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In Regard to My Absence (Or, Don't Worry, I Didn't Ascend to Heaven or None on Saturday)



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Yes, I am quite alive. I am blistering in my severity of alivedness and am prepared for all sorts of gatherings, shindigs and hootenannies once my half-yearly exams are done and dusted. All reviewing, reading and writing (including that of this blog) have been put on pause - though I have been on Tumblr a little more than I should have. I am attempting to memorise facts and theses about EMMA, The King's Speech, Tutankhamen and burial practices, Picasso's cubism, Banksy and Velasquez's social status, and JFK and the political events pre-WWI. So, you know, just swimming in the fun.

So, in case you had even the slightest inclination to wonder where my dreadful cynicism had disappeared to: No, my neighbours did not find my clothes in the street because I was snatched up by Rapture. No, the Doctor did not steal me away. I am buried in my textbooks and essays. You will, however, have me all to yourself on Friday, or Thursday (depending on where you are in the time zone sense of the world).

Choose Your Own Adventure (Or, Yetis, Cameras and Bloghops Brought to You By 13 Crusaders)



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Go, click on the banner to the left! The members of Group 9 of Rachael Harrie's Second Platform-Building Crusade all banded together, just like the Justice League or the Avengers, and came up with a little adventure for you.

You remember those books. Second-person, frustrating, the type where you ended up getting vaporised by a googly-eyed alien in the backseat of a movie theatre.

But alas, your adventure does not start here. Go on back to Kerri Cuevas' blog to start your voyage into the unknown. Don't worry, you'll work your way up to me if you choose wisely. But if you've already done that, look below.




Mothers lift cars off of their pinned-down children, minute schoolgirls beat the stuffing out of their assailants, and you? You leg it.

The furry faces blur into their frosty surrounds as you swivel. The camera lands on your toe and rockets forward, skidding across the ice faster than your feet can carry you off the mark. Your life’s work? Ha. You can forget it.

Roars and wails bristle your hairs, your shoe soles skidding and slipping. You feel the skin scrape from your fingertips, from your palms, as you catapult yourself onto your feet, forward into the passages.

You hear padding, thumping, breathing. You don’t dare look over your shoulder. You don’t dare face that dazzling light. Or the creature on your heels. You push your legs to move faster, better. Dad said to pump your arms, to lift your knees for those track meets. You pump, you lift, you feel like you’re flying to that entrance.

But Jesus Christ, that thing’s breath is like acid on your neck.

You stumble on a dislodged piece of stone, arms flailing, as you pass through the entrance to the cave. A grunt behind you. You squeeze your eyes shut. Imagine its claws, its jaws of razor-teeth. Your ankles hurt. You’re going to throw up.

Something nicks you on the neck.

You trip. And then you’re rolling.

***

You pry open your eyelids, blink groggily. You see a tattered canvas of black. Tilting your head, you note it’s the roof of the back of a truck. A pick-up? You cough, your body aches, it’s numb and you’re wrapped up in itchy blankets.

You roll onto your side. Outside, snow descends in a heavy sleet. A young woman is asleep beside you, upright, leaning on a telescope. She snores a little, boot-clad feet scrunching the pages of some sort of textbook. Shivering, your teeth clacking together, you drag yourself upright.

In the cab of the truck, a man and woman converse in Russian. They haven’t noticed you’re awake yet. You swallow, your throat dry and stinging. Your head is bleary, your mind wanting sleep. You ache everywhere. Your face is flaking, you might have frostbite. You remind yourself not to touch it.

A feeling of safety overcomes you, and yet, you feel panicked. You look over your shoulder, out the back of the truck. You should be running. Why should you be running?

And then you remember.

Could it really have happened? Maybe you fell, maybe you hit your head? It’s not possible. You couldn’t have seen…No. You try to stand. Freeze. Christ, ouch. Your neck. God, your neck. You raise a hand. It’s bandaged, the tape pulled taut. Your fingers fumble. It hurts. Something cut you, scratched you.

