Tag Archives: YA

Happy Snaps from Fairyland & Beyond

My new phone has a camera in it! I know, most people are way ahead of me on this technology, but I’m excited by it, especially as the only camera we own that I’ve ever known how to use has broken recently. So hooray, lots of pictures!

Kathryn Lomer at Fuller’s Bookshop last Sunday, launching Three Things About Daisy Blue, the final book in the A&U Girlfriend series by Kate Gordon. You all know how much I have loved this series – while it’s sad to see it end I was delighted to be able to attend the launch of the last one, which happens to have been written by a friend of mine!

Here’s Kate herself, describing what sounds like a great fun teen book set in Bali. She read a scene about a girl eating a durian and throwing up on a boy’s shoes which had us all squirming! I look forward to reading this one.

Jem’s new trick, feeding the Glammer! She loves sitting at the big girl table, but loves feeding her food to grown ups even more.

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Life, it happens

You know I should be working, but. Sometimes you just have to allow the well to be replenished – not just creative energy, but personal energy. Enough spark to be able to look after a baby and a school girl every day of the week!

Last night, we went to see a great local production of Spamalot, which was not only great fun, but interesting from the point of view of a writer. I love analysing the adaptation process, and in this case was intrigued to see what they had done to turn Monty Python and the Holy Grail into a stage musical – adding more production numbers and several iconic elements from other corners of the Monty Python oeuvre, sure, but the most noticeable change was the extra attempt to form a coherent narrative throughline. I particularly liked the way that several characters were combined in order to give several of the knights an effective backstory.

Also, seeing the Black Knight routine done on live stage? Classic.

Today, a gang of us went to the Frock Up event in Hobart – a vintage clothes indoor market, and an exhibition of royal clothing from the Victorian era. It was very cool getting to see so many adorable items of clothing and playing with fabrics, even though there was almost nothing there I could possibly fit into – though considering that the frocks ranged in price from about $120 to $900, this was not a bad thing! I did get a bargain on some scarves and a large amount of polka dot fabric, though. Plus, it was fun girlie time.

There were real flapper dresses there, gorgeous things, and frocks from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s… 60’s mod mini dresses, and even some 80’s monstrosities! I even saw a natty suit designed for Diana Rigg.

Afterwards we retired for coffee, cake & chat, and I returned to my family feeling all replenished and human. I even got ideas for a new short story and managed to write some of it this afternoon!

Tomorrow I hope to get back to the fixy-upping of Book 3, as there are a few scenes crying out for attention before I let anyone else look at the manuscript. Also I’m taking Raeli to a book launch of Kate Gordon’s debut novel Three Things About Daisy Blue, which is also the 20th and final book of the Allen and Unwin Girlfriend series. I’m sad to see this awesome series of books end, but very excited for Kate.

Zombies v. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier

This is undoubtedly the YA anthology of the year. The line up of authors is extraordinary, and the stories are consistently good. It helps that it’s a very meme-able anthology concept as well, with authors, editors and readers alike picking a side in the “war” between Team Unicorn and Team Zombie. I was rather pleased coming into this that I didn’t have a side – swinging voters always have more power! But in fact, Team Unicorn and Team Zombie is less about which fantasy creature you love and adore, and more about which one you think is totally uncool.

In essence, Zombies V. Unicorns is an anthology about prejudice. Unicorns and zombies are both fantasy tropes which tend to provoke strong reactions in people – of a yuchhhh variety. Apart from a few notable exceptions, I’ve generally been in Camp Zombies and Unicorns Both Suck, which makes this anthology extra useful as it’s a book for people who thought they hated one, the other or both, which is full of great, vibrant stories designed to make you change your mind.

Having said all that, counting the seven stories I really liked out of the anthology, I have four unicorns to three zombies, and three out of my top four are farting rainbows. Unicorns for the win!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the anthology is the editorial voices, who bicker and bitch their way through the story notes, and mock each other’s choices. It’s great fun to read, though I was very cranky that one of their amusing interchanges spoiled a twist element from Margo Lanagan’s story. Don’t read the intro note to hers until after the story itself!

