Friday, September 28, 2012

Fess Up Friday: I Tried Writing to a Trend Once

Back when I was a 'tween/teen, I was on the prowl for books to read that would take me out of the sweet and safe realm of Ramona Quimby or Peter Hatcher or Encyclopedia Brown. My growing interest in the world around me naturally brought me to the Teen reading section of my library. (I don't think they even called it YA back then.)

While I was growing up, V.C. Andrews books were in.  Girls were reading it at my junior high and high school during class, during lunch, on the school buses. Their noses hid behind the  books with the dark cover of the heroine's face enclosed under the cutout that, upon opening the cover, would bring you to a painted portrait of a family with secrets and skeletons. Oftentimes, one person is smirking at the reader, inviting us to dive in for a scandalous read.

Wanting to see what the hype was all about, I started reading V.C. Andrews books too.

The FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC series was super popular. It seemed like all the girls were reading about Chris and Cathy, the brother and sister who had fallen in lust with each other after years of being locked in an attic by their mother and grandmother. While I was captivated by the unusual premise of the story, what also appealed to me then was the feeling that I was reading "grown-up" books. So after reading the FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC series, I read through the HEAVEN series, the DAWN series, the RUBY series, and so on.   

The recurring plot lines of incest, especially when it involved sexual abuse, sometimes made me a teeny bit uncomfortable. 
(Update: I'm NOT saying I can't handle a book with incest. But I did feel the emotional consequences of incest in some of these stories were not addressed as thoroughly as I felt it could've been. And that's where the occasional uneasiness from my reading came from.)

This is absolutely not a post knocking on V.C. Andrews and her books. Her and her ghost writer's books have sold over 100 million copies- that's what you call a huge publishing success. And in spite of what the literary folk say, I feel fine sharing I'd read a number of V.C. Andrews' older books when I was younger. So while I wasn't exactly reading for the stories of sex and/or romance among relatives and family members, other aspects of V.C. Andrews' books drew me in. The pretty but sometimes helpless heroines, the big houses, the family secrets, and the melodramatic back stories were some of the soap opera-like elements of the novels that grabbed me as a young reader. 

Being that romantic incest seemed to be a hot teen reading trend, I wondered how I could capitalize on this trend, being the naive adolescent wannabe writer that I once was. And this takes me to another revelation.... Now I'm going to run and hide under my desk while you read the next few lines...

I confess... Many many years ago, I wrote a short story about two step-siblings who kiss.  I'd thought to myself, if V.C. Andrews and her ghost writer could pull it off, so could I. I was wrong about that. 

Upon retrospect, it was not a good use of time to write about a topic I wasn't really enthusiastic about. But I saw what I thought was a publishing trend, and I wondered where I could go with this... 

Years later, when I skim through my story, all I could think is EW EW EW! And to think I'd actually made copies of this catastrophe of words and shared it with a bunch of my peers. Another round of EWs!

Don't write to a trend. You'll see what you'd written years later and feel utterly embarrassed.

Did any of you read V.C. Andrews books while growing up? Or, have any of you ever taken a stab at writing to a trend? How did it go?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Creating Universal Appeal Across Age Lines

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the beginnings of pilot episodes from two TV dramas I hadn't seen before- some networks show reruns before they launch into new seasons. I started watching one show with the anticipation I would like it. But within the first 20 minutes, I turned it off. I watched the second show's pilot straight through and now I'm going through its first season on Netflix. I'm hooked!

The first pilot, I believe, tried too hard to cater to all audiences, from small children to adults. So the parts that were supposed to appeal to young viewers bored me. On the other hand, the  second pilot held my interest even during the parts featuring younger characters.

There are many TV shows, movies, and books that appeal to audiences of all ages. To accomplish this, the writer and director must know how to make the parts intended to attract children engaging for adults too, and the parts intended to entertain the grown-ups also accessible for children. Of course, this is easier said than done. The reason why some animated films, such as Shrek or The Incredibles, appeal to all age groups, is because the writers know how to use humor that kids understand while subtly injecting the wink-wink kind of humor for the grown-ups. 

Audiences and readers also better connect with characters whose  experiences can mirror universal experiences. For example, it has been awhile since most of us have experienced first day of school jitters, but as adults, our response to seeing a child experiencing those things can resonate with the emotions we might feel when we start a new job or move to a new neighborhood or join a new community group. So that could be another way a character's experience can transcend age lines on the screen or on a page.

What other qualities should a book, TV show, or movie have to appeal to more than one age demographic?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Genre Favorites Blogfest

It's Alex's Genre Favorites Blogfest. The instructions: List your favorite genre of movie, music, books, and a guilty pleasure from any of the three categories. 

This might sound like an easy thing to do but I go through phases. So I might be really into something today, but be so over it a few years from now. For this blogfest, I thought long and hard about things I have consistently liked through the years. I have too many guilty pleasures to name so instead of naming just one, I thought of one for each category.

Favorite genre of movies: Suspense thrillers, super heroes, dark comedies, and an occasional period piece...I like movies about people with unconventional ambitions.

A guilty pleasure: Movies with a twist at the end (e.g. Identity)

Favorite genre of music: Alternative, punk rock, instrumentals, movie scores, Asian pop, and Zumba music... Before I got pregnant with my second child, I did Zumba regularly.  I'm no Shakira but I still enjoy shaking it to Kumbia All Starz' "Chiquilla" and other fun Latin dance tunes. 
A guilty pleasure: Old school slow songs (e.g. Boys II Men)

Favorite genre of books: This is a really hard one- I read all kinds of books, so it's hard to name just one genre, or even a few of my faves. In general, I like books about people overcoming adversity and underdogs getting their day in the sun.
A guilty pleasure: Comic books (e.g. Archie)

I'd leave you dancing to Kumbia All Starz' "Chiquilla." Chiquilla is slang for "little girl" in Spanish, in case you were wondering.

Feel free to dish on your faves.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anyone Doing NaNoPlanMo Before NaNoWriMo?

I'm considering doing NaNoWriMo (a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month) in November.  Imagine me, a mom with a newborn and a toddler trying to pull that off. I was just thinking about how it took forever to write my last novel, so I want  to churn out my next book more efficiently. I'm not expecting to produce a MS that's publisher-ready in one month, but I'd like to have a reasonable first draft I can work from for my next gazillion revisions.

I stumbled upon something called NaNoPlanMo (a.k.a. National Novel Planning Month), which takes place from September to October. According to the guidelines, participants are expected to spend 30 hours planning the novel they will write in November. I suppose these 30 hours could be spent on brainstorming, outlining, plotting, character development, and research. You're not supposed to start writing the book yet during this time. I'm still not sure if I will do NaNoPlanMo. If any of you have done this before, I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.

Are any of you planning to do NaNoPlanMo and/or NaNoWriMo this year?

For those of you who have done NaNoWriMo before, how did you prepare for this month-long event?