Tag Archives: teen fiction

Responsible Heroines

Minstrel Cover

Today in church, L stopped me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading Minstrel. Currently she’s about halfway through, and she stays up past midnight to read.

L just turned 14 years old. She belongs to a demographic for which I didn’t target Minstrel. I don’t want to write young adult fiction, because I don’t want to focus on adolescent characters. I want to write about adults who get into gritty situations and prevail, breaking through pre-existing stereotypes. But as I wrote Minstrel, I thought about my friends’ daughters. I wanted my friends to be able to trust my work, to be able to hand my books to their daughters without first censoring them.

What I anticipated actually happened. My friends bought my novel and handed it directly to their daughters, without reading it first. Without asking me if I had included sex or f-bombs, or even if the subject matter was appropriate. They trusted me. They trusted my writing.

Minstrel now follows many fantasy novels as they gain considerable fans among the young adult population. Namely, among young girls.

Robin McKinley’s books are among those that have trended with young girls, despite being written for an older audience. The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown both feature grown characters. Not far out of adolescence, these heroines fight dragons and lead battles. They fall in love, but are not saved by their men. Often, they save the men.

Growing up, among my heroes was Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series. They were Harry from The Blue Sword, and Aerin from The Hero and the Crown. I began my love of fantasy with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, from author Astrid Lindgren. From there I admired Princess Cimorene, who volunteered to be the dragon Kazul’s captive, and who teams up with the handsome king to rescue the dragon. These were the girls and women I wanted to grow up to be.

My mother was a wonderful woman. She was as combination of superhuman sacrifice and human weakness. She was independent, industrious, and morally upright. As I grew up, I became an eclectic mixture of my mother and my fictional heroes.

Now, my 12-year-old daughter has followed my example. While writing this post, I stepped out of my office to ask my daughter, “Who are your heroes? Fictional or real life.”

She replied, “Katniss Everdeen and Tamora Pierce.” Katniss Everdeen is the heroine from the popular books-turned-movies The Hunger Games. Tamora Pierce writes fantasy quartets about young women who prevail in male-dominated medieval settings.

My daughter didn’t choose me. Does that mean I’m a bad role model? I hope not, for I wouldn’t have immediately indicated my own mother if someone had asked me the same question at that age. Yet my mother was a wonderful role model. She was my reality. Alanna and Cimorene were my aspirations.

No matter how hard to you try to choose your daughter’s role models, she will still choose her own.

As Minstrel’s popularity grows among teenage girls, it further reinforces my responsibility as a writer. I could write horror or erotica, but I prefer fantasy. I prefer a genre that is devoured by teenagers of both genders, whether or not it’s written for adult audiences. And though many of my author friends claim, “You can’t control what the characters do,” I disagree. My muse may guide, but I have the final say over my work.

I could have made Molly a simpering little waif who let herself get bounced around by whichever man claimed her. Aerdra could have let her people die, or begged her husband to defend her, instead of taking up a hatchet and fighting alongside him. Finola remained the voice of reason and morality for her daughters, while her son battled politics within the king’s guard.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, is often asked, “Why do you create these strong women characters?” Joss’ answer has now become a mantra for feminism and equality within art: “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Joss’ inspiring speech is here:

Other authors who write strong female characters stand out as remarkable, or even abnormal. To this idea, Neil Gaiman has replied, “Well, I write people. Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I?”

Orison

Daniel Swensen, an author friend whose fantasy novel Orison is due for publication in 2014, had problems with his main character, Randoval. The novel was staid and boring, and Randoval didn’t have the potential he needed. Daniel examined Orison and realized he followed the trend that so many fantasy authors follow: the men were the heroes, and the few females were oversexualized. Daniel’s amazing solution, which changed the entire tone of the novel, was to flip Randoval into a brown-skinned woman named Story Kai Tann. Suddenly, perspective changed. Friends and beta readers were amazed. Daniel’s editor even said, “Story could never be a man! Story as a man = boring. Story as a woman = awesome.”

Daniel said of his gender-flip, “I’m not trying to teach the world to sing, or anything like that, I’m just writing the kind of book I’d like to read myself. I don’t for one instant consider Orison to be some sort of Important Feminist Work; it most emphatically is not. It’s just a good fantasy yarn, which happens to have a female protagonist who doesn’t get by on her bare midriff and her sexuality. And if that makes my novel out of the ordinary somehow, well, all I can say is, it shouldn’t. I think it should be both common and unremarkable.

You can find Daniel’s blog post regarding this gender-flipping decision here.

