My name is K. Jared Hosein. I live in the Caribbean. I am on a writer's journey.

This is my captain's log.

#kjaredhosein

The Young Adult Movement Genre Whatever Thing

On the 24th, I participated in a workshop helmed by Keith Gray, a UK young adult author from Random House whose books have gone on to win or be shortlisted for a number of awards. The whole thing was headed by Bocas Lit Fest and the Burt Code Association. The only major writing workshop I had previously attended was a three-month course by Elizabeth Nunez, which drastically altered my writing style and perspective.

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Keith Gray with a display of his novels and collections.

The first thing that struck me about Keith was that he seemed nervous. This didn’t make me question whether or not he had done this before, because, even as a teacher myself, I get the jitters every time I have to walk into a new class. I found him endearing, perfect for “workshop” personality and mentality, where motivation trumps criticism and where hope must conquer doubt, even just for a few hours

I attended the workshop because even though I’ve already published a children’s book and penned a handful of manuscripts involving serial killer philosophy, existentialist meta-fiction and criss-crossy Caribbean drama (who says any of them are as good as their descriptions sound pretentious?), I’ve never written something young adult. This wasn’t me trying to challenge myself to take on every strange genre, but for me to strategise a proper capture-the-flag on a genre that I want to be a part of. The rest could wait.

I was ready, quite excited to absorb everything that I could. Because, see, the problem was: I couldn’t properly define what the young adult genre was. It seemed to branch off in so many ways and hide itself in other niche genres. Dystopian. Science fiction. Fantasy. Contemporary fiction. Of course, I knew they all tied together with similar themes and tropes: youthful protagonists, coming-of-age, conflict like crazy, and mostly safely tying everything together in the end.

I think Mr. Gray summed it up nicely when one of his opening statements was, “Young adult is not so much a genre as it is a movement.” Now, that made sense to me. Genres are usually well-defined. Movements shift with the seasons and time. That made it click for me immediately. It is a forward movement, of course, but along different tributaries. A movement to get teenagers interested in literature. A movement away from the true time-wasters, and towards actual construction and inspiration.

However, what would separate a young protagonist in young adult and one in adult fiction? Gray suggests hindsight. Young adult (YA) fiction deals with that jumbled mess of hormones, hatred and happiness that is the teenage years, as told from that point of view. Adult fiction is the telling of the same thing, but from hindsight - where it already makes sense in context. YA is the journey to that ‘sense in context’.

Dialogue is perhaps the most difficult aspect to realistically create in YA fiction. Too many characters speak too properly, Gray suggests, and many of them may have brilliant dialogue but would unfortunately make 15-year old girl characters sound like 40-year old men. We studied an excerpt of one of his published short stories, and discussed the elimination of adverbs and dialogue tags (said, replied, etc.) Some of this was material that was redundant for me, but was still crucial for the topic at hand.

Then we got to the biggie that had been bugging me: Cursing. The F-word. The F-bomb. Gray actually opened the workshop by reading two letters he had received. The first was from a concerned parent, citing his book as trash that would inevitably corrupt the youth and a plea for it to be pulled from libraries. The second was from a young teenager, who had had thoughts of suicide slowly dispelled after reading the same book. It was an effective prelude to this next talking point.

The first letter was from what Gray playfully termed a “gatekeeper”. Being a children’s author and performing at several readings, I’ve had to reassure parents that the book has no cussing or sex or, well, rudeness, before they would buy it. One very dedicated primary school teacher I had met claimed to turn down a few books for his storytelling sessions due to their graphic content (I can’t speak, as I haven’t read the book.) The whole point was that, even though children’s and YA is a lucrative market, it’s typically not the target audience that purchases the work. It’s the parents, teachers, guardians. Gatekeepers.

Putting fuck, shit and cunt in your book, especially in copious amounts, raises the red flag for the gatekeepers. Without any Parent Advisory sticker (thank God) to go on, you could get away with it. But a quick Google search and word-of-mouth can quickly dissipate your luck in that department. While YA books generally have less cursing, sex and absolute disregard for authority than other books, they find themselves quickly banned at record rates. Gray reminded us that shock value does not sell a book, however, and that it was important not to overdo it. But to always be mindful that the pious bunch will always have a problem with marketing curse words to innocent teenagers.

