Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Teen Writer Reflection

(Cross-posted from Teens Can Write Too, a fun community for teen writers with events like monthly blog chains. This was my "blurb" for their first birthday celebration.)
For as long as I can remember, I've loved to make up stories, playing with infinite casts of characters in my own private worlds. But I had never before finished a written story outside of school assignments when I signed up for NaNoWriMo in Grade 10. 
My schedule that fall was crazy, and just the thought of having to write stressed me out. But something magical happened on November 1st. Suddenly I wasn't an overburdened student anymore - I was a writer, I was a novelist! I wrote at lunch, in class, when I should have been doing my homework, and late into the night. I wouldn't let myself go to bed until I had my daily 1667 words written. I don't remember sleeping so little ever before or since. 
It was a grueling month, but on November 29th, 2009, I finished my first novel. While I was incredibly proud of myself, the strongest feeling was of profound relief: the ordeal was over! As it turned out, that feeling lasted about a week before excitement for NaNoWriMo 2010 set in.

Years full of writing - novels and otherwise - passed, and when I had to decide what to do after high school, I was torn between the sensible and the sensational. I wanted (and still want!) to write for a living, but being an engineer (my second choice) pays the bills a lot more reliably – at least until I write that best-seller. Writing is my dream and my passion and I will never give it up. 
But for now, I am an engineering student. Every day I work with people who got accepted into my highly competitive program yet struggled to make the 70% cutoff mark in English. And I just don't get it, and in some ways that means I just don't fit in. Because while I think numbers are pretty and I love making them dance for me and trig identities are my idea of fun - I will just as happily spend an afternoon wrestling with a tricky plot problem. 
Being a teen writer has helped me find a community of people like me. When I come online or go to a NaNo write-in, I am reminded that I am far from alone.

I am a teen, a student, an athlete and a writer. There are not enough hours in a day - but I'd love to meet more teen writers anyways! You can find me on twitter @amethystars.

Friday, September 21, 2012

My first time: a true story of street harassment

(warning for atypically strong language - my feelings on this are even stronger)
I am running, with the gang - the rest of my university's women's cross-country running team. We're warming up, heading along a downtown street toward the track for our workout. We pass a group of boys who look like fellow students. No one in our group acknowledges them.

They would have been just a few random strangers among the hundreds I pass every day, except then I hear some noise - garbled talking that I can't make out, and what might have been a whistle. 

And then I can make it out, can tell exactly what it is, and I'm furious but we're past them and it's too late to say anything without getting left behind. 
I resign myself to doing nothing and moving on. After all, I tell myself, trying to justify my own inaction, it's not like he means any harm by it, and we're in this big group -

But how are we supposed to know he's "innocent" in his harassment? Is it my job to go through life constantly judging DURING MY WORKOUT whether I need to start running for my life & safety rather than my fitness because some stranger thinks it's funny to yell at me? 
I think not.

And as for the group size, if it's okay to do this to a group of 15 or 20 girls, how about 10? 5? 3? How about me by myself, or with one friend? Maybe instead of justifying yourself, you could just shut the fuck up.

But it's too late to say any of that. So I keep running. But these guys aren't done yet. The vocal one and his "pack" follow us around the corner, and I hear him shout "can I get a number ladies?"

Because clearly those of us on the VARSITY WOMEN'S CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNING TEAM have NOTHING better to do than stop to exchange contact info with some stranger in the middle of our workout. Clearly.

I keep running, afraid of what might happen if I stop - for whatever reason. And I don't yell back, unwilling to start something and involve the whole team. But I refuse to roll over completely. Without even looking back, I raise my hand high and I give him the finger.

I don't know if he sees, or knows what I'm trying to convey, but I feel better after taking some action. I am not judging those who make decisions to never confront - I know why, now better than ever. But I personally couldn't do nothing. I doubt I changed anything today, but it's not about that - it's about there being a record of someone having said: this is not okay.

I had read a lot about street harassment prior to today. But I had never experienced an overt example myself. Now I have. And it is fucking ridiculous. And so I ask everyone here, male, female or somewhere in between: if you see street harassment happening and can intervene or speak out safely, please do. It's about standing up and being counted.