It happened.

It happened and all you can think is: why didn’t you take the damned photo?



So, do you (Click on your choice):



To Standalone or To Series? (Or, A Baby Plot Bunny Walks Into a Club)



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(Psssst: Did you get my terrible punny joke?)

I love series. (Eugh, plural rules, why do you rain on my autumnal parade?) I really do. HARRY POTTER, INFERNAL DEVICES, CURSE WORKERS, MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, etc. When it comes to YA, there is nothing that does it for me better than a good series. But I stand before you today, perched upon my shiny soapbox in my Sunday best (And yes, by that I mean slippers, pyjama bottoms and a Doctor Who t-shirt) to tell you that some later additions to these series are amazingly unnecessary.

Yes, you heard me. Unnecessary.

And to sum up the general feeling toward these unnecessary additions that are only in place because the publishing industry are cash-cows that really like to milk things until they're about as dry as an infertile woman's uterus (Bare with me: it's late and my metaphors and similes come to me from a strange place that's only visible to the naked eye at midnight.) you could have a quick look here, here and well, here and well, here.

Basically, these unnecessary additions are guilty of committing the following writerly sins: 1) Being really not funny, 2) Rehashes the same plots and conversations, 3) Attaining an off-the-charts not-entertaining ratings and 4) Losing all inspirational qualities.

There is a slow inching forward toward the climax that is akin to watching continental shift or waiting for Halley's Comet. You are told about every garment the characters are wearing and you are encumbered with the presence of recklessly created brain-children that arrive only to "mix things up", not to mention the post-series love troubles of the couple you've already endured romantic-hell with.

Yes, I speak to you about a trade increasingly common in the more NYT-Bestseller-List regions of the world with legions of authors partaking in the inhumane clubbing of plot bunnies. These poor defenceless bunnies - all they want is for Bella not to get impregnated and for Vapid-Girl and He-Creature to just jump into bed already before Morgan Freeman makes an appearance.


(Credit to Vinaya over at Goodreads.com for that, and for the tag) As human society evolves, so do its methods of torture. Our century gives us the YA Unnecessary Sequels, or YAUS (Like Klaus, but not). I'm biting my sore-ridden tongue here, but all the same: cash-grab, cash-cow, cash-slash-cop-out - you see where I'm getting at?

As writers, if we have a projected series in mind, it's in mind before we sell the first book. We have planned the overreaching plot arc and we've planned the interwoven plot lines and we've timed the romance or deaths or superstardom so that it all makes sense and the series and the standalone books come to a coherent halt at the end. But why is it that so many successful YA authors are now set up mid-career to inevitably reach their BREAKING DAWN?

And by BREAKING DAWN, you know exactly what I mean. Hint: YAUS.

I hate to say this (I feel like I'm smacking a toddler in the face by doing it) but Cassandra Clare, author of my beloved guilty-pleasure MORTAL INSTRUMENTS trilogy has taken this writerly sin to a whole new level. You know how I regard that trilogy, the non-masterpieces which made this critical madam sit back and breeze through without needing to bite back cynicism and without eye-twitching or projectile vomiting. Between the characters and the dialogue, those three books were akin in fun-factor to this:


I am Rapunzel in that analogy, in case you mistook me for Eugene.

So, yes, hi this is me, stoked and fist-pumping a couple months ago when I finished CITY OF GLASS and discovered that no, this was not the end to the series. It was only when I got CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS in my hot little hands a month ago that I hesitated. Technically, the story had finished. Jace and Clary weren't related anymore, Valentine and his real son were dead - But I wanted more of that Cassandra Clare dialogue and the sexy fun time with Alec and Magnus. Hm. What's a fan to do?

Reading such a book after already telling yourself that disappointment is imminent is like in that movie with Renee Zellweger - Case 39 - when you see the girl's parents put her in the oven at the beginning and you're shocked!


