YA Futures

YA is big and has been since the late 90s. But the future today doesn’t look like it did even 10 or 20 years ago. What does YA science fiction readers want today?

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, I had the opportunity to listen to the top professionals in the field discuss what they see coming. On the panel were Charlie Jane Anders, James Smythe, Eric Picholle, Fonda Lee, and Kristina Perez.

3 Things That Don’t Fit In the YA Science Fiction of Today

  1. A sense of inevitable progress
    The golden-age of science-fiction brought us flying cars and space cities. From the Jetsons to Star Trek, optimism for a better world was writ large in our stories.

    These days, we’re making our dreams a little more down to earth.
  2. Angst
    The 90s and 00s taught us that angst and cynicism were ‘grown up’ and ‘mature’. Spoiler: they not. And teenage angst when written by adults, far too often turns into teenage melodrama.
  3. Space
    With the advent of the space race, sf writers assumed our future was out amongst the stars. These days, we’re looking at our own planet and resources.

    Space, right now, is a hard-sell in YA.

10 Things In YA Science-Fiction Today

  1. Social issues
    You don’t have to evaluate them, but they should be in there.

    Related? Teens don’t need as much hand-holding or explanations when dealing with LGBTQ+ themes, versus adult readers.
  2. Near future
    Where we might be in 20 years, not 100 or a 1,000.
  3. Taking the brakes off
    With YA, you can turn emotions up to 11. As a writer, you can delve into your own neuroses and baggage and trauma on the page.
  4. Hope
    The reign of dystopia is changing. The future looks bleak and people are looking for hope.
  5. AI
    Even if we’re not there yet, we’re getting really close to being able to fake true artificial intelligence. I would say some robots are pretty close to dog-level intelligence at this point.

    And then? There’s always “the singularity”, when the first artificial intelligence becomes self-aware.
  6. Genetic Manipulation/Trans-humanism
    The science is there. It’s time to explore the moral and ethical quandaries inherent.
  7. Fun Adventures
    Doing stuff with friends to fix things, save someone or something, or just wild hijinks!
  8. Hackers
    Hackers are more and more becoming the heroes of the story.
  9. Online Friendships
    Friends aren’t always local these days. Plenty of friendships have started or moved online as distance becomes less of a constraint.
  10. Mixed media
    With text conversations and real world descriptions, mixed media storytelling is getting bigger.

Clearly, as we don’t actually have any time-travel machines, these are all guesses and YA trends change faster than any other genre.

Let me know what you think is coming for YA. Did the panelists get it right?


As always, thanks for reading and I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Booktube: The World of YouTube Book Discussions

The booktuber world is right next door to the authortuber world — full of people talking about their to-read lists, the books they’re actually reading, and their own community. As opposed to us authortubers, talking about writing tips, writing progress, and apparently streaming virtual write-ins. Both are full of people passionate about books and wanting to talk about it on youtube.

In the titular panel at WorldCon, Stevie “Sablecaught” Finegan, Claire Rousseau (Books and Quills), Thomas Wagner (SFF180), Linnea Sternefält (RobotMaria133), and Brianne Reeves (BreeReadsBooks) shared with us their experiences being booktubers.

Why Youtube?

Everyone had their own path and reasons that led them to youtube.

For Claire, 5 years ago, her partner started a geeking out/gaming channel. After seeing how it went, and attending a convention, she wanted to get in on it too, but with her own hobbies. Thus, her booktube channel was born.

Linnea started as a blogger. She’d seen the English-language booktubers, but was worried there wasn’t a large enough audience in her native tongue. Then? She found the other european-vloggers and decided to try it anyway.

Bree had graduated from college and was underemployed. So, she got back to her love of books, found the community, and wanted to join the conversation.

Thomas had been doing traditional book reviews on http://www.sfReviews.net since 2001. He’d seen his gamer friends start up game vlogs and wanted to try, so he tried it — without even knowing the community was there! He’s found that reviews are a lot more personal when your face is attached to the words.

Common BookTube Videos

These booktubers wanted to talk about books on youtube, but what sort of videos are out there?

  1. Book Hall
    – A stack of new books that you’ve gotten.
    • Thomas called his a ‘mail bag’, because he didn’t know it was a thing
    • Bree loves watching these, but hates recording them
    • Linnae loves these
  2. TBR
    – Your to-be-read pile. What you’re planning to read in the coming week or month.
    • Claire loves these
  3. Wrap-up
    – Your end of the week/month where you talk about which books you actually got to, and what you thought about them.
    – Some people do a video for each book (like Thomas, with his traditional book review roots)
  4. Book discussions
    – Talking and analysing books. These come in many forms.
    1. Simple analysis
    2. Comparing the book to the movie
    3. Comparing and contrasting different books of a similar theme
  5. Top 5 Wednesday
    – Share your top 5 books in a given theme/genre

Getting Started on Booktube

Don’t be afraid to join in. You don’t need much to get started, and all of the booktubers out there started just like you, wondering why anyone would care what they think about books.

