ORIGAMI YODA, contemporary realistic YA & the question of comparison

I’m experiencing a not-terribly-unusual bout of indecisiveness, so I’m just gonna blog about a whole slew of things right now. I didn’t do much writing during the week just gone by, so naturally I’m also contending with a sizable dollop of self-inflicted guilt – you know, “oh hully gee I’m blogging instead of writing I’m such a misguided loser,” that sort of thing. Fear not, this too shall pass.

I am not even a little bit kidding when I tell you this may be the finest blog contest prize in the history of blog contest prizes.

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA! You’ve read it, I trust? You’ve perhaps even read this fabulous interview with author Tom Angleberger, brought to you by the good folks From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors? You really oughta hustle over there and enter the contest by leaving a comment, because dude, seriously, an original illustration AND a signed copy of the book? You understand my fervor about this prize if you’re a nearly life-long Star Wars supergeek like myself. The fact that LucasFilm’s official Star Wars Twitter account retweeted my link to the contest only amps up the intensity of the geek happiness currently flooding through the Jung household. You should also know that I’m not entering the contest! Which means you actually have a chance to win! I’ve steadfastly refrained from entering any blog contests recently, unless they’re on Cindy Pon’s blog and she won’t stop badgering me to enter. DAMN YOU CINDY PON…

Would you consider THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA to be a contemporary realistic story, just out of curiosity? I say that in order to make a bumpy and awkward segue into a new topic, which is my mildy skewed perspective on contemporary realistic YA fiction. You oughta check out The Contemps, btw – it’s a great new blog community of contemporary YA authors. I’ve publicly stated on more than one occasion that contemp realistic YA is not my favorite thing – not that I have anything against it, but I write middle-grade (which means I read a lot of middle-grade), I read a lot of fantasy, and somehow I’ve always felt like the contemp YA books tend to sit on my nightstand longer than others before I pick ’em up. And yet, my four most recent reads are CRACKED UP TO BE (in progress), MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, MOCKINGJAY, and LIFE, AFTER. Some of my upcoming reads are MINDBLIND, THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS and STALKER GIRL. With the notable exception of MOCKINGJAY, they’re all contemporary YA novels! So maybe I need to shut up about how I’m not a big reader of YA contemps?

This touches a little bit on my last blog post too, when I talked about my feelings of inferiority after reading MARCELO. There were some interesting comments, including one or two about the wisdom (or lack thereof) in comparing one’s self to…well, anybody else, really. Then I read this blog post by the very thoughtful and smart Becky Levine, and I started thinking that maybe I need to engage in a little self-examination about this business of creating all these lines of demarcation. “Better” writers and “worse” writers, “big readers” of contemp YA novels and “little” readers of same, us and them, me and you, this and that.

It’s entirely human to do that, I think. We all tend to compare and contrast ourselves with the people around us, whatever that context of “around us” might mean – in my writing life, “the people around me” tends to mean “the people who write the books I read.” It’s human, and common, and understandable, but it’s ultimately pointless, isn’t it? It’s an activity that’s helped me preserve my ego more than once in the past – “oh that person sucks, I’m soooooo much better at this than they are” – that sort of thing. I don’t feel particularly good about that, however, it seems like a crappy and damaging way to preserve your self-image. By the same token, it’s  easy and unuseful to tear yourself down when your perceptions run in the opposite direction. Are there actually any objective standards to hold ourselves up to? In the end, the business of creating children’s literature is magnificently subjective, right?

Right you are, Mike! (It’s okay if you thought that on your own, I was just pointing you in the right direction.) All we can do is our best. Yes, yes, that’s a sentiment that’s cheap-sounding and easy to say, but really, it’s true. I’m not all Pollyannish about this, you know. A person’s belief in the subjectivity of this creative endeavor can run off the other side of the rails too – that’s when you get the frustrated types who rant about how nobody in this industry has any eye for talent or a brain in their head and it’s all gatekeepers, gatekeepers, gatekeepers and they’re all stupid and evil.

Hey, if that’s how you feel, can you…um…try not to feel that way? At least when you’re talking to me? Because whether a person’s thinking “oh dude I’m a total loser” or “oh dude everyone ELSE in the business is a total loser,” geez, the mental and emotional corrosiveness of those feelings will only result in…well, corrosion. And my brain is corroded enough already. I shall endeavor to be more positive, reduce the tiered nature of my perceptions, and view myself as part of a continuum – a difficult and perplexing continuum, to be sure, but also a majestic and wondrous continuum. I think that’s nicer. And, in a way, more accurate. So maybe I will engage in one last bit of hierarchical thinking after all, just because I’m a puckish little devil. There’s this idea that we all exist on these separate planes, some higher, some lower, some better, and some worse. And there’s this other idea that we all exist as part of the same continuum!

