Reading, Writing, Reading About Writing, Writing About Reading…

These Are Your Kids On Books

These Are Your Kids On Books campaign poster by Burning Through Pages

About two weeks ago, I sought out a blog I had seen mentioned in passing somewhere else. On this blog was a post that stated that getting kids to read was basically a useless goal and besides basically everything published for kids/young adults was shit so it wasn’t any big loss.

I chose to stay out of the comment section, for various reasons, but the post got lodged sideways in my brain. I’d think about the idea that getting kids to read was stupid/pointless/only made straight white people rich for writing about straight white people and get cranky, then something would distract me and I’d forget about it again.

Then Michelle reposted the graphic above and I knew I couldn’t keep this to myself any longer.

Getting kids to read is really, really, really fucking important. REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT. Reading opens doors to all kinds of worlds, shows us all kinds of peoples and places and best of all it makes our imaginations work.

I can’t remember the first book that really grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, though I think it might have been Black Beauty — my paternal grandmother sent me a copy of the Illustrated Classics version when I was…Ten? Maybe? I remember that I read it three or four times over the course of a couple of years.

Later, when I was a teenager, I stumbled across Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books and, in ninth grade, I wrote my first fanfiction. (And when I read it for the class, I was suddenly very aware that even in a school FULL of weird kids*, that was considered particularly weird. Didn’t stop me, though, and later I wrote more fanfic based on Clive Cussler books. More on that later, though; I’m getting side tracked.) (In retrospect, I thiiiiiink Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books were the first books I ever read with characters in a same-sex relationship. Huh.)

I sank into every book I read, escaping into worlds where the odd, the left-out, the abandoned and the ostracized were often the hero. Jakkin and his dragon, for instance, from Jane Yolen’s Dragon’s Blood. Jakkin is essentially a slave; the dragon is A) stolen and B) turns out to have an interesting “defect” that would have meant death for him if he hadn’t been stolen.

The Redwall Books were another set that captured my imagination, for a while. I lived and breathed Dirk Pitt’s adventures, too, as I mentioned. As I got older, I branched out and discovered all kinds of other things — I read pretty much all of Rubyfruit Jungle in the library when I was eighteen, half-terrified my mother would catch me and ask me what I was reading because I had no idea how to explain it to her.

I don’t remember how I discovered A Queer Kind Of Love, which was mostly a murder mystery featuring a gay detective and his crabby detective partner. Looking back, that may have been the book to cement (or possibly spark) my appreciation for grouchy guys with a decidedly different interior… As well as my love for epilogues that make me (and, I hope, others) grin and make strange happy sounds.

For a while, I could walk down pretty much any of the shelves at the library and run my fingers along the spines; when I stopped, the likelihood that one or both of the protagonists would be gay was really high. The Man Without A Face; The Salt Point and The Sea Of Tranquility; a book whose title and author escape me but it was about a young man (~16) figuring out that he was gay — it was set in Australia, featured dirt bikes, a lad mag, a crush on his older brother’s friend Peter the confession of which was awkward and horrible and beautiful all at the same time… All of them I found by accident and they showed me that people didn’t just argue about whether gay people were, you know, people, they wrote books where they were…people.

Then there was discovering that I really couldn’t read Datlow and Windling’s Year’s Best Horror compilations, because they freaked me out too much; an anthology of pulp stories that I checked out a couple of times because there was one story in it–the only one I remember outside of a snippet from another one–that exposed me to the idea that gender wasn’t a set-in-stone 1/0 binary (and no, I cannot remember the name of the story, the anthology, or the author/editor, ARGH). There was the day I discovered a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird abandoned in a wooded area, followed by the discovery of just why it is a classic. I discovered that other classics aren’t really all that great, if you ask me — Of Mice And Men, bah.

