Wednesday, 24 October 2012

NaNoWriMo? Misery Loves Company

So you may have noticed that I haven't been around much lately. My absence has been the result of a culmination of things not least of which is that I haven't really been reading or writing. What then would possess me to even think about participating in NaNoWriMo?? I'm not even 100% sure myself. I think it has a lot to do with my fuzzy memory. All I can remember is that I won at the eleventh hour , had a great time encouraging my fellow writers and was really happy to have accomplished it. Sure I have vague memories of my fingers, back and eyes really hurting but that's collateral damage I suppose :)
       Who's with me this year?? My profile name is Write_Obsession if anyone wants to add me as a friend!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Writer's Corner Guest Post: Multiculturalism in YA by Camille Picott

Since I read Camille Picott's children's book Raggedy Chan a while back, I've had questions about multiculturalism in YA books and in books in general rolling around in my head. IMO not only is there not enough multicultural representation happening in books/TV/media in general but when it is done, we tend to Westernise it anyway to make it more palatable. So, when Camille offered to do a guest post on my blog, I jumped at the chance to get her views on the topic!


I was thrilled when Lan asked me to write about multiculturalism in YA. It’s a topic that’s near and dear to me. My personal speciality is speculative fiction with Asian influence, but I love all multicultural YA.

I’ve seen multiculturalism explored several ways in YA fiction. Here are some examples I’ve found:

Direct: The author reveals the ethnicity of the character and weaves the experiences of that ethnic identity into the story. The Direct method is generally found in stories with a contemporary aspect and portray “real” ethnicities. (As opposed to fictional ethnicities, like elves and orcs.)

A great example is Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles. The two main characters, Sadie and her big brother Carter, are half black, half white. Sadie shares the experience of being raised by her white grandparents and never feeling like she fit in.

It’s been a while since I’ve read the first book in the series, The Red Pyramid, but I remember feeling very connected with Sadie’s experience of being mixed. I appreciate the fact that the author tackled a multicultural subject in mainstream fiction.

Indirect: Multiculturalism and ethnic minorities are portrayed in fictional worlds with fictional races.

The example that comes to mind here is Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Again, it’s been a while since I read this book, but I do recall that the main character, Tally Youngblood, is not white. Ethnicities and races as we know them today do not exist in this world; instead, the world is divided between those who are Ugly, and those who are Pretty.

I did enjoy the Ugly versus Pretty divide that Westerfeld explores. In this fictional world, the fact that Tally isn’t white doesn’t matter to the story at all; the fact that she is Ugly is what matters.

I enjoy the indirect approach when it’s done well. With this story, I think many readers can identify with being Ugly. But if one is looking to connect with a character because she’s non-white, this isn’t the book for you. 

Passing: When a character has a multicultural or minority background but essentially passes for being white.

I first learned about “passing” in college from my roommate. You can read an in-depth article on it here. In a nut shell, “passing” is when a person from a minority or mixed heritage attempts to pass as part of the main “white” majority.

In Marie Lu’s Legend, the main character Day is primarily of Mongol descent. But he has blond hair. This rings true to me—in my own family, I have cousins who are 25% Chinese, yet they have blond hair and blue eyes.

I have to admit, I was personally disappointed that Day doesn’t “look” Mongolian. For me, it strips away the coolness of having a minority main character. Even though the way his looks are portrayed is totally realistic, I would have loved for his ethnicity to have been more apparent in either his looks, tastes, or actions. But that’s just my personal preference. This isn’t meant to be an insult to Lu’s book, which I enjoyed.

What are some multicultural YA books that you have read? Have you encountered any of above-mentioned multicultural examples in other YA books?

Thanks Camille for the great insights. I haven't read the Uglies series but I want to give it a go to see how Westerfeld handles the issue. On my part I think self published authors do a much better job at cross cultural representation than traditionally published authors. Possibly because they're not hindered by publishers who want to whitewash so that books are more marketable.
      I come from a non English speaking background and even I seek out books where the characters are essentially Caucasian.  It would take a much greater mind than mine to psychoanalyze that but I think part of it has to do with the greater representation of Caucasian characters in books and movies. I've been especially disgusted by Hunger Games Controversy as well as the supposed outcry of the casting of an Asian actor in The Mortal Instruments movie. It's funny because I think most readers would like more diversity in these mediums. It's only the select few who ruin it for everyone (as usual!). Thankfully, with the emerging popularity of ebooks and titles like by Sulan: Episode One: The League Camille and Telesa: The Covenant Keeper and its sequel When Water Burnsby Lani Wendt Young, I think multiculturalism is going to take books by storm very soon!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group: When the Ideas Run Out...

