What I Want in a Book

I have a book problem.

I love to read. When people ask me what genre I favour, I usually laugh and reply, “A little bit of everything!” I read mostly classics and YA fantasy and and sci-fi and poetry and biographies and histories and the occasional romance. I read quotes and blogs and magazines and dictionaries. I read the backs of cereal boxes and labels on people’s clothes. I read some books that are popular and some that aren’t.

I like adventure and discovery and a strong female character. I like small towns and bookworms and tall, dark, mysterious strangers. I like star-crossed lovers and ill-fated relationships and I like reading about the banter between siblings. I like flirty things and daring things and weird things and sometimes murderous things. I like make believe worlds and real worlds, and I like wise, old mentors with beards and witticisms.

Prince Charmings with a dark side, collections of exotic teas, and funny uncles with top hats and awful comb-overs. I like scarves and rain boots (which sound so much more poetic than rubber boots) and something that won’t take a lot of energy to read but will still make me think about life differently. I like sexy things but think sex in books is a bit unnecessary. I like things that are realistic but don’t like reading about things that go against my strongest morals.

I like books that remind me of mellow music, elegant music, angst-ridden and pure sadness music. Books that remind me of bleached out photographs from the ‘70s and old radio shows and my childhood.

My favourite books are the ones that taught me something, whether it be a moral or an idea or a word or character development. Some of them are just pretty. They sit nicely in the nooks of my brain. Not all of them are deep, dark, disturbing novels, but some of them are. Some of them are light and fluffy and simply easy to read.

I like elements of Alice in Wonderland (“It’s a vegetable. It doesn’t look like one, but it is.”) and Pride and Prejudice (“They parted at last with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of never meeting again.”) and Harry Potter (“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”) and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (“Uncle had learned long ago that obeying a rule in fact but not in spirit was very hard on people who say we for I and who do not allow dogs on their premises.”) and Fade (“So he endured. Did not cry.”).

These are things I like in books.

I know it’s a tall order, and that’s why I’ve yet to find ONE book that contains ALL of these things. If I found a book with these criteria, I daresay it would be my favourite book of all time.

The books I turn to when I’m bored or feeling a little blah are the books I read and read again when I was a pre-teen: A Riddle of Roses and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place and Walk Two Moons and Stargirl. They aren’t particularly deep and don’t leave me exhausted like Game of Thrones or Emma, but instead leave me refreshed, rejuvenated, in love with life again, and maybe a little poignant that life doesn’t turn out for everyone.

I love these books. I still read them, still love them.

I want to read books like those books, but for a YA/NA audience. Give me a 17 or 19 or 21-year-old Margaret Rose Kane of Outcasts or a Stargirl as a university undergrad, with the same tone of voice the original presented to my pre-teen self.

So, to suit my picky, aimless search for the perfect book, I think I may just end up writing it. I want the whimsical, witty themes of my favourite pre/early teen novels with more mature content. I want to read it and be changed but not scarred or exhausted. I want to laugh and maybe cry at its pages. I want funny uncles and dark prince charmings and adventure and feminism and bleached out photographs of the ‘70s.

These are what I want in a book.

And I’m taking matters into my own hands and writing a book I want to read.

I mean, to write a book and have it meet the standards I described as “my favourite book ever” is only a wee bit pretentious, but if I want a book like I’ve described, I imagine a couple other people out there would like to read it, too.

What do you look for in your own “perfect book?” Have you found it? Have you written it?

November, Movember, NaNoWriMo, and Chocolate

IT’S NOVEMBER. You know what that means! (Besides Movember and eating mass amounts of leftover Halloween candy, that is.) It’s National Novel Writing Month — perhaps better known as NaNoWriMo. Are you ready to pour out 50 000 words in 30 days? Are you prepared to write 1 666.6666 words every day for one month?

I’m not. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo, the idea of just writing everyday in a community of people doing the same thing. I know some people take it seriously, and others do it for fun, and I know many participants sign up without the purpose of “winning.” I considered actually signing up this year, but I’m such a competitive person I know I would probably end up frustrating myself with the fact that there’s no possible way I can write a novel in a month. I’m too busy. I don’t have enough time.

