Friday, June 29, 2012

On Nicholas Sparks and Similar Writers

After a certain blog post, I've developed a bit of a reputation for disliking Nicholas Sparks. And I feel the need to clear the air a bit, and clarify what I think of Sparks.

First, I acknowledge that it is difficult to get published. Anybody who is published is either really amazingly talented, really lucky or a total sell-out. Most of the time, it's a combination of the first two, with a very heavy emphasis on the talent. And I can't bring myself to judge the writers in the third column too harshly because, let's face it, everybody has to make a living, and I'm certain there are a lot things I'd be willing to do for a few million* dollars. In the grand scheme of things, having principles about writing a certain kind of story is a lot lower on the list of priorities than, say, being a good person.

Also, I'm using Sparks as the example here, but this line of thinking could very easily apply to any writer, in any genre, and I'm sure you can find another author whose name would fit very neatly in Sparks' place in this post.

And if you're a Sparks fan, and it hurts your heart to think badly of him, go right ahead an plug somebody else's name in, the concept will apply anyway.


So here we go. The Clarification of How I Feel About Nicholas Sparks:

I've read two of Sparks' books, The Notebook and A Walk to Remember, both of which were fine. I don't think they're terrible, but I don't think they're amazing. They're escapism, and I'm fine with that.

I actually like one particular aspect of The Notebook. I like that their love story didn't end when he got the girl; the real love story happened afterward. They married, had children, had hard times and good times. But mostly, they lived quiet, simple lives and shared their time together. It spoke of reality and true love in a way that a lot of other books just don't.

However.

It was really schmoopy.

I'm not a die-hard romantic. I don't like big speeches, declarations of undying love and grand gestures. So, consequently, I don't enjoy ooey-gooey lines about being kissed every minute of every day for forever. It makes me roll my eyes, mostly because men aren't actually like that.

Men aren't Sparks' main audience, of course, women are. Women who either a) are single and waiting for the "perfect" man to come along, or b) are in a committed relationship and feel like the romance has fizzled. Either way, women idealize the men in Sparks' novels and hold every real-life man to this ridiculous standard that nobody can live up to.

Therein lies his success, of course. He has created "perfect" men, men which women will fall all over themselves to spend money to read about/watch on a screen.

And THAT is why I really dislike him as an author. He's found a formula that "works." His stories all revolve around a more-than-perfect man, a perfectly normal woman, a deeper-than-deep love/attraction that overcomes some insignificant social constraint (class distinctions, popularity, etc). Then he adds in  a life-threatening illness and/or situation that is really just there to make you cry.

And crying means you feel something, right? And feeling any emotion, no matter how false it is, is better than none at all, right?

Instead of creating stories that he cares about, or that anybody finds interesting, he churns out one story with tiny permutations and different titles, over and over again, in pursuit of an easy dollar.

Again, this applies to a LOT of authors out there, and I am sure you can find one that you feel this way about.

I think it's interesting to note that I've spoken to many people who are fans of Nicholas Sparks. I've never once heard any of them say they really enjoy his work, his writing, his characters or anything else. The universal reason that women like his books (and I am not making this up)... "It's easy to read." Sometimes they say it a little differently, and it sounds more like, "I don't have to think too hard when I'm reading his books." or "I don't like having to decipher** what I'm reading, and his stuff doesn't need deciphering."

But it all comes down to the same thing: His writing is overly simplistic and I don't care because I cry (therefore I am "feeling" something) and I can put myself in the heroine's shoes and pretend I am loved by a perfect man.

If that's what floats your boat, great. Read all the Nicholas Sparks you can get your hands on. I'm not into it, and I won't read any more of his work. I've given it more than a fair shake, and I don't want to discuss it at length with you anymore.

* Thirty. Thirty million dollars. That's what Sparks is worth.
**No, I'm not entirely sure what she meant by this.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

So, it's been, like, a bajillion degrees here.

