Thursday, June 30, 2011

You Are a Writer, Not a Fucking Designer

The title of today's post was inspired by this rant.

As I've stated approximately 10,000 times, I have a short attention span. I don't have time to read (or beta read) your brilliant literary pukefest on the wonders of walking in the rain. I really don't.

I don't care about your observational writing exercise on the 270 degree angle of a raindrop on your windowpane. I don't care. Metaphors and similes are nice when they're used with restraint. Your purpose as a writer is not to impress your reader by filling your paragraphs with adverbs and adjectives like a teenager writing emo poetry.
Hermione gazed pensively across the moor, her bosom hanging low, like the menacing storm clouds above, while her tears mingled moistly with the miasmic mountain mist. The sound of distant thunder brought to her mind memories of the past, of a time when the world was young and she was blissfully carefree. She shrugged her shabbily shawled shoulders, and allowed a weary smile to loosen her lips as Sir Reginald apprehensively approached.
If your book reads like this, you need to stop waiting for Faulkner to rub your back and praise your astounding literary skills. You are not ready for publication. Any word that doesn't progress your story can be cut. Any sentence, passage, fancy bit of alliteration that does not serve any purpose other than showing off your knowledge of literary devices can be deleted. You see that button in the right hand corner of your keyboard. Press it.

Don't think this is an attack on flowery prose. I have nothing against flowery prose when it is appropriate for your story. You, YA writer, why does your bad boy think in pretty metaphors when he can't even read at a seventh grade reading level? Why are you using words like scintillating and incandescent to describe the sun? Sounds like you're trying to show off your SAT vocabulary.

Not only am I against purple prose, I also hate choppy prose. Check this out:
She took dance classes. She had no natural grace or sense of rhythm. She eventually gave up the idea of becoming a dancer.
I have seen way too many horror writers use this technique. They're under the impression that it builds suspense. It doesn't. It gives me a headache. Vary your sentence structure. For gods-sake, please use transitions. You are not Hemingway. You are not Joyce. You are not Cormac McCarthy (who I can't stand, but that's for later). You are a struggling writer who is alienating half of your audience. Who wants to read an entire novel written like this? No one. Not your mom. Not your dog. Not your girlfriend. And definitely not your boyfriend.

You write to entertain with words. You don't write to impress anyone. Flashing around twenty dollar words indicates that you're probably the sort of person who lists their SAT score alongside their IQ score in the About Me section of your website. Use literary devices in moderation. They are like salt. You can never under salt your food. Sure, it might be bland, but it's still edible. You can, however, over salt your food to the point where it draws disgust from your customer. Do you want to disgust your reader? No.

To a certain extent, you must write for yourself. But if you plan on sharing your writing, make it palatable for the masses (people like me who tend to skim long passages of text). You are not entitled to have readership. I, the reader, can move on at anytime. It is your responsibility to keep me invested in your story. I might be a lazy reader, but that isn't my problem. It's yours. Which brings me to my next point.

Theme. Do you think Shakespeare, Toni Morrison,  Stephen King... etc. sit down at their desks and think, hey, I want to write a story about the consequences of death and moral ambiguouty. No. They sit down and write their stories. Critics and professors analyze themes. Intentionally writing every single sentence to enforce your theme is akin to grabbing your soap box and shoving your message down your reader's throat. Assume that your reader is smart enough to know what your story means. And for those of you (me) who enjoy sticking little messages and allusions into their stories, sometimes a cigar should just be a cigar. Your average reader has not read Orlando Furioso, The Dead, or Titus Andronicus. Slipping in oblique references to these works will not impress anyone. But it will confuse or annoy fifty percent of your readers.

Finally, you, I repeat, you are not a graphic designer. I am a graphic designer. Chris Spooner is a graphic designer. You are a writer. When I am writing, I am not designing. Writing is not meant to be aesthetically pretty. It is meant to be read easily. My eyes should not tire when I read your book.

Long passages of prose are not good. I like David Levithan, but I do not like the way he formats his work. I want to read your story. I do not want to frame it on my wall.

