Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Octopi, Disney, and What I Wrote In High School

I got a little chatty with some of these, but you asked for it, right? Thanks for all the fun questions!

Angela said: What did you write about when you were in high school?
HA. High school writing. Thank goodness I knew I wasn’t good enough to get published, because it was pretty silly stuff.

Along with a lot of angsty free poetry, I wrote one story about a girl with blue hair from another planet. She ended up on Earth, and she had to find her seven guardians in order to return home and save her planet from invasion. Oh, and she had wings, because wings are pretty.

Basically, it was every anime I’d seen at that point smashed together into one. Embarrassingly enough, this was my first “serious” project when I decided to start writing again. This kind of makes me want to crawl in a hole and die.

The other project I started in high school was kind of a smash between fantasy and dystopian. It was about a world where everyone is tattooed at birth with the symbol of their profession chosen by the government. My main character cuts his mark off and goes on that whole quest thing to free people.

I had a friend read the first 100 pages, and she (very nicely) said it sucked. I was devastated, and that’s when I stopped writing creatively (probably the beginning of my junior year). (Note to friend if she ever reads this: You were right—it did suck. It’s okay. I’m over it.)

Larissa said: If you did draw a background like this one, what would you put in it?
Ninjas, of course. And probably some more specific things that I like, such as Code Red, books, art supplies, food, inside jokes, etc. The funny thing about line art like that is it’s deceptively simple. Creating such clean lines without it looking cluttered is hard.

CKHB said: Question: octopus, dolphin, or turtle?
I love how you left context completely up to me.

To eat: Octopus
To be: Turtle
To draw: Dolphin
To save: Dolphin
To have as a pet: Turtle
To ride: Dolphin
To be my arch nemesis: Octopus
To shoot at people in a go-kart race: Turtle (preferably red-shelled ones)

inthewritemind said: I'm on a Disney movie kick and I'm curious—what’s your favorite animated Disney film?
As a girl with strong feminist tendencies, I have this weird relationship with Disney. When I was younger, I loved all the princesses. Sleeping Beauty was my absolute favorite—my mom can attest to how many times I watched it. I went as Snow White one Halloween, Jasmine for another. I waited for Disney movies to come out with extreme excitement.

And then I got a little jaded when I realized life isn’t so fairy tale as the princesses made it seem. That boys weren’t knights in shining armor—they were people with their own problems. (This, curiously enough, was also when I started watching more anime.) I stopped believing in the pretty world Disney has an incredible knack for creating.

Ah, disillusionment, I know you well.

That said, I do appreciate Disney, and I know that the older princess films are reflections of the time in which they were created. I don’t blame Disney for feeding me lies and turning me into some helpless drone. Obviously, that didn’t happen at all.

Looking back at all the films, I would have to say that I appreciate Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast the most.

While I still worry about Belle being so determined to change the sometimes violent Beast, she sticks up for herself and she is just cool and independent and all that. The story and characters are fabulous in general—it didn’t get nominated for Best Picture for nothing.

I loved Jasmine even when I was little, how she doesn’t let Aladdin get away with lying. And she’s smart—she sees right through all the guys’ motives. She’s always fighting for what she wants, even when things look hopeless. I love that Aladdin is “a diamond in the rough.” He’s not at all perfect, but he’s got a good heart and ninja-like cleverness.

Caroline Starr Rose said: What childhood book made the biggest impression on you?
Like I can pick just one!

Picture Book: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. That is the one I remember reading over and over again. I loved it so much. It was one of many that instilled a love of reading and drawing in me.

Middle Grade Book: Bridge to Terebithia. I don’t remember all the details of it, but I remember it had a SAD ending. I remember crying—it was the first time a book made me cry. And having lost my grandmother at 8, I could really identify.

Tween Books: Catherine, Called Birdy. Read it in 7th grade for class, LOVED it intensely. I loved how real real was—she said “piss”! I remember laughing out loud about how she liked to sit in the outhouse over the stream because it was airy and didn’t stink. I STILL remember her talking about the boy (her brother?) who’d “piss on ant hills.” She might have been a made up 14th century girl, but I felt like I understood her.

