Friday, December 27, 2013

Ask-a-Dude: Holiday Gift Edition!

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another edition of Ask-a-Dude!

Remember, you can ask your own questions using the submission form on the right!

Today's question is:

Q: I got my boyfriend this really cool dress shirt for Christmas, but we've had three social events since then and he didn't wear it to any of them. Did I get him the wrong thing?

A: Let me ask a few questions, here.

  • Does the shirt have a collar?
  • Would you describe the color as gamboge, vermilion, or bois de rose?
  • Does the logo look like a cute reptile or have a guy riding anything other than a monster truck?
  • Any buttons?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, then you most certainly got him the wrong thing. Unless, of course, by "dress shirt" you mean "XBox."

I'm not gonna lie. I'm not actually sure what you mean by "dress shirt." Is it like a long t-shirt? Because that actually sounds kinda cool. If not, then here's a short list of things you could have gotten that he'd get more enjoyment out of than a dress shirt:

  • A loop recording of nails on a chalkboard
  • Free waterboarding session
  • Floss

Look, I'm sure he appreciates the thought. Don't take his unwillingness to wear the shirt as a lack of gratitude. There's something deeper at play, here.

Look at it from his perspective. He just got this really nice piece of clothing from his SO. He's not dumb, he knows he's going to have to show up in the thing at some point.

So his thought process begins like this: 

What is this thing? The material is strange. Soft, yet stiff. Flowy, yet defined. This is some Area 51 shit, right here. Like it was reverse-engineered from an alien spacesuit. That would explain the abundance of material at the neck. See how it's folded over and secured by buttons? That's where the space helmet goes, obvs.

And yet, it's got a headhole and a place to put my arms. Is it a shirt? But why ruin a perfectly good shirt by cutting a slit down the middle? I mean, they even tried to patch it and, when that didn't work, they just gave up and slapped some buttons on the front. And on the cuffs. Plus the ones on the collar. WTH, there are even tiny buttons down by the hem, like a little button garden, or button-herpes.

Then there's all the stitching. Like it was assembled from several different cuts of material. Where have I seen this before?

And this, my friend, is why you don't buy a dress shirt for your boyfriend: he'll assume you're going to eat him.

But there's more to it than that. If you want to understand how a guy looks at clothing, watch him shop for it. This is impossible, of course, because no red-blooded male would ever voluntarily go shopping for clothes with another person. To a dude, clothes shopping is akin to hunting during the Paleolithic, a dangerous, terrifying burden that must be faced alone.

Grab some binoculars and tail him the next time he goes shopping for clothes. You may have to wait a while. Most guys go shopping once a year, the average spree lasting no more than ten minutes (which includes parking, shopping, getting distracted by that weird booth at the mall that sells colorful stuff nobody uses, and lunch at Orange Julius). Slip his mom a $20 and she can tip you off after he makes a casual remark at breakfast that, maybe, the strips of cotton hanging from his shoulders like jungle vines no longer cut it as a t-shirt and, perhaps, it's time for a new one. 
When your shirt looks like this, get a new one
The first thing you'll notice is how self-conscious he is. It's like he thinks everyone in the department store is there to see what he's wearing. Right, like some stay-at-home-dad with three kids to buy school clothes for really cares that you buy your t-shirts three sizes too small because you think they accentuate your "guns."

Chances are, he'll head to a specific spot in the store and then look around in confusion. That's because guys don't shop by taste, look, fashion, or size. They shop by muscle-memory. Like sharks returning to their birthplace to deliver their own pups, men will travel untold miles to the spot where they purchased their most recent piece of clothing. For years, JC Penny had to employ Man-Guides at the locations of long-demolished stores to gently persuade the steady flock of guys who kept trying to buy underwear from the same store that sold them their first pair.

If he's lucky, the store and layout hasn't changed since he was last in, and he'll simply grab twelve of the same thing in one color and head to the nearest register. He knows exactly what he's looking for because, a) it's the same thing he bought on his previous shopping spree three years ago, and, b) he is matching items to an existing wardrobe. If you follow this logic, then the cold horror of what this means has already dawned on you: men buy clothes that match what they already have; what they already have was once a match to something that came before. Ergo, your boyfriend's fashion choices can all be traced back to the original pair of Husky Jeans and Underoos his mother bought for him when he was a kid.