Okay, not really.

But close.

So we've been swimming and using splashpads and doing all kinds of summery stuff here.

I finally taught my oldest to swim. This is a real victory because he is NOT the athletic type, and he is not the kind of kid who thinks, "Oh, hey, scary new thing. I think I'll give that a try!" But he can jump off the diving board and swim all around the pool on his own now. He can do the breaststroke, a kiddie version of the backstroke, a doggie paddle and just a basic underwater-tadpole-type-of-thing. So there's even variety.

My middle child is teaching himself to swim, so that's fun to watch. Today, it was "How long can I hold my breath underwater" tests. He would hold onto the edge of the pool, stick his face in the water and float around with his hands holding onto the edge, but otherwise looking a little... well... dead.

Being outside in this kind of heat is exhausting.

So I don't have a lot of stimulating conversation pieces for you.

But, my skin *has* been drying out in an unprecedented fashion. You know you live in a desert when you put Vaseline on your feet and they still dry out.

Yeah. It's dry.

I've also been working on our curriculum for homeschool this fall, and I am SO EXCITED!!! We're learning about each of the fifty states, doing some unit studies on animals (to coincide with the letters of the alphabet, so the little guys can participate, too) and I've created these great daily math workbooks. All that's left is to line up monthly science topics and some experiments to go with each, and then I get to start putting together my shopping/supplies lists :)

And, lastly, I potty trained my youngest. In one day. Because that's how I roll.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sex in YA Books

 This topic has come up many, many times on many, many blogs. It has also come up on Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads and who knows what other social networking sites. And every time, I give my opinion.

Frankly, it's getting to the point where I just need a blog post that I can link to and say, "Here. This is what I think about this subject."

So.

Here. This is what I think about this subject:

I feel that sex in YA books is pretty much the same as it is in adult books. That is, I feel like it belongs there so long as it is an actual, functioning part of the story.

I assume that pretty much everybody is having sex. And remember, I'm writing stories for the LDS (clean-cut Christian) romance market. If my characters aren't having sex, they will. Eventually. I also know that this whole no-sex-before-marriage thing is pretty unique and the majority of people over the age of seventeen are having sex, at least intermittently.

I also assume that pretty much everybody ate dinner last night.

I also assume that pretty much everybody cleans their bathroom, at least intermittently.

But I don't need to read about it. If it isn't moving the story forward, I don't need to read about it. Period.

I've never read a book in which a good bathroom-cleaning scene was laid out in excruciating detail. And dinner is rarely discussed for its own sake, it's usually the conversation being had over dinner that takes center stage. Why, then, do authors put so much sex in their books, even when it doesn't move the story forward?

Because it's exciting. Duh.

It piques a reader's interest. It gets a sixteen year old to feel like she's reading something "naughty" and keeps her turning the pages. It lets bored housewives explore a taboo that they wouldn't have otherwise tapped into (I'm looking at you, 50 Shades of Grey) (clarification: I'm talking about you, 50 Shades of Grey. Not looking. Not reading. Not ever.)

It's a cheap way of keeping the pages turning without actually doing a whole lot of work to create good characters, stories or worlds.

However.

There are times when sex (or violence, or language, or substance use/abuse) actually does matter to the story. A girl gets pregnant... there was obviously a preceding act. We need to know about it. Consensual? Not? Safe? Not? Committed, loving partner? Not? Now, that doesn't mean that I need to read all the gritty details. Knowing what order she touched what body parts and how it made him feel at the time makes NO difference to the story (that's the cheap ploy rearing its ugly head again). However, knowing why the sex happened, how it makes her feel afterward and what it means to both partners? THAT MATTERS.

