Thursday, February 19, 2015

They published that?

If you're a writer, or maybe just an avid reader, you probably ask yourself the same question from time to time: "Why did they publish that?" Navigating the complicated labyrinth of the publishing world is difficult, and there is a myriad of literature competing with one another for the attention of the "big" publishers in New York. (Of course, there's also indie publishing and self-publishing available, but those involve their own challenges.) Still, sometimes I find myself halfway through a novel that somehow passed the critical eyes of the "Big Six" in NYC yet leaves me pondering, "What the heck?"

"How does this happen?" you may ask. First, let's play a game! Guess which of the following lines is from a published novel that went on to sell millions of copies:
A. "Up ahead they's a thousan' lives we might live, but when it comes it'll on'y be one."
B. "Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."
C. "His fingers were ice-cold, like he'd been holding them in a snowdrift before class."
D. "His voice is warm and husky, like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel...or something."

If you guessed "all of the above", you are correct! A is from The Grapes of Wrath; don't feel bad if you didn't recognize it, but Steinbeck's Depression-era novels are still frequently taught in schools (hence my teacher-ish choice). B is a relatively famous line from the Harry Potter series, which I'm willing to say is basically a classic as well by now...

Moving the last two seem rather un-literary? If you said, "Hey, I'm not an amazing writer, but I could come up with better similes than those if you woke me out of bed at 2am after a rather celebratory evening", I would say that you're probably right. Still, this stuff sells millions. Somehow. C is from Twilight and D is from Fifty Shades of Gray. Both have even made it to the big screen.

Now, I'm not going to say that you shouldn't read those two books or that you're "not cool" if you liked them, but I will say that I wish there was a greater appreciation for quality literary fiction, both in the publishing realm and throughout the world at large. It depresses me when I see novel after novel of spine-less female characters surrounded by awkwardly-forced metaphors. These two books just happen to be the most popular examples that fit this common occurrence. Still, a part of me knows why it happens. After attending a few writing webinars and conferences, I've learned that most publishing success boils down to marketing. Publishers pick up what makes them the big bucks, and sometimes you might be amazed at what sells. I am probably a bit of a literary snob (though I try not to be; I'll read anything once!) so I sometimes feel annoyed when bad work is picked up and (worse!) sells millions of copies. You might say, "Sarah, how can it be so 'bad' if it sells millions?" Color me confused because I haven't a clue beyond the fact that those authors have great marketing techniques and publishers willing to put in the time to make sure that particular book is in your face everywhere you go. Their popularity spreads like a disease.

I have to admit, I fell for the Twilight craze back in the day (if you haven't read it, don't; if you have, check out the lovely parody entitled Nightlight- much more entertaining than the original), and though I felt unsatisfied with the main character's complete lack of personality and the cheesy writing, there was something very intriguing about the underlying plot of the story- I just wish someone else had scooped up the idea and written it better first! I can happily say that I haven't fallen for the 50 Shades craze, though if the rumors are true, this one is equally poorly written. Honestly, if I really want to hear some awkward metaphors for genitalia, I can just go back to teaching at the public high school. 

Before I sign off, I'll give you something to consider. Next time you hear of the next big "hit" book, don't be so quick to soak up the media's praise and pick it off the shelf. You, my reader friends, deserve much better than teenaged vampire love trysts and BDSM. Give the fad a little time and consider instead reading something with a positive message or a moral theme behind it. No, it doesn't have to be dull and dry; there are so many well-written, compelling novels out there that aren't million-copy sellers! Read something your awesome reader, librarian or teacher friends recommend. I know several other writers (a fortunate few are even published) who would be happy to point you in the direction of some quality reading material. Personally, I am a big fan of stories with a "rise of the underdog" theme and quirky kick-ass female leads, and both can be found in my own novels. I feel that, if I'm going to become a published writer, I should be creating characters and stories that deserve to be heard, not ones that bring people down. Even if I don't sell a million copies, I can be at peace with myself and be content that it's something I can share with my son in the future. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Expectations During and After Labor

While talking with a pregnant friend, it again occurred to me that as new mothers, we are often expected to do certain things and to behave in a certain way. Sure, people won't typically go out and demand that you behave in a particular manner, but I feel that there are certain expectations. For instance, a lot of people are offended if a new mother doesn't breastfeed. Similarly, some people seem to be insulted if a mother isn't using cloth diapers, making homemade baby food, opting for all vaccinations on time, fitting their baby's life to the "appropriate" sleeping and eating schedule, and wearing the little one in a hip sling. Another latest trend in some of the mom blogs I've seen appears to be natural home births or hiring midwives and doulas as opposed to visiting your local OB/GYN.