The Giver. Oh man, The Giver just blew me away as a kid. I think it was the first dystopian thing I read, and it really made me think about the world in a new way.

Candice said: If you could make a wish and the perfect pair of shoes appeared out of thin air, what would they look like?
Oh, silly Candice, there’s no one perfect pair of shoes! There are different shoes for every occasion! Thus, I would wish for shoes that would transform into whatever I wanted based on the outfit. That would be awesome, except then I’d never have to shoe shop again. That would be sad.

Amanda J. said: You want to do an interview for me sometime? Huh, huh, do ya? do ya? lol...we'll talk later haha.
I would love to! I think it’s so funny that anyone would want to interview me, but I’m flattered all the same. Shoot me an email.

Umm, When you're writing and you get a Shiny New Idea, what do you do? Do you play with it? Write it down and come back later? How do you handle all the characters? :)
It really depends on how much I like it. Usually I don’t write anything down when I first think of something. If it’s a good, strong idea, it’ll come back. It won’t leave me alone. It’ll force me to write. Then I’ll start messing around with a few basic notes or an experimental writing session.

As for characters, oy. I have so many characters it’s getting ridiculous. I’m running out names I like! But I treat them like I treat that new idea. I don’t write things down. If they stick in my head, talk to me a lot, then I know they’re someone worth pursuing.

Also, favorite kind of pasta and/or rice?
Pasta: Thin spaghetti or linguine.
Rice: Short grain sticky white rice. Mmm.

Anita Saxena said: If you became a famous author, and they asked you to compete on Dancing with the Stars, would you do it?
Maybe. While I’ve always liked to dance, I’m extremely self-conscious about it. Like, I dance in my living room all the time and took a few semesters of standard ballroom and Polynesian dance in college, but performing scares the pants off me. And at school dances I’d rarely dance (if I went at all).

I think it would be really fun, though. My brother was in ballroom dance for a few years and I loved watching him. He was so good!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Last Meals, Querying, and Ninjas

Here are half the questions today, some of which are making me wonder if you know of my impending doom or something. The rest will be answered tomorrow, and after that there will be a post about one of my areas of extreme expertise. Get excited, guys.

Falen said: What would you like to eat for your LAST MEAL ON EARTH... (i don't know why you'd be eating your last meal... let's assume you're 109 years old and still have all your teeth and a strong GI tract).
As a major fan of food, this is a really mean question. It changes constantly, but right now I’m on a bit of a Japanese kick. So I’d pretty much want a full spread of ramen, gyoza, sushi, yakisoba, teriyaki, perfect sticky rice, miso, etc.

Candyland said: How long before you landed Nathan Bransford when querying?
Roughly two years of querying. I queried my first project in October 2007. Eight projects, four rounds of querying, and more rounds of revisions than I want to count later, I signed with Nathan the Fall of 2009.

And that doesn’t count the time I wrote before querying, which was about two years of writing seriously (as in I’d made the decision to try to get published [I’ve always written as a hobby]).

So all in all, about four years of work before an agent.

Lisa said: 1) Is your book on submission? Which one? Both sound super awesome.
I’m sorry I’m gonna have to be vague about this. Yes, something of mine is on submission. That is all.

2) I'm paranoid. I don't know why. I'm querying right now with an idea I love. Agents seem to like it too until they get to my partial. Obviously my writing needs work. But do you think an agent would pass along the idea to one of their clients who is more up-to-speed and polished with their writing? I don't think you can copyright an idea or a hook. I don't know why I think like this, maybe because I just really love this idea so much. Am I only the one who thinks this way? I'm crazy...
First, you are a little crazy—but we all are. Don’t worry about that.

