Sunday, June 14, 2015

story begets story. [1] - jewel-toned: the genre.

(i feel the need to type in lowercase today. just roll with it.)

so, i formerly used to file any ruminations on my writing under "as i #amwriting." however, after quality time spent with creative luminaries and dear bookish friends such as miriam weinberg, i decided to rename the feature/series/what have you and segue into a more personal approach.

which is hard because...i'm me. and when we put the words personal and writing together, i feel the need to run for the hills or crawl beneath the bed or sit on top of my printed outlines and notes like a child wanting to hide that incriminating chocolate bar wrapper.

but i'm trying to work through that. so here we are.

so. the theory of "jewel-toned" as a genre is all thanks to activist and friend heather ure, who presented it in a conversation we were having the other day about sarah mccarry's recent interview with online teen girl magazine and fount of inspiration rookie.

(sarah mccarry is incredible. so is rookie. just putting that out there.)

see? my kind of people.

there are certain authors with works that i cannot help but refer to in the language of gemstones.

and, it should also be noted, they are all women because i'm here for women writers first and foremost and always and i'm not afraid to admit that i read stories about girls all the time and have little to no interest if a story involves a man's voice or a man's point of view or a man sorrowfully declining into middle age because the girl of his dreams couldn't take his continuous self-pity and attempts to deny her own agency.

i will add the caveat that i do know several male authors who have works coming out that might very well be deemed jewel-toned later on in and around the premises of this blog and i'll be very happy to promote them, too. but ladies first and always.

now, i've been a snarl of tangled, knotted creative inactivity this week. which is inexcusable. i'm out of school. no papers pending. i'm a summer child and the temperature is climbing and i've had ice cream today and frozen yogurt yesterday and worn my favorite set of flowery sandals. and yet, the magic is not happening.

and this, in a roundabout way, is actually why this is now story begets story.

it'd been so long since i could read something in my category (which, of course, is first and foremost ya and then fantasy and possibly magical realism) without it devolving into self-flagellation and the firm decision that i cannot, will not write anything as beautiful and thus, i should not write, and thus, i should instead devour my weight in chocolate and mope and act miserable, since, i am so therefore i write and not writing may well be the same as not drinking the right amount of water.

and then, while waiting in the line for these shallow graves with my dear miriam, she happened to notice the poster for uprooted by naomi novik.

"it's very much a kaye thing!" she said.

"you won't regret reading it!" she said.

and though i was quite sure that yes, i'd be entirely immobilized in terms of creativity for perhaps years afterwards because naomi novik is one of those luminaries you always hear about and tread about carefully for the sake of your own floundering aspirations - i believed miriam.

(as one always should.)

and i read it.

(as one always should.)

and thus, i remembered that to write stories, you do have to read them, too - even the bad ones, though uprooted certainly isn't bad by any means, and, if anything, was refreshing to read through as though it were a one-woman writing course i was taking, routing out plot twists and making note of foreshadowing and the magic system.

so, now that you've suffered through all that, back to the actual theme of this post.

which is, jewel-toned.

and yes, i think it does stand as a genre - if anything, perhaps a genre within certain genres. you probably know what i mean. have you ever read a work and felt that the author just knows the right way to handle words, how to string them together and bring tears to your eyes from the beauty, or perhaps sucker-punch you in the gut because of the world and humanity and goodness knows how uncomplicated this premise sounded until you actually opened the cover?

that. yes, that.

sarah mccarry's first two ya novels (of which, i'll confess, i've only read the first one) focuses on breathing fresh life into ancient greek myths. under the framework of a dead rock star's enduring empire and mother-daughter relationships, there's the familiar underwire of orpheus and eurydice. i mean, i went through an entire greek myth binge in like fifth grade so this shouldn't be entirely surprising, but it's not just the story line and the unique edgy flair.

it's the texture. (thank you, dear creative writing professor, for leaving that word firmly planted in my head.) it's the way the words just jangle or slide together or lead you downward like an elegant spiral staircase, one rung after another, because if the stairs themselves are lovely, elegant, velvet-encased marvels, what is waiting for you at the bottom?

indeed, jewel-toned, hued, encrusted marvels.

i think i must be a dragon at heart. because looking at these gems make my heart race. 

bonus points can and are always given for stories lovingly told about girls and women - from the hearts and hands of girls and women. there is nothing like being a teenage girl, sprawled out in the middle of a trampoline with a popsicle on one hand (yes, this image is autobiographical) and reading a story that celebrates you and girls like you and encourages you to keep on keeping on.

it can be an epic road trip novel (and as i'll write later on in the week or possibly next week, when i have a smorgasbord of summer reading posts planned, road trip novels are my kryptonite, right after feminist young adult anything). it can be a deep, dark fantasy.

but if the words are lush and lovely and the story rings true, i think it should qualify as jewel-toned.

like i already said, i don't think sarah's the only one who has a knack for this. like she herself says in that magnificent interview, "...i am one tiny strand on this huge gorgeous messy jewel-bedazzled web of girl genius."

note to self: take up cross-stitching this summer for real, so you can make that into a sampler or something.

anyway. jewel-toned. authors i already know and love. got it.

if you've familiar with this blog - with me, at all - you know how i feel about nova ren suma. imaginary girls gives you complicated sister dynamics and haunting magical realism. every time i talk about this title to someone, i have to admit that from the cover inward, it gives every sensation of being submerged underwater. today is incidentally its debut anniversary, which makes it all the more wonderful to mention it.

