The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading YA

“If you are going to go anywhere in life, you have to read a lot of books.” –Roald Dahl

As promised, here is both a new blog post and a post about reading Young Adult (YA) literature. More specifically, a response to the article sweeping its way through the internets, the article which tells me as an adult I should be embarrassed to read YA—this article

Wow, I hate this article. My first response on Facebook when someone sent it to me was actually, “Wow, I hate this with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.” In the few weeks since the article was first published, I’ve calmed down; I’m hovering somewhere around code blue (guarded) to code yellow (elevated).

And truth be told, writing and reading YA as an adult means you are always somewhere around there; always ready to defend your craft, always ready to justify your habits. This, in its simplest form, is why I hated the article in the first place.  

Oh, I’m not the only one. YA authors specifically rallied against the article. After all, it makes a mockery of what we do and who we are. Actually, I’m still trying to figure out if anyone liked the article. Perusing other articles by the same author, I quickly discovered we were not at all the same person. Not in the least. We may both be women in a certain age group, but that’s about where the similarities end; which means she would probably hate reading this blog. And although we will never enjoy the same types of books, I don’t think she should stop reading her Dickens or Wharton. I firmly believe it takes a reader to breathe life into a book.  

And here’s the thing every writer and reader in the world hopes you understand: NEVER BE EMBARRASSED BY WHAT YOU READ. If you take that one thing away from this post, I will be a happy woman.

Throwing my opinion and voice into this debate may not bring anything new to the topic, but how can I not say something. I’ve thought about how many times I’ve told you, blog reader, why I write YA. Why I write at all. It’s not an easy thing. I drone on about writing because it’s what I do, who I am. It makes me both happy and more frustrated than anything else in my life. But what I haven’t done yet is tell you why I read YA.

Of course I can do that in one simple sentence: I READ YA BECAUSE I LIKE IT!

  • The article says adults read YA for escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. In fact, it’s the whole crux of the article. How dare an adult read for any of these reasons? Well, yeah, I do read YA for all of these reasons. And? I think choosing to read for any reason is a great thing. I’m not sure why someone who writes herself wants to disparage others from reading. It’s very counterproductive.
  • The article says: But if they [adults] are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something. Well, the argument falls apart before it begins:  there are teen dramas that are so much more complex than literary fiction and there is great adult literature that’s so sappy and maudlin I literally cry. Hey, you know what’s great and complex and syrupy and mushy and heart-felt and fun and rewarding and sentimental? LITERATURE. Period.
  • The article says, life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long. I say life is so short, and you will never be able to read all of the great books out there; cherish the books you love, learn from the books that are smarter than you, and forget the books you didn’t like.

Why do I read YA? 
I read YA to be inspired. I read it to perfect my craft. I read YA as a writer to figure out what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. I read YA because it’s what I’m passionate about. I read YA to learn, to understand, to find my place in the world. I read YA because I know or have met a number of YA writers, editors, agents and readers. They are my people and I love them. I read YA to escape and because it’s nostalgic, dammit. I read YA because it is insightful and fun and sad and character driven and plot driven and exhilarating. I read YA because the swearing has a purpose and makes more sense. I read YA because the sex has a consequence--or a reason--and makes more sense. I read YA because it is more diverse than other genres; you can push the boundaries of YA literature further. I read YA because I don’t want to forget where I came from, who I am, or where I’m going.

I read YA because I get to.

And maybe I’m not the girl you should be listening to. Me, the woman made up of words. The one who walks around with a book bag entirely covered in literary quotes; the one with the Harry Potter bracelet and purse; the one wearing her favorite Shakespeare quote on a ring and a scarf with an entire passage from Austen. Maybe I’m too invested in words. It’s entirely possible I don’t understand what it’s like to have no time for reading; to never grasp the full meaning of the words I'm consuming. A co-worker at the part-time job-hobby told me last week he’s never read a book in his life; he simply can’t retain the story. He also sat down with me for half an hour to try and figure out why I like to read and how I retain the story. It was a conversation that left me at once happy and sad. Happy – he wasn’t embarrassed to ask and I wasn’t embarrassed to share. Sad – because that’s a whole lot of joy I’ve found that he’ll never quite figure out.

