In response to several comments on my post about Feminism in YA, I’d like to clarify what I meant by “girls who are gorgeous.” As I said in my previous post, “Whether they look conventionally physically attractive or not, these girls should act gorgeous and sexy.” Gorgeous because they don’t need someone to tell them that; gorgeous because they are confident about their bodies and what they can do, be it archery, running, basketball, modeling, or even happily being a couch potato.
In a lot of YA fiction (or any fiction, actually) I’ve noticed this us vs. them rivalry between the girl protagonist and the “pretty girls.” There’s this sense that if you’re pretty, you must be somehow shallow/nasty/or at the very least, an object of envy. Since we’re supposed to empathize with the not-pretty protagonist, it’s implied that we’re also not-pretty. Like it’s the default mode of thinking for a girl or woman to think she’s ugly.
Why can’t we redefine who the “pretty girls” are?
Yes, I know that “Feminism in YA” is a really sweeping title. There are a few zillion feminist beliefs out there, and they are often contradictory. But to me, feminism means championing the rights of women, which encompasses all the schools of thought. And in the context of this post, feminist YA will refer to young adult books that promote the rights of women, one way or another.
First, a little about my own beliefs. I believe that girls and women should be free to choose their work, clothes, food, hobbies, beliefs, etc. without fear, shame, or additional difficulty thanks to being defined by their gender. In fact, I don’t think people should be defined primarily by their gender, and the idea of a gender binary is bunk. But that’s a whole other blog post. Back to books.
Lately, there’s been much discussion in the blogging community about anti-feminist books. Particularly those in the paranormal romance genre. Obviously different readers can argue endlessly about whether a book is feminist or not, but I don’t think it’s useful to think of books as being anti-feminist. Feminism isn’t the opposite of anti-feminism. It isn’t the negative image of all the hurtful portrayals of female characters. It’s about advancing beyond these damaging viewpoints, and rethinking our culture’s portrayals of girls and women in a helpful, healthy way.
So I’m not going to talk about books I hated and chucked against the wall; I’m going to talk about the books I want to see. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all feminist book, which is why we need more. I’ve got a feminist wish list for YA fiction, actually:
-I want to see more gorgeous girls. Sexy girls. Whether they look conventionally physically attractive or not, these girls should act gorgeous and sexy. This is why I love Vivian from Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. She’s supremely confident and comfortable with herself. Sure, she has long legs and tan skin and golden hair, but her body isn’t ornamental: she runs fast, fights hard, lounges in the grass, and oh yeah, turns into a wolf. She isn’t perfect. She’s got plenty of other problems. But she relishes her physicality.
-I want to see more YA books without romance in them. It bothers me that romance seems to be the default story nowadays. Especially stories where the girl’s only or overriding goal in life is to snag the guy. If the girl is even that active; usually she waits for the guy to snag her. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance, be it sweet or sexy, but I also love reading about single girls, or girls who just happen to be in a relationship but have another adventure going on.
-Oh, and while we’re talking about romance, I’d like to see some girl snags girl books. I honestly haven’t read more than one or two YA books, ever, that talk about a girl falling in love with another girl. Where are they?
-I want to read more books with nerdy girls. Like, a girl genius programmer who tinkers with dangerously smart AI, or a girl science officer on a spaceship, or a girl student of microbiology who makes a fantastic discovery about alien life. Yes, I have a craving for more sci-fi YA. I’m not biased at all. Really.
I could go on and on, since I’m rather greedy with my wish lists, but I want to know what you think. What’s your feminist wish list for YA?
(I could have played the, “I am the author; I am the god of this story!” card and smote all my old characters, repopulating my world with unicorns and dragons, but I have the distinct impression my editor—and readers—would flog me.)
Read more of my guest blog at A Crowe’s Nest, where I talk about writing sequels.
I’ve always loved fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal—pretty much anything under the umbrella of speculative fiction—and I never stopped reading young adult novels after my teens. When I was thirteen or so, I became obsessed with the idea of being a teen prodigy writer, so I sat down and started banging out novels.
Check out my interview at The Young Adult Fantasy Guide.
