April 28, 2011

Rollings Reliable

I've been slowly making my way through rereads of Anne of Green Gables, and sequels. Like so many of the series I loved as a child, I've read the first books many times. The later ones? Not so much.

I'm sure there are a few explanations for this, but one of them has to be that I just hate my favorite characters growing up and getting old and giving way to new generations. I hated it in Little Women (okay, technically Jo's Boys by that point), the later Little House on the Prairie books, and certainly once we get to talking about Rilla in the Anne books.

BUT that's not what I set out to talk about when I sat down to write this blog. I was going to talk (and will still talk) about Rollings Reliable. (For your reference, it's in the third Anne book, Anne of the Island.)

Anyone remember this? Anyone?

Well, for those who haven't read the Anne-girl books in a while, Anne tries her hand at writing. She writes a "perfectly pathetic" and dramatic story entitled "Averil's Atonement," sends it off to several major magazines, and...gets rejected. Yeah. This part should be pretty familiar to a lot of you. It's pretty dramatic -- Anne even swears that she will never write again.

I could say SO much about that (and I probably will, at some point), but this blog is not about forsaking writing forever. It's about the Rollings Reliable baking powder competition that takes place a few chapters later. Diana enters Anne's story without telling her, inserting some apt words about Rollings Reliable baking powder, and the story is picked.

Anne, of course, is devastated over the hideous commercialization of her baby. And I can understand that. But the thought that comes to mind is this: if you are a novelist, or aspiring to be, isn't some degree of commercialization to be expected? Of course the vast majority of writers have strong visions of their story, and work very hard to stay true to the heart of their story. And agents and editors -- they're lauded in the acknowledgments as always working to discover the story's soul, to make each book as perfect as it can possibly be.

But isn't there something more? Because after all, no editor would acquire a book that he or she believed would not sell. Some books are bestsellers, anticipated or not. And some books are abject failures. But besides being a beautiful work of art, besides being the vessel into which the writer pours a story that has been gnawing at her for years -- isn't the point, at the end of the day, to create something that will sell?

Not that I'm going to be putting Rollings Reliable advertisements into Chapter Three of my historical fantasy novel anytime soon... But seriously. Would any agent even look at my book (whenever it gets finished) if they thought it would never sell, or that I didn't have a talent that would, eventually, sell?

Yes, writing is about beauty. Yes, it's about issues, it's about important messages and pain and love and art. But at the end of the day, it's about money too.

(This message brought to you in a circuitous way by Anne of Green Gables, who would be appalled to hear such callous acceptance of our capitalist society.)

April 15, 2011

I think someone's missing the point

A few weeks ago I wrote about five YA trends I am SO OVER. I got a lot of good comments, and was pretty impressed that so many people seem to agree with me. (And yet there are still tacky vampire books coming out and lined up for years to come... Hmm.)

Anyway, Kay, at Dead Book Darling, added dystopian novels to the list that she would write. And at first I disagreed. I really liked The Hunger Games, and have since come across a number of YA dystopians I enjoyed as well. So I'm not convinced that I'm quite over that particular vein yet. But the more I thought about her comment, the more I realized that there really is something bugging me about the general level of YA dystopian novels being released nowadays.

You know, dystopians used to exist for a reason. 1984. Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451. I could go on. I know many people were force fed these novels in high school, and I admit, they're not the first books I would pick up, given a varied selection. But they exist to make social commentary. Really, really important social commentary. Dystopian novels used to be serious, in other words. They used to be real movers and changers. Consider that so very many things predicted in 1984 have actually come to pass. That's scary. It's downright terrifying.

At least on the young adult scene, I feel like I'm setting foot on an entirely different planet. A lot of YA dystopians nowadays (not all, but a lot), seem to include the dystopian element for much the same reason that the other trends in YA are included in books: to serve the romantic plot. It's (usually) about the main character, (usually) a girl, slowly waking up from the system, (usually) a vaguely Big-Brother-esque universe with not a lot of background given on the roots of this new society, with the help/guidance of a (usually) politically subversive male love interest. Poof, she sees the evil of the System. Poof, everything's set up for a sequel. Me against the Man. (Along with my boyfriend, of course.)

These novels, the majority of them, are not making the social commentary that dystopians were once known for. They're dystopian for one reason: because it's cool. Because the author thought it was cool, because the publishers thought teenagers would think it was cool.

Do dystopian novels have to be creepy harbingers of a dark future? Not necessarily. It's fine to write a book just because it's entertaining. But I think it's tragic that the roots of dystopia have been diluted so much in its current incarnation. For once I'd like to see a YA dystopian novel that terrifies me as much as Fahrenheit 451 did. That's not all about using the evil Society to set up a rebellious teenage love affair. That makes readers think, really think, about the world we live in, and the way we want to live.

I think we can handle it.