Spring Into These Writing Links!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted something brand new that hasn’t been a rehash or a blog hop, but I’ve been a happily busy girl.  Between two publication notifications last month, the release of Volume 3 of Sucker Literary, entering contests and revising my novel, there has been a whole lot going on.

For today, here’s another link collection entry, complete with some that are very personal to my work.

– If you haven’t already, please check out my flash fiction, “Tunneling”.

– Sucker Literary, Volume 3 is out now!  For where to buy and behind the scenes info, check out Sucker’s website!

– I’ve decided to share my playlists for the books I’m working on with you.  So, here is The Order of The Key Playlist.  Feel free to check it out.  Some are songs whose messages inspire, some are perfect for the characters, some inspired random story ideas for no real reasons.  Some contain similar themes.  All are songs I listen to while brainstorming.  Enjoy.

– While we’re doing playlists, here are the playlists I’ve created for my other works in progress:
The Broken Hearts Club
Soul Sight
Legally Insane

This blog post, written by badass YA writer and my friend, Zoraida Cordova, discusses diversity in YA literature and is both funny and incredibly wise. My family, my dearest friends, are pretty much every color, culture, and  sexual orientation that exists.  It is very sad to watch someone celebrate wholeheartedly because they actually got some representation in literature.  This should be routine, not shocking.

– This is a great list of what makes your short story fail with a lit mag.

– This is a great little set of tips for how to co-author a book series. Ismael and I had plans to try something like this at some point in our careers (although that may have fallen by the wayside), so I’ve done some research into the process and this is an interesting view of it.  It also doesn’t hurt that it involves my favorite author, Kelley Armstrong, and her sometimes writing partner Melissa Marr.

– Though I’m not always a gigantic fan of Cassandra Clare (I have a love/hate relationship with her, for sure), this is a fantastic (if maybe a little overly-defensive) response to a constant internal debate I have – how much should your personal beliefs get in the way of your ability to draft real, compelling characters and plotlines. I think Cassandra comes up with a great explanation of this here, although it may be difficult to really understand if you have never read either of her Shadowhunter series’.

– Avoiding Twitter?  Here are some great things you can do with Twitter as a writer. And here’s part two of that article with more great ideas.

We’ve all heard plenty of writing advice.  Here’s why some of the old favorite bits of advice aren’t really that great.

– This is a great blog post on the best ways to classify your story when searching for agents and publishers.

I think that little collection of links redeems me for my absence, what do you think?  Don’t forget to come back at the end of the month, so I can elevator pitch my novels to you.  See you then!

Genre’s Bum Rap

Fairy with blonde hair, praying

Allow me to set the stage for you.  Christmas time.  I’m unwrapping a gift from my brother and his wife.  It’s a book!  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I’m happy.  I’ve wanted to read this one for a while. And then Jon says, “Yeah, I got it because I figured it was time for you to take a break from all that sci-fi crap you read.”  Am I mad at him?  No.  It’s a brother’s job to poke fun at his little sister.  Not even a job, but a sacred duty.  And I won’t even point out that he loves “The Vampire Diaries” (I have a similar duty unto him) or that he chose Gone Girl  (which was an incredible novel that I recommend) from my wishlist which means I obviously read more than just “that sci-fi crap”.  But the comment does point to another more real problem that needs addressing.

What is really wrong with reading genre work, anyway?  Nothing.

Yes, romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, etc. novels can be formulaic and cheesy, but then, isn’t that true for any kind of art when it’s done wrong?

A good romance novel pulls you along on what you already pretty much know will be a road to a happy ending and still manages to surprise you.  A good science fiction novel has a strong message about technology, the future, the other.  Fantasy, when done correctly, can deal with the meaning and implications of power.  A good horror novel can keep you jumping.  A good mystery or suspense novel still throws you for a loop no matter how many novels of its type you’ve read.

So what separates the good from the bad?