So instead of totally abandoning the concept, I’m doing my own little writing fest, which I know many others are celebrating as well, in conjunction with NaNoWriMo. I’m calling it National Write Something Everyday Month. Unlike in NaNoWriMo, where the math dictates an average of 1 666 words a day, I’m just going to write something. Whether it be a short story for my upcoming anthology (June 2014) or a paragraph for my WIP or a creative list of things to do, I’m writing something, anything everyday for the month of November.

Yesterday I wrote the brainstorm for this post. Today I wrote this post and have a couple paragraphs intended for this evening. Tomorrow it could be a poem and maybe the next day I’ll come up with a really clever sentence. Just a sentence. Just one. But it will be something, and that’s what NaWriSoEvMo is about.

Something.

Are any of you participating in NaNoWriMo, or is NaWriSoEvMo more your style?

Enjoy your Halloween candy, and your mustaches!

I Am Not My Main Character

On this beautiful Thanksgiving weekend, let’s be thankful to all the people who’ve ever asked an author, “Is Mary Sue’s story based on yours? You and her are a lot alike!” Without those people, I would not be writing this.

In the dozens of novel ideas I’ve had and started (most of them not making it past five chapters with few exceptions) I have not based my main character on myself. They were all their own individuals with their own quirks and flaws and habits and experiences.

But people just love asking writers if their characters are based on themselves. It has happened to me, and you see it all the time in author interviews.

And once an author admits that yes, my punk-rock ninja boarding school heroine is based on myself, it doesn’t ring the same. Mary Sue is based on the author? Well, that’s, that’s….that’s cheating! Why couldn’t she just write a memoir? Isn’t that, you know, pretentious? Wow.

Suddenly people are treating the author the same way people treat those unfortunate souls who announce their love for One Direction. “Oh, well, I guess that’s your choice…but we’re not friends anymore. I’m deleting you from Facebook.”

Very not cool.

The next step up (or down?) from this is when writers take themselves and make them better. Thinner, more confident, usually with added combat skills and some steamy romantic interest. This is even worse in the eyes of people who find this out. It’s just…weird to most readers.

But here’s the deal. My characters are not me, nor are they better, stronger versions of myself. That being said, a lot of the times the easiest things to write are things I know best. “Write what you know” mantra. That includes certain circumstances and certain reactions. First hand experience is the most accurate way to present the same situation in writing, and I incorporate this into my storytelling. It could be something small, like a joke I shared with a friend, or a similar reaction to the wedding of Will and Kate.

There are aspects of my life that make for good reading. So why not include it? It isn’t intended to be a reflection of my life or the way I live it, but it makes my characters’ lives a wee bit more genuine.

But these are far and few in between. Great Aunt Emily in my WIP, for example, is a total figment of my imagination. I never had such a great aunt (thankfully). There are a few exchanges between characters that are snapshots from dialogue with a friend, and little annotations about things like rural life (e.g., the smell of manure in July) or the woes of going to a small high school.

Taking this another step deeper, I like telling stories that are “real” and “relatable.” I mean, who doesn’t? That’s the obvious goal of every writer. I grew up in a small town — a village, technically. The cow to person ratio is something like 6:1. You always get the “small town girl/boy” protagonist dominating YA stands, but this always bugged me; if they have their own high school, or more people than cows, then I don’t see it as “small town” simply because of my own experience. I relate best to 6:1 cow-to-people communities. I want to read about them.

So I’m writing one.

It’s not my life. I am not Ingrid Fletcher. Her story isn’t mine. We share similarities and some characteristics, but if I wanted to write my own story I’d write an autiobiography or start a hardcore diary. I’m a bit of a bookworm. Ingrid is 100x the bookworm I am. Ingrid is 100x shyer than me. Her friendships are different, her opinions are different, her habits and flaws are different, her deepest darkest secrets are completely her own. I’m just helping her explain everything to the reader in the most accurate way I can, without, you know, going skydiving so that one scene is all the more genuine.

No sir. I am not going skydiving for Ingrid’s sake.

Do you incorporate aspects of your own life to your writing? Is your protagonist a slightly different version of you?

Somewhat random, but hey. So am I.

Happy Thanksgiving!