Food for Thought: Writing for the Young Adult market

I visited Locus Magazine's site and found Cory Doctorow's July article concerning the Young Adult (YA) market. I was reading through it and found the following paragraph:

Writing for young people is really exciting. As one YA writer told me, "Adolescence is a series of brave, irreversible decisions." One day, you're someone who's never told a lie of consequence; the next day you have, and you can never go back. One day, you're someone who's never done anything noble for a friend, the next day you have, and you can never go back. Is it any wonder that young people experience a camaraderie as intense as combat-buddies? Is it any wonder that the parts of our brain that govern risk-assessment don't fully develop until adulthood? Who would take such brave chances, such existential risks, if she or he had a fully functional risk-assessment system?

Perhaps this is why some books that we read in our adolescence resonated so strongly with us - they struck a chord that resonated with the issues and difficulties that we faced, consciously or subconsciously. I know that the stereotypical SF/F adolescent power fantasy would certainly resonate with these youngsters - is that an untapped local market here in the Philippines?

On Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, and Genres

A lot of blogtalk recently on the Alfar publication "Philippine Speculative Fiction" such as the use of the term "Speculative Fiction", the separation and merging of various genres, and even the need for genres as well.

It's good that people are expressing their opinions, discussing these topics, and arguing for their own points of view regarding the matter. So, rather than maintain my own silence (and fighting my desire to place bets from the sidelines), I'll throw my hat into the ring for some of the topics discussed:

1. Why the term "Speculative Fiction"? Dean himself has mentioned that it was a quicker term to use than constantly listing the various genres and sub-genres that fall underneath it. While Dean has listed Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism, Interstitial Fiction, Slipstream and (oh crap I think there was one other one, but I'm not sure), if you want a more exhaustive list, here's one definition (yep, like Science Fiction, there are many definitions) of Speculative Fiction (that may or may not be followed by Dean) from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database:

Speculative fiction is defined to include:
science fiction, including works:
- set in a future that is now in the past
- that deal with technological advances that were futuristic at the time they were published
fantasy fiction
alternative history
utopian fiction as long as it is recognizably fiction and not a treatise
non-genre speculative fiction
magic realism
proto-science fiction, including but not limited to:
- lost world tales
- fantastic voyages
- scientific romances
- pre-historic romances
- future war stories
- the older the book, the more likely we are to include it even if it is borderline eligible. This is caused by the fact that there were relatively few Works published prior to 1800 and by the difficulties with distinguishing between speculative and non-speculative fiction (or even fiction and non-fiction) when you are dealing with pre-1800 Works
the supernatural (with an inclusionist bias), including but not limited to:
supernatural horror
ghost stories
gothic novels with supernatural elements
occult fiction

Yep, that's pretty long. And controversial to be sure. I wonder where "mundane science fiction" falls here.

Then again, one of the originators of the term Speculative Fiction (I'm referring to Heinlein here), posited it as an alternative to the term Science Fiction. Interestingly enough, Science Fiction was only one of the early terms used to name the genre, other runners-up included "Scientific Romance" (an early winner, particularly for the era of H.G. Wells, but it fell into disuse) and "SF" and "S-F" and "SciFi" (a term much reviled by true Science Fiction fans) and "Scientifiction" (coined, I believe, by Hugo Gernsback).

I seem to have digressed. Anyway, if you have a better term, go ahead and use it and see if it sticks.

2. On the opposition to the blurring of genre divisions, I just have this to say - the definitions of the big three mega-genres of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) have been debated and redefined across the years, so trying to say that something does or doesn't belong to a particular genre really depends on how well you argue and how broad or narrow your definition is... and how many people actually buy your argument and definition.

3. On the cross-polination of genres - it's already been done, and it's still being done (not just here, but internationally), and folks don't care as long as it's good. One of the earliest novels claimed by Science Fiction under its banner is also claimed by Horror. If you can guess which one that is, you win a no-prize.

Can anyone out there name any Science Fiction / Horror short stories or novels? Or Fantasy / Horror ones? Or Science Fiction / Fantasy ones? I know I can. If you don't like it, that's a matter of preference on your part -- I know certain members of the LitCritters who really hate it when Fantasy novels that they are enjoying turn out to be Science Fiction novels, but would NEVER presume to tell people not to write it.