You are not published. You are not an editor for Simon and Schuster. You have to use paragraph breaks. Otherwise, I will not beta for you. And you can bet that a few agents will press the reject button because they don't have the time to deal with this.

Quotation marks exist for a reason. Use them.

The em-dash is not meant to substitute for the quotation mark.

Do you enjoy reading Joyce? No. Them stop trying to write like him. Most people do not like Joyce. Joyce is Joyce. You are not Joyce. You are you. Create your own style that utilizes quotation marks and paragraph breaks. Confusing me does not win you brownie points.

NOTE: This is not a how to guide. This is what annoys me and what will probably annoy quite a few people. I am not an expert writer. I am, however, a reader who hates sloshing through flashy writing. Write your fucking story. Don't do anything else. Thank you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How to Become a Writer (When You're Not Majoring in English)

I started college a few weeks ago and, as you can imagine, I spend a lot of time in the library. Everyone asks why I read so many books, and truthfully, I do read a lot of books. I have around twenty unfinished library books sitting on my desk. I tell them I'm a writer and they nod. Then there's the question: you're an English major, right? And when I tell them I'm majoring in Architecture, they stare for a while and ask why I don't just major in English.

I'm guilty of that assumption too. If you want to be a writer, you have to major in English. Otherwise, how are you going to learn? You need a professor to guide your hand and mold your mind. Eh, I don't think it's necessary.

Sure, you need a mentor, but I don't think an English degree guarantees that you're going to become a brilliant writer. You need drive, focus, and talent. A degree won't give you any of those.

Honestly, I didn't want to be a writer until three years ago. I wanted to be an astronaut, a manga artist, even a professional skateboarder. Then I joined That's when I realized I liked writing. I wrote a few crappy fanfictions, got told I wrote crappy fanfictions, and retreated with a hurt ego to write more crappy fanfictions. No, I won't show them to you.

After a while, I quit writing for a variety of reasons and moved on to writing crappy teenage emo poetry on deviantart. Then I moved to fictionpress and wrote even more crappy teenage emo poetry. I was fifteen. I didn't read much then. Sure, I read, but I didn't read YA. I thought I'd write screenplays. Only, I didn't know the proper formatting to write screenplays, so I gave up after I didn't get enough reviews on my work. Shallow, I know, but I lived for validation. I wanted praise. I was writing for attention.

For two years, I stopped posting my work online. I deleted my deviantart account, made a new one, and occasionally updated it. But I have a short attention span. I've always had trouble finishing things. I've finished two novels, which aren't really finished, and started more than fifty.

Then, after I saw a bunch of other teens getting agents, I realized that I wanted to become a teen writing sensation. I joined InkPop and participated for all of two days. It's not that I'm afraid of commitment, I just get bored easily.

I did the nanowrimo thing in 2009. I was under the impression that my book was hot. I'd get requests back and forth. No such luck. It was an idiotic move on my part to send that crap off to agents. I still hadn't read much YA. In fact, I hadn't even read Twilight. I thought I had the whole world figured out and everyone else needed to stand back and revel in my talent.

In the July of 2010, I discovered the beacon that's Nathan Bransford's blog. I had a shining epiphany. I would work my ass off, and he would be my dream agent. It didn't exactly work out the way I'd planned. But I finally started posting up my work, and getting feedback on my writing. I'd had my GoodReads account dormant since the March of 2010. I logged on in August and started to actually read. I read every single YA book I could get my hands on. And then I started reviewing them. Lo and behold, my writing started to improve. As I look back on my old stuff, I recoil in horror. Did I write that? Did I really think this was ready to get published?

And I continue to write. Every single day. There's no secret to becoming a better write. All you have to do is read and write. Sure, a mentor can point out your mistakes, but in the end, only you can do the work. 

So, what's the point of this post? I guess I'm trying to say that you don't really need to major in English to become a writer. My dad has a degree in English. He never writes. I know so many people who've majored in English that don't write, or they don't write well.

In this guest post, Phoebe North discusses the benefits of having an MFA. When she wrote that, I was seriously considering minoring in English, even if I didn't want to major in it.

I'm sure it helps. It gets you focused. I need focus. But all I really needed was a psuedo-writing group; people who could tell me when I did good, when I did bad, and most importantly, to never give up. And read. Read a lot. That helps.