About passing on your idea, I really don’t think that’ll happen. Agents, as far as I’ve experienced, are really professional. And their clients have ideas enough of their own. There is so small a chance that will happen. And even if it does, the idea will be a totally different beast in the hands of another writer. You could give 100 writers the same premise/idea and they’d all write vastly different stories.

You should worry more about why they are connecting with your idea but not your writing.

I hope that doesn’t sound harsh, but it comes from a place of, well, experience. The project I queried before the ninjas—yeah, exact same feedback. “Great idea, writing isn’t there yet.” I got a lot of partial requests, but never made it to a full.

Ideas are wonderful, powerful things, but they really aren’t much without execution. I’ve botched a lot of ideas. Seriously. Like, 14 of my 14 manuscripts I’ve utterly ruined in first drafting. The others are only perfect because I haven’t written them yet.

I would suggest really looking at your book, seeking feedback, and targeting the real reasons for these rejections. An agent saying the idea is great, but ultimately rejecting, is kind of a nice way of saying the writing isn’t “there.” Work on that, and rest assured that your idea is safe.

Jeff said: You are about to die. What are your epic last words?
Last meals, final words…sheesh, are you guys trying to tell me something? I’m not really sure about what I’d say if I were about to die. I’ve spent my life talking. What more could there be? And it would definitely depend on the circumstances. If I were in a car crash I imagine I wouldn’t be able to say anything, and there’d be no one to hear anyway.

But if I were on my death bed, with my family around, I imagine my last words would be as simple as “I love you.” Maybe not even that. Maybe I wouldn’t say anything, but instead hold out my arms and hug everyone there. And if Nick were alive, I’d want to give him one last kiss. That would definitely be the best last thing to experience.

Carolyn V. said: Why don't ninjas wear unitards? They come in black too. Plus they are very stretchy and comfortable. Just sayin'. =)
No pockets. Ninjas need lots and lots of pockets, Carolyn. LOTS. That, and unitards don’t make for quick wardrobe changes. They say that ninja gi may have been reversible (often white for snow), so that a person could switch camouflage when they needed. Also, they speculate ninja may not have worn black at all, but instead an indigo blue. Black can actually be too dark in some cases.

Stephanie L. McGee said: Let's see...Going along with Jeff's question, you're about to die but you're given the option of selecting your last meal. What is it? And why?
See Falen’s question.

Abby Stevens said: What is a 'typical' day like for you?
“Mom! I need insert-any-number-of-items-here! Now!”

“Mom! Ninja Girl is kicking me!”

“Mom! I went potty!”

“Mom! Can I watch Star Wars?”

“Mom! I love you.”

That comprises about 80% of my day. When I’m not burned out and taking a writing break, about 10% of my time goes to actually writing (usually at night or during nap time). The other 10% is comprised of cooking, exercising, reading, and hanging out with Nick.

L.T. Elliot said: You've mentioned, casually, that you like sushi a lot. Why? And does it taste fishy?
Oh, sushi. I need to tell a story to explain why I’m so excited about sushi these days, because I’ve been “training my palate” for a decade.

When I was 16, I took Japanese in high school. I was kind of obsessed. Okay, totally obsessed with all things Japanese. But I had not yet had sushi. My teacher invited this sweet Japanese lady to show us how sushi is made and then we’d get to taste it.

I popped that little California Roll in my mouth, sure I’d love it like I loved all things Japanese. And then I proceeded to dry heave, run to the bathroom, and make out with the porcelain god.

It was really depressing, not to mention mortifying. How could I not like sushi? I felt like some kind of fraud. Dramatic, but true.

But I didn’t give up. Anytime sushi was offered to me, I would try it. But I stayed away from the raw stuff because “that’s just gross.” I thought the rolls were safer or something.

My dad finally convinced me to try nigiri (rice ball and fish) instead of a maki (roll), and to my surprise it was AMAZING. I discovered it was the seaweed—not the actual fish, etc.—that was causing my gag reflex. I’ve since been working on my reaction to seaweed (with great success).