At the end of the day, it is the gatekeepers that buy the books for the teens and the children. Something that one must always, always never forget. Would we be willing to risk it? Me, personally? Probably not. Not for my first YA manuscript. Maybe for my third or fourth.

Throughout the workshop, Gray had us do an activity that he called an instant poem. Freeze a moment of an event and then jot down the colours, scents, emotions, characters and outcomes contained within that smidgen of time. The characters we had to use were partly from the imaginations of others, and from our own minds. At the end, we had a fully fleshed character sans cliche and sans cardboard cut-out archetype. While the activity sounds simple here, Gray was very mindful of every aspect of the vision we had to come up with. And while it wasn’t anything totally new to me, it did introduce me to a new method of overcoming mundane and tired description.

At the end of it all, I and my girlfriend, Portia (who was also in attendance), talked about it at length. We both agreed that it greatly motivated us. I bought Gray’s book, Ostrich Boys. And I got his signature.

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Later that evening, I had to do a reading from an anthology that was recently published. Gray was present, and he congratulated me on my accomplishment.

Some highlights of the Bocas Lit Fest ‘14 for my writing journey.

1. Reading my book, Littletown Secrets, for a spritey audience of children at the library.

2. Reading for a very, very packed adult audience at Martin’s Piano Bar, at the launch of Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (Peepal Tree Press/Akashic Books).

3. Getting fellow author’s photographs in my sample copy of the Pepperpot anthology!

4. Seeing my book on sale out front at the festival.

Reblogged from more-maugham  3 notes
moremaugham:

Writing workshop with Keith Gray, Kevin and I attended this :D
Introduction to YA Writing.
This was part of the Bocas Lit Fest 2014 workshops and it was so well done! Mr. Gray was very lovely and open and sweet :S 
I love his accent O_O 
The exercises he did with us were eye opening and useful and made me exciting about writing again. 
Thank you :)

"Young Adult is not really so much a genre, as it is a movement. Young Adult is more about the present teenager in their current conflict as it happens. Adult fiction may be the telling of the teenager’s life, in hindsight."- Keith Gray (author of Ostrich Boys), at a Bocas Lit Fest workshop yesterday.

moremaugham:

Writing workshop with Keith Gray, Kevin and I attended this :D

Introduction to YA Writing.

This was part of the Bocas Lit Fest 2014 workshops and it was so well done! Mr. Gray was very lovely and open and sweet :S 

I love his accent O_O 

The exercises he did with us were eye opening and useful and made me exciting about writing again. 

Thank you :)

"Young Adult is not really so much a genre, as it is a movement. Young Adult is more about the present teenager in their current conflict as it happens. Adult fiction may be the telling of the teenager’s life, in hindsight."

- Keith Gray (author of Ostrich Boys), at a Bocas Lit Fest workshop yesterday.

Equation of a Story

We all know that there are principles of writing, but can there be equations? Must a story be complex for it to be good? Can this complexity be determined or approximated by mathematical reasoning? Of course, stories seem to be much more than the sum of their parts at times, which directly contradicts Euclid’s fifth common notion. For the sake of building (perhaps totally unnecessary) bridges between the fields of mathematics and English literature, let’s take into account one of the fundamental concepts: real and imaginary numbers.

For any real number, imagine a line. Then imagine a point on that line being ‘zero’. To the left of zero, there are negative numbers from -1 onwards. To the right, there are positive numbers, from 1 onwards. 

Imaginary numbers are usually assigned a relation i. These are intangible and would not exist along the number line. They are only there for reference. They are placed along a y-axis (perpendicular) to the 0-point on the line.

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My mind went haywire, straight into free-association mode from this basic concept. Ruminating on relating this to the structure of a story. These i-numbers. Imaginary numbers. Intangible notions. Ideas and nomologies. On our x-axis here, we have the actual order of events:

John woke up. John went to school. John sought revenge on his bully. 