My favourites:

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was a gut-wrenching story of fear and love, showing the point of view of a zombie with brains (not the edible kind), and how a functional, intelligent zombie might be very like a serial killer. Icky, powerful stuff, with a strong thread of unrequited love which got under my skin.

Margo Lanagan’s “A Thousand Flowers” looks at the medieval tradition of unicorn stories, and tells a tale of courtly love and a disgraced, pregnant lady through the eyes of three different narrators. It’s a beautifully written piece that unfolds slowly.

Diana Peterfreund’s “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Unicorn” comes from the same world as her novels Rampant and Ascendant, and the story “Errant” which appeared in Kiss Me Deadly. In this, she tells the story of Wen, a girl with unicorn-hunting heritage whose family refused to let her go to be trained properly in Rome, thanks to their religious beliefs. Wen is charged to care for a helpless infant unicorn at a time when her whole town is being terrorised by a larger, deadlier example of the species. Caring for the unicorn means lying to her family and possibly rearing a monster who will turn on her… it’s a powerful, page-turning character story, and I was disappointed when it came to an end.

Meg Cabot’s “Princess Prettypants” makes fun of the kind of unicorn any right-thinking hipster loves to hate – up to and including rainbow-coloured farts! It’s a very cool teen story about friendship and loyalty and bad choices. Those of you who were angry and frustrated at the recent don’t-sext-your-boyfriend-or-we’ll-shame-you ad campaign will enjoy a particular aspect of this story, in which one girl and her unicorn help a friend to get revenge against a badly behaved dude at a party.

I also really enjoyed Naomi Novik’s “Purity Test,” Maureen Johnson’s “Children of the Revolution” and Scott Westerfeld’s “Innoculata.”

Not only do I recommend this book heartily to fans of good YA spec fic, regardless of their opinions of zombies and unicorns, I recommend you buy it in hardcover. It’s not that expensive, and the production is gorgeous.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

This is one I’ve heard about a lot, though apart from the basic premise I had somehow manage to get to it without major spoilers. Result! The premise: each year, a boy and a girl from each District are selected by lot to fight to the death in the arena, for the entertainment viewing of the masses. Of twenty four children, only the winner is allowed to live.

Katniss is an extraordinary heroine. At sixteen, she lives in great poverty and is the protector and food-gatherer for her family. When her beloved little sister Prim is called up to the Hunger Games, Katniss does not hesitate to take her place. Joining her is Peeta, the son of the local baker, a boy who once showed kindness to Katniss when she was starving. The two of them go through the pre-preparations in the Capitol, all the while knowing that they will soon have to fight not only the other contestants, but also each other.

If she is going to survive, Katniss has to be ruthless, she has to be smart, and she has to be very careful who she trusts.

The tagline on this edition of the book is ‘strategy is everything,’ and it’s this that really lifts the book into being a truly great story. Step by step, we follow Katniss into darkness, through thirst and starvation and the quite brutal reality of what she has to do. The combination of reality television with gladiatorial/deadly combat is hardly a new concept in science fiction – indeed, it was around long before reality television itself was established – and yet this feels fresh and authentic, with a cast of characters who are drawn vividly even when they only make brief appearances in the narrative.

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Tansy’s Worldcon Schedule

The whole provisional programme for Aussiecon is up here, but it is very much subject to change. I wasn’t available for the two panels I am listed for on Thursday, sadly.