So what, exactly, is my responsibility as an author? First, let’s briefly look at some of Minstrel’s growing fanbase:

Though L’s parents are happily married, she’s strong in her faith, and her family has a dynamic that I envy, L and several members of her family are currently undergoing health problems that will alter their future. L herself holds on with uncertainty.

K is 11 years old. She has been the victim of poor choices made by the adults in her life, since she was conceived. Though she’s an honors student, K continues to struggle past the examples set by some of the most important adults in her life.

As she nears 16 years of age, A has become a driving force in the success of her peers. Blessed with a strong and loving family, she maintains a high moral standing in high school, surrounding herself with friends who are not so lucky.

Then there is the teenage girl who stopped by my table at a book signing and asked, “Dad, I really want to read that book. Can I please have it? Please?” I explained the book to the father, who promptly purchased it for his daughter. If she had simply seen the novel in a bookstore, she would probably have wanted it just as badly, without the author present to assure the father of the content.

Which of these girls deserves a trustworthy piece of fiction, with role models and ideals they can follow? How would my writing career, or the trust my readers have, change if I threw in f-bombs, sex scenes, or overt violence into the books? As a parent, I consider this broad demographic the same way that I consider my own children.

Sahara

My own daughter, S, lives two lives because she switches back and forth between two biological parents. When people ask about the moral character of her father, I simply reply, “Well… we’re divorced.” She is still growing, still reaching that critical moment when she decides who she will become. And, if my daughter is going to pick role models that she has never met, I want to be sure she has some she can look up to.

I don’t feel like I owe the world a story. I’m not writing for a teen magazine, or for a rally of any kind. I write entertaining fiction. But when parents hand my work directly to children as young as 11, trusting me, I feel my responsibility is to keep that trust.

As I write Vassal, as the heroine encounters compromising situations and has to take the high road (or doesn’t) through each, I keep these young women in mind. I don’t write for the young adult market, but I write for the ones who might pick up my books. They’re the ones who hand my book off to their friends. They are my fanbase.

Hush Puppy by Lisa Cresswell

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Intelligent Corrine, abandoned by her mother, and artsy Jamie, forced to play football by a redneck father, both dream of leaving their podunk town and never looking back. Their shared love of literature and a dream of a better life bring them together and a romance blossoms between them in a secret place of their own in the steamy North Carolina woods. When Jamie is involved in the accidental death of a white girl, he’s terrified of his abusive father. Corrine takes the blame to protect Jaime, with dire consequences for herself and her dreams of the future. Her life in danger, Corrine’s left wondering if Jamie ever cared about her at all.

You can purchase Hush Puppy in both print and eBook on Amazon.com

My Review:

The first thing I noticed about the book was, of course, the cover. Simple and stunning at the same time. It always amazes me how the book cover people can draw a reader in by just a black and white portrait.

Hush Puppy starts out simple and sweet: a 17-year-old black girl in North Carolina meets a white boy her age and starts a friendship. Corrine’s life is difficult, but it’s not stereotypically tragic. It’s something that many readers can relate to, as is Jamie’s. Corrine handles it well, though. She tackles racism, poverty, absent parents, and peer pressure with admirable grace, usually taking the high road. She’s not a Mary Sue character, though: she has moments when that decision is so hard to make. In the end, she serves as a role model for real girls.

Jamie isn’t quite as strong as Corrine, taking his trials but blaming others for them. At this point, he doesn’t have high hopes for the future. Jamie is right in the middle of the toughest part of his life, and he’s well aware of it. There were a couple of moments in the book where I felt Jamie wasn’t worth the trouble he caused, but apparently the heroine of the book had more faith in him than I did.

The author built the suspense well, writing scenes that kept me expecting something tragic to happen. When nothing happened, I wasn’t disappointed, but I didn’t lose the suspense. I felt the foreshadowing that something WAS going to happen. And when it did, I really didn’t see it coming. Wow. The moment it happened, I couldn’t stop reading. At 1am, I finished the book.

There were a few unanswered questions, though. First of all, when the characters were going through their climactic struggle, Corrine felt that Jamie wasn’t telling her everything. I don’t remember seeing that resolved, where she found out what he hadn’t told her. Also, did Mr. Taft ever do anything to Jamie when the truth came out? Though I was left wondering these things, the absence of them didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story.

This is something I would let my young adult daughter read. At one point, Corrine almost gets herself into a compromising situation, but she makes the right decision in the end. The author keeps the heroine out of the sex-traps that even other young adult authors seem to be miring their characters in. Since my daughter reads at a much higher level than her age, it’s often difficult to find books appropriate for her. Hush Puppy is. I’d recommend to all my parent-friends.

