Friday, October 17, 2014

On the Romantic Triangle

People love to disparage young adult fiction. YA is the new kickball for the literary establishment, and one of the most common remarks I see about YA novels is this: “The book is well written enough, but of course there’s the obligatory romantic triangle…” Cue the literary eye roll. Oh those young adult authors! So formulaic! So unimaginative!

And critically acclaimed, (very often) with more vigorous sales than any other genre, and by the way, more movie deals too.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s acknowledge that not all best selling YA novels have romantic triangles. The Fault in our Stars by John Green, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell all feature straight forward love stories. I’ll point out, though, that the main focus of all these stories is the relationship between the two love interests. Everybody loves a good love story, and considering how immensely difficult it is to write one, these authors deserve every bit of success they’ve seen. (I salute you!)

But the trend is real. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the Sky Chasers Trilogy by yours truly all feature romantic triangles, and that’s because romantic triangles work. Here is why:

Romantic triangles have been a part of literature since time immemorial. Helen of Troy, Menelaus, and Paris in The Iliad might be the first. More examples include Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak… the list goes on. This is an illustrious tradition to participate in.

There aren’t a lot of ways to instill tension into a romantic sub-plot. There’s the classic Taming of the Shrew device, which has the two romantic leads loathing each other at first, then falling in love. There’s the trope of two lovers torn apart by society or fate, as in Romeo and Juliet. And then there’s the classic love triangle, with messy feelings all over the place, and lots of opportunity for conflict. If any of you can think of a new way to lend tension to a romantic plot, say so in the comments so I can write it. Please.

Romantic triangles happen in real life, all the time, and part of a novelist’s job is to write about real life. I’ve been in a few romantic triangles myself, more often as one of two girls lusting after the same guy, but a couple times as one girl with two guys vying for my attention. (Ah! Those college days!) Believe me, romantic triangles are a lot more fun to read about than they are to experience.

The focus of my Sky Chasers series really isn’t love. My books are an examination of the way in which ideology, both religious and secular, can shape political discourse, the manufacturing of power, and resulting societal problems. My female protagonist is poised between two boys who represent different philosophies: Seth is the pragmatic, apolitical survivor, and Kieran is the idealistic, ambitious leader. Waverly represents the future in my books, and her choice will, in a very real way, shape the future world she is helping to create.

In the final analysis, what matters isn’t which device an author uses to develop tension in a romance. What matters is if it’s well written. The Sky Chasers has been recognized as an exceptionally good dystopian series by reviewers such as School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and even by mainstream commentators from People Magazine, Seventeen, and USA Today. But every reader must decide for herself. If you read my series, I’d love to hear from you about it! But what I care even more about is that young adults keep reading, whatever you want, no matter what the stuffy literati say about your choice of material.

You have good taste, kids. And in case you haven’t noticed, you are leading the publishing industry around by the nose. Good job.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Stories We Tell Little Girls.

I have three little girls and they're all at an impressionable age, so I let them watch Frozen, written by the brilliant Jennifer Lee, as much as they want to. I do this because Frozen is the most important children's film to come out in decades, and I hope that it's as influential on future films as it deserves to be.

That's a pretty big statement I just made, but I'm prepared to defend it.

Frozen explodes one of the predominant fairy tale conventions of the twentieth century, (and probably every century before,) that the love and attraction of a man is the only thing that can save our heroine. The trope of the dashing prince, or rogue, falling instantly in love with the accursed princess dominates Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and probably others. Even Tangled, which is a very well written movie, still operates under this convention, portraying romantic love as the saving force for our besotted princess. While the heroine of Tangled is hardly helpless, Frozen is the movie that recognizes the fallacy in fairytale logic. The two pronged idea of a man falling hopelessly in love with a woman based mostly on her beauty, and that without this love she is lost, amounts to an indoctrination into the patriarchy that has kept women vulnerable for centuries, and gives members of both sexes a very unrealistic idea of romantic love. Frozen begins to undo the damage.