Because the status quo? It's not okay.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fire & Ice

So, I'm sorry to have sort of disappeared lately... University started and life went insane, and it's only calmed down slightly since then. 
My priorities right now are classes, the cross-country team, and my health. In between I'm trying to stay in touch with friends and family. Last of all comes the rest of it: this blog, writing in general, and other neat campus clubs and groups.

I'm working on nailing down a schedule for myself for after the first unpredictable few weeks. In that schedule, I plan to make more time for writing and blogging. (Because there is no time to find, only MAKE.)

Until then... this is a "song" I wrote for FAWM earlier this year, that I think probably works better as a poem. I like the way the words fit together, and how it tells a story even I don't understand. I hope you do too.

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
I ask why need the world end
Can't you just stay here and pretend?
That our fire was real, that no ice grew
That you loved me as I loved you

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
Have they not felt the scour of wind
Of careless words on one thin-skinned?
The ache, the burn, the cold and all
Because I could not let you fall

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
I can believe that both are real
That none can break what truth can seal
Or conceal, leaving nothing left
To take credit for my heart's theft

Some say the world won't end at all
Some say that's false
From what I've known of human life
So full of troubles, pain and strife-

And yet who does not have a friend
For whom they'd pay the final price?
Perhaps our world need see no end
No end in fire, no end in ice

Thanks for reading, please let me know what you thought. And if you're feeling very generous, wish me luck for my cross-country race tomorrow - I'm going to need it!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

7 Books Your Daughters Should Read

I was an odd kid. I read more books in a week than I had friends, and when I finally met my best friend, we initially bonded over the books we both loved. But I have never felt like I should be embarrassed of who I am, even before I knew anyone like me. For that confidence, I have my books to thank.

As a girl, finding strong female characters - amazing characters (with all the flaws that entails), who just happen to be female - can be tough. So today, as I sit in my new university dorm, missing my real friends, I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and share with you some of the fictional friends who kept me company as a kid.

I recommend these books to everyone. But in particular, I recommend them to your daughters, or your little sisters and cousins. The girls in your life who need full and real female characters as role models. I promise you all of the books below hold such characters.
Quick note: I've put the age at which I first read each book in brackets beside each title, but I was into the teen section and beyond by the time I was ten. If a child you know brings home an 'older' book on her own, I believe in letting her read it, but if you're going to be giving these books to kids, be sure to take into account different maturity levels & reading skills.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (9)


Frustrated by a life where she learns no useful skill, Princess Cimorene runs away from home and volunteers to serve as a dragon's  "captive" princess. Living with Kazul, Cimorene must learn her new job, fend off would-be rescuers and deal with pesky interfering wizards.

Before you dismiss this story as typical "rebellious princess" fare, remember that it's intended for an age group with too few such stories - this was the first reversal I encountered, for one thing. And Cimorene is far from a one dimensional character. She's competent, loves to learn, and always thinks outside the box. Plus, the book features a full spectrum of female characters, a nice contrast from a lot of fantasy where women are tokenized.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (10)


When Tiffany Aching's annoying little brother is kidnapped by the Queen of Fairies, nine year old Tiffany must recruit the Nac Mac Feegle - tiny, blue, kilted men - to help her rescue him.

Terry Pratchett is still one of my favourite authors, and this is a great introduction to his work for younger readers, exploring the importance of stories, different kinds of truth, "headology" and how being a witch means knowing when NOT to use magic.

The best thing The Wee Free Men did for me was squash the worry that I thought too much. My habit of commenting on my own thoughts and actions inside my head - in effect sharing brainspace with a detached observer - became way cooler in my mind when I could call it "Second Thoughts" and be like Tiffany. All of a sudden overthinking everything was okay.

Tamora Pierce's Quartets : Protector of the Small, Song of the Lioness, The Immortals (8)


Two girls train for their knighthood - one in secret, one as the first to do so openly. Another young woman must learn to harness her magic before she loses her humanity to it. All three stories are set in the same kingdom, against the backdrop of different large-scale political events/disasters.