These are people who love reading and just want to connect with other fans. Just like you.

  1. All you need is a smartphone, a youtube account, and the internet
  2. Crappy videos are fine – talk to people and build community.
  3. Try to post on a consistent schedule, at least once a month.
  4. Audio is more important than video, look to upgrade that first.
  5. To upgrade your video, you can do it in phases
    1. Better microphone (like a Blue Snowball mic + pop filter)
    2. Better camera (like a logitech USB webcam)
    3. Better lighting (like umbrella lights)
    4. Video Editing (like VegasPro)
  6. Monetization.
    1. If you get big enough (4,000 view hours + 1,000 subscribers), youtube will let you monetize.
    2. Patreon may be a better way to get money, but you have to have something to offer people at the different tiers that people are interested in. And that often means bonus material.
      NOTE: Most monetized channels can pay for a coffee. Or, in a good month, start to recoup the money they spent on equipment.
      WARNING: In some countries, it is illegal to accept donations/ patronage without giving them something physical in return.

Joining the BookTube Community

Most of these tips are going to sound familiar if you’ve seen any of my other posts on joining other online communities.

  1. Subscribe to other booktubers!
  2. Comment on other booktubers!
    • Comment on what they’re discussing, be on topic! You might think a compliment like, “you’re pretty” is something everyone wants to hear. Instead? The booktuber is probably thinking you didn’t care about what they were discussing.
    • NOTE: If your comment is non-specific, just long enough that your name links back to your own channel, they can tell you’re just trying to use them to find followers. It’s rude and won’t win you any friends.
  3. Watch to the end! Many booktubers have bonus material there. Like booktube challenges, or requests for you to share your own links below (either for your channel or similar themed videos).
  4. As always, don’t be disappointed at slow traction. It takes a while to become an “overnight” success.

Booktubers to watch!

If booktube sounds up your alley or you’re already a fan, here are some people the panelists suggested to check out.

And, of course, they didn’t do it themselves, but I’m happy to plug them, our panelists:


Had you run into Booktube before?

Are you a booktuber yourself? Tell us how you got into it and share your link below!

As always, thanks for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more panel notes. And maybe some ramblings on PitchWars, because it’s that time of year again.

Done To Death: The Art of Killing Characters

When you’re reading a story and a character dies, you can tell if it’s just the writer trying to manipulate your emotions or if it’s good storytelling.

In the titular panel at Worldcon77, Patrick Rothfuss, Veronica Roth, Su J Sokel, Amy Ogden, and Daryl Gregory did their best to make sure we know that every death should count.

Before we got started, the panelists listed their credentials…

How many characters have you killed?

  • Su killed 3 in one novel.
  • Veronica, in her Divergent series, asked if we counted “outside of catastrophic events?”
  • Amy killed all of humanity. Twice.
  • Patrick has killed 5 characters.
  • Daryl says his only die offstage.

How To Use Death and What Deaths Are Overdone

Fridging Characters

There are tropes that keep popping up, and one of the most trite ones in fiction is using the horrific death of a 2-dimensional female character to motivate the (usually male) main character.

From TVTropes: “The name of the trope comes from a storyline in Green Lantern, in which the villain Major Force leaves the corpse of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, literally stuffed into a refrigerator for him to find.

We’re not saying horrific deaths are bad (in fiction. Please don’t kill people.) We’re just saying they need to matter beyond character motivation.

Parents

Many stories start off with the parents being killed. Even books for those who aren’t old enough for school. And this is traumatic for small kids. We want to teach empathy. We want them to understand death. This is a bad way to do it.

Daryl’s daughter would always go ask him for a snack during the Lion King stampede and get back just as Simba was running away.

Patrick’s sons loved the 3 Little Pigs and the wolf destroying the houses. But they wanted him to tell it without gobbling the pigs all up.

As Amy said, “as a mom, I’m tired of seeing myself die. As a queer person, I’m tired of seeing myself die.”

Queer Characters and Characters of Color

Either as bad guys or as expendable characters, queer characters or characters of color are often the first to die.

Children

Killing children, just to demonstrate that the villain is a bad guy.