– Strong Characters.  A character with an interesting motivation.  Someone we want to follow, maybe not in a traditional way, but we have to root for them or against them with a force created by our love or hate for them.  Ho hum characters, formulaic characters just won’t do.  Plot is what draws people into a story – characters are what keep them there.

– An interesting plot.  You can have the best characters ever, but if all they do is sit and knit all day (no offense to all you knitters out there!) nobody is going to read past the first chapter. For a genre story to be good it has to have something interesting about it that makes the tale unique.  Without that, the story just becomes another one of those formula genre novels.  There is fun to be had in those as well, but if you’re looking to stand out or blaze your own trail, you need a good hook.

– A theme.  You need to have something to say and you have to want to say it loud.  Look at The Hunger Games and what it says about entertainment and excess.  Look at the Chaos Walking series (if you haven’t read this one, do it NOW) or Ender’s Game and what they say about the nature of war.  What Divergent says about the parts of us that come together to make us whole.  What the Otherworld series says about the deeper parts of our nature. I, Robot about the dangers of technology.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about the nature of humanity. Gone Girl has a lot to say about the pitfalls of marrying someone we only think we know and the ways people change under duress. They are great because they have something to say.  They weren’t merely created to fit a preordained mold.

And sometimes genre is more interesting, at least to me, for much more juvenile reasons.  Robots and monsters and cool gadgets and magic and sex and murder and badassness…and that’s kind of a fun thing to tap into.

I would like to wrap this blog up with one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve heard against science fiction and fantasy – which is that they aren’t real.  They could never happen.  And that makes me wonder what that person is even reading fiction for?  In that case, they would probably better enjoy a biography.  Those are interesting, too, but they aren’t escapism.

For that?  Well, I’ll go back to reading my science fiction book right now.

What are your thoughts on this?  Let’s chat in the comments section below.

Write Like a Fangirl

I was a fangirl before I knew anything about fandom. As early as I can remember, I would take an aspect of entertainment and fixate on it, imagining opportunities for stories that had yet to be told. If my favorite couple didn’t exchange a loving glance, my little girl heart would ache for them. I think that thirst for more than the story proper was what honed my writer’s curiosity.

I’ve discussed my fangirl status before here, but that topic was mainly about what fandom was able to teach me about how to view writing, how it gave me a better understanding of storytelling in general and how it helped me to comprehend myself as a “writer”. But another aspect of how fandom affects my writing is that I’m beginning to see my stories the way potential fans may – and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Ships ahoy!: I am a Daniel/Vala shipper. Oh, and John/Aeryn. And Angel/Fred, Katniss/Peeta, Jamie/Jeremy, Derek/Chloe, Magnus/Alec, and Tris/Four. What the hell does this mean? It means that I am a fan of that particular relationship. Being a shipper means writing 100 pages of fanfiction about how Daniel and Vala should have gotten together. It means throwing things at my TV when the series ends with John and Aeryn being blown to bits (THANK THE HEAVENS FOR FARSCAPE: PEACEKEEPER WARS!). It means you quote the things they say to each other, scramble to find more about their relationship, squee when they get together and die when they break apart. When you’ve got a more unconventional ship, you eat up all interactions they share like they are tiny bits of candy from the heavens. When Fred kissed Angel to hide him from Jasmine’s followers, the squeak that came out of my mouth could’ve broken glass.

This love for relationships and enough time in fandom has taught me to spot even the most odd (or crackiest, as we fandom people say) potential for ships. If I can spot them in my own story, that means that I can try to give something to each of those potential sections of the fandom for my stories – something that will hook them in. I don’t rewrite stories for that purpose or anything, but if I see the opportunity to have two characters interact, I work it into the tale. And I’m hoping this helps add a richness I wouldn’t have otherwise achieved.

Canon vs Fanon: My sister, Megan, is also a fangirl. Allow me to give you a peek into a recent conversation between us.

Me: Rereading Order and I mentioned this part that took place way before the actual story. I wished I could have told it. So I wrote it as a side short story.

Megan: Awesome. Isn’t that, like, the third time you’ve done that?

