Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Pansy Love Scene

(Reposted from my deviantArt blog)

I've thought about this on and off for a while, and although I know the topic's been covered to death before, I felt idle enough today to organize it into a blog post. Or maybe this post isn't so organized. Anyway. I'm not sure if this is a touchy subject or not, so please don't throw tomatoes at me. Just my ramblings!

It's no secret that the U.S. has a bit of a 'warrior nation' syndrome. Do our hackles rise at excessive violence in our books and media? Meh, sometimes...although you'd never know it, what with all those SAW sequels. We may grumble under our breath now and then about gratuitous violence, but by and large we accept it as a necessity for entertainment.

Do our hackles rise at sex? Much more so than violence. Even the most violent Young Adult novels (think The Hunger Games) will succumb to making their love scenes fade to black. Now, I understand that because the books are written for a younger demographic, there are obviously certain scenes that just aren't appropriate to put in. But blowing up legs, mangling flesh, etc? A few lashes get batted at that, but not much more. When sex is mentioned in books, it's usually accompanied by the character very very blatantly pulling out condoms ("Teens, practice safe sex!"), or having the two characters who have sex get married first or never break up EVER and get married down the line and have pretty children ("Teens, if you have sex with someone, that better be the person you'll marry later on"). Pansy Love Scenes, as I've come to call them. :) When violence is mentioned in books (which is almost every book, including mine), there's no expectation that the author needs to put in some sort of afternoon school special warning on it. Characters punch, kick, and kill each other with reckless abandon. Few of those violent acts have very serious repercussions.

Now, having said that, I used to do the exact same thing. I did this in the very first draft of LEGEND, up until my agent Kristin called me out on it. Why is your main character killing people with reckless abandon? she'd said. He's moral. He's the good guy. He would think twice about killing anyone, even a person who works for the dark side. And she was completely right. After this, I started seeing my story in a new light. When there's violence, I hope I show a very good reason for it. When a character is attacked or dies, it's not gratuitous. And later on, if there's sex, I hope I do it justice. Because sex is no worse than violence. On the contrary, I'd say sex is way way WAY better than violence, right? Make love, not war?

This is not to say sex scenes should be gratuitous. Nothing should be gratuitous, neither sex nor violence, and if they're in a story, they better have a good reason for being there. There are a few YA novels I've read where I think the love scenes were done nicely, balancing tasteful writing with the bravery to describe more than Pansy Love. One good example I can think of: Simone Elkeles PERFECT CHEMISTRY. Yes, the love scene does involve condoms and true love, but who cares--there is no fading to black, it's a fantastic, tastefully done scene, neither vague nor gratuitous. It's super romantic. And makes perfect sense in the plot.

I don't mean that I don't like YA novels with excess violence and pansy love scenes. Many of them are my all-time favorites. This isn't a commentary on the authors and their books, but on the peculiar American culture that I understand we all have to cater to. If a book has a particularly violent scene, parents don't usually worry about it. If there's a sex scene, parents jump on it. Case in point: Kody Keplinger's debut THE DUFF. A book offering a candid, non-preachy plot with teen sex (and written by a teen, so I'm pretty sure it's accurate). When reading reviews on it, I see the huge amount of inevitable "too much sex, inappropriate". Granted, people also criticize The Hunger Games for having too much violence, but the uproar raised over that is half-hearted at best.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but for me it really just comes down to: I'd like to read less Pansy Love Scenes in YA and more tasteful, honest love scenes. If the story is better with that love scene, do it justice.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Currently read and/or reading

It's been a while since I've done a "currently reading" list. Time to plug a few authors and their scrumptious books. (Btw, I have a confession to make, and it's an embarrassing one. *deep breath* I'm not a fast reader. In fact, I'm really slow. I've always been a little ashamed of this, and now that I talk to more writers, I feel it much more acutely. I'm only capable of really absorbing ....I'd say, 20-25 novels a year. A paltry number compared to most people I know. I'm trying to improve this number, but so far it's been very gradual. I do feel the pain of any young teens or kids out there who feel like they have trouble with reading. You have to find the books that draw you in and read what you love. Once you find the right books, it becomes so much easier.)

I tell this mini-story because I'm trying to emphasize that when I do latch onto a book, it means a great deal to me. So the books in the following list (and ANY list I make of currently reading/have-read books) are books I genuinely loved or am loving. Because I'm a slow reader, I have to carefully pick what I'm reading because I'm going to be reading it for a while. So these recommendations are not given lightly.


Anyway, here we go...

Currently reading:

Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi: I started this one recently and am loving it so far. It's a very original dystopian concept, about a boy named Nailer whose job is to strip copper wire from shipwrecked old oil tankers on the U.S. coast. Pretty eerie setting, mainly because it seems very plausible. Anyway, Nailer happens upon a really luxurious ship one day that can be worth a lot of money to scavenge (if they do it right). They also find a girl on this ship, though, who may or may not be trustworthy. Nailer is a completely endearing main character who I found myself rooting for from page 1. Love the details about scavenging the oil tankers, too!

by Malinda Lo: If you loved Lo's Ash, or authors like Patricia McKillip, you'll love this. I just started this one and it has all the beauty, lyricism, and magic of her first novel. In Huntress, the world is fading...failing crops, sunless skies. To save it, two girls are chosen to go on a journey to the city of the Fairy Queen, and in the process they come to rely on and love each other. I smile every time I read Lo's writing. It's SO beautiful. Check it out. :)

Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon: Sequel to Silver Phoenix, which is about a girl named Ai Ling who sets off to find her father when he doesn't return from the Imperial Palace. Nothing like a book about a girl who can kick ass like Ai Ling, as well as a book full of fantasy, adventure, romance, and AMAZING descriptions of mouthwatering food.

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare: Book 4 in her Mortal Instruments series. I've liked Cassie Clare's writing for a long time, and started TMI after reading book 1 in her other (related) trilogy, The Clockwork Angel (see below). :) You've probably heard of this series, unless you live under a rock.

Recently finished:

The Clockwork Angel
by Cassandra Clare: Recently finished this, then immediately bought it for a friend too. Few people can conjure up amazing male protagonists like Cassie can. And obviously, by the appearance of my own male protagonist (Day), you know I have a thing for white/silver-haired half-Asian boys like her character Jem. :) Dark, funny, steampunk-y, romantic, and full of goodness!

The Child Thief by Brom: I've always loved Peter Pan in every iteration he's ever been in. But man, Peter in THIS story is at his darkest. This is not for teens under 14. Very dark, violent, and with sexual references. But it is so good. Peter! I loved him for his conflicted nature and sense of duty. And, of course, his ever-present mischievous spirit.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver: My friend Julie had recommended Before I Fall (Oliver's first novel) to me a while back, and it was one of the best recs I've gotten. Now I'm a permanent fan of her breathtaking prose. Delirium is dystopian (so, obvious love points here) and a love story, but it takes place in a future U.S. that sees love as a disease that must be eradicated. 17-yr old Lena is going to get a procedure that "cures" her of love, but before she does, she falls in love with a free-spirited boy named Alex. Great read. First of a trilogy!