Patrick declared, “if that’s all you can do, you’re a bad writer. I stand by this.”

Other

Veronica, in retrospect, admits that there is a bullshit death in her second book. She could have handled that differently. There are plenty of horrible ways to LIVE!

The list could go on. Do we want to show readers the gritty truth, or a better world?

How Do You Make a Death Not Bullshit?

  1. Give fullness to the dead character’s story arc
  2. Try to only kill well rounded main or secondary characters, but think first if there is another way to progress the plot.
  3. Listen to the character – they should tell you if their death is bullshit.
  4. Feel free to have foreshadowing — best done when it’s only obvious in retrospect.
  5. Context matters — who is being killed by whom?
  6. If you do kill characters — parents, children, lovers, make it matter. Make the reader cry and miss them forever.
  7. Showing life after trauma is important.

The Power Of Writing

At this point, the panel started to meander, but we followed along for the ride.

Patrick shared a story. After the Frog Princess, 70 kids were hospitalized from salmonella (from licking frogs). Now, he worries a lot about the consequences of what he writes.

Veronica asked, “then how do you write?”

Patrick — the man whose audience is still waiting, 8 years later, for book 3 of his series — replied, “I’m the wrong person to ask.”

Where You Are Emotionally Affects Your Writing

For almost all of us, what we’re worried about and what we’re struggling with tries to come through in our writing.

There are two approaches.

  1. You can try to leave it at the door.
    • Personal essays, blogs, etc on whatever is bothering you can be a cathartic way to get it out, so you can focus on the story you want to tell.
  2. You can use your writing to work through it
    • So many writers end up doing this. Even if they don’t know that they are.
      • Veronica’s first series was literally about exposure therapy. Later, she went on to be prescribed it!
      • Patrick was thanked for his handling of PTSD in his writing. 10 years later, he realized where it came from. Now he’s in therapy.
      • Amy notes that as a mom, she’s leaving a worse world for her child than she was given. Everything she writes is about climate change.
    • NOTE: Mission-oriented novels come across like after-school specials. It’s okay to work through things, but forcing the theme doesn’t come across as genuine.

[Audience Question] How Do You Handle Villainous Deaths

Everything should be complex — the desire to simplify makes it less real. Just remember, death is a change and it’s the final one. [source?]

Disney took the violence out. Took the blame out. The hero still wins, the bad guy still dies. But, the hero isn’t the hand by which the villain dies. And that might be wrong. There should be consequence.l

[Audience Question] Which Death Would You Undo?

Veronica said, “Lynn.”

Amy’s answer? “Humanity deserved it.”


What stories have you read where death was handled wrong? Which ones have done it well?

If you write, how many characters have YOU killed?

The Future of Podcasting

Podcasting has had its ups and downs since it first started. The market is big, but there’s a lot of small fish out there and it’s hard to get noticed.

At the titular panel at Balticon53, Mark Redfield, Mike Luoma, Philippa Ballantine, Christiana Ellis, and Fred. G. Yost discussed where podcasting has been and what they hope and fear we’ll see in the future.

What Is Podcasting and Where Did It Come From?

Podcasting, for those who are unfamiliar, is the practice of using the Internet to make digital recordings of broadcasts available for downloading to a computer or mobile device. Traditionally, these were audio-only, but some are on Youtube.

Caveat: I have a vested interest in this topic. The Anansi Storytime and other Legendsmith Productions I help voice are podcasts.

Technically, you could argue that my vlog is a podcast — especially since I’ve been considering downloading the mp3s and setting them up on a server…

Many podcasts grew out of the audio-dramas from radio of yesterday – and these really capitalize on the strengths of the format. Some grew out of blogs. Some grew out of traditional radio talk shows.

Podcasting gone through several phases:

  1. A ‘nerd’ thing
  2. OMG! Podcasts are everywhere!
  3. Yeah, podcasts. *shrug* They’re normal. Like TV.

Podcasting is more democratized than traditional media, but there is the fear that as it gets bigger, it will become more corporatized, regulated, and controlled. Like the internet.

Where Is Podcasting Going?

To the best of my knowledge, none of the panelists were time travelers or gifted with foresight, so all of these are clearly educated guesses, wishful thinking, and/or fears.

  1. There’s a lot of fan content – some image that will only grow
  2. There’s a feel that the podcaster ‘clubhouse’ was invaded by infomercials – but the money’s not there, so this may be temporary.
  3. Niche marketing (with big bucks) from corporations however, is a bigger concern and is competing with home-grown content.
  4. Corporations and old media are just porting stuff wholesale — this doesn’t always work. But they’re risk averse.
  5. Patreon is already helping support podcasters (or at least pay for a little bit of the equipment) — subscriber Podcasts are coming to other medias. Some are now on Luminary.
  6. It’s getting mainstream!
  7. The fear? A lot of the popularity is driven by obnoxious commutes. As self-driving cars become a reality while more and more companies have work-from-home policies, the audience might shrink.