So, he's out of there in under ten minutes, his mascara-streaked face praising God that he got out alive. Here's where you come in. Look, I know you mean well. But think about it. Into this orderly world of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies, you introduce an outlier, a discordant note in his fashion symphony, a fart in the elevator.

You gave him a very nice dress shirt that he would never buy for himself. I'm doing him a favor, you think to yourself. He doesn't have to suffer the indignities of going to a department store where his struggle to pull together an outfit can go catastrophically viral on YouTube. Why is he so worried?

Now look at it from his perspective. First, he has to figure out where to store it. Does it go into the underwear drawer? That's where he puts his sock, briefs, and t-shirts (so, like, 90% of his wardrobe). Or does it go over the back of his chair with his three pairs of pants (the other 10%)? Well, frak, now he has to buy some fancy new kind of cabinet or remove the mini-fridge, beer empties, and drinking buddies from the closet in his bedroom.

But here's the biggest issue. Even if he could bring himself to evict his drinking buddy from the closet, and forego the additional $300 rent money each month, he still has a matching issue.

The shirt doesn't match anything else. It looks deceivingly blue, but he's got ten other blue things and none of them look like that shirt. What's more, the hem of the shirt looks like it's not meant to see the light of day. That means tucking in, which, in turn, means a belt. And not the hipster airline-inspired nylon belt with quick-release belt he wears, but a proper leather job. 

Leather belts mean matching shoes.
Shoes mean socks.
Socks mean toenail clippers.
Toe nail clippers mean garbage cans.
Garbage cans mean taking out the trash.
Taking out the trash means less time for GTA-V.


See what I mean?

It was a nice gesture, but you don't just give a hobo a Ferrari.

The solution? Not sure. But I will say, you can never go wrong with a multi-tool.

Copil's wardrobe consists of three cornflower blue Capri pants, and some Hawaiian shirts. You can get more fashion advice on Twitter (@Copil).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Smells of the Season... and Teen Boys

Merry Christmas, YAC readers!!!

Yesterday, I began (and finished) my Christmas shopping, so I might or might not be a little loopy at the moment.

While I was at it, I got this candle that smells like apple cider with cinnamon sticks... Mmm... it's divine. It also got me thinking about all the lovely smells of Christmas.

Then I immediately thought about songs that involve smells and how icky that is... (JT is guilty of this, Lynyrd Skynyrd... who else?) EW!

One of my most popular posts about "The Craft of Writing" (read that in a pompous voice) deals with "The Olfactory Problem in YA Literature."

Or as I put it, "Smells Like Teen Boys." (I was riffing off Nirvana, did you catch that?)

It's a great refresher, and lots of fun. See what you think~

* * *

I read the funniest post ever by Crazy Writer Girl about "the olfactory problem in YA writing." (I'd put a link to it, but the blog seems to have been removed--or else Blogger's messing with me again.)

Anyway, the point of the post was that boys stink.

It was written by a wife and mother of two boys, and she noted that there's a Big Lie being perpetrated in YA literature where the overwhelming majority of male love interests emit amazingly pleasant odors.

Naturally, she wanted to know where all these fantastic-smelling teen boys were hiding as her brood ... well, according to CWG, they don't smell like fresh-cut grass (or fresh-cut anything for that matter).

As I was snorting in my coffee, I realized it's true! And I read them that way all the time without ever thinking about it (or looking over at JRM and going, "Why don't you smell like a field of clover all the time?")

Seriously, though. The reality is teen boys don't typically worry about how they smell. But if I'm writing a swoon-ey crush scene, I can't say Hot Johnny smells like a dirty gym sock.

On the other hand, I also don't want to describe his manly musk. Ew. (Am I the only person who finds the word musk extremely unappealing?)

That's a picture of a musk (or three). --->

Seriously, folks. Not hot.

Fictional males need to smell attractive. And in fairness, CWG wasn't saying to make them more realistic (i.e., stinky), she was asking for writers to associate guys with more believable guy smells.

I gotta confess. I might just stick to suspension of disbelief on this one. And I think meeting the right person can have transformative powers on both the sniffer and the sniffee.