I like the continuum idea more. I think it’s better. So there.



17 thoughts on “ORIGAMI YODA, contemporary realistic YA & the question of comparison

  1. I’m always reading things and thinking, I wish I could write like that. But I don’t. I write like Lisa Schroeder, good or bad, ugly or beautiful. And it’s taken me a long time to realize I may not write stuff the masses love. But I write books that *some* teens love. I write books that many reluctant readers love. More than any other comment, I get notes that start out, “I usually hate to read, but I love your books.”

    It’s sad on days when I have to ask myself why that isn’t enough. Because damn, it really IS enough. But you know, I think there is something to be said for continuing to grow and learn and striving to do better too. It just can’t turn into beating ourselves up and feeling “less than.”

    I like the continuum idea too. So there. 🙂

    1. It’s a continuing struggle, isn’t it? But it seems like an important struggle for our psychological well-being at least, if not also for how we invest ourselves in our work. Thanks for dropping by, Lisa, I appreciate it!

    1. Wow, I just changed the theme on this blog and it’s discombobulating in the extreme – deep? I’m not deep, Heather, but I appreciate the kind words.

  2. I like the continuum idea as well. It is so easy to get funked up thinking about the things I can’t do (and I do that more often than I care to admit.) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these thoughts mostly occur when I’m NOT writing and when I’m NOT in the middle of The Next Great Project. Because when I’m actually productive, I find I’m not thinking at all about the things I can’t do but that I’m focussed intently on the things I can.

    1. Yep, I’m right there with you – once I can get into the writing process I’m good. It just takes some doing to get into the process sometimes, but it’s definitely one of best solutions to the comparison sickness, if not THE best.

  3. Wonderful post. I love “try not to feel that way.” I’m reading a historical MG right now that weaves the history beautifully into the hero’s main/front story, and, yeah, there was a panic of “am I going to be able to do this??!!” So, coping mechanism, I wrote a sticky note to “DO THIS” and put it at the front of my binder of pages as a revision note. And now it’s time to push the panic away, and the insecurity and just keep writing. I really do think it’s a continuum, but more like 3-D chess (how’s THAT for a Star Trek reference) than a 1-D version; different qualities spread out all over the place, not just linearly.

    Thanks, Mike. 🙂

    1. Thank YOU Becky! Your post really got me thinking about this. And yes, 3-D chess is good – it’s not a flat continuum. It’s VERY complicated! Which is another of the ways in which it doesn’t break down to just “good” and “bad” or “better” and “worse”…

  4. Boy did I need to read this! Thank you for exploring this issue. For me, it always comes down to my feeble brain’s attempt to turn everything into black or white rather than living with the often uncomfortable gray. The continuum “model” is a good one because it acknowledges that the whole process is so fluid and subjective, it’s a wonder we end up agreeing on anything. When I start playing the “comparing game,” I sometimes go to Amazon and read the reviews of the books I love and feel humbled by. But I don’t necessarily go to the 5-star reviews right away–I go to the 2-star or 3-star reviews, curious how anybody could find anything negative in a work I adore. And yet, they do. And sometimes they even make valid points. It’s an excellent way to remind myself that even with work that I consider breath-taking, someone, somewhere will find something to criticize. That gray again.

  5. Wow, have you been reading my brain? I went through some of the comparison anguish stuff lately. Took a Sunday sermon to wake me up about the lack of good that comes from comparison. No one is equal, because we’re all unique. And as you and others reminded, it’s all so subjective.

    1. Yes Sue, I surreptiously borrowed your brain and read it – sorry about all the dog-ears. 😉 It’s terribly, terribly subjective, which can be seen in a bad light, but can be seen in a good light with just a little more effort.

      1. Uh, I didn’t mean “a little more effort” on your part, Sue, just so you know. I was speaking globally and philosophically and conceptually and so on…

  6. Continuum all the way. I loved what Lisa S. wrote in her comment. One of my little phrases that helps ground me whether I’m looking back at something I’m not too happy about or wading through the sometimes-swampy present is: “I did the best that I could at that time.”

    Cool post, Mike!

    1. Thanks Paul, and I like your thought. Doing the best that we can at any time is…well, the best we can do, right? 🙂

  7. When I first read The Hunger Games, I was completely blown away by SC’s ability to pace and plot a novel – all the things that I, well, if I don’t completely suck at, that I know I need to work on improving. I emailed my editor, Jen Rees, who is also one of SC’s editors, and said, “Someday, I hope I can write as well as Suzanne Collins.” Jen sent back the most affirming e-mail, saying something to the effect that I was a terrific writer because I wrote like Sarah Darer Littman. One of top reasons I love my editor!

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