While scrolling through mom blogs, I often come across mothers who also like to sign off with all sorts of crazy acronyms showing off their epic motherly lifestyle. (This always makes me feel like I'm back to teaching in the public school, where PDP, IEP, NCLB, PBIS, etc. are all commonly used.) These mothers are using phrases like EBF ("exclusively breastfeeding", if you're new to the mom blogosphere) among other crazy ones that I don't know. (I swear I saw "R2D2" in one tagline...what? Is your child a Star Wars fan or something?) Still, all of these mom blogs seem to have one thing in common: judgement!

On one blog, two moms were bickering about epidurals. One of the moms insisted that she was the better mother because she chose to have a natural birth at home sans drugs; the other insisted that hers was an especially difficult labor and that she relied on an epidural just to get through it. Watching these mothers go back and forth made me feel torn. Part of me felt like laughing at how people are so quick to judge online when they can wear the cloak of anonymity and know nothing of each others' situations. The other part of me felt sad. Instead of giving each other much-needed support during their new adventures into motherhood, these women felt that it was more important to argue about who was the "better" mom, based on random, ridiculous criteria.

I've been fortunate. I was blessed with a complication-free pregnancy and (though incredibly long) problem-free labor. Those contractions hurt like crazy, but I knew I didn't want an epidural, and I was able to get through without intervention. That's not the case for many pregnancies. I've read that as many as 1/3 of births end up in C-sections, and a large percentage of those are unplanned. Pregnancy and labor are very intense, body-altering events, and it's no surprise that complications occur. That being said, there is no reason to judge one mother for her decision to go through labor in her own way.

The same goes for any number of other of the latest baby trends. I breastfeed because it just works best for my son and me. It's not the best option for everybody, but I knew I wanted to try it and that it would be an affordable and healthy option for our little family. It was hard work at first, but, like most things, practice makes perfect. Now my son and I are an awesome breastfeeding team, and lately we're starting to integrate baby food (some homemade, some store-bought) into his diet, as well. Diapers are another one. Sure, I like the idea of using cloth diapers, and I think that it's a great way for babies to contribute in their own tiny way to saving the planet, but it just didn't work out for me. My son wanted my attention all the time, especially in his first few months, and I just didn't have a free minute between my online job (which conveniently began just 2 weeks postpartum) to wash out the cloths and to take on the extra laundry burden. I suppose if I was really motivated, I could have put in the time, but it just wasn't a top shelf priority for me. Scheduling is a huge item, as well. There are about 100,000 (I might be exaggerating, but I really don't think I am) books and blogs about how to put your baby on the "correct" sleep schedule. I've heard that the baby should sleep more during the day, less during the day, nap at the same times during the day, nap when he wants to, go to sleep before 7pm, never go to sleep until after 9pm, be snuggled and cuddled to sleep, be fed before bed, be forced to cry himself to sleep, etc., etc. All the information on that topic contradicts each other and it's all a matter of what works best for you and your baby.

People (mostly mothers, and particularly old-fashioned mothers of another era- though if you talk to these women long enough, you will hear of a time when formula was all the rage and disposable diapers were a futuristic dream) will tell you what you should do- during your pregnancy and labor, as well as when it comes to raising your child. Take the information that you can use and toss out the rest. Even from the very start, there's no one right way to raise a baby. My husband and I do what's best for us. Yes, we do read to him every day. No, we don't let him "cry it out". Yes, we do share a bedroom with the little guy, but, no, we didn't feel comfortable sharing the bed itself. We don't have a strict schedule and we don't try to control his sleeping and feeding times. We don't obsessively track his milestones, but we do excitedly take photos when he does something new! We encourage independence by letting him explore and play on his own (when he'll tolerate it). We try different things and stick with them when they seem to work. Every day is a learning experience, and I think that that's the way it's supposed to be.