Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gender in YA

Who knows how often this has been blogged about, but I know #genderinYA is ravenously discussing it, so I thought I'd chime in with what a blog post can do that I won't be able to convey as well through Twitter.

As a female writer, technically still a teenager (age 19), I read books that appeal to me. I do not care if they are male or female protagonists. Most of my books, however, have female protagonists, simply because I read a lot of YA, and YA is mostly dominated by female progtags, perhaps because female writers dominate YA. And there is nothing wrong with this, and I do not understand why people are making such a big deal out of it. If guys want to write about guys, that's fine. If they do not want to write YA, that is fine as well. If guys want to write about girls, then cool. If girls want to write about guys, then cool as well. But as a reader, I am not bothered at all by the lack of male protagonists. I would not be bothered by the lack of female protagonists. When I read a novel, I don't really take the gender of the character into consideration. I judge the character based on how well-developed he or she is; not gender.

While it is true that boys read less than girls, probably because females dominate YA, I think we need to change this attitude. I do not think the answer to getting boys to read more is by having writers write male protags. To me,there is something sexist about this ideology, one in which women have for years been struggling to get rid of.

Writing used to be dominated by men, so there were tons of male protags. Now that it's dominated by women, with female protags, there's suddenly a problem in trying to get boys to read. And perhaps this has to do with cultural attitudes more than anything else.

My fiance Jeff does not care if a book has male or female protagonists. He read The Gemma Doyle trilogy and enjoyed it. And this is something because he's a huge John Grisham fan. But if Jeff can enjoy novels with female protagonists, then I do not see why other boys cannot. I don't think boys are born shunning books with female protagonists. They don't just start reading, thinking 'Gross! I'm never going to read a book with a girl main character!' Seriously, I think it has something to do with culture, and we need to change this.

I'm also of the opinion that true readers, true lovers of literature, wouldn't care about gender. So perhaps it's not just the fact that there are more female characters in literature. But whatever it is, the answer IS NOT to force oneself to write books with male protags, or to even advocate that writers need to write books with male protags for YA.

Yes, it's disturbing that there are dramatically less boys reading than girls, but it's even more disturbing that boys seem to have this inherent attitude about not reading books with female protags. This is supposed to be a culture devoid of sexism (ideally), and we're trying to figure out, yet again, something that involves more women than men. I'm willing to bet that if YA were dominated by men, no one would make a fuss about it, simply because it's been that way for most of human history. But now that it's becoming increasingly dominated by women (or is), there's a problem.

I don't know how boys are being raised in this culture, but someone out there keeps telling them what they can and can't like, and it's bothersome. Male protagonists are great, because guys can relate to them more, but I think it's healthy for a guy to see how a girl thinks. I mean, let's be frank, guys seem to have a harder time learning about we females than we do about them, and reading about a female makes that world a little bit easier. It's also healthy for a girl to see how a guy thinks.

I remember reading in Nathan Bransford's blog about gender in YA. One poster proclaimed that males want to read different things from females, which perhaps might be true, and said poster even admitted to being stereotypical before posting a lot of stereotypical male things: things being blown up, sex, drunkenness, implying there are no consequences to any of these. But, as I've said before, I don't think writing about these things is the answer, as it's only perpetuating male stereotypes, and let's be frank, those aren't positive things, and it actually makes me as a female question the intelligence of males. As a female reader, I like reading books with intelligent, curious characters, and that includes both male and female. I would think guys would want their sex shown in a positive light as well, unless they think getting drunk or having wild, promiscuous sex is somehow a positive thing.

In my new WIP, my main character is male, but that's not because of the lack of males in YA. I've written from a male perspective before, I've even had a short story published from a male perspective, and am currently subbing another with a male perspective. I just think this WIP calls for a male perspective. Whenever I come up with an idea, I don't really think hard about the gender of my character. I just choose a gender that fits naturally with the story, avoiding bias and sexism and stereotypes and all that.

Continuing on, there's apparently still a problem with, even if a female writer writes from a male perspective, boys apparently still don't want to read it, although they'll read male authors with male characters. I am not going to remain unbiased with this. That is just plain sexism, and though I may be insensitive for saying so, I think our culture needs to change this attitude. Seriously, like fast. There are boys out there who do read books with female protags or by female authors, but they're a small bunch.