On a related note, one of my Book Club ladies, after reading The Hunger Games, said she was bothered by the fact that none of the girls ever had a period. Seriously. The lack of menstruation stood out to her.

I told her they were so malnourished and under such extreme stress, they were all suffering from amenorrhea. But what am I? The Suzanne Collins apologist?

As a writer, again I was stunned. Do readers really notice these things? Apparently the answer is sometimes Yes.

So I have two questions for you, writer-friends:

-What do you think about staying that true to life? 
-Should we include the nitty-gritty details in our writing? 

(Do your females skip periods and your male characters smell like daffodils?)

I'm suddenly feeling the need for some light revisions...

(Orig. published on That's Write, March 31, 2011)

Monday, December 16, 2013

From the Vault - Holiday Traditions

Every Monday we post a reading/writing-related question for our followers, and at the end of the month, one lucky commenter is selected to choose a title from our Vault. Whatever we have available: ARCs, signed books, awesome new releases... OR the monthly winner may select any one book to be ordered for him/her from the Book Depository

(To enter, follow YA Confidential and make sure your email address is linked to your comment in some way. We'll need to get in touch with you if you win.)

Today's Question... What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Matthew - Visiting family, or having family visit. I had a lot of family issues as a kid, so the fact that my sisters and I still get along really well is nothing short of amazing.

Karen - Every December my parents rent a villa at Disney World and the whole family spends a week there. I love doing all Disney xmas traditions stuff: Osbourne Lights at Hollywood Studios,  Candlelight Processional at Epcot, Snow on Main Street and photos in front of the ice covered castle lit up at night. Even hanging xmas lights on our balcony with my dad, or just having hot chocolate in our room gives me the warm and fuzzies.

Jaime - There are so many… I love decorating the tree and the house while watching Christmas movies or listening to Christmas music. And, of course, I love spending time with family. My mom comes for about a week at the start of December every year and we spend the time baking, watching Christmas movies, playing board games, drinking tea, and just generally doing all of the Christmas-y stuff together.

Copil - We introduced the Elf on a Shelf this year. He reports back to Santa, travels only when you're sleeping, he doesn't talk to you and you're not allowed to touch him. That's some straight up NSA sh!t, right there. But it's cute how excited the kids are when they get up every morning looking for him.

Alexandra - Pierogis. My family's origins are Eastern European and we have homemade Pierogis every year and I loooooove them.

Leigh - My absolute, all-time favorite is hauling out all our Christmas-story picture books and reading them with my two little daughters. We've seriously got more than 30, so we have one for every night of December. From Angelina Ballerina to Olive the Other Reindeer to the Polar Express to the plain ole Night Before Christmas. We LOVE this. (I don't love the Elf so much.)

Katy – My favorite traditions center around my girl. Taking her to choose gifts for her cousins and friends, baking Christmas cookies together, reading Christmas stories, getting clever with her Elf on the Shelf… We love the holidays!

Alison - Watching ELF a million times. Singing Christmas carols (much to the neighbors' chagrin). Decorating the tree. EVERYTHING.

Jessica - I get a little grouchy about the holidays - too much forced cheer and materialism for my taste. But my Scroogy-ness makes me embrace the little traditions I have with my family and friends. My favorite is that every December 23rd my friends come over and we watch Love Actually and drink rum cider. I look forward to that all year. 

Erica - I just love making Christmas cookies - and giving them out to people, since it makes so many people so happy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

December Roundtable: Literary vs. Commercial Fiction

Here's an abridged version of our chat (with some random tangents and irrelevancies removed!) Read through and then let us know what you think in the comments!

