Book Ratings and Censorship

I grew up in the nineties and my parents restricted what movies I could watch. However I was always more of a reader than a watcher, and not once did my paarents question me about the books I bought or read. I had free reign over my reading material which could have been subject to a whole lot more violence and romance than the movies I had to wait to see until I was older.

With the intense nature of The Hunger Games trilogy and all the bloodshed, many people have questioned the YA genre it has been placed in. Especially now that the movie has been released. There were some rather offending images left out of the movie that are present in the book. In order to appease the MPAA to get a PG-13 rating in the US they resorted to shaky camera action and only split second shots of deaths. In my mind this lessened the effect and importance of the deaths, as well as making it difficult to see what was actually going on anyways. I also hear that several seconds more were cut from the UK version of the film to get a more YA friendly rating.

Which begs the question : if we’re so focused on regulating movies to protect our youths ‘innocence ‘ then why isn’t there a formal rating system for books, which are often times more descriptive and mature than movies?

Perhaps there’s the assumption that if they’re reading then they’ll be more mature and able to handle it. Or that every parent will pre-read the books before their kids in order to monitor the material, which some do for many books. Or maybe they even assume if the material is too mature then the reader will simply put the book down. Who knows?

I personally don’t think there should be such a rating system for books, however I was raised making my own literary choices as no one else in my family actually read. My parents didn’t restrict it but they brought me up with certain standard in my everyday life that not only did they trust my maturity, but I did as well. But, as stated before, my movie selection was almost always restricted. Then again the ratings were a bit more lax then as to what was allowed in a PG rated movie(several swear words and smoking from what I recall).

So where exactly is the line drawn in the ratings game? It seems that movies are often more harshly judged but I can’t imagine why. Especially when I was reading books with war, violence, death, and swearing well before I could watch it on a screen. (I don’t know about you, but I was required to read Where the Red Fern Grows in middle school and all I can remember is a distinct visual of a mauled dog with guts hanging out of it. Again, required reading for me as a 10 year old.)

So I ask you all, perhaps especially with children, should there be an MPAA style of ratings for books as well? At the age of 21 I’m still carded for buying rated R movies from the store. Should I also be carded for buying books with enough graphic material to be an R rated movie? Please share your thoughts!

And Down Goes My Sinking Heart

As some of you may have noticed I haven’t posted much of my fiction lately, which is mostly due to me throwing myself headlong into a new novel concept. I’ve been so excited that I haven’t even talked about it to anyone!

The premise is that a daughter and her recently divorced mom move from Nebraska to Otter Rock, a small, unincorporated community on the Oregon Coast.  They buy and start to run a Bed and Breakfast there, in hopes of starting fresh.  It explores coming to terms with your past, and who you’ve become, as well as the intricacies of relationships, especially between a mother and daughter.  The oceanic setting weighs heavily within the book.  Tentatively titled “We Are The Tide”.

I was just browsing books on my kindle and came across an upcoming book that’s on pre-order called The Inn of Rose Harbor.  Here’s what the description says:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber comes a heartwarming new series based in the Pacific Northwest town of Cedar Cove, where a charming cast of characters finds love, forgiveness, and renewal behind the doors of the cozy Rose Harbor Inn.

Jo Marie Rose first arrives in Cedar Cove seeking a sense of peace and a fresh start.  Coping with the death of her husband, she purchases a local bed-and-breakfast- the newly christened Rose Harbor Inn-ready to begin her life anew.  Yet the inn holds more surprises than Jo Marie can imagine…

There is more to the description on amazon, so I know our novels start to differ quite a bit after that. So I guess it is a bit comforting knowing that only the beginnings are similar.  Still, I had this moment of woe, and if my boyfriend wasn’t sleeping I’m sure I would have cried out, “SAY IT AIN’T SO!!!”

They’re both set in a small Pacific Northwest town on the coast, and a woman buys a B&B to try to get over her former husband, and start afresh.

I realize there are plenty of similar genre-books out there, and things like this just can’t be helped.  Characters, writing style, and the mood of the books will always be different and unique to the writer.  But it’s still so disheartening to see it for the first time when you’re completely gung-ho about the new project.

