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Notes from WisCon -- May 23 Part 2

The same disclaimer applies as always.


The Unspunky Teen Protagonist
Tired of spunky teen heroines in young adult novels and television/movies? Join four young adult authors in a discussion of more realistic main characters, both male and female, who speak to the needs of average teens, with all their insecurities and identity issues, as well as occasional spunkiness.
Panelists: Deborah Lynn Jacobs, Georgia "Aiden" Beaverson, Patricia Cumbie, Sarah B. Prineas

GB: Spunky protags don't gave in, fearlessness, native intelligence, initiative, flawed, annoying (frex Joan Aiken -- Dido Twight (?), Becca Cooper -- Tamora Pierce, Lyra Belaqua, Erin -- Robin McKinley) Unspunky protags are passive, externally motivated, reactionary, insecure, uncertain (frex Bella -- Twilight, Rosamond Bookchild, Jack -- Black Tattoo, Ashland Askalad -- spunky Norweigan Cinderalla)

SP: Spunky = sparky, chatty, sassy, fierce, impulsive, superficial, focused on adventure. Frex Ann of Green Gables, Flora Segunda, Kata from Graceling books, Helen of Troy -- Esther Friesner, Petra Kronus -- Cabinet of Wonders, Knife -- RJ Anderson. Nonspunky = quiet, literary, calm, bookish, internal, thoughtful. Frex Rosaland -- Neil Gaiman, Sabriel -- Garth Nix, Mibs -- Savvy. Willingness to sacrifice = spunky or not? Middle-grade fiction is more outwardly focused.

DLJ: Super spunky: Maximum Ride -- Angel Experiment, Alex Rider -- Horowitz. Realistic: Chains -- Isabelle -- Laurie Halls Anderson. Harry Potter = unspunky. Hermoine = spunky. Paper Towns -- John Green -- Looking for Alaska. Super spunky = super annoying: Pippi Longstockings, Pollyanna.

SP: Super anoying = superficial. Humor, self-reflection, mistakes balance spunkiness. Protagging = how plot arises out of character. Bilbo learns how to protag, how to be the main character of his own story. Middle grade readers read to learn how to navigate their own lives. Spunky = internal vs. external motivation. Agony & protagging.

GB: Folktale tradition = protag has helpers. Gratuity "Tip" and Meg -- Wrinkle in Time.

PC: There has to be authenticity -- something realistic about the relationships so that readers can identify with them.

Me: I've italicized the points that stuck out the most to me. Maybe I don't read enough YA/Middle-grade books, but most of the "spunky" characters I can think of all feel unrealistic to me -- they feel more like the author's idea of what a spunky kid should be like than what a real kid is like. I don't much like Lyra from The Golden Compass -- particularly, I don't like the narrator's voice and the way he talks about Lyra. I've chalked it up to being possibly cultural, but Lyra never felt real to me. Neither did Hermoine from the Harry Potter books -- but that view may have been colored by the fact that I saw the movies first, and I felt the kids in the first movie were entirely too wooden and even looked fake to me. I haven't read Bridge to Terabithia since I was in the 7th grade or so, but I do remember being heavily influenced by that book, and loving the characters in it; they were real to me. I'd have to read it again from an adult point of view to see how they feel to me now.



Kick-Ass Moms
Most female characters, strong or otherwise, don't seem to have children. But from Sarah Connor to Nanny Ogg, characters who balance raising a child and saving the world can be fascinating. Where do you find characters like this? Are they harder to write? Why?
Panelists: Valerie L. Guyant, Shira Lipkin, Jenny E. Nilsson, Patricia C. Wrede

Being kick-ass doesn't mean beating things up.

Women have to make a choice between career or kids.

"The Inexplicable Baby" -- Heroines have adventures with a baby or child that was never explained -- e.g., sister, child, etc.

FemSpec -- special issue on kick-ass moms?

Cultural memory loss -- we "forget" about kids

Bujold: "The difference between an adventure and a nightmare is having a kid along."

Examples of kick-ass moms:
Jane Roland & Katherine Harcourt
Bujold: Shards of Honor
Janie Wurtz & Raymond Feist
Piper from Charmed
The Incredibles -- Fantastic Four

Is it just a heroine and you added a baby -- or is it a community of women where one has an adventure?
"Here are us mothers" -- a society that includes mothers
Jane Yolen's Great Alta series -- a community of warrior women w/babies -- slaying things with a poopy baby

What defines a mom? Genetics or caretaking
There was a brief discussion at this point about adoption, birth mothers, mothers of miscarried/still-born babies, and whether or not they are 'legitimate' mothers. We seem to have all pretty much agreed that if you define yourself as a mother, then you are a mother.