It’s the seaweed that has a “fishy” flavor (there is even fish flavored seaweed, if you can believe it), not the actual raw fish. Raw fish? You’d be shocked to find that it actually tastes less fishy than cooked fish. Tuna in particular has almost a tender, steak-like texture.

If you’ve tried sushi rolls and not been a fan, I highly recommend trying a type of sushi that doesn’t have seaweed and see how you feel about that. There are rolls made with rice paper or where the seaweed is on the inside so you don’t get that taste first thing. There is also nigiri, and I recommend trying the shrimp nigiri if you are nervous about raw things because the shrimp, of course, is cooked.

Sushi, like certain cheeses and even wine (so I’ve heard), sometimes takes time to develop a taste for. Once you become accustomed to the flavors, they are unbelievably appealing and addicting.

I am just getting to the point where I can handle seaweed without auto-gagging. I’m very excited about this, since it opens up so many more things for me to try.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Question Time

It's about time to mess around with my blog again! Yay! So I'm working on a new header today, and thus will not be posting anything terribly interesting. How do you like the new digs so far? I feel pretty and artistic and stuff.

But never fear! As part of a week-long series, the amazing Elana Johnson has interviewed me on her blog today. Check it out. Elana is fabulous, and she happens to live very close to me. Except we never do anything together. (Dude, Elana, what is WITH that? It's like we both live on the internet or something...)

Also, it's about time I do a Q&A again. Yes, I'm running dry on posts. It happens, okay? Help a girl out and ask her some questions. I will answer them all this week.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Half A Sketch

This is half the sketch I'm working on for Sophia, who won honorable mention in my last contest. There's no way I'll be able to finish the background this weekend, so I thought it might be interesting for you to see a halfway sketch and then the finished product. While I'm happy with the figure, I'm nervous I won't get the background right. We'll see, I guess.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Rewriter

I think I'm finally ready to admit this—I'm a rewriter.

I've tried to deny it for a long time. "Oh, regular revisions will be enough," I told myself. "I won't have to redo more than half my book this time. I'm a better writer now. I won't have as many mistakes as I did before."


I really wish it wasn't the case, because rewriting takes a lot of work mentally and emotionally. But I am one of those writers who just can't get it right the first go around. Not even close to right. It doesn't matter if I have an outline or not—it just doesn't come together well enough to avoid major (as in 50% of the book or more) rewriting. I can't think of a single one of my projects that doesn't need some major overhaul.

Being a rewriter, I'm learning, comes with one major problem: You constantly think you suck.

It's hard not to! I mean, everything I ever write will basically have to be thrown out and done over. It's really easy to think that I'm hopelessly incapable of writing a decent story—even when I put months and months of work into it. And writing anything new becomes nearly impossible, since all I can think is how in a year I'll be REwriting it all. And if I really suck that bad, then why the heck am I doing this at all? Why shouldn't I just give up?

See what I mean? Being a rewriter can really wear down your confidence.

So you have to put your confidence in other things, I think. I may be a sucky writer. I might have to rewrite every project for the rest of my life. But I can edit. I might even be a pretty good reviser. I can get there eventually if I work my butt off.

And maybe being a rewriter is just another way of doing this whole writing gig, just like outliners and note-takers and pen/paper...ers. Maybe this is part of my process that I will never outgrow, part I need to accept and deal with.

I'm a rewriter. I can't quite say I'm proud of that yet, but acknowledgment is the first step, right?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Constant Cussing

*Warning* Rant ahead. Watch out for hyperbole and melodrama.

Before I get started, I want to make sure it's clear that I don't have a problem with most swearing in YA books. Even though I would never personally drop the big F, etc., I don't mind books that have it or other kinds of language I don't use. I get the arguments for authenticity to character and "how teens speak." I am not calling for a blanket censorship of all YA literature.

I just have a few pet peeves, and I'm in the mood to rant about them.

In some of my reading, I've come across a few seriously cuss-laden books. I mean, like, the f-bomb on every page kind of thing. And while that word kind of makes my blood curdle, that's not the major gripe I have with constant swearing. No, my problem is much, much more nerdy.