Me: Fourth.

Megan: LOL – You write your own fanfiction.

Me: LMAO – I would not have thought of it that way. What if I write all of the fanfiction and there’s no more fanfiction left to write? Don’t you love how I assume I’m going to have this crazy fandom?

Megan: LOL – You will! But seriously – you think fandom will run out of stories to write about anything? Trust me, you have not thought about all possible stories. Someone’s gonna come out of nowhere and write the crackiest of all AU [alternate universe] fics out there. Just wait.

Fandom is an interesting place. As a writer, you create a world, and you think you know the ins and outs of it. That is the Canon story. But Fandom digs out some obscure quote that you made in the beginning of Chapter 3 of your 1st book and creates something that gives it so much more meaning. This is Fanon. And suddenly, you want to see what was going on during that one line throwaway where two of your characters were off doing something other than the main plot.

Being a fangirl has helped me to see little instances where I can write outside of the box, little moments that I may not be able to flesh out through the course of the main story, but should I ever have a use for them, my little side shorts are there, waiting to see publication, who knows where. Even if they never see the light of day, that story I wrote about the moment Kyp is abandoned by his father figure, the tale of how good friends Austin and Zane met, that story of why a character betrayed their best friend – they inform the main story. I’ve found myself making edits in the main tale because of things I revealed to myself about my characters in these little backstory exercises.

In that way, writing your own fanfiction can help. Maybe one day, if the series gets successful, I’ll publish an anthology of these. Or, maybe, one day, I’ll pretend I’m more successful than I am by sadly publishing these as fanfiction, pretending I’m somebody else. Can you see it now? “Look! I have a fandom! That Jennine Mantaro keeps writing fanfiction of my work!”

Enthusiasm: The key aspect of being a fangirl is enthusiasm about the work. The best thing you can use when writing like a fan, would be to approach all of your work with a deliberate enthusiasm. Be excited! Know what your characters would think in any situation. Picture them in your head. Build stories of adventures they go on even when they aren’t worth writing about. Create fanmixes, then decide why each song reminds you of your characters or your world. Immerse yourself in your story, the way a true fan immerses themselves in what they love.

I pray my enthusiasm for my stories will be contagious. Will yours?

50 Shades of Unoriginal – Should Fanfiction Be Marketed as Original Writing?

If I say the title “Fifty Shades of Grey” to most people, they know exactly what I’m talking about.  They may never have any intention of reading it, but they’ll recognize it.  Why?  Because E.L. James has become a household name and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

I have several real issues with this trilogy, and while only one of them is the focus of this blog, in the interest of full disclosure, the following is a summary: I’m sure that my time in fandom has led me to far raunchier pieces than this trilogy, some that I’ve enjoyed, other that have left me with the distinct need for brain bleach.  Some of the good ones are more well written than this trilogy by leaps and bounds.  I don’t need to read an entire book to know it’s badly written, I need only samples to feel the need to give some advice to James: You shouldn’t eat a thesaurus and then start spitting out words at random.  It just doesn’t make for a smooth writing style.  Never mind the complaints that I’ve heard that this book contains a false representation of a consensual BDSM lifestyle and instead throws an abusive relationship before the reader and claims that it’s BDSM – that’s one I can’t even remotely confirm, as I never plan to read it.

Despite all of that, my biggest complaint about this book is it’s origins.  Once named “Master of the Universe,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” originated as a Twilight fanfiction.  Now, I’m not a big fan of Twilight, so what I’m upset about isn’t something as basic as the bastardization of my favorite characters.  The issue is that it violates a basic tenant of most fanfiction writers – this work does not belong to you.

You may be thinking ‘She spent a long time working on this and the words were hers, how can it not be her work?”.  There’s some truth to that.  For instance, when E.L. James wrote her fanfic,it was an “AU Fic,” a fandom term for Alternate Universe Fiction.  Meaning she eschewed the world that Twilight’s Stephanie Meyer created, took her characters and placed them in a non-supernatural setting where they could meet, fall in love and have wild bondage sex together and not have to worry about that pesky vampire issue.

