Tag Archives: young adult

Writing: Teenage Characters and Aesthetics

Sponsored by last night’s DnD session and poor Jadzia, who gained two items. Now, for beginning reference, Jadzia is a juvenile silver dragon whose favorite form when she’s shape changed is a late-adolescent human with silver dragon bloodline traits. An elegant goth late-adolescent human. She actually hoards gem stones of a very specific series of colors (no yellows, oranges, bright or true greens although super dark or milky and pale greens are fine, or reds, unless they are the deepest, darkest shades of red like her lipstick), and rejects anything with gold metal work. Her primary hoard items feature star sapphires (her favorite) and are a belt of magical gem stones that fit these rules. She dresses in a flowy pretty dress with vest and corset work to add structure all in black and charcoal grey.

Her first newly gained item last night I tweeted about, a lesser ironward diamond. It basically is a different type of magical gem stone, and being a smokey grey diamond, it fits just fine. The problem is that second item, which as a player, I wanted. I wanted badly. It was a rod of Piercing Cold. This lets me ignore or at least help combat with benefits Jadzia herself has so if we’re ever in a fight against her brothers or other family who we haven’t met yet, I’m not screwed with her being specialized in cold/ice themed spells to a high extent.

The staff part was fine–it was ice blue. The topper, though… The topper was deliberately made to rub her the wrong way. It’s an angry snowman with a knife.

Jadzia was balking so bad, ya’ll. I wanted it, but she was going, “SNOWMAN! NO!” and ugh. It was a long few minutes and we had to poke at dragon greed to get her to take it. Thankfully, her trying to change it to match her aesthetic is actually planned into the DM’s goal for the thing, so no hurt feelings. But there was some confusion when I mentioned the twelve year old was THAT attached to her aesthetic. Some of it was fellow players forgetting, which considering how she normally looks and her usual maturity, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 48 and that’s barely entering puberty by dragon standards. But I think a little bit of it is that for male writers, even the best ones, they don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying aesthetic isn’t important to pre-teens and teenagers in general. I know for some boys, it’s just as important as breathing. But then I also know that there are people like my brother, who can and will wear warm colors with cool in such a way that if he was doing it with super nice clothes, I’d cringe. Even I can get pretty lax when I’m in casual mode. But for some people, it is life, and the truth is, many of those people are preteen and teenage girls.

Some of that is cultural. We have most of our societal pressure about our appearance pushed onto us as girls between the ages of 11 and 19…which is cruel and unusual, because that is when your hormones and body are doing weird things and you have very little control over anything, yet have to start planning for the rest of your life. Fretting over how you dress and what colors you can’t stand anymore is an easy way to re-establish that control. Some of it is personality. I am naturally an extremely fussy person about color because I can tell dye lots apart even with the smallest of differences, and that’s about the age that people really start taking an interest in fashion, and apply themselves to a very specific look.

As a juvenile dragon, Jadzia is not only in that mindset, she is stuck in it for the next several decades…if not centuries, I’ve not looked at the higher dragon age categories. So for me, I really have to keep it in mind that she is very concerned with appearances and how she is perceived. Particularly with her high level of responsibility, since she’s the most powerful of her clutch and the only female on top of it. She has decided for whatever reason that the gothic look is how she wants to be seen–possibly because she wants to be seen as serious and grown-up, overcompensating for her real place in development. To her, this is just as important as any moral or ethical question she could be put in, because at her age, it is just as important.

In case people still don’t get it, let me explain it in terms of an appropriate holiday metaphor. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that a green, gold, and red Christmas tree is pretty and festive. I will compliment it and may even investigate for reference for a character who might like it. I still want it no where in my home. My Christmas colors are silver and blue and I decorate more with snowflakes and plain deer than Santa Claus or snowmen. (An occasional penguin might sneak by, but shhhh.) Am I so set in my ways that I won’t accept a pretty gift? No. But will that gift actually get hung up in the house? I’ll wait and see if I change my mind, but it’s a no promises situation. I’m also double the maturity level of a teenager.