But then by the end of the film you're like (and I kid you not, I swear the slogan should be): Get that bitch back in the oven! The very moment that I finished CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS I wasted a good minute wondering whether it was possible to unread a book.

(No, I don't mean that. Sort of, but not really.)

I really thought we could be friends, book, given that your brothers and sisters stirred deep emotions in me that had me questioning myself but you, you made me feel like how I do after I watch a B-grade movie on a Saturday morning because Batman: the Brave and the Bold is on and I really don't like Batman: the Brave and the Bold so I flick over to the movie channel. You, dearest book, left a sour taste in my mouth that won't go away.

I think we need to go back to our primary school days where you vaguely remember one of your teachers mentioning in passing some comment about quantity not being quality? No? Just me? Alright then.

Let me put it this way: The MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series-no-longer-trilogy will (including its prequel series) comprise of nine books altogether, exceeding that of HARRY POTTER and the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA? Sure, I can go in denying the cash-cow-slash-vain-grab-at-emulating-the-epic-series-mentioned-above, but if it oinks like a pig and looks like a pig, I'm sorry Cassie, but it ain't a horse, I'll tell you that.

The truth is that unless these series have been planned and orchestrated by the author from the very beginning to be long series, you can almost guarantee that once they exceed the original limits, they will lose their flavour. Characterisation will dwindle and fade, new villains become carbon-copies or laughable, growth becomes forced and unbelievable and plot disintegrates to the point where they characters have been shoved onto a stage and the author is throwing peanuts at them to make them dance. (Look-ey here, I thought of another example: What series just had its latest instalment come out by the name of ANGEL?)

It takes a lot to build such a following that just slapping your name on a cover will generate a jaw-dropping revenue (*cough*CusslerPatterson*cough*). But for the YA authors I'm pointing the finger at today, it's not their name, but their characters or world that attracts their fans. By the way some of these fangirls talk about these leading men, you'd think their saliva was made of awesomejuice, or that the flesh on their face was made of the Ark of the Covenant (Your face might melt off if you look at him!).

But these authors and their insufferable hubris are hurting the genre's reputation and I don't know how much more I can take. It will only make it harder for debut authors in the future, and might even lose the entire genre some really important readers (You know the ones. They're the one-star reviews you read on Goodreads.com who call authors on their bullshit constantly). So, someone needs to take a stand, someone needs to say enough. (Yeah, I'm going all Clash of the Titans on y'all) Enough with the YAUS and cash-grabs and enough with the metaphorical singing to the magical golden hair (a la Tangled). Do like Eugene "Flynn Rider" Fitzherbert and cut that mop of hair off!


What happened to the standalone novel? No, not the one you read once and then leave on the bottom shelf because you'd never ever read it again. I'm talking about the work of fiction so great that the author couldn't possibly add any more to it. It's not a matter of cash here, I assure you. Look at Markus Zusak! Nothing but standalone novels and his is a name that bears a pretty flashy weight. (It's probably diamond-encrusted)

I realise that I'm treading dangerously close to preachy elitist here, but how do we expect to produce books of any lasting quality when all we're getting are these self-detrimental series that never end? It's not just YA, this syndrome is starting to reach for the Adult market too. It's like the sequels to The Lion King or to Aladdin - most know these terrible things exist, but we try to forget them and hope that this will make them disappear...Almost as if they never happened. There's a common acronym used in chat speak that summarises this pretty well: TITF. Took it too far. Damn far.

So, end rant. Shake fist.

Now, how does this affect you?

I know a lot of authors who sit on the big metaphoric fence (which is the same fence I envision when I imagine Tom Sawyer and those kids painting that big ol' fence) between choosing to work on a standalone or a series, or choosing to keep the trilogy instead of continuing the plot into a longer series. I myself have struggled with this; the number of novels in my own series fluctuates with how I feel about my overarching plot.

You need to make your decision without worrying about the market, without trying to emulate that really cool series you just read. Put everything out of your mind and sit down with your characters and your bigger picture and chat.