E.L. James isn’t the only fanfiction writer to become a published author.  Cassandra Clare, author of the NY Times Bestselling Mortal Instrument series and its companion series, The Infernal Devices, was originally a writer of Harry Potter fanfiction.  There are quite a few moments of deja vu to be had while reading her fanfiction – main characters Clary and Simon strongly resemble HP’s Ginny and Harry, while Jace is nearly an exact replica of Clare’s interpretation of Draco Malfoy.  The world is certainly not the same, but they are both Young Adult novels in which magic exists but is hidden from regular humans.  Potter’s J.K. Rowling names those regular humans Muggles, while Clare calls them Mundanes.  There are even a few passages that Clare wrote for her fanfiction to serve as back story for Draco and then lifted out to serve as back story for Jace’s character.  According to publishing website Galleycat, new writer Sylvain Reynard is about to come out with a new book titled Gabriel’s Inferno, also based on a Twilight fanfiction.  So this is becoming a trend.

The very basis of writing fanfiction is the idea that you are writing a story based in another writer’s world, so what’s the problem?   As both a fanfiction writer, and a writer of my own original work, there is a great deal of work I am not doing when I create fanfiction.  I am not dreaming up casts of characters, making them whole and seeing where they will go.  I am not creating a world and all of it’s facets.  I am working within the confines of an already existing world created by someone else.  And as such, while I will admit to being inspired by another writer to create a character or use certain themes that may vaguely resemble the work of another, that character or theme always takes a different direction, is combined with completely other elements and is molded into something new and different.  And there is a big difference between “inspired by” and taking somebody else’s characters, putting them into a different situations, changing their names, and selling it as your own work.

There is alot that goes into creating a very good piece of fanfiction – I’m not denying that.  But creating an entire world all your own from beginning to end takes alot more work.  I’ve done both, so I can tell you for sure.  Despite plucking Edward and Bella from the Twilight world and putting them in a real world situation, E.L. James wrote this work while envisioning another person’s characters in the role.  Despite a tendency towards purple prose and the fanfiction roots of The Mortal Instruments, I fell in love enough with the more original characters in that series to actually enjoy those books – yet I still bristle whenever I can tell Jace is really just a reproduction of Malfoy.

I bristle because, despite the fact that the day someone decides to write fanfiction about my work will be a day I feel like I’ve really made it, the day someone tries to make money off of that work will be the day the lawyers come out to play.  Not because my characters, my plot, my worlds are my bread and butter, but because they are my heart and soul, and taking a piece of that and pretending its yours crosses an ethical boundary that, I feel, cannot be denied.

How Fandom Made Me A Better Writer

A fangirl or fanboy is somebody who has an intense love for a book/movie/tv show/actor and shows it by congregating with others and discussing it, researching every single thing related to it (watching all of an actor’s movies no matter how bad, finding all behind the scenes info available about a movie), and creating ‘fanworks’ (fanfiction, fanvids, photoshop edits).  I am guilty of doing every one of these things.  First it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer or anything Joss Whedon related.  Then, it was Stargate SG-1 or anything Michael Shanks related (i.e. his latest series, Saving Hope).  Author Kelley Armstrong is my main book obsession.  The Hunger Games is another one.  When a fan finds a group of like-minded individuals either at a Convention or on the web, they have become part of a fandom.

So, how did a time-consuming activity like fandom help me as a writer?

1) Characters – Being part of a fandom exposes you to new people.  Meeting people with similar interests does not mean meeting people who are similar to you.  Among my closest online friends, you’ll find: an archaeology major from Florida, a brilliant woman who goes under the name of an infectious bacterium, and a librarian with Asperger’s.  I’ve learned so much about differences in people from them, and so many others.  Conversations with them have spawned fresh story ideas and that archaeology major inspired one of the characters in an upcoming story.