A lot of male writers do a good job of understanding that this is a thing for young girls, including the guys that I play DnD with. Even some girls don’t experience it and can be confused, depending on how they grew up and their personalities, and then have to try and write it correctly. But sometimes I don’t think writers completely understand it, and that’s what I hoped to try and explain better.

Happy holidays, everyone, and I’ll see you on the cusps of the New Year.


Writing: Unicorns Need a Publicist

…Okay, stay with me on this one.

While I spent the last weekend sick, I had time to do some musing on my novel getting type-casted as being middle-grade, despite knowing my prose is at 9th grade reading level, my main characters are seventeen (if sometimes decidedly immature, but…teenagers), and while the goblins are ridiculous, the hobgoblin is a real threat. I also knew most of the elements I used in my query/first 10 appear in other YA and even adult fiction books, so it couldn’t be them. What did that leave me with?

Unicorns.

Now, I don’t know about all of you, but I grew up watching The Last Unicorn on repeat from the ages of 6 or 7 till…present. I love that movie. I can quote that movie from memory, and I’m due for a rewatch. And I can quote most of the Butterfly’s speech at that. Around 10, I found Bruce Coville’s A Glory of Unicorns and then his Unicorn Chronicles series. (I discovered The Unicorns of Balinor too young for it to click with me, the shortness started driving me nuts.) As a teenager, I kept hoping unicorns would feature more prominently in the Harry Potter series or in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books since they keep getting name-dropped along with the werewolves. I read the Acorna series by McCaffery, but it wasn’t the best thing ever since it was very much sci-fi and that isn’t my cup of cocoa most of the time (plus I got bored about the time the lead got a girl and gave up).

And now as an adult writer who keeps getting told her YA book is too MG in sheer concept, I have to wonder. At one point was it decided that after the age of 12, we no longer like unicorns? That they are meant to be cutsey and wootsey and pretty, but we have to grow up and start liking “serious” books that talk about the world around us, or that if we must do fantasy, shouldn’t we read about dragons, who can be both good or bad or neither and be beasts or companion?*

When I googled unicorns, I didn’t pull up images of Amalthea. I didn’t pull up pictures of fantasy artwork featuring them, like the poster that was in my childhood bedroom up until my mother sold her house four years ago. I didn’t even pull up pictures from old medieval texts, where they were trying to hash together what a unicorn looked like, and boy, were those a mess.

I pulled up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic characters. I pulled up cute, stout little chibi figures. I pulled up rainbow and glitter silhouettes. I even pull up a couple of collections of Unicornos, a collection of figurines big out of Asia with different crazy designs that reminds me of MLP in a lot of ways. Or I pull up the horn with a smile and big eyelashes underneath, which is the latest fad, particularly for these “unicorn” cakes. Worse, I pull up super cheap figurines and stuffed toys that are fine for those about age 9 and younger, but any older and you will get some funny looks.

This strikes me as odd. Now, I liked the first two seasons of MLP, but let me tell you, I’d have never admitted to that in high school. (Especially since the show got increasingly juvenile after Faust left.) And as for what I did have… Amalthea faced hardship, and had to change the fundamental core of what she was in order to save the others. Lightfoot and his people went to war, so people could continue to be happy, could continue to have art and music and joy to their lives, for without them, humans were a sad, miserable lot. I wasn’t embarrassed about enjoying those characters, because I knew that they could withstand the scrutiny. Yes, I was able to immerse myself in a fantasy about unicorns, about creatures called to young girls mostly, but they weren’t these one-dimensional ideas, they were actually people with personalities and flaws and growth.

So that now leaves me with a question. Has the world changed? Have teenagers decided they are too old for unicorns, that they don’t need the ideals but instead need the dark and the gritty reality of their world, or only knights and dragons? Or have we, the adults, just decided that they don’t need it anymore? That it’s just a security blanket of childhood, and that there is no depth to be found there?

