Friday, December 23, 2011

YOUNG ADULT and Young Adult

So, my plan for this post is to write about the film Young Adult, which I saw in today, and then to discuss young adult fiction that I've been reading that has been self-published for Amazon Kindle. Hence the title. I can't use italics in the title, so I had to capitalize. I just wanted to lay the plan out because I'm usually pretty literary fiction/academia/program focused around here, and there will be none of that in this post. I not only love reading quality young adult literature, but I also care a lot about the genre and its development. 

Young Adult is by Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno and Jennifer's Body, both films that I enjoy (I actually find myself defending Jennifer's Body a lot, I feel like it is an under-appreciated movie). It is directed by Jason Reitman, who directed Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air. I have to admit, I had pretty high expectations for this movie, and they weren't really met. I'm a sucker for a good preview, and this one really got me. I also thought (and still think) that the casting of the three main roles, Mavis (Charlize Theron), Matt (Patton Oswalt), and Buddy (Patrick Wilson). The basic plot rundown is as follows: Mavis Gary writes young adult novels for a prolific series that bears comparisons to both Sweet Valley High and Gossip Girl, though perhaps more of the former. She is actually a glorified ghost writer, as the creator of the series gets the cover credit, and she is working on the final book of the series. She receives the birth announcement of her former high school boyfriend Buddy Slade's first child, and it bothers her to the point that she decides to go back to her hometown to try to win him back. Once there, she (re)meets a former high school classmate that she ignored (Patton Oswalt) and enacts her plan to seduce Buddy away from his wife and child. 

I have to say first that the movie looked exactly right. Charlize Theron hit the perfect combination of beautiful former-prom-queen and hot-mess, slightly-aging alcoholic. The setting, suburban Minnesota, was also just right, especially the KenTacoHut (KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut).

One of the things that probably hurt the film the most was the expectation that I had going into it based on Juno, Reitman and Cody's previous collaboration. I don't think that I was alone in expecting the same sort of atmosphere, the same snappy, slang-full dialogue. In fact, the film seemed incredibly sparse for something by Cody, with very little dialogue in comparison to her other works. Also missing was the distinctive soundtrack of her other well-known works (including her television series The United States of Tara, which was very unfortunately cancelled this year after three seasons). Most of the music in the film is what is actually playing in the narrative-- otherwise we are left in the buzzing quiet, which, while jarring, did in some way contribute to the awkwardness that pervades the story.

Charlize Theron's character seemed to be a similar type of protagonist as Juno MacGuff: quippy, sarcastic, more than a little cynical, but still the kind of person that you want to be around, if just for the air of "coolness" they exude. Mavis Gary, though, just didn't manage to endear herself to me the way that Juno did. There were moments of sincerity and vulnerability for her character that I believe were some of the film's best, but I just wasn't convinced. The film reminded me of Bad Teacher, which features a similar protagonist, played by Cameron Diaz. The problem that I have with both of these films is that the protagonists, who are, for lack of a better term, complete bitches, seem to be vindicated at the end of the stories. There is the implication that some sort of personal growth might have taken place, but their old behaviors are also defended. It didn't necessarily stop me from enjoying either movie, but it gave me pause. 

On a smaller note, I think that the secondary tension of Mavis's creation of the final book in the young adult series was underdeveloped, and the potential that it had to provide a strong parallel to the central narrative was wasted. The viewer gets to hear a few harried voice mails from Mavis's agent at the beginning of the film, but the pressure of the deadline gets forgotten pretty quickly. Definitely a missed opportunity to create a more emotionally complex narrative. Mavis's connection to her writing and her career after the end of the series is not really addressed. 

I'm still not sure how I feel about Young Adult overall. Just writing this review has had me teetering back and forth between positive and negative views on a number of points. For now I'll have to go with I don't regret seeing it, but I feel like it's weaker than the other major efforts of both Reitman and Cody.

Well, that was longer than I expected. I also want to write briefly about Kindle self-publishing and young adult novels. I wasn't really aware of the crazy phenomenon that is self-publishing via Amazon until earlier this year, when I stumbled upon a story about Amanda Hocking, the poster child for the trend, a young adult author whose self-published books have been wildly successful and who has since been picked up by a major publishing house. I just downloaded one of Hocking's books today (and for free, which is one of the big perks of Kindle), so I can not yet make any judgments about her writing. I'll post my thoughts on Hollowland, the book I downloaded, when I finish it. But I have read through a lot of Hocking's blog as well as interviews with her throughout her rise to "fame," and I have to say that I like her and the image she is presenting. She seems to stress commitment to and love of writing over all other things, and it is clear that she really did put in the work, both in creating her many novels and in marketing them. And not to get too incendiary, but she seems a lot less crazy than Stephenie Meyer. 

I recently realized that I don't actually need a Kindle to read Kindle e-books, I can download them to both my computer and my Ipod Touch. I'm completely broke, as usual, so I've been spending my time since I downloaded the Kindle app looking for free books to download. I've also been doing this because I'm really interested in what kind of material is being put out there by self-published authors. Self-publishing (at least in this specific outlet) is losing its stigma, and it is encouraging, for me at least, to see people putting the work in to write, format, and promote their work, as well as support other writers. A lot of these self-published Kindle authors sell their books for  $.99 or $2.99 (or offer them for free), as Hocking did before she became an internet sensation (though some of her books are still available for those prices, the ones that have been picked up by her current publishing house are now selling for $8.99). 

