Friday, May 20, 2011

Writers Who Are Teens

Notice how I didn't put 'teen writers?' Being considered a 'teen writer' or even a 'young writer' has always had a negative connotation to me. To me, it implies your writing will suck, no matter what, and your experiences are somehow less than of an adult's simply because you are young.

Adults will tell teen writers their writing sucks because they are teens and don't have the mature experiences of an adult. My problem with this statement is it infantalizes teens as people who cannot think reasonably on their own, who have to somehow grow up and step into the magical world of adulthood to suddenly get everything. I'm almost twenty-one, so I'm definitely not that far from being a teen, but I can tell you even as you grow up, you still aren't going to get everything. You never will. Adults will tell you that you must experience more, do this, do that, in order to be a great writer. While I will admit experiencing something often produces better writing, this is with anything. I certainly cannot write about the Igbo people in Africa, even though I've read about them, because I have never met them or even been to Africa. Research could help me write about them, but research and experience are two very different things, and it shows in your writing.

The great thing about being a teen is you can make an excellent young adult writer because you are young adults. You are experiencing your life as a young adult, you know what's in, you know what's out, you know what teens say, do, think, and feel, and you don't have to go out of your way to experience being a teen. It's just there for you. Now I think I hear the condescending writers exhale deeply as they say 'But they're biased about their experiences and can't articulate them well!' You can never articulate an experience immediately after it happens. I had a huge fight a few years ago that took me five months to be able to accurately convey on paper. I haven't found a magazine for it yet, but I have been receiving positive rejections that personally tell me why they liked my story but couldn't accept it because they either already had something similar, or it was between me and another person. Plus, I've been lazy about submitting anything lately.

Yes, it does take experience to be a good writer. This is a given. Someone who just starts writing in their thirties is going to be in the same boat as a teen who just starts writing. The only difference is they have more experiences to draw upon and perhaps a better grasp of grammar (but as a writing tutor, I can attest to the fact that I know more young people with a better grasp of grammar than many of the adult students I get. This isn't bad. This is just to say these adults have been away from school long enough to forget things.). I was also stubborn as a teen and taught myself everything there was to know about grammar in middle school, so sentence structure was never a problem for me.

Now the condescending writers step in and ask, 'How were you as a teen writer?' Well, I published a short story that wasn't in a teen magazine, but when I first began, of course I sucked, and I don't attribute this to my being a teen. I just attribute this to my being an inexperienced writer, just as I would attribute any poor writing to being inexperienced. A friend of mine recently submitted a short story to our magazine, and I'll readily admit said friend is in mid twenties, and said friend's story was how I pretty much wrote in high school. Said friend also experienced far more than I did in high school, but said friend is also an inexperienced writer who just needed a good critique. I just needed a good critique back then, and I do regret not realizing writing books existed back then, or that there were people who actually *gasp!* critiqued your work for no money. I'd probably be querying my novel by now if I had realized there were those resources available for me, but I'm ashamed to say I didn't discover them until my senior year of high school! The internet wasn't so easily available to me throughout middle school and half of high school.

Age doesn't matter, oh writers who are teens. It's experience that matters. Writing experience. Read lots. Get lots of critiques. You may be published in your teens. You may not. That doesn't matter. How well you write has nothing to do with your being a teen.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fiction Writers and Literature

A friend of mine is currently struggling with her English major right now due to the literature ALL English majors, no matter the track, must take. She is on the creative writing track, but currently grappling with her confidence to be able to analyze literature effectively to complete this degree.

I am an English major as well, though I am on the rhetoric and composition track. I feel her pain. While I love to read literature and can write well-written literary analysis essays, it's not my passion and something I likely won't do ever again once I graduate.

In any case, somebody decided to pose the argument that all creative writers must be able to effectively analyze literature to write compelling prose. I cry poppycock at this statement. While I believe writers do need to know the basics (theme, symbolism, ect.,), I do not believe they need to know how to analyze literature to the depths an English major must do to write compelling prose. Plus, we English majors constantly have to read the classics, and let's face it: the classics aren't for everyone. While writers must give them a chance, they shouldn't force themselves to read the classics if the classics don't fit their taste. What worked then doesn't work now. No one would get away with writing wordy prose you find in many 19th century classics. Also, while writers should constantly expand their horizons, it's often best for them to pay careful attention to the type of prose they write, whether it be middle grade, young adult, fantasy, or sci-fi, and not the type of prose that Emerson or Austen or Orwell writes, because, again, what worked then will not work now.

