Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Age Matters

No, this is not a post about how old I am. I'm feeling pretty young lately, so we aren't going to go there. What I do want to talk about is those pesky age guidelines. You know the ones they have for movies or that they've started putting on non-adult books? Yeah, those.

First off, I'm not a fan of them as a hard and fast rule. As they said in Pirates of the Caribbean (PG-13 for those paying attention): "They're more like guidelines." Or at least they should be. "14 and up" should never be taken as "appropriate for everyone over 14" or "inappropriate for anyone under 14." It's really just a heads up that it has some content that the average 14 year-old will be equipped to handle whereas younger readers might not. Simple, right?

Apparently not.

For those of you who haven't seen The Avengers (also PG-13), there's an exchange that goes like this (from IMDB):
BRUCE BANNER: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him. 
THOR: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother. 
BLACK WIDOW:  He killed eighty people in two days. 
THOR: He's adopted. 

The delivery of the line is spot-on and, in the theater, the bit gets a lot of laughs. But apparently someone has started a petition against Marvel over the line. If you read the article linked, one parent said: 
(his daughter, who is adopted, was not old enough to discern the humor behind the line.)

“I almost laughed, too; the line is well played. But the laughter stuck in my throat when all of the joke’s implications crashed down on me. My daughter never got for a second that it was supposed to be a joke.

“‘Are people laughing because they think adopted kids are bad? Am I bad?’”

Now, I'm a really lenient parent as far as ratings go, but we'll get to that in a minute. The problem is, the movie is PG-13, which for those who have ever paid attention means "Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13." (From MPAA) That means, you take your younger kids at your own risk. You, as the parent, have decided it's okay for them to see. The production company, director, etc. is not responsible for your child. Now, maybe these parents who are up in arms have kids over 13 who were traumatized by that line, but again, the parent is responsible for knowing their child and what that kid can handle. 

As for my children, we don't shelter them from much, but I know exactly what buttons not to push with them. My son gets very upset over extremely realistic violence against children. Pretty much anything else goes for him. I try to avoid "disturbing images" because I can see those inducing nightmares, and I really just don't want to deal with that. My daughter... doesn't really seem disturbed by much of anything. I make a point of knowing my children and what they're sensitive to. Considering the violence (including brother-on-adopted-brother, man-on-woman, etc) included in the film, a line that took all of two seconds to utter should not be the area of most concern. If your child is not old enough to get the joke, and is not old enough to understand when you explain it, then your child is not old enough to be at a PG-13 film. My daughter is seven. She got the joke. I can't imagine how old the child in question is. 

The same goes for books. My son (10 1/2) is out-growing middle grade fiction, and we are very carefully dipping his toes into YA. It's a fine line of balancing his interests with the appropriateness of content, but we're walking the tightrope together. Hunger Games, yes. Twilight, no. While he enjoyed Zombie Tag, I won't let him read any of Hannah Moskowitz's other books yet. Will he, at some point, read something he's not ready for? Sure. It's called growing up. And we'll deal with it when it happens. In the meantime, I love the age recommendations on YA books. Do I always listen to them? No. But if it says "12 and up," I don't even question giving it to him. "14 and up," I'm more cautious. That's my job as a parent, and I thank the movie and publishing industry for making it easier on me. 

What are your thoughts? With ratings there, whose responsibility is it to police content before letting kids get their hands on it?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Throwback Thursday: Music Edition

It's kind of funny writing YA as an adult. Silly things that are different now than they were back in the day and all that. Music is another part that kills me. I write to "soundtracks," but the music is... not necessarily what a lot of teens listen to.

For example, the soundtrack to Pretty Souls contained not one, but two, remakes of songs from the 80s. "Wicked Game" and "Islands in the Stream." Both were very different from the originals, updated and all that, but remakes nonetheless.

And then there's Memory Keeper. For whatever strange reason, the band that most speaks to me with regard to that story is Bon Jovi. Yes, I know they are still around and still putting out music, but I've been listening to them since they had longer hair than I do.

I'm not sure if I listen to "throwback" songs and bands when I write YA just because I love them or if it goes deeper than that. If the music and singers from when I was a teenager help me to tap into the recesses of my memory to harness a younger me. All I know is the one time I tried to create a soundtrack with all "new" music, I couldn't write to it. I completely lost focus when listening.

So, I'll stick with old school since it seems to work for me. And just for fun, a little Bon Jovi for your listening pleasure.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Looking at Some New Options

Last week I talked about decision making. At the time I was weighing things, I only saw three options. I took a deep breath and looked at what the first step would cost me.

The answer? Too much. This is a fact that saddens me on many many levels.

However, it also made me look at things in a new way. Option 1 was completely off the table. Option 2 could be done with some modifications, but I didn't really like it. Option 3 was never really an option in my mind anyway.