Extra, extra, read all about it! An interview with Lisa Novak, who designed the gorgeous covers for Other and Bloodborn. Curious about their creation? Look no further for behind-the-scenes details! Want to know about Lisa’s favorite covers, and thoughts on new trends? Read on.
My most burning question, which I will shamelessly ask you first: How did the design process go for the covers of Other and Bloodborn? What was the trickiest moment, and what was the most satisfying?
One thing about the publishing process that I think most people don’t realize is how long it actually takes from the point that an author turns in a manuscript until it shows up as an actual book at a bookstore. It isn’t uncommon for it to take up to 1 year or more! I mention this because I think it’s been nearly 2 years since I designed Other, and so some of what went into the creation of your cover has been lost to time and gotten all jumbled up with the hundreds of other covers that I’ve designed since. But I will do my best to remember!
I started my design process by searching a number of different stock photo websites for my main images. In this case, Gwen, and the creatures she shapeshifts into, the forest. For your book I think one of the biggest challenges I had was finding a girl of the right age with curly red hair. Often publishers stay away from putting faces on covers for this reason, because it’s hard to find the exact right image, it takes a long time (and because it could get in the way of the reader’s imagination). Although in the past few years it seems like faces are making a bit of a comeback on covers. Contrary to what most people think, most publishers do not employ photographers and hire models to create covers, we rely on stock photo websites almost exclusively.
Another challenge I ran into with Other was deciding whether to show Gwen shapeshifting into a horse or an owl. The group that met to decide the look of the cover really wanted to show her shifting into a horse because they thought the audience would respond more to that than an owl. But I have to say, there’s really no good way to morph a girl’s face into a horse. Trust me, it’s just not pretty. So once I stopped trying to go in that direction the cover came together rather quickly and easily.
Blending the owl feathers into her shoulder was a smooth process. The only thing that ended up getting eliminated in the final version that I had in my original design was that I had her nose morphing into a beak. But the response was that her face was more attractive without it. And I thought with the yellow eyes and feathers I got the point across well enough that she’s shifting into an owl.
The last couple things I added that I think give the cover some suspense is I gave the forest the slightest bit of a motion blur to add a little movement and atmosphere. And finally, the shadow of the werewolf. Gwen isn’t exactly looking at him, but there’s an alertness in her that gives you the impression that she’s aware of his presence.
I haven’t talked about the font yet, sometimes a font will drive a cover design, other times it’s the last thing I add. In this case I had the design done and then I went hunting for just the right font. I wanted something that was easy to read, but had a bit of mystery and romance and fantasy to it. Oh, and it had to be unique. I probably tested at least 60 fonts before I found this one and to this day I am still very satisfied with it. Plus, by sheer luck, I think the letters work well for the next book in the series, too.
Speaking of the next book in the series, Bloodborn was one of those covers that was long on the front end, short on the tail end. What I mean is that I searched for days through the stock photo sites to find the right photo of Brock and Cynthia. I had a really hard time finding an embrace involving a blond-haired guy and a dark-haired girl where it was actually focusing on the guy. Anything remotely like that seemed to be focused on the girl. It’s one of those cases where the committee wanted something pretty specific and the character descriptions are already set, so it comes down to paging through thousands of photos to find the right one. Once I found this photo the execution of the design went really fast. Since Brock is struggling with being a werewolf I obviously needed the full moon in the background. I gave the whole thing a blue cast to make it look like it was night, and by making this one blue I thought it would make a nice companion (color-wise) to the golden/orange/brown Other. After that it was just a matter of making his eyes yellow to indicate the change is happening.
What are some of your all-time favorite covers, and why?
I know this is going to probably sound lame, but I don’t really have a running list of all time favorite covers. When I go to the bookstore I love so much of what I see, so much of it inspires me, I tend not to keep covers in my head too long or I’d be overwhelmed. I do go to bookstores quite often to get my creative juices flowing though. If I’m stuck on a design all I have to do is hit our local bookstore and 20 minutes later I’m walking out with 10 new ideas of how to execute my cover. That’s totally not to say that I steal ideas from other covers, but seeing really well put together cover art gives me ideas on new things to try with my own project.