Writers need only analyze literature the way writers should, not the way English majors would. Writers only need to analyze literature insofar as plot development, character development, and the like are concerned. They do not need to analyze literature that concerns, for example, how the social mores play out in a particular story, or how women are subtly treated as inferiors to their male counterparts, or how space plays an important role in a particular story. That is for English majors, not writers, to do. What writers do need to pay attention to is how Main Character is developed throughout the story in relation to other characters, or if Main Character even develops at all. Writers need to look for what the author did good and why and what the author did poorly and why. This is not something we English majors look at or are even allowed to criticize. We English majors can only critique the argument of another person's analysis, but we cannot critique the author's writing the way writers should know how to. What literary critiques analyze is far different from what writers analyze. Literature classes DO NOT TEACH YOU how to analyze literature the way writers would. They only teach you how to analyze literature the way literary critics would, or even readers would--even then it is primarily literary critics who would analyze something as space in a story. Readers, in a commercial sense, would read a story similar to the way a writer would: how the plot, characters, ect. are developed, though they do not necessarily pose solutions on how they would fix it as writers would.

All in all, writers analyze literature differently from English majors. So don't despair if you as a writer cannot analyze literature to the depth and complexity of an English major. Your story can still be compelling without you as a writer trying to expose some social truth. If readers want to analyze literature to that depth, they'll often find something you didn't even realize you had written. I don't even think most literary greats of the past wrote with the idea people would find all these things we have today. Poor writers are often those who do try to write with purposed complexity, rather than just trying to write a compelling story with compelling characters readers will relate to. And I am speaking about this as a literary magazine editor who has received stories in the past that try to expose some social truth but often spend pages upon pages with characters musing over some object that is supposed to be symbolic of some greater truth. It's convoluted nonsense. Just write what you want to write and don't worry about trying to put some literary depth to it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Issue 2 of The Corner Club Press

Our issue 2 is out, and you can check it out here:

Follow me @AmberSkyeF for The Corner Club Press updates, and fan us on Facebook just by typing our magazine name in the search bar.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Writing Males and Females

As someone who is very interested in cultural anthropology along the lines of gender, this is one question that has baffled me for a while. Why do writers constantly ask how to write X versus Y gender? Are we really so different? *Note: my entire argument comes from arguments in my anthropology class.

Cultural anthropology would say, no, we are not that different because our perceptions of gender are entirely culturally conditioned. Think boys aren't as introspective as girls? Think again. Boys aren't culturally encouraged to be introspective, whereas girls are culturally encouraged to be introspective. Sure, there are differences between boys and girls at a young age, but the mental differences are small and eventually close entirely after a few years. Since I write primarily YA, I will talk about boys and girls of the YA genre.

Looking back upon my high school and middle school years, I realize a lot of the differences between boys and girls are cultural and not biological. Boys in middle school and high school aren't any more sexual than girls (and the alarming teen pregnancy rate is proving this). Boys, however, are encouraged to be more openly sexual than girls, which is where the confusion lies. But if you remove the social stigma, girls can be just as "perverted" as boys. Back in middle school (same with high school), I was the girl who absolutely abhorred boys for thinking and talking the way they did about other girls. But what I realize now is I was repressing feelings boys were openly allowed to show. If I hadn't repressed those feelings, I would have been just as bad as the boys. Girls are taught to repress their sexual urges, while boys are practically encouraged to do so. Culturally, I believe this is somewhat changing, but I still see this in YA books. Why?

I tend to relate to male characters in YA books more because they are more realistically human than the girls are (there are a few YA books with real human girls, like Gemma Doyle and the like, but they are the exceptions to what I'm describing). Girls have sexual urges just as much as boys. Girls in real life also give vulgar descriptions of boy parts just as much as boys in YA books give vulgar descriptions of girl parts (see Eric Devine's Rooted in Lies in The Corner Club Press issue 1 coming out March 15th for some proof), yet this is not being reflected in YA, and it greatly upsets me. Sure, I'm writing a book with a female character, but she's also a 19th century girl and does not use contemporary slang to describe male parts, just as 19th century males did not use contemporary slang to describe female parts. In many YA books I've read with females, the girls describe hot guys in very romantic notions, the authors completely forgetting that real-life girls do use vulgar descriptions to describe pecs, butts, and, um, shall we say, packages? And maybe this is why I prefer books with males going after females instead of females going after males, because the latter is too romantic and not human enough. I could argue on and on and on about culture conditioning, but that would completely skirt the main argument I'm trying to make.

People, these differences between genders are culturally conditioned. I get upset every time a writer asks how to write a particular gender, because males and females do not psychologically think that different from each other. Any differences between us our by-products of culture, and I think we as writers should really start breaking that. There are many males with stereotypical female traits, just as there are females with stereotypical male traits--and they're not necessarily homosexuals. If you want to write a female character with an abrasive manner, go ahead. Masculine and feminine traits (excluding biological differences, which don't encourage how males and females think) are purely cultural and not at all biological.