In the last two years of high school, I was introduced to Langston Hughes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and a poet who wrote two poems I’ve been looking for ever since (one about falling through thin ice and one about painting a ship). Naomi Wolf’s Writing Down The Bones went everywhere with me for about six months as I read about How To Write/Be A Writer. I kept writing, too — but I branched out into original stories and poetry, only one of those two categories producing anything worth revisiting all these years later. (Hint: NOT POETRY. One benefit of that, however, is that I got THAT phase of my writing life over with early, and am now capable of writing poetry that people might want to read on purpose. Heh.)

Then came the internet and Reesa, who introduced me to fanfiction in general and slash in particular, followed by Lois McMaster Bujold and Diana Wynne Jones, among others. I can’t even begin to list who I discovered via the net, but it’s more than three.

My entire house is full of books. The garage, in this case, is literally FILLED with books — all in boxes, taking up precious room where the car should have been this winter. And in those boxes you will find just about one of everything. From where I am currently located, in my room, I can put out a hand and pick up A Field Guide To Pacific States Flowers, a cookbook illustrated by a local artist, and a paperback from the mystery/suspense/SF category. On the table at the foot of my bed is a stack of books that contains:
Wicked Gentlemen (M/M fantasy/paranormal; it’s a good book, too. It makes me want to write fanfic, which I haven’t wanted to do in years.)
Like Magnets, We Attract (M/M anthology featuring Shea Meiers’s Mauka/Makai)
No Regrets And Other True Cases, Ann Rule’s Crime Files Volume 11 (true crime, surprise)
Learn Latin: A Lively Introduction To Reading The Language
The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks (M/M mystery/suspense)
Pursuit In The French Alps (This is probably best categorized as the kind of boy’s adventure story that Tobias would read. It was originally written in French, then translated; the copyright dates are from 1960 to 1963.)
– Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison (One of my favorite mysteries. The PBS Mystery version is really good, too — the casting director did an incredible job of finding just the right actors.)
Fraz ak Mo ki Itil Angle-Kreyol Ayisyen/English-Hatian Creole Phrasebook with Useful Wordlist [for Kreyole speakers] (I love the languages section at library book sales. I always try to get something new, especially if it’s A) Welsh or other Bryonic languages or B) related to a story.)
Writing In General And The Short Story In Particular
– Wise Sayings From The Orient (it was published in 1963, and aside from the horrible title, it is a nice little book of aphorisms and proverbs)
– and last but not least Ecce Romani 1: Meeting The Family (I wish I could find the rest of the series)

I could list all the books on my bookcases, but that would take too much time and I’m distracted again anyway. If I had never been read to, if I had never been encouraged to read, if no one had ever said ‘here, try this, you might like it’; if reading hadn’t been important to anyone else outside of whatever was required by school, I wouldn’t be writing this today. I wouldn’t be writing, period.

Kids absolutely should be encouraged to read. If they want to read crap at first, or if they only want to read what’s popular at first, great. At least they’re starting somewhere. Keep throwing suggestions at them until they stick. Encourage kids to look beyond the VAMPIRE!! aisle, give them Raptor Red and Dragon’s Blood and The Spirit Ring. Nalo Hopkinson’s The Robber Queen might be a little old for some of them, as might The Sharing Knife series.

If there’s a dearth of what you think kids “should” read, then shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down, and fucking write it. All the energy you waste shouting at other people about how horrible they are for not writing X would be better spent in, you know, writing X.

Some of those books I listed above, like The Salt Point and Sea Of Tranquility? Also introduced me to Misery Lit. It didn’t take too many rounds with Misery Lit before I decided that fuck that noise, I don’t need to expose myself to it any more… And when I decided, some fifteen to twenty years later, that I was gonna do this writing thing? My first writerly vow was NO MISERY LIT. There are a lot of M/M authors for whom that is a guiding principle, stemming from the same source: the only basically-mainstream stories they could find when they were growing up with GLBT main characters all ended with either death or unhappiness or both.

To move forward, beyond where we are now as humanity, we need kids who read a LOT. We need kids whose imaginations get stretched, whose perspectives get shifted, whose horizons are ever-expanding because they know there’s more out there than where they are now. If kids don’t read, if we don’t start with “at least they’re reading…” and go on to “…and when they’re done with that, here’s a whole stack of other things!”, we all lose.

