Unicorns (and Winners)

I want to thank all of you so much for supporting Ellen Oh and Asian YA book covers during the Asian YA Book Giveaway. So many people tweeted and facebooked(?) and e-mailed about it. Don't let this be the end. Keep talking about this issue and supporting the books and publishers you're proud of!

But for the contest, congratulations to Kash Mitaukano and Carl Scott! I have e-mailed both of you already, but if you didn't receive it, please contact me yourself.

For those of you who didn't win, I submit a picture of unicorns (cross-posted from Anthdrawlogy).

I'm sure this has something to do with Asian YA books. Quick, someone make an analogy!

Writer's Reference: Distance to the Horizon

[You've entered the Giveaway in Support of YA Asian Book Covers, right? Today might be your last chance! (Boy, I should've thought of a better name).]

How far is it to the horizon? How far away can you see an approaching object? This is something I come across in Air Pirates a lot, but it always takes multiple clicks and conversions to get at the simple formula I want. So, fully expecting mathematics to drive away half my audience, here it is (in both kilometers and miles):

So someone 5 and a half feet tall (1.7 meters) would see the horizon disappear about 3.1 miles (4.7 km) away.

Keep in mind:
  1. These are approximations. Don't be doing science with these numbers.
  2. These numbers only apply in clear weather.
  3. You could still see tall objects peeking over the horizon. More info on that below.

Measuring the distance to something over the horizon only requires one extra variable. When the top of the object first peeks over the horizon, you can figure out how far away it is like this:

Now if you wanted to figure out how far away an object is based on how much of it is peeking over the horizon . . . well, you're on your own. I love math and all, but I'd lose the other half of my audience if I did any more of it in public.

Boy, I hope at least one of you cares about this.

What Kind of Writer Are You (Avatar Edition)?

Sokka: Our detour into town today has completely thrown off our schedule. It's gonna take some serious finagling to get us back on track. 
Toph: Finagle away, oh schedule master!

You love the burst of ideas that is the New Shiny. Brainstorms, outlines, beat sheets -- you will do whatever it takes to make this story awesome before you write the first word. Why? Because the plan is perfect. What ruins things are those pesky words (and dialogs and descriptions and transitions and . . . ).

Uncle Iroh: You never think these things through. This is exactly what happened when you captured the Avatar at the North Pole. You had him and then you had nowhere to go!
Zuko: I would have figured something out.

You love the draft, the heady rush of new words as the story pours out of you. Maybe you have a plan, or maybe you just sit down and see what comes out. Maybe it gets you in trouble. Regardless, you feel that whatever heart and soul the story has will come right here, but only if you let it. The words are crap, but the emotions are real. Words can be fixed later.

Master Pakku: Katara, you've advanced more quickly than any other student I've ever trained. You have proven that with fierce determination, passion, and hard work, you can accomplish anything. Raw talent alone is not enough.

The draft is done, thank GOD! Now you can get to the part you truly love: turning the crap into a really great novel. Revision is where real novels are made, after all, and you know better than anyone that anything can be made better in this stage. Though it'd be nice if you didn't have to do it so many times.

Katara [about Toph]: How did she do that?
Aang: She waited and listened.

For you, the novel is never truly finished until someone else has read it. It's not that you don't trust your own opinion -- you do, but you know your opinion is inherently biased. You are too close to the story to objectively evaluate it yourself. And when other people start coming back with mostly praise, then you know it is almost finished. You have almost written a novel.

Obviously, we have to be all four of these to be successful, but most of us enjoy one or two aspects of writing much more than the others (and I bet you all have one aspect you hate -- I do).

It's no surprise I'm a diehard planner, but I also enjoy listening to critiques. For me, I can't call a story good until other people start saying it is.

So what kind of writer are you?

5 Reasons to Read Lord of the Rings

[If you haven't entered to win a copy of Silver Phoenix or Huntress yet, go do so now. Winners chosen next week.]

I still find it astounding that some folks haven't read Lord of the Rings. Then again, the book is huge, and I am sort of a fantasy geek (and don't ask about all the classics I've never read). Still, if you're on the edge, maybe I can help push you over.

1. Nazgûl. The undead servants of Mordor. They never sleep, never die, and never stop coming. They're kinda like Dementors, but they aren't scared of a silly glowing stag. And they ride dragons.

2. Gandalf. Every awesome wizard and mentor character you've ever read about was based on this guy. Dumbledore was killed by a silly curse. It took a fricking balrog to take Gandalf down. (And even then...)

3. Frodo and Sam. Bet you didn't know this was a buddy story. Frodo and Sam are hardcore. Think Naruto's tough? These guys walked into hell with the devil's wedding ring (he really wanted his ring back, too).

4. Maps. Harry Potter doesn't have 'em. Nuff said.

5. Epic fantasy poetry.

5. Middle Earth. Beautiful, even if all you've got are Tolkien's words. I'm pretty sure I'd die there, but I want to visit just the same.

So what's your favorite thing about Lord of the Rings?

