by Maz King, editor

I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna get different film adaptations of YA lit.

The recent release of a clip from the much-anticipated The Fault in Our Stars got me thinking: do I really want a teen romance about two sarcastic, occasionally pretentious, cancer-ridden teenagers written by a problematic author on my silver-screen? Uhm... no.

And here’s why: I know for a fact this movie will do well. I know it in my bones, as a fact--as a fact in the way that John Green has 2.26 million twitter followers is a fact; in the way that a New York Times reviewer referred to “realistic stories told by a funny, self-aware teenage narrator” as “GreenLit” is a fact; in the way that John Green’s quirky, seemingly authentic persona has amassed millions of loyal consumers who will shell out upwards of $8 for a movie ticket to see a love story like most other love stories, except this time both lovers have cancer.

And I do not want this movie to do well. Because this movie doing well is eclipses of all the movies that haven’t done well--movies based on YA stories written by women, like The Host, How I Live Now, or The Lovely Bones. Maybe Lois Lowry’s The Giver will do well, but it’s in blasphemous color, for goodness sake, did the director read the book? And does anyone even remember Speak?

Now, there’s a lot of blame to share in the failure of these movies--sometimes the film itself is a bad or poor adaptation; sometimes the story itself just isn’t that good. I mean, not every best-selling book has to be a movie. (“Everything popular is wrong,” sayeth the Oscar Wilde. “I kind of agree in this instance,” sayeth the Maz.) This is also not to say there aren’t outliers, like the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, or the Twilight saga. However, John Green gets a movie deal. Nicholas Sparks gets movie deals again and again. James Dashner (author of The Maze Runner, a dystopian novel riding on the coattails of the Hunger Games’ success) got a movie deal.

The YA genre was built by the Tamora Pierces, Judy Blumes, Sarah Dessens, and JK Rowlings of the world. Where’s my Just Listen movie where I get to see a lead lady deal with friendlessness, her sister’s eating disorder, and sexual assault? Maybe these stories are hard to sell. Maybe they aren’t enough of the “realistic stories told by a funny, self-aware teenage narrator[s].” Maybe there’s a problem in the movie and literature industries in that they favor male authors.

So, if you wanna get my money, you gotta start contracting lady authors
Make it last forever
...I’m not even going to try to make this Spice Girls reference work because I just want ladies’ stories in media. Seriously, give them to me. Now please.

Plotting versus Pantsing

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Posted by Knox Quiver
by Becky Harwell, Editor

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, since I’m starting to think about a new novel. There seem to be two major camps in fiction writing: plotters and pantsers. Plotters figure out their plots (and stories and characters) before they start writing, while pantsers write “by the seat of their pants” and don’t do much planning. And then there’s a whole bunch of people who fall somewhere in between the two.

When I first started writing novels (when I was eight and they were about unicorns and dragons), I had a lot of beginnings. I’d come up with an idea and write maybe twenty or thirty or even forty pages, and then I’d stop. I’d get stuck, and I’d abandon it. This continued for many years. Finally, I managed to finish one, then two novels, but both required rewriting because they meandered along, plotless and pointless.

After that, I decided I would plan out my novels down to the semicolons. I mapped out every scene, every character, major and minor, even some bits of dialogue. I had a forty-page outline. I was ready. This was going to be the Best Thing Ever.

I think I abandoned that book before the manuscript was as long as the outline. It was no fun writing when I already knew everything about the story.

The first book I finished that wasn’t terrible, and all the ones after that, was written with a combination of plotting and pantsing. I definitely lean more toward plotting. I develop my character beforehand. I know my beginning and my ending and several major scenes in between. But I let those ideas that hit me as I’m writing onto the page, and sometimes my outline changes.

Every writer is different. There are those who can take a first line and write an entire novel from it. There are those who can write the history of their world and characters before they start the actual story, and it remains fresh and fun. I am neither of those writers, but I had to try out both ways to find what was most comfortable for me. Think about how you write a story the next time you sit down to do so, and consider trying out something new to find what clicks the most for you.

