So What is “Serious” Literature, Anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way we talk about literature and fiction in our society, how we perceive it and interact with it, and how we interact with others about it. Everyone consumes fiction in some way or another. Some people don’t consume literature much or even at all. But for those of us who don’t just like to read, but actually thrive on it, the conversation gets a little trickier. We book lovers tend to band ourselves together, us against the world, power to the nerds, and only after we’ve publicly aligned ourselves do we realize that we are still trapped in a world of judgement and stigma and shame.

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MAD AS A HATTER COVER

It’s here!!!!!!!!!!!

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Isn’t it beautiful? I’m so completely in love with this cover design and I’m so excited to finally be able to share it with all of you! I’m especially obsessed with the way the cover is split in two, and the way the top hat crosses into both sections- it so symbolic.

Here is the back cover blurb:

London, 1882. When 14-year-old Emil’s cousin goes missing amidst a string of murders, he manoeuvres himself onto the case with his guardian, inspector Corwin James of Scotland Yard. Through careful examination of the suspicious notes left at the crime scenes and of the unsettling pattern the deaths take on, the two begin to piece the curious murders together into a case with more questions than answers. Who is behind the Wonderland Murders? What do all the victims have in common? And can the murderer be stopped?

As Emil draws closer and closer to discovering the truth, it becomes clearer by the minute that the case is more personal than he wants to admit. Though he tries to avoid it, the more he investigates, the more the past forces itself into his consciousness, and what he learns will take him down the rabbit hole—again. Does he have it in him to stop the Mad Hatter and to save himself?

I’m beyond excited to show this to all of you! It makes everything feel so real!

Mad as a Hatter will be available  at the end of the month, if everything goes to plan. It’s geared towards middle grade readers and younger teenagers, but I hope it’s enjoyable for everyone! I can’t wait to hear what you think of the cover design, and I’ll be back soon with more news and announcements!

On MAD AS A HATTER, being a teen author, and the decision to self-publish

This post has been a long time coming.

Let me start with some background: I first wrote Mad as a Hatter when I was fourteen. It was a significantly different book then, with different POVs, more graphic violence, and some significantly different plot points. I swung between rewriting it and querying it for a good three years. I got a fair number of requests, some pretty detailed critiques, and a lot of great advice. My last significant rewrite was at the end of last summer, and while wrapping up those edits, I experienced a pretty significant change of heart: I decided to self-publish Mad as a Hatter.

I can’t pin that decision down to any lone factor. I’ve never been opposed to editing my work based on the advice and critiques of other, and I’ve never had a huge social media following that I intended to use for marketing, and I’ve never been swayed by supposed horror stories about traditional publishing. As for the timing of my choice, it probably came down to a feeling of powerlessness, of a need for control: not because I’ve ever been a control freak, but because, when I made this choice, I was in a place where I had no control, sitting in the endless purgatory of boarding school, needing to take charge of something in my life, to make something happen.

This past October, I decided to self-publish Mad as A Hatter through FriesenPress, and so far, the process has been absolutely amazing– and almost done. I know I should have made this post ages and ages (and ages) ago, but I kept putting it off, because, well, I was kind of scared to make this announcement. I didn’t want to look like some kid who couldn’t get an agent so self-published as a last resort. This doesn’t feel like a last resort; call me arrogant, but I’m still confident that, if I’d just kept going with the traditional route, I’d eventually achieve success. In fact, a lot of my decision to self-publish comes from a newfound sense of confidence. Querying for me always held this sense of needing someone to justify my decision to write– in a way, self-publishing is my way of standing on my own, and saying, I don’t need to lay my sense of self-worth at someone else’s feet.

And so I’ve gone through this process, and it’s gone by both slower and faster than I’d ever imagined, and needless to say, I’m kind of freaking out a bit. Mad as a Hatter is on the verge of hitting the market, and all I can think is that I still haven’t made some sort of internet announcement, which gives me a strange sense of shame: I’m a member of the selfie generation, for god’s sake. Withholding information on the internet should be, like, the last thing anyone could accuse me of.

But here I am, at very long last, confession in hand. I’ll be back soon with my cover and my release date and all the other book related news– I’ve been feeling strangely incapable of posting anything, because anything I posted without having made this announcement felt like… well, felt like a lie. As always, thanks for reading my inane babbling. I hope it wasn’t entirely dull.

xoxo
Alex

New Year’s Resolutions

I kind of have a love/hate relationships with New Year’s Resolutions.

Okay, okay, I admit. This is by no means unique to me. Most of us have a chip on our shoulders over all of the New Year’s Resolutions we’ve broken in under a week. There’s such promise of new beginnings, but then there’s a New Year’s party when you want to write and you promised to eat clean but there’s leftover Christmas shopping, and before you get back to school or work you’re just plain bitter about the whole concept.