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Lisa T. Cresswell

Lisa, like most writers, began scribbling silly notes, stories, and poems at a very young age. Born in North Carolina, the South proved fertile ground to her imagination with its beautiful white sand beaches and red earth. In fifth grade, she wrote, directed and starred in a play “The Queen of the Nile” at school, despite the fact that she is decidedly un-Egyptian looking. Perhaps that’s why she went on to become a real life archaeologist?

Unexpectedly transplanted to Idaho as a teenager, Lisa learned to love the desert and the wide open skies out West. This is where her interest in cultures, both ancient and living, really took root, and she became a Great Basin archaeologist. However, the itch to write never did leave for long. Her first books became the middle grade fantasy trilogy, The Storyteller Series. Her first traditionally published work, Hush Puppy, is now available from Featherweight Press.

Lisa still lives in Idaho with her family and a menagerie of furry critters that includes way too many llamas!

You can see Lisa’s author blog here and her Goodreads author page here.

My First Reading Challenge

Alright, it’s scheduled and it’s going to happen!  Our first reading challenge (of many.)  The first will take place during the month of May, with all entries due by midnight, Pacific time, on May 31st.

You may get an early start on your reading!  Just get your entry in by May 31st.  Our first book will be Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire, by Paul Ramey!

(See that link?  It takes you straight to Amazon.com, where the book is only $1.99.  Or you can go to Nine Muse Press‘ site itself for a free sample chapter, and the book at the same price in Kindle and non-Kindle formats.)

Rules:

1. Read the book assigned, in whichever way is compatible with your lifestyle and e-reader.

2. Review your book on Amazon or Goodreads, or both!  An additional review on your personal blog earns you an additional entry.  (This can be a cut/paste review.  It just needs to be there.)  3 reviews posted… 3 entries.

3. Link to your reviews by the end date, so we can count your entry.  Post your link either on my Facebook author page, the Facebook event page, or in the comments to the contest post on this blog.

4. Refer the contest to friends.  If your friend posts a review, then messages me on my Facebook page saying, “‘Your Name’ sent me,” you get yet another entry for each friend referred!

Prizes: These will vary from contest to contest, but you can expect things like future e-reading material from other very worthy authors!

Ask all the questions you want!  If you would like an invite to the Facebook event, and a chance to win Edgar Wilde free to the first five people to respond, simply “Like” my Facebook page and type “EW Contest” on the wall.  You will then receive an invite, a day before the contest is underway.

More of Edgar?

Just in case this got lost in the comments section, and you didn’t get a chance to see Paul Ramey’s answer to my question about whether we would be seeing more of Edgar Wilde, here it is again:

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“Hello everyone! Just caught Marissa’s great new review of my new novel, and thought I’d swing by to take her up on her invitation to talk a bit about future Edgar Wilde plans!

“Early in the writing stages of this book I was already pretty sure that Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire was going to be the first in a series. So I was very conscious of the need to begin laying a solid groundwork of rich characters and locales that could be further explored and cultivated later on. And I certainly wanted to leave the reader wanting more from these characters, some of whom exist a bit on the periphery in this particular tale. There’s a lot of room for a number of personalities and relationships to develop further, and we’re going to see a lot of that in the next book.

“Now that the dust has settled and the marketing gears for Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire are spinning smoothly, I’m really excited to be able to start mapping out the next story, as well as create some of the next cover’s artwork (I’m a graphic designer by trade, so have really enjoyed designing my own cover art and graphics for the Edgar Wilde series). I have my next title now, and some of the core imagery and mystery are locked in. As a lot of groundwork has now been established, I’ll be interested to see if the writing process for the next book turns out to be smoother and faster than for the first. We shall see!

“Thanks again, Marissa, for featuring me and inviting me to spend a bit of time on your page! I hope everyone enjoys my little New England mystery, Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire!”

Thanks again, Paul, for getting back to us on this!  Now I’m even more excited for future adventures!

Anyone want to join in a challenge?  Step 1: Read Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire.  Step 2: Write a review on your website and Goodreads, and link to it in comments to this post.  Step 3: I’ll choose a prize.  Now I have to go think of a prize!  There will be something.

edgar wilde

Click here to visit Nine Muse Press’ site and more Edgar Wilde information.

Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire

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Photos courtesy of http://www.paulramey.me

(Excerpt from book:)

“’As you see on that elegant tombstone over there, Margharet Fullman passed away on April 23, 1724.  She was only nineteen when she left this world.’

“The tall figure paused, letting the drama of it take root.  ‘Now you’ll remember,’ he pointed this flashlight back down the path ‘one Hadley Williamson, twenty-three years old, who passed away on the very same day as Margharet.  There is no documentation as of the circumstances of either’s demise.’

“Satisfied murmurs among his tour group let Edgar Wilde know he had them in the palm of his hand.  He loved a captive audience.

“‘Given the date, it could possibly be nothing more than simple, tragic coincidence- yellow fever, perhaps.  However, some have claimed that they were actually found by Margharet’s father- a certain Barnes Fullman- the night before their deaths, caught in a very passionate embrace.  Mr. Fullman was clearly a very important man in this town, yet to this day his existence is denied.  In fact, the name Barnes Fullman isn’t found in any of the official historical documents of this town.  Not even a tombstone to remember him by.’”

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A precocious 15-year-old, Edgar Wilde knows he’s considered a freak by classmates, but it doesn’t bother him.  He’s already earning money by giving cemetery tours, and has a deep love of history and old books.  Edgar knows a good mystery when he sees one, and he knows something more exists to the Barnes Fullman legend than anybody in the Historical Society will admit.

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A first novel for both author Paul Ramey and his publisher Nine Muse Press, Edgar Wilde and the Lost Grimoire rolls them, full speed, into the fiction world.  Starting out with fast-paced intrigue, it doesn’t let go of the mystery.  Even at the very end, a little intrigue remains.

I bought this book a few days after it became available to the public, and started it a few weeks later.  Though details of my life interfered with the nonstop reading I would have loved, I still didn’t lose the story for the interruptions.  Narration and setting were succinct enough to plant them in my mind, and characters drew me in.  When I took the book up again, I jumped right back into Edgar Wilde’s world.

The characters are well done.  Edgar is so believable that I laughed out loud when he shied away from Sarah the Barista’s overt flirtation.  He acts like a nerdy 15-year-old boy would act, and Shelby is successfully portrayed as a not-yet-tainted teenage girl.  I can easily imagine Cora and Gertrude clucking like old hens over cups of coffee, and I’d love to have both Felicia and Aubry as aunts.  Corinthian would be a great friend, up until he put me on a rack.

So what’s the basic rundown of this book?

Rating: PG-13.  I sigh whenever I mark a book down because of a scattering of foul language or a short sexual scene.  But as I know many of my friends would want to be warned about even a single curse word, I also know they’re part of a large group of readers.  Though Edgar Wilde is appropriate in every other way for young teens, a bullying character drops a couple of F-bombs early on in the book.  They’re in context; they’re from an antagonist; the character gets chided for uttering them.  But they’re there.

Last year, a friend called me up seeking advice on two documentaries the school wanted to show her 6th grader.  She had to sign a permission form.  One was rated PG, the other PG-13.  I had seen both movies on several occasions, so I knew exactly why the one got the PG-13 label… somebody dropped a single F-bomb.  Children hear it all the time on the playground, repeat it to their friends, and hide it from their moms.  But, as widespread and commonplace as it may be, it still turns many readers away.

Would I recommend this book to my own children, ages 11 and 13?  Yes.  With warnings about the few cuss words.

Credibility rating: 99%.  As a mystery story, some truth has to be stretched.  I loved how Mr. Ramey delved into the superstitions and prejudice of colonial New England for his stories.  It already lends intrigue, and sets up many stories for the possibilities of mass hysteria among a fearful people.  Only one part of this book felt out of place, though.  (Spoiler Alert!)  At the end, where Corinthian took Shelby to the rack, it felt forced.  Edgar followed them down into the chamber, and boom!  She was on the rack.  That fast.  Also, this move seemed out of place for a man who had shown no other hints of sadism during the entire book.  That said… it’s the only part I can argue with.

Satisfaction rating: Yes, please.  From beginning to end, Edgar Wilde read smoothly and satisfied me.  But now I wonder… will we be seeing more of Edgar from Paul Ramey and NMP?

I invite Mr. Ramey to answer that for us, if he has a moment.

Want to read the book?  Here’s the link through Amazon!  If you have another e-reader other than Kindle, buy through Nine Muse Press itself.

If you go through Nine Muse Press’ link, you can download a sample chapter.

And be sure to check out Paul Ramey’s blog.

Next up?  Dead Sea Games: Adrift by J. Whitworth Hazzard