Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writing Teens or New Adults – Two Very Different Worlds

Warning: this contains spoilers of Twilight, Mortal Instruments, and Fallen.

There have been a lot of wildly successful novels with teen protagonists in the last 5 years whose readership clearly expands beyond teens. I have theories about why us grownups enjoy these stories, but today I want to talk about the age of the character as a writing device, and why I chose a new adult character in The Gathering of the Three.

When characters in a story are teens, there will be some inherent challenges that must be addressed that go along with the age. Three things come immediately to mind: parents, school and sex. How a writer chooses to relate to these can create a sense of urgency or obstacle for the characters to overcome. Not only does the character have to escape from evil vampires, she also has to be back in bed before her parents know she’s missing. And has she finished her homework? With teens, parents and school responsibilities will always have to be addressed.

In Twilight, we have a mom who is living out of state, along with a workaholic father who is the chief of police. Initially Bella has a lot of leeway because of hard-earned trust from years of being very reliable. She breaks the trust when she disappears for three days in New Moon after she goes to stop Edward from killing himself in Italy. Even though she is 18 by that point, she is still in high school and living under her father’s roof. In the beginning of Eclipse, she has been grounded and can’t leave the house. All of these things create complications that the characters have to address or overcome.

In most cases, the adventure requires that the authority figures be kept in the dark. If Luce’s parents in Fallen knew she was hanging around with fallen angels at her boarding school, Sword and Cross, they probably would have removed her from the school. It adds a different element of risk – if the parents find out, will they get in the way of the completion of the mission? Are they in danger from dark forces our hero thinks she must manage alone?

Another topic that almost always has to be addressed is sex. If the character is over 18, there is more freedom, but as much as times have changed, teen sexuality is still a charged topic. On one hand is the reality that a majority of teens are having sex before graduating from high school (I’ve read estimates as high as 80%). Books that preach abstinence for its own sake might feel out of touch to many teen readers. On the other hand is our still widely held cultural belief (mostly among adults) that sex is for people 18 and over. (I’m going to stay carefully neutral about that one!)

In most YA fiction I’ve read in the paranormal/fantasy genre, the characters often find themselves with a barrier to sex besides a desire for abstinence, which makes me wonder if it’s a way for authors/publishers to find an intentional safe ground between opposing perspectives. It makes me laugh sometimes when characters end up in situations where death is a likely outcome of sex. I’m thinking of Edward and Bella in Twilight, in which if he loses control he could accidentally kill her, or Jace and Clary in Mortal Instruments when Jace gets infused with Heavenly fire and could accidentally burn her to cinders if they do so much as kiss – and that’s after they find out they aren’t in fact siblings, which was their first sexual barrier.

Ultimately, it’s the author’s choice whether to use aspects of typical teen life for their tension building qualities, or to explore the journey of a slightly older character. In my book The Gathering of the Three, I chose to make my characters around 21 for several reasons. First, I didn’t want them to have to focus on parents and school while they run around trying to save the world. My main character, Hannah, is in medical school and has a part time job – both of which are responsibilities she takes very seriously, but they are not the same kind of obligation as high school, for example.

She also has a very domineering roommate, who subtly reminds her that, as a person from a humble background, she does not have the connections and financial advantages of her peers. In order to be accepted, she must be exceptionally normal – having a supernatural healing ability makes this a bit of a challenge.  

Parents also come into play, but mainly because the book is set during the holidays. Hannah makes the obligatory trip home to a very uncomfortable family situation. She also considers them when she begins to think about new directions her career could take if she has healing powers, and feels a responsibility to both her family and a community that has supported her. All of these things come from Hannah’s own choice. She is an adult, and her ethics and boundaries come from her own moral development.

The second reason I chose to write Hannah as a new adult has to do with how she demonstrates how people often follow their destiny even before the path is really clear. Hannah falls in love with helping and healing when she is very little. Tragedy threatens to pull her away, but ultimately she makes the choice to come back to healing and defies the odds by getting into medical school. It would be harder to demonstrate her commitment to her path if she were younger.