I also think it needs to make sense for the characters. To use a ridiculous, well-known hypothetical, let's look at Hermione Granger. She didn't have sex with Viktor Krum. Even if no sex was detailed on the pages of Harry Potter (and we assume that at least a good percentage of the over-seventeen-crowd was having sex), we would know that Hermione did not have sex with Krum. It just doesn't make sense- it would be at odds with her character. She's careful, deliberate and level-headed. She's dating Krum for two reasons: 90% to make Ron jealous, and 10% because it's a little exciting to be the object of a superstar's affections, regardless of how fleeting she knows it is. Neither of those purposes are served by her having sex with him.

The reasons for sex need to make sense for the characters, regardless of age. The type of sex- consensual, protected, etc- needs to make sense (if Hermione and Ron start going at it, they are going to be safe about it, because that's who Hermione is: she isn't an unnecessary risk-taker. Pansy Parkinson might let Malfoy get away with not putting on a condom because she is obsessed with him in an unhealthy way.).

The consequences- for good or for bad- need to make sense for the characters. And the way they deal with those consequences needs to make sense. It needs to be true to the characters, the situation, the time, the world, everything. Yes, that means that sometimes there will be negative consequences. Sex results in babies and STDs (despite protection, often), regardless of age, race or anything else. Sex also results in EMOTIONS. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but almost always complicated. If these aren't addressed, it's obvious. And I'm a little flabbergasted by the number of characters in books who are having sex and aren't having ANY consequences of any kind, honestly.
 
Again, this applies to YA and adult books, and can be applied just as broadly to violence and substance use/abuse, too. I am not one for pretending that the world is all squeaky-clean sunshine and rainbows, but I do firmly believe that these things need to have a reason to be in your story.

Other wise it's just another cheap trick.

What do you think? 


Monday, June 11, 2012

43 Ways to NOT Write a Novel


1. Join a Fan Forum.

2. Read a book.

3. Write reviews about that book, detailing all the things you would have done differently.

4. Tweet.

5. Blog.

6. Worry a lot about your Klout score.

7. Join a blogging community.

8. Participate in a blogging community. Be active: on the forums, in the chat line, on other people's blogs...

9. Play with your cat.

10. Play with your kids.

11. Have an actual "job."

12. Nap.

13. Organize your desk drawers.

14. Tag every single person in every single one of your Facebook photos.

15. Untag yourself from all the ugly Facebook photos that your friends tagged you in. 

16. Redesign your blog. You wouldn't want to look unprofessional when you're a New York Times Bestselling Author, now would you?

17. Make crazy lists about things that aren't important.

18. Create a new desktop collage out of pictures of your kids.

19. Research mundane details about your novel's setting.

20. See something interesting on Wikipedia while doing research, and research that instead.


21. Read every single Snark Squad entry.

22. Vlog.

23. Edit your vlog.

24. Upload your vlog to YouTube.

25. Get distracted by YouTube.

26. Discover the Vlog Brothers while on YouTube.

27. Watch every Vlog Brothers video. 

28. Clean your house.

29. Go back through your manuscript and question the validity of every single piece of punctuation aside from the periods.

30. Go back through your manuscript and wonder why the hell you have so many periods. Shouldn't there be exclamation points and such in here?

31. Delete all the exclamation points from your manuscript.

32. Get a snack.


33. Plan all the things you'll buy with your advance when you finally sell your novel.

34. Watch movie trailers. (see: research)

35. Google your title, ensuring that nobody else has it. Or, if somebody else has used it, make sure that their book sounds kinda lame and then decide whether or not you can overshadow them.

36. Change your title.

37. Make outlines for other novels you aren't writing.

38. Fiddle with your query letter.

39. Read in-depth analyses of agents, publishers, contracts, options, self-publishing and e-publishing.

40. Join a writer's forum and discuss the minutia of agents, publishers, contracts, options, self-publishing and e-publishing.

41. Surf around IMDB looking for the perfect actors and actresses to play your characters.

42. Play Fantasy Casting with your friends.

43. Join Pinterest.

What do you think? What are you favorite ways to Not Write A Novel? 




Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bucket Lists Are NOT Stupid.