But you know what? I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.  I’m confidant in our differences, and if my gut tells me to write a story, then you can bet I’m going to damn well write that story!  I won’t even touch that other book until I finish my novel.  I would hate to see it influence me, or dissuade me from certain elements in my writing.

So tell me, have you guys ever encountered an eerily similar idea to yours?  How did you handle it, and did you end up tweaking your idea to differentiate yours?

 

Series vs. Stand Alone Novels

Hollywood isn’t the only industry about to be scrutinized for its sequels.  Let’s take a look at how books deal with the standalone vs series approach to story telling in this week’s Sunday Versus.

Whether you feel it while you’re writing or not, there is a pressure when publishing to separate a long story into a series.  Famously JRR Tolkien never intended to publish The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy.   And we were lead to believe that the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini was to be a trilogy, but upon the announcement of the third book, it was also revealed that there would be a fourth.  (And to be honest, I only read the first book and a half of that series.)

But you know what? Fantasy isn’t the only genre taken over by series.  What about The Millennium Series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & sequels for those unfamiliar with the formal series title), or Dan Brown’s novels with Robert Langdon?  Well, let’s not limit ourselves to fantasy and thrillers.  I for one have not forgotten the Little House on the Prairie series or Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

In fact, sometimes I feel like stand alone novels can be so short in comparison, that I hardly remember what happens in them.  They’re like a small blip on my reader’s radar when larger series take up the majority of my attention.  And most of the series, I admit, are deserved to be so.

However, I think there comes a point when even we have to set the books down and ask ourselves if it’s really a good story, or if we’re just attached to the characters at some point.  I like to think of it as the Jack Sparrow effect.  I’m not entirely sure the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie would have been made if Johnny Depp hadn’t been so in love with playing Jack Sparrow.

A prime example, for me personally, is the Anne of Green Gables series.  Now, the first two-three books were some of my favorites as a school-girl.  And I was in love with Anne Shirley!  But by the time I got to the fourth, fifth, and sixth, I was about done with her shenanigans.  And from what I hear, there’s a seventh, eighth, and ninth book as well.  I think, when one has literally written and chronicled a character from the ages of 10-50 or so, it’s about time to end it, unless you plan on doing it in one novel.

One factor that can weigh in on this, is whether or not a book is character or plot driven.  I realize there’s a huge grey area between the two, but for the sake of this topic I’m willing to find a split in them.  I tend to feel that character driven novels should be singular.  Mostly because the point of the story is watching the character grow and change, and although people are never done growing, if a character isn’t wrapped up by the end of the novel, then I’m not very likely to keep reading another.  However, with plot driven novels I’m more invested in the actual story and what happens.  I’m compelled to keep reading because I want to know how things are resolved, and I surely won’t be satisfied if they’re rushed through in one small novel!

Overall I’m not opposed to series, but I do think if a writer is considering a sequel, especially a previously unplanned sequel, they should ask themselves if it’s really necessary.  Do they really need to use the same characters?  Are there loose strings to tie up, and how can they develop the characters more?  Will people still care after an already resolved story line?  Just some things to consider before venturing past a novel.  Sometimes I feel like a stand alone novel can be a bit underrated, especially the shorter ones.  If someone can tell a compelling and powerful story in a 120 page book, then more power to them! Stories don’t have to be long to be good.

Have you guys ever read a series that should have stopped after the first book? Or perhaps there’s a standalone novel that would serve as a great beginning to a killer series?  Let me know what you think!

StoryCorps: You’ll Laugh, Cry, and Want More

So last week I posted about how I enjoy stories of all kinds.  This week I’d like to share with you this wonderful organization called StoryCorps.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, well, prepare to be enthralled.  Here is what their official site has to say:

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 participants.

Along with recording all of these stories, they also put several animated versions of interviews on YouTube.

I cannot put into words how much these personal stories have touched me.   Whether they make you laugh, like the interview about a Sunday School teacher, or make you cry, like the story of a loved one lost on 9/11, these stories are worth listening to.  They’re captivating, heartbreaking, touching, uplifting, and inspirational.   Stories at their finest.

I whole-heartedly recommend that you guys check out their website and YouTube channel.  But beware:  I hardly ever cry, but half of the four minute animations make me start bawling by the end of them.

