Monday, May 31, 2010

Anansi Boys

Back in 2007, I read Anansi Boys for a NPR book club. It is now one of the only books that I don't own by Neil Gaiman. Why? I am waiting to meet him so I can have him sign it and I can tell him how great it was, and to remind him that I was lucky enough to ask him a question on that very NPR radio show.

One of the topics that came up during the book club discussion was race. Throughout the book, you could get a sense of the race of the characters, but then we weren't sure if it wasn't told to us. In a lot of books we read, the default race is white. However, when you read Anansi Boys, the default race is black.

As I read the book, I had to remind myself when picturing the characters that they weren't white. It is hard for me to admit this, but it is true. Why does my mind automatically assume when I meet a new character that they are white unless otherwise indicated by their name, description, or origin? It made me realize that maybe I need to expand what I read, or is it that I am not finding more books like this to read? And why? (Keep in mind, too, that I read a lot of MG/YA genre books).

This thought process led to another reason why I felt KIN needed to be written. And, also, that publishing companies like Tu Books needs to be created. We need to offer diversity to readers. My hope is we don't need to go out of our way to encourage this writing, and that it will just exist someday for my own children (who won't be white) to read.

List of recommended books:

And, of course, Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Don't forget to learn more about Anansi stories, either.



Monday, May 24, 2010

Leaving Behind

I am done doing the first read through of KIN and now onto the phase of doing some type of outline. I am not a fan of outlines, but I thought maybe this would be the time to see if one works.

Sitting, and sometimes just staring, at this manuscript has really caused me to smile. I feel that if I work hard enough, this story will turn into something. It wasn't until today that I realized the different outside influences that eventually caused me write it. Here is the first example: a speech by Ursula K. Le Guin. Somehow, I came across this speech after reading her Earthsea series. It really spoke to me and think it is very much worth sharing.

Some Assumptions About Fantasy
by Ursula K. Le Guin

(The following is a speech given to a group of booksellers, librarians, and other publishing professionals at an annual industry convention)

It seems very strange to me to fly 4,000 miles to speak for ten minutes at breakfast. To me, breakfast is when you don't speak. At most you grunt. Nothing more than that should be required. I wish I could just grunt at you in a friendly, polite way that meant "Thank you all for being wonderful people who bring children's books to children!" and then sit down among a chorus of moderately appreciative grunts. However.

It was suggested that I tell you things like how I create children's books and why, and how my books are part of my life. That is exactly the kind of subject that I can't even grunt about. I don't know anything about how or why, only about what.
So, what are my books for kids and young adults? All but one of them are fantasies, including the new one, so I will grunt about fantasy.

Some assumptions are commonly made about fantasy that bother me. These assumptions may be made by the author, or by the packagers of the book, or both, and they bother me both as a writer and as a reader of fantasy. They involve who the characters are, when and where they are, and what they do. Put crudely, it's like this: in fantasy, 1) the characters are white, 2) they live sort of in the Middle Ages, and 3) they're fighting in a Battle Between Good and Evil.

Assumption 1: The characters are white. Even when they aren’t white in the text, they are white on the cover. I know, you don't have to tell me about sales! I have fought many cover departments on this issue, and mostly lost. But please consider that "what sells" or "doesn't sell" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If black kids, Hispanics, Indians both Eastern and Western, don't buy fantasy—which they mostly don't—could it be because they never see themselves on the cover?

I have received letters that broke my heart, from adolescents of color in this country and in England, telling me that when they realized that Ged and the other Archipelagans in the Earthsea books are not white people, they felt included in the world of literary and movie fantasy for the first time. Worth thinking about?

Assumption 2: Fantasy Land is the Middle Ages. It isn't. It's an alternate world, outside our history, as its map isn't on our map. It may resemble mediaeval Europe in being preindustrial—but that doesn't justify its having no economics and no social justice. Nor does it explain why nobody there ever feeds or waters their horses, which run all day and night just like a Prius. The best send-up ever of this fifth-hand Tennyson setting is Monty Python's "Holy Grail," where horses are replaced with coconuts. Whenever I find a fantasy that is set in a genuinely imagined society and culture instead of this lazy-minded, recycled hokum, I feel like setting off fireworks.