And that is why getting kids to read something, anything, is a worthy goal.

* I went to a teeny little private school for dyslexic** kids for most of my academic career. Tiny, in this case, meaning the entirety of 9-12 graders totaled something like 30 kids. If that.

** Yes, I’m dyslexic. My particular issues manifest themselves in the math realm, which is why I’m a writer.

At least one of my senators Doesn’t Get It.

So I wrote to my congress people, and I got a nicely vague, waffley letter back from one of them. I know he’s just trying to keep everyone happy, but I don’t WANT vague and waffley, I want him to tell me he’s going to vote against the damn bill. Otherwise, it feels entirely too much like he’s just trying to keep me soothed and placated while he’s planning on voting FOR it.

Dude. I don’t want the internet to become TV. I don’t want to live in fear that some fuckwit griefer is gonna come across my site and decide to use SOPA/PIPA to fuck with me, just because they fucking CAN. Given what I write, it’s waaaaaay too likely that someone will use SOPA/PIPA to keep my stories offline.

I don’t want to see hundreds of thousands of forums, of stories, of creative and brilliant people to just disappear. Believe it or not, but someone has pirated First Flight — it turned up on ebookr.com, and I was both somewhat excited (someone thought it was worth stealing!) and annoyed (hey, someone stole First Flight! and the blurb, straight off Dreamspinner’s site…). I sent off a DMCA notice, and they, to their credit, responded appropriately. (In fact, they responded so quickly and politely that I’m seriously considering uploading a couple of my free reads.)

Do I spend hours of my day, trolling pirate sites, looking for anything of mine? No. If someone posts about a pirate site to one of the many mailing lists I’m on, I’ll go take a look, but until ebookr, I’d never found anything of mine. It’s not like it matters to people who pirate stuff — they’re gonna do it no matter what the law says. I’ll poke at pirates if I find them, but in general it’s not like it matters in the grand scheme of my writing life. Hell, at least they’re NOT trying to scrub my presence from the web — pretty much the opposite.

SOPA/PIPA are the antithesis of pirate sites in that regard. It wouldn’t affect the pirates at all, but it could–would–affect ME in a big way. Yeah, it would be nice if we could keep people from stealing stuff, but that’s just not going to happen. The internet is the best thing to happen to my life: it has brought me friends, it has expanded my horizons, it has allowed me to learn things I never would have even known I WANTED to learn. I want my internet to stay pretty much exactly the way it is, full of the sparkling dizzying array of wonder that is humanity. With SOPA/PIPA in place, the internet will likely become TV: catering to the lowest common denominator; run by people who think Jersey Shore and Desperate Housewives and I don’t even know what insipid sitcoms are on these days are what *I* want. I come to the internet to get AWAY from that crap, because no one asks me what *I* want — and it sure as hell isn’t THAT.

Pot Luck 4: Edits, Sequels, Books

Edits: The master document for First Flight is in the DONE pile. All I need now is cover art and a release date and I’m set.

Sequels: For the first time ever, I have a plot and a title for the next Chris-and-Jesse story. I’m trying very, very diligently NOT to work on it before the start of November. I have no idea if I’ll manage any NaNo writing this year, but I’m going to try — even if it means locking myself in my room.

Books: All I wanted to do was buy some books. Thanks to random passwords that I can never remember and a lack of PayPal, I wasn’t able to buy them from the publisher’s site — but I managed to get them through All Romance eBooks. I even earned myself a free book, thanks to their ‘buy ten titles, get one free’ promo; on top of that, I had about $7 in ebook-bucks, so I ended up with even more books than I intended to get. (And my to-buy pile is STILL huge. Sigh.)

Dear Companies: you exist to make money. When you sell something I want (like books full of Awesome Story, written by people I know and/or am a fan of), you make it easy for me to want to give you money. The second half of that equation is, of course, making it easy for me to give you that money. Making it easy for money to flow from me to you nets you a profit, which you can then share with the people who will then write you more Awesome Stories, which in turn brings me back to give you more money. It’s truly a win-win-win all the way around. When you make it difficult for me to give you money, it makes me crabby and less likely to sing your praises. This is not good, to put it mildly.