So now this goes into the next question? Why worry about gender at all? Well, you can't deny that males and females experience different things, but we experience different things because of culture. Culture says males are this and females are that, and so of course things are going to be different. So our thoughts might be a little different as well, but not due to anything biological. If we really want to close the gender gap, I think we should start with YA books and show that males and females don't really think that differently. We should also show that, yes, these characters think the same things, but culture either encourages or represses these thoughts. Take Gemma, for example. She is every bit as human as me. She's strong, she's naughty, she's unrestrained. She also has a steamy sexual encounter in a dream akin to how boys view females on a daily basis. The difference between how a boy would handle it? That boy wouldn't be ashamed, but because Gemma is female, she is ashamed, but something tells her she shouldn't be.

So don't concentrate on writing a male or a female character. Concentrate on writing a human being who just so happens to be X or Y gender. In fact, I would argue if someone were to write me as a character, many people would mistake me as a guy (if my character weren't physically described) because, while I do enjoy stereotypically female things, my manner is very abrasive and unapologetic (manners I see typically associated with male characters in YA more than female characters).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Critiquing Creative Writing on the Spot

As an editor for a magazine, an assistant to a freelance editor, and a tutor of a writing center, I find it interesting how the critiquing dynamics dramatically shift between each. You approach chapter one of a novel much more differently than you approach a short story, and you certainly have to approach both differently if you're being forced to critique on the spot, just like a tutor must.

Well, there isn't a whole lot of advice for critiquing creative writing on the spot, so I'm going to dish out some tips from my minimal experience with tutoring. Writing centers usually receive a lot of technical writing papers, but there are the few rare who come in with creative writing, and while the tutors are helpful, many may not be creative writers and so don't know exactly how to approach a creative writing piece. Here are a few tips on how you, as a tutor, or even a beta reader forced to crit on the spot, can approach a piece of writing you aren't able to devote extensive time to:

1) Look at the hook. Does it open with character? Description? What? Short stories, especially, need to open with the character, because opening with description is often pointless. Setting description is often best saved for later, AFTER you've established the character. Stories are about characters, so they need to start with characters.

2) How long does it take for the story to start? In short stories, depending on the length, the story needs to start within the first page. "Scattershot," a short story I accepted to go into The Corner Club Press, is a 7,000 word short story whose plot immediately unfolds within the third paragraph: the MC hears a metallic ping, a piece of glass flies at him, and he discovers three holes in his window. So readers expect at this moment for the story to be about uncovering who did this. And this is exactly what the writer delivers, with a few exciting twists. Any short story, really, regardless of length, needs to start within the first page. Because they are so short, the mentality of reading a short story versus a novel differs. People expect more immediacy in a short story than they do a novel, so that immediacy must be delivered to maintain reader interest.

3) How exactly does the story start? With action? With dialogue? You often don't want to start a story with dialogue, as you want readers to care about the character first before they can care about what the character says. It CAN work, but there needs to be a reason it can't be saved until after you've introduced the story in a non-dialogue way.

4) Are you able to get the gist of the plot? Short stories only have one plot. Never really any sub-plots. If there are sub-plots in a short story, it's often going to be too short to draw those sub-plots in and create a satisfying close.

5) Is there any other way the writer can go about telling this same story? The job of an editor, I've learned, is to break the box and look beyond what's there. The job of a beta reader, I've also learned, is to look at what's already there and make it better. The job of a tutor, I think, should be to break the box and offer other ways of going about the same thing. Can this scene be introduced earlier? Is there a better way you can go about getting your MC from point A to point B and make it more interesting? Is there something else you can add to develop this particular scene?

6) What's the POV? How many main characters are there? The POV, whether first, second, third limited or omniscient, needs to be easy to follow. With third omniscient, the biggest mistake I see writers make is giving more time with one character than the other. The other mistake I see is introducing one character, building up the importance of that character, then deliberately switching POVs mid-scene without having established the importance of the character the POV is switching to.

These are just some of the ways to go about critiquing on the spot, and probably the only ways you'll really have time for. But these are essential points to hit upon. Addressing copy editing errors is important, but not as important as addressing these issues first.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Here's a link to a contest on the YA Lit Six:

MS critique, book and blog button enter to win:

Tweet, blog, Facebook, do whatever you can think of.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Corner Club Press Issue One Teasers!

Here they are, finally! *Note: Flash fiction teasers will not be posted simply because there is a danger of giving too much away with such short pieces.