Having said that I can pick out a few covers that have inspired me lately. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the cover for The Replacement. It’s so creepy and atmospheric and really well done. The first time I saw that cover my heart caught in my throat. And to find out that the artist (not sure who) constructed that scene by pulling together all those knives, the buggy, the background and seamed it together flawlessly really impressed me.
Another cover that really intrigued me in the last year or two was Beautiful Creatures. When I first saw it on the shelf at my local bookstore I couldn’t keep my hands off of it, the lavender metallic embossed type is amazing. That font choice is genius and beautiful and so creatively executed. And the whole thing is just so jarring with the elaborate type and the creepy forest inviting you in. I love it.
A lot of the covers that I have felt inspired by lately have been designed by Sammy Yuen. I think Sammy is a fantastic illustrator and designer. His illustrations for the Scott Westerfeld and Catherine Fisher books really excite me. He also does the beautiful covers for the very cool Holly Black books as well as the super creative Ellen Hopkins covers. Seeing other designers do really great work encourages me to try harder and push myself farther as well.
I’ve been seeing several trends in young adult cover design lately. Beautiful girls, often in beautiful dresses, and few covers that aren’t photographic. I’m curious to hear your take on these trends, and what you think will be trendy next.
Like you, I’ve noticed the beautiful girls in dresses trend as well, maybe decadence and beauty are making a comeback? That sort of thing is cyclical and tends to come back into fashion in art/writing when we are going through rough times. We all want escapism and even more so when we are living our lives closer to the bone. Another trend that has been building for the past 3 – 4 years is the overwhelming number of black, or very dark covers that have taken over the shelves with the popularity of vampire and paranormal stories. I’ve been kind of amazed at the life the vampires have been enjoying this time around. And I don’t really see an end in sight to this trend.
I would say that the biggest, overarching trend that I’ve been watching is the maturation of YA fiction. I’ve only been designing YA fiction for about 5 years now but I can tell you in that time I’ve noticed this genre has grown up A LOT. Covers geared toward teens have gone from having illustrated, bubble gum pop kind of covers with lots of fun colors to much more serious photographic covers that have grown increasingly darker (both in color and in content) and more sophisticated in their execution. I think the covers geared at today’s teens are reflecting their level of maturity and how much older a 13 or 14 year old is than when I was a kid. Also, the fact that today’s teens are saturated in media of all kinds and used to seeing extremely sophisticated graphics on all their devices. I think it sets the bar a lot higher for any designer trying to catch the eye of a teen reader. I also find it very interesting how so many of the books on the YA shelves could just as easily be shelved in adult trade fiction these days. Dystopian fiction, paranormal, steampunk, issue-driven fiction, they are all meaty subjects that demand serious covers. And we’re finding that today’s teens are responding more and more to books that treat them like the smart, thinking people they are.
Lisa Novak has always loved art and from the time she could pick up a crayon knew she wanted to be an artist. After 14 years in the publishing world she’s designed covers for books about vampires, mysteries, memoirs and sewing. But her passion lies in the creation of covers for young adult novels. You can view highlights of her work on her website.
(Thanks so much, Lisa, for stopping by!)
In honor of Valentine’s Day, you get a teaser from Bloodborn! It’s a scene where Brock, the bitten-by-a-werewolf protagonist, first meets Cyn, a girl who broke up before he was changed. It is, of course, a little bittersweet, but like chocolate, I find it tasty.
Time to go home. And I am, but the wind changes. Sweetness fills my nose, fruit and sugar. I spot candy apples in the front window of the Klikamuks Candy Company, perfectly red and round. My throat tightens. The smell brings back the day me and Cyn met so vividly, all I have to do is close my eyes and I can see it.
Last year, at the Evergreen State Fair, Dad was showing Max, our champion Holstein bull. Max’s a real monster, with rippling muscles beneath his dorky black spots, but he’s kind of a wimp at fairgrounds. I was walking the bull around his barn when he got spooked, swinging his big head around and tugging on his halter.