Please make it easy for me to give you money,

love,

Connor W., book fiend

You can have my… Revisited

I am, for the most part, a decent kind of person. I don’t start flame wars, I don’t pile on when other people do, I stay away from sites and topics that make me want to throttle someone.

Today, however, I have come across two different sites that said the same thing–DON’T USE ADJECTIVES OR YOU SUCK!!!!11212!ehjouhe–and I have been having a very hard time maintaining my usual even demeanor.

One of the sites had collected five quotes from Stephen King and claimed they were five that all writers should take to heart. I really don’t know how King’s fondness for putting Junior Mints on a toothpick in the movie theater will make my writing better, but then again, I like editors so what do I know?

The very first King quote was “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”. The author of the article gleefully joins the chorus of adverbial hate, without (as usual) bothering to offer suggestions, options, definitions, or even examples. (Also, I noticed that the author of the article did not manage to avoid using an adverb. I did not leave a comment pointing that out.)

The second site I came across is written by “an award-winning author”, though I didn’t bother looking to see what award it was. While the author’s name is unfamiliar to me, that means nothing — I probably wouldn’t recognize this year’s Caldecott Medal winner’s name, either. This author is offering an A-to-Z list of “writing tips”, and right there in the As is “Adjectives”.

“Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly”, Author says, and I just heard you pull that muscle, you rolled your eyes so hard. Here, have an ice pack.

On top of that, in the Ds is “Description”. Author offers examples of passive and active descriptions, but the thing about Author’s examples? Mm-hm. Dripping with adjectives. Seven adjectives and four adverbs in the passive/short example; eighteen adjectives and three adverbs in the longer. And that’s not even counting the prepositional phrases–as they tell you where, they function like adjectives. (Also, there’s a subject-verb disagreement in the second example, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Again, I have not left a comment on that, though I am sorely tempted. After all, if I’m following the advice from Adjectives, then I cannot also follow the advice from Description, can I? They seem to be mutually exclusive.

Sure, there are good reasons not to lard your prose with every adjective and adverb under the sun, but to declare war on them wholesale is pretty much defeating the purpose of writing.

I’m not trying to recite a grocery list, when I write. I am trying to show you the pictures in my head, to bring what I hear and see into being with the admittedly limited medium of the English language. When I see a hot, dusty street, crowded with bodies and all manner of animals, in my head, I don’t want to sit down and write something like, oh, this:

Area: 50 square meters
Population: 2,015
Animals: 110
Temperature: 95 F
Chance Precipitation (percent): .005
Heat index: 115 F

(Numbers are adjectives, by the way — they tell how many.)

You could do something like this, which keeps the numbers:

Two thousand and fifteen people stood in fifty square meters. They were accompanied by a half-dozen dogs, twelve wildebeest, sixteen Guernsey cows (all pregnant), seventy-five parakeets and one very confused-looking penguin. The ambient temperature was 95 degres fahrenheit and rising precipitously. The chance of rainfall was less than five thousandths of one percent. The dew-point was listed as twelve degrees fahrenheit. The heat index was one hundred fifteen.

Or you could just give in and do this, instead:

The narrow street pressed friends and enemies closer than anyone really wanted to be. The smell of cattle and dogs mingled with the scent of humanity and their varied wares, a cloying combination that lingered in clothing even after one made their escape from the area. The merciless sky held nothing more than the sun, not even a wisp of teasing cloud, not even a bird.

Which of those makes you want to keep reading? Which of those rings of story, of potential adventures and heartache and maybe even something funny? I’m going to take a wild guess and strike the first example from the list.

And that is why I refuse to give up on adjectives. And why I refuse to take writing advice from people who actively refuse to be edited, but mostly the former.

You can have my adverbs and adjectives when you pry them from my clammy, tightly-curled fists.