But you will be able to find me here:

Friday 1000 (Room 204)
Galactic Suburbia
Alisa, Alex and Tansy record a “live” episode of their SF discussion
podcast, Galactic Suburbia. On the menu for this episode: regular
segments SF News and What We’ve Been Reading, plus Worldcon gossip and
highlights. Pet Subject: our Favourite Female Heroes of SF/F.
Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Friday 1200 (Room 207)
Non-traditional publishing in YA spec fic
A discussion of the opportunities beyond traditional print-based
publishing and the challenges that lie ahead.
Peta Freestone, Kate Eltham (chair),Tansy Rayner Roberts, Patrick
Nielsen Hayden

Friday 1500 [30 mins] (Rm 207)
Probably from Power & Majesty!

Saturday 1100 (Room 211)
Capes and skirts: The plight of female superheroes
Superman has starred in six feature films. Batman has starred in
seven. Wonder Woman has starred in none. The female superhero has been
a constant presence through the history of American comic books, but
yet has never managed to reach the traction of their male
counterparts. Who are the super heroines who succeed? Which ones fail?
Why can’t theyfind as big an audience, and what needs to be done to change that?
Why haven’t we seen a Wonder Woman movie?
Tansy Rayner Roberts, Karen Healey, Peter V. Brett, Seanan McGuire

Saturday 1700 (Rm 203)
Academic Panel: Fantastic females: reworking feminism in women’s fantasy
Is fantasy the new vanguard of feminist politics in specfic?
Fantasy authors discuss the role of gender issues in their work
Delia Sherman (mod), Catherynne M Valente, Gail Carriger, Alaya Johnson,
Glenda Larke, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Sunday 1200 (Room 204)
The case for a female Doctor
He’s transformed from an old man into a young one, so why not from a
man into a woman? Doctor Who remains one of the most imaginative and
open-ended science fiction programmes ever produced, but can the
format extend to include a female Doctor? What other elements of the
series are necessary? Does he/she have to have a TARDIS? Does there
need to be a companion? Must the series be British? An examination of
how far you can stretch the world’s most stretchable science fiction series.
Tansy Rayner Roberts, Carolina Gomez, Kerrie Dougherty,
Catherynne M. Valente, Paul Cornell

Monday 1300 (Room 213)
The world of YA spec fic reviewing
Those who know will share their experiences of reviewing YA
Speculative Fiction – and might make some suggestions.
Lili Wilkinson, Ian Nichols, Tansy Rayner Roberts,
Megan Burke (chair)

Best Friends FOREVER

Day 22 – Favorite non-sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)

Oh, I do love me some platonics!

There are three kinds of relationship that really draw me into a story.

1) Siblings. I am just crazy about awesome sibling relationships in fiction – possibly because I never had a sibling myself, growing up. I never especially wanted one, but I loved reading about them in books. The Melendys from The Saturdays and other books are probably my favourites from childhood, a bunch of creative and very different kids who nonetheless genuinely enjoyed hanging out with each other. More recently I fell hard for Scarlett and her sibs in Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett series. My favourite kind of sibling relationships in fiction are the ones where there is a balance of friendship and love and tensions, because of course that’s a lot more interesting than the ones who just pal around with no spiky bits.

I recently read ‘Are We There Yet’ by David Levithan, which I have been meaning to blog review for ages (along with a bunch of other books!) – the brother relationship in that book is astounding. It’s about two young men 7 years apart who have grown apart in recent years. Elijah is 17-18 and has just left school, and Danny is wrapped up in the world of the workforce. They have no trauma in their history, no big fight, they just stopped getting each other a while ago, and pretty much stopped talking. Their parents, worried about their relationship, trick them into taking a 9 day holiday in Italy to sort themselves out. I really loved reading about these brothers, and how easily they had fallen out of the habit of liking each other, and how different they thought they were, and how badly they failed to understand how the other thought. It’s a really gorgeous story which feels realistic rather than sappy, plus ITALY.

2) Just friends, no, seriously. It’s possible. There’s something really seductive for me in fiction which is about two people of the opposite gender (or of corresponding sexualities) who COULD hook up, but don’t. And in fact don’t actually fancy each other at all. It’s incredibly rare, but I love it when it’s well done. Heh of course I used to ship the two platonic friend characters LIKE CRAZY but now I appreciate the lack of sexual interest. Because you know, the world is not When Harry Met Sally, and it’s entirely possible to be friends with someone of the corresponding sexuality without fancying them.

