On Being Kind, Being Afraid, and Being a Young Writer

I’ve been wanting to write something about this whole situation with Andrew Smith and #KeepYAKind. I’ve wanted to say something.

I haven’t in part because so many other brilliant people, who are more experienced in YA, who are smarter, who are braver, have already said so much. I pretty much obsessively followed what Ellen Oh, Kelly Jensen, Justina Ireland, and Tessa Gratton were saying on Twitter. I read the amazing posts by Sarah McCarry and Jenn Northington and I thought: I don’t have anything to add.

I read YA, sure, and I review some books, but irregularly. I want to write YA but I don’t have an agent or a book. I’m unestablished. I haven’t even graduated college yet. Why should anyone care what I have to say?

I also held back because of fear. Because I am unestablished, because every new connection I make is a treasure and I’m worried they’re fragile. Because I want to be published and read and I kept worrying that if the wrong person saw me tweeting about my hurt and anger over Andrew Smith, I’d be marked as aggressive and mean. I’d be overreacting and hysterical. I’d be a bullyAndrew Smith already decreed me and the many other women reacting to systemic and internalized misogyny as fools and assholes.

So I RTed a lot and I tweeted a little bit, and nothing happened, and I don’t know if that’s because my fears were unfounded or because I’m lucky or because I just didn’t go as hard as I wanted to.

It’s important to note that as a white cis woman I already have a certain amount of shielding from harassment that trans women and women of color aren’t afforded. It’s not as dangerous for me to speak up as it is for them. But I was still worried.

I was too worried to speak up, at least to any extent that I thought was good enough.

I just watched as people I respect, people that I want to one day be my colleagues, said that if I spoke up too loudly, I would be mean, I would be a bully and abuser. I would be saying that I can’t see nuance. I would be one of the horde of overreacting Twitter feminists.

I watched as women who did speak up were torn down, spammed, threatened. I watched as they were told to just sit down and shut up because he just messed up, you can’t criticize him for messing up, we have to protect our own, and our own means this white male writer, but not the women he found too mystifying to write, not the women being targeted.

I hate that I’m scared of being called mean while standing up for what I believe in, but I am. I’m scared of having something negative already attached to me while I try to get into the YA world.

When I was seventeen, I got Twitter and discovered that all of my favorite YA authors knew each other. They talked. They were friends. They supported each other.

Since that moment I’ve dreamed of being one of them. I’m passionate about YA. I’m passionate about the importance of teen voices, of giving teenagers the representation I wish I’d had. These are the books I want to write more than anything, and these are the authors I’ve dreamed of joining.

Over the past couple of weeks, for the first time in seven years of dreaming, I’ve been scared of entering this world.

It’s not that I’ve never seen conflict before, between authors, between authors and reviewers. I’ve known it’s not a perfect community. But that conflict has never made me think that I shouldn’t be there.

I’m scared of being the person I am and being a YA writer.

I’m scared because I’m a woman with strong opinions, an activist, and I don’t like to keep quiet about it. Sometimes that involves being not so nice. Sometimes that involves being aggressive. Don’t get me wrong – I like to be understanding and kind. I know that people make mistakes. But I also know that mistakes can hurt other people, and that we have to talk about those mistakes. We have to have these hard discussions or nothing will change.

I’m scared that being part of the YA world will mean compromising a part of myself. I’m scared that it will make it more difficult to stand up for the things that I believe in, because what I’m seeing is that when a woman in this community says, “Hey, that thing that male writer said? It was kind of shitty,” they get told to be nice. So, what, we can talk about things in abstract, but can’t point out the specific examples when they happen? Criticizing these mistakes means that we deserve entire hashtagged movements against us?

I’m still going to write the books I want to write, because more than the fear, I care about the fat girl in high school wondering why she never reads books about girls that look like her. I care about the kid having panic attacks between classes that doesn’t know what’s wrong with them or why they can’t just be normal.

I care about giving a voice to my seventeen-year-old self, even if her dream has become less rose-colored.

I have hope because I also see the amazing women in this community speaking up despite the backlash, despite being told to stop. I have hope because I see these women supporting each other. I see women more vocal and aggressive than me facing horrible responses, but also receiving love from those they speak up for.

But every second I’ve been writing this, I keep thinking: This is silly, these fears are silly, you’re just paranoid, you can’t post this.