Well, after all this said, what can we as writers do about it? We shouldn't have to do anything about it. It's society that needs to help boys change their views. Women writers shouldn't have to shape their writing around the desires of boys. No one should really have to shape their writing around anyone's desires.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Blog Post of Procrastination

Okay, the only reason I'm writing this blog post is because I am procrastinating. Right now, as we speak, I am finishing up the climax in Witch Tourniquet and musing why it takes me forever to re-write something in Witch Tourniquet, but it doesn't in anything else.

And I finally came to the conclusion: Witch Tourniquet is my only novel with an antagonist that she has to physically fight. In my other novels, the antagonist is more of a mental battle, a struggle with oneself. In those other novels, I don't have to write any epic battle scenes and sit for minutes trying to think of the perfect sentence that will launch my character forward without being too hurried.

Witch Tourniquet has a lot of fight scenes, and it's always with these chapters that I take forever. I tell myself I'll re-write 1,000 words, but I often do less because of how long I spend just writing a page. Luckily, my action scenes are often fast-paced, so it's not like I spend twenty pages drawing out a battle.

Now, let me give an example of my other novels that do not have such epic battle scenes. I will not tell you what happens in the climax of my ViNo novel, The Crystal Horse, but I can tell you that she is not fighting anyone but herself. She has a huge choice to make, and no matter what her decision is, it will greatly affect her. Not only does she have a mental struggle with herself, but she also has a physical struggle, which was a lot easier to write than a physical struggle against someone else. That, and I think the intimacy of 1st person made it a bit easier to write as well, which is not to say 1st person is any easier, but rather more intimate than third.

In my current WIP, Beautiful Nightmare, which I've barely written in but I have an idea what the climax will be, the MC will not face off against any antagonist or physical force. Rather, like my ViNo, he will face off against his own decisions, his own choices, of whether to go back to his world or stay in a world that its inhabitants say is more real than the one he once lived in. I may include an action scene in there somewhere, but the main focus isn't around A fighting B. It's around A fighting A.

In conclusion, I believe this is why I procrastinate the most with Witch Tourniquet and struggle with re-writing it's epic scenes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Writing Plans

So not everything can always go as planned, but most things I set my mind to often do go as planned.

I originally wanted to start querying Witch Tourniquet back in January, but obviously I decided to jump on the ViNoWriMo train, so I had been busy with The Crystal Horse, a novel involving the fun topic of abortion and curiosities over sex. Fun, fun, fun. So, I'll be waiting for the results with that, which will be announced March 14th. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, I'm starting a new WIP called Beautiful Nightmare, about a boy named Matt whose been living behind fortified barriers all his life to keep out creatures called Night Lurkers that deliver nightmares as real as the world he currently resides in. Won't go beyond that.

I won't be writing feverishly in this WIP because Witch Tourniquet is my top, top, top priority now, unlike last month, where I could barely work on it because of The Crystal Horse. I'll be writing everyday in Beautiful Nightmare, but it won't be at any targeted word count. For now, I'm re-writing the last chapter before the final in WT, and I'll send the last two chapters off to Elizabeth, who will be a marvelous beta reader and beat the crap out of them. While she does that, I'm going to proofread and start formatting my manuscript/working on the third draft of my query letter/work on a possible synopsis. All of this will hopefully lead me to query sometime by the end of this month or even beginning of March, mostly because Elizabeth, I know, has been busy with other things, and so I can't expect her to be as fast as she was last semester. I've got two other beta readers I'm depending on as well, but they're way behind Elizabeth, so I'm counting on them to look for anything she might have missed. They're doing a wonderful job, by the way: Drittz and Nazarea.

If I don't win ViNo, I'm going to start re-writing The Crystal Horse and querying that along with Witch Tourniquet, while working on Beautiful Nightmare. I'm not going to let querying daunt me. I will keep writing novels until one hits, and I have faith that one of the three (or even all three!) will catch a bite.

But this has been the craziest year ever for writing. If you count WT, I have finished three novels since college has started for me, a record breaking thing I have never done before, even back in elementary school when I was so religious about writing 3,000 words a day (technically 10 pages. I never went by word count as a tyke.)