the teenage dream?

Eventually, in this article/mess, I will talk about Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts. But you have been warned, it seems that it took me a LONG time to get there. Ah well. Enjoy my brand of literary ranting and raving.

In early 2010, I went to Wellington for an Amanda Palmer concert. As was tradition.* Part of my excuse for trekking down country for a musician I had seen more than a couple of times was a) I had a free ticket and b) Neil Gaiman was also in town, hurrah! I had finally actually read some Gaiman by this point, having shamefully not actually touched any of his work when I met him eight-ish months earlier.**

So I dutifully purchased a ticket to the ‘An Evening With…’ type event that was going on at the Town Hall the day after the Amanda show (if memory serves), but I still had time to burn before the gig, and discovered that Neil was doing a session with Australian author Margo Lanagan on YA fiction, chaired by Kate de Goldi. What’s not to like? I bought a ticket, and headed to The Embassy***. And it was thoroughly illuminating.****

There was a sense of agreement among the authors that kids are really good at self-censoring – that’s to say, even when reading things above their intended age, oftentimes the things that are ‘inappropriate’ will just go over their heads. I thoroughly agree with this – I can’t come up with an book-related examples off-hand, but when I look back at all the dirty jokes and suggestive lyrics in films and songs that I watched and listened to without a care in the world as a kid, it does make me think that there’s something to it.

Related to this, both authors seemed to say that despite writing for a range of ages, they don’t go into a story thinking ‘this is something that I’m writing for teenagers’  – rather it is something that is the product of publisher and editorial decisions made on something that has grown of its own accord, without working to fill some sort of age-genre niche. It makes me wonder how things would work if other authors worked in a similar system, how it would (or wouldn’t) affect the way that trends work.

Because that’s what this is basically meant to be about, before that introductory tangent happened. Young adult genre trends, and how strange they are. Really. It really does open your eyes as to just how swayed by current interests the teenage/young person mindset is when you see just how overwhelmingly trend-driven YA fiction is. There are obviously ebbs and flows in terms of what is most popular in the world of regular adult fiction, with occasional strange outliers like Fifty Shades of Grey, but as a whole, people can have specific interests in any genre, and there’s going to be new stuff being churned out on a regular basis, be it thriller, sci-fi, ‘literary fiction’ (borrowing Ellie Catton’s quote marks there), or what-have-you.

But teenagers! My goodness. At this moment, it’s perhaps not so mad as it has been at some points in recent years – it seems to be a bit of a transitional period at present – but having worked in a kids’ department in the height of Meyer-mania, the proliferation of vampire (and later Insert-Paranormal-Creature-of-the-Month – did anyone else read Switched by Amanda Hocking? Or as my former workmate Rosie and I referred to it “that troll book”?) fiction was INSANE. I mean, everyone knows that. If it’s not Twilight, it’s Vampire Academy or Vampire Diaries, or Blue Bloods, or The Mortal Instruments. Money spinners, every one – and I won’t claim to judge them for quality, because I haven’t read most of them. I did read all four Twilight books (and the companion novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner) and the first book of The Mortal Instruments, but, in case you’re interested, here are my excuses/reasons.
1. Twilight – I found an abandoned copy at O’Hare Airport on my way to Montreal. Made for good plane reading.
2. New Moon – I forgot to bring a book with my on the plane to Florida, and it was the cheapest English language book in the Montreal airport bookstore.3. Eclipse – I had confessed that I’d read them to a friend, and when she came to visit me she brought a copy of Eclipse with her that she’d found while cleaning out a flat or some such.
4. Breaking Dawn – By this stage, I have to admit, I did actively borrow it from a friend (thanks, Mel!), just so that I could say I’d seen it through to the end.
5. The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner – Off-site sale store, just myself and much less-than-riveting stock for company. So over the course of a few shifts I stealthily worked by way through the book (as well as a re-read of The Bad Beginning. Miss you, Botany Town Centre (not).
6. City of Bones. I don’t know if Cassandra Clare is quite in the same ‘really?!’ league as Stephenie Meyer, but still. I read this because it was on my Kobo when I was in hospital after my op last year, and it managed to make more sense than Atwood or Asimov in my morphine haze.

I’m just all about the tangents today, aren’t I? It has been a long day.

Anyway. We were talking about trends! So, as most people will be aware, the next major Young Adult Fiction Trend after paranormal romance was/is Dystopia. Which is very much more up my alley. You all of know my Atwood obsession – and more specifically my Atwood speculative fiction obsession. A good dystopia is just brilliant, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. The cautionary tale element, perhaps, or maybe I just have no faith in the future of the human race? Depends on the day. Regardless, The Handmaid’s Tale and the Maddaddam trilogy are some of my favourite books of all time. And suddenly, there were going to be new dystopic books written in such a way as to be consumed swiftly and easily. Frabjous day!

The Hunger Games was excellent, to a point. I’m not unique in my opinion that the second two books suffered because of the assumed timing/publisher pressure following the huge popularity of the first. Divergent had a similar fate, as did the Uglies books (though neither were quite on the same level as The Hunger Games) – great first book to hook you, but everything rather gets a little too big too fast, and the writing quality drops as a consequence. I tend to think that the ideas are better than the execution in some of these YA dystopias, which isn’t the end of the world, I suppose – I’m sure it fuels the imagination of fledgling writers finding their feet through fanfic.