Tips For Podcasters

  1. You need consistency
    • Publish regularly
    • Pick a tone/voice
  2. Don’t be generic — you’ve got to show your passion
  3. Don’t chase trends — grow your community
  4. Professionals having fun does better than a clean, polished lecture. (Where do I fit on that spectrum, peeps?)
  5. Don’t tie all of your media to one service
    • The host might change the rules and flush your content (Tumblr)
    • The host might decide you’ve violated copyright/decency/etc and delete your content.
  6. If you record a long segment, don’t be afraid to break it into sections! A part 1 and 2 can be good for driving more listeners to the earlier content they might have missed

Do you listen to podcasts? What sort of podcasts do you like?

What do you see for the future of podcasting? Did the panelists get this one right?

How To Tell Science From Pseudoscience

Throughout time, there has always been a struggle between science and pseudoscience. Even as we’ve learned more, done better, some have always insisted on ignoring those advances.

On the titular panel at Worldcon 2019, Dublin, Eugene Doherty, Sam Scheiner, Cristina Macia, and moderated by Stephen Nelson, discussed the daily fight against pseudoscience beliefs.

What Is Pseudoscience?

There are three main types of pseudoscience

  1. Things that cannot be tested or examined
    • i.e. “The world was created last night, with false memories and records to deceive us all”
  2. Things that have been proven false
    • i.e. The ptolemaic universe – the universe does not revolve around earth
  3. Conspiracy theories, which use the trappings of science without the techniques

Panelists Favorite/Least Favorite Examples of Pseudoscience

  1. Homeopathy – Based on a theory similar to vaccines, the less “medicine” you dilute in water, the more effective it will be. It used to be helpful… in that it kept the quacks away. But, diluted water isn’t treatment for cancer, pneumonia, or worse.
  2. Creationism – the belief that world was build in 7 literal days.
  3. Climate change is fake – has been proven false!
  4. The effectiveness of placebos – we’re not sure. But placebos may be a placebo themselves.
  5. With Ghost Hunters – the EMF (Electromagnetic field) meter is beeping – must be a ghost! Not… an indicator of a cell tower? Or, “I can’t think of anything natural that caused this, thus… GHOST!”

[Audience Question] Does Science Disprove Faith?

Faith is outside of science. By its very definition, it is supernatural.

[Audience Question] How Ethical is Homeopathy For Something Unavoidable – (i.e. childbirth, chronic illness, or something more terminal)

What if it gives them comfort? Or acts as a placebo?

It can be a slippery slope, but perhaps, not entirely unethical when offered as a complimentary treatment.

Why Are People Not Trusting Science?

  1. Science writers are good about caveats and double-checking results, to be certain that they are reporting good science. But… caveats and double-checking facts aren’t convincing! i.e. If you aren’t 100% sure, why should I believe you?
  2. With the death of traditional newspapers, laypeople are reporting on science and writing for clickbait.
  3. Scientists are often poor communicators with laypeople
  4. We often teach science by promoting facts (that might change based on later studies – think of diet and nutrition) rather than teaching critical thinking and the scientific process.
  5. Telling people they’re wrong doesn’t work. It makes them cling to their beliefs stronger.
  6. Some attack people/pseudoscience believers, rather than the pseudoscience itself
  7. Some pseudoscience believers have a lack of intellectual humility — and can’t believe anyone can teach them anything they don’t already know through experience or education or their own logic that ignores anything that doesn’t match their theory.
  8. People want simple, straightforward answers. Science doesn’t always have those.

Ways to Get The People To Rebuild Trust

  1. Target those who are open to learning
  2. Convince those AROUND the opinion leaders – politicians/ celebrities/ etc of your truth. So, they can hear it from someone they trust.
  3. Citizen projects! Get people involved and personally invested in the science.
  4. Make sure the objective of the science is known, not just the details
    • i.e. “Studying the Sex Lives of beetles” — is actually watching how to disrupt the breeding cycle of beetles that are destroying fields of potato crops.
  5. Prioritize teaching critical thinking and the scientific process over memorizing facts.
  6. Treat people with respect.

What are your (least) favorite examples of pseudoscience?

How do you think we can get people to stop believing in pseudoscience? Or can we?