Maybe they are, maybe I am, but the emotions and fear are real, and I know I’m not the only one feeling them. I know I’m not the only young female writer hesitating, thinking,

“Is this really the world I want to be part of?”

And I think that fear matters. I think it should matter that young women are seeing this situation go down and having those thoughts. I think this is worth posting.

Publication: “I Dated A Real-Life Christian Grey Online When I Was Just 15 Years Old” on The Gloss

Hello, friends!

I’ve had another essay go up, this time at The Gloss, which is one of my favorite places on the internet. Seriously I’ve been reading it for years and to actually have a piece up there is kind of wonderful.

chris-pratt-gif-3I do want to put a trigger warning on this essay – it is entirely about emotional and psychological partner abuse. I definitely want everyone to read it, but I want you to do it safely.

Oh yeah a link might help here

“I Dated A Real-Life Christian Grey Online When I Was Just 15 Years Old”

Bonus Review: Extraction by Stephanie Diaz

You only have until midnight tonight to enter for a chance to win a bookmark SIGNED BY STEPHANIE DIAZ, and I super enjoyed her debut novel Extraction so I thought I’d post an extra review this week. Check out my post about Stephanie Diaz for more about her and for a summary of Extraction.

“What would you give for a way off the Surface, Clementine?”

Logan’s face slides into my head. The one person I know I’d miss if they took me away.

Looking into my instructor’s shining eyes, I push his face to the back of my mind.

“Everything,” I say.

9781250041173Extraction starts a lot like your usual post-apocalyptic YA novel, which is a genre that I know a lot of people are tired of…but I’m not. It’s my jam, especially if the world and the characters are interesting. I liked Extraction a lot because it’s not actually set on Earth, it’s on another planet in another galaxy, though it is also occupied by humans. It’s a little more space sci-fi than a lot of post-apocalyptic stuff is, and I dig that.

I didn’t hit that point where I needed to keep reading and needed to know more until about 30% of the way in, but once it hit that point, it didn’t let me go. At some parts in the beginning I was still a little hesitant, because I know the tropes of the YA dystopia very well and I worried it would all be too predictable. It’s not. It kept me guessing and kept surprising me.

It definitely plays to a lot of the tropes, but it does that really well. I was never bored. I love the protagonist, Clementine. She’s strong and she’s smart, but she still makes a lot of mistakes. She actually reminds me a lot of Tris from Divergent, in a good way. Seriously, if you liked Divergent you will probably love Extraction.

I really love that there isn’t a love triangle in sight.

I also got into Clementine’s development as a rebel. In the beginning, she’s just thinking about how she wants to escape her shitty life and take her friend, Logan, with her. She’s not thinking about overthrowing the whole system or revealing great injustices. She just wants to be free and to be with the one person left that she loves. Her way of doing that is working within the system: She wants to pass her Promise test, be Extracted to the Core, and become so special and invaluable that they’ll agree to make an exception for Logan and let him live in the Core, too.

But of course things are worse in the Core than she thought. The corruption and control are stronger than she ever imagined, but, for awhile, it’s still just about saving Logan and using the power structures already in place to do it. It’s not until things get to their absolute worse that Clementine goes: Screw it, I need to stop ALL of this, and I need to find my own way.

I will tell you that there are parts of the science and the worldbuilding that might stretch the limits of your ability to suspend your disbelief – there were a couple points that had me go, “What?” – but overall I was able to just go with it and buy into the rules of this world and really have fun reading the book.

The tl;dr of this review is: Extraction is a lot of fun, you should read it, and you definitely want to win one of those bookmarks signed by Stephanie Diaz.

STARS: 4/5

Tuesday Reads: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

“This is running away. This is some punk rock New Orphans shit. This is not like any Vivian Apple I have ever been before. But this is Vivian Apple at the end of the world.”

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle isn’t going to be out until January 6th, but I was lucky enough to borrow the UK version – Vivian Versus the Apocalypse – from Cathy Day and listen. Listen. I’m going to have some trouble doing this review without just full-on fangirl squeeing because I loved it so much.

51CU4k2l5+LFirst, let me tell you a little of what it’s about. Vivian Apple is living in a United States not entirely unlike our own, though there are even more natural disasters and mass shootings. There’s also a thing called the Church of America, which celebrates capitalism and says that women and gays are destroying the country, but it’s okay, because the Rapture is coming.

Only a lot of people believe that.

Like, a lot.