Now, I spend way too much time online, but I write constantly. And I improve at a steady rate. I have a lot of hobbies. Way too many. From soccer to web design to electric guitar. But I've never been able to devote 100% to them. Writing is the only thing that helps me focus.

I'm not saying I'm a pro. I'm not the ultimate expert on what you should do. I can only tell you what works for me. And this isn't to say that you shouldn't go to college. Go to college. And if you like English, major in it. But if you want to be a writer, you don't need to major in it.

A few tips if you're just starting out (these aren't rules, just guidelines):

1. Delete that, very, suddenly, and just from your vocabulary.
2. Stick with said in your dialog tags.
3. Read.
4. Don't use gerunds.
5. Don't use excessive amounts of adverbs.
6. And most importantly, show your work to people who'll give you a critical eye. That means anyone but your mom. I'm sure she's nice, but she'll sugarcoat her critique. You don't want that.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for feedback. If it's harsh, so what? It can only make you a better writer. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Interview with Julie Bertagna

We at the Book Lantern have had many a discussion in relation to the dystopian YA craze and its implications. With many of this year's dystopian releases coming from debut authors, I was particularly excited to find out that the third book in one of my favourite dystopian series from my adolescence, Julie Bertagna's Exodus, Aurora, would be among the releases (I talk about the series in my Scottish YA post here. Julie was kind enough to answer a few questions on the genre, writing and being part of the craze.

1. How does it feel to be an author with an established series releasing a dystopian YA novel in the height of this latest publishing craze?

It’s both odd and exciting. When Exodus was published there was nothing like it at all in YA fiction and I was warned that the book might not sell well because young readers weren’t really into futuristic fiction these days.... well, I never agreed with that view because when I was a teenager I loved to read books set in the future - big, bold stories that took me right out of myself and my day to day problems and set my imagination on fire. I couldn’t see why today’s young readers wouldn’t enjoy that too - and of course they do. People all around the world have enjoyed Exodus and it’s been on many shortlists and won prizes, as has the sequel, Zenith. That’s been thrilling and unexpected. I couldn’t be happier that there is a ‘dystopian craze’ and for my books to be part of it - because I love reading fiction that presents visions of the future.

2. Who and what were your main influences in writing Exodus, Zenith and Aurora?

Writers like Margaret Atwood, William Gibson and Ursula Le Guin and their provocative and disturbing visions. Also Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials - brilliant books that proved that young readers were really up for big, extraordinary stories. Ancient flood legends were an influence too because I found out that every culture in the world has a flood legend set in the distant past. So many ideas came from the real world - the Kiribati islands amid rising seas in the Pacific, Bangladeshi boat camps of flood refugees, rampaging sea pirates, the bio-architecture of the sky city towers, and walled cities in a time when we are debating the problems of refugees flooding into ‘Fortress Europe’. Fiction about the future always has a big punch when you can glimpse your own world in the imagined future of the story. 

3. The genre's something of a blanket genre with so many varying elements and tropes. How would you define dystopian YA and what do you think are the most important elements of a strong dystopian novel?

I don’t like defining fiction too much as that can limit it and stifle ideas. Dystopia tends to mean a society that’s become warped in some way, controlling human destinies and stamping on the individual. “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever,” wrote George Orwell in 1984, the most famous dystopia of all, where Big Brother is always watching. You’re right, the ‘dystopian umbrella’ now includes any kind of world-gone-wrong scenario. My books are actually apocalyptic, with a dystopian element - I’ve started calling them ‘dystopalyptic’!

One concern with some of the current YA craze - and I loved The Book Lantern’s hot debate on this - is that the dystopian backdrop can sometimes seem like an excuse for a slightly predictable girl-lusts-after-hot boy romance and the world-building can be thin. For me, the crux of a really good dystopian or futuristic story is the world-building. Does the author have a new Big Idea and create the world of the story so convincingly that you believe in it all and feel you’re right there, on a journey like no other, with characters you really care about? I think that’s the key to a great book. 

