Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 11

I know I left off this series discussing manga I loved in middle or high school, but this time I’m doing a half-manga, half-novel entry because I remembered I never covered one of my favorite books in middle school…

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan


In 5th and 6th grade, my Reading teacher (we had separate Reading and English classes in 5th and 6th grade for some reason) passed out mini-catalogs of books to take home to our parents. We got their permission and brought the cash, I think, and she would order a book for us that we could pick up at school in a few weeks. This was long before Amazon, and it was a great way to find books we’d never otherwise have heard about.

Since a friend and I were fantasy fans (largely thanks to The Chronicles of Prydain books), a fantasy book in this catalog called Winter of Fire piqued our interest. We both got copies, and we both wound up loving it. I re-read it a number of years later, and although I know I found it a bit simplistic, I still loved it—and made it a quest to track down the other (many out of print) niche titles by New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan (whose most well-known book, I believe, is The Raging Quiet).

I don’t remember a ton about Winter of Fire, other than it was set in a bleak, snowy fantasy world where half the people, the Quelled, are slaves to the other half, the Chosen. The slaves are miners, digging up firestones, which heat the homes of the Chosen. The protagonist, Elsha, is a slave (with a broken eye socket—you can kind of see it on the cover!)  and something happens to make her slave (handmaiden, says the wiki summary?) to the leader of the Chosen. I remember there was romance, too, and I believe Elsha had a special power…

After I graduated high school (thus her books never appear in this series), I started reading Diana Wynne Jones (thanks to news that Miyazaki Hayao was set to adapt one of her books, Howl’s Moving Castle) and devoured every one of her books I could get my hands in within a few years. DWJ is definitely the queen of middle grade and YA fantasy in my opinion, but I have a special affinity for Jordan’s fantasy books, too. I’m still working on reading them all—I managed to buy most of them second-hand a few years ago online—but I’m pretty close. My love for the first book of hers I read was enough to inspire me to keep reading her books all these years later. (Too bad her latest release seems to be New Zealand only…)

Kodomo no Omocha (“Child’s Toy,” called Kodocha: Sana’s Stage in the US) by Obana Miho


I’m kind of cheating here because I’m not sure I read much of the manga before graduating high school. (I did buy and read it all shortly thereafter, though.) However, the anime based on the manga was a favorite in middle and high school. Kodomo no Omocha, called Kodocha for short, is a zany comedy series starring 11-year-old Kurata Sana, a (fictional) popular child actress. The story follows her shooting her most popular TV show, commercials and other events, but it’s largely set in the normal school she attends and at her crazy home.

Sana’s mother drives a Power Wheels-type car around the house, always wears a kimono, and lets a pet squirrel live in elaborate and ever-changing tiny homes in her hair. She’s as rich as Sana, having written an award-winning and globally-best-selling book called The Gigolo and I, the story of her troublesome and crazy marriage. Sana’s mother’s ex-husband, whom Sana lovingly calls the Gigolo, and whom she’ll tell you early on is not her father, is often over begging Sana’s mother for money she made from the book but rarely gets it.

Sana and her mother live with Rei, a twenty-something homeless guy Sana picked off the street and made into her bodyguard, whom she lovingly and publicly refers to as her “pimp,” thinking the word means something like “boyfriend.” (Although that’s entirely one-sided on her part.) Sana requires Rei to wear a suit and tie and sunglasses at all times, even at night, because she thinks that’s what bodyguards need to wear.

Sana’s happy-go-lucky insane life is turned on its head when she goes back to school to find that a bunch of delinquent boys have so scared their teacher, they goof off and cause destruction during class and the frightened teacher doesn’t do anything to stop it. In one instance, the boy’s leader, sullen Hayama Akito, sits back and orders the other boys to shoot their teacher with water pistols. Sana, who’s tried to ignore the problem but has had enough, snatches a water pistol and shoots Akito instead. Akito vows revenge after school, but when Sana goes to finish the altercation, she finds him ordering the other boys to shove one of her friends into the pool—all because that friend called him a “demon child.” Sana and Akito fight, and Sana’s not intimidated, even when Akito, karate champion, gets rough. The two begin a rivalry that has the potential to blossom into something more as Sana tries to get to the bottom of why, when she’s so happy in her own life, someone could act like Akito does and not care much whether he lives or dies…

Kodocha tackles some serious drama (sometimes melodrama), but it’s mostly incredibly funny. The manga lasted for 10 volumes, but the 102-episode anime made up a few story arcs and characters to get the most out of the franchise. I actually prefer the anime to the manga—it’s even funnier, and Sana’s insanity has to be seen to be believed—but the manga that started it all is funny and just as sweet, if a bit even more melodramatic.