Anna is our princess in trouble in Frozen, and the first time she's released from an isolating childhood she meets the dashing Hans. They have a conversation full of sparks and laughter, and she takes an instant liking to him. She is so excited about the idea of romance as the solution to her troubles that she accepts him as her future husband by the end of their first night together. All this follows the trope of the princess being saved by the dashing prince who is so taken with her beauty that he proposes immediately. But then the trope begins to unravel. Her sister, the queen, refuses to grant her blessing for the union because she sees how unwise it is for Anna to marry someone she just met, and this causes a fracture in the already fragile relationship between the sisters. The crisis point is reached when Queen Elsa loses control of her powers, causes a deep winter freeze in the middle of summer, and flees the city to isolate herself in the mountains. Anna must delay her marriage to Hans and go on a quest to bring back Elsa, and with her, summer.

This bit about Elsa and her powers constitutes the second fairy tale myth that Frozen explodes, which is that powerful women tend to be evil. Indeed, the original Hans Christian Andersson story upon which Frozen is based, The Snow Queen, depicted an evil, powerful woman causing all kinds of mischief with her magic. Evil queens, naughty witches or malicious mother figures inhabit many fairy tales, including Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Tangled. Frozen rises above this trope to beautiful effect by telling Elsa's story in a new way.

Elsa is incredibly powerful. She can manifest snow and ice at will, just by thinking about it, but in childhood her magic injures Anna by accident. And so she is taught to hide her power, to pretend she is ordinary, to dread her own magic, and above all, to fear her own emotions. "Conceal it. Don't feel it. Don't let it show," is a mantra her father repeats with her again and again.

This illustrates another indoctrination into the patriarchy, and it's a well known one. Little girls and women are, both subliminally and overtly, taught to hide their anger, control it, to concentrate on being cooperative, nurturing, and helpful. (For a study that illustrates this perfectly, see here.) Strong, fiery little girls who are destined to be leaders are softened, and they learn to hide their leadership attributes. These pressures have very negative effects on young women. More than one study, (see here) has shown that a girl's self esteem is likely to drop when she reaches her teen years. Many specialists think the reason is she is increasingly aware of her passive role in society as a sexual object rather than as a powerful agent acting for her own good. Even worse, suddenly it becomes a girl's job to be in competition with her sisters for male attention, which alienates them from each other, complicating friendships between women, sometimes irreparably.

Elsa's journey follows this social tragedy almost in lock step. Just as she is discovering her own personal power in early adolescence, she is taught to hide it, deny it, and cover it up, which alienates her from her sister Anna. This fracture between the two girls sets off a spiral of psychological torment for both. For Elsa, this torment only intensifies her power, and she loses control of it altogether. Only when Elsa finally learns to accept and embrace her power, and to mend her relationship with her beloved Anna, is she able to assume her proper role as a powerful leader who can accomplish great things for her people. In other words, my dear sisters, it isn't the love of a man who will always save you. We women will all do better if we accept and cultivate our own power, and admit that our relationships with our sisters are just as important as our relationships with men, perhaps more so.

And what about Anna and her love affair with Hans? By the end of the movie we learn that Hans
seduced Anna, making her think there was an instant connection between them, for his own selfish ends. When he denies her the "true love's kiss" that would save her life, we see he is a nasty little sociopath who wants to feed off of her and her family. This is how a lot of stories of "love at first sight" end in real life, and it's a valuable lesson for every little girl, and boys too.

So yes, I let my daughters watch Frozen as much as they want, and we talk about it, and I answer all of their questions, because I want them to understand how easy it is to be tricked by a man you're attracted to, and how easy it is for a girl to lose her own sense of personal power and her connection to her sisters. This knowledge will, I dearly hope, help them avoid some of the more negative experiences many adult and teenage women have in their love lives and their working lives. Above all, I want to see more movies like Frozen that take a second look at the fairy tales we tell our children, and refashion them into the truth.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wednesday October 1 is BLOGFEST!!!

Look for me at the BLOGFEST! 
Lots of giveaways!! 

Sometimes writers help each other out. Sometimes we all use our various platforms to help everyone get a little more exposure in this huge marketplace. Apryl Baker is the organizer for this event, and she's gotten some very impressive people to participate. (She's impressive herself, with a film deal for her Ghost Files series!) Click on the picture above to check out the guest list, and to read some really fun posts from a dizzying array of writers! 

Also, on Wednesday, October 1 there is a super fun Facebook event, so if you're interested, friend me on Facebook and tell me you want to attend, and I'll officially invite you! Follow the link:

"Amy, are there giveaways?" you ask. 
Why yes. Yes there are: 

 US giveaway (Available only in the United States:) a Rafflecopter giveaway International giveaway (Available outside the United States:)  a Rafflecopter giveaway