Gehenna by Kevin P. Keating

This is what they do to him, to the old man, after a lifetime spent in quiet contemplation among books of eschatology.

They parade him before the students on high holy days, not unlike the mummified thumb or shriveled toe of a medieval saint or mystic, an artifact to be revered as a symbol of piety, celibacy, wisdom and dread. Recently forced into retirement, the old man is given the title “Instructor Emeritus,” an honorific bestowed upon those priests too ancient and addle-minded to continue teaching without embarrassment or scandal in the classroom. Though rare and often ritualized, these appearances are meant to satisfy his need to be among the students, his proverbial “lost flock” whose intellectual curiosity seems to dwindle with each passing year.

Into the Unblinking Eye by David Copper

Whitfield manor was empty and uncomfortably quiet. The rumble of dark brown bodies – bustling, fumbling, fussing, slipping into creaky corners to evade the glare of young Master Whitfield – had receded long enough to grant Tillie a long-desired moment of repose between laundry and the preparation of supper. But something was wrong: the door to Young Master Whitfield's bedroom was ajar and a sudden thud inside snapped Tillie into wide-eyed alertness. Seconds later, Abbey, Tillie's nine-year-old niece, scampered out, a pint-sized tornado of lead-heavy breaths and incriminating tears.

Note for the Bright Star by Tom Sheehan

Fred Chandler, editor of the weekly and only newspaper in Quipilanta, The Bright Star, enjoyed looking out one side of his shop window the day the issue was printed. He’d already placed the front page in the window and watched early risers stop to look at the page, read some of the items on the page, and pass on. A few other shop owners, real early risers like he was on most days, with a lantern to guide them to their work place, read the page under the light of the lantern, swinging their lanterns to assist in their reading. The lanterns threw soft shadows into his editorial office. The lighting activity was, he had decided early in the career of the paper, a significant part of issue day.

Rooted in Lies by Eric Devine

I looked where he directed: Jamie’s ass was cresting out of her jeans without panties to obscure the view. It was a cherry of a backside, and as I took in the rest of Jamie's contours, I realized how Huff had pointed her out. It was in a proud manner, as if he were displaying a trophy, and it made me wonder. "Did you tap that?"

His entire body shook at the question, "No." He slumped in his chair. "But I would."

We sat for a while, not speaking, and I itched inside. Huff, my only friend, looked like a clam attached to his desk, and I wasn’t sure if the question was too much too fast. But ever since the move--really, before--I’d been listening to my older brother Scott’s advice: New school, new girls; get laid as fast as you can. Wasn't that why Huff was pointing her out? He sat up then, as if he’d been forming the next question the entire time, "You ever hit it?"

The truth was on my tongue, but Scott's voice filled my head, again: Just do it. Don't be some fucking angel your whole life. Shit, a solid ten lies can turn you into somebody else.

Planting Roses in Iraq by Walter F. Giersbach

She stood and waited until he nodded, wanting to make sure he had really chosen her.

“My grandfather was a lawyer,” she began softly. She read methodically in remarkably good English, her words marching evenly over her lips like orderly soldiers. “He worked for the Ministry of Justice and wore a white shirt and smelled like roses when he went to work every day. He worked for justice. Then the war came and I saw them take my grandfather away. They shot him and two other men and put their bodies in a hole outside our town and the machines covered up the bodies. I saw this happen at night. My father and mother and brothers cried but they could do nothing. I said we should dig him up and my father slapped me. In the spring I planted a rose in the ground where he lay sleeping and watered it and white roses grew. Then my father took our family to Basra and we were helped to go to Syria and then to America. I hope someone is watering my white roses. The end.”

Scattershot by Mark Willen

He was washing the vegetables, somewhat more cursorily than if Sally had been there to supervise, when he heard the noise—a kind of metallic ping. He couldn’t quite place it, neither its nature nor its location, and went back to washing. He was wiping his hands on his already soiled khakis when he heard the second ping. The living room. Definitely the living room. He went to investigate but found nothing amiss. Then, just as he was leaving the room, he heard the sound again, and his eye caught some motion, a tiny piece of glass flying into the wall and falling to the floor. He picked it up and turned it around. He saw holes in three of the foot-square panes that made up the living room windows.

We are the Dead by Dorian Dawes

The First was all that we knew in our city of dead. His thoughts were our thoughts. We were the enactors of His will. We had no purpose but His purpose. And in our ignorance, we believed that this was good.

Within our conscious there are but scattered echoes of what was before the First. They are the remnants of His memories, fleeting visions that we embrace when they come and abandon when they are gone. Up until now, they have been useless to me. Up until now, I have not needed to know.

Now, I think they are more important than anything. They are certainly more important than this existence we lead, this unlife.