Posted in Geek Out, Reading, Writing

The Fanfiction in My Head

I read a tumblr post recently (sorry, lost the link!) in which someone asked a professor what he (she?) thought of fanfiction. The overall point seemed to be “write what you enjoy, and actually, all writing is fanfiction to a degree and has been for hundreds and hundreds of years.” The professor also said something about how before this stress on originality (and even then, how 100% original can we be?), readers really only wanted what was essentially fanfiction. A writer would take something like a King Arthur tale, for example, and make it even better than ever before.

In any case, the post got me thinking about fanfiction and my own experiences with it. I actually have never read much of it (for one, the best source for it is the Internet and I don’t like staring at a computer screen to read text for long, long periods if it can be helped), but I did write some when I was pre-teen and early teen. One was a relatively short pure Mary Sue about a “Sailor Universe” in the realm of Sailor Moon who had ALL of the senshi’s powers (before I knew about Sailor Cosmos, by the way). Another was a somewhat more original seven-chapter series about Genbu no Miko, a prequel to Fushigi Yuugi. In the original manga and anime, Watase hinted at a girl who had been the Genbu priestess in the past, but she hadn’t yet fully developed the story, so I took her hints and spun my own tale. Years later, Watase did her own version, which of course was infinitely better than mine.

They’re actually still on the Internet under a pseudonym (yes, we had Internet when I was that young, ha, although it looked a whoooole lot different), if you tinker around with the way back machine, but I’m not going to link you to it. Geh! I just visited the page and found another short fanfiction I’d forgotten all about: Usagi from Sailor Moon wishing she could leave Mamoru for Seiya. Too bad for Chibiusa, eh?

But then I was thinking, what other writing did I do back then? It may not have been fanfiction, but it was inspired by my love for something at the time. I read The Chronicles of Prydain, and I was writing my own (unintentionally hilarious!) attempt at high fantasy. I saw and read Centennial, and all of sudden I was writing a Western historical. And it sometimes still happens today. I got back into a Regency and Victorian era kick recently (not that I ever stopped liking them), and an idea for a Regency historical started kicking around in my head.

Perhaps most embarrassingly of all to admit, but ever since I could remember, I’ve “performed” (?) fanfiction in my head. Not as much these days since I have less trouble hitting the hay, but when I was younger, it’d take me quite a while to fall asleep after I went to bed. If sleep wasn’t happening, I imagined whatever book/movie/show/comic/anime was new to me or a favorite thing at the time, only with… Me. Basically, with a Mary Sue. And the very worst kind of Mary Sue, who has greater powers than the other X-Men, for example (a favorite “power” to give my Sue, as you can see from the Sailor Universe thing above, is having EVERYONE else’s powers, ha, like a single being wouldn’t like explode with the sheer force), and who’s befriended by all of her favorite characters. Now that I know what a Mary Sue is (I did start doing this in elementary school), it’s extremely mortifying to admit that that entertained me, but I guess it entertains a lot of people. The term exists for a reason, right?

That said, short of my young days of writing those few fanfiction, I don’t pretend that a Mary Sue I come up with would entertain anyone else. As a reader, I would hate to read about a perfect, deus-ex-machina character. (Not that I haven’t come across a few…) In fact, even in the fanfiction in my head, I prefer drama to everything magically going the Mary Sue’s way. There’s something about arguments, misunderstandings, obstacles and characters learning to improve themselves along the way that perfect Mary Sues just don’t hold a candle to.

Then again, apparently people are entertained by fanfiction and Mary Sues. I’m not even talking about the tons of free fanfiction available online to those who seek it—read what you love, and enjoy the well written stuff out there. But I just love informing the random women I come across who love a certain extremely insane-selling erotic book series how it’s a Twilight fanfiction. These types of women don’t usually know what fanfiction is, but once I explain the Twilight parallels (and how the author originally uploaded it for free with the Twilight characters’ names in tact and basically just did a search-and-replace with new names for publication)*, they start understanding: they love fanfiction! They love erotic fanfiction at that. And for them, that’s okay. Apparently I love fanfiction in my head, so who am I to judge? (Just maybe, the next fanfiction to get published could have a little better character development and prose? _)

*How do I know so much about these books? No, I haven’t read them, but I have read samples and articles explaining the original Twilight connection. That’s my story (but it’s truel!) and I’m sticking to it.

Posted in Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Reading

Books I Loved in Middle/High School, Part 1

Since I’m an aspiring YA (and maybe MG) author, I want to cover some of the books I loved when I was in middle school or high school. (We’re looking at the 1990s here for the most part.) The list would be far too long to cover in one post, so how about a couple of books per entry, with updates from time to time?