Alexandra: So, I got the idea for this one when we were doing the strong female characters chat. SPECIFICALLY because Matt and Leigh started talking about Fifty Shades of Grey Puke; Leigh brought it up as an example of how awful male characters like Christian Grey can be forgiven pretty much complete crap behavior, but female characters can't (or something like that, sorry if I'm misrepresenting, it was several months ago.) Matt countered with that since 50 Shades of Grey isn't literature that it is a poor example.
Alexandra: Do we think that it matters, that literature has more of an effect/bearing on things like characterization, sexism, etc.? Or is it the other way around: since books like 50shades are so wide-reaching, do they actually have more of an impact?
Leigh: OK, THAT is a super interesting question...
Leigh: See what you think about this idea...
Leigh: Is it possible that commercial fiction reflects what's going on in culture, but literary fiction perhaps reflects what we aspire to become?
Leigh: I'm not sure that works...
Leigh: I'm thinking of books like A Man in Full... (P. Roth)
Leigh: literary, not aspirational.
Chihuahua Zero: Hmm...what about sitcoms where all of the main characters are unsympathetic? Do those not translate well to fiction?
Chihuahua Zero: *literature?
Matt: Aspire ... to become? Or maybe even what we aspire to return to (think the golden age effect).
Leigh: y'all know I'm indie now, so I'm kind of on the front lines of what's "happening" in women's fiction (not literary women's fiction; fiction women are reading. A LOT.)
Leigh: I'm seeing a super disturbing trend toward abusive sexual relationships in fiction
Matt: That's not new, right? Or is it getting worse?
Leigh: Just today, there was yet another discussion of how books like Beautiful Disaster (now traditionally published) is/was targeted at YA
Leigh: See Night Owl
Alexandra: Leigh brings up SEVERAL things. Mainly, why is there even a genre called women's fiction? It's like they have to label it that so that men don't accidentally stumble upon it and actually, you know, read a book that features a woman.
Leigh: OK, I'm like super feminist, but at the same time, I DO get the concept of "women's fiction"---and I think it has a lot to do with me having a husband who reads a ton more than me.
Leigh: I DO think there are issues that concern women more than men and vice versa
Tracey: Well, have you ever tried reading some of that men's fiction? It's so confusing!
Leigh: LOLOL!!! at Tracey!!!
Matt: I like men's fiction.
Tracey: Men's fiction - totally made up
Matt: That was tongue in cheek. There's no such thing, and if there is, it has the privilege to be whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
Leigh: That's like "why don't we have a white history month".... LOLOL!
Alexandra: Also, and perhaps I'm generalizing...but I would argue that a LOT of books considered "literature" are essentially about the daily struggles/life struggles/internal struggles of MEN.
Alexandra: But those are LITERATURE.
Alexandra: Books about women are "women's fiction"
Alexandra: Like, why is a man's life literature and a woman's life only one shelf in the bookstore?
Katy: I wonder that often, Alexandra
Matt: Or, like in Franzen, for ex, why are men glorified and women trivialzed?
Leigh: Alexandra, you're reminding me of a convo hubs and I had the other day of the Top 5 Writers in American Fiction... Guess who they were? Phillip Roth, Cormack McCarthy, Thomas Pinchon, and two other male turds
Leigh: I took MAJOR exception to this list. (It was Don Delillo and Thomas Wolfe or something)
Leigh: Where are the WOMEN, I say Toni Morrison? Barbara Kingsolver, Eudora Welty
Alexandra: And who decides this top 5 bull anyway? Probably a bunch of white male dudes.
Matt: Wow.
Leigh: It was some critic's list. It probably came from Entertainment Weekly... yes, a totallly commercial publication deciding the contemporary cannon
Alexandra: I would like to send that critic a howler.
Matt: Makes sense then. That's tripe.
Alexandra: I mean it's been happening since forever. The literature we study is defined by white males.