As a device, both age groups have really interesting factors to work with. Hannah is a new adult and is still figuring out who she is. She is free from the boundaries of childhood, but finds that often what stands in her way are the limits she holds within herself – that’s something I can relate to.

If you are writing in the genre, you might want to check out Deborah Halverson’s “Write to the Editor” Page on her website, “,” where she is giving in depth advice about the NA genre. She also has a book that was just released this week, called Writing New Adult Fiction. I haven't seen the book yet, but if her posts are any indicator, it will be worth reading if NA is your genre.

Now it’s your turn – tell me some of your favorite teen characters and help me discover some more good new adult paranormal/fantasy novels.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Diversifying the "Inspirational" Category

I'm on a bit of a mission here. I wonder if you can help me out?

The idea for my book, The Gathering of the Three was brewing in me for several years before I ever started to write it down. It was born out of 16 years of deep inquiry into many spiritual traditions, especially yoga and Gnosticism.

Now that I'm at the point of seeking representation and publication, it's interesting to try to place myself in the market. My guiding thoughts have been - there is room for a book like this as evidenced by the success of novels like The Alchemist, The Celestine Prophesy, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and What Dreams May Come.

In writing queries to agents, however, I still struggle to figure out which category to place myself in - fantasy, paranormal, new adult, women's lit...nothing seems to fit. I thought of Diana Gabaldon's work, which to this day confounds book store owners for its genre-bending content - historical with time travel? Yes! And multiple weeks on best seller lists will attest that good writing and good storytelling prevail over preconceived categories.

An interesting category I recently stumbled upon is "Inspirational." Turns out that inspirational refers to strictly Christian authors. As a person who puts herself firmly in the "spiritual but not religious" category, "inspirational" is not a good fit.

That's disappointing. My hope is that my book is, in fact, inspirational. It's a story with complex characters dealing with a battle between good and evil, who work with spirit guides and find clues in their past lives. The characters must go through their own healing in order to become great healers themselves, and along the way I hope readers glean something for their own healing journey.

In some ways, it probably would be limiting to pigeon hole myself into a smaller category like "inspirational," because it is a pretty specialized market. My question to you is, do you like to read fiction that inspires you on a spiritual level? Not in a preachy way (I certainly hope my book is not), but inspiration in the way of remembering yourself as a spirit living in a body.

If so, you can help by showing agents/publishers that inspiration has an audience.

Please follow my page, google + and like my posts, comment - that's how we can cast our vote.

We have to let publishers know that in a world of cynicism and popular culture that celebrates violence and twisted, dark themes, there is a call for something else.

If you haven't read the "inspirational" books I mentioned above, please check them out! Tell me other books that should be on our radar. Thanks for reading!

On another note - if you have read the titles I've highlighted, notice that all the main characters are men. I think that's wonderful, but my book includes a mix of strong women and men on a spiritual quest.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book to Film Adaptations - An Argument for Seeing the Movie First


Perhaps I’m a lazy YA paranormal fantasy fan. Actually, for many years I was in graduate school and was so busy working that when I finally had time to read for fun, I had to make it count. First of all, I couldn’t deal with anything too heady or emotional – that’s what I was trying to get away from. I was looking for a sure thing.

I remember going to see Twilight, not even knowing what it was about, but knowing it was popular. The movie was okay, but I thought – I bet the book will be good. I was right. It filled my needs at the time – I wanted a light, paranormal fantasy story with some fun romance in it. The bonus for me was, because I’d seen the movie, I had a good idea what I was getting. It also meant there would be more detail, extra plot lines and more complexity – another bonus!

Besides, my intense life begged for no big surprises. Has it ever happened to you that you get so into a book that the story and characters affect your mood and emotions? Definitely happens to me. I remember staying up until almost four in the morning, desperate to finish the last Harry Potter book, because I couldn’t stand not knowing if Harry was going to die. Maybe I’m a little obsessive.