Assumption 3: Fantasy by definition concerns a Battle Between Good and Evil. This is the one where the cover copywriters shine. There are lots of fantasies about the Battle Between Good and Evil, the BBGE, sure. In them, you can tell the good guys from the evil guys by their white hats, or their white teeth, but not by what they do. They all behave exactly alike, with mindless and incessant violence, until the Problem of Evil is solved in a final orgy of savagery and a win for the good team.
Many fantasy movies and most interactive games go in for the BBGE, which partly explains the assumption about books. And it's true that in fantasy, character is often less important than role (also true of Greek tragedy and much of Shakespeare, where role and character can be the same thing). Carelessly read, such stark stuff may appear to be morally simplistic, black-and-white. Carelessly written, that's what it is. But careless reading of genuine fantasy will not only miss nuance, it will miss the whole nature and quality of the work.

This is what's happened over and over to The Lord of the Rings—even in the film version, where, though Tolkien's plot is followed faithfully and the Ring is destroyed, the focus on violent action and the interminable battle scenes overshadow, and perhaps fatally reduce, the moral complexity and originality of the book, the mystery at its heart.

As for my stuff, how anybody can call it a Battle Between Good and Evil is beyond me. I don't write about battles or wars at all. It seems to me that what I write about—like most novelists—is people making mistakes and people—other people or the same people—trying to prevent or correct those mistakes, while inevitably making more mistakes.

Immature people crave and demand moral certainty: This is bad, this is good. Kids and adolescents struggle to find a sure moral foothold in this bewildering world; they long to feel they're on the winning side, or at least a member of the team. To them, heroic fantasy may offer a vision of moral clarity. Unfortunately, the pretended Battle Between (unquestioned) Good and (unexamined) Evil obscures instead of clarifying, serving as a mere excuse for violence—as brainless, useless, and base as aggressive war in the real world.

I hope that teenagers find the real heroic fantasies, like Tolkien's. I know such fantasies continue to be written. And I hope the publishers and packagers and promoters and sellers of fantasy honor them as such. While fantasy can indeed be mere escapism, wish-fulfillment, indulgence in empty heroics, and brainless violence, it isn't so by definition—and shouldn't be treated as if it were.
Fantasy is a literature particularly useful for embodying and examining the real difference between good and evil. In an America where our reality may seem degraded to posturing patriotism and self-righteous brutality, imaginative literature continues to question what heroism is, to examine the roots of power, and to offer moral alternatives. Imagination is the instrument of ethics. There are many metaphors beside battle, many choices besides war, and most ways of doing good do not, in fact, involve killing anybody. Fantasy is good at thinking about those other ways. Could we assume that it does so?

See what I mean?

Monday, May 17, 2010

nook update 1.3

I did a review on my nook a few months ago. I received mine on the second day that they were shipped in mid-December. From the beginning, I fell in love with it and knew that there would be some things that Barnes and Noble would have to work on. For example, I couldn't register where I live and didn't realize it until a friend bought one and I found out he could! With the knowledge of updates, I expected that the little bugs would go away.

The newest update, 1.3, was released recently. It added a few buttons such as easy access to turning Wi-Fi on and off (that can kill the battery time), games (chess and sudoku), audio (books and music) and a web (beta). It also has faster page turning and I can even notice more speed in switching between menus. I downloaded a free book this morning and the speed of the whole process (turning on the wifi, going to the store, etc) went nice and smooth.

I loved the nook before, but can you imagine how I feel now? Especially since I am going to Orlando starting next week? I am really looking forward to having my nook with me, that's for sure!



Friday, May 7, 2010

A Pair of Rollerskates

I grew up two miles from an air force base. I spent quite a bit of time there as a child since we had access to their large gym and bowling alley. I spent one of my birthdays at both locations, and one year even had a tour of the "Big Building", a five story windowless building that has one of the most powerful radars in the United States. (Needless to say, I was also surrounded by nuclear weapons that were housed in silos all over the prairie.)

In the gym, I had a lot of memories and one of my fondest was rollerskating. It was there that I put on my first pair. A family left theirs behind and my family attempted to put on the skates to try them out. I was still quite small, so my feet could fit into one of the pairs. It was still a little big, but it didn't stop me from zooming around my parents and older brother. I fell in love with the skates, and wanted to keep them, but we left them behind to never see them again.