Sound familiar? Thought so.

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Review: UNTOLD by Sarah Rees Brennan

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It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!

It’s been here for like a month, actually, but I didn’t write a review then because… well… I don’t have any great excuses. But! Now that Mark (yes, as in Mark Does Stuff) is reading Untold, I figured I had a golden opportunity to put this out late and not have it be completely irrelevant!

This is a SPOILER-FREE review, y’all.

Synopsis:

It’s time to choose sides… On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

(stolen from goodreads)

Thoughts:

I should know by now that every single book Sarah releases is somehow even better than the last, but, as always, I was in no way prepared for Untold.

The new overarching theme (or topic, if my English teacher is reading this) of Untold is made pretty clear within the first couple of pages: loneliness. It’s not an uncommon theme, granted, but the way Sarah examines it and utilizes it is pretty incredible. There’s a huge amount of thought put into what it means to be lonely vs. what it means to be alone, and the way each character goes through both of these experiences in a different way is a classic example of the emotional depth of this novel. Most of the ideas focused on in Unspoken are present in Untold as well, but Sarah never runs out of new things to say about them. She shows us layers and layers behind each basic concept.

Plot-wise, the high stakes that manage to keep being raised are, frankly, unbelievable, and a huge asset to the story. There is no sitting around, waiting for the action to begin. There are no contrived plot twists to somehow bring the characters back to where they were in the first novel, to give them a rest, or to allow for a less frenzied beginning. Untold takes place two weeks after the end of Unspoken. The progression of the story, though it does have a clear beginning and a clear ending, does not feel governed by any sort of plot formula.

The characters, of course, are the most engaging part of Untold. What I’ve always loved about Sarah’s novels is the incredible consistency of her characterization. No character ever learns the same lesson twice, or appears to have forgotten the repercussions of their previous actions; everything that happens to these characters changes them and their course for the novel. It’s character-driven fiction at its finest. The emotional stakes of Untold are high, as well, and remain engaging, because Sarah puts such an emphasis on validating her characters’ emotions. There is no ceiling or floor placed on Kami’s trauma, Ash’s self-hatred, Jared’s anger, Holly’s insecurity, or Angela’s general distaste for humankind, and the lack of emotion policing allows Sarah’s characters to truly touch us and impact us, because human reactions are not governed by rules or limitations, they just are.

I’m not entirely sure how coherent this review is, as I often have a hard time being coherent where Sarah’s novels are concerned. But I recommend. I recommend, I recommend, I recommend.

Rating: 5/5

NaNoWriMo: Productive or Pointless?

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to the time of year when you dress up in strange costumes and either scare or offend your entire neighborhood. I’m talking about November, National Novel Writing Month, the month during which hundreds of thousands of people stash obscene amounts of caffeine products in their house and develop insomnia in order to produce 50,000 words of prose.

Now, full disclosure: I have never completed a novel during NaNoWriMo. I’ve hit the 50k word limit by putting every story I’d attempted that month into a word document, but I’ve never genuinely written a novel for NaNo. I tend to burn out before the month has even started, spending weeks and months plotting in anticipation, and then reaching November, only to realize that I’ve plotted away any room for impulsiveness or creativity.

Still, countless people swear by NaNoWriMo as the single best motivational force in their lives. And every year, without fail, the NaNo hype eventually finds its way to me. This year, though, I’m not doing NaNo. I’m not even attempting it. I know that, with university applications and a self-publishing project on my plate, not doing NaNoWriMo is the best thing for me. But oh, am I ever bummed about it.

The thing about NaNo is that, regardless of whether you actually complete a manuscript (let alone a single chapter), it’s an event that brings writers together. Forums, write-ins, meetups, word wars, critique partners, and any form of support are the most essential part of a writing career. I know how much I depend on those elements.

So, here’s my verdict: is NaNoWriMo the best method of writing a novel? Maybe for some people. Is NaNoWriMo a unique and effective experience? Yes. Oh, yes.

Fashion in Fiction

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You’ve seen it before somewhere. You flip through the pages of a novel, thinking to yourself than the story would have so much more potential if all the words weren’t wasted on gratuitous descriptions of the characters’ clothing. It would be fine, you tell yourself, if the author were describing some elaborate elven dress or a fantastical suit of armor. Instead, though, you’re weighed down in brand name porn, and you can’t read a sentence without hearing about the protagonist’s Louis Vuitton bag and Juicy Couture sweatpants and limited edition Alexander McQueen silk skull scarf in just the right shade of red for her skin tone.

My friend, you have encountered fashion in fiction.

Everyone loves to hate on extensive label-dropping in books. It’s bad enough, we say, to describe your protagonist in excessive detail, but going into depths about her clothing is just the cherry on top of terribly written chick lit. It’s the sign of a Mary Sue, both a self-insert and a wish-fulfillment character of the author’s, it gives women in fiction a bad name, it’s such a teenage girl thing to do. It’s just so stereotypically feminine.