2) Learning social networking – I used to be a lurker.  I would go on sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Fanfiction.net and sift through them without ever bothering to participate in them.  Then one day, my little sister made me sign up for a Tumblr, proclaiming me a secret fangirl who needed a “place to flail.”  She wasn’t wrong.  Not long after joining Tumblr, I became a full-fledged fangirl, writing fanfiction and posting thoughtful analyses of my favorite television shows.  This, eventually, led to the building of a Twitter writing network and to this very blog.

3) Deep Discussions – The perception of a fangirl is mostly the picture of a girl who shrieks like a banshee when her favorite singer blows a kiss into a crowd of thousands and proclaims proudly, “That was for me!”  Most of us are a tad more mature than that.  I’ve had significant discussions on the full character arc of Stargate’s Daniel Jackson, read essay length writing pieces on why Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments Series is a Mary Sue (aka, a perfect character with no flaws and special characteristics that nobody else has – a literary no-no), poked holes in the entire plot of Buffy Season 7, expounded at length on how you can tell something’s a Joss Whedon piece without reading the credits, and played strange games like “Place the characters from The Hunger Games into Hogwarts houses” (thanks for the that one, Pip).  That’s character development, how to create strong characters, spot and correct plot holes, tie loose ends, and have a distinct and strong voice – all essential writing skills.

4) A book idea – I was goofing off with my favorite online crew of friends, discussing Stargate character, Daniel Jackson.  Somebody said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you had a Daniel on your shoulder, telling you what to do?”  And someone else said, “Wouldn’t it be more fun if it was Jack O’Neill?”  (Daniel is brilliant, but calm and peaceful.  Jack is a tough as nails bad ass.)  And I thought, how would one truly react if they had their favorite character from their favorite television show trying to direct their lives?  Last post I referred to the story of the divorcee with the imaginary friend, remember?  And thus, a story was born…

5) Fanfiction – Fanfiction is when you take characters you love from a piece that you love and write a story about a previously unrecorded adventure.  This is strictly for fun, not profit, and can be a powerful exercise.  For somebody who is serious and respectful of the original work, it can be a bit like writing for television if you were sitting in the writer’s room with the series creator.

Shortly after joining Tumblr, I got my first fanfic idea.  This was after six months of a stress-induced writing drought.  With some trepidation, I pursued it – a short story length tale.  I posted it and spent the next couple of hours obsessively waiting to see what people thought about it.  It got good reviews.  Reviews that asked me to keep writing for the characters.  My peers, people who loved the same television show I did, thought I did a good job with their world.  So I tried another one, a longer one: about 100 pages broken into 10 chapters.  I posted chapters once a week and was prodded constantly by people that now considered themselves my fans to post more.  I’d received useful constructive criticism and compliments.  Eventually, I won fan-voted awards for both stories.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The entire time I’d been working on these pieces, I had been cringing, thinking I should be hard at work at the original thing that I couldn’t write.  It didn’t occur to me until I was posting thank yous for my fan awards that this was just as important a step as if I had taken a writing class.  Writing fanfiction returned my confidence to me.  It reminded me that I was a good writer and asked me for more and it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start writing my own work.  People genuinely liked my ideas.  They liked the way I handled characters.  And maybe, they would like my plots and my voice in a brand new world of my own creating.

I started writing in earnest once again less than a month after I published that first fic.  By the time the fan awards came in, I had begun seriously considering myself a writer.

Introduction AKA My Life as a Character

Me and my trusty computer
Me in my natural habitat – behind my laptop

There is alot about writing to be learned in everyday life.  My life teaches me quite a lot, but it is divided into several pieces and I’m never quite sure how those pieces are supposed to come together.  As an introduction, I’m going to rattle off a little summary of these pieces to you. I believe they will help you get to know me better.

1) Mother – I have a wonderful two-year-old son named Logan. Everything that involves him is sunshine and rainbows except when it’s not and then it’s stress and ‘oh my God, don’t do that!”  He brings out many qualities in me, but one of them is not the ability to be an adult.  While I can tell him not to climb something because he will hurt himself, I can’t seem to keep myself from laughing at his antics. Can you blame me for laughing when he calls “Look mommy!” and I find him with his fingers stuck up his nose? (Yes, you can.  And you probably should.)