By Maddie Mondeaux, Editor

Over spring break, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Oregon Book Awards, both the ceremony itself and the benefit dinner beforehand. During the events, I got to meet some really cool writers and publishers, including Ursula K. Le Guin (!!!), Kari Luna, and Mary Szybist. Luna is the author of the winning YA book, The Theory of Everything, and Szybist the author of the winning poetry collection, Incarnadine. For those who have been living under a rock for their entire lives, Ursula K. Le Guin (age 84) is one of the most famous female sci-fi/fantasy writers of her generation, and has been successful since she was first published in the 1960s. She is well known for her Earthsea series, as well as stand-alone novels and short stories such as The Dispossessed. Her two-volume short story collection The Unreal and the Real: Collected Stories won the fiction award. And (just let me geek out about this for a second) I MET HER. IN REAL LIFE. A FEMALE SCI-FI/FANTASY WRITER WHO WINS AWARDS AND IS WELL-RESPECTED AND AAAHHHHH.

As you can probably tell, it was a dizzying experience, meeting all those people who were not only doing what I want to do for the rest of my life, but succeeding at it. Getting awards for it, even. I freely admit that I did was I always do when I meet someone even remotely famous: got super star struck and either 1. clammed up or 2. babbled unintelligibly at these poor people with no hope of ever getting my conversational footing.

But I did made sure to ask everyone I met—including Ursula K. Le Guin. Who I met. In real life.—what advice they had for a young writer. What was the one piece of advice they would give to me, to young and beginning writers everywhere?

Every single one of them (except this one older guy who weirdly hit on my friend) said: keep writing.
You are going to write shit, they said (almost all of them used that exact word). You are going to write a lot of shit. Embrace it. Move on. Don’t put your shitty manuscript in a drawer because you hate it, because it’s no good, because it’s not immediately The Wizard of Earthsea. If you keep on writing, pushing through the shit, eventually you will hit on something good—a paragraph, a sentence, two words that ring just right. And the more shit you push through, the more good things you will find.

Even Ursula K. Le Guin (who I met!!!!! In real life!!!!) started somewhere—pushing through shitty drafts of shitty manuscripts, getting rejected by publishers, slowly honing her craft. Slowly finding those great words, those great sentences. And now here she is, winning awards at 84.

It is by no means new or groundbreaking advice, of course. Everyone says “keep writing”. But hearing it again and again from dozens of people who have made it, who win awards, and who write genre fiction just like me, gives me hope.

On First Lines

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Posted by Knox Quiver
by Becky Harwell, Editor

I don’t think I’m alone in my terror of the blank page. Whether I’m writing a story, a novel, an essay, or even a blog post, my mind freezes when I see the cursor just sitting there, blinking, waiting for me to start.

I think first lines in fiction are especially difficult. There are so many classic first lines that have such staying power that they're quoted by people who haven’t even read the book. These lines are witty, deep, and engaging, and they set the tone for the entire book. Some opening lines that come to mind:

  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” –Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” –A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  •  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” –Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • “Call me Ishmael.” –Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” –The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

On the one hand, I’m amazed at the complexity of some, how they make a sweeping statement about the nature of humanity. On the other, I’m blown away by the simplicity that Melville and Tolkien open with, a simplicity that is nevertheless engaging.

When it comes to writing my own opening lines, I usually skip them and put [FIRST LINE HERE] instead. Nothing gets more revised than my opening paragraphs, especially that first line. It’s so important, especially in a submission to a major publication, an agent, or a publisher. If the person reading it isn't engaged by line one, they might not go onto line two. It must set the tone, began to establish character, plot, setting…that’s a lot. Even if it doesn't address all of these specifically, it must set up the following lines to do so.

For my first lines, when I finally make myself write them, I tend to pick something to focus on, such as character, setting, or plot. Then, I zoom in on the most interesting image or aspect of that element. I’ve found that simple works better, as not to confuse the reader. And when I’m stressing over revisions, convinced that I’ve written The Most Terrible Opening Line Ever, I remind myself that, at its core, the first line has only one job: make the audience read the second line.

Oh, it’s the little things that matter…

Saturday, March 1, 2014
Posted by Knox Quiver
by ShirJia Bielefeld, Editor

I think writers, too often than not, are afraid that the things they want to say will be conceived as sounding cliché.  I have seen this especially now with some of the individuals in my beginning nonfiction class when people begin to talk about things that are more personal to them.  However, I think writing in every way is a personal matter.  It shows who you are and what you want to say, even if it’s something completely unrealistic, and to me the point of writing is just to get it out there in hopes that someone will be able to relate or at least connect enough to become engrossed in your story.  Above all, I think you should write for you first.   

