Hi guys! I’ve been working half-heartedly on National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, where participants write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I did this successfully once before, but that was before I had a toddler!
This month I’m working on a fanfiction piece, continuing one of my favorite stories from childhood, The Horse and His Boy, part of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I am not making huge progress, but who knows, maybe I’ll be able to finish it. I really want to finish it, but it’s also taking up time that could be spent writing “real” novels.
I’ll probably put it on fanfiction.net when I am done, but for now, enjoy this except from the opening. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments (this is a first draft).
Last week, Slate published an essay by an 11-year-old reader that illustrates perfectly why I believe in the need for books with diverse characters. “This is Me” by Audrey Hall was a winner in the New York Public Library’s Summer Reading 2019 Essay Contest. In her essay, Audrey describes how the book Blended by Sharon Draper expanded her universe.
You can read the full essay here, which is well-written and even includes quotes from the book to support her thesis.
Audrey checked Blended out of the library and it quickly became a favorite. The book features a multiracial protagonist with divorced parents, which also describes Audrey. She describes how she related directly to the character’s experiences in the book, moving between households and debating how to describe herself. It was a revelation for her to know that there might be other kids who shared her own experiences. “This book made me feel like I belong,” she wrote.
I personally could not have written a better essay to describe why representation is important, especially in children’s and YA literature. Every child should have the same feeling that Audrey had when reading.
Of course, we will not relate to every character we read about, which also expands our minds. And of course, we can relate to characters who don’t look like us at all. For example, my pen name Mei-Mei was taken from a Chinese character in a Japanese anime. But I won’t pretend that I don’t automatically feel a sense of kinship with every redhead character that I meet. Being able to see ourselves so directly in characters is such a valuable thing that I want every child to be able to experience it as I have.
For this reason, I have been a fan of the We Need Diverse Books movement, which started as a Twitter hashtag and has become a phenomenon. I think we have seen a huge growth of diverse books in YA fantasy (my wheelhouse) over the past ten years, and I hope this trend will continue. I am personally making an effort to read more books featuring diverse characters and, just as importantly, by diverse authors to support the publishing industry following this trend.
Audrey’s prize for the essay was a trip to a NY Yankees game. I hope she has a great time! I also hope she grows up to be a writer of many more characters like herself.
This July I am participating in Camp Nano, with the goal of writing for 500 minutes. I’m doing okay so far with devoting time to writing, but I’ve only written two scenes! Ugh! I think this is because I didn’t have a strong outline like I usually do, so I’m kind of floundering. I’m a plotter, not a pantser!
I’ve started on a new project this month, and surprising to me, I’m back to writing fanfiction! I used to write a lot of Cardcaptor Sakura and Star Wars fanfics back in high school and college, but I haven’t done any in over 10 years now.
Consequently, I’m kind of out of the loop on where to post fanfiction online. I used to use fanfiction.net (my stuff is still there), but maybe that’s not as popular anymore? Of course, I do have this blog as well, but I don’t usually post my writing here, and I’m especially hesitant to post fanfics because of the dubious legalities.
Last month I participated, as I have many times before, in Camp NaNo, which is kind of a spin-off of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, in November. I like doing Camp because you can set your own goals instead of conforming to the “50,000 word in a month” paradigm of NaNoWriMo.
This April, my goal was to write 10 min a day, or 300 minutes total. Good news: I managed 400 minutes over the month. So, yay for winning!
Even better news: I finished a complete draft of a novel!
This novel, which I have been calling Ash and Team, is one that I have been working on since NaNoWriMo of 2013. Six long years. I started this as a practice novel, and I know that actually publishing it would require more research than I have time for currently, so while you will likely never see this story in print (or even in revisions), I still feel really proud of this accomplishment. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end; it has character development; it has some humor and a magic system; it even has some prose that I really enjoy reading.
The draft is about 44,000 words, which is quite short for a novel, but it is after all a fairy tale retelling. Also, I tend to severely underwrite in my initial drafts, so if I ever finished it I’m sure it would be a bit longer.
Several years ago, SUNY Geneseo created National Book Review Month to “give readers an outlet to bring lesser known works to the forefront.” This year, NaRMo falls in March, so if you’ve read a book recently (of any genre, including “including children’s books, drama, non-fiction fiction and poetry”), you can go to the NaRMo website and submit a review for publication there. The only real rule is that the review must be between 100 and 1,000 words, though the website does have some great tips for crafting a review.
First, to help other readers. This seems pretty obvious. Reviews can help people decide whether they want to read a book or not, which is especially useful when they are going to be spending their hard-earned money on it by buying it. I personally like to read the 2 star reviews of books on Amazon, because those tend to have more specific, useful critiques than the one- or five-star reviews.
Second, to help the authors. Many independently published authors depend on reviews on blogs as well sites like Goodreads and Amazon to entice new readers. When a book only has a dozen or so reviews, every one counts. So every time I read something by an indie author (often one of my blogger friends), I make sure to review it somewhere to give them some free publicity.
Last, to help me. Part of the reason I started this blog was to have a space for my thoughts on books and other media. Reviews are sometimes a way for me to process what I read, as well as an outlet for me to share my thoughts. Like an internet-wide book club or something. I do try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but sometimes I dive a little further into analysis than a proper review does. I also like to do brief reviews when I don’t have too much to say about a book.
I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about reviewing books over seven years. I can’t even claim that I’m good at it now, and I’m certainly still learning. Here are a few things I’ve picked up since that first review.
Give a picture of the book cover. Not only does it give your post some visual interest, but it also helps people remember the book better if they come across it again. Of course I prefer to take a pic of my own copy if possible, but most of the time I just end up using an image of the cover art.
A short summary is helpful to give some context of the book. I’ve been using snippets from Goodreads summaries recently (with attribution of course).
I like to review both books that I know many people have read (so I can have a discussion) and also some that I know will be new to readers (so I can convince them all to read it, and then have a discussion). I also tend to stick to the sci-fi/fantasy genres here on the blog, though I do go outside that occasionally for a special book.
For trilogies or series, I will often write only one review for the whole thing (though I often focus on the first book, which helps avoid spoilers). Since I’m not a book blogger with ARCs or anything, my reviews aren’t usually about current releases, and I’m not sure that anyone wants to read a review of just the third book of a trilogy from five years ago or something. If you haven’t read the first two already, what’s the point? And if you have read the first two, but not the third, by now, well, that seems weird, too.
Okay, I’ve babbled long enough. Do you guys enjoy writing book reviews? Will you participate in NaRMo this year? I’m going to try to post a review for NaRMo next week, as I’ve read several books recently. Have you guys enjoyed reading my reviews? Even better, have you read any books because I recommended them??