Why you want to wait until I’m in full rigor is beyond me, but hey. To each their own, right?

I don’t understand– No, that’s not true. I understand why people get annoyed by thesaurus abuse, and I understand why people get annoyed by an overabundance of pedestrian adverbs. What I don’t understand is the absolute lack of compromise that I see in OMG NO ADVERBS/ADJECTIVES OR YOU SUCK!!!! “writing rules”.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that Kristen Lamb may be the one and only person I’ve ever seen to author a list of “writing rules” who actually explicitly states that it’s boring adverbial phrases like “she smiled happily” that need to die in a fire — but something like “she smiled, gleefully wielding her scalpel” is acceptable.

See, the thing is, you canNOT write without adjectives. Since I’m a highly visual person, I find examples to be far more illuminating, so here! Let’s have another experiment:

This is the first two paragraphs of my Sailors story, with every adjective, adverb, or other remotely descriptive word removed:

Everyone lined the railing. Tevseth was searching.

There. Tevseth caught sight of Kelvi, watching healers helping the men.

No adjectives, no adverbs, no prepositions. What do we learn from this? Well… There’s a railing… And some people, two of whom we’re maybe supposed to start caring about, but…

But what railing? Where is it? Who’s Kelvi, why should healers bother helping the men, what is it that Tevseth sees? Why the hell should we give a tin-plated rat’s ass? Who knows? I sure don’t — and if someone wanted me to read their story and this is what greeted me? I’d be clicking the ‘close tab’ X or the back button without bothering to see what happened in paragraph three.

So here, try those two ‘graphs again, this time with the dreaded and deadly descriptors (but no alliteration):

Everyone who could stand lined the railing as the Sea Dragon limped into the harbor, two and a half weeks late. Tevseth could see the crowd on the docks—most waving, some jumping up and down—and leaned forward, searching for one familiar figure. It wasn’t until they were manuvering into their berth that he found him.

There. Gold-brown hair glimmering in the sunlight, green eyes he couldn’t see yet, a wiry body half a head shorter than most and a full head shorter than himself. Tevseth’s throat went tight as he caught sight of Kelvi, standing toward the back of the crowd and watching the town’s healers helping the badly injured men off the boat.

There. Now we know where the railing is and what it’s attached to: on a boat! We also know why people are at the railing — they’re finally home. Tevseth is looking for someone among the crowd — not an easy task, because the crowd is just as happy to see their sailors as the sailors are to see home — and we know when Tevseth finds him. We immediately know that Kelvi is important to Tevseth (physical reaction); we also see that Kelvi is watching the healers because there are injured men that need help getting off the boat. We can guess that Kelvi is probably looking to see if Tevseth is among those who can’t move under their own power, but that’s not nearly as obvious as the rest of it.

And all of that information is conveyed through the use of adjectives, prepositions, and at least one adverb. Oh, and italics, but I’ve covered those elsewhere.

So no. I’m going to just keep on ignoring the screams and wails of THOU SHALT NOT when it comes to adjectives and adverbs, because I am trying to tell a story, here. Something made up out of whole cloth. Fake. Factitious. Fiction. If I tried to do it without adjectives, adverbs, or any other descriptors, you’d have something like “There was man.” and that is IT. Not really a story, there, not as it is.

(Edited to remove another prepositional phrase.)

A Public Service Announcement

A PSA from your friendly neighborhood smut-writer: Leash laws are for the protection of all people and all dogs. They are intended to protect YOUR DOG as much as they are to protect MY DOG. I don't care how angelic and docile your puppy-wuppy schnookums is, I don't care if your precious wittle dumpling-fluffy-wuffy-kins has been a vegetarian their entire life. The thing is, it doesn't matter how pacifistic YOUR DOG is when it runs up to the dog(s) I'm walking and said dog(s) BITE YOUR DOG. 

Do you get it, now? Your dog is safer on a leash than it is off, and THAT is why I'm reminding you of the leash laws and their applicability to EVERYONE. Thank you.