Giveaway in Support of Asian YA Book Covers

The amazing Ellen Oh has written a heartfelt and needs-to-be-heard post on why the Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend needs to end. From Ellen's post:
Asians have long been the silent minority in this country. It's gotten so bad that when someone makes a racist remark toward Asians, they just shrug it off and make it seem like you're the one making a big deal about nothing. . . . Like a couple of white guys who think they are being clever by opening up a restaurant called "Roundeye Noodle shop" in Philadelphia. . . .

If anyone thinks "Roundeye" is not racist, you should come explain that to my youngest daughter who had the singular pleasure of being told by two boys in her class that her "small Chinese eyes" were ugly compared to her friend's "blue round-eyes." She was in kindergarten and only 5 years old. She cried for days. Words can scar you for life.
This hurt my heart and made me want to hug all my Asian and half-Asian kids and tell them once again how beautiful they are. Go read Ellen's post now (but come back, because I have books to giveaway).

So one commenter wisely asked what can we do about it? "What short-term and achievable goal will start that process?"

I don't know how to fix the problem, but I know two things that won't hurt any: (1) Talking about it and (2) Supporting covers that don't follow the trend.

To that end, I'm giving away two books that are both awesome and feature an Asian model on the cover: Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix (the original hardback cover) and Malinda Lo's Huntress.

Here's how you can win one:
  1. Post a link to Ellen's post (NOT my post here, but Ellen's post) on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, or wherever people will see it. Then fill out the form below.
  2. Two winners will be chosen randomly and notified next Friday, March 16th.
  3. Each winner may choose which of the two books they want: either Silver Phoenix or Huntress (if both want the same book, that's cool with me).
  4. Contest is open to any country BookDepository.com will ship to (note: I may use Amazon or B&N.com to ship the book, if it turns out to be cheaper).

UPDATE: Form deleted. Contest is closed.

What do you guys think? What can we do about this? Anything? What other awesome YA books with Asians (or any other minority for that matter) should I know about?

Prequels, Problems With

Prequels are not always bad. Just want to throw that out there. But in general, when I hear a new book or movie is a prequel, I'm immediately less interested than I could be. Why?
  1. Because sometimes the prequel is not the story I want to know more about. The original was. Example: Phantom Menace. (I really, really, really don't care that Anakin built C-3P0, even if you could solve all the plot holes that represents.)
  2. Because sometimes the questions raised in the original are best left unanswered. Example: Phantom Menace. (Midi-chlorians. Nuff said.)
  3. Because the prequel's story often ends near the inciting incident of the original -- usually an unsatisfying place to end. Example: Phantom Menace. (I know Anakin is Obi-Wan's apprentice. I know he becomes a great Jedi then betrays Obi-Wan. I know he's corrupted by the Emperor. This is not the cliffhanger you're looking for.)
Maybe the prequel's should've started here instead.

I don't intend to ever write a prequel, but if I did, I would ask myself the following questions:
  • Is this a story I would want to tell, even if I'd never made the original? Example: X-Men: First Class. I don't know about you, but for me, the relationship between Magneto and Xavier has always been one of the main draws to the X-Men story.
  • Does this story answer questions that need to be answered? Better yet, is it about separate events entirely? Example: Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom. Yes, this was a prequel (having occurred before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark). It might not have been as good as the other two, but it didn't try to answer stupid questions like: "Where did Indiana get his whip and fedora?" *
  • Could this story stand alone without the original? Would it be satisfying? Example: Captain America. Technically a prequel (having occurred before the events of Iron Man and directly leading to the upcoming Avengers movie), but pretty dang satisfying on its own. (Except for the fact that he probably could've avoided getting frozen in ice).

So, prequels. What do you think makes a good one? What else is wrong with Phantom Menace?

* The Last Crusade did answer those questions, but because it was a flashback, and related to the rest of the story, I was cool with it. What I didn't want was an entire movie with River Phoenix Indy.

There is No Way This Could Fail. None.

You know that moment in Mockingjay when they finally rescue Peeta, and Katniss spends a paragraph or so thinking how happy she and Peeta would be and how she would hug Peeta and tell him all the things she was never able to tell him before?

And was anyone surprised when Peeta wasn't okay?

I think this is becoming a pet peeve of mine, in YA especially, where the MC starts thinking about how great it will be when their plan works then (of course) the plan doesn't work.

(This goes the other way, too. Whenever the MC is dubious about a plan or is certain someone has died, it's a sure thing the opposite has occurred and everything is going to be okay.)

It shouldn't bother me. It's just a trope, right? I mean, you can't have the MC go, "Was that his voice in the next room? It had to be. Of course it was! He was back home safe, and everything would be like it was." And then he's really there and everything is just like it was. That's boring, right?

But when I read a narrator's thoughts like that, it either makes me feel like the MC is dumb or it blows away all the tension ("Well I thought it might be him for a second, but now...").

But what to do about it? I'm sure I do this all over the place, and it can't be a bad thing all the time, can it?

Seriously, is this even an issue? Or should I file this under temporary insanity (too late)? What do you guys think?

I think what I want is for authors to be aware of the signals they send the reader. We (authors) go, "I'll trick the reader into thinking everything is okay then BAM!" But the reader is all, "Do they actually think I'm buying this? Oh, look: 'bam'."

We need to find a better way.