And there’s this girl standing there with a candy apple. Cyn, though I didn’t know it yet.
Max stops fighting and flares his nostrils, sniffing in her direction. She walks toward him, slow and quiet, her face calm.
“Hey,” I say to her, “don’t get too close. He’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” Her eyes sparkle. “Really?”
The bull dips his head down and looks almost bashful. He noses her candy apple.
“Can he eat it?” she says.
I shrug. “Won’t hurt him.”
Max snorts on her apple, and she wrinkles her nose. “Bull boogers.”
I laugh, my face hot. “I’ll buy you a new one.”
And so we spent the rest of the day together. I told her all about the livestock, the produce in the grange displays, and the best or the shittiest tractors. It wasn’t at all embarrassing to be a farm boy around her, because she was actually interested. But not as interested as she looked while staring into the eyes of the bull.
I knew right then she was a girl who liked a little danger, and the rest is history.
Well, I guess we’re history now.
I blink the memory away, but the candy apple smell still lingers in my nose. I shove open the door to the Klikamuks Candy Company.
Does she remember that day the way I do?
Squee! My first blurb for Bloodborn:
“With BLOODBORN, Karen Kincy opens a frightening new chapter in the werewolf legacy. Brilliant, dark, and filled with haunting images. Highly recommended.” -Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of ROT & RUIN and THE KING OF PLAGUES
P.S. If you haven’t read Rot & Ruin yet, you really should. It’s one of my fave zombie books, and you’ll never think of zombies the same way again.
I’ve been thinking for awhile now that there’s been a lack of sci-fi novels in young adult, and hoping a fantastic novel would fill the void. After reading the first chapter of Across the Universe, I was convinced this novel would be it, and so I ordered my hardcover and tried not to slaver in anticipation.
So, Across the Universe arrives in the mail, and I plunge into bed with the novel in hand. It’s a gorgeous hardcover, with lots of little design details, like a reversible dust jacket with a blueprint of the ship Godspeed on the inside. Starting this book is like starting an adventure, with tantalizing clues and a map to guide the reader’s way.
We meet Amy, an Earth-born girl who signed up to be frozen in cryo for centuries, and Elder, who’s learning what he must to lead the generation ship Godspeed. Told from their alternating viewpoints, we piece together the story behind the story as they do. Well, I’ll admit that I saw a lot of the plot twists coming miles before the characters did–my fictional diet as a kid was fortified by a healthy dose of sci-fi tropes. And there were moments where I groaned at the irony or ignorance of a situation. But much of the tension in this story derives from how little the characters–and the reader–actually know, and what they must unearth along the way. It is, essentially, a murder mystery, though you don’t know it at first.
Why would I give this only 4 out of 5 stars? The ending. It came all too quickly and made it clear that this is a trilogy. I still had a million questions left unanswered. But hey, I’ll probably pick up the second book, to find out the continuing adventures of the Godspeed.
I’ve been eyeballing Anna Godbersen’s books for awhile now, but my thoughts had always been along the lines of, “Gorgeous girl in a gorgeous dress on the cover, but it’s probably far too girly for my tastes.” But then came Bright Young Things, which tempted me with the tantalizing prospect of historical fiction set in the 1920′s. I loved the idea of flappers, so I snatched some sample chapters at ALA. And began drooling for the final book, which I pounced upon in hardcover as soon as I had the chance.
Bright Young Things sparkles like champagne. Godbersen’s descriptions and dialogue are to die for, creating a vivid world of bootlegger mansions, glittering heiresses, and shadowy speakeasies in which promises are whispered. Small-town girls Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur leave Ohio behind with big dreams for New York City, where wealthy socialite Astrid Donal flits from party to party. There’s a teasing promise at the very beginning of the story: one of the three girls will be famous, one will be married, and one will be dead. This undercurrent of tension runs throughout the book, while fortunes rise and fall, hearts are broken, and the Twenties go out with a bang.
Needless to say, I’m now convinced that I absolutely need to pick up all of Godbersen’s other books. I’m glad I looked beyond the girl in the dress on the cover, because the writing is just as gorgeous within.