4. On the perennial cry to dispense with any labels and just call everything fiction, I have two responses: I agree and disagree.

On the one hand, I agree with the belief that genre / sub-genre should not be a barrier to writing a good short story or a good novel. This is because I believe (as should be clear from my response to issue #3) that cross-genre stories enrich fiction rather than detract from it. This is because I believe that genres are artificial, arbitrary, and notoriously elastic categorizations.

On the other hand, being forced to read the back cover blurb of every fiction book out there just to figure out if it's the type of book I want to read can be a real pain. I already do that when I'm looking for a Science Fiction novel or a Fantasy novel or a Horror novel or a Mystery novel, and it's a major headache (especially with hardcovers, which can have a tendency not to have any sort of blurb explaining what the #$(*&!@ thing is about). If there weren't any categories, I'd probably bitch and moan and do what some people do now - go online and browse there, search using tags, filter using tags, read recommendations, and then try to find the I think I want in bookstores or online.

On the gripping hand (Science Fiction reference here, any takers?), I don't think my opinions will stop bookstores and book publishers from categorizing books any which way they feel like, so, I'll just stop right here.

What's a Book?

This blog entry is inspired by the webcomic Least I Could Do.

And I quote:
"What's a book?"

"It's like a downloadable PDF file that's printed on paper and bound together."

I like books. I have a decent collection of them, and read them a lot. I like being able to read them whether or not there's power, whether or not the batteries are charged, and so on. And yet, it seems like the technology for electronic books is constantly improving. Will there ever be a time when they'll rival my hankering for the paperbacks?

I already read some books on my cellphone PDA, usually books I've already read and like to keep handy. I can't read them in public, for fear of attracting cellphone snatchers or driving down the ever-so-precious battery life. It's cool to be able to search for passages, neat to annotate and create multiple bookmarks on it, and so on. It's nice to have an electronic back-up on my laptop just in case the cellphone gets wiped or stolen.

But still, there's something terrifying about losing the use of your cellphone because your penchant for reading.

Who's a Palanca Winner?

Kate (my dear wife) won the 3rd Prize for the Palanca's Short Story for Children in English!

"The Mapangaraps and the Dream Trees" won!


Pulp or Neo-Pulp | Tags instead of Genres

I know I'm not the only one who has difficulty classifying stories and novels along genre lines. Many authors seem to be dismissive of genre labels, while many critics and reviewers are fond of the phrase "transcends the genre" to indicate writing of quality.

That being said, I began to think of the Pulp genre of stories as something more of a meta-genre. After all, there are several well-known genres that are covered by the Pulp label: Pulp Crime, Pulp Crimefighters, Pulp Science Fiction, Pulp Westerns, etc.

How to define the Pulp feel? Well, RPGs have actually done so. And many anthologies of old and new pulp stories are available at better bookstores.

Here's a link of interest: - the Neo-Pulp Manifesto!

I'll admit I skipped over most of the definition text to get at the examples. Here are a few I'm familiar with:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (novel)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (comic)
Planetary (comic)
Firefly (TV show) / Serenity (movie)
Heat Vision and Jack (TV show - pilot only)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV show)
Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (movie)

Well, that's interesting. Certainly an area I'd like to play around in writing-wise.

I wonder if we can include Trese by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldissimo as Neo-Pulp? Seems to embody the spirit quite well. I'd tag my own short story "The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio" as Neo-Pulp as well. I use the term "tag" because it could arguably belong to other genres.

Perhaps that's an approach we should take a look at? Accepting that fiction often jumps around various genres and meta-genres, taking stuff here and there, and mixing them together into stories that work. Tag them books and stories authors!

Why not just do away with tags and genres, you say? Well, they'll creep back in somehow. I mean, it's like looking for a restaurant - sometimes I don't care what I want to eat, but sometimes I want to eat Italian, or Japanese, or Filipino food and ask recommendations accordingly. The restaurant I end up at may not be that great or it might just be fantastic, but I won't know that unless I've eaten there before, right?

Then again, I have friends who decide they want to go to McDonald's and only order chicken anyway, so maybe the analogy is just plain flawed.

Creative Non-Fiction and Herodotus

I was perusing the comic strips of Kate Beaton when I came across the strip to the left concerning Herodotus.

It triggered many questions about the nature of Creative Non-Fiction, and its distinction from plain ol' vanilla Non-Fiction, Journalism, and History.