I read a really stupid article today. Slate featured the article, "Bucket Lists: America's New Idiotic Pastime." If you don't care to read it, it basically says that bucket lists are stupid, dangerous and selfish.

I completely disagree.

A bucket list isn't about "hurling lists into buckets" (somebody fundamentally doesn't understand this concept, I believe).

It's about dreaming, it's about setting goals for yourself and it's about looking forward to life without letting the days get away from you. A bucket list is about making sure that you are making the most of your life.

Nobody wants to be eighty-five years old, on death's doorstep, saying, "I wish I had..." or "I regret that I didn't..."

The whole point of these lists is to (basically) prioritize. If you want to do all these things, don't spend your time and your money on things that you don't want or don't care about.

Without further adieu, I present you with my bucket list:

Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Do the Book of Mormon tour through Central America

Publish a novel

Visit Palmyra and the Sacred Grove

Go horseback riding


See a live Broadway show

Fly first class

Take martial arts classes

Learn salsa dancing

Learn to speak Spanish fluently- not just sufficient for work

Take all of our kids camping together

Go to General Conference in Salt Lake

Go to Dragon Con, or Comic Con, some nerdy convention, I haven't picked which

Teach my parents to swing dance


Take each of my boys to the MTC

Visit every branch of the Smithsonian

Tour the White House

Grow a successful vegetable garden- one that I can actually eat from all season long

Run away (drop the kids somewhere, or maybe this will be after they are grown, go to the airport, pick a place and just go... no plans, no reservations, just go)

Travel to Alaska

Sleep on the beach

Go to the beach in the winter and have to whole place to ourselves

Visit all 5 Great Lakes

Anonymously pay for a non-family member to complete a mission or go to college

Join a bowling league

Go ice skating outdoors, in a place where ice would naturally occur (not Mill Avenue***)

Learn to play to guitar

Put my head against the glass of the observation deck of the Sears Tower a la Ferris Bueller

Visit the Grand Canyon

Visit Las Vegas

Go to Disneyland at Christmas time

Visit Sea World

Swim with the dolphins (this was actually planned, and foiled during a trip to Jamaica in 2005)

Run a Disney 5K race

Visit Australia

Learn to surf.

Speak/ teach at EFY. In order to do this, I have to submit a video of me teaching the youth, so I need to get called to be a youth teacher or seminary teacher, or something of the like...

Camp out overnight in anticipation of something

Read the Bible, cover to cover

Read the Book of Mormon, cover to cover

Attend an Olympic event

Attend a major league sporting finals/championship (Super Bowl, NBA Finals, etc)


Camp in the snow

Visit the Caribbean

Visit Disney World

Dance on the beach

Attend a giant New Year's Eve block party

See the Northern Lights

Be in the "live studio audience" for a TV show

Learn to belly dance

Ride a zip line in a jungle or rainforest

Become a semi-skilled marksman (markswoman?)

See the Egyptian pyramids 

Do Summerfest

Do an all-day country concert

See a rock legend in concert

Solve the Rubik's cube, and be able to repeat the success

Do a fitness boot camp

Fit back into my size 8's and stay there

*Watch the AFI's greatest films of all time (I've seen a lot of the remakes in addition to the ones crossed off, but I guess I better watch the originals, too)

*Read BBC's list of 100 greatest books

Learn to ride a motorcycle

Take a helicopter ride

Rent a fancy sports car and ride the entirety of old Route 66 (alternately, we could do this on motorcycles)

Visit Ellis Island

Go to the top of Empire State Building

Dine at one of those rotating restaurants

Visit Arlington Cemetary

Go SCUBA diving

Go snorkeling


Be on Jeopardy

Read and study the Old Testament all the way through

Visit Oregon. (JD's extended family lives there)

Visit a Sandals-type resort: a tropical, luxury vacation without children running around... bliss.