If you have a cast of five, you need to occupy all five of those character for the duration of whatever novels you write. ALL FIVE. This is one of the many pitfalls writers topple into. Where was Magnus and Alec for half of CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS? Globe-trotting. Why? Because Cassandra Clare probably didn't know what to do with them before it was time for them to come out on stage.

I can't match the majesty of the Book Lantern's Sequel Syndrome and the Death of the Standalone Novel post, (I really can't, so go look at it!) hence, I'm just giving it to you. I can't even summarise it, it's so wonderful. So go read it - after you finish up here, of course.

There are a few people who think that the only hope you have of publishing is to have a first book that is a "standalone with series potential". Bullshit. Agents know a series when they see one. Well, in my opinion they do. You either have a series or you don't. I can see how a novel about a girl working for a paranormal enforcement agency has "series potential" but a story about a girl and her magical boyfriend? Not so much.

Then again, some look at a standalone as being a book that has a major conflict set up at the beginning that is resolved by the end. In the case, HARRY POTTER, more or less, is comprised of seven standalone novels (Though anyone who picked up THE DEATHLY HALLOWS first would have some ride of total confusion ahead.), especially earlier on. THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE, for example, does exactly this. And to some extent, Holly Black's WHITE CAT does as well. Cassandra Clare's MORTAL INSTRUMENTS does not do this.

If you make your readers ache and wonder how things are going to turn out, if you leave them with unresolved plots or untouched relationships or unclear deaths - you're inching toward a sequel, right? Usually, this is used in a situation where the author has used circumstances that wouldn't realistically be resolved in one reasonably sized novel. (I'm raising my hand because, yes, I am unashamedly doing this right now with my own novel-slash-first-of-a-series)

I personally don't think there is a correct one to choose, though the market seems to think that the latter is the more promising. Just remember that you're pitching this to the world. If you think your talent and your story stands better on its own, don't force sequels. Yes, they're all the rage and publishers sometimes want an author they can grow a readership for, but if you haven't got the rare goods, you're not going to get a readership. And if you force it, everyone will be able to tell. Everyone. Even that hillbilly from the Simpsons.


And remember: nothing scares agents and publishers more than a long multi-volume series where each book depends on its predecessors. That's a lot to deliver on.

What do I recommend? Next time you're procrastinating from writing your first draft or from editing or revising, instead of watching Youtube videos of Charlie biting his brother or that dog and the steak, buy a roll of wrapping paper, sit on your floor, turn it over and start writing out an overarching plot. If it doesn't work, then you know that it's not going to work. If it does, then voila! You have your series planned out properly. You need to decide what side of the fence you're sitting on, because if you sit on the fence itself and the time comes to force sequels out because you can't refuse because you're not sure still - you and your story are going to suffer.

And curtain.

Thoughts? As always, the comments are below.

Taboo Tropes (Or, Call Me a Vampire Boyfriend and Send Me Into the Dystopian Future Where I Shall be a Demigod)



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We all have our sub-genres and we all know that feeling when someone tells us some other author just got a seven-figure advance for a novel in said sub-genre or when an agent refuses your sub-genre on their webpage. We know that feeling that melts your gut and makes your arms feel cold like when you get a flu injection when you see a novel on Goodreads.com that has rave reviews and falls into your sub-genre just as well as your own work does.

It might not even be that. It might be that you're inspired with what you believe to be an original story that is plaguing your dreams and your waking moments that falls into the sub-genre that was so two minutes ago. You're having a small heart attack when you're not creating this story, because you know that anyone with half a brain would laugh and spit in your face if you proposed this story to them.

Everyone understands this. They can empathise.

But you need to take a step back and have a good think about this.

Almost every bestselling novel, particularly YA, is heavily based on using tropes and using them right. There are the odd exceptions, sure, but for the most part, the NYT Bestseller List is trope-central. The young boy destined to save the world, the perfect other-worldly boyfriend, the the ancient prophecies, the fast-learner protagonist. I mean, whoa.