But even the day of Dystopic Dominance seems to be drawing to an end, and John Green is perhaps the main man behind this transition. Real life is cool again – and in particular, the brand of ‘sick lit’ as it is sometimes uncomfortably known, that he seems to have kicked off with The Fault in Our Stars (correct me if I’m wrong – and obviously I know that books in this vein have existed forever, but none have had quite the same following). I really loved the book, when I read it last year while in the throes of being desperately unwell. One of his other books was one of my other post-op reads (Paper Towns, I think?) along with the aforementioned Cassandra Clare title. Now, kids with cancer are having their stories shared more passionately than ever. I just finished reading Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – but at the same time, it felt a little like I was reading the Aussie version of TFiOS, with less pretentious protagonists and a shuffle of specific cancer-locations. Love on the oncology ward, the new Love in Post-Apocalyptic Appalachia, or Love & Fangs in the Pacific Northwest.

It seems like such a strange niche to have such prominence. Is it the sparkly strands of hope beyond all odds? Is it the fact that many a child will have seen a classmate or relative suffer through the pain of cancer (or another serious illness, though these genre books don’t seem to have stepped out of that box yet)? I’m not a cancer patient, obviously, but my health background meant that there were a fair few moments while reading Zac & Mia that I felt uncomfortable with how familiar these things sounded – the bruises and scars on arms from needles, that constant whir/drip of IVs, the way in which such intensive drugs just sap your life force entirely. I’ve sat in haemotology, with my IV attached, surrounded by patients undergoing chemo. I’ve been put under, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen when I wake up, I’ve had a puffy steroid face, I’ve had slight fond reminisces of a catheter.

Basically, I can relate to some of the goings on of these characters more than I’d like to. I suppose it’s not helped by the fact that I’m currently in a bit of a flap about my health going forward, but I felt constantly on edge while reading hospital scenes in Zac & Mia, even as I felt compelled to read on, felt compassion, empathy. What does a healthy reader take from these stories? Do they zone in on the love stories, with the cancer simply part of the love story? Do they read on, knowing that one of the bright young things could relapse and deteriorate at any moment, so that they the reader can then cry along with the protagonist left alive? Is it glamourising illness, despite painting a pretty damn unhappy and unpleasant image of it?

I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking it.

Trends are strange things, guys.

Perhaps there will be a part two tomorrow when I’ve had more time to digest the book, and I’m less exhausted (funny, right? because when am I ever not exhausted?). All this being said, I would still recommend it.

*The tradition being that I had a compulsion to travel far and wide in pursuit of as many AFP concerts as possible. Last tally was fifteen, I think, including one Coachella slot, one Dresden Dolls show, one performance/reading with her and Neil at a bookstore and one performance of “Delilah” in her lounge. But I digress.

** This was the time that AFP and Neil were performing together at the Housingworks Bookstore, when I came in early with the gang, as it was in those NY-y days, and I was sitting pretty in a corner keeping out of the way when Neil walked past, then stopped and came towards me, saying “You must be the other barely legal lesbian (cf. @thebarelylegals, an on-going Twitter joke circa May 2009), from New Zealand! I’m Neil.” And he stuck his hand out to shake, and apologised for having forgotten my actual name. He had met Kayla, the other part of the boisterous Bed-Stuy  duo the day before, hence the ‘otherness’. It was possibly the most surreal moment of my life. Gods bless my bright pink hair.

***Where, in hindsight, I probably interacted with some of my now-colleagues at the Unity satellite store.

****Keep in mind that everything is being jotted down by memory, now, and this was four years ago, and those four years have been full of illness and drugs and surgery and depression and many other things which may have slightly tinkered with my memory.

latest updates (march 12th)

I think I will work towards being a little more efficient with roundups of pieces published elsewhere, just to keep things ticking along.

I have had two pieces published on Radio New Zealand’s ‘The Wireless’ website – one on life with an ostomy and IBD and a review of Eleanor Catton’s New Zealand Book Council lecture as part of the NZ Festival Writers Week. For on-going updates of my latest pieces on The Wireless, I have an author page, too!

I have done a bunch of short reviews for the NZ Festival blog, with my initial piece currently up and the rest to follow…

And otherwise, I have been working 10+ hour days most days in the past week, have become familiar with pretty much every inch of the Embassy cinema complex, and have met/seen a lot of amazing authors and book industry people. My phone decided to die shortly after today’s working hours (and therefore Writers Week itself) were over, so that was less than ideal. But I have books signed by Eleanor Catton and Alison Bechdel in my possession, so it’s hard to be too mad at the world right now.

This Wellingtonian Life™ (not actually trademarked) – in which I talk about many things, including serendipity, words and coffee

Kia ora, readers!

Before I forget to mention it, I first need to mention I HAVE A REAL PROPER WEBSITE. www.rawlibrary.co.nz. Please do check it out. Rest assured, this is still where the blogging shall happen.