After being all inclusive and all, the examples that come to mind are all het and girl-boy. I’m thinking about Gracie and Flemming from the Gracie Faltrain books, Alanna and Gary from Tamora Pierce, and Mara and Arakasi from the Daughter of the Empire books. My best example, though, is probably Anita Blake and Edward. From Book 1, Edward was the guy I was most interested in from the Anita Blake books, and while in my teens I shipped those two quite desperately, now I can really appreciate the fact that they don’t find each other attractive, and that he’s the one she hasn’t gone there with.

There’s a scene in (I think) Guilty Pleasures where Anita has been bitten and she needs Edward to help her cleanse the wounds with holy water. It hurts like hell, she’s in pain and vulnerable and I think probably naked, and he helps her with cool detachment, as he would help any comrade. The guy who we first saw threatening to kill her if she didn’t hand over the information he wanted, is also her best and most trusted friend in that circumstance. I love the fact that these two have always been comrades, always have each other’s back, and don’t actually think about each other naked.

I want to find some examples of gay characters who have similar relationships, but it’s so rare to find books with more than one gay character! The best example I can think of right now are T.C and Augie from My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger – they are best friends, and Augie is gay (though he doesn’t know it yet – everyone else does) and they completely love each other, having decided when they were kids that they were brothers. Maybe this fits more in the siblings section! (and PS Kaia, Augie may be the gay best friend, but he’s one of 3 protags in this book, not a supporting character, hooray. Did I mention you need to read this book?)

c) GIRLPOWER Nothing like the girl best friends, or gang of girls, who are actually good to each other instead of tearing each other down. My favourite recent example of this is Astrid and her fellow unicorn hunters in Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, particularly Phil (who I completely forgot to add to my list of favourite fictional characters EVER). Princess Mia and Tina in the Princess Diaries books also get a mention, but there are zillions of great ones out there.

And yes, these three kinds of relationships are particularly prevalent in YA fiction. Which explains a lot about why I like it so much.

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Messy, Screwed-up, So-wrong Kisses

Day 20 – Favorite kiss

When it comes to fictional kissing – or sex scenes, or romance in general – what I love most of all is when they get it wrong. When the timing is off, or the situation is completely wrong, or it’s inadvertently funny. Part of the reason that I love romance in fiction but tend not to enjoy fiction that’s too close to the romance genre is that I can’t stand any implication of perfection. It’s BORING. I don’t want to know how beautiful she is or how strong his chest is, or how this kiss is more amazing than all the other kisses in the history of the universe (yes, Princess Bride, I’m looking at you).

Have you ever tried to write a kissing scene? Suddenly all the appropriate words seem awful, and you find yourself desperately trying to get away with not using the word ‘kiss’ and then you’re back to the time you had to read that scene in the Star Wars novelisation ten times to find where the kiss was because Mr Dean Foster was being so damn SUBTLE about it.

I take my hat off to someone who can write a kissing scene that is fun and real, and has nothing to do with perfection, and has everything to do with being with the right person at the right moment (or the wrong person at the right moment, or the right person at the wrong moment… whatever, it’s about the moment).

One of the reasons I think I love YA romance so much more than the kind of romance usually written for adult women (except that written by Jenny Crusie) is that there is a lot less fear about making kisses awkward, or funny, or mis-timed. Embrace the mess! Kissing is weird.

In illustration, I give you Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie, from Second Helpings, by Megan McCafferty.

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Fridge is a Verb

Day 07 – Least favorite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise

I’m going to give an honourable mention to the trend of having YA protagonists obsessed with pop culture from the wrong era – particularly the 80’s. I read several otherwise awesome books in a row that did this and, as with all dodgy plot devices, while it may work in context for a single title the pattern of seeing it so often makes you realise what’s wrong with it – in this case a total cheat allowing the 30 or 40 something author to use their own teen cultural stash in a book about someone half their age.