The REPETITION! For the love of copyediting—the word repetition KILLS me.

We as writers spend ridiculous amounts of time removing excessive that, was, just, even, like, has, and other verbal ticks like adverbs and favorite adjectives and quantifiers from our writing. We know that when people read, those kind of repetitious words and phrases stick out and mess with the flow of a reading experience.

Why does cussing sometimes get such an obvious free pass?

To me, swearing is like caviar or a really good bleu cheese—a little goes a long way. You don't need it on every page to establish your book's tone. It just gets old, honestly. And then when a writer uses it when it should have had weight, it doesn't. It's just filler. "Edgy" filler.

Which brings me to another annoying aspect of constant cussing. It feels like the writer was like "Oh, I need to make my book edgier, because it's fairly clean and fun and I want to be cool and dark and edgy. I got it! I'll just throw the f-word in there."

Bam. Insta-edgy. Or really transparent and unnecessary, depending on how you look at it.

People talk all the time about how we as YA writers shouldn't exactly mimic "teen speak," right? You'd get reamed for littering your manuscript with a never-ending string of "like, totally epic, omg." Yes, there should be a flavor of accessible, youthful speech, but it just can't be 100% accurate. It would be painful to read. Shouldn't the same thing apply to cussing?

Again, I'm not saying there should be no cussing in YA, I just hope those who do use it with thought and not just because "that's how teens speak" or "I want to make my book edgy." A good example to me? Lisa McMann's WAKE series. While there is definitely strong language, it feels as if she put thought into placement, and it's not constantly smacking you across the face every page. It works. It feels right for the characters. And yet it's not overdone. Bravo, Lisa.

I'm just saying, like with all writing, moderation is important. Really thinking about your words and why you're using them is key.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Thing About Covers

Oh, the book cover. I don't think there's a writer out there who hasn't imagined the day they have an actual book cover—one that represents their book exactly, while also being eye-grabbing, bestsellery, award-winning, and all around perfect.

Yeah...that's not really how it works. But like the magical publication stories about writing a book in a month, getting an agent the next day, and selling in one week, we writers like to dream it's that pretty and simple.

Now, this is just one writer's semi-outside view of the process, but I think it's slightly unhealthy to idealize covers and I want to bring it down to a practical level. It's important to be prepared for how your cover will likely be handled instead of romanticizing it.

Note: I'm not saying this is how it should be, that this is bad, or anything of the like. I'm just saying these are some things that go into cover creation that you may not like to think about but should.

Most people think covers are meant to represent what's inside a book. While that's partially true, it's not the core intent of any cover.

A cover is designed to sell the book.

I hate to shatter the dream, but that is the #1 objective. Your cover, or future cover, is an ad. Everything that goes into it is meant to boost its chances of selling. Yes, what's inside is a factor, but it's not the only one or sometimes even the most important.

Since your cover is an ad, a certain demographic will likely be chosen based on where the marketing team thinks your book fits. You might think your book will appeal to boys and girls, or men and women, or sports lovers AND video gamers, or all of the above. But marketing doesn't work that way—it's too hard to make a product universally appealing.

Your book will get a box, most likely the box marketing thinks will be most inclined to buy your book. Your cover will be designed with that demographic in mind. Your jacket copy, blurbs, and maybe even your author bio/name will be created based on it. You will be a brand, essentially.

Your Place Among Titles
I don't think anyone likes to talk about this, but the truth is you may not be as "important" at your publishing house (or future house) as you want to be. Yes, publishers pick books to be bigger sellers than others based on a ton of factors I won't pretend to know. It kinda sucks. Get over it.

The practical fact of the matter is not every book can be a bestseller. Just like not every singer can be a grammy winner or insert-whatever-other-comparison-here. Publishers basically bet on their titles. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes not. Of course they're going to put more into their "best bets," so to speak.

Your book may not be as important as you hoped for, and the cover might get treated accordingly.