I may, at the end of my life, discover that my words never reached the masses I hope to inspire. My writing may never get published and my passion for my craft may fizzle out with a stutter instead of burn out in a blaze. But no matter what this world has in store for me, I will always, always be a reader of books. And that’s not embarrassing at all.

“I read widely, indiscriminately. I read historical books, animal books, ballet books, detective books, adventure books, fairy tales, science books, funny books, school stories, and Sweet Valley High books. I am made of books, all kinds of books.” –Anne Ursu

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

You Must Hold Hands and No Show Tunes

First, yes, it has been about a year. I recently went to a Children’s and Young Adult book conference to reboot my extreme lack of writing. I think it might even have worked. Only time will tell (ugh, the clichés begin already). At least it means another blog post. I’m going to be ambitious and try to do a month of fun days again as well (fingers crossed all). You know, and write—as much as I possibly can.

And now for the worst segue into my actual post ever…

I love to travel, but I hate spending money on vacation. If left to my own devices, I’m fairly certain I would talk myself out of any trip. Good thing I’m rarely left to my own devices.

Chris & I had a very DIY wedding 5 years ago. Not because we were trying to save money, but because that’s the way we both are. I wanted to remember every second of the day and every guest who shared the day with us. It was my day, and I’m biased, but I’m pretty sure that’s the best wedding I’ve been to. And every bride and groom should think this—it means we did something right. DIY weddings can be quite labor intensive. For some reason I thought this meant we shouldn’t have a honeymoon right away. I was very logical about it at the time, I’m sure. But Chris put his foot down. We were going away right after the wedding—and that was that. He told me in no uncertain terms he had plans of us going away every year on our anniversary. Yeah, I know, my lot is rough—every once in a while there’s this incredibly romantic side to my husband that always takes my breath away. 5 years later and so far, British Husband and I have accomplished some sort of trip each year around the third week of August.

It’s not easy. Every year I think of some reason we shouldn’t spend the money or the time away. And they’re good reasons too—I just lost my job, we just bought a house—totally legit reasons; and every year my husband looks at me and firmly puts his foot down. Oh, I’m not complaining, anymore than I complain about his desire to do all the housework or cook a good portion of the meals; I mostly just sit around stunned by my good fortune in landing this man. He comes with an accent, too!

Last year we headed to that happiest of happy places—Walt Disney World.

Is this just hyped up consumerism?  Hells no! Disney IS the happiest place on earth, why would I want to spend Anniversary 5 anywhere else? The title of this blog comes from the signs posted everywhere at Disney World, and our interpretation of their meaning. Truly, no one wants to hear either one of us sing show tunes.

To be fair and for full disclosure, I—girl who spent a number of my formative years working for Disney—may not be the best judge of Disney’s plot to take over the world, or lack thereof. They got to me young and my brain is thoroughly washed. Still, my form of Disney-itis is very minute; trust me. I’ve seen, and met, and am quite good friends with many who have a more acute case. They are reading this wondering what the hell my problem is; I hadn’t been to a theme park in 5 years after all—that’s far too long. 

So, in August, we went to Florida for a week of anniversary bliss. And here we are months later, and I’ve realized a few things about myself and my love affair with Walt Disney World­­. Somehow, for some reason, my rather large life moments have been plotted out and orchestrated right down the middle of Main Street USA, curving over to InnoVentions and winding their way down to the Tower of Terror.

Blog-Time Over Share!

The first time I entered the Magic Kingdom I was a senior in high school and on a band trip. No, that’s not exactly a life moment. It is just a fact—I’m not unique in this, as I know at least 789 other people who’ve had a similar experience (I’ve been keeping track of my mundane-ity for years now).

Already there’s a side note: There are two events in my life that clearly shaped who I am as a human being. Yes, sure, who I became as an adult; but somehow deeper than that: Two events that defined my very humanness.

One – being in my high school marching band. (Mundane fact #1)
The ages of 14–18 are pivotal in anyone’s life and having a very large group of my peers during that period, an organization with a purpose and lots of discipline – whacky rituals and more fun then most people get in their high school careers. SO. IMPORTANT.

Two – studying abroad in college. (Mundane fact #2)
Everyone should do this. I don’t care when, where, or for how long, but getting outside of your comfort zone and seeing the world is part of the human condition in my book. A necessary part of building morals and ethics and discovering what type of person you want to be, based on informed decisions and the knowledge that not everyone is just like you—and that’s OK.