I hope it’s the latter, and that we can change it. Because I don’t know about you all, but I still need unicorns. I still need to believe in something fundamentally good…even if some of them are jerks, like Moonshine, or a little too interested in fighting, like Sunny will grow up to be.


Review: Mistress of Thieves

Hey everyone, sorry there was a bit of a delay on this one. (Check out my social media for the full story.) I was a little unsure where to start in the Kindle Store, to which the answer is not on the app if you are looking for the self-published section, but I stumbled upon this one after a lot of digging among the traditionally-published crowd, and thought it was worth a shot!

In Mistress of Thieves by Carrie Summers, Myrrh is an up-and-coming freelance thief who’s lost her only true friend. The city guards finally captured her mentor, an aging rogue and the closest thing she had to a family. He’s dead now. She’ll be next if she doesn’t figure out who betrayed him. As she begins her search, she’s double-crossed by a fellow freelancer and sold out to a shadowy new crime syndicate. With a sack over her head and wrists tightly bound, she’s delivered to the lair of the syndicate’s boss, a man named Glint. Certain he intends to kill her, Myrrh is surprised to learn that he has other plans. An unrepentant scoundrel, Glint is as charismatic as he is complex. And he has information about her mentor’s disappearance that will upend everything she thought she knew about the city’s underworld.

So this was a surprising amount of fun! It seemed like it was going to be super dark and grim, but the writing found ways of inserting some humor that made me grin without making the main character an idiot–actually, she’s rather brilliant, if impulsive at times. The second person point of view was sort of iffy for me, I don’t particularly like it, but it was done well enough that you eventually tune it out. It wasn’t as strongly fantasy as my usual taste, but there was enough that I can see how it ended up in this section rather than anywhere else.

The characters’ backstories were well-done, as was the balance of the cast. Myrrh was fun to follow, though I’m disappointed we didn’t learn her real name yet. Considering the crap that went down, I think if she had told Glint her real name, it could have had a deeper emotional wound…but the writer might also be saving that for later, so you know, I’m okay with it. Nab was friggin’ awesome. I was like, “Oh, little kid to look after, the cute bait.” And then he actually appeared and was a smart brat and I was like, “Okay, not what I expected, but BETTER!” I love realistic kids, especially when Myrrh gave it right back at him. Glint’s backstory was a lot…smaller I guess?…in terms of scale than I was expecting, but it worked, and I totally get it if the world is meant to stay focused here.

The romance was actually done well. It wasn’t something that started in the story, it felt organic in terms of how it built, and when the plot twist is revealed, it added another stab to the heart without having gone to super cliche levels. I also didn’t feel like it took over the story, and it didn’t completely eat up Myrrh’s goals. That thrills me to death. In fact, I think it hurt Glint more than it did Myrrh, which is a nice role reversal. In a similar vein, the female characters were more plentiful than usually shown in thieves’ guild type settings, and I loved the variety. We had more than just the geisha assassin (as the trope is called) and the girl thief, and what we saw was fun. I hope we see more of them.

My only complaint is so minor, and relates entirely to the fact I bought the book on Kindle. The large city that the book was set in was broken down by districts, bridges, and a river. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the layout right in my head (it’s not numerical like you’d think!), and that left to me getting a little confused. Now, Tamora Pierce’s Provost Dog series is very similar for the first two books, and I had less of a problem. That’s because I own physical copies, and it was a lot easier for me to toggle to the map in the front. The Kindle version of Mistress of Thieves not only sticks the map in a kinda weird spot, but I don’t have a Kindle-Kindle, I use my Android phone (which is not the biggest thing ever), so setting bookmarks sucks. As a result, it was halfway useless to me as a reference.

This was a fast but fun read that I enjoyed. It kept the plot simple without getting really convoluted or losing itself down subplots, and it kept true to its characters, even if that meant the ending wasn’t your typical Happily Ever After. Overall, I highly recommend it, and I hope the sequel that comes out next week is just as good!

…Just get the physical copy. 😛