4. Dystopian YA has been marketed lately as the new craze to take over from paranormal romance. Do you think the genre can be as popular and well selling as the paranormal books that have flooded the market in recent years? Does it have the same level of staying power?

I don’t think paranormal is dying off anytime soon. Dystopian trilogies are about to flood the market in the next year or so (just as well I got in early!) and it’s fantastic that readers have so much choice. I actually think that a good dystopian novel has more staying power because of the strength of the ideas - if it’s done well. But it comes down to what readers like and want more of, and that’s impossible to forecast. I love the unpredictability of the YA market where anything can burst through - it means the readers have the power.

5. What, in your opinion, is the intrinsic appeal of dystopia for teens?

At a time in your life when you are no longer a child, but don’t yet have the freedom and power of an adult, you perhaps feel that others control your destiny. Dystopian fiction takes you right out of yourself and your everyday life and plunges you into a whole new world where you are immersed in the adventures of fictional characters rebelling against a world gone wrong. It’s exhilarating - a kind of freedom. You can escape problems in your own life that may seem overwhelming and maybe put your own struggles in perspective when set against the plights the characters face in a dystopian novel. You come up against all of life in these books - love, death, pain, power, excitement, choices that determine individual destinies and perhaps even the fate of a whole world.... and are left with a lot of new ideas to wonder about, that make you look at your own world in a whole new light. Brilliant stuff. What’s not to like?! 

6. Most of the most famous and well renowned dystopian novels have strong associations with political and moral commentary, e.g. "1984", "The Handmaid's Tale", etc. Can such things be effectively translated to a younger audience?

Definitely. I see elements of these classics in many of the new books. In adult dystopia the main character is usually annihilated and all hope is gone (1984) or else you’re left reeling, with no answers (The Handmaid’s Tale). In YA fiction, there tends to be seeds of hope for the future. In my book, Aurora, the ending is a new beginning (which might drive people crazy, but I just cannot not do predictable endings; I’m allergic to them.) I think you can -  and should - write about anything for young readers. The way to do it is to show what the characters in your story are up against, let the reader see and feel what’s at stake - and I’d rather leave young readers with hope than utter despair. I think that’s the crucial difference.

7. We at The Book Lantern are serious sticklers for originality in genre fiction, especially during the midst of a publishing craze. In the case of dystopian YA, there's been much criticism in the originality of the stories and universes created e.g. Ally Condie's "Matched" being seen as a copy of "The Giver", Lauren DeStefano's "Wither"'s, comparisons with "The Handmaid's Tale", etc. As an author, do you feel pressure to stick to the genre conventions whilst still creating something new and original? Is that even possible these days?

Creating something new and original is the very essence of what I believe you must try to do if you want to be the best writer you can be. (We are of the same mind here, Book Lantern-ites, that’s why I’m drawn to you!) The pressure I feel is my own passion to write the very best story I can - I truly don’t want to be constrained by a trend or genre or convention. Because if I had done that, I’d never have written Exodus (remember, I was being told that young readers didn’t like that sort of thing.) So my job is to forget about all that and write the story that grabs me, in the most exciting and original way I can - to stay true to my own imagination. That way you people, hopefully, get the range and quality of books you deserve, and not just a flood of whatever copycat trend marketing departments find it easiest to sell to you.

I don’t think there’s a problem at all with writers being influenced by other books or ‘re-writing’ classics, as long as it’s done with originality and verve. You must do something exciting and new with the idea. After all, you could argue that I stole my idea from Noah.... ; )

8. Now that "Aurora" signals the end of the Exodus series almost a decade after it started, what is next for you? (Feel free to miss out this question if you don't know/are under a secret contract of deathly doom that I imagine exists in the deep dark bowels of publishing/etc.)

Yes, I must avoid the doom spell and the deep dark bowels that will be my fate if I say too much. The next book is very different - it begins a couple of decades from now (in a dystopian world gone wrong...) but the story literally takes us out of this world (sorry, can’t tell you how: big spoiler) into a cosmic adventure where Riven, my gutsy and wayward young character, discovers a truth that turns everything she’s ever known on its head - the whole history of humankind. There’s big love, death, loss, meddling scientists, a delicious alien, looming catastrophe on a cosmic scale... how does that sound?!