It has been a bit of a lull, I know – I’ve had intermittent internet coverage, and all sorts of things on my plate. But today, I have set up camp in the lovely Wellington Central Library, and am mooching off the half hour of free internet before I succumb to paying for more. February 2nd – the day I move into my flat – cannot come soon enough. Nice view here, though.

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So, This Wellingtonian Life™. I’ll be more attached to it once I have an actual room to call my own, and can access my books and external hard drive (foolishly packed into my storage stuff – I’m down to GoT, Sherlock and Hannibal on my laptop), but despite the wind attempting to carry me away, or at the very least, making me regret wearing sandals and/or full skirts, it is still proving most delightful.

Let’s have a bit of a photo introduction, shall we? All of these, and more, can be trawled through on my Instagram account.

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Not the warmest of welcomes. Wellington is one of those places that, I was already most aware, the beautiful days are virtually beyond compare, but the rest of them… a little more grim. Still, good to arrive without any delusions as to what I was coming to, right?

Day One (first full day – let’s call that grim rainy day Day Zero, since I only arrived part way through the day) was beautiful, and busy. I introduced my mother to Wholly Bagels* (delicious) and positioned myself in front of the Doctor Who lifts in the James Smith building, as evidence below shows.

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This Day One was better known as The Day Of Interviews. I chatted with Wellington band City Oh Sigh for my next NZ Musician piece, while consuming coffee #2 of the day. They were lovely, their music is lovely, and I will be sure to post a link here when the piece (and their album) comes out. For now, suffice it to say that the record is beautiful, and you should all listen to the first single, Sometimes.

After Interview #1 came #2 (which was really more of a chat, but still. It fits with the feeling of the day), with the lovely Kelly of the NZ Festival team. Care for a story of serendipity? Let me tell ya…

ImageIt all starts with Neko Case.

I fired up my laptop once I got back to the motel after some wandering in search of food on Day Zero. Opened Twitter, and saw the most recent post was a competition question from the NZ Festival feed, to win the new Neko Case CD. Well, I like Neko Case, I thought to myself, and it’s just been posted, so I have a chance, wahoo! The question was regarding how many days until the festival started, and I knew that it begins the same day as my course, so it was easy peasy. I replied, got in first, won the CD. Emailed Kelly to ask if I could collect it rather than have it sent out, since I was yet to be at my official address. All fine and dandy, I arranged to pop into the St James Theatre sometime in the next few days to collect it.

Then I had an email from Kelly the next day, while I was on my way to meet up with City Oh Sigh, asking if we could perhaps grab coffee because she had checked out my blog and had a couple of projects she’s like to chat to me about.

First real day in Wellington, people, and I felt like I was being hit with the WTF-IS-GOING-ON-THIS-DOESN’T-HAPPEN stick. Someone with pulling power reading this here blog, and having it actually lead to something?

So I turned up to the St James, met up with Kelly for Coffee #3 of the day, at Jimmy’s in the lobby of the theatre. Turns out she’s been looking for a book-blogger-type to do some write-ups of NZ Fest Writers Week events. And she saw this here blog linked from my Twitter after I won the CD. And the stars seemed to align, on some level. So I said yes, of course. And will be going to the Writers Week launch (where all of the guests will be announced) this week. The likes of Alison Bechdel, Tom Keneally, Jung Chang and Elizabeth Gilbert have already been announced, so no matter what it is going to be pretty damn excellent.

So thanks, Neko Case, you’re a fricking pal.

But I digress. Interview #3 of the day was yet to come – the most important, ultimately, because it was with Unity Books, for a part time job. And as much as I love writing about music and books and everything of that nature, at this point in time it doesn’t exactly pay the bills. Unity is basically the indie bookseller dream – and I had fortuitous timing indeed. I sipped water from a champagne flute while harping on about Margaret Atwood and Iain Banks and my finally having read Gatsby and all that jazz. And I guess I did something right (well, admittedly, I do have a fair foundation in bookshops), because to days later I had the call to say ‘you’re our gal’ – well, in different words, but still.

So naturally, I had to reward myself with book related paraphernalia. Found at Rex Royale on Cuba Mall. ❤

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Since then, my days have been filled with riveting stuff like buying towels and leggings, and going to see Catching Fire again. Though there have been higher points, like playing Cluedo and Alhambra with some old friends and new ones way out in the Hutt. That’s where I ‘befriended’ this Bird Of Many Names (so we will just call him Bird). I quickly became mortal enemies with him after realising that I had managed to get bird poo on my t-shirt and jeans. We had a moment, though.

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Other exploits have included many coffees, market-wandering and harbour-view-appreciating. Here are a few more pictures to tide you over, until the next installment of This Wellingtonian Life.

ImageGorgeous if a little Other-Mother-esque Katherine Mansfield sculpture on Lambton Quay.

ImageNew library card. A sign of true belonging.

ImageRagtime piano playing on the waterfront.

ImageWise words from Vincent O’Sullivan.

À bientôt, mes amis!

* I will be lining up a bunch of cafe/restaurant reviews to post in the coming days, just to keep things going here even if I’m not constantly plugged in. Watch this space.