Tag Archives: Studio Ghibli

Boys reading about girls and the realities of the marketplace

I was in fifth grade listening to a girl give her book report about a Nancy Drew mystery. I loved mysteries, but I would never have been caught dead reading Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys, yes. The Alfred Hitchcock “Three Investigators,” yes. Nancy Drew, which warned away boys with its yellow spine, never.  I didn’t know that that was about to change in a matter of minutes.

The girl gave a very good book report. It was interesting. It was a great mystery. I wanted to know the ending.

But she didn’t tell the ending.

Foolishly, I raised my hand. “How did it end?”

The teacher jumped in. “Well, Michael, you’ll have to read the book to find out.”

Then I said the fateful words. “Make me.”

She did.

I was not allowed back into class until I read Nancy Drew: The Hidden Staircase. It took me a few days, but I would dutifully take my copy of Nancy Drew and read it in the sixth grade classroom across the hall. Oh the shame of it all.

But.

I liked the book. I may have even read more Nancy Drew, if it hadn’t been associated with a punishment. But I liked it. Shockingly.

I hated to admit it back then, but I enjoyed it. I shouldn’t have hated to admit it, though.

I have distinct memories of my mother fighting against sexism in the 1960s — such as when she went to get a loan at a bank and was condescendingly told she should come back with her husband. She didn’t. That bank got an earful and another bank got her business. Go Mom!

Shannon Hale recently wrote about her experiences with giving presentations at schools and how boys are sometimes not even allowed to listen to her speak because she writes about girls. This opened up a discussion about the topic of boys reading books with girls as main characters.

And now I am worried.

Orson Scott Card wrote about how he noticed the prejudice:

One thing I’ve been told ever since I began writing as a career — by librarians, publishers, editors, and booksellers — is that while girls are perfectly happy reading books with male protagonists, if you start a book with a female protagonist you had better make it a “girls’ book” because very few boys will ever read it.

I didn’t believe them, because I knew I read books with female protagonists and I always had. … Why should I abide by such a stupid gender rule?

Because, sadly enough, it’s true.

Ender’s Game, with a boy protagonist, is my best-selling novel. Speaker for the Dead, which won all the same awards, sells far less — but the first long section has a girl protagonist.

My Alvin Maker series is, in my opinion, better than Ender’s Game, but young male readers mostly never find that out because the opening chapters star a little girl named Peggy, and those boys never get to the story of Alvin Maker himself.

My YA fantasy novel, Verity’s Oath, begins with a female teen protagonist named Verity. There is also a boy named Conner who is a main character. All in all, the book is about them both, but the first chunk is about Verity. So, should I shift things around? Should I put in a prologue featuring Conner? Should I start with Conner and then use a flashback to tell Verity’s story?

I really didn’t know what is the best thing to do as far as getting boys to read my book (assuming it is published, of course). Then I remembered something.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

My all-time favorite books/movies have been Hayao Miyazaki’s works — particularly his “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” manga and movie. His movies usually center around a girl. And they have done just fine.

Sure, I’m no Miyazaki, but maybe seeing his success is just enough to keep my story the way I love it. I will start with a girl. She is a wonderful character and I just love her and want teen boys and girls to get to know her.

So you want me to write a book about a strong female main character, eh?

Make me. Please.

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Prewriting with Diana Wynne Jones

So how long does it take to write a novel? That may depend upon when you start timing the process. 

The late Diana Wynne Jones (who would have been 80 today) told about her process:

Often I have the makings of a book sitting in my head maturing for eight or more years, and when I am considering that collection of notions I am aware of exercising a great deal of conscious control, trying the parts of it round in different ways, attempting to crunch another whole set of notions in with it to see if that makes it work, and so on. But I do not feel in total control doing this. It is more as if I am moving the pieces of an idea around until they reach a configuration from which I, personally, can learn. Practically every book I have written has been an experiment of some kind from which I have learned. – Diana Wynne Jones, Reflections on the Magic of Writing

I’ve been doing this for months with Verity’s Oath. One of the first ideas I had, back in October 2013, was of a world where little baseball-sized spheres floated in storms. A small town in the mountains put up huge nets to catch the spheres.

I have had other ideas before, but there was something mysterious about this small group of mountain people trying to catch magical globes. What will they do with them? Where do they come from? Are they worth a lot of money?

Again and again I would mentally revisit this little mountain area and look at the nets set up on the tops of hills and mountains, winds blowing through them and the willowy poles that strung them up. I got to know a boy who goes out after a storm, the wind still spitting around the dark wet rocks, and find something in the net — a very large sphere. The boy can see it is tearing the net apart and will soon break free, so he tries to secure it and bloop! Off he goes into the sky with the sphere.

With every idea I had, I wrote it out on a 3×5 card and dated it. From those original ideas, the story grew and completely morphed into something else. No boy gets carried away in the wind, for example.

It is interesting on how going through scenes and settings and, like Diana Wynne Jones, experimenting with the ideas and rearranging them here and there will lead to new a better configurations.

By the way, if you are not familiar with the works of Diana Wynne Jones, you ought to be. Even Studio Ghibli made one of her books, Howl’s Moving Castle, into an animated feature. Today Google.uk made a Google Doodle honoring her.

[For some reason, the date stamp is saying August 17, 2014. It is really August 16, but that is OK if you realize time is not a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint — it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.]