So, what's a girl to do when faced with that?

Make some new damn options.

Nothing is definite yet, but I think I know where I'm going from here. There are going to be people who won't be happy about it. My hope is that they'll understand I'm kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. I'm hoping that by next week I'll have actual news to share regarding the fate of my favorite supernatural crime-fighters. Right now, I need to make sure Option A isn't going to kill me down the line.

Thank you, everyone, for your patience. I appreciate it more than you know.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pulling Up My Big-Girl Panties

Sometimes this writing thing is hard. I don't want it to be. I mean, I like writing, I like revising, I like editing. I don't lurve blogging, but I don't hate it either. So why can't it be as simple as writing a book, editing the hell out of it and putting it out there. You know, so I can move on and write another book?

I've been giving a lot of thought to self-publishing lately. I know quite a few people who have or are doing it and they're happy. They seem to be doing well. But I follow some of them on Twitter and it feels like all they ever do is promo.

Promotion is the single most dreaded part of being an author for me. I hate going up to people and saying "buy my book" or even "this is my book and it got a really great review from ______." I suck at that stuff, and I have ever since I was little. When I was a girl scout I was lucky if I hit the 50 cookies badge every year. And those were GIRL SCOUT COOKIES. Those things practically sell themselves!

So, I look at self-publishing and as much as I think some of my books would do as well (even with my crappy sales skillset), I'm leery of branching out in that direction. But... that means sitting on things I'd like to see out in the world. It means trying to decide what to do with some of my work at all.

This is not a pity party. I have it better than a lot of writers out there. Between this me and the other me, I have quite a few stories out. I have publishers who I like working with and who like working with me. But not everyone publishes YA (sad sad fact of life), and not all publishers who do YA do it well. Plus, all my YA stuff is novel-length which means it takes more work than shorter pieces. So, I can't put everything out when I want to. And, right now I know it's making some people not happy with me.

There's stuff sitting on my hard drive right now that I need to make some decisions on. Self-pubbing is one option. There are others. All of them are a little scary. But eventually I have to do something because even letting them collect dust is me making a choice. It's just the chicken's choice. So, I'm pulling up my big girl panties (because one should never fight demons in any other kind of panties) and staring down my options. Hopefully it won't be as hard a decision as I'm worried it will be. But I want to thank each and every one of you who has been patient (and those of you who have been less so). You're the reasons I'm staring down my demons at all. You're the ones who make the fight worth it. So thanks.

Now where did I put my sword?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'm a Grown-Up Now. Really.

There's a funny thing about parents (being one, having them...). When I was growing up--especially during my teen years--I couldn't wait to get out of the house and away from my parents. Then I went to college (Yay, adulthood!), only to find out that while they couldn't enforce a curfew anymore, my parents still had control over a lot of things.

It took me a lot of years before I came to realize a simple, disturbing truth.

Your parents are never out of your life.

There's a window where their influence is small-ish. It comes between college graduation and having children. During that window, it's rather easy to only deal with them when you want (and/or for special occasions. Note: the fewer siblings you have, the fewer special occasions there will be.)

But once you have kids, all bets are off. Not only will your parents likely want a relationship with their grandkids, but your kids will want one as well. And you--in your attempts to be the Best. Parent. EVER!--will want that for them too. So, you'll visit more. And you'll visit longer.

And suddenly, that nice bubble you had carved out to be parent-free will get smaller and smaller. At first, you won't notice, and you'll probably even appreciate it. (Hell, there are some parts you'll appreciate even when the tiny-bubble panic hits.) But then the dreaded moment comes when you do something for you--like get a tattoo--and there's no bubble left at all. That look your mother perfected when you were growing up? The one that lets you know in no uncertain terms that you have disappointed her? Yeah. She hasn't forgotten that one, and now that she has wrinkles it is even more extreme.

But you get over that because it's your life and you like your tattoo. And for a while you think you're building your bubble up again. Not a big one, just big enough to breathe.

And then one day, you're talking to her all happy about the fact that your kid is gobbling up The Hunger Games like it's the best thing ever (seriously, the little man is skipping TV to read), and she responds with something along the lines of "Oh really. And now the eleven year old is reading the same books as the nineteen year old." Uh... yes? But it smashes the bubble all over again and you question your fitness as a parent. (This one took less time to get over than the tattoo. I will ALWAYS encourage my kids to read books that challenge them and their views of the world.)

So, yeah. Unless you cut all ties with your family, your parents are going to be a major factor in your life forever. Even if they aren't physically around, they color the choices you make. So, dear readers, a few pieces of unsolicited advice from me to you. 1) Come to grips with your parents sooner rather than later. 2) Savor those years where you have the nice bubble going on. Use it to learn to love yourself so you can withstand the bubble-shrinking assault. 3)Try to be the kind of parent that respects your kids' bubbles from early on.