Now, more than ever, authorial intent becomes important in distinguishing between the different types of writing.

Then again, the nature of the writing and the interpretation of the text could lead to other classifications. As in the case of the comic strip, the inclusion of "giant ants" makes us suspect the text's nature. Was it journalism (Herodotus claimed that he only wrote down what people told him) given that it was relatively recent to his time period, or more of creative non-fiction (since we don't really know if he found at least two independent sources for these ants), or just history (coz it's too far in the past, man).

Literary Critiques and Writing

Is literary critique useful to writing?

We (the LitCritters) believe so.

Critiquing works (your own as well as others) allows you to sharpen your writer’s eye for story and your writer’s ear for discourse. You can learn from the successful and unsuccessful techniques used by many authors. You become familiar with story tropes and the best practices for discourse.

Of course, newbies to the Open Sessions can sometimes be overwhelmed by the deluge of official and decidedly informal critique-terminology that we use. Now, we don’t mean to twist the meanings of existing terms, but since one of the reasons the LitCritters read and critique stories is to study and learn from the various writing techniques (from SpecFic and other genres of fiction), we try to appropriate terminology from literary criticism, adapt them to our purposes, and along the way create our own as well. The resulting mix of formal, modified, and informal terms can be jarring to new members and seasoned critics but once you grok what we’re doing, you’ll be able to sling slang with the best of us.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we alone hold the keys to the kingdom. We encourage everyone to read the source texts with a critical eye and, if you can find them, the critiques of these texts by ‘professional’ critics. You may not understand or agree with everything in there, but these literary critics – steeped in the knowledge of literature – can often point out reasons why some things work (and why some things don’t work) in a manner that is understandable beyond the frustrating and often confusing “it just works” analysis.

Books on Sale! (P50)

Yep, getting rid of my novels. Message me if you're interested!

From my Crime Fiction collection:
Cracker: One Day a Lemming Will Fly
Cracker: The Madwoman in the Attic
James Ellroy: Killer on the Road
The Beekeeper's Apprentice

From my Fantasy collection:
Amber Chronicles - Nine Princes in Amber
Amber Chronicles - The Courts of Chaos
Forgotten Realms - Star of Cusrah
Forgotten Realms (Sembia) - Halls of Stormweather
Forgotten Realms (Sembia) - Heirs of Prophecy
Forgotten Realms (Sembia) - Lord of Stormweather
Forgotten Realms (Sembia) - Sands of the Soul
Forgotten Realms (Sembia) - Shadow's Witness
Forgotten Realms (Sembia) - The Shattered Mask
Forgotten Realms (The Archwizards III) - The Sorcerer
Lord of the Isles
The Golden Compass

From my Fantasy Gamebook collection:
Lone Wolf - The Dungeon of Torgar
Lone Wolf - The Jungle of Horrors
Lone Wolf - The Kingdoms of Terror

From my Non-Fiction:
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit
Unholy Alliance

From my ScienceFiction collection:
Babylon 5 - Book #1: Voices
Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human
Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom
Collection of Six H.G. Wells Novels
Uplift: Brightness Reef by David Brin
FutureNet (anthology)
The Man-Kzin Wars by Larry Niven
Demon Download

More to come!

Writing is Rewriting

I've been revisiting my inventory of short stories and seeing which ones need revision. Here they are with their working titles:

1. "Saving the World Every Saturday" - my young adult spy story foray needs several more scenes and more work on the relationship between the protagonist and his date.

2. "Oplan Sanction" - my military science fiction / space opera endeavor needs about 1500 more words and a little bit of fixing in terms of structure.

3. "The Silent Season" - hasn't been litcritted yet, but needs major fixing in terms of focus and characterization.

4. "The Lost Archipelago" - needs serious work, maybe finding a new story at its core and polishing, polishing, polishing.

Writing Deadline

Grah, the deadline approaches for our LitCritter TradFan Fantasy short story.

I swear, it's times like these that I wish resources were more readily available for Philippine 'ancient times'. Things that come to mind are the Philippine Wiki, the various Philippine Martial Arts books that I have, the Philippine Martial Arts forum that I visit, and various ideas jumping around in my head - half-remembered folk tales, incomplete and apocryphal histories of Mu and Atlantis, and the works of Zechariah Sitchin.

Excuse me, must write now.