Alexandra: It’s like Romantic Poetry. That's what matters about the beginning of the 19th century—the white guy poets, never mind the women who were writing novels, like Jane Austen, who was a contemporary of people like Wordsworth, Coleridge, etc. What about Mary freaking Shelley? She was MARRIED to a Romantic, wrote freaking Frankenstein as a teenager, and still doesn't make the list for whatever reason.
Matt: Mary Shelley never gets the props she deserves. I mean her EFFING monster is more well known that she is, and that's a damn shame.
Leigh: Mary Shelley was totally literary, IMO
Matt: Def.
Leigh: Yeah, she wrote about a monster, but it was very philosophical
Matt: But also commercial. There are books that can be both.
Alexandra: Mary Shelley is a genius.
Leigh: today it's commercial, but her point was way deeper
Alexandra: The thing that really gets me is that it's GENRE fiction. Frankenstein is science fiction that happens to be commercial and literary at the same time.
Matt: Yes! The terms are not mutally exclusive.
Alexandra: Every time someone says that genre fiction can't be literary fiction I'm like, um, have you read Frankenstein? A Midsummer Night's Dream? Dr. Faustus? No? Live in a cave much?
Chihuahua Zero: I think in the end, the "winners" write history. Usually, those "winners" are male, and they end up burying a lot of female artists.
Chihuahua Zero: To be honest, I don't care much about these top literature lists, both contemporary and classic.
Tracey: I think you could say the same for YA and MG fiction, though. Literary YA or MG is still considered Just For Kids. (Excluding a select few.)
Alexandra: Tracey, you're so right.
Chihuahua Zero: Isn't commerical YA/MG also considered Just For Kids?
Chihuahua Zero: By the public anyways.
Leigh: Yes! Back to YA/MG... I think this is a function of bookstore owners, actually.
Leigh: And having managed a bookstore in a past life, I totally understand.
Chihuahua Zero: The whole commerical and literary distinctions are muddled because they shift over time. Either previously commercial elements become more literary in modern times, and/or the deepness of the work is bought out by literary canon.
Leigh: Good point, CZ!
Leigh: And at the same time, this is art, guys
Leigh: You don't tell it--you're literary, you act this way
Alexandra: Leigh, EXACTLY. Except in this day and age that's exactly what we do.
Tracey: Agreed. Just because a book is commercial doesn't mean the prose is somehow lesser than
Katy: Or if you're trying to cover everything in a query letter, you say your work is "literary with a commercial slant." :)
Chihuahua Zero: A Casual Vacancy is very literary in writing, but it was hyped to the masses.
Katy: Because of the author, CZ?
Leigh: Oh! I haven't read A Casual Vacancy, but I read all about it, and it did sound very literary. At the same time, one could argue the whole HP series was literary
Alexandra: Harry Potter is both character and plot driven.
Alexandra: It has perfunctory prose and beautifully crafted prose.
Alexandra: It has subtle metaphors and heavy-handed ones.
Alexandra: Harry Potter is EVERYTHING.
Katy: Harry Potter IS everything.
Matt: YES. HP = MC2
Chihuahua Zero: Really, it can be classified as literary, but with commercial appeal. But at the same time...
Chihuahua Zero: It makes me think about "Royals". It's definitely an alternative song (literary), but it has pop appeal (commercial).
Chihuahua Zero: Like with radio pop music, there's an science and an art in creating a work that has appeal.
Chihuahua Zero: For me, something that is commercial doesn't have to sell well. It just has to be targeted that way.
Rebecca: Until I read what today's chat topic was about, I didn't even think about commercial literature vs. literary literature. It's not how I talk about when I talk books; I discuss characters, prose, enjoyment, the feels. Having looked into the topic, while it's certainly interesting, it's not something I focus on when choosing/reading books. So saying that literary lit trumps isn't fair, it depends on what you want as a reader and the story you have to tell as a writer. If a book falls more into being commercial lit, it doesn't devalue it or make it any less important. All books are amazing. Amazing books even more so. Whatever traps or labels they may fall into.
Alexandra: Rebecca wins the chat.
Matt: Rebecca does.
Leigh: I wish publishers felt like Rebecca