But it is the intangibles that really perfect the story. Our so-called i-numbers that give the story complexity. And that’s the term used in mathematics. When you combine a real and imaginary number, you get a complex one.

So, what is our imaginary number? It could be anything, couldn’t it? John’s hatred. John’s shame. Resurfacing memories. The weather. Indigestion. Unexpected surges of Acetylcholine. Perhaps even the pathos or ethos of the story; which is the reader’s own feeling towards the the story, or how knowledge of its author affects the experience.

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There are multiple, perhaps infinite, equations that can occur. But would they all work? Perhaps not. Add a factor to an equation and the whole thing must be checked over again to ensure it, well, adds up or balances. Unlike mathematics, however, there is no absolute in literature. Laws and theories exist because they have been tested multiple times and work every single time. If a theory fails in one instance, then the entire theory is either wrong or must be adjusted to acknowledge the fallacy.

The main difference between the two fields is that: Mathematics is truth, while literature isn’t. Mathematics is about law enforcement, while Literature is about the outlawed Wild West. Literature is a form of argument. It is the arts of perspective and persuasion rolled up and doubled-over. While no law works in literature, the real and imaginary number analogy still intrigues me. There’s beauty in the comparisons, though they are reaching.

I read that usually beauty is achieved by taking several complex factors, those which are so complex that they seem difficult to form something harmonic, and bringing them to a state of order. Profound, but simple. Easy with numbers. Difficult with words. But the struggle and reward are worth it.

Reblogged from wendeego  14 notes

The RPG Maker Master List

wendeego:

Do you like playing classic JRPGs, a la Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest? Do you like playing classic JRPGs for free? Here’s a list of some pretty decent games made in different variants of the RPG Maker engine, many of which are derivative in some way but all generally worth playing. Let’s take a look…

Read More

My game got a mention here. It’s nice to just see it pop up in random places and people’s lists.

Books, Writing, Ideas, Growing Up

You can’t write well if you don’t read.

And I would like to say that if there were ever some objective Euclidean list of axioms for literature, this would be at the top. But literature does not deal with absolutes, theorems or laws, but rather codes of conduct. Literature remains subjective and every person gravitates (or falls victim) to their own taste. I have never been the biggest fan of classical literature. There are some I enjoyed, but of my opinions: A Tale of Two Cities is egregiously over-written; The Scarlet Letter is barely readable; The Last of the Mohicans is dreadfully boring; and I’d prefer watch Kenneth Branagh do Shakespearean adaptations on the silver screen than actually read Shakespeare.

I grew up not liking to read, because these were the books presented to me as a child. I finished a book, like I would finish a plate of lentils. I didn’t enjoy it, but I knew it was probably good for me. It was actually the storytelling in 90’s role-playing fantasy videogames that first piqued my interest in the craft. It was from there that I wrote a story, which was published for the local Sunday Guardian. The “payment” I received was a book of my choice from a select store. I wasn’t too thrilled with this.

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But when I went, the lady at the counter recommended what she had probably recommended for every little boy my age: Enid Blyton. I devoured it in one sitting. Pretty soon, I had a stack of Blyton books. As I got older, my preference changed. And it’s still rapidly changing. I think that must be a sign of maturation. Not an evolution of taste, I would say, but the hunger for different styles, tones and grooves marks the moment to further oneself. I stress, literature is anything but absolute, which is what makes it even more exciting to explore.

I’ve snapped a picture of twenty books that I believe have influenced my feelings and ideas about writing. They are not the best books I’ve ever read. But a book doesn’t have to be Pulitzer material for it to affect your belief in some way. I try not to idolize any work too much, as I fear finding myself craving to “live up to something else”. Though ambition and inspiration usually join hands and the craving is, thus, inevitable from time to time.

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These books span from my childhood to just one year ago. I’m going to append each title with a mini-rationale for its placing.