9. And finally, please recommend a few books to our blog friends, dystopian or otherwise.

These are a few of my all-time favourite reads, well worth seeking out if you like dystopian fiction:

The Last Man - Mary Shelley (Mary was a teenager when she wrote Frankenstein, the first modern sci-fi fiction, and The Last Man is one of the first-ever dystopian novels). 
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K Le Guin
Woman On The Edge of Time - Marge Piercy
 Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
The Ice People - Maggie Gee

Thanks so much for letting me visit. I’m so glad I discovered The Book Lantern late one night when I couldn’t sleep.

Thank you SO much for letting us do this and good luck with the release of "Aurora!" Can't wait to get my hands on it.

Aurora is published by Macmillan Children's Books and is available now in UK.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

White-bread Wonderland

Today at The Book Lantern, we are very excited to welcome Zoe Marriott, author of "The Swan Kingdom", "Daughter of the Flames" and the soon to be released "Shadows on the Moon." Zoe, whose latest work is a multicultural fantasy inspired by Japanese culture, has kindly offered to be our guest poster for the day and provide us with her thoughts on writing different cultures in YA, and its importance and difficulties -- especially when writing Asian inspired YA as a non Asian
author. Take it away, Zoe!

In one of our most celebrated pieces of children’s literature, little Alice steps through a mirror into a twisted version of reality, where nothing quite makes sense except in a strange dream logic way, and connections to the real world are tenuous and ironic.

When a modern reader walks into their local bookshop, they are (often unknowingly) having a very similar experience.

There’s no getting around it. Mainstream fiction, including young adult fiction, does not reflect the world as we know it to be. White, straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered, neurotypical and, often, male (when it comes to active roles anyway) are still the default to such an extent that books which do something differently are greeted with as much surprise as delight.

My second book, Daughter of the Flames, is a multicultural fantasy in which characters of different faiths and skin colours go to war for freedom in a world based on Africa, India and Tibet. The main couple in the story is inter-racial (one of them is also disabled). I expected to get flack. But instead I was astounded to read reviews which branded the setting of the book ‘Medieval European’.

What? You missed the Goddess worship, the rainforests, the variety of skin colours, the matriarchal society? Apparently so. One glance at my author picture reveals white skin and blonde hair – so clearly I couldn’t be writing about black heroes, or a non-European world. All the indications that the characters were neither white, Medieval nor European had simply gone over the reviewer’s heads.

My third novel, Shadows on the Moon, is set in a faerytale version of Japan. I based this setting on my own love of Japanese culture and upon mounds and mounds (and mounds!) of painstaking research. Once I felt I had stuffed every possible fact about Japan that I could into my brain, I took liberties, changing the world of the story to fit the story’s needs, and creating not a historical novel but a fantasy.  And yet, some weeks ago, I received an email from someone who had read an advanced copy and strongly disapproved of certain aspects of the book – because they were not (he felt) historically accurate.

What? You missed the fact that the country in the story is called The Moonlit Land, rather than Japan? And the part where magic is possible and shadow-weaving illusionists stalk the land? Apparently so. Rather than being happy with a rich and diverse setting for a fantasy, the reader wished to impose their own view of historical Japan on the book – and since one glance at my author picture reveals those giveaway Anglo-Saxon features, surely the reader must know more about Japan than I ever could. Right?

This is what happens to white authors who write books which deal with other cultures, even in a fantasy setting.

It’s so easy to avoid such irritations. Bleach my character’s skin, wipe away their cultural complexities and plop them down in that Eurocentric world where no one can criticise me. It comes naturally – of course it does – since that’s the world I see every time I turn on the TV or go to see a film.  That’s the world I’ve been programmed to believe is ‘normal’.

But that wonderland version of reality where 99% of the world is white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered and neurotypical? That’s only available to certain, privileged people. For anyone else, anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘default’, there’s a big old NO ENTRY sign posted on the gateway. And since ‘anyone else’ actually makes up the majority of the world, that’s an awful lot of people getting a sick, sinking feeling as they realise that they’re excluded from the world of books and TV and film. That they’re not considered normal. That they’re not good enough to be reflected in fiction.