Vivian’s parents are Believers, and she’s watched as more and more of her classmates drop out of school to be taught by the Church of America. The President is a Believer. And it’s been weird, but survivable, and Vivian always thought that if she could just make it through to after the Rapture, when everyone would see that they’d been wrong, things would go back to normal. Her parents would go back to normal.

Except the Rapture comes and about five thousand people disappear inexplicably – including Vivian’s parents, who leave everything they own, a couple holes in the ceiling, and their daughter.

Only five thousand people disappear, but tens of thousands are left behind, and more Believers are being made every day, and they’re angry. They’re angry they weren’t taken, they’re angry they didn’t Believe before, and they’re looking to take it out on sinners like Vivian and her wild best friend, Harp.

So they get out of Pittsburgh with a boy they’ve just met, and they start out on a road trip to find the truth about the end of the world.

And it’s awesome. The only reason this book took me a couple weeks to read was because school kept interrupting, like it will, but yesterday I got the chance to just sit and read and that’s what I did. I stayed up and read the last couple hundred pages, and then did that thing that totally everyone else does, right, where you finish a really good back and close it and hold it close while you sort of roll around on your bed and make happy squealing noises?

Totally not just a thing I do.

The writing is great, the humor is completely my sense of humor, the world building around the Church of America’s takeover of the US is both funny and sinister and a little too plausible, but what really got me is the characters.

Vivian is a good kid. She gets good grades. She doesn’t really fight with her parents, she doesn’t get in trouble, she’s an easy, good kid, and she’s fine being that kid for a long time, but then the Rapture happens and suddenly being who she’s always been makes her feel trapped, stifled. She needs to be what Harp has always told her to be: The hero of her own story.

One of my favorite parts of this, in fact, is that in the beginning, Vivian makes a plea to the universe. “Dear Universe, make me the hero of my own story.” The universe doesn’t grant that wish for her, which is good, because if it had, Vivian wouldn’t have been quite so wonderful. Vivian is not a reactionary character. Vivian is a girl who, once she reaches that breaking point where she can’t be meek anymore, breaks out and forges her own path. She makes herself the hero of her own story, and I am completely in love with her.

I’m in love with Harpreet Janda, too, who is, in many ways, Vivian’s opposite. She’s never been the good kid. She’s been the wild child, the one who dresses on the edge of school codes or in flagrant violation of them, who doesn’t have time for authority, who has a temper and isn’t interested in being meek or obedient, and who is unendingly loyal to the people she loves.

Their friendship, by the way, also one of my favorite parts. Sometimes, even in otherwise very good YA books, the romance starts and the friendship gets left behind. It fizzles out. It becomes less important. That doesn’t happen here. Their friendship has a couple of bumps, but it doesn’t end or falter. It doesn’t get replaced by the romance. It thrives alongside it. And Harp doesn’t push Vivian to be stronger only to get jealous and mean when Vivian steps up. She’s proud. They protect and support each other.

I’m completely in love with Harp, too.

I’m also completely in love with Peter, the boy who comes with them on their road trip, and yes, Vivian’s romantic interest. He’s a mysterious boy they don’t know much about, but, refreshingly, he’s not mysterious and brooding. He’s funny. He’s kind and generous. He has secrets, but he is trustworthy, he is true. He isn’t there to rescue Vivian or to make all the decisions for her or to make her believe that she’s the most beautiful person he’s ever seen. He isn’t a romantic interest that disrupts the story. Peter, Vivian, and Harp work together as a team, and though they never say “Vivian’s the leader”, you still see Peter and Harp defer to her and trust her.

Basically, the friendship and relationship dynamics in this book are amazing. They aren’t constantly sniping at each other and belittling each other. They’re complicated, because they’re all different people with different sets of beliefs who are all pretty freaked out by this end of the world thing, but they also all care about each other and they’re all good people and good friends to each other.

This book is just beautiful, on levels, and you should be reading it.

STARS: 5/5

(I’d also like to remind you to GO ENTER to win a BOOKMARK SIGNED BY STEPHANIE DIAZ and to check out my post about her and her debut novel, EXTRACTION)

Tuesday Reads: Wytchfire by Michael Meyerhofer

Yesterday, I had a guest post from Michael Meyerhofer, whose blog tour is continuing through the next few weeks. Today, I’m reviewing his dark fantasy novel, Wytchfire, the first in the Dragonkin trilogy.