Perhaps these books won’t be among the most well-known books in the modern genre. I like those, too. But so many of my favorite YA and MG books were books I read when I was a bit out of the intended targeted audience age range. I didn’t give Harry Potter a chance until I was 19. I know A Series of Unfortunate Events is aimed at middle school kids, but I was cracking up over Lemony Snicket’s strange prose and stranger plots while in college.

Please comment with your favorite MG and YA books from when you were actually in middle and high school!

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

I have school to thank for this one. One of the optional summer reading books in 5th or 6th grade was The Black Cauldron. Yes, that’s the second and not the first book of the series. My guess is the Disney animated version—as virtually unknown as that movie was even by the 1990s—being named The Black Cauldron even despite combining books one and two was the reason the teachers chose that book. It took particularly dedicated readers to opt to read it for their assignment because you really ought to have read The Book of Three first, which meant another book to read. (And yes, at the urging of several of us, the school eventually recommended that one rather than the second book in the series.)

Well, skip having to read one extra book. I was hooked and I read all five books that summer. (In addition to whatever other summer reading book I had to read for school—whatever it was, you can tell it didn’t much impress me.) I can’t remember, but I think these books were responsible for my love of fantasy thereafter. I know one of my dear friends at school also got immersed in them, and we loved dwelling in fantasy worlds, even co-writing a little journal of letters between two medieval maidens. (Which was an assignment for school, but we had a blast!) I wrote a hilarious fantasy story I thought was the shiznit that I entered in some kids’ writing contest. I didn’t win. Perhaps because it’s incredibly hilarious but actually was intended to be taken quite seriously. (I have half a mind to share it here someday. I can’t read it with a straight face.) I have to mention that it involved a wizard named “Googan” (initially named “Hoover”), a hero named “Dwycin” (pronounced with a hard “c,” which no one seemed to know until I told them!) and a wonderfully stereotypical villain who so graciously consented to fight the hero in a “non-magical fight” so things would be fair for the both of them. He lost.

I re-read The Chronicles of Prydain a few years ago, and I still loved them, even if I didn’t have the same passion for them that I did as a child. I loved how the characters evolved over the course of the series, and I was surprised to find that my least favorite in the series as a child (Taran Wanderer) was one of my favorites as an adult. The villains still felt actually scary and threatening. (The Disney adaptation still leads much to be desired, even if I bought the DVD nonetheless. For starters, when a character is known for being “of the red-gold hair,” you don’t make her a total blonde…)

Sweet Valley High/Sweet Valley University by Francine Pascal (/team of ghostwriters)

My best friends in middle and high school were named Jessica and Elizabeth, and both were blondes. And no, this isn’t some snarky comment about how the SVH twins were my best friends, I’m actually serious. I just thought it was a weird coincidence at the time. (That, and they had a friend named Amy—that’s me! I wasn’t blonde, shallow or boy-crazy, though…) My life in high school was nothing like SVH, and my Jess was a million times sweeter than the one in the books. The book Elizabeth was pretty nice and sweet, though, just like the Liz I knew.

I’m not sure why I found these books so compelling in middle school. I think a friend showed me one in the school library that had a “naughty” bit we found so salacious, I had to pick the books up. (I think it was simply a dating couple kissing, but you know, we were 10…) Over the course of a few years, I think I read every SVH and SVU book out there (at the ripe age of 10, I felt so much more mature than those who would read Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley Kids, so I never got into those) and I felt a special attraction to the side books in which really weird things happened. (I was teased when caught with Return of the Evil Twin before class, but I actually managed to grab the girl’s attention when I explained that the book featured the long-lost identical twin of a homicidal maniac teen girl who just happened to be a dead-ringer for Elizabeth and Jessica in the first place—all she needed to do was dye her hair blonde and even the girls’ family was fooled!—who had intended to secretly kill Elizabeth and take over her life and was presumed dead, but actually wasn’t dead, you see, and now wanted her twin sister to help her take over both twins’ lives… Only now they were arguing over who got to be more popular Jessica for some reason.)

I don’t know what it was about these books: a glamorous take on school life (but I’d rather have that crazy drama in my imagination than in real life), a TV show tie-in I enjoyed, or just how they sucked me in from start to end, but I was a SVH addict for a number of years in middle school. I once impressed the whole family by reading a 400-page one in a single day. My mom literally bragged about it to my extended family! (I’ve read books of length in a day since to fewer accolades, of course, but this was the first time.)