2) Wife – I’m married to an incredible fellow writer, Ismael.  From him I’ve learned that love can transcend all sorts of difficulties, things can be seen from multiple sides, and patience and understanding can go along way.  I’ve also learned that I’m very funny, especially when I’m angry and that no matter what kind of fancy cup I buy to store the toothbrushes, they will always, ALWAYS be on the bathroom counter when I wake up in the morning.  (You didn’t expect it all to be nice, did you?  We’ve been married for ELEVEN YEARS!)  I also learned what true love is, so there’s that.

3) Friend/daughter/sister, etc. – From those around me I have learned that there are those that will do anything to help you and those that you will do anything for.  And there are the opposite. There are arguments that end in “Chat with you next week!” and those that end in slammed phones and facebook defriending. There are things a person can say that will stick with you forever, and there are times when you have no idea how much you’ve effected somebody else’s life with your own words or actions.  Also, there is clutziness, sarcasm, stupidity, shared interests, snorty laughs, spit takes, intellectual conversations, horrendous nicknames, stories that nobody will ever let you forget, and lots of love.

4) Writer – A hat I wear with trepidation. Is that what I am?  A writer?  I’ve never been published.  And yet, I eat, sleep and breathe fiction.  If you see me walking through the streets and my lips are moving, I’m working my way through some dialog I will write later. And if you stare at me, I will look at you like you’re the crazy one, just like a real New Yorker. I carry around a journal in my purse and my pen drive in case I happen upon a computer.  My outlines are saved on my phone in case I need to look something up quickly.  Yeah, I’m definitely a writer.

5) Editor – My husband and I serve this function for each other. We may never technically write a collaborative project, but every project we work on is somewhat collaborative.

6) Fangirl – This is an important part of my life!  This is where my interests lie, because for me, writing isn’t a hobby, it’s life’s blood.  So when I watch TV and squeal because I love an actor, or tweet endlessly about my favorite couple in a novel, quote things nobody should remember or laugh at jokes others would never get…fandom made me do it.  People I have met through fandom have made me cringe and others have become some of my closer friends without ever standing in the same room as me.  Fangirling with others involves important writerly discussions about character development, plot, themes and settings.

7) Worker – I have learned many useless things from jobs, like how to make a tub of ice cream and how to fix a VHS tape (likely the most useless thing I know). I’ve also learned many useful things like how to work tenaciously until a job is done and how to stay strong under pressure (sometimes I’m admittedly a little wobbly on that one, but I’m getting better).

These are pieces of me. Of course, I’m simplifying things.  There is plenty of other stuff.  I love Broadway musicals, I sing in the shower, I’ve lived through traumatic experiences, I’ve been in a couple of student films (if we’re lucky, nobody will ever find them).  I am a whole, complex person with many different facets.

If I can be so many different things that impact the core of who I am, than the characters we write need things like this to become three dimensional. They can’t exist in a plot-induced vacuum where all they do on a daily basis are the things the plot requires. They should have outside interests, other people they interact with, a past that takes place before the story starts, and all of these things should inform who they are and what they do.

Allow these things to make a character react more believably in a situation.  Let the impeccably calm romantic ingénue get angry for a questionable reason.  Let the soldier fall apart when he’s supposed to be a hero and hold it together when there’s nobody to save.  And give them a reason why.  Some snippet from their past.  Some association made.  Some facet of their personality that makes them a whole person.  Just be consistent, so the behavior doesn’t feel as though it is blindsiding the reader.

It will make your plotlines less obvious and your characters more interesting.  Sometimes less likable, but definitely more interesting.  And that’s a good part of what makes a story readable.

Wondering, “What does she know?”  Check out my bio page.  You may still feel that way, but at least you’ll know who you’re saying it about.

‘Till next time!