Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I Read Outside the Genres I Write In

You hear it a lot- if you want to write for a particular genre, you should read up on books in that genre. So if you want to write supernatural romance, you're advised to read supernatural romance. If you wish to write about time travel, they tell you to read about how time travel is done elsewhere.  If you have an idea for a dystopian novel,  you're expected to check out other dystopian novels first. The reasoning behind  reading what you want to write is that you become familiar with the world and rules associated with  a particular genre.

While it doesn't hurt me to read books from my writing genre, I strongly believe that reading in only the genre I'm writing in would greatly limit me as a writer. Not to mention I like making my own rules.

Reading stuff outside my genre actually helps me to reflect  better on plot and character development because I get to take myself outside my reading comfort zone and drop myself off somewhere new where I might absorb details of the fictional surroundings more acutely than I would if I were in familiar territory.

Example: I write fantasy and suspense and happen to enjoy reading about certain teen wizards (no names!). But if all I read were books by  authors about teen wizards where many of the conflicts depict characters hurling magical chants and shooting wands at one another, I would miss out on learning how conflicts are handled in a story without magic. Reading a magic-free story about the new girl who uses her wit to take down the school's queen bee, I learn how the emotional arc evoked in a conflict-to-climax moment yields the same amount of tension and page-turning frenzy in both fantasy and non-fantasy writing. I also learn that it's not the chants or wand magic or the queen bee's secret fear of heights that determines the outcome of a conflict. The characters steer the conflict to its climax  and the story's outcome by their choices and their response to a challenge. The wand is just a prop.

My advice to anyone who wants to write in a particular genre is not to limit yourself by reading only in that particular genre.  You grow when you branch out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

San Jose Art Museum: The Genesis of a Good Comic Book

At the conference last month, I got to sit in on author and illustrator Dan Santat's session about the world of graphic novels. Although I'd initially figured it was a session intended for illustrators, I still wanted to check it out, and I'm glad I did. Not only did I learn about the writing aspect behind composing a graphic novel, the discussion of art flashbacked me to a era many moons ago when I was a dreamy grade school girl who wanted to be a kidlit writer AND a comic book artist when I grew up. 

Back in the day,  I loved reading Calvin and Hobbes, Luann,  Archie, Garfield, For Better or For Worse, Dennis the Menace, and Peanuts. And I LOVED to draw. But while I've approached writing  as a profession, I've approached art as more of a hobby. Lately, I've been reading more graphic novels, both kidlit and adult. Studying the artwork in the comics, I'd  sometimes it too late for me to try...but can I still...maybe I need a sign...

...A sign arrived in my inbox last week when I got an announcement about an upcoming DIY Art workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art titled The Genesis of a Good Comic Book. Held in the room where THE BOOK OF GENESIS by R. Crumb is currently being exhibited, the event was led by Dan Vado, publisher and editor of Slave Labor Graphics in San Jose. At the workshop, I learned some lingo and techniques for creating comic books, the different kinds of quote bubbles, and I even got to sketch out a 4-page book. 

Some other stuff I learned from Dan Vado:
-Comics are a medium, not a genre. That's because comics can be about anything, although they are often associated with stories about superheroes.
-What makes a great story? Anything we want!  What artists need to do is give audiences a sense of place.  The art must show the setting and location.  
-Artists should not show panel after panel of people just talking. 

After the workshop, I asked Dan Vado how much he considers an artists'  experience when he assesses their art. I wanted to know if it mattered whether an artist had say 20 years or just two years of experience before their work is regarded as publisher-ready. His response: That stuff doesn't matter. What matters is the quality of the art right in front of him. 

That's very useful to know.

For the time being though, I'm going to concentrate on my other writing projects, the ones that I have already committed myself to finishing. And I'll allow the seed of a plot for a graphic novel to continue growing in my head, where many idea seeds are being nurtured. I'm still content doodling just for fun. For now.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Atlantic Chats with Beverly Cleary

The Atlantic recently printed an interview with one of my favorite childhood authors: Beverly Cleary. She just turned 95 this year. Her first book, HENRY HUGGINS, was published in 1950. I liked Henry Huggins, but it was Ramona Quimby that I really connected with as a young reader. 

Some highlights from the Beverly Cleary interview:

She says in her writing, she addresses the timeless feelings and memories kids experience. (This explains why her books have remained so popular from generation to generation.) 

She rarely reads children's books and she doesn't use the Internet.

She doesn't plan to publish any more books at this time. =(  (Now I'll never know if a teenage Ramona ends up romancing Yard Ape, Henry Huggins, or Howie Kemp.)

Read the interview in Beverly Cleary's own words by clicking here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Books I Read in June

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman (Young Adult-HarperCollins) The ghosts of a graveyard raise a young boy after his family is murdered by a killer still on the loose.

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW by Nathan Bransford (Middle Grade-Dial) A boy and his two friends blast out of Earth from a spaceship, accidentally break the universe, and must navigate through outer space to return home. Check out my author interview.

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin (Middle Grade-Little, Brown) In this Newbery award-winning book, a Chinese girl goes on a quest to find the Man of the Moon, hoping to learn how she could reverse her family's luck.

CRIMES OF THE SARAHS by Kristen Tracy (Young Adult-Simon Pulse) A 16-year-old girl struggles with her membership in a clique run by a controlling and manipulative leader.

ONE by Kathryn Otoshi (Picture Book-KO Kids) In a book about colors, counting, and bullying, blue learns to stand up to red, who is a bully.

THE EMERALD ATLAS by John Stephens (Middle Grade-Alfred A. Knopf) Three siblings with MIA parents find a magical book that transports them back in time.