I find it funny how often feminine is used as a synonym for bad writing.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the vendetta against Mary Sues in fiction, specifically YA fiction, and on how this trend is a reflection of a more widespread problem of sexism in the industry (here are some of my favourite writings on the topic). It’s pretty established that teenage girls are demonized in our society, and the way this is reflected in the criticism female characters receive. It’s also been noted that male wish fulfillment characters (hello, Batman, Eragon, cough cough) are not at all resented to the same degree as their female counterparts.

I’m not here to deny that lots of fiction is bad, nor that lots of fiction for teenage girls is bad, nor that lots of fiction by teenage girls is bad. Of course there are teenage girls who will produce bad work; honing a skill involved a learning curve, and whether that’s writing YA or learning to ski or playing violin, everyone knows that the starting point of that learning curve can have some pretty horrendous results. But why does that reflect badly on young women as a whole? And why does femininity make something automatically inferior?

I love fashion. I love shopping. When I’m out on the street, I make a game out of identifying every designer bag I come across. When I’m feeling homesick, I go browsing in department stores, even if all I intend on doing is touching soft sweaters and sniffing perfume samples. A significant amount of my brainpower is spent on fashion, and that’s no less real nor relevant than anyone else’s experience, and no less worthy of being written. People don’t begrudge authors gratuitous descriptions of food, or of architecture, so why not clothing?

Without further ado, here are my tips on writing fashion into fiction:

1.       Write it because it matters to the character, not because it matters to you.

When I’m getting ready to go out, I’m not mindlessly reciting the brand names of every item I put on. I’m thinking about how fancy I need to be or how casual I need to be, should I wear this purse with this crowd or will that be too rude or too cheap, oh god, I love this top but all my nude bras are in the laundry, where the hell is my white bandeau, do I wear this with heels or will I tower too high, hang on let me check the weather too see if it’s cold enough for this scarf. I may be thinking about where my clothes are from, but there’s more depth and process to it than just inelegant name-dropping. Show, don’t tell, how fashion is meaningful to your character and story.
 

2.       Write it because it matters to the audience, not because it matters to you.

If you write a two-page description of your character’s fashion choices and the only thing your reader learns is that she looks good in cool colours, we’ve got a problem in front of us. Every writing choice you make has to contribute to your story, whether it advances the plot or enriches the character or expands the world. If you can’t find a way to make your fashion writing relevant, you should probably consider whether it belongs in your story at all.
 

3.       Write it because it matters to you, and you deserve to enjoy yourself writing
 

…Honestly? If you want to write about fashion in your story, you should. If you love fashion, or want a challenge, or just feel like breaking all the standard rules you’ve been taught all your life, you should do it. But don’t do it because you’re writing a mean girl and want to add to a stereotype, or because you think that mentioning BCBG will somehow bring you masses of teenage fans. Don’t patronize to your audience, because they’ll notice, and they won’t appreciate it.

What do you think of label dropping in fiction? What’s your favourite  writing rule to break?

Hi.

I’ve had the intention of blogging for about as long as I’ve been on the internet, but every time I get started, I find a reason to quit after my introduction post.

This is becoming a serious issue.

My name is Alex, and I’m a writer. You  probably figured that out from my about page, come to think of it, but I like to repeat it, because words have power and if I repeat those words enough times I’m convinced it will make them true. I’ve been serious about writing since I was thirteen or fourteen, which means I’ve been trying to set up some sort of social media presence as a writer since I was in middle school, and yet, as with my schoolwork, my blogging career has been essentially defined by my singular talent for procrastination.

I’m seventeen now, about to enter my final year of high school, and that means final exams and university applications and SAT subject tests take up 90% of my conversations these days, and it’s sort of made me come to some realizations about growing up. See, when you’re in the early years of high school, you have time. You have choices. And you have dozens if not hundreds of people lining up to tell you that you have loads of time and loads of choices. You bomb a test, and people tell you that you have time to redeem yourself. You choose your classes, and you have people telling you to keep your options open, that you don’t want a choice to define you so early in your academic career. Thing is, I don’t have time anymore, and I’ve reached the point where I have to start making choices. My teenage years are no longer a vague adventure with no roadmap and no destination in sight. If my high school career is the Starship Enterprise, than I’m reaching the end of my five-year mission, and if I want to explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations, I have to do it now. It’s time to go boldly or go home, and being at boarding school 3000km from my parents as I am, going home is kind of not an option.

So here’s to blogging, and writing, and going where no blog of mine has gone before.

(namely, having more than two posts.)

They do sometimes go crazy, these people, because the world is telling them not to want the things they want. It can seem saner to give up–but then one goes insane from giving up.

E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks