August 29, 2011

Interview with a Teen Reader #2

Here is my interview with my second niece, codename Souki =P

Souki is sixteen and an avid reader of manga. I love this because we have that in common =P She reads books less often, but I will change this! *shakes fist* I loved how different her answers were to S-EmeraldEyes despite that the two of them are oftentimes attached at the hip.

1. Is there a specific genre you gravitate towards?
Souki: I tend to lean toward genres involving mystery, dystopian, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, and thriller. I don't mind a bit of romance between the characters but if the story strongly revolves around romance like contemporary romance then it holds no interest for me.

2. Do you prefer male or female protagonists?
Souki: Usually, people prefer reading through the viewpoint of characters that are the same gender as them because it is easier to relate but for me, I don't mind either as long as the story and protagonist is interesting.

3. Do you find yourself identifying with characters?
Souki: I find that when I read I try putting myself into the characters shoes to understand what they are going through. When a character resembles a certain trait or past experience similar to me then I feel that I can really relate and connect to them.

4. What are you tired of seeing in books?
Souki: I guess I'm tired of reading stories that have love triangles in them. It irritates me when there are two love interests and you never know which one the protagonist will end up with. And even if they do end up with one of them, you might get disappointed with the one they chose.

5. What do you want to see more of?
Souki: I would enjoy seeing more original and creative stories as well as in depth character development. I appreciate the character better when I can further understand them. Also, I look for stories that are not constantly reused or recycled and that are just completely different and unique.

6. What makes you want to pick up a book to read?
Souki: If the cover looks intriguing then I pick it up and read the summary. I think the summary is the most important part to pull in the reader and allow them to continue with the rest of its pages. Otherwise, if someone I know recommends a book to me then I check it out.

7. What's your favorite book you've read in the last 6 months?
Souki: My favorite book that I've read recently would be Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel!

Thanks so much to both of my girls for indulging me ♥

Here's another crop of a commission:

Have a great week, guys! ♥

August 22, 2011

Interview with a Teen Reader #1

Today, I'd like to share an interview I did with one of my two nieces (second niece's interview will be up next Monday so please look forward to it!). They'll be called S-EmeraldEyes and Souki (they came up with their own codenames) since they both prefer to remain anonymous online. Smart girls! :D

They were nice enough to indulge their kooky aunt when I pounced on them and insisted they let me interview them. They grumbled about how it was like doing homework, but they still did it for me. That's love ♥

S-EmeraldEyes is sixteen and, this summer, discovered a love for reading, which I shamelessly credit myself with =P I sat her down, handed her Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and ordered her to read it. She read it in one sitting and, since then, has been devouring books one after another. Hurray!

1. Is there a specific genre you gravitate towards?
S-EmeraldEyes: I prefer any kind of genre as long as it contains a strong portion of romance in the book. I favor romance a lot and I don't mind any other genre as long as the book doesn't end in a tragedy.

2. Do you prefer male or female protagonists?
S-EmeraldEyes: I prefer the protagonist to be female because I feel that I can connect to the character more.

3. Do you find yourself identifying with characters?
S-EmeraldEyes: Usually I do find myself relating to the characters which for me, is important because if I can't seem to understand the characters then I think that the story won't really be interesting to me. It's a whole lot better and interesting to journey with a character through their life or adventure when you can actually relate or understand them.

4. What are you tired of seeing in books?
S-EmeraldEyes: I like stories that involve romance but something that annoys me are sequels that usually ruin the first book. I don't like to read about two people falling in love and their struggles to be together only to find that in the second book or at the end of a book, that they're not together. I find it frustrating and irritating.

5. What do you want to see more of?
S-EmeraldEyes: I just find it very amusing in romantic books when the male characters are jealous and I think that it's fascinating to learn their reactions. To be honest, I want more jealousy in books and more of a variety of reactions-from both the female and the male- due to the jealousy.

6. What makes you want to pick up a book to read?
S-EmeraldEyes: The summary of the book on the back or inside a book are usually what pulls me into a book. If the summary doesn't catch my attention then I usually don't read it, so for me the summaries are very important.

7. What's your favorite book you've read in the last 6 months?
S-EmeraldEyes: I have many books I enjoy but if I had to choose the one I favor the most it'd be Tempest by Lori Foster. It's about an innocent and pure woman who has two protective brothers and two best friends. The woman falls in love with her older brother's best friend as well as her own but he's been a friend and like a brother to her so long that he doesn't know if it will work out, which leaves her to only one option, seduction. The story also consists of the woman's best friends falling in love and including a detailed version of their insight version in falling in love as well. This book was one of the most cutest, sweetest, and funniest romance books I've ever read.

Hope you found her answers as interesting as I did! Souki had some very different answers, so please look for hers next Monday!

Here's a crop of a commission I did a couple years ago:

Have a great week, guys! ♥

August 15, 2011

What a Mary Sue is and is NOT

(Don't forget! Wolves of Mercy Falls GIVEAWAY - Deadline Aug 17! ♥)

A couple weeks ago, I came across this amazing blog post by Zoë Marriott called You Can Stuff Your Mary-Sue Where the Sun Don't Shine.

Judging by the title, you could make educated guesses about the blog post's topic. Personally, I think it's FAB.

In case you're new to the term, here is the definition:
"A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional."

Zoë clarifies this even further:
So this is what a Mary-Sue is:

1) A character who is based, at least partly, on the author
2) A character whom has no significant flaws (except possibly ones the other characters find cute)
3) A character to whom everyone within the story reacts as if they were beautiful and wonderful except characters who are clearly evil and/or motivated by jealousy
4) A character with whom, during the course of the story, every available character of the opposite (and occasionally the same) sex will fall in love given any contact whatsoever
5) A character who undergoes no significant growth, change or development throughout the story

In my many years in fandom, I've come across this term numerous times, both applied accurately and not. And that inaccuracy is the crux of Zoë's post.

Basically, book reviewers slap the term "Mary Sue" on female characters for a large number of often CONTRADICTORY reasons, and Zoë came to this rather unfortunate conclusion:

What many (though not all!) of the people merrily throwing this phrase around actually mean when they say 'Mary-Sue' is: 'Female character I don't like'.

That's it. That's all.

So why don't they just say 'I didn't like the female character' and explain why?
Maybe it's because the reviewers in question, the reviewers who keep saying 'Mary-Sue' as if it was all that needed to be said, don't want to have to explain the reasons why a particular character didn't work for them. Maybe it's because their reasons for finding these female characters just too obnoxious, unrealistic, stupid, passive, badass or talented are just as contradictory and badly defined as the term itself. Maybe it's because the reason they don't like the female characters isn't that they're just too...anything. Except just too...female.

This was my favorite part of the post, but you should definitely read the whole thing if you have time! :D

Instead of slapping 'Mary-Sue' in your review and leaving it at that, make a list of four or five traits or decisions or actions that you think were bad, or unrealistic, or obnoxious, about the character. Perhaps you should discuss those points, and why they bothered you, in the review instead.

But before you do, take a moment to imagine that the character you are thinking about was a boy or a man. And don't say 'Well, that's different' or 'But I just can't see a girl behaving this way' or 'It's not about their gender!' or any other excuse. Look at your list again, really look at it. See if, suddenly, magically, all those traits, decisions or actions don't seem bad, unrealistic or obnoxious anymore but like perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable traits or decisions or actions...for a boy.
If you can change enough to realise how damaging and unfair the term Mary-Sue is when used indiscriminately and incorrectly to denigrate female characters, you might start to notice some of the damaging and unfair assumptions which are generally made about ACTUAL FEMALES in this messed up sexist world of ours. You might change enough to start dealing with that and make this world a better place in the process. I believe you can. I believe in you.

Well said, Zoë. Well said. ♥

(And yes, there is a male version called a Gary Stu, but despite spending 99% of my time in slash fandom, I RARELY came across the term applied inaccurately to male characters. I wonder why?)

Random mermaids ftw

Have a great week, everyone! ♥

August 8, 2011

On the Inequality of Switching Gender Roles

Caveat: I'm not saying this is how EVERYONE thinks. There are wonderful, open-minded, and thoughtful writers and readers out there. These are simply my observations about the vast majority of many blogs and articles I've read.

You see a lot of applause given to female characters who defy the conventions of traditionally female roles. Example? Katniss Everdeen, the consummate hunter. The provider, breadwinner, protector. Practical. Aloof. A little emotionally constipated, which only seems to make her more endearing.

But why is it that, when a male character (particularly the main protagonist) falls too far from his traditional roles, it doesn't garner the same level of applause, if ANY? Make a male character sensitive and a bit clumsy and, suddenly, he's just not MANLY enough. Or *gasp* he's a WIMP. And he will only shed that stigma when he goes out and kills something with his hands! As if a man's character should be defined by his physical prowess and little else.

If the male character in question is a side character, then he's relegated to comic relief. B/c we all know male characters who exhibit traditionally female traits are SO FUN TO LAUGH AT, RIGHT? (note: sarcasm)

But what does this mean then? That traditionally female traits are undesirable in a protagonist? But that's both ridiculous and insulting. And not at all true considering the number of female protagonists who do not kick any butt at all. To stick with the Hunger Games characters, Prim was a stark contrast to Katniss in every way, but her strength, although quieter, was just as significant as her sister's.

Well then the next logical conclusion is that traditionally female traits are undesirable in a MALE protagonist. But... why? Why the double standard? Why are women applauded for not having perceived female traits, but men are considered emasculated for doing the same?

Is this a symptom of a larger issue? (Yes) Has the historical efforts of women to obtain equal rights with men given us the notion that only qualities found in men are what we should aspire to? INTELLECTUALLY, we know this isn't true. Then why is it socially acceptable for a girl to play with toy trucks, but so many parents throw a fit if their boy wants a doll?

(And by men having perceived female traits, I do NOT mean anything that women have been fighting for hundreds of years to overcome--the inequality, the diminished sense of being simply for having a different sex organ, the lack of civil rights, etc.)

I'd love to know what you guys think ♥

I say we just do away with the notion of gender roles :)

Have a great week, all!

August 1, 2011

On Subtlety and Romance

When it comes to romance, it's easy to get melodramatic. So what makes an effective romance without laying on the poetic monologues? For me, it's always been about subtlety.

No words necessary.

The characters don't need to exchange proclamations of love. It should be apparent by how they behave around each other. Simple things like his fingers at the small of her back. Her eyes following him across the room. Him noticing the way she rubs her knuckles when she's nervous. His smiles leaving her helplessly smiling in return.

Or, depending on the book, more dire things like her rushing into danger to save him, or him standing up to insurmountable odds to protect her. But these are things that should happen at the end, after the two have spent 300 pages or so getting to know each other.

There's more to character development than the progression of a romantic relationship.

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen writers make is introducing the love interest too early. For me at least, I have to care about the characters as individuals before I can care about them as a couple. If I'm introduced to character A, who then immediately decides s/he likes character B and sets out to make something of it, then I'm left wondering who these people are outside of their attraction to each other. When the romance is the only thing that defines the characters, then I find it very difficult to care or like either of them.

Now, of course, this isn't always the case. Love interests can sometimes be introduced in the first chapter and, in addition to being attracted to each other, they're still complete individuals with their own issues and character arcs.

Wait, what?!

And then there's the other side of the spectrum. The two are so subtle, barely ever thinking about each other outside of their own problems, that when the romance happens, the readers are left reeling and flipping back through the book to find some indication that they were meant to be attracted to each other.

(Not to be mistaken with the rivalship, in which the chemistry is still very much there, just on a competitive or unexpected level)
Some of my favorite YA romances:
• Anna and Étienne (Anna and the French Kiss)
• Grace and Sam (Shiver)
• Amy and Elder (Across the Universe)
• Kaye and Roiben (Tithe + Ironside)

So what do you guys think? What makes an effective romance for you? What are some of your favorite romantic titles (YA or otherwise)?

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