i didn't properly review it when it came out - which i ought to, as it gave me such complicated feelings - but also, nova's newest, the walls around us. a toxic friendship. murderous ballerinas. a dank prison. it's incredible and if it wasn't awesome enough being from nova's hands, it's also from the hands of the lovely people at algonquin, which might be my favorite young adult publisher.

along with macmillan.

and scholastic.

i feel sometimes that laura ruby and nova go hand in hand - perhaps because i love them both and they always have good things to say about each other and they are just both sweet, honest-to-goodness supportive people in general? but bone gap. bone. gap. it's another title that i received last year and was super excited for and didn't get around to reviewing...soooo i'll just have to indulge in a reread at some point this summer so i actually can.

laini taylor is another given, and it's funny because i used to read her stories just to lament the fact that i'd never, ever be able to write like her, while adoring her for being so entirely honest and sweet about her own struggles with anxiety and imposter syndrome and such. (if you haven't read her static writing advice blog, not for robots, take this as your reminder to do so now.)

but a few nights ago, i was re-reading spicy little curses such as these and besides being rather disillusioned with the colonialist-centric twist on indian culture and lore, i was relieved to realize that i could read it exactly as i read uprooted - enjoying the language and the structure, but not demonizing my own creativity.

(and, as a note, criticizing the world and the decisions made in spicy little curses does not mean that i am degrading or dragging laini as a whole. every time i've interacted with her, she's been very personable and kind. but, authors grow and so do readers and it's nice to realize that i can see that, even if it's subtle and likely drawn from research rather than personal viewpoints or beliefs, and know that i want brown girl, jewel-toned luminosity.

also, a general desire to write brown girl, jewel-toned luminosity.

more on the former in a few.)

this post would, of course, not be complete without reminding you that fantasy is and always will be my first love, and when we talk fantasy, we have to talk about victoria "queen of awesome" schwab. the near witch. the archived. vicious. she is one of those authors that only gets better with every new title and she's incredible and also delightful to talk to and i don't think you could regret reading her at all.

now, moving on to people i've heard write around this sort of theme or with that flair and i haven't read yet, or mean to read in the name of restoring my creative well. which are actually a lot of people, but before i get into it...i've been sitting here, wracking my mind, to think up diverse, jewel-toned young adult novels.

the first person who came to mind was jackie woodson, who is rightfully lauded for brown girl dreaming, which is most definitely on my reading list this summer but is actually considered a middle grade, i think? i've also heard good things about padma venkatraman and a time to dance.

to me, when i think brown girl, i think the jewel-toned genre. not in the name of isolation or barring anyone, because every girl needs to be applauded and loved and emphasized with. perhaps it is more recently amplified because of my wondrous friend shveta thakrar, who i fully expect and anticipate to be gracing shelves as the desi answer to holly black very soon (note: holly is another edgy, luminous author whose works i've only dipped my toe into, but i do have the darkest part of the forest sitting here, so more on her very soon).

shveta takes the theory of jewel-toned in language and legacy so very much to heart. i read her poetry and her short stories and i feel that brown girls have beautiful faces, warm hearts, bravery down to our marrow. i feel we can stand head-to-head with any other heroine in any other fantasy. 

without breaking down into a discussion of just how and why diversity and representation matter, to me, shveta just exemplifies the "genre" and what it means to me and what it does to me when i read it.

i'm also thinking of pointe by brandy colbert and the little i read of that (and must return to), and alaya dawn johnson's love is the drug that i snagged last bea and unfortunately misplaced but am determined to find and take up properly.

in terms of poc men authors, i'm very, very excited for daniel jose older's shadowshaper, which features a heroine and a gorgeous cover. i should have an arc of that winging its way to me, courtesy of the already mentioned and praised and still utterly wonderful miriam weinberg, so more on that soon-ish. 

i am still trying to think of others, but let's just continue with this already ridiculously long-winded post with what we've got.

i've heard very good things, for years and years, about francesca lia block. i've only just picked up my first by her, love in the time of global warming (that title. that cover. and, as an added bonus, more greek mythology renditions!) and will taste test for myself, while keeping in mind what my dear friend debbie reese has analyzed about native american representation in her books, particularly weetzie bat.

nova has also always had good things to say about kat rosenfield. i've got my eye on inland, in particular. (i must be some sort of water baby. those blue-hued covers just get to me.)

speaking of people whose recommendations i always, always, always trust, my lady kelly jensen has had good things to say about the spaces between trees, the in-between and without tess for those dreamy, discordant imaginary girls feels.

honestly, i have a whole list of titles and a pocketful of crumpled library lists and i'm sure my cup runneth over in terms of recommendations and a selection to feast upon over this season. and it's wonderful. i'm glad that i can write a long post like this dedicated to books that i feel have always warmed and inspired me from the inside out. i'm glad to be looking forward and seeking out more like them.

and even if i still can't seem to settle down to write, i'm glad that these books give me hope that i can.

now. do you think "jewel-toned" as a genre - or even just a theme - makes sense? do you think it might just be an offshoot of that particular feeling you get from an incredibly woven magical realism? (which, as you can probably tell, is another of my particular kryptonites.) what authors or titles fit in this atmosphere for you?

and, most importantly, any recommendations you're willing to share? (spill, spill, spill! particularly if it's magical realism. or horror. or both.)

a side note: if you know me and i know you and i haven't mentioned your wonderful writing or your wonderful self, it is totally okay to remind me of your existence in the comments. really.

(and just this side note reminded me of another person whose stories have heart and beauty: claire legrand. middle grade. young adult. yes, yes, yes.)

okay. i'm done. 


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