Lately, everyone wants to be the next person with a crazy, new, eye-opening idea, but the fact of the matter is that this is not always possible.  Does that mean you should stop writing until you can come up with something utterly terrific?  NO. 

I think many times when people are at a loss of words they are trying too hard.  My advice would be to just write and get something out, even if it is a bunch of nonsense or if you think everyone has written this story five times over, because that’s what matters.  Getting something out may even trigger a thought you may have originally thought was bland. 

So why be afraid to write about the same sob-depressing story that everyone else has, or the same lighthearted romance?  Honestly, that is why there are so many phases of popular trends or even genre in writing.  Writing what is popular now is really what sells, and I bet you that it’s highly unlikely your story will be exactly the same as somebody else’s.  I know when I’m in the mood I can watch hundreds of romantic comedies and still think that each and every one of them is awesome in their own way.  Or if I’m down, it doesn’t matter how many angsty or genuinely spoken word poems I listen to, I will still be looking for more.  I still want to hear what these people are saying and I still want to find a way that I can connect, because I think it is all about the human experience and sharing knowledge with one another.

Therefore, I think the way of getting over a cliché is to embrace it and dig into the little details that are specifically you.  Ground yourself into the setting and events, and into what you personally feel. I know a big factor of my work and even my fiction is that I put in hints of things that I have actually experienced, which allows me to connect to my pieces on a different level.  Also, I am a big fan of traumatic things and disturbing people and even subconsciously this comes out in my own work.  So I would say send some time and get to know yourself, because you never know what could make you different. 

Being Proud of Your Work

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Posted by Knox Quiver
  Morgan Barton, editor

          This wasn't entirely the blog post I thought I would write, but it’s week seven and I think it’s worth hearing.
            Being a writer sucks. There, I said it. 
Last night I had a conversation with one of my friends in which I attempted to motivate her about her brilliant writing, which to me is funny and engaging and makes me wish I could write comedy better than I do, but I am 100% sure this motivation speech (while pretty convincing, I thought) was completely rejected. Now, I know this friend pretty well, and I would like to think that I usually know how to cheer her up, so why was this wonderfully energetic and passionate speech totally ineffective?
I thought about this for a while last night and have come to the conclusion that being a writer requires hating everything you write because, for frustrating and depressing reason, you are supposed to be modest. Which sucks. 
 Before you decide to be a writer, all you hear are comments about how “anyone can write” and everyone has a “unique story to tell.” I say this with slight bitterness because once I decided to call myself a writer and write consistently, I did not feel unique or talented, and if I ever did, I didn’t tell anyone. Why didn’t I tell anyone? Because I was worried they would disagree, and I would look like an idiot.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this urge to be modest. The majority of writers I’ve talked to consistently say they aren’t very good, even though being modest does nothing for your writing besides make you feel bad about yourself. So, while giving my friend this motivational speech last night, I dared to say “screw modesty”. Because if you don’t absolutely love what you’re writing, why bother? Writing is difficult and hard, and you will never be able to get everyone who reads your work to love it. But you can love your writing yourself.

So, this is my challenge: the next time you write something, don’t be modest about it. Show it to your friends, turn it in to class, submit to Quiver (shameless plug), and instead of warning people that it sucks before they start reading it, dare to say that it’s great. And if they disagree, well then, that’s their own problem. 

New Imaginings of Old Queers

Thursday, February 13, 2014
Posted by Knox Quiver
Maz King, Editor

When you’re a young, impressionable queer, good literature is hard to find. Often queer lit is simply gay lit, leaving little room for a broader narrative for people who are sexually, romantically, and/or gender queer. Classics such as Boy Meets Boy or The Vast Fields of Ordinary focus on very specific parameters: gay boys, already out of the closet or at least sure of their identity, building relationships with other boys.

What about the fumbling queer kids, scared of themselves, unsure of what their feelings mean? What about the women? Madeline Miller, Anne Carson, and Sarah Diemer address these questions in their revisionist novels based on ancient Greek mythology.