Number one taught me how to be part of a community, good and bad parts; whilst number two taught me how to break down my egocentric world—get out there and notice other cultures and how their communities may differ from my own.

And now back to my first visit to WDW. It was the end of my senior year of high school and it was also my last band trip. My last time wearing a 7 LB wool uniform and marching in heat and humidity in the world’s most unforgiving, chaffing fabric. There’s a reason I write the books I do—a reason my protagonists tend to be 17-year-old females going through some sort of transition. It’s not just because it’s interesting and there’s lots of fodder there. No, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with this first trip to WDW. I did something really cliché on that trip. I fell in love for the first time (Mundane fact #3). Did I mention it was a transitional period in my life? My last band trip, my last couple months of high school, my first trip to WDW, the first time I fell in love, my first kiss with fireworks (Seriously, there were actual fireworks! Every girl should have that happen…I only know 20 people this has happened to, so I’m not counting first love’s first kiss with real fireworks as a mundane moment. Choose to disagree if you must). Oh, sure, I had boyfriends, and basement make-out sessions, and flirting, and kissing, and hand holding before—Um, I was a teenage girl at the time. The L-word had been bandied about as well—I was in serious like with a number of boys: some unrequited, some mutual, some forbidden; but that first love kind of smacks you between the eyes. Especially when you are a senior and he’s a freshman.

I’m not sure you lot remember your last year of high school; some of you haven’t reached it yet, but I have a very clear memory which has been manipulated and twisted about to make it into my big box mystery novel. The actual memory is me at the end of my junior year watching many of my friends graduating and just being done—so done with all of it. I wanted to be graduating too; I wanted to skip the transition into adulthood and just be there already. I spent that summer with friends who had graduated, got a job, my long-time boyfriend and I split, and I tried burying my head in the sand. But band practice in August and the start of my senior year in September loomed on the horizon; friends started leaving for college and I knew I was trapped in that stone building with an old president’s name for another year. I sucked it up and got on with it. And then I met a boy. A boy who made me laugh, made me think, made me argue about my own viewpoint when he clearly didn’t have the same ideas about anything—religion, politics, technological advancements, authors—you name it. It’s possibly the first time I found myself floundering in life looking for a lifeline. And I found one in Ben. It’s happened since then; I’ve already told you my theory on not choosing your friends—sometimes people do just show up in your life when you need them to (Mundane fact #4). By the WDW trip our friendship was at a tipping point. All of those other seniors with their raging teenage hormones and scary transitional lives sort of pushed me over the edge, and straight into Ben’s arms. Looking back as an adult, I get it. Everyone was going through the same crap in their own way and we were all too preoccupied with our own stuff to really get a handle on anyone else’s (Mundane fact #5).

Looking at this first WDW trip through my adult-filtered memories, I finally realize just how much a few short days in the happiest place on earth played a part—not in me becoming a writer—but, in what I choose to write about. Now you’re saying any other trip could have done that. Maybe you’re right; I’ve just said these experiences are not unique to the 17-year-old transitioning into adulthood. Surely location has very little to do with it. Then again, setting is an important part to any story; I think I have a case for WDW being just the right amount of surreal and fantastical to stick with me more than say the park down the street from my house, or the high school gymnasium.

My first trip to Walt Disney World: I fell in love and left feeling awesome and awful at the same time. I suddenly had a tragic love affair on my hands (Mundane fact #6 through #12); we were both in love, but our parents couldn’t possibly condone the relationship (to be fair, we never checked with our parents on this); and now we had to leave the most wonderful place on earth and return to reality. Which we did with tortured looks at each other across the bus and airplane; both surrounded by our own groups of not-understanding friends. (Another side note: Oh, the melodrama! I’m certain Shakespeare made Romeo & Juliet so young because teenagers make everything so very dire. It really wouldn’t work with two older leads. But, I digress.) I still have a little plush Figment—purchased for me—to commemorate the trip.

Horrified by all the things in my life that were changing, I back-pedaled and decided as much as I was done the year before was as much as I wasn’t ready to be done with high school after that trip. Of course, time moves in a forward motion for all of us—whether we’re transitioning or stagnant. (I’m going to stop counting the mundane moments in my life story at this point, you get it.) I graduated and went off to college. Chapter closed.