Insecure Writer's Support Group is a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh where totally insecure writers can get together and share the things that are making us go argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        I've been doing a bit of archiving this last month while I've been away. One of the things I've cleaned up is my folder of potential novel ideas.  I have bits a pieces of books I've started, quotes I like, research I've done and even full novels I've scrapped. It's amazing how much stuff you can collect as a would be writer. A lot of the stuff I collected when I first stated to entertain the idea of writing a book. It's been a while now since I've had an idea for a book that I just have to write. And that got me thinking, even though I have a folder full of ideas, what happens if one day I run out of ideas? What if I only have so many stories in my head and once I've used them all that's it?
       For the past couple of months I've struggled to come up with ways to make my characters and world building distinct between the books I write. Now I'm starting to wonder if it's just because I don't have enough ideas. This completely freaks me out. What if this is all the inspiration that I get and after these few books I'm going to be cut off? I'm probably jumping the gun bigtime because I haven't even finished editing the my first book yet, but as a would be writer, having no ideas really scares me.
      Do you guys get like that sometimes? Do you get the feeling that your week of writer's block could become months and years of writers hiatus? Am I just being paranoid? Thoughts please!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Review: Sulan by Camille Picott

Sixteen-year-old Sulan Hom can’t remember life before the Default—the day the United States government declared bankruptcy. As a math prodigy, she leads a protected life, kept safe from the hunger and crime plaguing the streets of America. She attends the corporate-sponsored Virtual High School, an academy in Vex (Virtual Experience) for gifted children.

Beyond the security of Sulan’s high-tech world, the Anti-American League wages a guerrilla war against the United States. Their leader, Imugi, is dedicated to undermining the nation’s reconstruction attempts. He attacks anything considered a national resource, including corporations, food storage facilities—and schools. When Sulan witnesses the public execution of a teenage student and the bombing of a college dorm, she panics.

Her mother, a retired mercenary, refuses to teach her how to defend herself. Sulan takes matters into her own hands. With the help of her hacker best friend, Hank, Sulan acquires Touch—an illegal Vex technology that allows her to share the physical experience of her avatar. With Touch, Sulan defies her mother and trains herself to fight.

When Imugi unleashes a new attack on the United States, Sulan finds herself caught in his net. Will her Vex training be enough to help her survive and escape?

I can sum up my thoughts about Sulan: Episode One: The League in one sentence: Traditional publishing is in serious trouble. I don't know where the industry is going to go when authors like Camille Picott are starting to choose to self publish. Sulan is such a high adventure, easily accessible story that I didn't come across many of the issues I tend to have with other YA novels. That's got to be saying something when you guys know how picky I can be.

The Basics
Sulan's world is a world like no other that I've come across in the YA genre so far. It boggles my mind the amount of research and imagination that has gone into writing this book. I can see dystopunk taking off in a big way. Though I'm not a huge fan of sci-fi, I think Camille has done well to make the science is Sulan accessible to the layman reader. Especially since I can really see the world going in this sort of direction in the near future. A great deal of care has gone into the world building in Sulan and I think that is reflected in the slower pacing of the first half of the book. Though this isn't necessarily a bad thing, the story does take a little bit of time to really rev up but it's well worth the wait for the thrilling second half. If I had one complaint about the world building, it would be that there isn't much explanation of how the world really works outside of Sulan's immediate surroundings. It would have been nice to see what life for the underprivileged was really like. Though I'm sure these themes will be more clearly explored in later books.
      Camille's writing was one of the aspects I enjoyed most about Sulan. I'm not big on huge literary tomes and while overly pretty writing is okay sometimes, I am all for accurate metaphors and succinct sentences. I flew through the book in a matter of days and that's saying a lot for someone who reads at a snails pace.

The Characters
Sulan: I must admit I started reading Sulan with a sense of trepidation. So often minority characters are portrayed in a very stereotypical way. I don't know why I was so worried. Camille does an excellent job of creating a heroine with depth and although the story has strong Asian influences, the theme is not rammed down readers throats every few sentences as a lot of other stories do to overcompensate.For all intents and purposes Sulan is a normal teenager struggling to balance other's expectations of her against what she wants for herself. Sulan manages to have a healthy and close relationship with a female friend who isn't secretly a plot device in disguise.

Gun & Taro: I can feel a love triangle coming on. Not sure how I feel about that at the moment, but I will say that if this is where the story is going, it's getting there at a respectable pace. No insta-love in sight. Whilst I am not a big fan of love triangles, I can see the merits in both boys and would be interested in seeing how the romance plays out. 

The Smaller Players:
I would have to say that some of my favourite characters in this book are the minor ones.  One of them especially (I won't reveal who for fear of spoiling the story) is so hilarious and vivid that I wouldn't be surprised if Camille knew someone like that in real life. That Camille is able to give him such animation in such a short part of the story is incredible. In fact, the only character I didn't really feel was fully fleshed out was Imugi. He doesn't have much page time and we never get a real sense of the motivation behind his devastating attacks. I get the feeling he won't be the big bad of this series at all.

The Minor Details
I really enjoyed reading Sulan and these points are probably just me being really nit picky but there were a few things which didn't quite ring true for me. For example, Sulan is a math prodigy and has managed to achieve a perfect score on her Vex school entrance exam. I'm not sure how she does this unless the entire exam is based on math. Which I don't think it is considering the vast array of talents exhibited by other students. Also, I'm still at a loss as to why Sulan's mother refuses to let her train to defend herself. It would seem like a logical step considering the dangers Sulan faces in her new world. 

On the whole, I really enjoyed Sulan and am looking forward to the next books in the series coming out. Anyone who enjoys dystopian or cyberpunk and is tired of the cookie cutter YA novels being published these days should really give this book a try!