Exhibit A: The story of Danny and Annie.  This is my favorite of their animated stories, and it’s so touching, I cry every time I watch it(which is a lot).  So grab the tissues!

Story Ownership: You vs Your Readers

Obviously you are the writer, the creator, the teller of the story.  And there are various copyright laws that give you the legal rights to owning it.   However, once your story is out there for the world to read, is it still yours?

There are several posts similar to this one, sitting out around on the internet. Who Owns A Story, which I read after already typing my post, is eerily similar.  You wrote it, but you don’t own it, by Daniel Dalton, who mentions the Death of the Author theory.  (Also, I’m a huge fan of his.)

Most of them definitively informing you that after your writing leaves your hands, it belongs to the readers, not you.  The prominent argument is that readers take away different things from your writing.  Everyone interprets it in their own way, and the message/importance they receive will be unique, differing even from your intended message while writing.

In this way, the story has shifted, changed.  It is no longer the same story you wrote.  It is now the story as the readers perceive it.  Which is not your story.

Art and beauty are all subjective.  Who are we to say what the correct way to interpret something is?  We’re just the creators.

And yet…we are the creators.  Have we not a say in how our work is viewed?  When people start to take meaning where it was not given, do we point out that that’s not what we meant?  Perhaps not, because part of the beauty of reading and sharing our writing is that people can find meanings we weren’t even aware of.  If we tell the honest story, there will be themes we might not discover until afterwards.

But what happens when people take away the opposite message of what we mean?  If we write about the fall of a corrupt government, and people start saying we’re promoting anarchy, do we correct them?  Or leave it to others to start a discussion, or just leave them to their tainted views?  Perhaps there really is a wrong or right way to interpret messages in writing.

I think, overall I do agree with the idea that a story belongs to whoever reads it.  However what I would like to ask you is, where is the line drawn on the ownership as far as taking meaning from a story?  Do we, as creators and artists, have a right to guide readers through our intentions of the writing, or is that considered imposing on their rights of uniquely interpreting it?

In Our Younger, Wilder Days

I love hearing stories from people.  Not just bedtime fairy tales either.  I like to hear about where people grew up, their family stories, vacation stories, school stories.

I think this began when I was young, about 6 years old or so.  My dad was telling a story about his youth.  You see, he grew up on a farm in California, raised by his Filipino father along with 5(?) brothers. (I can never keep track.)  His family was working in the orchards picking apples.  He and his younger brother were still too small to help out, so  my grandfather took a huge apple bin and flipped it over on top of my dad and my uncle.  That was their play pen until the crew was done in a particular area.  Then, they would pick up the bin, move it to the next area, and flip it back over the two boys.

It was around that time that I realized my parents had been children at some point.  They had histories, memories, and stories that I had no idea about.  Lucky for me, my dad is a natural born story-teller and he loves talking, sharing, and being the center of attention.  Also, luckily, he along with my mom had quite wild youths, although a good part of me believes part of it has to do with their entire generation.

So when I came home from school after learning about Alcatraz Island, my dad was there to tell me about how, during the Native American Occupation of the Island, he had stayed there for two weeks.  You see, it was the early 1970’s and the Native Americans were rising up against the US Government for their rights.  My uncle (my dad’s eldest half brother, full Native American) was a dock guard for Alcatraz, and my dad, about 20 at the time, decided to visit him, and ended up staying.

I can tell you, that story has come in handy for school reports. 😉  First hand accounts of taking back Alcatraz are difficult to find these days.

Or you know, there’s my mom’s younger and wilder days.  She doesn’t speak about them much, so I have to work harder to hear her stories.  My grandfather worked for Union Oil and moved around a lot when she was young.  She spent 2 years of high school living in Singapore, and the other 2 years of high school living in South Korea.

One day she surprised me with a story about how, her senior year of high school, her and her friends took a boat to Japan to explore, only to find out that it was a national holiday and all the shops were closed.  And whenever we shop at Asian Food Markets with her, she likes to point out the Korean packages and tries to decipher the labels.  She can pronounce the characters, but has no idea what they mean.  It always reminds her of silly phrases she learned overseas.