THE PLEASURES OF THE DAMNED (Charles Bukowski) is a collection of poems by, well, Charles Bukowski. In my review for this book, I said that Bukowski is overbearingly honest in most of his poetry. He creates dystopia without apocalypse. The ordinary degenerate. There’s nothing else to it, since basically he was a degenerate. The collection, however, made me view poetry in a different light when I first discovered Bukowski at fifteen. Poetry didn’t have to be embellished or written with finely curled letters. It could be simple and ugly. Not even well-articulated hatred, like Sylvia Plath. Just raw, pithy imagery about toughness, like a one-eyed cat, a tough motherfucker, chasing blind mice.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (Kurt Vonnegut) concerns Billy Pilgrim, who becomes “unstuck in time”. After being abducted by a strange group of aliens, Billy finds that he can see his entire life (and even past his death, until the end of the universe itself). I read this in university and it changed my perspective on how science fiction could be written. Vonnegut, to me, seems to write with an extraterrestrial readership in mind. There is a certain humour in the simplicity we take for granted. Vonnegut captured that here. It is something I hope to also.

THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN (Sherman Alexie) concerns Arnold Spirit, as he grows up in the ‘rez’ (Indian reservation), surrounded by disillusioned, drunk and temperamental Native Americans. This is the quintessential young-adult book, yes, complete with bullying, falling in love and illustrations. And it is quite remarkable. Young-adult authors engineer their books to extract an emotional catharsis, I believe. Finding humour in degradation. And the great fear that settles when one is told of their own home, “This place will kill you.” Living in a crime-ridden country, I can relate. Also, who knew comic strip cartoons could go so well with prose?

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (J.D. Salinger) is a book we all know, or should know. It is a polarizing book, not for its content so much, but because it has been read by some of the most irritating people. Holden Caulfield has been kicked out of Pencey Prep and wanders around New York City for a few days before returning home. He also wears a red hunting cap. That’s it. That’s the book. And I’ve read it, no exaggeration, about ten times. I read this when I was fourteen after I borrowed it from my school library. Didn’t know anything about it when I did, but damn, it was hard to do my homework the night I started it. I don’t love Holden. I don’t even like him. But I realise: I don’t have to. It helps, yes, to feel something for a narrator. But I realised that they don’t always have to be affable. Just intriguing, as character is the greatest tool we have to elevating plot.

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN (Dalton Trumbo) is similar to another book I have on this list, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, though they are both here for different reasons. Joe Bonham awakens in a hospital and eventually deduces that he is basically a living torso. Yes, his face is gone and his appendages have all been blown off by an artillery shell. He’s a prisoner in his own body. It is a poignant and extremely depressing novel. It is here because of its attention to sensory detail and use of flashback during the recall of Joe’s life and family. It also shows the influence the written word can have against a behemoth such as World War I.

THE GUNSLINGER (Stephen King) is the first book of the Dark Tower series, the magnum opus of King’s career, and I’ve put it here to represent both itself and the series. Though I’ve only read up to its fourth installment, the series is a detailed and expansive work that treads through the wasteland of a world that can only be described as where “the rest of the world has moved on”. Characters from previous novels make appearances, affecting the plot and reinforcing the idea that all King’s work is set in one universe. A haunting western setting along with deliberate anachronisms showed me that there really is no boundary to the worlds you can conjure up. Everything is acceptable, once done calculatingly and professionally. 

EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL (Stephen King) is a short story collection, of which I wish to discuss only titular story. Everything’s Eventual concerns Dinky Earnshaw, who has the ability to construct symbols that elicit strong suicidal feelings for those who view them. Dinky doesn’t understand his ability, and doesn’t use it until he is convinced to do it to rid evildoers in his city. I was thirteen when I read this, and I had never even imagined that such a Jedi-like mind trick could be taken seriously out of a Star Wars setting. King made it work, however. From an early age, because of this story, I realised how limitless writing really was. Sorcery could exist in suburbia, and that was fine.

FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON (Daniel Keyes) is an epistolary novel (and I actually didn’t know what that meant until I read it) about Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged janitor whose rapidly increasing intellect affects his life and those around him. As it is an epistolary novel, the story takes place in entries from Charlie’s journal. The result is quite effective, as it shows both Charlie’s own changes in his thought processes, and clarity of events in hindsight. I came across this in a second hand book kiosk while I was in high school, and I actually had no idea at the time that books could be structured that way successfully. 

THE CHRYSALIDS (John Wyndham) is a book that most high school students around my time might have done for their O’ Level Literature class. Though I didn’t study Literature, I read the book anyway. I was probably thirteen at the time. The story concerns David, one of a group of telepathic children whom live in Labrador. The people of Labrador believe that any deviation of the human anatomy (or ability) must be banished to the “Fringes”. It’s one of those classical allegory stories that youngsters are told to read, like Animal Farm. And while Animal Farm carried a strong message, it didn’t affect me as much as Chrysalids’. It carries one that is central to literature itself: never stop analysing everything.

THE CALL OF THE WILD (Jack London) concerns Buck, a domesticated dog that has been sold to become an Alaskan sled dog. The language is straightforward yet descriptive and the primal themes retain power in their simplicity, so when I read this at a very young age, it hit hard. It’s probably one of the most effective books I’ve read. It doesn’t miss a beat and the theme of “returning to nature” will always be relevant to literature, to society, to any persona one may hold. We all must be animals when the time comes.

THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO (Junot Diaz) chronicles the lives of the titular character, Oscar wao; his sister, Lola; his mother and grandfather. Oscar must deal with being overweight, a virgin and a Dominican still haunted by the ghost of the dictator, Rafael Trujillo. What lands this book here might be a strange one. It’s mainly because of the numerous accolades Diaz has received for it. Normally, I didn’t think people cared for the type of brash and vulgar storytelling employed in “Oscar Wao”. And honestly, it was right down my alley (writing-wise). When I saw that Diaz’s work could be accepted by the Pulitzer committee, I thought, “Why not mine?” As I said, strange reason. But it’s a damn unique and interesting book, nevertheless.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Jean-Dominique Bauby) is a memoir ‘written’ by a man who has locked-in syndrome. See, Mr. Bauby had been debilitated by a stroke, which rendered all but his left eye motionless. He blinked to the rhythm of a cautiously rearranged alphabet, and with a very, very patient nurse, this book exists. Just being able to read the book is a miracle, if you ask me. Within it contains the musings and memories of a man that thought he would be stuck in the deep, blue sea for the rest of his life. But now, from behind the steel cage of his diving bell, we can hear his voice. If this doesn’t readily reassure your belief in the power of the written word, I don’t know what will.

BOY (Roald Dahl) is the first part of the autobiographical work by Dahl (the second part being “Going Solo”). It almost reads as an epistolary novel, as Dahl pastes clippings of letters, photographs and other family documents to relate his past in a whimsical manner. The chapters in “Boy” relate to a prank gone wrong at a candy shop, a grisly car accident and warming the toilet seats for the older boys at a school in Derbyshire. Despite its bursts of humour, it is the most serious book I’ve read from the author. “Boy” does not overshadow his fictional works, but it made me think: Life is remembered by how you tell it. If that makes sense.

MIGUEL STREET (V.S. Naipaul) is my second favourite Caribbean book (the first being “Oscar Wao”). My first encounter with the book, if I remember correctly, was a chapter featured in a primary school “Reading Book”. The chapter was about B. Wordsworth, a mysterious man who ‘felt like a poet but could never be one’. The story was strange and heartbreaking in its feeling of incompleteness. But there was nothing more to be said of B. Wordsworth, and the story was over. I think this was the first time I had read a truly sad ending to a story. The collection of stories in Miguel Street is well worth it, but I won’t forget that experience with B. Wordsworth.