Note: I am not saying editors take on books they hate or think will fail. Not true at all. I believe all editors buy books they truly love, but that doesn't mean they have control over how a book gets treated in house. I'm sure every editor works hard to get their titles the attention they deserve—but you just can't win every battle.

Not every cover is created from scratch. Your cover could get stock photoed (aka: slap a typical image on the front that is shown to do well within your determined demographic, but with a few tweaks and changes).

I think we imagine getting our own personal model for our covers, or a commissioned piece of artwork, or whatever. This does happen, but don't be surprised if it doesn't. And I would say don't be sad if it doesn't, too. There are a lot of amazing books that have done very well with "typical" covers. It's not necessarily a kiss of death or anything.

You could think you have a final cover, and it could get changed completely based on feedback from booksellers and reviewers. It happens more often than you might think. If a major seller says they won't stock it with a certain cover, you better bet it'll be changed. That could be good or bad depending on how you feel about your cover.

Okay, some of this might be depressing. I know it's hard to think about your creative work being boiled down and packaged and marketed, but here's a few good things.

You Can Build Your Brand Now
If you don't want someone else branding you, then you can do it yourself. I think that's why publishing seems to be looking for writers who are already out there networking, etc. They'd rather not spend time making you a brand if they can have someone who has already made themselves one.

The beauty of that? You can be what you want to be. Then you just need the patience to wait for someone to notice.

You Can Prove Them Wrong
Just because you get put in a certain demographic or your house decides you aren't going to be a bestseller doesn't mean it won't happen. Just like books poised to be big sellers flop, there are novels that break out unexpectedly.

Do everything you can for your book—the number one thing being writing a really good one.

Chill Out
If you're to the point that you're worrying about your cover, that means you're getting published. Dude, you're getting published. Maybe it's not exactly how you pictured. Maybe the whole journey isn't. But figure out how to work with what you have and try to enjoy it. Have faith that your writing will shine through.

*Insert Your Own Conclusion.*
(Sorry, my kids decided to get sick again, and I've been trying to write this for like three hours. I've basically forgotten the whole point of this by now.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Living Life

Yeah, so I skipped blogging yesterday. You know that whole "if you can't say anything nice" thing? I figured I better take that advice. Because I'm burned out, guys. Really bad. And when I burn out I can't think anything except that I'm a seriously crappy writer. There's not much else I can say.

So yesterday I did other things. I went out for some of this:

I didn't used to like sushi, but the more I eat it the more I crave it. Nigiri (rice ball and fish) is my favorite. It seriously soothes my soul. Food has always had that effect on me—good food, made with skill and love.

And I bought SHOES. Yes, I'm a stereotypical female in that respect. Love shoes, in particular those that stand out.
I can't tell you how long I've been on the hunt for cute yellow shoes. And the zebra? I've always wanted a pair, and they'll go great with the hot pink pencil skirt I found.

Is it obvious yet that I have a thing for color? No? Okay, one more embarrassing picture:
I had orange shorts, but now I also own neon orange pants! All is right with the world.

When I got home from my outing, I did break down and read a few blogs. I'm glad I did, because Maggie Stiefvater wrote just what I needed to read. Basically, she said writers need to live, as in doing other things besides writing. If you spend all your time in front of the screen, you use up the experiences you draw on to write without generating new ones.

Sometimes I forget to live, which sounds silly but it's true. I feel like if I'm not doing everything possible to get out there in the writing world, I'll never make it. I feel like if I take a break I'll lose all the momentum I've generated. I work too hard sometimes.

In reality, there's nothing wrong with taking a break, slowing down to refill the inspiration tank. In fact, it's probably good for you.

So I'm taking a break of sorts. I'm sure I'll still be blogging, but my writing will be on a strictly whim basis. I need to live a little.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trying New Things

If you didn't know, I'm kinda sorta in the middle of writing a YA contemporary book. And by kinda sorta, I mean I WAS, but then I stopped to dig in on Transparent edits.

