wanting to seem as if I was simply copying some YA formula set down by the greats who came before me, I realized I no longer had a choice. My two love interests had already weaseled their respective ways into being integral parts of my plot. The triangle was inescapable!

So what is it about love triangles that makes them so darn irresistible, especially in the YA world? The way I see it, there are two primary reasons — the literal and the slightly more symbolic.

The literal: YA characters are mainly — go figure — young adults. Even if, like Katniss and Cassia, they’re not depicted in a typical high school setting, most of them are still generally high school age. And what are the high school years notorious for? Hormones and heartbreak. First kisses and first break-ups. “I love you”s and “I never want to see you again”s. All manner of (often-conflicting) feelings swirled together — attraction, jealousy, nervousness, bravado, giddiness, confusion, hope.

I distinctly remember, as a freshman in high school, simultaneously crushing on two boys — with the same name, no less! oh, the agony — and asking my mom how I was supposed to manage the situation. “It’ll work itself out,” she told me. I was not assuaged. But what if I liked both of them and both of them liked me, I persisted, a note of panic no doubt creeping into my voice. “You’ll figure out who you like more,” was my patient mother’s sage response. (She was right.)

After all, isn’t that what love triangles boil down to — figuring out who you like more? And who can’t relate to that? Love triangles in YA tug at the heartstrings of readers and writers because they’re real. Even for those people lucky enough to only experience the most direct paths to high school love (do those people exist?), the essence of the problem still rings true — sorting out your emotions.

The slightly more symbolic: Not only are young adults constantly sorting out their emotions, they’re constantly sorting out, well, everything, from the relatively minor to the literally life-changing. Which extracurriculars do you want to make time for? Which group of friends do you feel at home in? Where do you want to go to college? What do you want to major in? Do you want to study abroad? Where do you want to start your career?

Literary love interests can serve as handy distillations of larger conflicts like these. One point of a triangle can represent stability; the other, spontaneity. One can stand for familiarity; the other, for taking chances. Dueling love interests can personify just about any dichotomy, from the subtle to the wide-sweeping. Particularly in high school, when the ups and downs of romantic interactions are registered with an acuteness unique to the teenage years, relationships often take on symbolic importance. It makes sense, then — and great entertainment! — for fictional characters to sort out their various life dilemmas through the swoonworthy lenses of juicy love triangles.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my MC and I have some decisions to make…

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Road Trip Wednesday — Blurb It

This week’s RTW prompt over at YA Highway: “Give a blurb for your favorite book or one of your own!”

Well, as discussed yesterday, I’m near-obsessive about keeping the workings of my Nutty Writer Brain (technical term) to myself, so a synopsis-style blurb is out. I also don’t feel I have anything particularly revelatory to share about my favorite reads; they’ve already been blurbed to death.

What does that leave? Oh, right, an awkward attempt at self-promotion. Hooray! While an honest blurb for my WIP in its current condition would probably involve something along the lines of “It’s cute that she tried,” here’s my living-in-fantasy-land sound bite:

“Looking for something to sink your teeth into after THE HUNGER GAMES? Need to be paired with another great read after MATCHED? Katelyn Gendelev’s INSERT CREATIVE TITLE HERE, a stand-out in the recent pack of YA dystopians, is in turns heart-pounding and thought-provoking. Seamlessly blending beautiful prose with innovative world-building, intriguing characters, and thrilling action, ICTH is a mesmerizing wallop of a debut that will leave you wanting more.”

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Inspiration Station — My Best Friend

Beautiful lady, beautiful view.

Since the night my best friend and I first bonded over terrible dance music and late-night Easy Mac, we’ve been able to talk about absolutely anything. From the pettiest bits of gossip to the most monumental of life concerns, there has never been a moment of hesitant communication between us. So it makes perfect sense that my best friend is thus far the only person to hear a single meaningful word about my new WIP.

To everyone else who asks about my current project, I remain ambiguous and noncommittal — probably insufferably so. “It’s a…dystopian…I think?” I reply with a vague wave of my hand. I’m so cautious about bursting my own mental bubble that I’ve made it a point to stringently avoid discussing even the most innocuous of details, like my MC’s name.

But not only is my best friend, well, my best friend, she’s a writer and a bibliophile and just as enamored with YA as I am. It would have been downright silly not to answer her when she asked about my WIP. (Which, incidentally, is in serious need of an actual title.)

And whaddya know — getting out of my own neurotic head did me a lot of good. My best friend, her literary wondrousness on full display, asked me a series of probing-yet-not-pushy questions that proved to be excellently inspiring. Some helped me clarify ideas in my own head as I articulated them to her; some prompted entirely new thoughts that I’m hoping will really add some depth to my story. I even told her about my favorite — gasp —¬†Big Plot Twist. And it was relieving. It felt like I was working things out, not ruining them by voicing them prematurely.

I still haven’t told anyone my MC’s name, though. I guess some mental bubbles aren’t ready to be popped.

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Cover Lover — MATCHED

All right, this cover may be an obvious choice — it’s been pretty much universally lusted over — but I adore it too much not to use it for my inaugural CL post. So here is the stunning cover of Ally Condie’s MATCHED (photo by Samantha Aide; jacket design by Theresa M. Evangelista):

Sigh. Isn’t it dreamy? So simple, yet so lovely and evocative. I know there are many who dislike the use of cover models, as seeing a particular face on a book can interfere with the joy of imagining a character for yourself. MATCHED’s cover neatly sidesteps that potential pitfall by only showing us the barest glimpse of Cassia’s face. Not only does this allow the reader to invent their own detailed image of Cassia, it makes the girl on the cover universal. She is certainly intended to be Cassia, but she could also symbolize any one of the countless other young women trapped by the Society.

I love that the color of the dress isn’t arbitrary; Cassia does wear a green dress in the book, and it in fact becomes a rather significant bit of imagery. Green is also important in another context, along with red and blue, which made me very excited to see this as the beginning of the sequel’s cover:

I will be thrilled to bits if the last cover is red! There’s something so satisfying about seeing all the books in a series lined up, thematically similar yet each unique. Candy for the literary soul.

 

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Quote Of The Day

“I really can’t think about kissing when I’ve got a rebellion to incite.”

— Katniss Everdeen in CATCHING FIRE

What a badass.

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