Isn’t that heartbreaking on a human level? And what’s more, isn’t it sickening on an artistic level?

It’s scary writing books that take you out of your default settings and away from your comfort zone. There’s always the risk you’ll get things wrong. No matter how careful and respectful you are there will always be someone who will accuse you of being a wicked cultural appropriator – or who will simply miss all the cues you’ve given and assume everyone in the book is white anyway. It’s very tempting to think none of this applies to you, that you can leave it to other authors, braver, better, browner authors, to fix right now, and maybe one day, when things are a different, you’ll consider venturing out of the ‘normal’ world into the real one...

But there will never be a perfect time to start writing books that reflect and embrace diverse ethnicities and cultures. That mythical future, a time when we are so free of prejudice that no white-bread author need fear the lash of a person of colour’s tongue will never exist – if we don’t all pull on our big girl pants and do the work.


And so, to every YA author out there who has opened their imagination and created worlds and characters that bridge the gap between white-bread wonderland and the real world? I salute you. And to all those of you who haven’t quite had the courage yet? I invite you, urge you, and challenge you, to start that journey today. It’s not nearly as long a walk as you think. The real world is only a mirror’s thickness away.


Zoe's YA recommendations: Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo, The Immortals Quartet and Beka Cooper Series by Tamora Pierce, Nation by Terry Pratchett, Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix, The Earthsea and Powers series by Ursula Le Guin.

"Shadows on the Moon" will be released in UK in July by Walker Books.

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Autopsy of Criticism, or Why It’s Not All Sparkly and White.

by: Ceilidh

As I’m sure most of you know, there was a ruckus in the YA community after the Wall Street Journal published an article that amounted to a bunch of pearl clutching over the supposed darkness of YA and how dangerous it was to normalise issues such as self harm and gay hate crimes. The article was terrible in almost every way you can think of and in reply, a large group of YA authors and readers fought back, using a #YASaves hash-tag on Twitter to tell their stories and express how important YA is, and it is.

It’s not just YA that saves, it’s words that save. Knowledge is power and that terrifies people that try to storm into libraries and remove books from shelves. Words are some of the most powerful weapons we have and they leave a much bigger impact than anything sharp or pointy. I’m glad people stood up to terrible journalism and book banner mentality and I’m glad they did it in droves. However, Debbie Downer that I am, I couldn’t help but think of YA’s general attitude to criticism and the issue of fighting back against that which is within the YA sphere.

We’ve talked about the issue of criticism within YA before, and it got... interesting, but the question still remains of why we see so little criticism of the problematic elements of YA from people within the industry itself. It’s not just criticism that we see so little of, it’s negativity full stop. Not every YA book will get a review from WSJ or NYTimes (they’re not exactly the key demographic anyway) and the vast majority of publicity, reviews and discussion of YA is happening online and involving the readers of YA. When responses to criticism of all kinds has led to “Be Nice” and accusations of “bully bloggers”, it poses the question as to what sort of criticism is considered valid in YA. Of course, it’s completely unfair to shove all YA authors under this banner – just like the content in YA, you shouldn’t let a few bad eggs spoil it for everyone – but when people become weary of reviewing negatively and it takes a hash-tag revolution for people to speak up, that’s not good.

Like I said, words are power. YA has a lot of power but with that comes great responsibility to appropriately handle certain issues within the genre. The reaction to the WSJ article was justified because YA deserves to be held up to the highest standard by its readers and writers, so of course we should keep this standard up when it comes to tackling the problems within, yet we rarely see it. I completely understand professionalism and the publishing industry’s need to survive in these days of self publishing, e-books and market competition, but I still don’t think blind defence or ignorance of the genuinely problematic content within YA is simply being professional. Where are the hash-tags fighting back against rape culture or sexism within YA? Allowing these issues to go by unnoticed reasserts it as something ‘normal’ when it has no right to be, and to have such things be not only normal but acceptable portrayals of life in literature for an impressionable age group sets dangerous standards.