If the twelve lost their focus, the Nightmare would free itself. It would incinerate not just Syros but the army in front of it, including the Shel’ai who had once been its friends. Fadarah tried to gaze upon the monstrosity shambling forward at the center of the twelve’s broad circle but quickly wrenched his eyes away, sickened. Iventine chose this. No one forced him, least of all me.

Wytchfire-800-Cover-reveal-and-PromotionalWytchfire is a multiple-point-of-view book centered on the failed knight, Rowen Locke, as he’s pulled into a war spreading across the land.

I don’t review a lot of adult fantasy on here – I’m definitely more of a YA girl – but I really enjoyed this book. It’s well-written, the characters are interesting, and the worldbuilding is gorgeous. It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into constructing

One of the things that I love about Wytchfire is that we get to see many different sides of this war and understand all of the motivations around it. The book starts out with a view of our attacking army, which is led by Shel’ai – those born with dragonmist, with magic. Humans are prejudiced against the Shel’ai on two fronts: they’re Sylv, which is another race, and they’re magical. Humans hate them. They’re not welcome in human lands, and they’re often not welcome with the Sylv, and they’re sick of it. They’re sick of the oppression. They’re angry, and they’ve created a weapon to aid them in their war – the Nightmare, who was once one of them, but sacrificed himself to become something far more powerful.

You get this POV chapter with the Shel’ai’s commander, you see into his mind, and if you’re me, you empathize with him. You become enamored to his cause a bit. Then we switch to Rowen and the Human side of things, and your loyalties get a bit muddled.

So, for that matter, do Rowen’s. The Nightmare was not the only Shel’ai to sacrifice themselves and try for this great power. So did a woman, Silwren. The Nightmare’s transition was botched because he was woken too early, Silwren was allowed to wake on her own. This lets her have way more mental stability, but the magic still took its toll. Rowen finds her, and once he’s decided she isn’t a threat to humanity, he starts to feel his own loyalties pulled towards her. This doesn’t exactly endear his fellow Humans to him, but Rowen’s a fighter that believes in honor (which makes him pretty endearing to me).

Since this is called the Dragonkin trilogy, you might be wondering – what about the dragons? I’m a huge sucker for dragons, especially (for some reason) extinct dragons, which is what Wytchfire has. People know they existed because the bones are lying around like dinosaurs, but no one’s ever really seen one. There are religious sects that super worship them, the bones are sold and used for crafting weapons and other items. Dragons may not roam this world anymore but they’re still part of it, and I liked that a lot.

The world building, story, and all around writing definitely gets Wytchfire four stars, easy, I loved it, but I do have one big criticism.

Wytchfire has a bit of a lady problem.

The main female character is Silwren, and although this is a multiple-POV novel, she never gets her own POV chapters. That’s understandable at the beginning, when she’s in a magically induced coma, but even after she wakes and is set up to become a major player, we continue to only see her through the eyes of male characters. She’s obviously very magically powerful, but there’s more concentration on her beauty and the way she arouses romantic and sexual feelings in the men than on her power, and she spends an awful lot of time passing out and needing to be saved.

The only female character to get any POV time is Aeko Shingawa – the hardcore female knight that trained Rowen, who is frequently belittled by her fellow soldiers because of her sex. She was interesting, though, and I wanted more of her. Way more. Like I would read a whole book just about Aeko.

The only other female characters with (sort of) significant speaking roles are an unnamed prostitute that sleeps with Rowen and gives him some valuable exposition on the war and a healer on the side of the Shel’ai. The male characters are all interesting, with motivation and depth, but what important ladies there are fizzle in comparison.

There’s also a TW here for rape. Although there’s no graphic, in-scene rape (the worst is a few lines of what seems to be a sexual assault), there are plenty of mentions that tell us rape occurred, as part of sacking cities, living in slums, and one of the POV characters was the product of rape.

I know the argument that, well, rape is something that happens, and is not uncommon in areas at war. That’s sadly very realistic. I’m just not sure I agree that it’s a necessary part of storytelling, particularly in a story where women play such a small role. Because there are so few female characters at the forefront, most of the mentions of women end up being about rape, which is – well, problematic.

You might not be as bothered by it as I was, and this didn’t exactly destroy the book for me. Obviously, I enjoyed it. I give it four stars. Meyerhofer is a great writer, and I look forward to the rest of the trilogy – I just hope the lady problem gets fixed.

Stars: 4/5