Visit a palace

Get JD's side of the family ALL together for a family photo (this might actually take somebody being on their deathbed for this to happen.)- DONE! December 2010

Visit Washington DC.

Take a weekend girls trip with my sisters and do all indulgent, selfish, girly things all weekend long: massages, pedicures, manicures, shopping, eating out, makeovers, etc.

Ride in a hot air balloon

Serve a mission

Go dancing in New York City

*Get a Master's degree

Go hunting with JD

Learn to snowboard

Be entirely, 100% debt free (I REALLY want this one scratched off WAY before I die!)

Visit Hawaii

Take a cruise through the Mediterranean

Take a Disney Cruise


I know it's long... but I'm not even thirty yet. I should have time to get it all done! What about you? What's on your list? If it's too long to put in the comments, write your own post and drop a link to it :)

* these things are in currently in progress

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You just never know...

As you may or may not know, I recently moved back to Phoenix. My husband and I both grew up here and consider this to be "home," despite spending more than a third of our marriage in either Texas or Florida.

Coming home means catching up. Catching up with friends, family and old colleagues. Now, many of these people are people I still interact with on Facebook and whatnot, but there are always those who aren't active in social media, or those who I just am not connected to that way for whatever reason.

Since we've been back, I've found out how some of my old colleagues from Wells Fargo are doing.

They've all been promoted.

Which isn't surprising. However, when I learned the "why" and "how" and "when" of their promotions, I felt... conflicted.

You see, there were three of us who were very close at work. We all liked each other, we all liked our boss, and he liked all of us. We all were good employees, with strong performances and versatile skill sets. 

If I'd had my druthers, I'd have stayed working in that market, for that boss, forever.

But I didn't.

We left Phoenix for Texas in 2007. This was pretty much the worst thing that could have ever happened to my career, for a lot of reasons I won't go into in detail. Suffice it to say that my management style did not mesh with their expectations, despite in-depth interviews on their part and a recommendation from the Regional President on my behalf (she was my boss's boss's boss at the time, and in a company that big, that was a big deal).

At the end of 2007, I left Wells Fargo for good.

It tore my heart out. I loved that company, I loved the team I was managing. I had so many great experiences and wonderful people that I truly considered mentors, but that particular situation had grown so toxic that I really felt I had no other option available to me.

Remember how I told you there were three of us in Phoenix who were in the same place professionally?

The other two are both Market Presidents now. Our boss, the guy we all loved and respected? He's a Regional President. He was promoted and as soon as he had openings in his markets, he put his former employees in those openings.

If I had stayed, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be in the same place.

Here's the conflict: That job that they're in now? Big money. B-I-G money. You've heard all the rhetoric about banking executives and blah blah blah. Yes. It's true. They make a lot of money. Right now... we're not doing so hot financially (something about "law school tuition" or something or other).

I was good at my job. I was well-connected, well-respected and I enjoyed it. I liked getting dressed in a suit every day, I liked conducting meetings and pitching ideas to HR and L&D teams. I liked that I felt important, and I liked that everybody knew that I knew what I was talking about all the time.

But.

I have a son with major learning disabilities. School, in the traditional sense, is not a reasonable choice for him. I have two other boys who need their mother and who are better off because I'm around all the time.

If I had stayed at Wells Fargo...? I don't think my boys would be getting what they needed. My oldest certainly wouldn't. He likely would have gone undiagnosed and we would instead be talking about how he is being held back and struggling with behavior issues.

I'm so grateful that I made the "wrong" decision back in 2007.

I'm so glad that my career tanked so that my home life could flourish.

I'm so grateful that I was in a place where I could clearly see what was happening with my son, and we could get him the help he needed. I'm glad that I'm in a position to return to school to become a better parent and educator for my family.

I love where I am, what I am doing and why I am doing it. I enjoy it more than I enjoyed the bank (and that's really saying something!). 

But, if I'm being completely honest, I'm also a little wistful to see "what could have been."