The Deathly Hallows was one I read before the movie came out. I was glad I didn’t have to wait for the movie, but when it finally did come out, it was a little spoiled for me. Besides the fact that it was split into two movies, I found myself having an inner commentary about certain actors’ ability to portray the character as it was written, waiting for certain things to happen, and yes, enjoying the details they got right in sets and see what I mean. Watching the movie at that point is more of an intellectual experience.

The same goes for the rest of the Twilight Saga. I read all the books right away after I watched the first movie, and then as each subsequent movie came out, I not only knew what was coming in the film, I also had all the distracting back story about the actors rising fame and celebrity antics. All of this pulls me out of the fantasy, and ultimately that’s why I’m there. Was I still excited – of course! But it wasn’t the same.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem for me knowing what is coming in the book. Perhaps it’s because there is enough newness in the narrative that it keeps that busy mind occupied. When I watch the movie first I tend to picture the actors when I read rather than creating my own images, like Clary and Jace in Mortal Instruments are always Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower in my head, though I feel sure if I’d read the books first, I would’ve thought one or both were bad fits for the characters.

On occasion, however, there are times that in spite of the movie’s best effort, my own imagination and the author’s descriptions will begin to turn me away from the Hollywood image. I would add Edward from Twilight, Hermione from Harry Potter to that list.

I didn’t mention two of the biggest adaptations that are out more currently: 

  • Hunger Games (read whole series first) 
  • Divergent (saw movie – haven’t read!). 
  • Looking forward to: Fallen (in production) (read whole series)

Coming soon: Movie adaptations that totally missed the mark. (feel free to get the ball rolling on that one now in the comments!)

Your turn:
  • How do you deal with adaptations? Book first? Movie first?
  • Any favorite adaptations in the paranormal fantasy genre you want to mention?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

11 Fantasy Characters I wish I knew in Real Life

One of the best parts of reading paranormal fantasy is having characters with cool abilities or from different worlds or planes. Sometimes I wish I could have them around either because of their powers ro quirky personality. Here’s my list of 11 fantasy (mostly YA) characters I wish I could pull straight off the pages and grab coffee with.

   1.      Jamie Fraser from Outlander. Now this is a guy you’d want to have around. He may be a mere mortal with no actual paranormal ability, but he’s smart, strong, a true leader, and always knows what to do. He’s also the epitome of loyalty and devotion to Claire, and knows how to keep the home fires burning – all while looking dashing in his kilt. 
Buy Outlander from Amazon.

2.      Alice Cullen from Twilight. I love a good sidekick with personality, but Alice can also see the future. That could seriously come in handy. Without even thinking hard I can come up with 10 things I’d want her to track for me. She’s also really good with fashion, which I could definitely use her help with. Buy Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)

3.      Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. Sure, she starts out as a know-it-all, but the fact is, she does know it all! Plus she’s one of the most accomplished witches of her age.
Buy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

4.      David Rice from Jumper. If you haven’t read this one, you might enjoy it. David can teleport anywhere in the world if he’s already been there and can picture it very accurately. No more commuting, please – David? A little help here? Let’s hop over to Paris for dinner, then watch the sunset in Maui. House on a gorgeous, remote mountain top? No problem. Buy Jumper: A Novel

    5.  Magnus Bane from Mortal Instruments. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with the High Warlock of Brooklyn? He often comes in just at the right moment to save the day, and does it with a generous dusting of glitter in his spiky hair. 
Buy City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, Book 1)

6.      Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games. Sweet baker’s son who is literally willing to sacrifice his life for yours – wow. I like characters (and friends) with strong principles, loyalty and selflessness.
                    Buy The Hunger Games (Book 1)

7.       Bean from Ender’s Shadow. This orphan hid in a toilet at age 3 and survived on the streets of Brazil on his own. By the time most kids are working on reading chapter books, he was figuring out how to save the world. Would be great to have him around for intellectual conversation about world politics, but I’d probably spend a lot of that time feeling very, very stupid.