Now I'm terrified to get back to the WIP.

I always do this to myself! I think, "Oh, I'll try something new, just to stretch myself. Yeah, great idea! I need to grow as a writer." Then I kick myself about a month later when I discover that growing is HARD, and trying a newish genre is HARD, and why do I willingly put myself through this again?

I've done this several times, guys. Take Relax, I'm a Ninja—my first male MC. Or Hammered—my first attempt at YA sci-fi, about an organic girl living in a mostly cybernetic society. And Transparent—my first attempt at present tense, not to mention superhero-ish/alternate present-based-on-alternate-history...thing. This fall I went for my first true fantasy with Spork—my french-twisted steampunk adventure, plus elemental weapons.

Now I'm doing contemporary. Why? If I'm being honest, I was a little bored of the fantastical. I know, gasp. That's what I WRITE! But having experimented so much within contemporary fantasy (hello? dragons, zombies, ninjas, elves, super-powers, angels, wizards, etc.), I needed to see if I could write a book that didn't use fantastical elements.

Answer? I'm not sure if I can, and I really don't like that answer.

This contemporary business is hard and new and sometimes really fun, though maybe not right now. It's different, and I feel like a huge, flopping fish out of water—more than in any of my other writing experiments.

I have an intense admiration for contemporary YA authors, though. You guys are amazing, and you totally don't get the recognition you deserve. So I'm saying it here: YOU GUYS ROCK! And you work really hard to make your stories interesting and real and yet still magical, somehow. I'm jealous, because I suck at it.

But despite the suckage, I have committed to myself that I WILL finish this book. I will learn. I will stretch myself. Because no matter how hard my past stretching has been, good things have come from it. Great things, even.

I have grown as a writer, and allowing myself to try new things, I think, has played a big part in that. This book may never see the light of day, but I love it all the same. You know, when I'm not scared of it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Intro To Anime

A few people have expressed an interest in learning more about anime, but not knowing where to start. It can be overwhelming! Sometimes I'm still overwhelmed by just how much is out there, especially since it's so much more accessible than it used to be.

Shall we start with a basic definition?

Anime: Animated TV series and movies from (mostly) Japan. And for the love of Pop Tarts, do not call it Japanimation. Ew. Even typing it made my blood curdle. It's anime, as in ah-ni-meh, if you wanna get really specific.

Unlike American animation, anime isn't solely geared towards children (I'm pretending Family Guy, etc don't exist, okay? American animation is a little embarrassing.). Here, we have this idea that cartoons are for kids, which I think is kind of lame. But in Japan, every age group reads manga (comics) and watches anime. There are many sub-genres within anime, the basics being children, teen, adult, and hentai (the dirty stuff). And of course there's sub-genres within those, like contemporary and fantasy (hmm, that doesn't sound like books at all).

This is why I hate hearing someone say, "Oh, anime—I hate Bakugan. Anime is stupid." Bakugan (or Digimon or Pok√©mon) is just one sub-genre of children's anime. But many westerners assume—because here cartoons are for kids—that this is the only thing anime has to offer.

Not true. Not at all.

Anime Characteristics: I think most people are more familiar with the look of anime than they used to be—the big eyes, the typically thin, willowy figures, and the crazy hair. But there are a lot of different styles, and some of "the greats" don't fit that mold at all.

But no matter the anime style, there's a lot of expressiveness conveyed. Eyes are enlarged or shrunken for a purpose—to convey a certain emotion. Same with mouths. And chibi style (when the characters are small and cute). The tear drops and other symbols are meant to exaggerate emotion.

American cartoons do this too (though anime does it better, hehe), just in different ways—eyes bugging out, heart popping out of chest, steam coming out of ears, etc.

What You Should Know Before You Watch: First, you should know what genre of anime the series is, because it may surprise you content-wise. If you're expecting something that's good, clean fun, then you might want to stick with children and tween anime.