When I grew older, somehow I ended up with a white pair of rollerskates with blue wheels and laces. My best friend also managed to have a pair so we spent a lot of time rollerskating until our feet outgrew them. We would go to the gym to race around in circles. I was great at turning corners, but my friend wasn't. Every time she would get to the wall, she would run into it and her colliding with the metal wall heaters clanged throughout the room in echoes. Then she would go again, going as fast as she could. It just made us laugh and laugh.

We also rollerskating on the cement in my basement, and in her large garage with music blaring. I could go and go and go, and never want to stop. I always felt free and happy when I skated.

I did have a pair of rollerblades once my rollerskates were too small for my size 9 feet. The pair of rollerblades made my feet really warm, and I couldn't turn as well as in them. They also hurt my feet a lot and felt strange afterwards. I never had brakes on my skates and learned to time my slowing down, and that was mostly the only benefit from the blades.

My parents tried to give me back my pair of rollerblades again (supposed to be sold at a garage sale years ago!) and I refused them after remembering my poor feet. My mom tried to give me a pair of Care Bear rollerskates, but they were never mine and wouldn't fit my adult feet. I then had this sudden urge to skate again. My husband doesn't want to skates, but now that we have a bike path right across the street, I think it would be fun to have a pair again. Also, it doesn't help that the Derby Girls are a big thing in Fargo and I have a few friends that joined so I hear a lot about rollerskates.


See the white skates? I bought them! I did my first test run in our dining room and then down in the garage. I fell once in the garage (a rock was on the floor) and then practiced a bit more before heading out the awesome bike path across the street. At this moment, I have to carry them down to the path and put them on there. To get there from my house, I have to go over the dike in my skates. Nope, that isn't happening any time soon with my braking skills!

Joey and I went on the path when the weather was still nice (we have had rain for like a week and snow threatening us today.... snow!!!). I tried the hill, which is a no no, and then went about two miles along the river. It is a lot easier going down a "straight" path with one little hill. I cannot wait to get back out there, but my braking skills are not so good right now. Going down the one "hill", I started to go too fast. I knew if I tried the front brake, I would fall on my face. So, I simply stepped into the grass, and my heart rate instantly went down. I walked a few steps down, and then went right back on the path. Even after that and the near death experience going down the Fargo dike "hill", I am ready to get back out there!

I love these skates and how I can change the wheel and lace colors in the future. I have lots of ideas! And see the laces? Mine are the color of the wheels. I love them!


Monday, May 3, 2010

Writer's Critique Group: Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN Edition

"A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper."
— Ursula K. Le Guin

I realized recently that I needed a writer's critique group. In college, my writing wasn't something that I could really share in classes. The writing I felt most passionate about was in the fantasy genre. Since I have been involved with CoreCon for the past two years, I realized that I should be able to find enough people to form a local group that focused on the fantasy genre, as well as science fiction, horror, and paranormal. Having a focused group such as this would help since we would be more familiar with those genres for editing, as well as the markets.

I created an application form for the Stone Circle Writer's group to help bring writers of these genres together in the Fargo,ND- Moorhead, MN community. Right now, we have enough interested people to start and to get it off the ground. Our goal is practice the craft, but also to turn out publishable material. As we get to know each other and hopefully grow, the roles of the group are flexible to change. I will be arranging a meet and greet sometime in the next month or so since I will be gone May 21-31 for our vacation in Orlando.


An update on my writing:

I need to do some major rewrites and editing over the next few weeks. I finished the first read-through edit of KIN, and am now planning the rewrite. It is going to be restructured quite a bit, but I am thrilled about it the process. I also have Beyond the Garden to rewrite so I can start the next book in that series. I might attempt outlining the next two books, but I am horrible at keeping to them! So, we shall see what happens there.

I do have some horror short stories that I wrote in collaboration with my husband. We need to revisit them, too. They have been fun to write since they cross into the fantasy and science fiction genres, as well (I am more fantasy, he is more science fiction minded).

So, as you probably notice, a writer's critique group would be a great place for me! I have found a great critique partner from Canada and learned so much from her. That is one of the reasons why I am reaching out in my community-- there must be others like me! Online is a great community, too, but CoreCon really got me thinking about the place that I live and what I can do to make it better. This, I believe, is one of those times to create something to achieve that goal for myself and others.

The Art of Revising a Novel
Stone Circle Writer's Group (Note: Please fill out application before joining)


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