All three series feature strong female protagonists - but for me more than seeing their strengths I loved their flaws. I loved seeing bits of myself in them, and I wanted to be even more like them.
I told myself I had Alanna's temper, and Kel's height. Once when I got my hair cut I described how I wanted it as Kel's hair is described. I wanted to be as determined and strong and brave as they were. I still do.

“Girls are 50% of the population. We deserve to represent 50% of the heroes.” ~Tamora Pierce

(Seriously, these books are amazing, and you should buy/get them. If you're buying, please note that more recent covers are different and not as cool. The books still are.)

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (12?)


Part of a series of books centered around several generations of a black family in the American South during the 1930s, this one is my favourite. The narrator is young Cassie Logan, up until now relatively sheltered by her family from racism.

This book taught me about history, yes, but more than that I learned about unfairness and having no good options and strength and perseverance despite it all.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (8)


"The adventures of an eleven-year-old tomboy growing up on the Wisconsin frontier in the mid-nineteenth century."
To be honest, I read this book so long ago that I barely remember the plot - but I do remember that I loved it, and the unconventional, free-spirited Caddie. I remember that I thought she was so cool, and I remember that some parts made me so sad I wanted to cry. This book was written in 1936 but it is still fantastic today.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (8)


Bound by a childhood "blessing" to obey every command she is given, Ella grows up struggling to simply get along. But she isn't whiny or shallow - she's witty, determined and genuinely kind, with an impressive strength of will.

Don't judge this book by the movie. It is amazing and sweet and clever and Ella is such a wily girl, smart and determined beyond anything.

The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (9) 


Nine year old Katie Welker has always been odd, but when she moves to the city she finally has the chance to track down the four others like her and figure out the origin of their strange powers. 
Katie is a wonderful role model for kids. She's smart and doesn't take nonsense from anyone - she takes the initiative on her investigations instead. I loved her.
Technically, I was a "normal" kid - normal as you can be while reading roughly 300 books a year as a child of ten, with some of them being in the Dragonlance series (there was a lot in those that I only understood MUCH later). But I always identified better with kids also on the outside of the typical social norm. And that's why I loved this book.

In the end, my biggest advice for those with young female readers is to let them discover on their own. Teach them to love the library, and then let them loose in it. Suggest things and be there to help, but trust them to find the right books for them. Don't look over your 9 year old's shoulder when she ventures into the teen section. Trust.

Because yes, she might come across sex scenes in adult Mercedes Lackey books she requested after reading the teen ones, but what she's too young for will go right over her head. I know. I was there. And I turned out just fine.

What books do you recommend for young girls/boys/anyone? Do you agree with my choices?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Qualified Success: A "Novel" Camp NaNo Story

I've participated in seven NaNoWriMo Challenges to date - and up until today, I had finished and won every single one.

But I can't quite bring myself to say that I lost this one either. My wordcount tells me I lost, that's for sure. But wordcount doesn't tell the whole story.

For the record, I finished the story & stopped writing on Day 24

I've been working on and off on the short story turned novel called Fire for years. It's been sitting in the back of my mind, bugging me to work on it. But I could never quite manage it - until this August.

I set out this month to finish the damn story - and I did!

It turned out to be only 17 507 words long, but it's done. And the characters took it in a very different direction than I expected - but it's a direction I love.

It feels weird not to have hit 50k. Even in June, when I was very far behind the entire month, I managed to catch up on the last day by writing 15 thousand words.

So as the last few days of August approached, I knew I theoretically could force myself to writer enough words to jump into the winner's circle.

But I also knew there was no point in writing filler I wouldn't care about.

In the end, while I wish circumstances had been favourable for me to produce a full-length novel I loved and win, I'm over the moon to have a finished draft of Fire. I love this story, and to see it all written down is pretty magical.

Here's my story "blurb":
Siva Grey is running from her past, running from her magic, and running straight into trouble.

Trying to rebuild her life in a kingdom where magic is forbidden, what happens when her magic is the only thing that can save the crown prince from certain death?

Every choice has costs when you play with fire.
What other camp stories are out there? Wins, not-wins, wishing you had done its?