My point is, my parents can out-story-tell me any day of the week.  They have such history, especially from their younger, wilder days.  Which made me think, what unique stories do I have to tell?

I can talk about how I disliked my high school so much, I became a full time college student at 16, effectively skipping junior and senior year of high school.  I could talk about how I was the only child in my family to live on a university campus in the dorms.  How I dyed my hair a purple color, but didn’t like it, so my friends had a hair-dying party and dyed it blue- NOT to my knowledge, they told me it was going to be black.  I promptly chopped it off into a fauxhawk, then dyed it red.

Or there’s that time, my roommate and I went to Moscow, Idaho in order to watch the Gay Pride Parade, and we unknowingly ended up marching in the parade.  And one time, my friend, my boyfriend and I were driving to across Washington State for the Seattle Emerald City Comic Con.  But three hours into the drive, my friends car broke down.  We were stranded, in the cold, in the pitch black, on a highway that none of us had ever been on before, so we had no idea where we even were.  Then, as if by fate, a car pulled up behind us. Except, they had broken down too, in the exact same spot, in the exact same situation, and with a Mazda, which is what my friend had. Luckily we managed to get a tow before it started to snow, by the nicest tow-truck driver named Henry.  But we still missed the comic con, and had to stay in a ghetto Motel 8.

I guess, if I think about it, I have more stories to tell than I thought.  Most of the funny or exciting ones happened on accident.  At the time some of them weren’t that great, but they make for entertaining stories.

So what stories do you guys love to share with people?

Also, because I promised, I have to.  This was me in MY younger and wilder days.  (Read: 3 years ago)

Cockatoo hair! Note: This was taken under my lofted bed in the dorms, inside my massive fort I built, which DID stay up all year. Best dorm room ever.

My brother messed up my short hair, so I stole his hat to cover it.

Versatile and Liebster Blog Awards

I was skeptical about these blogger awards at first, but after being nominated(twice!) on Sunday, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are great tools for connecting bloggers with each other.  I like the idea of sharing links with readers to blogs that I think might interest them.  Also, last week I was tagged for the Lucky Seven Meme, which I’ll be posting about soon, so keep a look out, because it’s a fun one!

As you guys know, I love getting responses from people on my blog.  I like to think of my blogging and twitter escapades as a great way of building a positive community around myself.  This is why I’ve chosen to accept and share these awards with all of you.  I hope you all enjoy browsing these fantastic blogs, and I encourage you to reach out and connect with fellow bloggers.

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A big thank you to Amy Keeley and Pete Denton for nominating me for this award.  Amy, I know you nominated me in January, but please forgive the time lapse!

The rules for accepting this award are as follows:
1. Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself. 
3. Pass this award along 15 or 20. 
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award. 

Seven things about Aly:

  1. I have a love affair with baking. And  I just applied to a Pirate-themed Cupcake/Frozen Yogurt place opening in town.  Which quite possibly might be the best idea for a bakery ever.  Please wish me luck!
  2. When I get really excited about things, I start to sneeze.  Uncontrollably.
  3. I used to sport a red fauxhawk. (If I get enough requests, I’ll post pictures.)
  4. One of my older brothers and I have the same birthday.  Even though he’s two years older, we still act like twins.
  5. I was a closet writer for 10 years after my non-creative family picked apart a story idea that I made the mistake of sharing with them.  I still dislike talking about writing with them because they don’t understand.
  6. I have a habit of lighting candles before I sit down to write.
  7. Coffee makes me sleepy.  But sometimes I drink it anyways because it reminds me of when I worked as a Barista, which I absolutely loved.
Nominated Blogs, that I highly recommend you check out:
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Another tremendous thank you to Rebecca T. Dickinson of  A Word or More for this nomination!  She has an amazing blog that I’ve linked to before, and I’m sure I will again, so be sure to check it out.

Liebster is a German word meaning dearest, and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers who deserve some recognition and support to keep on blogging.

The rules are simply:
1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.

2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favourite bloggers and keep it going!

Side note: I don’t actually know how many followers these people have, but I love the encouraging aspect of this award.  

My Liebster Blog Award Nominees:

Crystal Wind Chimes
The Writing Engine
Jumping Ship
Cashmere Clouds
Writings and Musings of a Nerdfighter

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