Sure, we as writers get sick of the vampires, particularly the sparkly ones, and we get sick of glowing swords and wise old mentors. But readers don't. Yes, you hear a lot of them moan and grown at yet another TWILIGHT, but readers buy these books and make the author successful beyond what most of us will ever believe.

I am absolutely not saying that you should write the novels you take because there is a slight chance you might latch onto a market trend. God, don't. The only thing worse than TWILIGHT were the rip-offs that hit the shelves after its success. But think about Cassandra Clare's MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series which has the Darth Vader relationship between its hero and villain and the Luke/Leia relationship between its love interests, worn-out cliches that are made fun of time and time again. All the same, it's a guilty pleasure of mine and it's made that clever woman a nice bed of money to bathe in.

You shouldn't abandon your novel, especially if you're inspired and you're enjoying yourself. You shouldn't. Sure, there's that part of you imagining all the publishers and the agents and the readers going:


But, have faith. For every down, there's usually an up.

Take, for example, a fantasy novel about a young boy with a telepathic link to a dragon that he is fated to ride into battle. Sound familiar? It probably brings to mind a number of other films and novels. But if you were pitching this to a mainstream publisher or an agent, it might help. Being able to say "It's like ERAGON with [insert intriguing twist]" would be beneficial. Think about James Cameron's Avatar and how they changed dragon riding with a psychic link to a physical one and the dragons to more bat-like things and the people to giant blue humanoids. And you weren't think of ERAGON at all when you were watching that.

There is a reason certain stories are popular. You can publish Greek gods to death or dystopias to death but because I personally find the concept fascinating, and I did long before the trends came around, having that on the jacket of a book will make me interested.

You should probably consider that the prevailing theory amongst publishers are the two ends of the spectrum. A) "Tropes don't usually sell, so I'm not going to read past the first paragraph. Form rejection", or B) "Tropes are absolutely great for sales! I'll give it a chance". Your novel doesn't only stand on its tropes, it stands on many other things. Writing, characters, plot, pace, etc.

Originality isn't always a matter of plot, or of writing style necessarily. It can be a matter of a slant or angle that you take. That's why reading beyond your genre and drawing inspiration will lessen the possibility of falling into tropes that are closely linked to your genre.

Then again, originality varies from reader to reader. A voracious readers, including writers, get tired of the same tropes and the same ideas because they read a lot. Someone who reads far less than that, however, will consider something fresh and exciting that makes those voracious readers groan.

I don't want to use the HARRY POTTER card, but I'm going to use it. Someone once said that Rowling found a "new bottle for old wine". Orphan boy is actually super-special and goes to a place where he is revered? You don't remember the series for that. You remember the series for Snape and his hooked nose, for Sirius Black and his older man appeal, for Ron and Hermione's romance, for the people you mourned and the people you grew to love, for the world that Rowling created with the chocolate frogs, and the goblins in the bank and the enormous sewers beneath Hogwarts. HARRY POTTER is magic for a reader in a nutshell, and it's not because of the trope. It's because of the sheer talent of Rowling herself.

So don't stress.


Make your own magic.

There is a balance, tropes for originality, and the latter should outweigh the former. If that balance is tilted, then perhaps you should review what you're doing. But if your basic premise is what's bothering you, then don't be bothered.

Take me, for example? Maybe? My novel is, in its simplest form, about superheroes. Anyone could tell you that there is a reason superhero novels are usually done: they don't translate well into a graphic-less medium. Superhero films are coming out in hordes, as are superhero video games and reboots of old cartoons. Have you seen io9.com and the amount of superhero TV shows that are set for release? I might have a trope, but I have a marketable trope and I am almost certain that my uncostumed team of reunited adolescent heroes beat the taboo of said trope into a comatose state.

So don't worry. There's always a chance. And tropes aren't what you should be obsessing over. You should be obsessing over the quality of your novel.

Unless you have sparkly vampires.


Ahha, yes. So, thoughts?
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