Nudity and violence standards are different in other countries, and there is often more blood and gore in teen anime than some people might expect. There is sometimes nudity, but it's in the form of what I call the "Peach Bodysuit." No details, like a Barbie or Ken doll. If you are sensitive to those issues, you'll want to investigate the series first.

Luckily, you don't have to necessarily buy a series like you used to. There are many on Hulu and Youtube that are sponsored, and you can watch full seasons without the guilt of internet piracy. Or you can watch a few episodes, decide it's not for you, and move on.

How To Watch Anime: Dude, watch it in Japanese (English subs) and save yourself the torture of poor English dubbing. Seriously. I've watched anime in both, and I promise the experience is better in Japanese. The English is often overdone, because they're trying to make it American...and it's just not. They usually choose horrible, annoying voices, too, where the Japanese voices fit the characters.

Yeah, yeah, "it's hard to read subtitles!" Boo hoo. You get used to it. Trust me on this one.

A Few Recommendations:
(Please feel free to add your own in comments. I do not pretend to have seen every anime series out there, and I will miss some great ones.)

Best Place to Start: Hayao Miyazaki
You might already be familiar with Miyazaki's work, since Disney/Pixar's John Lasseter decided he'd "introduce Miyazaki to the world." (Except a lot of people already knew that Miyazaki is way, way cooler than Lasseter. Times ten. He's like the Godfather of anime.) Disney has since promoted My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle In The Sky, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and his most recent Ponyo.

Miyazaki's work spans both children's and teen anime, with movies like Ponyo and Totoro being for a very young age group and movies like Howl, Naussica, and Princess Mononoke being for a teen and older audience.

You can't really go wrong with Miyazaki. Everyone has their favorites, mine being Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle In The Sky (Laputa in Japanese), and Howl's Moving Castle. But I like them all—I haven't seen a Miyazaki film I didn't like.

Action-Based Anime (some would say "boy anime," but I love action-based so nyah):
Evangelion: Shinji is chosen to pilot an Eva—the only machine/thing strong enough to defeat the never ending barrage of "angels" sent to destroy what's left of the human race.

Seriously bloody (I'd say an upper teen anime), but freaking awesome. I think it's still one of the most popular series I've seen out there. It's the machina (giant machines) trend at its best.

Dragonball: Yeah, it's old school, but it's awesome! It starts with Goku—a boy with a monkey tail who's from another planet. Dragonball Z was on Cartoon Network back in the day, which follows both Goku and his son Gohan.

Lots of fighting, but not bloody. I'd say it's in the tween category.

Naruto: Ninjas! Naruto is determined to become his Clan's top leader...except he's kind of a goof with a temper. Also in the tweenish category.

Bleach: I cannot express how much I love this series right now. Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper, charged with saving souls from the Hollows, evil dead spirits. Bloody, but not as much as Evangelion. And there', a few large-breasted women, though I'm four seasons in and no kissing. Definitely in the upper teen category.

Romantic-Based Anime (some would say "girl anime," but it often has a healthy amount of action so nyah):
Fushigi Yuugi: Miyaka is sucked into a world like ancient China, where she must become the Priestess of Suzaku. As Priestess, she will be granted three wishes if she can gather the Suzaku Seven. Kissing, betrayal, action, and a bit of comedy.

There's a little blood, and some, uh, precarious romantic situations. The series would definitely be in the teen category. It's one of my favorites.

Escaflowne: Hitomi falls into another world (yes, a common theme), where she has more control than she realizes. Machina, winged guys, war, Atlantis.

This one is pretty dang clean. I'd put it in the tween category. The animation is a little older in style, but the story is fantastic.

Ouran High School Host Club: Haruhi, a tomboy, is mistaken for a boy and recruited into a "Host Club," where rich boys entertain bored, rich girls. It's gender bending. It's hilarious.

Clean in my book, though I suppose I should mention it deals a lot with gender and orientation, but I think in a very smart, mature way.

Okay, I think that's a long enough post. Anime is awesome. Go watch some!