Parents in YA Adventures
Pamela Dean's Secret County books
More's the Pity from Sword & Sorceress -- what happens to the child left behind
The Last Flight of the Goddess -- love story to his wife
Cordelia
Nanny Ogg
Dr. Murray -- Wrinkle in Time
Song of Ice and Fire

Legacy Heroines
The Wizard's Dilemma
Carpe Demon
Don't Talk Back to Your Vampire
Because Your Vampire Said So

MomPunk

The dark side of motherhood -- infanticide
Angelmakers

Child Moms -- children raising sibs as moms

Motherhood is about how you feel about the child

"Only a Mother"
Catherine Asaro
MZB -- birthing in local culture
Cures of Chalion
Octavia Butler -- Parable of the Sower
Kill Bill movies
Diane Wynn Jones -- Howl's Moving Castle
Jennifer Robersno's Sword Dancer
Connie Willis's first book of short stories
Forgotten Beast of Elle -- adoptive mother
Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon

Marginalized mothers -- miscarried, abortion, adoption, foster mothers (not sure if this was brought up in the discussion or just a note to myself, because this is a subject that has been on my mind quite a lot lately)

The Armless Maiden -- child abuse fairy tales



We Want Your Children: Writing to Recruit
Children's literature can be a powerful force for feminist ideas -- and under some circumstances, can fly right under the radar and into the hands of children of the Other Side. How do you write subversively for children without turning the books into (boring) propaganda? What books are successfully bringing feminist (9r other progressive) ideas to an unsuspecting audience even as we speak? And what do we do (as parents, teachers, or librarians) about the books out there that are attempting to corrupt our children with their ideas?
Panelists: Shraryn November, Sigrid J. Ellis, Naomi Kritzer, Nnedi Nkemdili Okorafor

Not us vs. them -- it's all about ideas and writing

Offensive:
Left Behind, Kipling, Oz (all white kids), Twilight, Sword in the Stone, Hobbit, Narnia, Twelve Candles Club (prayer portrayed hilariously not offensively), Little House, Katie John, Kattie Woodlawn, Dr. Doolittle, Great Brain (what these people really need is a honky)

Positive:
American Girl Kit series, Digger comic series (women are normal), Tove Jansson, The Moomins (Scandinavian), Harry Potter, Boxcar Children, mythology

What do your kids pick?
Whater's in YA, series books

Why write Propaganda:
The myths we tell our children gives them a map to the future. We write down all the knowledge in the world, we want to tell them they have control, the world is masterable, humans are comprehensible, and there is nothing they cannot overcome.

Books for children -- you're dealing with people who don't have a world view -- you have to be careful

Princess = accident of birth; hero = something you work for

Children's games are enormously subversive

How many times do you see your life actually reflected in what you read?

SDN: You read to survive.

Christopher Paul Curry
Elizabeth Hand O'Leeria (sp?)
Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad

For book recommendations:
American Library Association ALSC = ala.org/alsc
ALA Notable Books
Easy Reader
Guysread.com
Unshelved - cartoon by librarian and illustrator
Banned Books list

Full Frontal Snogging -- The Britishness
You want the culture in the writing
Justine L'Arbelestier

NK: You need to get the parents out of the way os that the kids can protag (in books)

Wild Girls - Pat Murphy

SDN: You have to earn your knowledge

Quick Picks List -- Best Books for Reluctant Readers = high interest/low vocab

Books for highly visual kids:
Graphic novels (e.g. Rapunzel's Revenge)
movie tie-ins



Roll to See if I Advance the Plot
From Phillip K. Dick's rumored use of the I Ching in The Man in the High Castle to Italo Calvino's use of tarot cards in The Castle of Crossed Destinies, authors have used a number of games of chance or other random mechanisms to come up with stories. More recently, sillier methods have come up on the Internet, like the iTunes Plot Generator or the Evil Overlord Devises a Plot. Panelists will speculate on some of the advantages and flaws of each method, and then create several stories using these techniques.
Panelists: Margaret Ronald, Laurel Amberdine, F.J. Bergmann

Fibitz.com = writing = plotomatic
Okay to copy source and add

Roger Zelanzney always put in one unimportant thing about a character and withheld one important thing.

Jim McDonald uses chess as a plot device -- using book of chess games with tactics

FJB: Random games of chance engage the right brain and creativity

Seventh Sanctum -- all kinds of generators

Tarot cards -- reading for a character

iTunes Plot Generator -- put iTunes on shuffle
1) Protag
2) Backstory
3) Setting
4) Problem
5) How to fix it
6) Resolution

Take someone else's poem and write down the 'important' words (no articles, no to-be verbs, etc.) and write them down in reverse order, then use those words to write a new poem.

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