But it’s not as simple as authors speaking out, it seldom is. It’s easy for us readers and bloggers to have the blame solely lie with the author when it comes to their content, but the industry isn’t just made up of authors. I can imagine an author writing a book and not realising that what they have written is morally questionable – we’ve all been raised in different circumstances with different politics in our lives and I understand that I, as a reviewer, am coming from a position of privilege in being educated and born in the era I was – and I can even conceive of said author’s book being accepted by an agent who misses these problematic issues as well.

However, I find it very hard to believe that it can get past the countless people in editing, publishing and marketing with nobody pointing out what’s inside. But, as fun as it is to imagine, publishers are not the creators of madness and deep seated misogyny within media, and I doubt they’re heavily publicising the worst of these books for shits and giggles. Books are heavily publicised for a reason – supply and demand. There’s a whole bunch of stuff involving trying to set trends and fads as well but in the infamous instance of the paranormal craze, those books were heavily promoted because there was a demand for more Twilight-style books. A book with extreme anti-feminist attitudes became wildly popular so of course publishers wanted more. There was a demand for all consuming teenage romances built upon archaic and deep seated misogyny, and that’s worrying.

That’s a whole other can of worms we need to examine, and not just in YA. What’s the intrinsic appeal of such archaic sexist attitudes and why do we continue to support them? Why are there so few female film-makers in Hollywood and why is it so hard for a film to pass the Bechdel test these days? How often do you see outrage over a scantily clad female singer yet never the same level directed at an equally sexualised male singer? Why are there so few people of colour in leading roles in movies, TV and literature, and why are they automatically considered ‘issues stories’ when they are there? All this, and so much more, are the result of countless generations of deep seated views that can’t be changed in the space of a few years.

The publishing industry is fighting for survival so of course it’s going to stick to the money makers over deep psychological analysis and social justice. It’s easy to understand why YA writers don’t want to be vocal about issues within the industry. Very few writers make J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer money, and when you’re a mid-grade selling author, as most are, pissing off your bosses has bad repercussions, as it does for any business you’re in. Why fight against the status quo when the status quo is what’s making you money and keeping the industry you love afloat?

Is there a deep seated fear of the industry stopping people from speaking up? I don’t know – this issue’s much deeper and complex than I gave it credit for when I started blogging a year ago as a sweet, naive 20 year old. In a couple of weeks time I’ll be a wise, Yoda-esque 21 year old, and I’ve learned a lot about this mess I’ve thrown myself into. So what can we do to gain the civil, complex and progressive discourse that we and the industry deserve? I think we need to keep our criticisms strong, well thought out and rational. Bloggers need to play a hand in this as much as author and the industry – we’re the consumers, if we want more books with LGBTQ content or feminist friendly relationships then we need to support the books that actually have such content. What we buy influences what publishers release, and we need to make sure that it’s done right, because badly handled representation is incredibly damaging, more so than no representation at all.

We need to demand the highest standards for our readers and for our writers, and we need to support writers brave enough to go against the grain. There is already some progress being made on this front, notably within the “Diversity in YA” tour of Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, but even then there’s only so much they can do on their own (the Pon cover controversy is an important example of this, but the issue of cover representation and the issues surrounding that is a much more complex topic for a whole other blog post topic). The issues of reader-writer interaction have been spotty in recent years but if we want true change I think we need to open up the discussion to all, and we need to do it properly. That means it needs to be civil with no knee-jerk reactions from either side, we need to be able to listen.

The external factors will always remain, and I don’t think every YA author out there is keeping mum about the obvious problems within the genre because they agree with them. Let’s work to create a democratic ground for us to have these discussions and give power to the authors as well as the readers. Criticism should not be the enemy and authors and readers shouldn’t be at odds with each other. If we’re sick of something being hyped when we don’t think it deserves to be, fight to support what you do think deserves it. Equally, I think we should continue to fight against that which is problematic and damaging in YA, because you have to start somewhere to fight such a widespread issue. You make the biggest changes by speaking out, we all do. Words save, knowledge is power, and we have the right to demand the highest possible standard. Maybe one day we’ll have our own anti-sexist hash-tag revolution and we’ll start to make real changes to the industry, but it’s going to take more than one blog post to do that.