But of course when it comes to dodgy plot devices, I can’t go past the Queen of them all – fridging. This canny little verb comes from the phrase ‘Women in Refrigerators’ and originated in feminist comics criticism, though it is of course relevant to all media. It is the plot device whereby a female character is killed/maimed/assaulted/raped in order to provoke an emotional reaction in the male protagnist.

You can have otherwise great stories that do this, and you can have stories that succeed at doing this so effectively that it justifies the trope. And of course it’s not always that specific combination of genders in the positions of victim and protagonist. And the pattern does mean something different in written literature (where everything is done to provoke the emotions/reactions of a POV character regardless of their gender) as opposed to visual media including comics where POV is more fluid and a female character can go from being important to the story to fridge-fodder at a moment’s notice. But, but, but.

There’s something very specific about the woman-fridged-for-male-reaction pattern that arcs across the history of literature and media. Once you see the pattern for what it is, it’s everywhere, and the works that do it have to get better and better (for me) to justify using it. I can think of some fantastic examples (and I read one recently that beautifully pulled the rug out from under its tortured protagonist by simultaneously killing off the most important woman AND the most important man in his life, which worked awfully well) and would never say that a book should not do a particular thing.

But but but.

Yeah, it’s awful, stop it. Or at least be aware of what you’re doing and the pattern you are contributing to, when you do it. And… if you ARE going to do it, be aware that for this reader at least, everything else you do has to be ten times as good, to compensate. No pressure at all.

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Girlfriend doesn’t just mean a Girl with a Boyfriend

Day 02 – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about

The Allen and Unwin Girlfriend books. This is a fantastic series of short YA novels, packaged beautifully, and distributed widely through Australia. The awesome thing about them is that instead of revolving just around standard romance tropes, they cover a wide variety of characters, situations and priorities. The relationships that are most important in the story can as easily be those of family and friends as well as romantic. And oh yes, there is at least one with a lesbian storyline – the beautifully written Always Mackenzie, which deals very well with the awkward line between friendship and something more, if you don’t even know how to define that “something more.”

Some of Australia’s best and most interesting YA writers have worked for this series, including Penni Russon and Kate Constable. Some of them are sports books! They are set in places other than Melbourne and Sydney – there’s even one set in Hobart (Little Bird).

The books are cheap, well packaged, and I can’t help buying one every time I see the shelf in the shops. Sadly apparently they haven’t sold as well as expected, and my friend Kate Gordon‘s debut novel Three Things About Daisy Blue will be the last of the line.

I’m so sad about this, as it was awesome to see a great series of smart, diverse books for teenage girls. I wish more people had got as addicted to them as early as I had. Even buying two copies of several to send to Kaia in Sweden to help her capture an “Australian” voice in our co-writing wasn’t enough. Sigh.

(And, you know, secretly I wanted to WRITE one. Damn it.)

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Only the Good Spy Young, by Ally Carter

I’ve been reading the Gallagher Girls spy stories (otherwise known as the books with the awesomest titles in the whole world) for a couple of years now, and while I did fall harder for Carter’s new Heist Society series, I have always enjoyed them.

With this fourth book in the series, though, I think Carter has quite noticeably lifted her game. The earlier books were fun, frothy adventures about a spy school for girls, and while there were hints of darkness and seriousness they were often well couched in all the action, humour and friends forever sort of thing. In this volume, the stakes are drastically raised, and everything starts feeling quite a bit more tense and epic.

Relationships which Cammie has formed in previous books are suddenly tested to their limits. A teacher she has grown to trust is revealed as a double agent, and she has a horrible suspicion that the boy she likes might also be working for the mysterious group known as “the Circle.” She and her friends must brave the dangerous security protocols inside her school to find a hidden object of inestimable value: the diary of her dead father.

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