What do you think, dear readers? Does literary fiction have more merit than commercial fiction? Does the literary/commercial divide exclude certain groups of people (i.e. everyone who isn't a white privileged male?) Or are these distinctions a bunch of crap?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

November's Comment of the Month Winner!

Great responses all around to our From the Vault Monday questions this month. As always, it was difficult to choose, and as always we could only pick one winner. The chosen commenter will receive a book of his/her choice from The Book Depository.

We asked: 
National Novel Writing Month is upon us. Are you participating? Have you in the past? What's your drafting style?

And our winner, CHRISTINA_KIT, said: 
"I can't do NaNoWriMo - the pressure to put in the word count works counter-effectively for me. There are days I need to think, to daydream, to see the scene. And with NaNo it's like you're a failure if you don't get the word count in, then that works against the confidence and fearlessness you need to put words on screen.

So basically it's a terrible way for me to write!!

But good luck to all of you who are doing it and have done it successfully - you're all totally brave!! :)"
We couldn't agree more about NaNoers (is that a word?) being brave! Just send us a quick email to yaconfidential [at] gmail [dot] com to let us know what book you would like sent to you. Thanks again for taking part in our From the Vault Mondays!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Writing professionally: the many forms

I know a lot of readers of this blog dream of being published authors. I am absolutely one of those people. The day I get paid for a piece of fiction will be one of the most satisfying of my life.

But. I may never have been paid for a piece of my fiction, but I do get paid to write. One of my three jobs is freelance copywriter. It may not be in the way I originally dreamed (and still am going to make happen!) but I am a professional writer.

Copywriting might seem pretty divorced from writing novels at first glance. It's technical, it's specific, it's short. But if your love is writing, and you want to get paid as a writer, it can be a pretty cool option.

For one thing, can I just tell you how gratifying it is to get money for something I've written? Honestly, the first time I got paid for it I called my dad and was so excited to officially be making money (any money at all!) as a writer. It's a confidence boost!

Plus, any job where I get to practice my writing is invaluable to me. Learning to write in all different modes is essential. The versatility of being able to switch up your tone, word choice, and sentence structure can only help you in writing novels. Maybe you'd never use that technical writing ability in a novel, but picking up on a style that's so different from your preferred voice might help you with a tricky first person story or a character who speaks very differently from those around her. You never know.

And, even if I'm in a rut with my fiction, I'm constantly writing. I'm still used to cranking out several hundred words in a day, or a couple thousand a week. I'm using those muscles no matter what. Going from copywriting to novels might be like switching from one sport to another, from cardio to weight-training, but I'm always writing.

Freelance isn't for everyone, and neither is copywriting, but I hope I've given you all something to think about, especially younger people trying to figure out how to make a career and a life out of being a writer!

Monday, December 9, 2013

From the Vault

Every Monday we post a reading/writing-related question for our followers, and at the end of the month, one lucky commenter is selected to choose a title from our Vault. Whatever we have available: ARCs, signed books, awesome new releases... OR the monthly winner may select any one book to be ordered for him/her from the Book Depository

(To enter, follow YA Confidential and make sure your email address is linked to your comment in some way. We'll need to get in touch with you if you win.)

Today's Question: What has been your most notable accomplishment this year, writing or otherwise?

Alison - I'm never been much of a risk taker, but I decided after 21 years of high school teaching to leave the classroom to be a Stay At Home Mom/full-time writer. I miss the interaction with the kids I taught, and while I'm perpetually stressed financially, I am so much freer mentally to pursue my passions—writing and family.

Karen - I released two novels. That's notable, right? I hope so.

Matthew - Um ... I accomplished nothing in 2013 of note, but I didn't give up writing, I didn't lose my job when my company got bought, and I didn't murder my children.

Katy – I wrote a book! I spent April through October drafting a brand new YA contemporary, and now I’m working on revising it into something readable. 

Leigh - Surviving... no seriously. I planned out a pretty intense year thinking I could do it if everything held together like it was supposed to... You're right, it didn't. But I still made it AND kept the schedule.

Jessica - Getting my book deal for PUSH GIRL! I was in a particularly low place, writing-wise, when I got the news that I would be working on this book with Chelsie Hill, who is amazing, and it would be published by St. Martin's, who are also amazing. It's been a crazy and stressful year, but, man, it's been exciting and fun, too.

Alexandra - I am going to brag about my friends instead of talking about myself. One of my friends finished getting her masters in publishing and managed to change careers this year. Another one is working on a HILARIOUS and awesome manuscript starring a set of fantastic twins. My friends have so many accomplishments. :)

Jaime - I don’t feel like I’ve really had a notable accomplishment of any sort this year, but I was pretty excited/motivated (for a time, at least) by an R&R I received back in the spring.

Copil - I'm proud of keeping to a pretty decent writing schedule despite a major move to a new country. Also, I'm proud of finally learning the difference between pants and trousers. Because I was starting to get weird looks whenever I complimented someone on their pants.

Erica - I would have to say just managing my schedule this fall since it has been pretty intense semester for me. It's been my hardest courseload yet and I'm taking 18 credits, in addition to working, and trying to write and stay on top of everything else.

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