                                                         Buy Ender's Shadow (The Shadow Series)

8.      Bernie Kosar from I Am Number Four. Okay, Bernie is a dog – well technically a Chimeara from Lorien, but who wouldn’t want to have a pet who could shape shift according to need or whim. Although I’d be much happier about the feeding and clean up of his hummingbird form versus a saber tooth tiger. Buy I Am Number Four Movie Tie-in Edition (Lorien Legacies)

9.      Arriane Alter from Fallen. Another snarky, fearless, loyal sidekick. This one also sprouts wings from her back – again, no traffic! She has a ton of personality and knows how to have fun, but is also fighting for good, in spite of being a fallen angel.

10.   Lord John from The Scottish Prisoner. Lord John is another mortal, and his superpower is his social prowess. If I were going to live  in 18th century England, I would definitely want him as an ally. Besides, he would be excellent company - he is well read, knows all of the best places to visit, and I daresay we share a similar taste in men. Buy The Scottish Prisoner: A Novel (Lord John Grey)

11.   Saphira from Eragon. Feeding and care would be problematic, and she’d have to be careful in our California drought with the fire danger, but being friends with a dragon would have to be pretty amazing. She’s also got a very regal personality and carries great wisdom. Buy Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1)

Now it’s your turn.

Which YA/Paranormal Fantasy characters would you want to hang out with and why?

Do you agree with any of my picks? Any of your favorites make the list?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Welcome to my blog!

The first thing I want to do is give you a look at what kind of books I like so you know if this is the place for you.

I love stories about people in everyday situations who are thrown into paranormal experiences. It's been my thing ever since I was a kid. I remember going to the beach with my family and friends when I was five and convincing the other kids that I was a mermaid and could control the waves in the ocean. I've always wanted to have magical powers - but since I haven't figured out how to acquire them just yet, I get to read about them, and even better - write about them. 

Why paranormal fantasy? The way I see it, the world is a serious place. It's good to have a magical escape every now and then.

I hate being cliche and obvious and some of the books on this list might be just that, but let's start with some common ground and then we'll go a little deeper into my lists of favorites.

What you'll also notice is that I sometimes like to think about what makes characters tick. I've been interested in psychology and spirituality for many years and will often look through those lenses when I read. If I'm thinking that deeply about a story or character, I know it's because it's really touched me, and that's exciting.

Okay, here's my first set of books to get us going:

·  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis. This could be the series that started it all for me - my first chapter books at age 5. I fell in love with Lucy and Mr. Tumnus and developed a craving Turkish Delight.

·  The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldon - a wonderful blend of historical fiction with a time travel element, plus incredibly developed characters, plot twists...a must read.

·  Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer - Vampire mythology, totally reinvented. I know, I know, it might feel a little worn thin by over exposure, but it was a great concept that inspired a whole genre of paranormal teen lit.

·  The Mortal Instruments Series, by Cassandra Clare - Vampires, Nephilim, Werewolves, Faeries - she's got them all, and has mastered character and the complexity of having these beings interact.

·  Fallen - by Lauren Kate. Wonderful story with an interestingly developed mystery in the relationship between Luce and Daniel, in a well crafted world of fallen angels. This is being made into a movie - definitely check out the books, they're a lot of fun.

·  Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling. I hate to be obvious, but it was so much fun to imagine an orphan being given magical powers - I only wish they had come out when I was a child.

One thing you'll notice is that most of these books are young adult, middle grade or children's. I've perused adult oriented fantasy and I find it sometimes too complex to be relaxing. I have trouble tracking multiple new species and cultures in a parallel world, with different languages, relationships and sub plots. I find the YA category to have plots that are more accessible to the busy, overstimulated reader (ahem, at least in my case). 

If you have recommendations for good books (preferably series) with more grown up themes/characters, please chime in! I'm up for discovery. 

If this list got your interest, stay tuned. My plan is to talk more about these and other books, their themes and other related bits. By all means, if you've read and enjoyed these, share your experiences below!

Happy reading,

Brandy (aka BL Whitney)