And almost exactly two years later I was back at WDW for my second trip—this time with my mom and a co-worker and her daughter. My stagnant self is currently amazed at just how fast things change when you are at a transitioning age. I see trip number two as an end of the really drastic change/transition into adulthood. I’d just finished my second year of college, I proclaimed my major and minor and had all my classes lined up, I was working a couple jobs to pay for school, I had different friends and was living with my future husband. Disney World was different too. No longer on a class trip, I could come and go as I pleased; and since I was working at the Disney Store, I got into the parks for free and treated them as my own playground. It was all new and different until I came across that little resting place in EPCOT; the place that marked the kiss with the fireworks. I feigned sore feet and sat there for a good 15 minutes, just remembering.

Ironically, I chose that moment, sitting there to decide I would definitely not go to WDW for my honeymoon. It had too many memories already. Alas, the happiest place on earth is for making memories. If only my life were a novel—this moment plays out with more foreshadowing then I’ve ever actually been able to write into a scene.

I went to WDW again, and again, and at least four more times after that. I went with friends, I went with relatives, I went with perfect strangers hauled from the Seattle airport when we couldn’t get standby flights to Hawaii, I went with Chris—we took my mom for her 50th birthday and dragged others with us, I went with my best friend because she said she wouldn’t have any fun at a touristy, theme park and I had to prove her wrong (I did). I became a walking guide at work and helped people plan their trips; shared short-cuts and time-saving ideas gleaned from others. I got engaged (on a plane flying over the French Alps, not Disney World) and realized I wanted a small wedding so one of my London friends (since Chris couldn’t take time off and I was going to go by myself) and I spent five days looking at all the places you could actually get married in the parks—with the Munchkins in the Great Movie Ride possibly the strangest—and looking through pictures of friends’ weddings that actually took place in the parks. In the end, I got married in an actual park in MN, reserving WDW for our honeymoon. Didn’t see that one coming did you?

I’m one of those people who’s actually lost track of just how many times I’ve been to WDW. Soon I’ll join the “Figment People” I’ve met three times at EPCOT; I think they might live there. You’ll put me up there with the illustrated Disney man—he has so many Disney tattoos I’m not sure where he stops and his tattoos start.

My Constant Marriage

The most important thing I learned about my husband the first time we went to WDW is his attitude about the spinning teacups. Watch out! Vomit inducing spins and twirls will ensue if you get in a cup with this man. Yet, I still do. I later learned, when my sister-in-law shared her similar misadventures, that this is a quintessential Whurr brother trait. A theory recently proved when the last brother-in-law got married in April and honeymooned in WDW. This time my sister-in-law and I made sure to warn our newest sister-in-law what she was in for. True to form, Paul did not disappoint. Jillian sent a photo to my phone as they were getting on the whirling teacups and I knew she was officially part of the family: Trial by teacup and all.

And there is that life moment again. I fell in love for the first time at WDW, why not fall in love for the forever time there as well? I’m not sure I can actually tell you when or where I fell in love with my husband, but what if? Those teacups are crazy­—there’s no way around it—I’d have to love him to keep going on those things with him.

I mean I really don’t think you can possibly understand the extreme spinning on the teacups:
  • Rockin’ Roller Coaster? My screams on the teacups are louder than any Aerosmith song you’ll hear here.
  • Space Mountain? Child’s play in comparison. It’s dark in Space Mountain, but you have to close your eyes to keep them from popping out of your head on the teacups. 
  • Splash Mountain? Sure, there’s a really big drop and lots of laughter. Still, not even close! At some point you’re spinning so fast on the teacups you can’t help but laugh. In fact, you can’t stop laughing; which is terrifying—because at some point you need to breathe! 
My first time on the teacups with Chris I thought, “This man is crazy! How do I get off of these things?” The second time was our honeymoon and although I knew what to expect, I knew I had to get back on. This third trip to WDW, and consequently third spin around the teacups, sealed the deal. He may bring me to terrifying experiences, but he will also bring me through them. Because honestly, as fast as he spins that little wheel, and as dizzy as I am when I get off¸ (no, seriously, this last time I overheard a castmember say she’s never seen them go that fast) he always keeps a hand on my back until I can stand upright alone and never spins fast enough for me to actually vomit.

I feel exhilarated but safe the entire time.
What more can you ask for in a marriage or in life?