THE SOUND AND THE FURY (William Faulkner) is the hardest book I’ve ever read, that I’ve ever finished (the hardest book I’ve never finished is The Scarlet Letter… trust me, fucking ridiculous!) “Fury” was my introduction to the much-beleaguring writing style known as stream-of-consciousness. In prose, anyway. Does Beat generation poetry count? It centers around the Compson family, sections devoted to various family members. The two that stood out the most to me were Benjy and Quentin. The non-linear narratives that relies on Benjy’s diminished mental capacity and Quentin’s disjointed and emotionally affected recollection of his family and his sister, Caddy, require multiple re-readings. I remember being on campus, busily dissecting the book during Biology lectures. It was my first experience with frustration that somehow felt rewarding simultaneously. Once you are willing to decipher it, it’s worth it.

DISGRACE (J.M. Coatzee) was a novel I received for free at a writing workshop when I was twenty. We were given a week to read the book for an upcoming book-club type discussion of character and theme. The story itself concerns David Lurie, a college professor fired for misconduct and loses most of his reputation and integrity in the process. Yes, it is as depressing as it sounds. But there was one thing that stood out for me as I read this book: the present tense. I had never given it much thought before that. The present tense is quite effective once used properly. Not necessarily to build suspense or (no pun intended) tension or anything, but just to hold the reader in that moment of disarray and imminent disarray. I’ve been trying to re-create that ever since.

MIDDLESEX (Jeffrey Eugenides), to me, is the paragon of a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age tale), especially one that involves identity (most of them do, though, don’t they?) It’s a thick book, but that’s because it goes into so much detail with our protagonist, Cal, and his family’s migration from Asia Minor. The hook? Call is intersexed, afflicted with a genetic condition known as 5-ARD. The males are often mistaken for females all the way up to puberty, and are raised as such. The question isn’t about how this can be fixed, but: should it be fixed? Now, Eugenides’ style is verbose, be warned. But from the two books I’ve by him, it’s fitting and beautiful. When it comes to the dense, thorny theme of identity, I don’t think there could be enough words.

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (Jeffrey Eugenides) is a shorter book than Eugenides’ Middlesex, but it’s no less loaded with purple prose. The story is told by a group of men as they recall and muse upon the sudden suicides of the reclusive Lisbon girls in their neighbourhood. Their actual interaction with them was minimal, so they resort to filling in the blanks with theories of domestic horror. However, The Virgin Suicides never wanders into any gruesome vision. It is probably the least angsty book about suicide I’ve read. Instead, the story focuses on teenage whimsy and puppy love in light of what has happened, as if the girls themselves with pixies perched on mushrooms, or some other magical beings. The book feels like magical realism, though entirely grounded in drama and disillusioned romance. Why this book is here is because it holds that intangible quality that separates melancholy from melodrama. It remains my key to written emotion.

THE ROAD (Cormac McCarthy) concerns a father and son’s journey across a wasteland, the near-shell of a once-verdant world. The technique employed by McCarthy to show the stark emptiness of this situation? The abandonment of punctuation. While I had experienced the fiddlings of grammatical structure before, like with ee cummings, I never reckoned any operative utilisation of it with a novel. Like The Call of the Wild, The Road is written with a complex simplicity (you’ve probably figured out that I’ve an inclination for this odd oxymoron). It describes desolation in brief whispers. Hopelessness in dying breaths. No need for abundance of any sort here.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (Mark Haddon) concerns Christopher Boone as he plays detective to discover who stabbed his neighbour’s dog, and ultimately uncovers the dark secrets kept by his family. Christopher, however, lives with an autistic spectrum condition and experiences great difficulty accepting the hard realities of his findings. The book is told from first person and is much easier to read than Benjy’s portion in The Sound and the Fury and is more on par with the emotional journey in Flowers for Algernon, though it does require patience when Christopher’s OCD steps in and prevents the plot from advancing. This is all done for effect, however, and works most of the time. This book lands a place on this list for its ability to integrate Christopher’s medical condition into the narrative, not as a gimmick or technique, but to show how different people process different situations. How I may have reacted to Christopher’s findings might have been much different, but this is his story. And everyone should have a story, shouldn’t they?