In the Iliad (spoiler alert for a three thousand-year-old epic poem) Achilles grieves excessively for the death of his murdered friend Patroclus. Achilles, defying the customs and hospitalities of warfare, desecrates the body of Patroclus’s murderer gruesomely. This behavior is unusual, moreover, offensive--which leads to questions about the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. Why the extreme reaction? Were Patroclus and Achilles something other than friends?

Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles explores this question which is largely ignored by classicists in academia. Miller recounts the childhood of Patroclus, fudging a few canonical details, but ultimately constructing the story of an unfortunate boy who forges the most fortunate friendship. The first person narration gives the reader insight to the developing feelings of a confused boy, unsure of what to make of his feelings toward his friend, unsure if they would even be reciprocated. It’s a refreshing take on a gay relationship; The Song of Achilles gives Patroclus room to explore his identity and insecurities, while simultaneously exploring (to a smaller extent) gender roles and presentation with the “beautiful” Achilles who, at one point, dresses in drag. (Warning: if you read this book, have tissues nearby. Also trigger warning for rape, though I can’t recall the chapter--it’s just during the part when Achilles is on the island.)

Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is a novel comprised of poems. Like The Song of Achilles, Carson’s novel focuses on two boys. However, Carson draws on fragments of a poem rather than an epic with 15,000+ lines. Carson’s novel is inspired by the relationship between a monster and his murderer, Herakles. In Autobiography of Red, Herakles is a lover instead of a murderer--this change alone begs the question of which role can destroy a person more. Where Miller examines a positive queer relationship, Carson explores the negative side--though not in a necessarily depressing way. I know, I know--the tragic gay relationship trope is trite, but the book isn’t so much about a tragic gay relationship as it is about Geryon, the monsterboy, “coming to terms with the fantastic accident of who he is.” And with lines like “they jumped forward onto the back of the night. / Not touching / but joined in astonishment as two cuts lie parallel in the same flesh,” why haven’t you already bought a copy on Amazon? (Trigger warning for incestuous sexual assault in “II. Each.”)

Finally, Sarah Diemer’s The Dark Wife explores the relationship of Hades and Persephone. Instead of a rape myth, Diemer’s reimaging presents Persephone as a vengeful goddess intent on having her revenge on Zeus after Zeus destroys Persephone’s beloved, and Hades as a goddess who allows Persephone asylum in the Underworld. Admittedly, I haven’t finished this one yet, so I can’t vouch for its quality--but ancient goddess lesbians! And it’s free online! What more could you want? (Trigger warning for rape on page 17.)

Every single one of these novels is subversive in some way. Which is exciting and, let’s be honest, hella refreshing. But it does beg the question--why are some of the most progressive queer stories being told via Greek myth as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, YA lit? Perhaps part of it is that the aforementioned novels can all slide under the radar as “adult” novels whereas the literature of teenagers is more regulated. Which is rather backwards considering queer kids need queer novels. It’s a necessity. Where are the novels for the asexual kids? The aromantic? The lesbian, bisexual, trans, or genderqueer/non-binary? Where are the novels for the kids who are confused, who think they’re wrong or broken, who see cishet romantic stories everywhere and just can’t relate? Who assume that they will never have meaningful relationships because they never see people like them in movies, on television, in books? It’s a struggle, and it becomes even more of a struggle when the most interesting books for queer kids tend to be inaccessible (who has even heard of Autobiography of Red?) or strictly gay--which is part of the reason I feel incredibly grateful to Diemer for allowing her work to be read free of charge. Moreover, the books I’ve mentioned are revisionist lit about Greek mythology. And while I, as someone who has studied classics for seven years, can appreciate this--where are the queer kids going on dates to the movies? Who have to ask their moms for rides to friends’ houses and have sweaty palms the whole ride there? Or maybe even those kids who aren’t quite kids anymore, the college-aged individuals who can’t seem to figure out why none of their romantic-sexual relationships seem to work out--all the while it’s because they are ace-aro and never had the words for it?

The books I’ve mentioned are great and important and I’ll recommend them to anyone and everyone, but the space for queer people should move beyond the realm of myth.

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