I was, of course, skeptical about the quality of the self-published literature I would find on Amazon, and it has taken a lot of sifting through listings and reading the chapter samples to find things that interest me enough to give them a try. I've only started a few of the books, but I have been impressed by one in particular. I am 20% through Eternal Eden by Nicole Williams, and it's pretty much blown away my expectations of what I would get in a free, self-published Kindle book. Especially a young adult paranormal romance, which is a shaky genre for quality to begin with. That is not to say that the book is some epic, classic work of literature, but it's solid, and it hits all the right notes for its genre (so far, anyway). It's conventional, but that's common with YA and not really a problem for me if it's done well. There is the protagonist with a dark past and her emotional shields way up, the love interest with a dark past and some kind of mysterious paranormal connection (I actually don't know what it is yet), and even the romantic rival. I think what I have been most impressed by so far has been the quality of the writing, the pace of the narrative, and the editing. Williams is certainly guilty of falling into the typical patterns of YA description every once in a while (one character is described as having "turquoise eyes," and the protagonist, Bryn, definitely gets a little swoon-y about her instant love connection with William), but the writing is solid and, most importantly, not distracting or confusing. Also, I haven't caught any typos or other errors yet, which is incredibly impressive and uncommon for a self-published work. I saw on the Amazon page that Williams updated the version at some point to include some edits, which I applaud her for. Of course, the book could take a nose dive at any time, and I'll make sure to update once I've finished it. But right now it's great fun, and I have a feeling I'll be shelling out the $2.99 for the sequel. 

So, yeah, Kindle self-publishing. Feelings? If you have them, let me know. Right now, mine are pretty positive, but I'm still in tip-of-the-iceberg status. All I know right now is that I needed some relaxing fiction for the winter break before I get back to serious, school-type stuff, and I've found some (and for free!). 

Long blog post is long. My other main project of this break has been to read as many online lit-mags as possible to find what I like and try to establish a regular roster of things to read every time a new issue is released. I'm also looking for places I want to submit to. Submission is scary. I'm also working on a new project while trying to get ready for the projects that I have to tackle next semester. Lots going on, and that's the way I like it. When it comes to writing, that is.

Merry Christmas if you celebrate, Merry Just-Another-Sunday if you don't. I hope you get presents regardless. Because presents are awesome.

-Taylor

Friday, December 16, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

My last post was published right around the time that I started focusing on my graduate school applications. It has been a long, long, long process, and not a very positive one. But it's very nearly out of my hands, and I'm pretty damn excited. I mail all of my documents tomorrow and will also submit my final online applications. Then all there is to do is wait.

I wrote a lot this past semester. A lot. I also read a lot, almost all for school. I have never been more stressed in my life, but I think that it was worth it. I'm proud of the work I did, and I'm looking forward to my work next semester, particularly an independent study that I'm doing on the Female Gothic genre. That being said, I'm really excited to be at home for break and have some time to relax. I've been home since Tuesday, and I've read two books already, just for fun, which has been really nice.

My dad surprised me earlier in the semester by having the new Stephen King book, 11/22/63, sent to me at my apartment without me knowing. My dad and I definitely bond over Stephen King books. Pet Sematary was the first book that my dad read on his own for fun. I didn't have time to read the new book until now because I was busy with school work and it's, well, huge, as most Stephen King novels are these days. Quick plot rundown: an English teacher from Maine is shown a portal to the past (1958 to be exact) and is convinced to go back and stop the Kennedy assassination. The book is about his attempt and his consequences.

As I pointed out before, the book is long, and while I enjoyed it, it was the first Stephen King novel I've read in a while that I felt went on for too many pages. Most of the book is devoted to Jake Epping's four-ish years in the past as he waits for the fateful date to arrive. I was personally much more interested in Epping's personal relationships with characters from his "past life" than his surveillance of Lee Harvey Oswald and his associates. I think that has to do with my opinion that Stephen King is at his best when he is exploring everyday human relationships-- even if they're twisted a bit by the supernatural. His deviation into the world of alternate histories and conspiracy theories (or lack thereof) gave the novel a good timeline and element of suspense, but the sections were on the whole less interesting for me. I also feel like the story got a little stunted by King's obvious glee at getting to delve into late 1950's-early 60's society. I totally understand that impulse, but it was pretty transparent and took me out of the story somewhat. His prose, always simple and not really the point of reading a King story, was a little less on point in this book than in other recent efforts like Duma Key, which benefited from its strange and haunting setting. Overall, I liked it, and despite any small criticisms, I enjoyed getting the view into the past as much as King seemed to.

I found Room by Emma Donoghue at the library and figured that I should probably read it already. It was a very quick read, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It was affecting, that's for sure, and I was very invested in the safety of Jack and his mother. I also think it's an accomplishment on the author's part that she stayed in such a difficult voice for the entire novel without it becoming stilted or annoying. That being said, I'm not sure that I understand all of the accolades and attention the book got. It gripped me pretty hard when I read it, but I have to say that I think it was more the content than the writing, and of course anything that sensational will do so. I was also possibly so invested because of my knowledge of recent events that bear similarities to the narrative (Donoghue has been quoted as using the Fritzl case as partial inspiration for the story). Also, the book has not stuck with me much since I put it down. I have to say, though, that while I was reading it, I didn't want to put it down, and that's definitely a credit to Donoghue.

I checked out a few other books from the library that I want to tackle in the next couple of days. I've started Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt. I also got The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which I started this semester but didn't get to finish, and a Victoria Holt novel because I have to get ready for tons of Gothic intrigue next semester.

I'm hoping that now that my applications are over, I can blog regularly again, both about what I'm reading and what I'm writing.

-Taylor